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.) 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).