2004 Roundup

Before I get to my best/worst of 2004 lists, here’s a quick rundown of the books I never got a chance to review (full review Planet Simpson by Chris Turner to come, however):

The New Year by Pearl S. Buck, 9/10, 188 pages, 1968, Fiction:

A politician moving quickly up the ranks of power may soon find himself hindered by the discovery that he has a son from his military days stationed in Korea – days shortly after his new marriage. Chris’s wife, Laura, insists on flying out to meet the boy and his mother herself to decide what must be done – with all of their lives. Despite creating some conflicted feelings about the portrayals of sexism and “America is the solution to all the world’s problems” attitudes, The New Year takes a brave look at a side effect of war that many people might not even think about, and Buck does it with characters that face a powerful struggle of wanting to do the right thing and yet not wanting to destroy their own lives. Realistic and very easy to read – I can’t wait to get to The Good Earth.

The Assertive Woman by Stanlee Phelps and Nancy Austin, 8/10, 170 pages, 1987, Non-fiction:

A self-help book on being assertive in personal relationships, at work, and in other situations. A very helpful book, clearly outlining behaviours and phrases for passiveness, assertiveness, and aggressiveness, making it easy to know when you’ve crossed the line and gone outside of an assertive attitude. Practical and easy to start implementing on a small level and building up to tackle bigger issues. Like any self-help book, only as good as the effort you put into implementing the ideas.

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman, 8/10, 326 pages, 1997, Fiction:

The second book in Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials. In our own world, a boy named Will is on the run from two unfriendly men who seem to want something from him, when he finds himself walking into a parallel universe. There he discovers Lyra, and together they continue the search for the mysterious Dust, which seems to be the source of both of their problems. Another great fantasy book in the trilogy, packed with fun characters and adventure. Geared towards adults as much as children. Biggest complaints: the narrative gets passed off to the comparatively dull adults too much for sections light on action and heavy on explanation; it’s the second book in a trilogy, yes, but unlike the first book, it doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger ending so much as an abrupt halt to meet publishing deadlines. Still well worth the read, especially to make it to the third book.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman 10/10, 518 pages, 2000, Fiction

Rounds out the His Dark Materials trilogy. Lyra has been kidnapped and Will must find her before they can complete their quest to save the world(s), but a dark force is growing stronger by the moment, threatening to destroy everything and everyone. Masterful writing from Pullman that will have you on the edge of your seat, waiting to discover the fates of Lyra and Will. More strong characters are brought into the twists and turns of the plot, in which Pullman keeps the pedal to the metal and predictability to a minimum. Some parents might not want their kids reading this book for the same reason it’s great – Pullman allows bad things to happen to (mostly) good kids, which injects some satisfactory realism to the many adults reading the books. The series is worth a shot even if you don’t think of yourself as a fan of the fantasy genre.

I Want to Go Home! by Gordan Korman, 10/10, 182 pages, 1981, Fiction

Young Rudy Miller hates everything. He hates laughing, he hates sports, he hates dancing, he hates his camp counselor and he especially hates summer camp. Mike isn’t too thrilled to be there either, so he decides to tag along and help with Rudy’s harebrained schemes to escape their camp’s island locale – but he’s about to find out there’s a lot he doesn’t know about the ever-sarcastic Rudy Miller. Hilarious, hilarious, hilarious. This was one of my favourite books when I was younger, and it still holds up. There are few scenes in kids’ books as much fun as Rudy Miller playing camp counselor for a day, or presenting his counselor, Chip, with his arts and crafts project, or the spectacular pillowfight, or…

The Bookman’s Wake by John Dunning, 8/10, 351 pages, 1995, Fiction

Bookman Cliff Janeway is back and this time he’s hunting for a legendary (within the book dealer circles, anyway) copy of a hand-printed copy of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven. It may or may not be in the possession of Eleanor Rigby, but all Janeway knows is a lot of people would kill to get their hands on such a book… This is the second book in Dunning’s Janeway series, and it’s just as much fun as the first, stuffed with information on book collecting, authors, and the printing process. At times, Janeway’s former-cop, tough guy attitude jars horribly with his book collecting side – the thug-with-a-bookstore persona can seem a little silly. Overall, a fun mystery for book lovers.

The Sacred Balance by David Suzuki, 8/10, 259 pages, 1997, Non-fiction

What’s one piece of garbage out the window, one kilometre in an SUV, one can of oil poured in the sewer? A lot, Suzuki sets out to prove, because there’s just so darn many of us living on the planet. And not just for the altruistic cause of saving the environment – Suzuki makes it very clear how what we dump into the air, water, and earth today is what we’re breathing, drinking, and eating tomorrow. Bravo for Suzuki’s gentle nudge, because after all, it’s easy to see how garbage can make the ground look ugly, but a lot harder to remember it’s the same dirt that we expect to be able to grow our vegetables in. A bit of a drawback to the book is how the tone fluctuates between a more conversational tone into fairly heavy doses of scientific explanation, which might lose some of the audience, but you can still pick up a lot even if you skim the details in the first chapters and concentrate on the final chapters if you’re not into the scientific breakdown. Suzuki’s suggestions for betterment are just as much pro-humanity as they are pro-environment, making The Sacred Balance well worth the read to see just how much difference one person can make, negative or positive.

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