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.


...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.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday: Mastiff, by Tamora Pierce

Today's book is a bit of a long way off... more's the pity. There's not even a blurb up yet. I suppose blurb-writers do not work in May for what they need in October.

So I'm going to wax lyrical about this series.

I looked somewhat dubiously at Tamora Pierce's Beka Cooper books when I found them. I've never been much of a fan of her novels; I don't appreciate her romances and the battle scenes are too frequent to be pleasant sometimes. But I'd heard good things about Terrier, so I went to research online. Other reviews spoke highly of it, so I checked it out.

Well, it was great.

In her long career, Tamora Pierce has proved that writers never stop growing. Terrier seems like a completely different book from First Test. The writing is much better, the plot more exciting, the setting and society richly detailed. I found it the best use of journal format that I'd ever read!
Of course I had to read Bloodhound next. Sadly, I didn't think it quite measured up to the first book in its series. The romance was a factor again, and I found the plot less interesting.

But I hope the end of October will find me with a library copy of Mastiff in my hands, sneaking a peek over the shoulder of Beka Cooper until late into the night!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Time Travel Tuesday: De Camp's Lest Darkness Fall

Imagine you found yourself sixth-century-AD Italy. Your first question's probably, "What was happening there then?" Next would be, "How do I learn Latin or Gothic?" Those matters dealt with, you'd be faced with a bigger question: would you settle for staying alive and perhaps relatively comfortable in that era as the remnants of Roman culture are falling apart around you, or would you try to improve things?

L. Sprague de Camp, a very prominent fantasy author in his day, has his protagonist choose the second. In Lest Darkness Fall, Prof. Martin Padway — fortunately, an archaeologist who's been studying that very period and knows the languages — finding himself in that situation, tries to prevent the Dark Ages from falling across Europe.

Problems dog his every effort to build up technology. Does he want to change the world? Well, first, he needs quick money. So, build a modern brewery. Well, he needs copper plate pipe. The coppersmith is able to make it - but Padway needs to stand over him telling him how to do every step. And then he needs to pay the smith with money borrowed at ruinous interest rates. Once that's all done, he needs to keep the autocratic (if generally benevolent) Ostrogoth kings from destroying his business (which, by now, includes a burgeoning newspaper publishing the gradually-improving work of Padway's trainee journalists).

It shouldn't have been a surprise that Padway was eventually arrested. When you make such waves in an autocratic kingdom, while behaving in such an obviously foreign manner, something's going to happen eventually. Still, it shocked me — a sign of how de Camp's storytelling had drawn me into Padway's brave efforts. Our hero emerges from the prison camp resolved that, if he can't safely ignore politics, he's going to interfere in them as much as he can!

Shocking people with his accurate knowledge of then-future events, Padway wins his way to leadership. He then proceeds to totally upset the traditions of the Ostrogoth kingdom, free the slaves, train a corp of archers in preparation for the Byzantine attack he knows is coming, and - finally - [SPOILER: final outcome] win the war.

The beginning of this story felt painful to me, but only because of a misconception: I'd confused it with another time travel story where the protagonist roundly fails at everything he tries. Once I realized that de Camp doesn't mind having Padway succeed, I watched his adventures with pleasure. I didn't know much about metalworking, journalism, telegraphy, or Ostrogothic politics, but de Camp explains everything so we can see the challenges before Padway and share in his triumph at surmounting them.

All in all, this is an appealing story for mature readers about a man trying to improve a previous age. Padway's goals aren't perfect, of course. He's quite cynical about religion and private morality; one of his taglines is, "I'm a Presbyterian; that's the closest thing to" [whatever denomination/heresy his interlocutor professes]. His private life doesn't infect his plans, though. I'm sure we'll all approve of advancing science and preventing the Dark Ages.

Time Travel Tuesday is inspired by Charlotte's Library's regular "Time Slip Tuesday." Yes, Charlotte, there are good time travel novels, even if not many more are being published today.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Not a book... not a book at all...

Here I am... tired.... about to write something that has nothing to do with a book. All right, it has a little to do with a book.

I have just watched Pirates of the Caribbean 4: On Stranger Tides, which I've heard is based on a book by Tim Powers. All I can say is - should I thank Tim Powers for a good time, or the movie scripters?

I liked it... It had too much smash-bang action for me to absolutely love it (though less than the earlier one I saw), and a few parts I did not appreciate as much (unnecessary and a little weird), but for the most part I found it quite enjoyable.

There was a remarkably sympathetic portrayal of Christians, a line I would not have believed was in a secular movie if I hadn't heard it myself, and a very sweet subplot that would be spoilery to discuss further.

Music, as always, was wonderful. And my friend and I got a kick out of seeing the uh, new interpretation of mermaids.
All in all, I say Go Tim Powers - and Go Movie Scripters for making this (pretty good story) be!

Mercurial Monday: Asimov's Fantastic Voyage

This book is very fast-paced. That's probably because it's a novelization of a movie - a movie simply doesn't have as much time to develop backstory or detailed characterizations. A book can easily devote four scenes to what a movie has to get out in one. Of course, a novelization can easily expand on a movie (the reverse of the distilling that normally happens when a movie's made into a book), but Asimov probably felt he couldn't change anything significant without talking to the movie producers first.

So, don't open this book expecting any great depth. The premise touches on numerous major issues: during the Cold War, Dr. Benes, a scientist who's helped develop the new science of miniaturization - shrinking something to microscopic scales without any loss of detail - defects from the Soviet Union to the United States. A Soviet agent tries to assassinate him; Benes survives, but a blood clot in his brain will kill him soon if not removed. So, our protagonists must be miniaturized and navigate a submarine through Benes' bloodstream to destroy the clot. All of this is moved over quite quickly, though, and the rest of the book follows our protagonists inside Benes' body. This probably came from the movie. It reminded me most of a movie I'd seen: Pearl Harbor is merely mentioned in the opening crawl; the film itself talks about the reaction in California.

That movie told a fun story, though, and this book does it even better. The moment I saw the protagonists almost get seasick from random Brownian motion of air molecules buffeting the submarine around, I knew Asimov would use science to tell a good story. And he does: each hazard they face in Benes' bloodstream is plausible and exciting. You needn't be an anatomy major to read this; as long as you know that the heart pumps blood around the body, Asimov will explain enough for you to enjoy this fast-paced, exciting book.

It isn't just a travel story, though, even through such an unorthodox clime. Our protagonist has reason to believe that one of the people aboard the submarine is a Soviet secret agent who'll try to sabotage the mission. But whom? I kept watching and waiting for the saboteur to be caught in the act. Eventually, he was. But the protagonist was ready for him - why, he is asked? Because I already knew who he was, he responds - and then proceeds to explain how he kept watching through the voyage, picking up on clues which seem so obvious in retrospect but I totally missed at the time.

Anyone from age ~12 up, I'm convinced, can enjoy this fun tale. No warnings apply, unless you feel the saboteur's death (after he's already tried to kill the protagonist) deserves one. Don't expect it to be deeper than it is, but have fun with what Asimov did write.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Underland Chronicles, books 3-5, by Suzanne Collins

This review covers the final three of Suzanne Collins's Underland Chronicles: Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, Gregor and the Marks of Secret, Gregor and the Code of Claw.

These books... must be bad for me... I read the three in a straight row, and completed the last at - it must have been 2 A. M. I picked them all out of the library because I hate waiting for a week to read the next book if I can just take all at once.

Anyone who has read the first two books in the series probably do not require a detailed plot summary. Anyone who has not ought to go read my reviews of book one or book two.
These three are the story of the war in the Underland... the ongoing war between the rats and the humans and seemingly everyone else. The Underland is a very unsettled place, as readers have likely gathered already.
Book 3,
Gregor and the Curse of the Warmbloods, impressed me by being one of the first books that really deals with the mechanics of a kid who has "dual citizenship" in two worlds. Short version: his mom is very much against it, his dad is dubious, and his neighbor is beginning to wonder. But despite all these things Gregor and Boots (with their mom along this time) end up in the Underland once more.
And there's a new problem - a horrible plague that is infecting many creatures of the Underland - including some of Gregor's friends. Gregor and others decide their only hope is to follow another prophecy, deep into the jungle and into places they have hardly imagined...
Books 4 and 5 go on from there, describing the war that is rapidly unfolding beneath the ground, and Gregor's uncomfortably fast-growing part in it...

What do I think of these books? I can hardly say.
First, I do not know whether they are really middle-grade. Now, looking back, I say "this is horrible, they are giving this to little defenseless third-graders?" But realistically, I'm the person who's read
Dragonriders of Pern at the age of nine. Kids are not terribly fragile creatures.
But these are still not for the sensitive child. They are, truly, books written by the author of
The Hunger Games. This seems to be obvious, but... I had not expected Gregor to be so like Katniss by the end. {That is a spoiler, but I don't care. That is a spoiler, but it's one I think may as well be known.}

In the last book there were several places I wanted very much to cry. One, I actually became choked up. Granted, this was past midnight - but still.

Points of discussion:
"Let no good deed go unpunished." What do you think of that phrase? What does that make the deed - is it still good if bad things come of it? Did Gregor make the wrong choice regarding
the Bane? Consequences - Gregor is trying to fix his "punished good deed" - but he still feels pity for the object of his vengeance.
Luxa/Gregor subplot deepens. Is this believable or healthy? I find it poignant to the point of being pitiful. Beautiful but sad.
Gregor's scars, both the physical and the mental/emotional. Adventuring is not all it's cracked up to be, the book seems to be saying. And it's true - drop an eleven-year-old in these situations and what
can one expect to happen to him?

There's a particular chapter ending that breaks me up a little when I think about it. Especially when I remember Luxa's age.
Lay off the twelve-year-olds, Ms. Collins!

{let me suffer for them. Let them be safe. I play with twelve-year-olds down the street, stick-swords and tag and hide-and-seek - I know them. Let them be safe. They deserve safe.}

This is a terribly rambling review, but then, I read them all late - and they do toy with one's emotions.

Some quotes:

The laundry room! While she collected detergent and stain remover from the closet, Gregor tried to think of an excuse for why he couldn't accompany her. He could hardly say, "Oh, I can't go down there because my mom is afraid a giant rat will jump out and drag me miles underground and eat me." If you thought about it, there was almost no good reason a person couldn't go to the laundry room. So he went.

... Curse of the Warmbloods)

"Pic-a-nic! Pic-a-nic!" sang Boots, drumming on the back of Gregor's head with her scepter. The whole
princess costume thing had been a mistake. Next time he'd get her a coloring book.

... Marks of Secret)

Leave it to Howard to think to pack a first-aid kit. It had never even crossed Gregor's mind. Just another reason he was not doctor material.

...Marks of Secret)

"Slow, deep breaths," said Ripred, and Gregor knew Lizzie must have been having another panic attack. But why hadn't she come to him? Why had she gone to Ripred? "Want to try a few more math problems?" the rat asked.
"No," said Lizzie. "Just want to sit here."
Gregor didn't know what was stranger: to see Lizzie, who jumped at her own shadow, snuggled up against a giant rat, or to see the untouchable Ripred, who seemed to loathe almost everyone, who always slept alone even when other rats were available, comforting his little sister.

... Code of Claw)

"Maybe there's still some film in the camera," he said. There was. And since it was an instant camera, they could have the pictures right away. So he held the camera in front of them and they burned through the rest of the roll. For a few minutes, the world outside the museum seemed to go away, and they were just two twelve-year-olds goofing around like they were in a photo booth, making faces, laughing. But when Gregor said "Okay, last picture," something happened.

...Code of Claw)


Watch especially out for the paragraph that begins It wasn't much of a letter. Therein lies the part that made me cry almost.

These are dark books. In simple, no-frills language and bare-bones plotting, Ms. Collins makes a wonderful tale full of pain and sorrow and confusion - and love and sometimes even joy. Read them.
I would have eaten these up as a ten-year-old. But I think the ending would have bewildered me because I was a very happy child at that point and had not yet gotten old enough to understand that sometimes people could lose hope.

I had to read from Revelation and Isaiah before I could sleep right after these books. Here behind a link is the Bible verse that always comes to mind when I finish a Suzanne Collins series. I always spell HOPE in capitals when I write it out.

As per last review's complaint: Yes, at LONG LAST someone asks about what happens when people die. Unfortunately, the answer is... unsatisfactory to the extreme.

Age rec: Okay, these are still in the MG category. I would say ten and up. But they contain biological warfare, the attempted killing of an entire race, strong predjudice, unpleasant war, much violence, great danger, great sorrow, and great loss. Admittedly all these are handled well and appropriately. Still...
Be willing to talk with children afterwards, or at the least direct them towards a mature friend who has read the books as well.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Waiting (really impatiently) on Wednesday: Trial by Fire, by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

I simply cannot wait for this book.
Jennifer Lynn Barnes wrote the best modern-day, suburban paranormal that I have yet read: the style, the voice, the characters, all were spot-on - and the antagonist was downright chilling. I have high hopes for this sequel that I don't think will be disappointed.
I loved Raised by Wolves from the first paragraph on, and my only compunction about reading this next is that.... I'm scared of what might happen to Bryn. But that's not enough to stop me from reading on! I think I'm going to buy these books one of these days.

Publisher's blurb:


There can only be one alpha.

Bryn is finally settling into her position as alpha of the Cedar Ridge Pack—or at least, her own version of what it means to be alpha when you’re a human leading a band of werewolves. Then she finds a teenage boy bleeding on her front porch. Before collapsing, he tells her his name is Lucas, he’s a Were, and Bryn’s protection is his only hope.

But Lucas isn’t part of Bryn’s pack, and she has no right to claim another alpha’s Were. With threats—old and new—looming, and danger closing in from all sides, Bryn will have to accept what her guardian Callum knew all along. To be alpha, she will have to give in to her own animal instincts and become less human. And, she’s going to have to do it alone.

Bryn faces both the costs, and the rewards, of love and loyalty, in this thrilling sequel to Raised by Wolves.


Oh, Brynnie! I am very worried now.
Tell me it isn't long till June 14th!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

D.M. Cornish's The Foundling Trilogy v. 1: (Waiting for a Worthy Adventure)

Hello everyone! I'm Rina's brother Evan. She's invited me to be a regular contributer to this book review blog, and I hope to provide my fair share of opinions. Needless to say, though our tastes often overlap (I'm the one who introduced her to her first fantasy book), our reviews do not necessarily represent the other's opinion.

D. M. Cornish's Foundling, the first book in The Foundling Trilogy (originally The Monster Blood Tattoo Trilogy), recounts the journey of young, naive Rossamünd from an orphanage down a pirate-frequented river and through monster-haunted wilderness to a promised job as an Imperial Lamplighter. On the way, he falls in with Europe, a professional monster-slayer, despite his qualms about whether monsters should indeed be killed.

I read this book recently, after seeing it recommended on several different websites and reading an interview with the author on portrayals of religion in fantasy. (Curiously, religion hasn't made an appearance so far... perhaps it will in the sequels.) At the beginning, the protagonist's naivitë and high hopes caused me to nod knowingly awaiting his growth in response to adventures. When the world opened before me, I gasped in awe at the worldbuilding. Unfortunately, the development does not fully live up to this promise. The protagonist remains naivë and passive throughout, and few other characters are developed.

Mr. Cornish's worldbuilding should be a lesson to all authors. The government system is left vague — as it should be; Rossamünd doesn't know much about it — but what is there avoids the twin perils of unrealistically exciting anarchy and oversimplified totalitarianism. A far-off Emperor protects trade through the monster-infested wilderness between mostly-independent city states. Meanwhile, the city states try with more or less success to crack down on local lawbreakers while private fighters supplement the Imperial services by slaying monsters for bounties. Mr. Cornish discusses in tantalizing detail the traditions of the monster-slayers, popular heroes, with intriguing hints that the monsters just might be on the verge of winning the struggle.

The central conflict of the trilogy, I'm guessing, will be the multi-generational war of humans against monsters. Who are the monsters? Where do they come from? I don't know, because our protagonist doesn't. Probably, no human knows — whenever someone tries to understand the monsters from a vaguely-sympathetic viewpoint, he's killed as a traitor. (Yes, Rossamünd does notice what a bad thing this is.) Various characters hint, however, that there's some big secret waiting to be discovered. How do the humans fight? Traditionally, with herbs in mysterious mixtures to repel monsters; more recently, they stride forth to attack monsters with sensory aids and whole new organ systems grafted into their bodies. (It's probably magic, despite the half-realistic treatment of immune rejection, though no character seems to care about the distinction.) These warriors are considered heroes, and their deeds are sung in songs, although many people would be quite nervous to meet one in person. Which side is in the right? It's treason to even ask the question in-universe, but our protagonist is starting to doubt. All this wonderful work keeps me reading attentively, waiting for the next revelation.

This brings me to the main shortcoming of this book: our protagonist never grows enough to phrase the problem in these terms. When Europe kills a monster, he cries out in anguish — why? Because it looked sympathetic while dying. Because Europe attacked first. For all he knew, the monster had killed a dozen babies for breakfast and was about to slaughter ten more when Europe intervened. Yes, Rossamünd who is newly come from a sheltered orphanage might well act like this, but this shows that he is nowhere near heroism. Unfortunately, he doesn't change. He lets himself be swept along by events and emotion without anticipating or planning for the future. This caused my interest to flag at some points - when the protagonist surrenders himself to be a victim of circumstances, why should I care in his stead?

For example, Rossamünd meets Europe the monster-slayer at the end of chapter 6, while walking south to an appointment for his lamplighter job. From there through chapter 12, he only mentions his job once, in passing. His decision to delay his journey and help Europe recover from an illness could be portrayed as admirable charity or reprehensible promise-breaking, but it doesn't even occur to Rossamünd that he's promised to go elsewhere! Even when Europe offers him another job, his previous commitment only passes through his mind once. Mr. Cornish might not have intended to portray Rossamünd as so negligent, but when he apparently ignores his commitments for so many chapters, that is the impression produced in my mind.

I hope all the flaws of this book will be addressed in the rest of the trilogy. Naivë Rossamünd will learn heroism; mysterious Europe's personality will be more fully revealed; everyone will squarely face the question of when monsters should be killed. As a story in itself, this book sadly fails to live up to the promise of its worldbuilding. As a first third of a story, however, this book would probably be an excellent introduction to a protagonist slowly developing in character as he faces a largely-ignored problem. I plan to soon read the other two books of the trilogy, where I hope Mr. Cornish will tie together the threads of the story.

Age rec: I'm not as good at estimating this as my sister is, but I'd say 8 and up. There're a few instances of violence when Europe is killing monsters, as I've already discussed.

Chime by Franny Billingsley

How I found this book: I saw many pre-release reviews and read the blurb on "coming out" lists. I fear I ignored it for a while, for two reasons: first, I have a character in one of my stories who shares a name with the protagonist, and this always annoys me a little... second, I thought it was a Ridiculous Romance. This is not a genre, but perhaps ought to be, since they seem to be kind of common. But somehow I changed my mind and put it on hold at the local library. {Book Aunt is partly to be thanked for my change of heart on the topic.}

More or less, this book is about:
A swamp. A town. A town by a swamp. A girl in the town, a girl with a slightly insane sister, a girl who had a stepmother who's now dead. A girl who believes she's a witch, that she's evil, that she's caused every calamity from her sister's accident to the fire in the library.
The town is called Swampsea, and the girl is Briony Larkin.
And then Elric shows up. Elric is new and different. Briony compares him to the electric light, a new phenomenon to her. He doesn't know about her wickedness, and he doesn't seem to care, oddly enough, when she tells him.
But it takes more than Elric to help when the railroad plans to drain the swamp, and the spirits who live in it exact revenge... even against Briony's sister Rose.
Life is as slippery and difficult to figure as the swamp is. Truth is hard to discover. Things aren't as they seem, and new obstacles are always rising in Briony's way...

This is an amazing book: puzzling, scintillating, sometimes maddening, often moving. Witty and skillful writing {no quotes here because I had to send it back to the library}, a tight and engaging plot, well-drawn characters, and high-stakes action make for a terrific and fast-paced read. I felt as though I were sharing the experiences with Briony the whole time, whether quashing through mud in the Swamp, not-watching a witch's hanging, sharing a garden party space with a very annoying young man, or standing in the courtroom on trial.
And yes, all those things do happen in this very packed, very engaging book.
Briony would deny that she's a sympathetic character, but I beg to differ. In her coy, difficult, timid/brave personality lies her greatness. Of course, her narrative helps a good deal as well. I am still trying to find adjectives for it... witty and intelligent, dark and joyful by turns, alternately cocky and vulnerable, sometimes guilty, sometimes brash. I got to liking her so much that I cheered at every little step forward she made. Her devotion to her sister is touching as well, even though she doesn't seem to really love her, only to feel obligated.
I recommend the interview with Franny Billingsley on The Enchanted Inkpot:

Age rec and other things: I would say thirteen as my absolute bottom limit. There are some veiled references to adult content that are not indecent, but I knew what was being talked about. {However, Elric at one point states his refusal to "go further" than a kiss, saying to the girl "I promised your father."} Also some rather gruesome interactions with a creature called the Dead Hand... more would be a spoiler, but let's just say it is nothing we would want to encounter. Some business with ghosts, some business with nasty people. And I'm not sure Ms. Billingsley holds a very reverent view of Christianity... our narrator doesn't, though "Bible Balls" are used to keep the spirits in the marsh away from people.

Bottom line: Read it. Amazing style and a very good plot. Adults should try it, teens should try it, boys and girls should both try it.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane, by Suzanne Collins

I got this book from the library because I wanted to read more after book 1....

Skip this if you don't want who lives/who dies spoilers for the first book. Just scroll down, la la la, like I used to do with Mockingjay reviews, and read the review of the first book instead. Better yet, go read the first book itself.

In a nutshell:
Gregor, some months after his first Underland adventure, is finding out that not everything is perfect even though he and his sister and his dad are all back home. His dad is sick, and there's still not enough money. He does, however, have an improved relationship with the cockroaches in his room - and he's got a "job" with a lady downstairs who often sends him home with food for the family.
But then Boots gets carried off by Underland crawlers while Gregor's taking her to Central Park, and Gregor follows - of course.
Down below again, Gregor learns that there's another prophecy, and this one seems to be suggesting that Boots is in danger. And that there's a monster called the Bane that "the warrior" {Gregor} will have to fight....
Once again Gregor has to help his Underland friends, and the journey will take him through some very strange places and uncomfortable situations.

I liked this book very much.
There's still the ghostly feeling of overlay because face it, Suzanne Collins writes like Suzanne Collins, and that means that a bat can get eaten to a skeleton in moments by a cloud of bugs, and a sea serpent can leave poisonous sores on the protagonist's arm that do not heal conveniently in a chapter. But it also means that she knows, somehow, the right notes to play on the reader's heartstrings - or at least on this reader's. I've had that feeling before, both in these books and in Hunger Games - "I'm being emotionally manipulated here. And I don't care, it's beautiful/sad/horrid/amazing anyhow."

Some more beautiful points in this one about... mercy, justice, and acceptance. A strong message against predjudice. Gregor is willing to selflessly risk his life to save someone who is... not in favor at all - when the others refuse to do anything, he climbs over the side of the boat to attempt a rescue.

This book gets into the action a lot sooner than the first one does, probably because the introductions are already over. But... I really must point out, it doesn't exactly end on a cliffhanger, but I can safely say it ends on a hillhanger at least.
So I want the third book. NOOOOWWWWWW.

On the other hand, this is Suzanne Collins's work, and perhaps I don't really want to know what happens? Perhaps vagueness is preferable?
Get ahold of yourself, Rina. These are her MG books. She is not going to kill off a major character.
I think.

One thing I love about this book:
I have met few books recently that hold loyalty, family, and friendship in such high honor. Gregor is not a loner; he is a person with emotional connections and loved ones, and I appreciate this greatly. Especially after Chime, the book I intend to review next.

One thing I am a little annoyed about in this book:
Ms. Collins seems incredibly reluctant to discuss anything even remotely supernatural. We have prophecies, we have special abilities, we have a person who sees the future, we have monsters ... who knows what we'll get later? And yet in all this, we have not even the slightest mention of any Higher Power. On all sides and from above and below there is the threat of death, characters are dying onstage and off, and people are losing those close to them. But no one, no one offers the slightest hint of Life Hereafter, not even tentatively.
And there's this thread in Hunger Games and its sequels as well.
If anyone would be thinking about immortality of the soul or whether there's Someone to appeal to for help, the characters in the plot of a Suzanne Collins book would be.
This is probably my own feelings coloring the issue... but it is getting to me a little. I think that even non-Christians would begin to struggle with these questions in the face of such circumstances, and I wish that such issues was not stared into oblivion in these books.

Age rec: well, I would say 8 and up. Maybe a little more "up." Some violent scenes... and that bat being killed by the swarm of insects... On the other hand, it's pretty conservative in its detail.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Return of

I think it's safe to say that the Web Weasels have been vanquished for the time being. Upcoming, I believe, are reviews of Chime by Franny Billingsley and Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Web Weasels Strike Again

Here I am, simply to state that if I do not post for a while or reply to comments, it is because the web weasels have tangled up our home connection! But I am still reading!
I'm logged in at the library for the moment... the weasels don't commute yet...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins

How did I find this book? Well, by reading the other books Ms. Collins wrote, and just wanting more. At first I was apprehensive - I'd had a bad experience where, after reading an author's YA series, I'd gone back and read their earlier (MG) books and found them disappointing. But when I found a hardcover of this for a dollar at a book sale, I figured why not.

I don't know what I was expecting...but I liked Gregor the Overlander. It was no The Hunger Games. But then, it's for a younger audience.* And it was her first book. Reading it was like seeing ghosts, or traveling back in time... I could see her later books overlaid onto this one, and recognize characterizations or style touches.
She has always had her habit of.... making sure people don't set down the book at the end of chapters. To put it mildly.

* I don't mean to be deprecating of books for kids. I think that many of them are at least if not more substantive and well-done as YA books. I just mean that often, there are a lot of differences in books as you go up through the age ranges. And frankly, The Hunger Games is not for kids.

The book, more or less:

Gregor is a kid in an apartment in New York City, taking care of his little sister Boots and his aged grandmother. His mother works, his older sister is off at camp, and his dad is... off in parts unknown. The weather is hot and horrible. Life, at the moment, does not look very good.
Then one day he takes his laundry and his sister down to the laundry room in the apartment building's basement. Boots chases her ball behind one of the washing machines and... disappears. Into a very scary-looking dark hole full of drifting mist. Gregor follows, trying to catch her. When they reach solid ground again, it is a very different solid ground.
The two of them have reached the Underland, a dangerous and intruiging place inhabited by giant bats, huge cockroaches, oversized rats and spiders, and strange humans. And for some reason, they seem to think that Gregor is special. That he's the warrior written about in one of their prophecies.

This is a very fun book for children - though for teens it may require disbelief to be suspended a little more than usual. But it's got heart and danger and thrill and sadness and depth to it as well. There's death, there's loss, there's betrayal, there are hard decisions for Gregor and others to make.
Gregor is an average boy, but he's brave and willing to try his best in hard places, and he's terribly loyal to his sister and his friends. I have enough age difference from him to find him a little immature, but in an adorable way, not an annoying way.

It's not the best-written book, unfortunately. There are a lot of good things, but the plot is hung together a little weakly, and most of the characters are rather sparsely sketched. However, I'd say this is a definite recommendation to ages eight and up, both boys and girls. It's not an immature book at all - as Ms. Collins' fans will likely expect - I for one cannot imagine her writing fluff.

Some quotes:

The platform immediately rose, and he grabbed hold of the side rope to steady himself. Vikus stood calmly with his hands folded before him, but then Vikus wasn't holding a wriggly two-year-old, and he'd probably ridden this thing a million times.


"I do not believe in your science," said Henry. "The crawlers are weak, they cannot fight, they will not last. That is how nature intended it."
Gregor thought of his grandma, who was old and dependent on the kindness of stronger people now. He thought of Boots, who was little and couldn't yet open a door. And there was his friend Larry, who had to go to the hospital emergency room three times last year when his asthma flared up...
"Is that what what you think, Luxa?" said Gregor. "Do you think something deserves to die if it's not strong?"


".... You see, I tired of constant fear, so I made a decision. Every day when I wake I tell myself that it will be my last. If you are not trying to hold on to time, you are not so afraid of losing it."
Gregor thought this was the single saddest thing anyone had ever said to him. He couldn't answer.
"And then, if you make it to bedtime, you feel the joy of cheating death out of one more day," she said. "Do you see?"


"Fascinating as your native rituals are, do you think we might proceed in silence? Given that the entire rat nation is on the lookout for us, it might be prudent," said Ripred.

I do rather like this book. I think I would have adored it if I read it when I was younger. But even now I know that it's pretty good for those who are younger. I intend to lend it to a little friend of mine who is a bit too interested in The Hunger Games than she probably ought to be yet.