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,
and in the silence of churches I, too, remember God selflessly stricken on Calvary
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,
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 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.