Good Reads

Quarterly Book Review: His Dark Materials trilogy and Master of Ballantrae

I took this quarterly review idea from my friend Rachel (read her blog, about the silver linings of life, here). It’s fitting, as we, along with another blogger named Dawn (read her blog, about encouragement for life, here), run a virtual book club (cleverly named Between the Covers) on Facebook. Feel free to join the fun here!

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[You can read more about Philip Pullman’s books here]

For the most part, I really liked this series. It made me wish my youth was a bit more exciting, you know? My childhood was definitely filled with my own adventures: trying to dig a hole to China, playing with the neighborhood kids, singing, laughing. But nothing quite like Lyra’s. I really enjoyed the first book in this series (The Golden Compass), and I liked the second book a little less (The Subtle Knife), and I’m still thinking about how I liked the last one (The Amber Spyglass). I thought the supernatural and scientific elements of the books were fantastic, but when they started funneling in Religion more and more, I started losing interest. Overall, the books are really well written, and a very easy and quick read. I couldn’t put the books down (until that last one, it took me a bit longer).

[You can read this classic for free on the Kindle or the Kindle App!]

This is the first book Between the Covers read. This book took me awhile to get started. There is a lot of Scottish slang, and, embarrassingly, quite a few words I did not know. This book is filled with many characters I could not identify with, and the time line was a bit jumpy. Other than all of those, I liked this book. I learned a lot of new words, started picking up the slang, and the book was simpler to read. The people, on the other hand, they were not. The politics of Bellantrae were enough for me for awhile. I hope the next few books are a bit more relate-able.

Plot Twists: Life Twists

When you think about a good book, there are usually plot twists. You know, the ones even a seasoned reader didn’t see coming. I especially like the ones I thought I saw coming, but then the author kicked it up a notch and made it extra twisty! That’s when I can’t put a good book down and I stay up for hours and hours (and hours, and more hours.)

But … have you ever thought how your favourite (or not so favourite) books would be forever changed if only one little thing was different? Like, if you were a time traveler, and you went back and changed something – and created a Butterfly Effect – and saw how the book changed.

For example: What if Voldemort was Harry’s uncle, or father?! Harry would be even more conflicted and he would have negative influences. Would he still be a Gryffindor? Or better yet, what if the chosen one was Neville, the other option? 


What if The Walking Dead took place in the Northern states? We all see how the zombies smell terribly due to the rotting flesh, and we see that everyone seems to forget that they could once use that to their advantage. Would the winter slow the zombie down? Would it prevent their decay? How would the survivors’ health be affected by drastically changing weather patterns? It’s all a mystery.

[Not to mention, this White Walker (GoT) is terrifying!!]

In the Hunger Games (since I am watching it right now with my sister Reychl), what if Prim went on to the games because Katniss never volunteered? Over the course of the trilogy, we see how much Prim grows up, so would that have happened? Or would the trilogy have died with Prim in the first games? OR, what if the tributes were actually fighting for food (as the name of the games implies)? How much more bloody and competitive would it be if it were up to that tribute to win food for their District for the next year? Or, what if Gale went to the games with Katniss?

[Oh Prim, you are so young!]

I kind of take it one step further and day dream about plot twists in my life. Not the typical ones like a death in the family, or a rejection letter – but major ones. Like zombie apocalypses with hunger games (to keep on track). I mean, if I were in each of these stories, I would have done things a bit differently. Would my knowledge have helped me? We all go through life learning a little bit of everything – areas of triangles, how to do our taxes, how to fight with medieval weaponry, how to cook, all of that science, you know, everything we could have possibly ever needed to save our lives one day.

What if I were Hermione Granger? What if I were the Goblin King?

What if the under-represented were actually represented on television in a realistic way? Not all GLBT are drug addicts with impeccable “Gaydar” and are highly fancied by everyone in the city. Not all poor people live in ghettos, are in gangs, are steal.

Man … now I’m in a weird mood.

I leave you with this adorable piglet!

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Covet thy neighbor’s ambition

“All day long they would be telling up their shares or grooming over the result. I have said we were pretty fortunate. But an observation fails to be made: that in this world, in no business that I have tried, do the profits rise to a man’s expectations.”
-Master of Ballantrae by Robert Louis Stevenson

But is this a bad thing, to always crave more?

To give you some additional context with the above passage, there are these 2 non-pirates aboard a pirate ship. One of them made the above observation after they plundered another ship, and all of the pirates constantly count their treasures wishing they had more. So, as a pirate, they wanted more, but as a non-pirate, they felt rich in their stolen wares.

I understand you should be content with what you have and all that you achieved in your life but what about having ambition? Is this different? Does this not count?

From the perspective of the pirate, stealing goods is a major part of their job description. They have to do it to prove to other pirates that they are indeed the pirate-iest of all pirates. Kind of like street cred. But, if you are some poor person who is job-shadowing a pirate, that kind of lifestyle would seem pretty amazing. You get to see a lot of new places, and you would have more gold then you ever had in your life.

Let’s step away from this novel and come into the real world. Let’s take me, a lowly graduate student who slaves away in her lab (even on weekends, and on holidays, and every morning, afternoon, evening, and sometimes late evening) for low wages in exchange for all of this knowledge I am gaining, as an example. Is this where I want to be for the rest of my life? Absolutely not! I have so many dreams and ambitions, that I probably won’t get around to achieving half of them before I die. I will want a job somewhere … and then, I will want to be promoted … and then, I will want to be promoted again … and then, I want a raise, and even more responsibility. When I have moved up as far as I can go within my job, maybe I will consider leaving it so I can gain more experience somewhere else. If at any time I lose my drive, I will steal it from my neighbor, just like the pirates. They won’t even know it, but I can become quite competitive, if the right circumstance presents itself … like me not making progress on my project, and my neighbor making a ton. I will start working harder, reading more, you name it, I will do it (well, except sabotaging, I am very positive person and I would NEVER ruin someone else’s life intentionally.)

My point is, never settle for less. You should always want to strive to be the best you can be. No matter how lofty your dream may be (I mean, hello! I want the stinkin’ Nobel Prize, for pete’s sake!)

So go out there, and do something for you. To better your spirit, to better your life, to better your family’s life, to better your job performance … just go out there, and do something for you.

Good reads and making friends over 1001 books!

There are a few things I wanted to work on this year – and they all involve spending more time with myself. Sounds a bit selfish, I know, but when you are constantly working towards a Ph.D., you kind of lose sight of who you are. One of those things I wanted to do more of is read.

Reading not only gives me some time to myself, but it allows me to travel to distant lands, become someone new for a few days, all while increasing my vocabulary and general reading/writing skills. What can be better?

So, its January 11, 2014 and already I have read 3 books! But, it’s time to pick up the pace and challenge myself even more! What better way to do that than to create a book club, recruit some people who want a challenge, and to read 1001 books before I die? Oh, and did I mention that I am definitely not doing this alone? I have recently “ran in to” (via the most wonderful invention ever – Facebook), and became reacquainted with one of the coolest people during my undergraduate years, and she really took this challenge and ran with it! If it weren’t for Rachel, that’s her name, I would be reading 1001 books by myself. But now, but now, I am going to read these books with other people and we will all go on various adventures together! I couldn’t be more excited.

Are you interested in joining us? We are using the 1001 books published here as our guide. Rachel, of Under the Tapestry, and Dawn of Cups Running Over are the other master minds to this beautiful challenge. We all invite you to participate with us in our Facebook Group. We are also really into spreadsheets and we are tracking our progress in this public Google Doc (add your name and the date you finished the book to the columns to the right of the book). Oh gosh! I never mentioned where we were starting or anything like that – Our first book is #814: The Master of Ballantrae – Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s free on the Kindle! We are taking turns selecting the books we read, and basically, when it’s your turn, you pick a book however you want to. If a book is picked and you do not want to read it, or you find it utterly boring, then give yourself permission to stop reading. This is not your English class, and we don’t want you to be miserable.

WHO IS UP FOR THE CHALLENGE??? We look forward to your participation on the facebook group, or you can follow the progress on any of the blogs mentioned! Super excited!!

Let’s read!