Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Clearing in the Distance

Even though this book was a biography of Frederick Law Olmstead, I found it as interesting as any work of fiction I've read in a long time. Olmstead, whose most famous projects include Central Park, Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the park system in Buffalo, Mount Royal in Montreal, the grounds of the Chicago World's Fair, and the grounds at the Biltmore Estate, was a fascinating man.

He didn't start designing parks and public spaces until he was in his 30s. Prior to that he owned several farms and studied "scientific farming," travelled throughout the south and sent back articles on the south and slavery, and during the Civil War served as head of the pre-cursor to the Red Cross. He was also ran the Mariposa Gold Mine out in California and sat on the board that went on to form Yosemite National Park. In addition to all of this, he was a publisher and successful author. He was involved in so many projects, big and small, that the book couldn't detail all of them.

It is hard to believe that one man could do so much, and yet he did. His landscape design firm, headed up by his son after Olmstead died, went on to become one of the top firms in the country. Olmstead's influence is seen in parks and colleges and cities around the world.

The Battle of the Labyrinth

This is the fourth in Percy Jackson series, and it was my favorite of the books so far. The characters, especially Percy, seemed a little too precoscious in the first books. But now it's like the characters have caught up with their true ages.

This book has Percy and his friends setting off into the Labyrinth in an effort to stop Kronos and his army from gaining access to Camp Half Blood. The adventures are a lot of fun, and the dangers are written well enough to keep you turning the pages.

Ella and I have one book left in the series, and then we'll probably be moving on to Riordan's next series, which deals with ancient Egypt.

The Mysterious Benedict Society

Ella got the first book for Christmas, and she was completely absorbed in it. I had to pry it out of her hands each night to get her to go to sleep. Once she finished it, I decided to read the book to see what it was all about.

Ella and I have now read the first two books and are waiting for the third to come out in paperback.

With the exception of the Harry Potter series, I think this is probably the best youth fiction series I've read yet. The plots are dense and challenging, and the vocabulary had Ella asking me to define words, which I liked.

The books center around four exceptional children who come from not-normal backgrounds. They go through several challenges at the beginning of the first book, which is how they end up living with the mysterious Mr. Benedict, who immediately sends them off on a mission to save the world. The second book is about the four kids heading off to rescue Mr. Benedict on their own.

The characters are very well written, and the stories are griping. I couldn't put the books down, either.

Ella and I are waiting with baited breath to get our hands on the third volume.

The Girl Who Played with Fire

This is the second of Stieg Larsson's series, and I liked it a lot more than the first, which I really liked. I was glad he spent more time on Salander's backstory and less time of Blumkvist, who just isn't as interesting.

I am looking forward to the third book coming out, so much so that I may splurge for the hardcover edition.