Monday, April 30, 2012

Nonfiction: I'm an English Major - Now What?

I've been reading I'm an English Major - Now What? off and on for the last week or two.  I started when I decided it was time to start looking for a job.  I've been out of school for the last year, which has been great.  I've got a good part time job and work with great people, but I think it's time to start looking for what I'd like to do for the next little while.  And the place to start is by looking at the kinds of things I can do with my degree.

I'm an English Major - Now What? is exactly what it sounds like.  It goes through the obvious career choices for people with (undergraduate) English degrees (such as teaching, journalism, pursuing postgraduate education, etc).  It lists the pros and cons of each option, and tells you what kind of person is best suited for that type of work.  What I really liked was the latter half of each chapter where Tim Lemire interviewed English majors who have those jobs.  It was great reading about their experiences.

At the end of the book were a couple of appendices as well.  These had information on the job search itself, such as what to consider including on your resume, and a list of other resources for further reading.  All in all, I'm an English Major - Now What? was an excellent read for someone like me who is trying to figure out my next step now that school is over.

As an aside, I bought I'm an English Major - Now What, along with Great Jobs for English Majors by Julie DeGalan and Stephen Lambert, a few years ago when I first went into English.  I don't know why, but I put them away and only recently pulled them back out.  I'm not really sure if I'm going to read Great Jobs for English Majors; I flipped through it and it didn't really appeal to me as much.

Jane on Her Own

Jane on Her Own is the final book in Ursula K. Le Guin's Catwings series.  Jane decides that the farm is boring; she wants adventures!  So she decides to leave her family and friends at Overhill Farm and strikes out on her own, eventually heading back to the city where she was born.

She has a lot of trouble finding new friends though.  Birds are either afraid of her or are dangerous (like the Owl from Catwings).  Cats don't realize she's a cat, and are likewise afraid of her.  People want to catch her.  And dogs want to chase her.  So one day Jane flies into a window.  The man there doesn't try to catch her, but instead offers her something to eat.  He takes care of her, but closes the window on her, trapping Jane from leaving.  He gives her the finest foods and toys, but brings in men with cameras who make her perform for them.  It is only after Jane tries to get him to open the window for her and he refuses that she finally understands that sometimes cages are a bit bigger than you would expect.

Jane on Her Own was probably my least favourite of the Catwings books, but it was still a really good read.  I'm sad that it is the last of the series; I would love to read more!  But since I can't, I'm happy to have all four books now; I can read them whenever I want to!

Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings

Wonderful Alexander and the Catwings is the third Catwings book by Ursula K. Le Guin.  As I mentioned in my last post, it was one of the two Catwings books I have never read.  I'm really glad I finally got a hold of it!

Alexander Furby lives in a big house with his family.  The oldest of three kittens, he decides to go exploring the world outside his garden.  Alexander nearly gets run over by some trucks on the road, then finds himself up a tree after being chased by some dogs.  He miserably spends the night, too terrified to climb down.

The next morning, a strange black cat with wings finds him.  Unable to speak, she manages to coax him down the tree and leads him to her home where he meets the other four catwings.  He learns that Jane, the black catwing, has never spoken and refuses to sleep in the dovecote with the others.

Susan and Hank, the children who care for the catwings, see Alexander and take him in.  That's where his original owner finds him.  Alexander remains with Susan and Hank, but now gets to see his parents when they come for a visit.

Alexander has a good life, but he always thought he would do something wonderful.  One day when he is reflecting on things, he realizes that Jane is the one who has done wonderful things - namely helping him down from that tree.  He decides he wants to do something wonderful for her, but what can he do for a cat with wings?

To avoid spoilers, I won't tell you; you'll have to read the story yourself!  That being said, I really enjoyed this book.  I wasn't sure what I would think of it, especially when it started off following Alexander (it isn't until chapter 2 that Jane shows up), but it more than made up for it in the end.  It was also great seeing more of Jane (and I'm sure I'll get even more Jane in the final book, Jane on her Own).

This is a beautiful story about the friendship between two cats.  If you're a fan of the first two books, you'll enjoy this one.

Reread: Catwings and Catwings Return

When I was younger, I used to read Catwings and Catwings Return all the time.  The library had both books, and I think they spent more time at my house than on the library's shelf.  Eventually, I found a copy of both of them for myself.  There are two other books in the series, but the library doesn't have those two; I finally got myself a copy of both of them, so I decided to first reread Catwings and Catwings Return before reading the new two.

Catwings is the story of Mrs. Jane Tabby's four remarkable kittens.  Thelma, Roger, Harriet and James were all born with wings.  Living under a dumpster in an alley, their mother knows the city is no place for flying cats; she urges them to use their wings to leave the city. The four cats make their way into the forest, where they learn to survive the new dangers there.

Catwings Return continues the story of the four flying tabbies.  Living happily in their new home, James and Harriet decide they want to visit their mother.  And so they fly back to the city, looking for their alley home.  They find it, but the dumpster and their mother is gone.  All that's left is a starving black kitten with wings!  The kitten is in an old building that is soon to be demolished.  It's up to James and Harriet to save her and help her find her mother.

Both books are really cute.  I've always loved them, and rereading them was a real trip down memory lane.  Now I'm really excited to read the two new books!

As a side note, it looks like I'm not the only one who loves the Catwings!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Library Book: The Last Unicorn

I don't really want to say a whole lot about The Last Unicorn. I've never read the actual novel by Peter S. Beagle, but I was a big fan of the movie when I was younger. I found the graphic novel in Chapters a few weeks ago and immediately fell in love with the art. The library has it, so I took it out a little while ago and finally got around to reading it. The graphic novel is relatively similar to the movie (which makes sense - Peter S. Beagle wrote the screenplay, and was involved with the graphic novel so they should be similar). But I just can't get over that artwork!!! (If you're curious, I found a sample of the art here).

If you're unfamiliar with the tale, it is the story of a unicorn who believes she is the last of her kind. So she sets out on an adventure to find out what happened to the others. The Last Unicorn is full of wonderful characters like Schmendrick the magician, who has power but isn't very good at casting spells, Molly Grue, the first woman to actually see the unicorn for who she is, and King Haggard, the cruel man who commands the Red Bull. The Last Unicorn is a wonderful tale that has captivated people around the world.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012


I've had a few people ask me over the last year or so to join Goodreads. I could never be bothered with it though. I have this blog, which works for me just fine, as well as my actual physical list of books to read. But today at work, someone showed me exactly how the site works and I decided to give it a shot. So I've spent way more time than I should have adding books to my Goodreads shelves. And somewhere along the way, I decided to put all the books on my physical list on Goodreads. So for the first time ever, if you want to know what's on my List, you can check it out here!

I have to warn you though, I don't know how often I'm going to be updating Goodreads. And I have no intention of reviewing books there; all my reviews will be done here. I should also put out the disclaimer that many of the books I rated were books I read prior to starting this blog. So I don't know how accurate my ratings of them are (this includes most of the Mercedes Lackey and Terry Brooks that are rated. I remember liking them, but the ratings may not be completely accurate on all of them).

I've gone through The List and updated Goodreads to have pretty much everything I've talked about on here. I've also got shelves set up for the school books I read, the books I originally got from the library, YA and Kids books I've read over the years, anthologies, short story collections (a book of short stories all by one author), plays and Kindle books. I won't list all the individual shelves here; you can find them all on my Goodreads page!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Kindle Book: Mockingjay

So I did it again. I finished
Mockingjay in one day. I told myself I wasn't going to, but as I was reading, I just didn't want to put it down. At this point I just wanted to know how the story ended.

I'd like to take this moment to give another spoiler warning. Now that I've read all three books, I will be saying things that give away earlier plot points. I'd also like to discuss Mockingjay in more detail than I've done for the other two books. So if you haven't read the trilogy yet, you might want to stop reading.

Mockingjay was a really strange entry in the Hunger Games trilogy. As I was reading it, I was struck a few times by how it felt like I was reading a completely different story. Sure, the characters were all there (or mostly there anyway - although even the characters who died tended to come up quite often). I find myself comparing Mockingjay to Worldwired, the final book of the Jenny Casey trilogy by Elizabeth Bear. No, Mockingjay doesn't start following other characters. But the scope of the story changes.

The one word that comes to mind when I think of Mockingjay is "revolution" (or "rebellion" works too). At the end of Catching Fire, Katniss was rescued from the arena along with a couple of the other tributes only to discover that District 12, her home, no longer exists. It was firebombed, much the same as District 13 was in the Dark Days which preceded the Capitol's complete control of the country and the beginning of the Hunger Games. Her rescuers are bringing her to District 13 which was actually not destroyed as everyone was led to believe. Unfortunately Peeta was left at the arena and is now in the hands of President Snow.

Katniss has been the spark that began the rebellions in several of the Districts. Those in charge of the rebellion (mainly headed by the President of District 13) want Katniss to continue rallying and inspiring the revolution by becoming the Mockingjay, the symbol of her pin (and the dress her stylist made for her to wear during Catching Fire). After a lot of time resisting, Katniss eventually agrees, but only if the tributes who were left behind in the arena (Peeta and a few others) will be given immunity.

And so begins Katniss's adventures in propaganda. After an initial attempt to produce a video in-studio fails (Katniss is a terrible actress), she is sent into the field. The shoot is supposed to be safe, with Katniss walking around a hospital talking to the wounded, but the hospital is attacked, giving Katniss the opportunity to shoot down some hovercraft. This gets her camera crew some amazing footage.

Meanwhile, President Snow hasn't been idly sitting by. He keeps staging interviews of Peeta on TV, showing Katniss how much Peeta is deteriorating. Finally, Katniss breaks down, prompting a rescue mission. Unfortunately Peeta has been more badly damaged than anyone can anticipate; he has been tortured in such a way that his memories of Katniss have been confused and he believes she is the enemy. He tries to kill her when he first sees her.

And this becomes the first real big setback to her possible relationship with Gale (who I had been rooting for since book 1). Other setbacks happen, making a relationship with him less and less possible (the most noticeable one being his plan to cave in the last place of resistance within the Districts - it is painful for Katniss because her father died in a mining accident).

Finally, Katniss and company makes her way into the Capitol. Her squad is supposed to be just the face of the rebellion, celebrity tributes and beautiful people being used for propaganda only. But Katniss has other plans, wanting to kill President Snow herself. Her squad experiences a setback when Peeta is sent to them; this is clearly a signal that the District 13's president wants her dead because Peeta isn't really better. But the squad helps him as best they can.

Then on a mission deemed safe, all hell breaks loose. A hidden trap takes out their commanding officer, and other traps kill a few other members of the squad. The remainder escapes just in time before the Capitol's forces blow up the building they were last seen in. Both Capitol and Rebel forces believe the Mockingjay is dead. So Katniss and her squad attempt to continue on and kill the President themselves. Unfortunately he realizes they are still alive and starts hunting them within his city. Slowly she loses more and more of her squad until there's only her, Gale, Peeta and two others left. They make it to the President's Mansion just as the rest of the rebels do. A group of children is kept in front of the mansion, and the children get bombed by a Capitol hovercar. Rebel medics rush into help, including Katniss's sister Prim. In a trap much like one discussed earlier by Gale, a secondary explosion goes off, killing the medics.

Katniss is in a daze for a long time after the death of her sister. She finds herself walking into the room where Snow was being held before his execution. She has a brief conversation with him, which is when she starts to wonder just who bombed the children and her sister.

Finally, Snow's execution is at hand. Katniss is supposed to be the one to kill him with an arrow. But at the last minute she turns and kills the Mayor of District 13 instead. The Mayor had assumed control once the war was over. Katniss is brought into custody where she contemplates killing herself, but in the end she is released to go back home to District 12 (where her house and a few others have miraculously survived). Gale has gone elsewhere because he knows Katniss will always think in the back of her mind that he was responsible for her sister's death. She spends a long while in a fog, doing nothing, until one day she finds Peeta has also come home. And so she slowly mends mentally, living out the rest of her days with him and the children they eventually have.

I know I've gone into a lot of detail about the plot, but I felt it was necessary because this book was so full of twists and turns. The original book was all about the actual Hunger Games, so that was all that happened. The second book was first about Katniss's trip with Peeta, the beginnings of rebellion, and then the Quarter Quell, which was an excuse to get Katniss and Peeta back into the Games. Mockingjay does not feature the Games at all (although the fight through the Capitol is rather like another Hunger Game in many ways). While Katniss is still very much controlled by others, she also seems to lose her spirit in this book. That has a lot to do with the stress of being the Mockingjay, and Snow's attempts to break her using Peeta. But she also spends large amounts of the book aimless, uninterested in her surroundings and rather boring. The beginning and end really drove that home. At the beginning she was recovering from her last Hunger Games (the Quarter Quell) which involved a head injury. She was disoriented, having a tough time adjusting to the rigidity of District 13 and hated being stuck underground. At the end she was tried for killing the District 13 Mayor, but spent the entire trial in solitary confinement. Why didn't we get to see the trial?

I realize that part of this is very realistic. I mean, she was a 16-year-old girl at the beginning of The Hunger Games who liked hunting with her friend Gale. By Mockingjay she has survived two Hunger Games, incited revolution, been the face of that revolution and killed an awful lot of people. She isn't coping very well with all of that, but still has to pull through because everyone expects her to.

But by the end it was hard to like Katniss. Peeta kept saying, all the way through the series, that she had no idea what effect she had on others. And it's true that Katniss didn't. But I as the reader also didn't get it. She had two boys who loved her (although I really don't know why Peeta continued to. No matter what she did, he just seemed to love her unconditionally without really knowing her). She kept doing things that made people notice her. But she was selfish (and admitted that to herself). She knew that good people didn't win the Hunger Games, and that Peeta was special because he was a good person (I keep thinking back to when she realized that before the Quarter Quell began. The only reason Peeta won was because of her. He's too good to have done it on his own. I do not fault him for that - it's part of who he is, what makes him so special). And she seemed to give up too much, particularly in the last book. In previous books she was always determined to fight for something; the fight just seemed to be gone this time around.

I was also really disappointed by her lack of a relationship with Gale. Right from The Hunger Games I thought he was the one for her. Gale was the one who knew her, who watched out for both her and her family. But first Catching Fire disappointed me by not starting with their reunion (to be fair, Katniss tells us about it before long. But I would have preferred to jump right back into the story at that point, not months after it happened). And then their relationship deteriorates more and more as Mockingjay progresses.

I really don't want to say much more about Mockingjay or the whole Hunger Games trilogy in general. I did enjoy reading them (I did read them in three days afterall). I found I didn't want to put the books down. But I was struck, over and over again, that if this had been my story, it would have been a lot different. But this isn't my story, so I cannot fault Suzanne Collins for telling her story her way. As I said, it's a good read, so definitely consider The Hunger Games trilogy if you're looking for a good post-apocalyptic tale.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Kindle Book: Catching Fire

Well, I somehow did it. I managed to read Catching Fire in a day, just like The Hunger Games. And hopefully this time I'll be able to get a good night sleep now that I'm done.

At this point, I am going to issue a spoiler warning. It's impossible to talk about Catching Fire without giving away some of the stuff from The Hunger Games. I may also be ruining some cool stuff about Catching Fire, so if you don't want to know, please stop reading now.

I'm going to say that I was disappointed with Catching Fire right from the start. The way The Hunger Games ended led me to believe Catching Fire would take place immediately after The Hunger Games. It didn't. Catching Fire took place months after The Hunger Games, leaving out a lot of the things I wanted to read about (most importantly Katniss's homecoming and reunion with her family and Gale). But no, it skips ahead to her tour with Peeta halfway between their Hunger Games and the next one.

Once I got over that though, I was pulled in by the story. The Capitol's President appears in person at the beginning of the tour to issue Katniss a dangerous ultimatum: she must convince the entire country that her feelings for Peeta are genuine or else those she is closest to will die. After the events of the previous book, several of the Districts are beginning to rebel, and they are using her act of defiance (and the unprecedented two champions of the 74th Hunger Games) as their symbol of rebellion.

So Katniss tries her best, but it isn't enough. The Districts start rebelling, leading to harsher conditions back in her home District (even though the people have not rebelled there). Gale is severely punished, after which they lose access to the woods. And then the unthinkable happens: for the 75th Hunger Games, the candidates will come from the living winners of previous Hunger Games. And in Katniss's District, there are only three. And only one of them is female.

Catching Fire was a pretty good story, even after my initial disappointment. There's a lot going on, and you can really tell that it's an important turning point for not only Katniss but her entire world. But that being said, I don't think Catching Fire was as good as The Hunger Games.

So now I'm onto Mockingjay, the final book in the series, tomorrow. I'm really hoping it will be a great ending to the trilogy. And I'm hoping that this time, Mockingjay will take place immediately after Catching Fire's story ended.