Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Green Angel by Alice Hoffman


How I got it: I remembered a review of this book and saw it at the library, whereupon the rest worked out pretty well.

Book in a nutshell:

Green, a fifteen-year-old girl, stays behind angry while her family goes to market in the nearby city. But a huge explosion destroys the city and devestates the countryside, killing her family and changing her life forever. She descends into darkness and despair... until reasons for hope begin to appear.

---

I think the book is supposed to be set in the future. Even though it feels like a fairy tale, it involves all sorts of modern things. One of the reviewers calls it something like "a post-apocolyptic fairy tale," which seems to be a pretty close description. From the back cover, this slim novella seems to be a total wash of depression. But due to its brevity and its capable writing, I don't mind... and it doesn't stay that way.
It is really more of a fairy tale than a serious story for long-term staring-at. It's beautiful and well-done, portraying a shy and lonely girl recovering from tragedy.

Age rec: I'd say 12 and up - content-wise, there's nothing that I can remember, but its dark tone throughout much of the story would probably be off-putting to many younger readers. Other characters are mentioned as drinking alchoholic drinks, and the main character tattoos herself. But as the bottom line, I just don't think young kids would be interested.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Matched, by Ally Condie


How I found this book: Picked it up because I'd also just picked up Divergent by Veronica Roth, both of which being rec's from a friend of mine.

(Picture found on the author's website.)

I'm going to leave off the proper plot summary because it's really not the best part of the book - in fact, it could turn off some people who are tired of love triangles, enough so that they miss a really fine novel.

You may have heard that this book is a "rip-off of The Giver." I did certainly notice some similarities... For people who've read The Giver as their "first dystopia" just like I did, it's a little familiar. But then it's also very different. It's a teen vision, a girl's vision.

The world of Cassia's Society is almost a utopia - until one thinks about it. It's peaceful, beautiful, safe. No one has to worry about choices - or choosing wrong. Nearly all disease is gone, nearly all accidents. The food is perfectly portioned, the schedule of each person detailed, by the Officials. There's no obvious show of force or coercion. Even death is made a quiet, formal thing, when each citizen dies peacefully at precisely 80 years of age. 100 poems, 100 songs, 100 works of art are there - selected by the creators of the Society. There's no fear and no change.

Cassia's personal view of her quiet, pretty world changes twice in quick succession. First, when her "Match" - the person she's later going to be married to - turns out to be her friend Xander... but then a picture of another boy appears briefly inside the "match" information package. An Official assures her that this is merely a mistake, and that the boy whose picture she briefly saw is not even allowed to be Matched, as he is an Aberration. But he's also a boy who she's met before. Second, her grandfather turns 80 and dies painlessly as is usual in the Society - but he shows her a gift that ought not to even exist... a piece of paper with two poems that were not within the 100.

It's more than a "love triangle" when Cassia finds herself liking Ky - the Aberration - as well as Xander. It's a choice she's wavering in - between the simple childhood friend, the one she views as the Society's choice for her, and the odd boy who teaches her how to write her name and shows her the poems that he makes up. And she has allies in this "rebellion" that she chooses to make - the memory of her grandfather, and one of the poems that he gave her: Dylan Thomas's Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.

(I used to not like that poem, but now I do a good deal more. Perhaps whenever I read it, I will have a little mental picture of a girl in a green dress, holding a glint of gold in her hand.)

Cassia's not a brave revolutionary. She burns poems out of fear - but she loves the words that she feels driven to destroy. But she knows in the end what choices to make - and she is brave - tremendously brave.

I like that this book honors the connection between individuals. Cassia confides in her family members, and they in her. She loved her grandfather and honors his memory. She speaks the truth to Xander about her feelings for Ky, saying before she does - "I could love him. I do love him. And because I do, I have to tell him about Ky. I do not mind stealing from the Society. But I will not steal from Xander any longer. Even if it hurts, I have to tell him. Because either way, whichever life I build, has to be built on truth."

I had to include that last quote. It's one of the best lines I've read for a long time in a YA book. And, in a way, it captures what I see as the essential inside message of Matched - that life has to be built on truth, not just fact but truth.

---

It would be a quick step from there to speaking of the Truth Himself - a step that the Ms. Condie, however, doesn't choose to take. But for a modern YA dystopia novel - this one is on par with The Hunger Games as the most relevant, truth-filled one I've read yet.

In my opinion, the most chilling scene of the whole book is near the beginning. Cassia's father works on collecting artifacts for the Officials to review. Cassia goes to his worksite at one point. They're excavating an old library.

"The workers...suck up piles of papers with the incineration tubes. My father told us that right when they thought they had gone through everything, they found steel boxes of books buried down in the basement. Almost as though someone tried to hide and preserve the books against the future. My father and the other Restoration specialists have been through the boxes...they will incinerate all of it."

"...There are few piles of books left...the workers move from one to another... It's faster to incinerate individual pages instead of books, so they slice the books open, gutting them along the spines, preparing them for the tubes."
"...The books' backs are broken; their bones, thin and delicate, fall out. The workers shove them toward the incineration tube; they step on them. The bones crackle under their boots like leaves..."

Shudder.

Ms. Condie is an English teacher, according to her bio. I know that to her as well as to me, this is a terrible image.

---

Age rec - This could almost be upper MG and up. There's no swearing, nothing more than kissing in the romance. But, as in all dystopia novels, the premise is a good bit disturbing.
For ages 14 and up - go for it!
Especially rec'd for those who aren't quite up for the violence and emotion of The Hunger Games but want to read a wisely-handled novel of this sort.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Hoping to...

... re-read Hexwood and review it - if possible
... get more books from the library
... review Dolphin Island tonight.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater


How I found this book:
I detested the beginning of Shiver but remembered the odd name of the author; when I saw this book on the New Teen Books display at the library, I scanned it (must have been only the back cover excerpt?) and brought it home in one of the most trusting book-obtaining sprees I have ever gone on. I don't know what got into me, really. But this time it worked...

To be open and up-front with you, readers, I am 100% wowed with this book. I am buying myself a copy. I may also get horseback riding lessons. Who knows?

And I love the cover, too.

Book in a nutshell:

The island of Thisby (apparently supposed to be somewhere off the English or Irish coast) has one unique thing, one terrible and beautiful thing that sets it apart. It has the capaill uisce, the water horses, that come out of the sea in late autumn - the horses who eat meat, who kill humans, and who run like the wind.
The Scorpio Races is a yearly event on the first of November. In the month before, as the capaill uisce come up, people begin to train and ready for it. But this isn't a horse race. This is a water horse race, along the beach, fighting to control your magical mount and not be attacked by anybody else's on the way.
This is the story of two competitors: Puck Conolly, a stubborn girl hoping to win the race so as to earn money to save her family's home, and Sean Kendrick, a young man who rides a capaill uisce that belongs to him in all but lawful contract. The stakes are high, and the training season is beginning.

---

The Scorpio Races is a heartwrenching, beautiful, fast-paced book with just the right amount of everything. It's for horse-lovers and fantasy-lovers and action-lovers - if you're looking for just a romance, there's one here, too, though it's pretty subtle compared to many out there.

This is a very well-written book. Ms. Stiefvater doesn't waste words, but she scatters them well; the Festival scenes were especially well-done. Though the dual-narrators thing occasionally left me confused as to who the "I" was at a given point, I didn't count points off. It was a good way of telling the story - in fact, the best that I could think of.

The capaill uisce (Author's Note assures us it's pronounced CAPple ISHka) especially resonated with me, as I have a peculiar mix of love/fear feelings toward horses. I never had too much experience with them, and I doubt I'll ever lose my slight wariness when around them. Even though these are fantasy horses, I felt that I could transfer some of the characters' feelings to apply to real-life horses: respect, admiration, excitement, sometimes love, occasionally a degree of trust, an understanding of the power of the animal and the potential harm they can inflict. (If you are a horse lover, please understand I do not mean to insult domestic horses. I've met many lovely horses in my life and know that most of them are perfectly friendly. But I respect them, their size, and their occasional unpredictable behavior.)

It's a story about losing things, or being on the brink of losing them, or considering whether you have them at all. Puck's brother Gabe wants to leave his orphaned brother and sister and go to the mainland. Sean wants his own life, outside of the stable where he's been working for nine years, and most especially wants to own his capaill uisce Corr for himself. Puck wants to keep her life together and not lose the house - or her brother Gabe. Odious Mutt Malvern wants something... the lovable Dory Maud and her sisters want something... Some wishes are possible, some seem impossible. Some are granted, some not.

Another interesting theme is Puck herself. She's not only the first girl to run in the Scorpio Races, but also... an atypical entrant in other ways (avoiding spoilers here). She undergoes all kinds of attempts to get her to withdraw her entry, attempts made by people with reasons ranging from tradition to sheer meanness. And when she's asked at one point whether she was "inspired by the women's suffrage movement," she answers, "I'm just a person with a horse, same as anyone else on this island." True. I don't see Puck as a feminist. She's not trying to be revolutionary; she's just being herself.

I also noticed a strong thread about home and belonging. Sean dreams of having his own farm. Puck wants to keep living in the house with her brothers. They belong on Thisby - they belong to Thisby. But others - such as Gabe and his friends - speak of not being able to stand the island, of wanting to leave. And then there are the tourists, including George Holly, who love Thisby but only for as long as the exciting races are going on.

I could hardly put this book down. Nearly every suspicion and guess I had about plot outcomes was disproven. Ms. Stiefvater made a bright, dangerous, living little world that I'm sorry to leave, even though I half-imagine it's going on still while I have my back turned! My heart went out to many of the characters. For a moment I even felt sorry for Mutt. But this is a book of hope, as well as loss, and the last page brought tears (of joy) to my eyes. (Yes. Rina, who didn't cry during any of the Hunger Games books, cried at the ending of The Scorpio Races. Finish it, and you'll see why to.)

Age rec: I'd say 13, 14 and up. There are some references to things, but nothing I considered terribly embarrassing - a little swearing, too - and the romance is surprisingly light (esp. considering what I've heard of the author's previous work). The worst that can be expected are the rude insults and ragging that Puck receives as persecution from hostile islanders. I can definitely recommend this book for boys and for girls, for teens and for grownups.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wildwood by Colin Meloy


How I found this book: Well, seeing the title of this post, you will probably go, Oh no, not another Wildwood review! That's the answer. A lot of people reviewed it. They said enough things about it that I wanted to read it.
I also got stuck with it for a while because my library temporarily closed shortly after I took it out.

(Picture of cover from the author's website)

Book in a nutshell (hard to do, since it's about an inch and a half thick):
Prue McKeel's an average Portland, Oregon, girl. She's good in school, loves her family, and stays away from the Impassible Wilderness - that great empty blot on all the maps of Portland, the forest that few ever enter. Then one fateful day, her little brother Mac is abducted in the park by a flock of crows (a murder of crows, as the book mildly calls it, using what I believe is the proper term for such a congregation). At the edge of a cliff and panting from a bike chase, Prue sees the black shapes disappearing down into the far-off pines of the Impassible Wilderness.
The next day, she sets off, with her suspicious classmate Curtis in pursuit... after all, if you were a rather geeky young boy (to borrow the colloquialism) with an interest in books, and you saw an acquaintance of yours disappearing off to potential adventure, wouldn't you pursue too?
Inside, the Impassible Wilderness turns out to be a divided land inhabited by talking animals and odd people. And it's a land of danger and misfortune, of instability, that the two children find themselves in. The coyote soldiers of the Dowager Governess are ruthless, but are the bureaucrats of the South Wood even worse? And while Prue's definitely out of patience with the latter, what's going to happen now that Curtis is allying with the former?
Not to mention, how is Prue ever going to find Mac?

----

I did like this book. I keep thinking that it's like Narnia... but it isn't... why do I say it is? Because of the children, I suppose, and the talking animals, and the comparison someone made between the Dowager Governess and the White Witch.

(For what it's worth, I agree with the comparison. Not to mention, in many ways Curtis seemed to be running a parallel of Edmund. Who would that make Prue? More like Peter than any other, really.
Seriously, though, there are too many parts of this story that have no Narnian counterpart for me to really present a comparison on a large scale. The bandits, for example!)

The scenery is beautifully described; this book is a subtle paen to a beloved Northwest Coast landscape... which I have visited before and love as well.
There's a very rich cast of characters, as might be expected.The Bandit King is part Aragorn and part.... I don't know, maybe part cowboy? He - and his band - are quite human, believable, flawed, and yet fun. South Wood's bureaucracy is portrayed dryly in all their chilling, impersonal straitness. Owl Rex and his eagle General are heroic figures, Enver the sparrow a nervous patriot. In fact, every character, even the bit parts like housemaids and bandits in prison, is lovingly crafted and handsomely portrayed.
The characters, in my opinion, are the crowning glory of this book, and make a far-fetched story feel as real as next door.

Both Prue and Curtis show realistic, well-written character development throughout the book, unlike many MG heroes and heroines these days. I find myself falling back onto the Narnia analogies: Prue becomes a leader like Peter, if not a warrior, and Curtis comes to an understanding, like Edmund, of what's really up. I love them both, really. I'd be proud to be friends with either of them.

Oh, there are oodles of things I love about Wildwood! But...

My main problem began around page 328. It would be a major spoiler to say exactly what it was, but... I was very displeased with the sudden influx of Magic into the story, especially in the way that it happened.
Highlight below for a spoiler that explains why I was displeased:
It is revealed that the Dowager Governess made a deal with Prue's then-childless parents: she would cause them to have a baby (exact words: "I'll make you with child") if they promised to give their second child (if there ever was one) to her. A sort of Rumplestiltskin bargain, except worse. Admittedly, since it was "a few weeks later" that a doctor stated Prue's mother was pregnant, one could take the notion that the "Wood Magic" merely removed whatever was keeping her from being pregnant - but really. Moreover, IF a character learned that she'd basically been concieved by the magic of a nasty villain, I think she WOULD be somewhat more shaken about it. So it's a plot problem as well as a very weird and unpleasant idea.
And again, when we meet the Mystics at the Council tree, suddenly everything takes a flip into Eastern-religion-style meditation and "Wood Magic." The Mystics take a major role in many things from there on out, and the trees and bushes begin to be partly sentient when meditated with, and... Wood Magic becomes a sort of deus ex machina.
I was disappointed. We had such a great set-up (what with the Bandit King and his lot, and the birds, and the talking animals and the bureaucrats and everything!) and now, suddenly, a needless Magic shows up - and of a sort that I found completely unsuited to a Portland, OR, setting and barely foreshadowed.
Wood Magic becomes a sort of deus ex machina, especially taking a role in the climax when (spoiler) Prue harnesses her powers and convinces tree branches to save her brother from the Dowager Governess's deadly plans.

Final thoughts:
Wildwood is a modern, MG epic that, unfortunately, seems to fall short in some plot features. If the magic had simply been left out and a few elements re-worked to compensate, I would have considered it stellar. I'm longing to talk about all the things I love about it, but at the core it was a bit of a disappointment. I'm sorry. I want to like it more. It's good now, but it could have been great.
If it had fallen short in more ways, I wouldn't have felt so bad about where it did. The trouble is, until around the 300-page mark, I was set up for an American Narnia! Then, instead of Aslan, we end up with meditation and one-with-the-earthness. Frankly, I would have preferred a lack of any spiritual elements at all. I wasn't expecting any, but then they showed up.

But if you're reading this review and scratching your head saying, "What's she griping about? Sounds great to me" then by all means go read Wildwood. You will love it.

Age rec: Well, I guess MG. 10 and up. And up, and up! But with a warning regarding all of the above. The battle scenes are not bloody, and there's no bad swearing that I recall, and definitely nothing of the adult-content variety. Really, except for the odd Wood Magic... but I've been over that already.

N. B. - the Impassible Wilderness seems to be based off a real park in Portland: Forest Park. Take a look on Mapquest - the thing's huge!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Upcomers

Dancing around an Upcoming Books post on Charlotte's Library, I discovered a few that I'm interested in.



I really haven't got a great fancy for Reeve novels, but I may end up reading this one, if it receives good reviews. Fever is my favorite of his characters. I wonder if Kit's children are in this book too?

Frankly, anything about poor Kit Solent is a very poignant pleasure - you see, I have read the Mortal Engines series since Fever Crumb, and.... anyone who has read those knows what I mean. (Insert mournful noise here).





This one deserves its biggest picture.



I'm not much of a Rick Riordan fan. I read Percy Jackson books 1 - and 5. Nothing inbetween, except for a chapter or so at the beginning of book 2. Book 1 did not interest me. But then, probably I'm not expected to appreciate a tale issued for middle school boys.
Book 5 (The Last Olympian) impressed me a good deal. "The years," I said, "have added age and perhaps even wisdom to these characters!" Yes, but the years had also added power and depth to Rick Riordan's writing. Not so much that I will play catch-up with the other books in the series, but enough that I had a very good time reading The Last Olympian.

A younger friend of mine - the same one who lent me the first and fifth Percy Jackson books - proceeds to incite me to read the new serieses. I've been dubious.

However, this cover deserves to be printed and framed.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Liar's Moon, by Elizabeth C. Bunce


I read Starcrossed with initial reluctance. The protagonist seemed disappointingly selfish and shallow at first, but as the plot thickened, she grew ever more lovable and understandable. By the end, I thought the whole book was great, the protagonist a friend of mine, and Elizabeth C. Bunce a master of the art.

Needless to say, I want the sequel.

Amazon.com blurb:

---------------------
Prisons, poisons, and passions combine in a gorgeously written fantasy noir by the author of the Morris Award-winning A CURSE DARK AS GOLD.

As a pickpocket, Digger expects to spend a night in jail every now and then. But she doesn't expect to find Lord Durrel Decath there as well--or to hear he's soon to be executed for killing his wife.

Durrel once saved Digger's life, and when she goes free, she decides to use her skills as a thief, forger, and spy to investigate his case and return the favor. But each new clue only opens up more mysteries. While Durrel's marriage was one of convenience, his behavior has been more impulsive than innocent. His late wife had an illegal business on the wrong side of the civil war raging just outside the city gates. Digger keeps finding forbidden magic in places it has no reason to be.

And it doesn't help that she may be falling in love with a murderer . . .


-----------------

Since I can't remember most of the names from Starcrossed, I think I need to re-read it. But that will be a welcome pleasure in and of itself.

Liar's Moon (can I say I LOVE the title, esp. considering some points from book 1) comes out on November 1st.


Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Two very beautiful MG novels

A double post today! Both of these came from my library, when I was browsing the younger section for something pleasant.

Dancing Through the Snow, by Jean Little

This is the story of Min: early memories of a callous, abusive pair who weren't her parents, abandoned in a public place, in and out of foster homes for years. Now, a little while before Christmas, she's been returned to the social services office again after another placement that didn't work out. But a new chance comes, in the form of Jess Hart, a doctor who helped her when she was younger. Jess, with a characteristic disregard of red tape, sweeps Min away to her own home. And this begins a new life for Min - full of unexpected complications, like an abandoned dog, a puppy-mill investigation, and an irritating boy named Toby, as well as with surprising joys.

At its heart this is a simple, gentle book about a girl finding her place in the world. Each of the characters is lifelike, from caring Jess Hart to even the difficult Toby. There's no earth-shaking conflict or excitement in this book, but there's all sorts of beauty, and the small decisions of right and wrong, good and bad. I felt that this book could really have happened - and stories like it probably have, before.

Age rec: anyone. The more unpleasant aspects - Min's difficult early life, the puppy mill - are, if not ignored, "lightened" for younger readers. And I myself was moved almost to tears at several points, including the ending.



Weasel, by Cynthia Defelice

A continent and many years away from the Jean Little book, 180 degrees different in every way almost, Weasel is about a boy named Nathan and the hard history he comes up against. Set in the American woods soon after Daniel Boone's time, this story tells about Nathan's meeting with Ezra, a man who's lost everything, and Weasel, the man who has taken it from him for no reason but cruelty. Nathan encounters Weasel himself and is forced to examine his own notions of justice....

... And so is the reader.
There were several times in this book where I myself was wondering, what would I do if I were in Nathan's place? It's hard to say, and I'm still not sure. This book isn't stopping short of putting the difficult questions - and the difficult truths - out there.
A key question seems to be: what makes a man good, what makes a man bad? Nathan recognizes that the settlers vilify the Indians. He himself hates Weasel. Weasel, granted, has done terrible things. What does this make Nathan in regards to how he acts towards Weasel?
I'm still thinking... I feel I could write an essay about it someday.
A keenly-written, sometimes heart-wrenching book about one boy's meeting with cruelty - and his ultimately love-affirming response.

Age rec: A man's tongue is cut out and his pregnant wife killed. This isn't shown, and described in little more detail than I've just used, but on Amazon there were some people who disliked the book for that reason. There is, of course, no question about the immorality of such killings and cruelty. The whole book, though, is a pretty in-depth discussion about morality and choices. I would love to use it to teach a class sometime. I personally would say ages 9 or 10 and up, simply because the main point of the story is ethics and a younger child might not understand most of it.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Brotherband Chronicles - The Outcasts, by John Flanagan

I really didn't have the slightest idea this one was coming out... until all of a sudden I did! I'm suffused with excitement. John Flanagan's books are my indulgent treat: not really the most amazing literature, but so much fun. And terribly funny too.

And a new set of characters! And... sailing! (One of the things near the top of Skills I'd Like To Have.)

Amazon.com blurb:

----
They are outcasts. Hal, Stig, and the others - they are the boys the others want no part of. Skandians, as any reader of Ranger's Apprentice could tell you, are known for their size and strength. Not these boys. Yet that doesn't mean they don't have skills. And courage - which they will need every ounce of to do battle at sea against the other bands, the Wolves and the Sharks, in the ultimate race. The icy waters make for a treacherous playing field . . . especially when not everyone thinks of it as playing.

John Flanagan, author of the international phenomenon Ranger's Apprentice, creates a new cast of characters to populate his world of Skandians and Araluens, a world millions of young readers around the world have come to know and admire. Full of seafaring adventures and epic battles, Book 1 of The Brotherband Chronicles is sure to thrill readers of Ranger's Apprentice while enticing a whole new generation just now discovering the books.

----

Since it gets released November 1st, I foresee another distraction from my NaNoWriMo project...


Waiting on Wednesday is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine. I am happy to be finally back on top of things with it, since I've been skipping out for a while.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Five books, five words each

I wanted to have a say about the books I've read recently/am reading... but I don't feel as though all of them could be reviewed at length. So I'm trying something new.

Five books I've read in the past week or so, five words each...

Wizards at War, by Diane Duane (Young Wizards series #8) -
Brilliant, stunning, powerful. Series's best?

Drowned Ammet by Diana Wynne Jones (Sequel to Cart & Cwidder) -
Not light reading. First better.

Blood Red Road by Moira Young (See my long review) -
Post-apocolyptic hero tale in dialect.

The Spellcoats by Diana Wynne Jones (Prequel to Cart & Cwidder and Drowned Ammet) -
Liked the weaving. Book drear.

Falling from Grace by Jane Godwin -
Strange. Characters flat, foolish. Disliked.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Still Waiting After Wednesday: Inheritance, still by Christopher Paolini


Because I'm waiting on it, too. In fact, I'm the one who introduced Rina to the series. For that matter, if I was asked for the two authors who'd influenced my writing most, I'd have to name Tolkien and Paolini: Tolkien because he did everything so well it drew me in, and Paolini because he started doing things so poorly I knew I could do it at least as well. (Tolkien's first drafts helped, too.) Still, his plots are interesting, and he's definitely worth reading at least once.

The first book... well, Paolini already knew back then how to do gripping beginnings. Next, unfortunately, we see Brom tell the top-secret tale of the Empire's beginnings to the whole town; then, he and Eragon run off to learn magic and... do nothing in particular. Then Eragon dives into danger to rescue an Elf who... is beautiful. Yes, I know the Empire is evil (though you've only got Brom's word for it at the moment - and, yes, they killed your uncle for letting you keep a WMD around), but for all you know, they locked her up for a perfectly good reason! Like, oh, putting love charms on innocent farm boys! Well, Our Designated Hero somehow gets out of that situation, and he's on into the next book.

Despite this, I kept reading, and Paolini improved. The Battle of the Burning Plains might've been unrealistic, but it was much better than the Battle of Farthur Dur. The trilogy might've expanded into a tetrology, but it stemmed from a good decision: he'd defined Eragon's character well enough that he knew Eragon couldn't just fly off with Saphira but would have to stay behind and deal with Sloan. Roran might've not been the best choice to lead the village in Book II, but it's better than letting Eragon and Saphira fly through an ill-drawn world. I'm confident Paolini will improve still more as he concludes it in Book IV.

Blood Red Road, by Moira Young

How I found this book: I don't know - one too many people on the blogworld talking about it? So I stuck it on the holdlist. I'm not quite sure why, to tell you the truth! But I'm ever so glad I did.

Book, in a nutshell:
Saba is relentlessly loyal to her twin brother Lugh. So when raiders take him, for reasons unknown to her at the time, and leave her father dead behind them, she goes off after him - along with her much younger sister Emmi. Her attempts to rid herself of the inconvenient Emmi fail, and her search for Lugh goes hardly better. After she ends up in the cage-fighting ring in Hopetown, she finds information about Lugh's captors - and a band of girls who might be able to save both her and him.
But there's more than a brother at stake in this wind-swept world.

I loved this book. It's a first-person narration, in dialect, without quotation marks - could have been a deal-breaker, but no - I actually liked it. Though the um, informal narration was a bit confusing at times. (If you thought that Katniss's narration in Hunger Games was annoying at all, don't even try this one.)
I love the way Saba's going after Lugh - I have got a brother, and I know what she means with the whole business. I love the developing relationship between her and her little sister, as they grow to understand each other better. I love that the little sister is a very good character in her own right - she does at least as much growing in this story as anyone else.

Most of all, unlike so many of the dystopian and post-apocolyptic books these days, this one's got hope. The world's messed up, but there are solutions, and people are effective to find them.

There is no such word as can't for this lot. Recapture kidnapped brother? Worth a try. Find your way across the desert? Why not. Dash into a burning building to save a friend? Let's go. Fight blind clawed lizards at night in a dry lakebed? Go for it. Escape from bondage in the cage fighting? Sounds likely to me. Find a new way on the spur of the moment when everything goes wrong? Can do. Change the shape of society? Might as well.

And, though the whole "magic-stone" thing is a little blatantly obvious - just a little - I approve of the obligatory love interest. For once, I actually can figure out what the protagonist sees in him!

Age rec: Unfortunately, there is a lot of strong language. A lot. And though there's nothing actually indecent, some hints. I might as well reassure readers, though - there wasn't anything that happened that offended me, so I'll save you the worries you might have at some points. It's not as "nice" as Chime but much "nicer" than Finnikin of the Rock: I would say fourteen, fifteen and up.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Cart and Cwidder, by Diana Wynne Jones


Wandering players show up a lot in MG fiction, but this one's actually good. Our main character is the youngest son in the family of traveling minstrels, so we see them in much, much more detail than the normal archetype. In fact, the only one who sort of fits that is the father... but the protagonist discovers another side of his before the end of the book.

No, these wandering players aren't a means to take the hero from place to place. Well, actually, they are. (Though their passenger isn't really the hero... but he's still more than he seems.) They're more. We nod at their bringing news from town to town. We feel for the kids trying to keep the show on the road after several chapters have left them by themselves. And then, we see the songs actually come true... to the surprise of the protagonist himself.

Did I mention there's a plot? Did I mention a war and a revolution? At another time, Diana Wynne Jones wrote a very fun Romeo and Juliette; this's her Common Sense (or Les Miserables part II; can anyone give me any famous old stories about revolutions?). And our young protagonist ends up in the thick of it, much to his surprise and chagrin.

There're three more books in this series; I've only started the second. I hope Diana Wynne Jones violated her custom and wrote at least one more about these same protagonists, because I want to hear more about them!

Age rec: MG and up. The mother actively regrets marrying her husband, but it's definitely kept clean and roundly viewed as a bad or at least sad thing.

Incarceron, still by Catherine Fisher

I couldn't help overhearing several scenes when Rina was listening to the audiobook. Between the interrupted wedding and the voyage to the end of the world, I decided to read this book myself. And yes, I got the paper version.

I politely listened while Finn was chained atop the road in the first chapter, but he altogether lost my sympathy when he sprung the trap. "Oh, great," I thought, "another amoral antihero." What restored my interest in Finn was when he freed Attia and left the gang - when he started standing up for morality against his environment! Sure, he falls back sometimes, but he's always trying to break his conscience free from its prison. That's what makes him a hero and a person I'd like to know.

But even before Finn's conscience, the book's environment grabbed me. Despite what Rina said last month, it isn't Victorian. It appears late-medieval. And that's nice and fun; it's almost the Standard Fantasy Environment. Except it isn't. The country isn't late-medieval, it's futuristic under the iron rule of kings who make everyone act and appear medieval! I like this. It adds another layer of depth; it stops me from cringing whenever characters say or do something anachronistic; it turns those times into character- or background-building moments! I still smile whenever I remember Claudia telling her servant, "Just put it through the washing machine. I'm sure you've got one somewhere."

As Rina said, the themes and setting and action more than make up for any deficiencies in characterization. She doesn't delve into themes as much as handle them - they come up naturally in the plot, and the characters address them as appropriate. We don't get any meditations on human nature; we see it in action and we see Claudia and Jared attempting to forge a solution which human nature won't instantly tear down.

And do they succeed? For that, we can see the sequel... I'll be reviewing that later this week, with more attention to the themes and characters.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday - Freebie week: Top Ten Striking Books

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish; thanks to them for hosting, and thanks to The Secret Adventures of WriterGirl for joining in and bringing this to my notice. I'm happy to present my first - and on such a nice Tuesday!

Top Ten: Freebie

Rina's Top Ten Striking Books

Striking, n.: in this case, unique, unexpectedly beautiful, and with long-lasting echoes.

Come on, I'm sure we've all had at least one - that book you pick up and start reading, maybe with high hopes, maybe with none. And all of a sudden a creeping sensation comes over you saying, this is a good book. This is a really good book. This is a really, really good book. This is a book that I've never seen anything quite like before.

Without further ado (and in no particular order of strikingness):

1. The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien
Okay, perhaps there is an order to this list.
My dad and brother were discussing Tolkien's literature while I was at my formative language stage - I'm surprised I'm not bilingual in Elvish as a result. I had these books read to me when I was eleven.I don't know what I'd been expecting, but it hadn't been what I found.
Bear in mind that my only fantasy novels before then were the Redwall books and the Chronicles of Narnia. I was floored. That any thing of paper and ink could contain the characters, the world, the choices, the magic, the sheer volume that The Lord of the Rings did - no wonder I turned into a fantasy writer that year.

2. Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher
This is a pretty recent read. I heard it on audiobook, actually, and I wish I could personally thank Kim Mai Guest for her beautiful narration. Ms. Fisher has spun not one but two worlds in this book, and she's brought them both to bright, breathtaking life.
From the mighty halls of Incarceron, tangled with darkness and mechanical rats; to the soaring point of Blaize's tower, its airy room full of glass globes; to the summer days and carefully-arranged diorama of Protocol - we carry our own crystal Keys along with the characters, peering into their brilliant worlds.
And the breakneck pace of the action hardly drops for a moment. If there was any part of the story that dragged, I didn't notice.
Ms. Fisher has dressed up a dystopian novel as high fantasy, created worlds clear enough to dream into, and managed to write two stunning books with hardly a crumb of romance - someone give her a medal.

3. By These Ten Bones, by Clare B. Dunkle
Part of the wow of this book, I thought in the beginning, was my chosen place/time to read it: the dark backseat of a car heading south to Georgia by night, with a small booklamp shining cold on the pages and Michael Card music playing in the background. But two years later, I've read it in front rooms at church retreats and curled up at the foot of my bed, and I still love it. (Though I would also love to "fix up" a few of the dialogue tags.)
Part of the greatness of this book, I think sometimes, was that it was the first werewolf novel I'd ever read. Now I've read a few more, and heard just about every possible twist on the topic, and I still hold onto this little book as my favorite. (Though I'm nothing loth for a little Jennifer Lynn Barnes on occasion.)
It is written by a Christian author, and is a Christian book, though not of the bland, didactic (or badly-written and barely moral) sort all too often fobbed off on us Christians who only want a little decent adventure.
Since it's so many things, I take it for what it is: a short, dark gem of a tale. A book about a werewolf boy and the plain, ordinary Scottish girl who makes up her mind to save him. A book that prickles up the back of the neck sometimes. A book that speaks, in simple words, of olden-days Scotland and its people, as well as of courage and fear and love and sacrifice. A book that descends almost into hopelessness and ends in - well, that would be telling, wouldn't it?
Go read for yourself. It won't take but a few hours.

4. Uncle Tom's Cabin, by Harriet Beecher Stowe
Mark Twain is credited as saying, "A classic is a book that everyone wants to have read and no one wants to read." Sadly, this book has been placed on that selfsame shelf. True, some of the words may be a little odd to us today; true, the beginning is slow and the tying-up-all-the-threads ending slower; true, we may become tired of the author's intrusions on the narration to highlight a point.
But this isn't the ordinary historical fiction, written when the sins of the past are viewed in 20/20 hindsight. This was written in the very days it describes, by a woman who refused to be silent about the atrocities many in her society accepted as normal. For that, if nothing else, it deserves our attention.
And - I'm afraid this'll be more convincing - it's just a really good book!

-----
(All right, I did give the four best the four first spots. But these other ones are striking, too.)
-----

5. The Great and Terrible Quest, by Margaret Lovett
An old book, both in terms of publishing dates and in how long it's been since I first read it. Back in the day when my mom read books to my brother and me, this was one of my brother's choices. I was skeptical: this was when I preferred animal stories over people stories.
Was I ever surprised!
It's a story of Kings and Lords, of a sort-of Medieval Europe place, of an orphan boy and the forgetful, odd man that he chooses to help - and follows into fear and wonder and a life he's never expected. As a children's book it's unbelievably good; as an adult book it's still amazing.
And, for my animal-loving younger self, there was even a clever jester's dog around.

6. Reaching Dustin, by Vicki Grove
A random library acquisition turned out to be something very special. Local library sadly doesn't seem to be able to locate their copy anymore, so I haven't read it in longer than I'd like. It's about a writer girl (understandably a favorite topic of mine), but so much more than that - it's about acceptance, and reaching out, and long-lasting effects of actions. I love Ms. Grove's mythological references, her beautiful writing style, the leit-motifs of stories and songs and retribution, and a particular set-up of words near the end of the book. I love, also, these books where the past and the future meet in one place, and we watch our handful of characters turn one into the other.
I really need to see if the library has found it yet.

7. The Queen's Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner
I read spoilers for this series, positive that I wouldn't ever read it. A disappointing blurb in the library brochure, not to mention my irrational wariness of Greek or Roman-ish books (maybe I thought they would be like the Greek Myths?), didn't draw me to book 1 at all. But somehow I picked up The Thief anyhow.
Four books into the series, I'm entirely sold. The humor! The unreliable narration! The slightly-spun classical myths! The characters... Tricky Gen. Gallant Eddis. Poor, savage, trapped Attolia. Earnest, shy Sophos. That poor magus who puts up with so much. And those infuriating Mede ambassadors! I don't think I could live in these books - I'm not half clever enough - but I joy to read them.
How I long for the next in the series. Two books more - but how many years?

8. A City in Winter, by Mark Helprin
At first it looks like a picture book. And yes, it does have beautiful painted illustrations every six or ten pages, large type, and glossy pages. But, though I know some eight-year-olds I'd give it to, there's nothing juvenile about this book - even less about its sequel The Veil of Snows. This story of a lost princess and her quest to overthrow the evil usurper is at the same time completely serious and entirely absurd. I might cry, if I weren't so close to laughing; I might laugh, if I weren't so close to crying. All of this makes it sound insane, or else makes me sound insane.
But if you read it with the faith of a child, maybe you'll understand what I mean, too.

9. Dandelion Fire, by N. D. Wilson
This is an odd entry on the list, since it's the second book of a trilogy. The first, 100 Cupboards, is decently interesting, if a little odd in parts: a wimpy boy in Kansas discovers world-gate cupboards in the attic wall of his cousins' house. Not fantastic, but a good book. So when I discovered (at long last) that there was another, I decided to try it out.
Suddenly the black and green of the first book blossoms like a bursting dandelion into the blue and gold of its sequel. The magic reaches through the ordinary and sparks a story full of laughter and love and wonder and danger. The cupboard doors spring open (sometimes literally). A great power is threatening the worlds, and "all who can stand soon shall" against it. And we watch the brave ones fighting bravely - and the cowards becoming brave, and the fools wise. All in N. D. Wilson's deceptively bare prose, acted out on his briefly and vividly described settings.
Somewhere in Heaven, I think, might feel like Badon Hill.

10. Tales of the Resistance, by David and Karen Mains
Time runs short, but then I don't know what to say about this book really. My brother persuaded me to get it from the church library. I didn't have high hopes. But it's the oddest, strangest, loveliest children's allegory I've read since Narnia - and with beautiful pictures, too.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Cart and Cwidder, by Diana Wynne Jones

I found this book because, in memoriam sort of, I am now reading more Diana Wynne Jones than I used to. And this looked to be a likely thing.

Book in a nutshell:
Moril's family are travelling entertainers - players and bards. We learn practically on the first page that the country they live in is divided into two rather sharp-edged sections: North and South. The North is a hazy dream beyond the mountains, the South an unpleasant reality where speech and song are censored and the lords of the land can basically do whatever they want.
But while Moril and his family are traveling up and down the South, they pick up a passenger: an annoying, mysterious boy named Kialan. His arrival begins a startling chain of events. After death, desertion, and the authorities are done with them, the traveling cart family has shrunk to only three members. And they know that their only hope is to get North.

This is a simple, straightforward book, a quiet and heartfelt story of family and friends and freedom, twined about with a love for song and words. I never guessed any of the surprises, though, for all its outward simplicity. Each of the people is carefully and almost invisibly characterized - even the musical instruments seem to take part in the story.

Honestly, there's not much I can say about it. All the wonder's in the book itself - it doesn't sound like much to say I love sweet, shy Dagner the composer, or feel sorry for Kialan's rather clumsy attempts to make himself friendly, or thrill at Moril's song at the climax. But it's a book that I can recommend to nearly anyone.

The only thing I could ask for improvement in is the songs - some of them might be a little more, oh, songlike? But that's a picky detail. And besides - I like reading about travelling players. They're a favorite of mine.

Especially when they're also revolutionaries.



Age rec: Anybody. Though it's rather sad at parts, I can't think of a single reason it should be kept away from anyone old enough to hear a good story. Diana Wynne Jones was pretty dependable on for that, with sole exception of the slightly disturbing elements in Hexwood (but that's another story and another post).

Who'd be interested in a Diana Wynne Jones blogweek?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Froi of the Exiles, by Melina Marchetta

Yes... I love Finnikin of the Rock... it's a terrific novel. Blog-readers probably already know I think that. The eponymous Finnikin does get on my nerves to a degree, but the book's amazing, and Evanjalin... well, she's amazing too, isn't she?

And then I learned that there would be more coming up!

Now, when I think of books that require sequels, Finnikin isn't usually on the list. In fact, one of my favorite things about it is how it's so complete and self-contained. But if Ms. Marchetta wants to write more about our favorite lot of Lumaterans, far be it from me to refuse! Even though, from what I've heard, this book isn't set in Lumatere, maybe we'll get a look at our old friends before Froi travels off. And from the sound of the blurb, there will be a mighty adventure upcoming.

(From the author's website - Amazon hasn't got one up yet)
----

Blood sings to blood …

Those born last will make the first …

For Charyn will be barren no more.

Three years after the curse on Lumatere was lifted, Froi has found his home ... or so he believes. Fiercely loyal to the Queen and Finnikin, Froi has been taken roughly and lovingly in hand by the Guard sworn to protect the royal family, and has learned to control his quick temper with a warrior’s discipline. But when he is sent on a secretive mission to the kingdom of Charyn, nothing could have prepared him for what he finds in its surreal royal court. Soon he must unravel both the dark bonds of kinship and the mysteries of a half-mad princess in this barren and mysterious place.

It is in Charyn that he will discover there is a song sleeping in his blood … and though Froi would rather not, the time has come to listen.

---

Oh, neeps, I can't wait. On the other side of winter, I hope, I shall be there, reading Froi of the Exiles (and angling to watch the Hunger Games movie).



Sunday, July 31, 2011

Musings on the Mortal Engines series


I read the Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve not too long ago; I can't really review them now, since there was so much to them. They're an epic; and, as in some epics, I never really liked most of the characters, but was more interested in the world they dwelt in.

Actually, the truer relationship between myself and a number of the characters was that I did not approve of them, nor of what they did most of the time.

But the series really did something like stand up in my mind and begin rearranging furniture. I do like the "steampunk" genre, and Mr. Reeve is a terrificly good writer. And the books are nothing if not action-packed and suspenseful.

Still, it was the female characters - or two of them especially - that really stood out to me even in the midst of everything else.

So when my mind is stirred, I have a tendency to write poetry. Sometimes even good poetry. I wouldn't go so far as to say that what I have below is an example of that type, but here it is, for anyone who's read the series or somesuch.




-----------

What did Tom see in Hester Shaw
but a bird with her wings broken
too convinced of her own unfitness to fly again
unless someone lifted her high?

And it was the greater tragedy than the Sixty-Minute War
that in all the shattered world, only one person would do that.

But later
three and a half books brought me to a moment that turned my head around
with that girl,
Oenone,
because
I
too
have
a
brother
and in the silence of churches I, too, remember God selflessly stricken on Calvary
but
did she ever learn about the Easter sunrise
and the One more powerful than death,
more powerful than undeath?

Because a scarred planet
and scarred girls can all be healed,
someday
when a light brighter than all stars appears -

Don't give up hope, you in your steaming engines
and roving cities:
He is not slow in keeping His promises
as some understand slowness
and He has made everything beautiful
in its time.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Goliath, by Scott Westerfeld

Fortunately, this one actually comes out soon.

I've had good experience with "steampunk" even though almost all I've read of it is by Philip Reeve... one of these days, I want to write a blog post about my Reeve-world travels. So I read Westerfeld's Leviathan out of curiosity and found a fast-paced, exciting, clean adventure through a richly-populated world of wonders. Behemoth, the sequel, in no way changed my opinions. And did I mention that I love the Perspicacious Lorix? Both as a character and as a way to get kids to learn a very interesting word.

Anyhow, here's the Amazon.com blurb for Goliath.

---

Alek and Deryn are on the last leg of their round-the-world quest to end World War I, reclaim Alek’s throne as prince of Austria, and finally fall in love. The first two objectives are complicated by the fact that their ship, the Leviathan, continues to detour farther away from the heart of the war (and crown). And the love thing would be a lot easier if Alek knew Deryn was a girl. (She has to pose as a boy in order to serve in the British Air Service.) And if they weren’t technically enemies.

The tension thickens as the Leviathan steams toward New York City with a homicidal lunatic on board: secrets suddenly unravel, characters reappear, and nothing is at it seems in this thunderous conclusion to Scott Westerfeld’s brilliant trilogy.

---

Well, I'm interested, aren't you? I've seen one ARC review that said it wasn't as action-driven as the first two, but I'm not concerned. I trust Mr. Westerfeld's storying ability, and I look forward to September 20th, even though I shall probably have to go on a holdlist for it.

Oddly enough, I consider this series to be MG as well as YA. There's language, but I don't mind it as much when it's "British-ized" slang. The romance (so far) is understated and treated with a light hand.

These books are good clean fun, and the illustrations are just added value.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

More Not-a-Bookness, with cute dragons


Last night I watched How To Train Your Dragon.

I think it's one of my favorite recent movies... if not my absolute favorite, since I can't think of any I like better. The plot is pretty easy to anyone who's read any animal stories at all - but there's a lot to be said for this movie.

1. I liked the father-son relationship between Stoick and Hiccup. They're two good people who don't see eye-t0-eye about just about anything, and both of them are trying so hard to get along with each other. It's really a hard decision for Hiccup to make, choosing whether to kill a dragon or lose his father's approval. And I think that it hurts him at least as much to be rejected by his father as to have Toothless taken away from him.

2. There's a really strong plotline here about teamwork even if you don't like the other members of your team. Hiccup's teased mercilessly at first by the other teens, and even up till the end I can't see them really liking him, but when it's time for action, he recognizes his need for their help and brings them into battle with him. Also, there's the whole thing with people/dragon cooperation - yes, they're big, yes, they're different, yes, they've done things to us in the past, but no, we're not going to judge every one of them by what some of them have done.

3. The movie is awesomely done, the voice acting and the animation and the clever voice-overs at the beginning and end. "Some people have flies. Some people have mosquitoes. We have... dragons."
Astrid was convinced by one ride on Toothless, and I was too. I came away wanting to fly with them, through the sunset clouds and the Northern lights, on the back of a little dragon of my own... Who knows? Maybe someday between time and eternity I will.

Anyhow, go forth and try to watch this movie. I don't know if I rec it for very young children, as there's action at the end that is very vivid and thrilling even for me... but for anyone old enough not to be scared too much, it's a sweet, exciting, and heartwarming journey alongside this boy and his dragon.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Incarceron, by Catherine Fisher

I found the audiobook version of this one because I a) didn't want to wait for the 2 or 3 people ahead of me on the holdlist to read the paper copy and b) had just had my wisdom teeth out and wanted something fun to do. As for the notion of the book itself, I found that it was on the Mythopoeic Award finalist list, which made me interested enough to start reading it one day at Barnes & Noble. After the first chapter and some of the second, I was quite intrigued.

The book in a nutshell (really, this is a terribly unfortunate thing to say if you've read the book!):
Two worlds, or two sides of the same world. A boy named Finn, living mysteriously in a gigantic, sentient prison called Incarceron. A girl named Claudia, caged in a land that disguises its technology with facades of nearly-Victorian era life.

Oh, neeps, I really don't know how to describe this book. It's like trying to summarize The Hunger Games. I'm going to use the synopsis from Goodreads.

""
Incarceron -- a futuristic prison, sealed from view, where the descendants of the original prisoners live in a dark world torn by rivalry and savagery. It is a terrifying mix of high technology -- a living building which pervades the novel as an ever-watchful, ever-vengeful character, and a typical medieval torture chamber -- chains, great halls, dungeons. A young prisoner, Finn, has haunting visions of an earlier life, and cannot believe he was born here and has always been here. In the outer world, Claudia, daughter of the Warden of Incarceron, is trapped in her own form of prison -- a futuristic world constructed beautifully to look like a past era, an imminent marriage she dreads. She knows nothing of Incarceron, except that it exists. But there comes a moment when Finn, inside Incarceron, and Claudia, outside, simultaneously find a device -- a crystal key, through which they can talk to each other. And so the plan for Finn's escape is born ...
""

There; that's better than I could have done at the moment. And it's a book that deserves the best. It's not perfect but it's good, quite good.

I suppose, essentially, Incarceron is a sci-fi dystopia disguised as a fantasy. It feels like a fantasy, and it always does. (I wonder if anyone is ever put off by this? Has anyone spent the whole book waiting for technical details to be discussed, or, worse yet, thought it was the epic fantasy it's dressed up as?)

Thank heavens there's not much romance, I say, thank heavens there's nothing too icky and uncomfortable, and thank heavens there's more than one female character. It's really a large relief to me, this book. I was tired of romance and tired of inappropriate hints or actions. True, a nasty character tries to cast slurs on a protagonist's behaviors with someone else, but the protagonist is as shocked and offended as anyone should be under the circumstances.

Characterization isn't really the strongest, but I didn't care. It's a well-done book, very interesting and fine reading (or listening, as the case may be). Frankly it's action-driven, if not settings-driven. Yes, settings-driven would be the word for it... a book that was the setting in action. I like to write that sort of thing, and I love to read it. The world lives in this book, from the Warden's study to the galleries of Incarceron, from the glass globes in Gildas's tower to the snail-crossed door in the basement. I felt as if the square plastic thing of the audiobook case were my own crystal key, allowing me a glimpse through to a place beyond my ordinary sight.

Talk on the author's website (warning, beware spoilers) says that there is a movie more or less being worked on. I think this book would make a terrific movie, and I for one would watch it - as long as no one put in extra romance.

This book has some subtle and not-so-subtle threads about loyalty and friendship. Is Finn doing right to trust and stand by Keiro so much? Claudia is on Jared's side for a while, but is she risking him too much by the end?
Claudia's two father-figures, Jared and the Warden - how do they each relate to her? How does this correlate with their actual feelings toward her?
What about "protocol"? Is it really solving anyone's problems? Why was it set up, and why does it continue, and is it a good idea? A lot of us like to think about "the good old days" of history, when things were "simpler."How would that really play out?

Quotes are regrettably unobtainable, as it was an audiobook...

Age rec: Honestly, I want to call it MG as well as YA. It's a fairly clean, fast-paced, exciting and mind-bending tale. It won't rock anyone's world, but it's good as books go. My main issues were that, in emotional situations, the characters do air some fairly strong language - and there's some talk of questionable behavior, but it's only approved of by a vile and obviously unsavory character, and Claudia is entirely incensed by the notion.
With a warning for the above, though, I would give it to a ten-year-old.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Trial by Fire, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

How did I get this book? Well, there's a bit of a story, actually. You who read the blog know how much I love Raised By Wolves. So I was going nuts over trying to get this one when it came out. I mean, more Bryn & Company? I'm definitely interested.
The library I normally use hadn't ordered it. The library I also have access to was ordering a copy and taking forever to get it. Then my friend (this one we'll call Dragonrider) came to my birthday get-together, bearing gifts...
... including Raised By Wolves and this book. Yay Dragonrider!
I stayed up way too late last night reading it.

Those who haven't read the first book, read my review of that. Then go read the book.

For those who have...

First round in "Bryn vs the werewolf Senate and tradition" is finished. The score: Bryn 1, Tradition 0.
Now she's the young, female, and human alpha of a very unlikely collection of werewolves. But they're Pack, and they matter to each other, and they don't mind being unusual. But now, scant months since the Cedar Ridge pack's formation, trouble appears... or rather, trouble collapses on the front porch on Thanksgiving night, and of course Bryn's not going to leave well enough alone.
Shay, the leader of the Snake Bend pack (and Devon's older brother) has gone too far with one of his pack. Now Lucas, injured and desperate, demands the protection of Cedar Ridge. At first it seems just an issue of a runaway Were, but when Bryn's nightmares worsen and the enemies begin to show up, it's clear that something more is going on. Something bigger. Something that's been brewing for a long while.
And the Cedar Ridge pack is right in the middle, headed towards battle and potential destruction.

If anything, I'm going to say, this is better than the first book. Jennifer Lynn Barnes is packing on the emotional impact, upping the stakes, introducing new threats. This book is about werewolves, yes, but it's also about responsibility, compassion... all the costs and benefits of being selfless, both to one's-self and to others around.
Bryn's done a lot of growing, and she's had to. She's still got her sense of humor, her friendly teasing, but she's an Alpha now, a leader. She's making decisions - decisions on how much to follow in Callum's footsteps, decisions at each moment about how much to enforce her authority on the Weres in her pack. At the beginning of the book she's been choosing leniency most of all, but as things heat up, her policies begin to shift around.

It's come to me that there's a huge theme-thread about authority in this book: how much does a leader have the right to control their people? Granted, in the real world we don't have psychic powers or pack-bonds to enact our will on others, but the question is the same. Where is the fine line, Ms. Barnes seems to ask, between suggestion and coercion, between influence and absolute control?
Even Bryn's attempts to use her Alpha authority can't stop some of the things that happen by the end of this book.

Every time I thought the plot was resting at last, something else happened, and I was on the metaphorical edge of my seat for most of it. Some of the scenes near the end are nearing literary greatness. The final one is simply, beautifully chilling. And I am heartened by the fact that there's already a rough draft of book 3 in the works!
Though those of you who reach the end of Trial by Fire will see a particularly hard scene coming up in that selfsame book 3. I know it will have to happen sometime, but that won't make it easy, for me or for Bryn or for a lot of others.

As for the romance... frankly, it's a little overshadowed by the fact that Bryn just has friends. Chase is simply another of them - another who perhaps views her slightly differently - and there's a bit of kissing but not much more.
(There is a point where I got nervous that they would go further, but though the book's vague about it, I'm positive they didn't. I wouldn't recommend some of Bryn's practices with Chase [technically I suppose he could pass it off as guard duty?]; however, nothing indecent actually occurs.)
In addition to that, there's another small romance that develops. Suffice to say that it doesn't lead to anything objectionable either.

This one has more of a bittersweet ending than the previous book. I hope this trend won't continue.... I love my Cedar Ridge people!

Age rec: Anyone who's read Raised by Wolves can read this with no problems. Though, as I said, Bryn does some things with Chase that I wouldn't recommend or practice, nothing objectionable happens. The violence is probably a little less present, except as follows Lucas... okay, skip what I said about less violence. These books will be violent at times; that's just how they are. And I don't think any less of them for it.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Reckless, by Cornelia Funke

I read the reviews; I knew I wanted it. So I had to catch it from the other library that I don't normally go to, since my usual library didn't get it for a while.

This book in a nutshell:
Jacob Reckless discovered the secret of the mirror when he was young, right after his father had disappeared. On his first trip through to the strange, magical world on the other side, he gets his hand bitten by something. It doesn't dissuade him from returning... again and again and again.
The story opens with the disasterous results of his younger brother, Will, following him to the Mirrorworld. Jacob puts years of knowledge to the test as he tries to save his brother from the curse that is turning him into a monster. And it doesn't help that Will's girlfriend has shown up from Earth, curious about the secret that has absorbed the Reckless brothers for so long . . .

Reckless is beautiful and terrible, the world as dark as the cover of the book, the writing as heart-stopping as the action. I found myself reading this one at small group one Sunday night, eating my dinner while I turned pages with the other hand, until one particular situation was resolved.

The female characters don't get short shrift in this novel: there's Clara, Will's girlfriend; Fox, the shape-shifter girl from the Mirrorworld who follows Jacob around; the Dark Fairy, who has a history with Jacob; the Princess, showing surprising character in the end...
I find Jacob and Will's relationship to be quite meaningful. Recently, I've read several books that have this arrangment: the caring, emotionally sensitive brother and the callous, ruthless one; always loyal to each other. Despite having seen it several times, I think it's worth revisiting, and I'm not tired of it yet.

There's no shortage of excitement in this one. It's tense from the first, the tempo ratcheting up like a beating drum, as the situation becomes more desperate. Probably it'll be read in one sitting, so clear your day out!
I found it almost painful to see the chances slipping away, each plan of the characters thwarted, time running out. But it makes it nearly impossible to stop reading.
At the first page of every chapter are graphite illustrations, which I felt added a good deal to the book. It's a beautiful thing, perfectly designed to carry the story it does.

Sometimes I question the middle-grade rating for this one... there's some implied stuff between Jacob and the Dark Fairy, and a lot of violence, and some of the Mirrorworld creatures are downright chilling. Think Grimms' fairy tales, but darker in many ways. If I'd read this when I was ten or eleven, I think I would have felt out of my depth. But that isn't that I wouldn't have liked it. I probably would have.

I believe there will be sequels. At least, from the ending, there had better be sequels. It's not a cliffhanger, but there are unresolved issues. Google "Cornelia Funke Reckless blog tour" and you'll find the author(s) discussing many things, including sequels.

Age rec: There's no good reason why this should be restricted as a children's book. Young adults would enjoy it as well. I would say eight or nine as my bottom limit, ten or eleven being better.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

National Audiobook Month? Really?

Honestly, I didn't realize, when I picked up two audiobooks for the first time in a while, that this was the month to celebrate them. Hmm.

Life is full of surprises.

And books.

Good books.

Preview of coming events

Well... I haven't been doing much recently. I had 4 wisdom teeth taken out on Monday, and that's put a dent in my plans... and in my mouth, ouch!

I picked up some audiobooks at the library, though.

Another read of Finnikin of the Rock - I don't like that one in audio. I just don't. The pronunciation grates at me, and I don't think the voices the narrator chose quite fit. However, when my face is nastily aching, it's a pretty good "fortitude" book, and Evanjalin does have a way of discouraging one's self-pity.
Today I started listening to Incarceron by Catherine Fisher. I could have waited for the actual book, but there's a holdlist for it, and hey, I was impatient. So far, I love it. I'm still in chapter 3, and I can't wait to see what happens next!

With all these audiobooks, I'm finally getting a chance to start knitting a sweater. No patterns. I just jumped in. It will probably be an abject failure, but the next one will be better. I hope.

Coming later - review of Incarceron. I heard it was a Mythopoeic Award finalist, along with Megan Whalen Turner's amazing Queen's Thief series and Terry Pratchett's I Shall Wear Midnight ... I'm eager to see if it measures up to its exalted company.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bloodline Rising, by Katy Moran

I read some good reviews of this one, saw it on the shelf, and the rest took care of itself.

Book in a nutshell:
We have a mysterious first-person narrator, whose name we later learn is Cai. He calls himself the Ghost, and he is a thief in Constantinople. We learn slowly about his family, his life, his world - and then, through a jumble of catastrophes, he is taken on a slave ship to Dark Ages Britain. There he learns that there was a good deal more about his parents than they told him, and that his thieving talents may be due to a little more than natural caution...

I loved this book very much. I liked Cai - a very realistic person, not always sure what to do, not always positive what's the right thing. He second-guesses himself, regrets his past mistakes, and tries to do the best with where he ends up. I loved his ability to land on his feet wherever he found himself.

The front of the book calls this "a companion to Bloodline." I don't know much about Bloodline, but this is a strong enough tale on its own.
Can I also mention that I love the cover? I believe the scene is actually mentioned in the book, as well as being a symbolic sort of picture.

The plot is a little hard to follow at parts, and I advise people to try to keep track of who's who. Names get thrown around a good deal. I think it would have been easier if I knew more of the Dark Ages history Ms. Moran was alluding to... But it never made me stop reading, though I did have to go back and check who someone was.

This book is a bit of a mix-up, genre-wise: somewhat fantasy, somewhat political, somewhat just an adventure. There's a lot of Cai's introspection as well. I think it's YA, though I've seen it called MG: there's a lot of strong language, and violence at the end.

The writing style is cryingly beautiful in many places, and always skilled. Some quotes:

It is one of those nights when my city feels alive. The crowds surging through her streets are her blood, the jumble of buildings her ancient bones. It's quicker to go by the alleys, but I race up the Mese, anyway...

-----

But I will reach him first, and we'll get away - by sea, most likely. There's always some boatman willing to look the other way if the coin's enough. Oh, my beloved city. I cannot bear this; I cannot bear to see her, smell her, for the last time. I cannot bear to look on the lamplit windows, the shadows of the grapevines as they droop down from the rooftops to the streets, the great dome of Santa Sofia, mother of all churches. I am leaving the perfumiers' quarter, and the rich, rolling scent of rose oil, spikenard, cloves, ambergris, and lavender makes me want to weep because I am smelling it for the last time. Now I am running past a tavern, and the smash of broken cups, the roaring of drunken men, is my city's farewell song.

-------

One thing I know: I shall stay away from girl folk as long as I can. Trouble finds me quick enough as it is.

------

I gaze up at the skeins of fog silvered by the moon. It is full, round, and cold, so huge and far away, like a great silver dish. What a price she'd fetch if she were plucked from the night and sold. It is the same moon that shone on me when I was lord of the thieves, lord over the City of the Rising Moon.

---

I fondly love this book; I shall buy it someday, likely enough. I like books of non-circular traveling - I like books where the characters don't have infallible instincts - I like mysterious pasts slowly revealed. Also, I like covers that aren't a photograph of an odd-looking teenage female.

Is there a sequel? I'd be glad to travel with Cai for many a mile yet.

Age rec: Well, there's frequent swearing. A few mentions of nasty content, but nothing indecent shown onstage or anywhere near the stage. Very little romance, though there is a bit. I say 12 and up seems wise, though if parents give it a once-over they might try it with younger kids.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Inheritance, by Christopher Paolini

First thoughts?
"Yay! He actually finished it!"
and
"Ooh, nice green!"

Second thoughts, deeper.
"How is he ever going to end it?"
and most of all,
"Will he end it strong enough to take this series from 'okay' to 'great'?"

That last one - well, I believe Paolini's got the talent to do it. His style grates a bit on re-readings, but for the first time through, his plots are as gripping as a Venus Fly Trap.

Amazon.com blurb:
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Not so very long ago, Eragon—Shadeslayer, Dragon Rider—was nothing more than a poor farm boy, and his dragon, Saphira, only a blue stone in the forest. Now the fate of an entire civilization rests on their shoulders.

Long months of training and battle have brought victories and hope, but they have also brought heartbreaking loss. And still, the real battle lies ahead: they must confront Galbatorix. When they do, they will have to be strong enough to defeat him. And if they cannot, no one can. There will be no second chances.

The Rider and his dragon have come further than anyone dared to hope. But can they topple the evil king and restore justice to Alagaƫsia? And if so, at what cost?

This is the much-anticipated, astonishing conclusion to the worldwide bestselling Inheritance cycle.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Another reason for November to show up soon.
Just personally, I can't wait to find out what happens to Elva. Am I the only one who hopes she'll get a dragon?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Returning, by Christine Hinwood, a short note on

I wanted to love this book... and mostly I did. It was a stunningly good writing job, a great debut novel. It should be a textbook example of writing actual speaking styles, rather than just saying something about a person's voice. The story was touching and good.

BUT...

There was some pretty flagrant indecency occurring. One chapter gave me pause in the beginning; I skimmed it and said ah well, let's hope there's no more of that. There wasn't... until near the end, when there's a couple of point-blank sentences alluding to an indecent act - nothing graphic or unpleasant, but I was basically, "Um? Ahem? WHAT?" And then something similar happened not too many pages later.
I finished the book... it was a good book and, like I said, there was nothing described, but I knew it was there, and I didn't see a single good reason for it to be mentioned.
Not A Single Good Reason.

You may sense I'm... peeved, to put it mildly. Well, I am. And sad.
The Returning should have been a wonderful book. It could have been. But I was not pleased by the author's casual acceptance of the character's - make that characters' - behavior.

People who've read Finnikin of the Rock and seen my earlier review of it may wonder why I loved that book and disliked this one. Finnikin had some intense things going on, I will grant. But I never felt that Ms. Marchetta approved of those things, and while I do not want to speak against the moral standards of Ms. Hinwood, I never felt she disapproved at all.

Again... I wish things could have been different. I can't really recommend this book. But I wish I could have. And I hope that Ms. Hinwood will do differently next time.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente

How I found this book: Several reviews suggested that it might be a good thing to read - it seemed so zany, so odd, that I simply had to give it a try.

So... a girl named September is bored with her life, and a person by the name of The Green Wind comes past her house on his leopard and takes her away to Fairyland. Fairyland is both stranger and more familiar than expected, with customs-officers and a city made of cloth and countries where it's always autumn. A witch asks September to go and find her magic spoon for her, as the wicked Marquess has taken it away. September agrees... and with the allied help of "persons" as varied as a Key, a Wyverary (cross between a wyvern and a library), and a soap golem, she embarks on a grand journey which takes her far beyond the capitol city and into far greater issues than a stolen spoon.

I love this book. Its narrative style seems a little stifling in the beginning, but widens out later; either that, or I stopped minding it. It's a slow start, but speeds up in time. The locales and persons described in this book are amazing and detailed, quite beautiful. September knows the sort of thing that's supposed to happen on an adventure like this, and she's quite aware of her situation at all times, comparing her present experiences to her past experiences on Earth.

There are some very weighty issues being tossed around in this book... freedom vs. safety, normalcy vs. adventure, perseverance and hope... I expected this to be a frivolous little narrative, all fluff and fun, but it certainly isn't. Bad things happen. Worse things can happen too. Behind its cotton-candy exterior this book hides some hard stuff.

Thoughts on the ending: is this a good end or a bad end?

I disagree with a few of the sentiments expressed in this book. A) September is required to lie (among other requirements) before she's allowed into Fairyland. B) September is told, and later agrees with, a statement of a questionable philosophy regarding the necessity of clothing. I'm not offended much by either, in the context, but I'm just dropping these statements out there.

Age rec: 8 and up, though maybe with caution for the younger end.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Ranger's Apprentice: The Lost Stories, by John Flanagan

Wow! I can hardly believe the Ranger's Apprentice series is over. Ever since book 4 came out I've been regularly standing in line in my library, waiting to get the next one, and then devouring it as quickly as possible. They're no great literature, but they're great to read - humorous, clever, endlessly inventive, full of heart and adventure and good fun.

Now there'll be short stories too, so as to ease the transition for those of us who love the world so much...

Amazon.com blurb
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Inspired by questions and letters his loyal readers have sent over the years, John Flanagan offers a gift in response: a collection of "lost" tales that fill in the gaps between Ranger's Apprentice novels. For the first time, readers can learn the truth behind how Will came to be orphaned and what his real relationship to Halt is, or watch Alyss in action as the young Araluen diplomat disguises herself and becomes the perfect spy.

--------------

October be quickly!

Monday, June 6, 2011

Raised by Wolves, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

How I found this book: I heard good things about it from bloggers before it came into my library. When I saw it on the shelf, I thought, well, let's give it a try... I can send it back if I don't like it.
The first page had me hooked.

Book in a nutshell: Bryn (full name Bronwen Alessia St. Vincent Clare) has been adopted by the local werewolf pack after a loner werewolf killed her parents. She remains fully human and very independent, however. When she begins to have her priviledges curtailed and obscure warnings issued, she guesses that something is up.... something the werewolves don't want her to know about.
Discovery upon discovery will lead her through pain and trouble and rebellion, far into the wilderness, and finally to a final confrontation with the truly chilling villain who is responsible for her parents' deaths - and for much, much more.

This was a new sort of tale for me... I usually thought werewolves were the Antagonists, or at any rate that They Ought To Be Avoided... I think it was my violent mental allergy to most paranormal books that kept me in that mindset. My earliest book on the subject formed my opinions, and they stacked up to Keep A Long Way Away From The Werewolf. So when I found this book, I had to suspend my previous feelings. Fortunately it wasn't too hard, as even Bryn still finds her "packmates" scary.

Some traditions hold, as well as the "scary" part. As in, werewolves still have an allergy to silver. But Ms. Barnes manages to mix the elements quite nicely, and I think most readers will find her 'wolves a fair cross between the original legends and the um, new urban edition.

(Unrelated subject: Just turned on a CD of Handel's Messiah. Terrific music. The opening symphonia is pure heavenly sound... I adore violins!)

Raised by Wolves is not a paranormal romance - thank heavens. Sure, there is a romance going on. But it is not the focus of the plot. It's more of a thriller... that just happens to be about werewolves.... really.
And Bryn is such an extremely sensible person, she doesn't allow herself to dissolve over a guy. She questions their connection and defends it on other than romantic grounds. And I must say, the Signifigant Other is a strong and intelligent person on his own.

The antagonist of this book is about the scariest villain I have read about since the Nazgul. Just saying.

Some quotes:

"I really don't know why you're here," I told him, selecting my words carefully. Most Weres could smell a lie, and Callum, the alpha of alphas in our corner of the world, would have known immediately... Luckily for me, I didn't know precisely what it was that I'd done to merit a visit from our pack's leader. There were any number of possibilities, none of whcih I wanted to openly admit to on the off chance that there was something I'd done that he hadn't found out about yet.

-----------

There were several streams in the woods, as well as the disturbingly named Dead Man's Creek...

--------

...I knew I shouldn't respond, knew that anyone in Callum's basement was there for a reason... Whoever was down there sounded like I felt. It didn't matter who it was or what he'd done. I had to help him, because it wasn't like I could do a thing for myself...

--------

"You've never brought her back irreparably harmed," Ali admitted grudgingly. "This better not be a first."

-------


And by the way, I am quite delighted with the delicate power-balances of werewolf politics. This has got to be the only paranormal book where a character asks "Is this a democracy or isn't it?" and the answer actually matters. I can tell that Ms. Barnes put not only her heart into this writing, but also her mind.

As I told my brother not too long ago, "I could live in this book's world. I really could. And I can't say that for many books."
Though I did have to add, "Of course, I would probably have to break my habit of indiscriminate night wandering..."

Age rec: Thirteen the absolute rock-bottom limit. It's not for any indecency... the romance is, as I've said, not an overwhelming plot point... there were a few points I was worried at, but nothing happened... It's mostly the violence and the general nastiness of the villain that I balk at. I figure it would have thoroughly yikes-ed my twelve-year-old self. On the other hand, I wasn't the bravest.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

The Green Book, by Jill Paton Walsh

How I found this book: I was messing around a library one day and happened to see it.

More or less, this book is -
The story of a colony ship of people from Earth departing for a new home planet. They escape a Disaster on Earth that we never learn much about. Eventually they reach another planet and begin to settle in, dealing with issues like reading matter, the possibility of native species, and - most importantly - whether they will be able to grow more food before their supplies run out.

It doesn't sound like much, I will admit - but it is a perfectly beautiful child's book, sweet and simple and a glimpse of a world utterly other and yet peopled with those like us. There's a sense of loss regarding the old Earth, a sorrow as things like literature and clouds are forgotten, when the old stories get garbled. There's the wonder of the planet itself. There's the fear of whether or not survival will be possible.

It's a thin little tale, hardly a novella even at 69 pages.

Quotes:

...and so Shine was transformed. For the buildings at night were now a soft pale green, with points of emerald visible where the lamps were hung, and the leaping glow of the fires made a ruby-red glow in the middle. The blurred and magnified shadows of the people moving inside their houses cast dark figures softly over the walls of the fluted, shimmering green and red shining houses, and Shine at night looked like a scatter of blocks of fire opal, lying on a dark land under the stars.

---

All those years closed inside the spaceship, and the time on the new planet, had made Pattie forget the air could move, the air could touch you, as the quiet air of the new place never did.

----

I love, love, love this book. I suppose it must be science-fiction, but I don't think it feels like it. It's just a child's viewing of a great and strange and wondrous business.

Age rec: anyone. Anyone at all. Even an adult would like it, I think.