Sparky Sweets, Ph.D

Have you guys seen Sparky Sweets, Ph.D and his amazing youtube channel and website, Thug Notes? (Yes, I linked both.  He is that amazing.)

Sparky Sweets, my new celebrity crush (Internet fame totally counts!), takes old classics and summarizes and analyzes them in a whole new way – thug-style.  His analysis, by the way, is absolutely brilliant, if short and sweet.  I’ve read several of the books discussed, both in classes and for pleasure, and he always manages  to bring up points that a) make perfect sense and b) I have not been introduced to before.  I like it so much!!!!

The summaries come with fun little animations, which are entertaining enough that I don’t mind sitting through the plotline of a book I’ve read several times and very helpful if you haven’t read it before or are struggling to get through it currently.

My favorite quote, from his video on The Scarlet Letter: “Up in Salem, MA, where everybody got real tight assholes…”

When you have 3-5 minutes, hop on over to his website and pick a classic to watch.  I especially liked his analysis of Of Mice and MenThe Great Gatsby, and, of course, Pride and Prejudice.  Give him a try!


Gone Girl (Guest Post!)

[Topper’s Notes: Hi! This is a guest post by my very good friend who writes The Straight and Uneven, a blog about life, poetry, opinions, and so much more.  She’s one of the coolest, most thoughtful people I know – and she put this together so fast I didn’t even have time to promote it!  I am so excited to share her book review with y’all!]

by: Gillian Flynn

Hello Topper’s Books readers! I’m very happy to be here as a guest on my lovely friend’s blog. Today I’m going to present you with my thoughts on Gone Girl, the incredibly hyped mystery novel by Gillian Flynn. Unfortunately, there are many spoilers ahead so read at your own risk!  [Topper’s Notes: The spoilers do not reveal big twists or the ending, but they do contain plot details that may spoil some of the suspense during the novel.]

For a reader of contemporary fiction, Gone Girl seems very enticing-trendy, yet intelligent, with its non-flashy but none too alienating cover art.  A modern-day mystery about a smart, modern woman.

Oh, Gone Girl, you misled my naive perspective on the New York Times bestseller list. Serves me right.  Let me start by letting you know that I subconsciously started reading the book with the mindset that it would be similar to my experience with Tana French’s suspenseful, crafty In the Woods, a murder mystery I highly recommend. (Ironically, I just saw that Tana French herself has given this book a great review.) Even though Gone Girl lured me with its own charm, I couldn’t erase that perspective.

I enjoyed the descriptions at the beginning, with Nick, one of the two main characters, describing his wife according to the shape of her head, and Amy (his wife) asking if she should “remove her soul” before coming inside their new suburban dwelling-but Flynn cut right to the chase too quickly for me. The move to said new dwelling is meant to be taken as a bad omen, a sign of the cracks in Nick and Amy’s relationship. For me, character development is key, and though the flashbacks to Nick and Amy’s early days, when they first met, are fun, they’re not that important because we already know they’re in trouble from page 2.

It turns out that Amy is psychologically damaged from the fictional creation of her parents (who are, incidentally, psychologists), Amazing Amy. Constantly living in the shadow of a little girl in a children’s book takes a toll on her, no matter how self-aware she and her parents are. Conveniently, her husband is psychologically damaged from his father’s bad relationships with women. Put these two together and what do you get? A Scott Petersen media storm.

That being said, I enjoyed many of the other characters – Nick’s feminist sister is interesting, though she only really plays the role of a bystander, as well as Detective Rhonda Boney, who constantly irks Nick by suggesting he’s the baby of his family. The suspense surrounding Amy’s disappearance was also great, until it just fizzled out. Once we reach the climax, there are just too many characters that appear too conveniently to be believable. Too many extra plot twists, small and large, pop out like weird jungle vines. Oh wait, there’s an ex-lover of Amy’s still available for whatever anyone wants with him! Oh, you didn’t think Nick was a bad husband, check out his young fling and weird temper tantrums! Yes, I realize this may happen in a Scott Petersen or Natalie Holloway media storm, but I just couldn’t get on board.

The resolution of all of these jungle vines didn’t satisfy me. I think Flynn should have chosen one or two good twists and stuck with them. If, at every turn, no one is who they seem, things stop being interesting. The actual mystery of Amy’s disappearance is appropriately strange and disturbing, in a way you’re not meant to expect. When it begins to wrap up, the dialogue and the plot becomes tired. You don’t see enough of how or why Nick and Amy’s relationship is poisonous, you just see the evidence of it, and their separate character flaws. In the end, I got the feeling that I was supposed to feel shocked and disturbed, and like I went through something deep and traumatic. Nick and Amy both get what they supposedly deserve, but it’s hardly satisfying or eerie-not calculating enough for a character like Amy and her Amazing counterpart.



Children's · Fantasy · Teen Fiction · YA

The House of Hades


by: Rick Riordan

Hi guys! I know I haven’t posted in a while but I’ve been busy and didn’t make time for my blog!  I also have had a base case of puttingdownitis, where I read the first couple of chapters of a book and then move on to the next one.  Then I realized House of Hades had come out.  And of course I had to get it and read it and then I stayed up until 2 a.m. finishing it, without even realizing how late it was.

House of Hades is Riordan’s latest addition to his Heroes of Olympus series, which is a sequel series to the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series.  If you’re not at all familiar with Riordan’s series, they’re based on the premise that the Olympian gods are still alive and well…and reproducing.  Children of gods are heroes, of course, and Riordan draws heavily on Greek myths to give them monsters to fight and quests to complete.

This series draws from the Roman myths as well, though I won’t say how in case somebody reading this hasn’t read the series.  It’s a shorter and, plot-wise, much, much tighter series than PJATO, so starting at the beginning is really helpful for clarity.  Riordan does a great job of lightly touching on important plot points without rewriting portions of the previous books, so you don’t have to reread the first three books to get caught up with the smaller details.

As for the book itself, it’s pretty darn good.  It’s definitely an action-adventure book.  It’s fast-paced, fun, and easy to get caught up in.  We’re following seven heroes on a quest to – what else? – save the world.  Violence may abound, but clever words and tricks, Odysseus-style, save the day a time or ten.  I always love a fast-paced book that remembers violence isn’t always the answer.

The character development is actually pretty good, though occasionally they’re written a tad bit too simplistically and I wish there was a bit more of it.   One of surprisingly good things about this series is the diversity of the characters, especially as it’s set in American (where the Olympic gods have moved to), where more and more people of mixed ethnicities are being born every day. I think it’s very realistic, for instance, that a half-Greek and half-Latino demigods was born in Texas. Riordan doesn’t do a whole amount of developing the cultural background of his characters – any of his characters – but he does incorporate where he can.  Generally, though, they’re too busy trying to stay alive to allow much time for anything else.  And they’re all narrating characters, as well.

And, of course, shout out to all his amazing female characters who are smart and strong and flawed.

Riordan switches character viewpoint every few chapters and does so surprisingly well, though that’s partly because he relies on third-person limited point of view.  This book focused, more than the previous three, on the heroes finding their strength and deciding who they are.  It’s kinda cool that they do this in the book before the big finale, rather than right before or during it.   I think it will make the final battle, and there will be a final battle, more a test of strength and endurance, rather than the main character magically leveling up right when he needs to.

We don’t get to see many of the big 12 gods in this story, which is a bit sad for me.  We do get to meet quite a few new minor gods and monsters, as well as some older friends and enemies.  I love seeing how the gods adapted to our modern world!  Riordan’s writing is good but not great – but his plot lines and use of Greek myths and gods is fantastic.  I will say the writing is definitely directed at preteens and teenagers and every once in a great while the teenage voice is a bit forced.

There were one or two deus ex machina points in the story, which I saw coming and rolled my eyes at.  There were also a few unexpected twists and turns that mostly made up for it.  And I loved the handling of character-character relationships, as Riordan tries to look at nearly every possible relationship.  (I could do with a bit more emphasis on the female characters’ interactions with each other in this book, but I do seem to remember The Mark of Athena focusing more on them, so maybe in balance I’m happy.)  The book overall is smooth and you’ll quickly find yourself getting lost in it, just like the previous three.  I should mention I like this series more than the previous one and I think they’re better written, overall.

Overall, if you like exciting action-adventure books or if you love the Greek gods and myths, you should pick up Riordan.  If you’ve read him before and enjoyed it, please continue reading! The books are all fairly equal in quality, which is rare and wonderful.  If, however, a teenage voice written for a young audience doesn’t excite you or if you want a lot of deep character development and growth in your fantasy, then, alas!, this may not be the book for you.