Monday, November 23, 2009

Forest Born

Title: Forest Born
Author: Shannon Hale

What it's about: In this fourth book of Bayern, we meet Rinna, the little sister of Razo. Rin's a good girl, always helping and never causing trouble, but deep inside herself, she feels that there's something wrong. When Razo comes back to the family's home in the forest, Rin decides to go with him when he returns to the capital. There she meets Isi and Enna. But before Rin can become too used to her new life, trouble strikes, and it's up to Rin and the other girls to preserve the peace.

What I thought: Some of Shannon Hale's other books that I read have taken a while to really get going. The Goose Girl, for instance, is very slow-paced at the beginning (though it's a wonderful story, don't get me wrong). But with Forest Born, everything moved quickly. I got through the nearly four hundred pages in a day, and this with having plenty of other things I needed to do, too. But the fast pace doesn't mean that there was no substance. I actually wouldn't be surprised if this became my favorite Bayern book after a couple more readings. You know, one thing that always interests me in a book is seeing a group of characters I've grown fond of from an outsider's point of view. Allow me to use an example. In Cinda Chima's The Warrior Heir, we meet Jack Swift, become familiar with his family, friends, struggles, etc. Jack's our buddy by the end. Then, in The Warrior Heir, we've suddenly got a new main protagonist character who's introduced to Jack's group, and so that's a whole different point of view of these characters, seen by a new person. Seph definitely sees things differently than a reader who's familiar with Jack's story would, and it makes you think, you know? And same with Rin in Forest Born, really. She sort of knows Enna, has met Dasha a few times, but has never known Isi. So we see Isi from a neutral point of view and are better able to see how her character has developed because Rin's narration tells us things that are unclouded by knowledge of previous events. Okay, so. That's pretty cool. Best part of the book, though? When they get to Castle Daire and actually meet the antagonist. Strewth, what an occurrence. I totally wasn't expecting it, and so it was really such a dramatic punch. And learning about Rin's true gifts and how they worked, that was really cool, too. Rin was realistic and likable overall, really. She had her faults and inner struggle, but those were actually pretty realistic ones for a teenage girl, and especially one growing up with the gifts that Rin had. And I gotta say, I just liked overall seeing the dynamic of friendship between the four girls. Isi and Enna are total besties, and Enna and Dasha's teasing was always amusing. Seeing a vulnerable side to Enna was interesting, too, as she's really a very strong character most of the time, and so her showing weakness is rare. This book definitely had its dark moments, too, which is something I like about these books, how Ms. Hale is not afraid to have things of consequence happen. But anyway, this was a great story, and it makes me want to reread the other Bayern books. Ah well, maybe over Christmas break!

Overall: A wonderful entry into the series.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Sigh of Suzumiya Haruhi

Title: The Sigh of Suzumiya Haruhi
Author: Nagaru Tanigawa

What it's about: Haruhi Suzumiya's club the SOS Brigade has been in existence for around six months now, and the school's cultural festival is coming up. Haruhi decides that she wants the Brigade to do something exciting for the festival and comes up with the idea of creating a movie. Haruhi is, of course, the director, and she plunges into the task with the same reckless enthusiasm that powers all of her endeavors, leaving Kyon and the other three Brigade members no choice but to follow along helplessly in her wake. However, as Haruhi and the Brigade film the movie, Haruhi's vision for the film starts to get confused with the real world, and supernatural phenomena start creeping up everywhere. Kyon and the others have to figure out what to do before reality is permanently altered!

What I thought: And to think that I used to rank this book as one of my least favorite in the series. Well, I think that seeing the anime adaptation of Sighs when it aired this summer helped my perception of it. Great adaptation. But the book is great too. We get to hear a little more about the various theories about the nature of Haruhi and her powers, for one thing, and there's some nice foreshadowing for book four, The Vanishment of Haruhi Suzumiya. Kyon's references come across clearly and are very amusing, and you gotta love Haruhi's baseless rhetoric. All in all, this is an amusing story that continues to develop the world of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Overall: Great story, great translation.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Two Pieces of Business

First of all, as you can see, there's been a name change. I've been debating this for a while, and I've decided to take the plunge. I figure it'll be easier to promote this blog with a more normal name. Of course, what can I promote if there's no content? That brings us to the second part of this entry.

Just for you lovely people, I created a Twitter account. You can see it linked on the sidebar, and you can check that for book-related tweets about whatever I'm reading. Doesn't quite make up for full reviews, but at least if you're looking for new books, you can check what I'm currently reading and get ideas.

Expect updates to get a bit more frequent once winter break rolls around. I'm drowning in school work at the moment. I also have a project planned for break, or for some time soon, at any rate, which should lead to a ton of book reviews. Well, until next time, folks! And with luck, "next time" will be an actual review. Bye!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins

What it's about: This sequel to The Hunger Games starts off not too long after the first book ended. We're thrown right into the tense atmosphere in District 12 following Katniss' and Peeta's win. Katniss has quickly learned that her defiance of the Capitol has caused trouble, and if she doesn't watch her step, she could lose everything she holds dear.

What I thought: Definitely a good book. I personally prefer The Hunger Games out of the two, but that's not to say that Catching Fire is in any way a bad book. It's got a good amount of drama and action, with more worldbuilding and plenty of character development and introspection on Katniss' part. The final third of the book was totally unexpected and was just what the book needed, and the conclusion left me eager for the final volume to see how things would wrap up.

Overall: If you liked The Hunger Games, you'll definitely want to check out this great sequel.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Knife of Never Letting Go

Title: The Knife of Never Letting Go
Author: Patrick Ness

What it's about: On a far-off planet, there is a village of only men and one boy. Todd Hewitt is that one boy. He's never known anything but his life in Prentisstown, where men can hear each other's thoughts through a phenomenon known as Noise. Then one day Todd finds a place where there is a strange silence, an absence of Noise like he's never encountered. He goes to investigate and ends up being dragged into a world of secrets larger than he ever dreamed possible.

Minor spoilers ahead. tl;dr version: This book is awesome buy it now.

What I thought: My gosh, this book... It took me about three chapters to get into this. At first I was a bit skeptical, but over the course of the day as I read it, I became more and more engrossed, to the point where I just spent three hours late into the night reading until the gut-wrenching conclusion. Okay, so, first thing. Noise. What a concept. It's a strange but interesting one with many possible ramifications, and to my mind Ness does a satisfactory job of covering all the bases that this opens up. It certainly makes for a very interesting dynamic between Todd and Viola, and as that dynamic is one of the most important things in this book, that's a good thing. Todd's a well-drawn character. He's far from perfect, but what we get from his narration is that he's a guy with good intentions, struggling like you or I would to deal with these strange circumstances into which we've been thrown. Viola is certainly an interesting character, too, and she seems especially enigmatic because of the combination of her initial silence, the fact that she doesn't have Noise, and because she's a girl and Todd isn't good with girls, at first, anyway. Anyway, you know, this is a pretty grim story. Y'all know me, I like my light and happy tales, but I loved this book, mainly because its characters don't give up. Despite all the odds facing them down, they try their best. But, like, Todd isn't a Determinator or one of those stupid shounen heroes who believes in the you who believes in you; this is just a guy knowing that some things are hopeless but you have to try anyway, and who knows, maybe you'll just make it. And the friendship, the bond between Todd and Viola is just heartwarming. So despite the grim and even horrific things in the story, you're compelled to read onwards because of these characters. Anyway, the writing style itself is good too. Ness really gives Todd an unmistakable voice, and the prose is of good quality. So, yeah, amazing book, and I'll probably gush about its sequel next.

Overall: Stop reading this, go to Amazon, and order this book. Now. Do it. Do it. Do it. This and The Ask and the Answer are probably my two favorite books I've read all year. This includes stuff like The Hunger Games. The Chaos Walking books are just that good.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Excuses, excuses...

Just a quick update to say that, no, I have not forgotten about this blog or my sacred duty to review every book I ever read ever. It's just that, argh, real life. However. I will review The Knife of Never Letting Go and The Ask and the Answer, so help me, because those books are amazing and gripping and wonderful and why isn't the final book out yet? Also! Only two more people ahead of me for a copy of Catching Fire at the library! I will definitely review that too! However, updates will stay slow for the rest of the semester because 1) NaNoWriMo, 2) twenty-one credits, and 3) independent study game design project. Nyoro~n. But please stay tuned! And you can bet that I'll be reading up a storm during the second half of December. Well, bye, folks!

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Courageous Princess

Title: The Courageous Princess
Author: Rod Espinosa

What it's about: Princess Mabelrose lives in the tiny kingdom of New Tinsley. Her life is a happy one, with loving parents and freedom to grow and play. Then one day she's kidnapped by an evil, powerful dragon who intends to keep her prisoner. Not one to put up with this sort of treatment, Mabelrose steals some things from the dragon's hoard and escapes, meeting new friends and allies in her quest to get back home.

What I thought: So, yeah, this is a graphic novel, and it has a simple charming style. It's not really in manga style, nor is it like American comic books. It reminds me most of Rapunzel's Revenge, actually, a graphic novel written by Shannon Hale that I reviewed a couple months ago. Anyway, the story starts out simple enough, with the (by now) cliche of a spunky princess who rescues herself, but Mabelrose becomes pretty well-developed as a character. I liked her because she had a good mix of strengths and weaknesses. She wasn't perfect, but she also didn't success just because of a deus ex machina. Basically, this is a pretty well constructed fantasy story, and I only wish that the library or Amazon had the next two volumes for sale.

Overall: A fun adventure in graphic novel format.

What Dreams May Come

Title: What Dreams May Come
Author: Richard Matheson

What it's about: Main character Chris dies, but the story just begins. Even though he discovers there's an afterlife, he can't let go of thoughts about his wife Ann. Then something happens that puts Chris' eventual reunion with Ann in jeopardy, and he must hope that the love the two of them share is strong enough to win the day.

What I thought: What I liked best was the descriptions of the afterlife. Very detailed, made me wish more of the story focused on explaining this place. The relationship between Chris and Ann was very well developed, too, and while there was a lot diabetes-inducing stuff, it was balanced out with character flaws for them both. You know what didn't really work for me? The actual plot itself. That is, when Chris had to go save Ann, that whole bit was interesting too, but it just felt like it hadn't been a big enough conflict to really justify the story, and the ending seemed like a letdown. You know, these complaints actually mirror the ones I had for Bid Time Return. I guess that's just Matheson for you. But overall this was pretty good.

Overall: If you like unconventional love stories, this is worth checking out.

The Third Policeman

Title: The Third Policeman
Author: Flann O'Brien

What it's about: An unnamed narrator goes on a search for a black box that belonged to the man he murdered. He's joined by his soul named Joe, and his search takes him to a two-dimensional police station that's staffed by three policemen with interesting foibles. Our friend learns a lot about bicycles, atomic theory, and the nature of the universe.

What I thought: You wanna know just how far out this book is? I got high from reading it. Okay, well, seriously, this book is a trip and a half. It's very readable in that the language is simple and unpretentious. The main thing that gave me trouble was just wrapping my mind around the sheer weirdness of O'Brien's imaginings. However, they're very creative things that he comes up with, connecting bicycles with atomic theory, the idea of a two-dimensional police house, that whole underground place. I mean, what is this I don't even. The digressions about de Selby are very amusing, too. But, jeez, holy extended footnotes, Batman!

Overall: Very weird, and not the easiest thing to read. However, this is entertaining and worthwhile overall.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Angel's Game

Title: The Angel's Game
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

What it's about: Aspiring novelist David Martín is approached by a mysterious figure who offers him an enormous sum of money to write a book. David, who is hungry to prove himself, takes the offer and begins work. However, he soon discovers that the figure who offered him the job is more than he seems and that he may only be a small piece in a larger mystery that weaves itself through Barcelona and even the very house he, David, now lives in.

What I thought: A discussion of The Angel's Game cannot take place without mentioning its predecessor, The Shadow of the Wind. First off, I'm gonna say that I prefer The Shadow of the Wind over this book. That is not to say that The Angel's Game is not an excellent book, however. The same macabre sense of mystery and nostalgia pervades The Angel's Game and pulls you into its world. My main complaint was that... Well, while at times in The Shadow of the Wind it seemed that Zafon was almost beating you over the head with exposition of past events, this time around it seems that things are left a little too mysterious to fully make all the connections during the first read-through. The events near the end and until the epilogue move at a frenzied pace, and you more feel the events than totally process them. And it's a fun ride, but it feels a bit lacking. The whole Faustian feel of things was a good theme, but it didn't feel played out well enough. I was expecting something like The Shadow of the Wind, with history repeating itself, and I did get that from this book too, but, well, while I'm not saying that the parallels should be exceedingly obvious (while it worked for Shadow, it's not for every book) and while the last scene in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books definitely worked, but... I guess it ties back into the lack of explanation I was mentioning before. Maybe someone out there in readerland feels differently about this. Please do say so if you disagree with my assessment. I will say that I very much liked the character of Isabella and her interaction with David. She reminded me of Fermin, although the two are quite different. Fermin's older, while Isabella's a young thing; Fermin's worldly and dapper, while Isabella is somewhat naive and temperamental. But there's that role of confidant that both take up, with wisdom and assistance for the main character. Also, I will mention that I liked the connections between The Angel's Game and Shadow. Oh, one other thing. I remember reading somewhere, maybe on Wikipedia or Amazon or some other place, that this book would explain more about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Well, it did, but I still feel that we didn't learn enough. I suppose Zafon will write more books set in his shadowy version of Barcelona and thus satisfy the curiosity of myself and other readers.

Overall: I can't say it's as good as The Shadow of the Wind, but The Angel's Game is another excellent offering from Zafon.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Wee Free Men

Title: Wee Free Men
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: Tiffany Aching, with the help of the Nac Mac Feegle and her own common sense and determination, must rescue her brother from the land of the fairies and keep the fairy queen from causing havoc in the real world.

What I thought: For some reason, this book didn't draw me in as much as some of Pratchett's other books. It's a good, solid Discworld story, with plenty of clever humor and philosophical tangents that make sense in the context of the story. Tiffany's a likable protagonist with realistic foibles and flaws. I guess it just didn't click with me. Truth be told, I'm most attached to the characters of the Watch, and when it comes to Discworld witches, I wish there would be more books with Agnes Nitt. But Tiffany's a good protagonist, and I'm gonna order A Hat Full of Sky and see what she gets up to next. Maybe she'll grow on me.

Overall: A decent entry into the Discworld series. If you like the witches, check this out.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bid Time Return

Title: Bid Time Return
Author: Richard Matheson

What it's about: Dying screenwriter Richard Collier is spending the last days of his life trying to write a book. He travels without direction, letting a coin flip determine where he goes. Richard ends up in the Hotel del Coronado, a place with a long history, and there he sees the photograph that will change his life. Elise McKenna, a famous actress, performed at the Hotel del Coronado in 1896, and a photograph taken of her then remains on display. Richard sees it and falls in love with the woman. Though he knows that it's an impossible love, he immediately begins to research Elise, and soon decides that he will do anything, even circumvent time itself, to be with her. Richard's attempts at time travel eventually succeed, and he meets Elise. But can true love really win out against the relentless flow of time and history?

What I thought: The whole book has the quality of a dream. From the clipped narration style at the beginning to the luxurious descriptions of the world of 1896, there's something not quite real about the whole story. However, the dictation style of the story does give it an immediacy and passion that draw you in. This is a wonderful love story that just pulls you along, and my only complaint would be that the ending is a bit... abrupt and less dramatic than I would have liked. But it works, and the whole book works, and if you liked The Time Traveler's Wife, you'll like this one.

Overall: Lovely story.

The Dark Reflections Trilogy

Titles: The Water Mirror, The Stone Light, and The Glass Word
Author: Kai Meyer

What it's about: Set in a very much alternate Earth, our story begins in Venice, where the orphan Merle and her friend Junipa are going to work as apprentices to a great magic mirror maker. The master mirror maker, Archimbaldo, is mysterious but kindly, curing Junipa's blindness by giving her mirror eyes, and his housekeeper Eft is a friend to Merle. Across the street is another craftsman and his apprentices. Despite the traditional rivalry between the apprentices of the two households, Merle is taken with Serafin, the former street thief turned delivery boy. The two quickly get entangled in the war with the Egyptian Empire, however, and are separated. However, while Merle loses Serafin, she gains a companion in the Flowing Queen, the mysterious protector of Venice, and Vermithrax the stone lion. Soon the three of them are off to Hell to solicit aid in protecting Venice from the Egyptians.

What I thought: Confusing summary, I'll bet. What I liked about this series was how serious and dark it turned out to be, and also how you could tell that the author had put a lot of effort into developing this world. On the flip side, it seemed as though there was more development done than we were shown, and I feel that the series as a whole would have been better if it had moved just a bit slower. As it was, the relationship between Merle and Serafin seemed a bit hasty, and some plot points, while making sense, seemed a little confusing because the build-up wasn't completely there. Ah, but don't think I'm condemning the series. Not for a minute! This is great fantasy. The bleak city of Venice, the mysterious, alien, powerful Egyptian Empire, the fact that Hell is a desolate, inhuman wasteland that's actually visitable by mortals, and then even the Iron Eye and the realm it is built to mimic. This is all wonderfully conceived. Merle is a great, realistic character with plenty of development and personality. She questions, she makes mistakes, she doesn't let destiny just push her along. And the series' conclusion makes sense and is well executed. I didn't like it all that much personally, but I can't say it wasn't good.

Overall: A very solid fantasy trilogy.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Big Sleep

Title: The Big Sleep
Author: Raymond Chandler

What it's about: Private investigator Philip Marlowe is on a case. He's supposed to investigate the blackmailing of the daughter of General Sternwood, an old man with two daughters. It's a simple enough matter. Tail the fellow who's doing the blackmailing and then advise the general about whether to pay up or take other action. But things get a little tricky when the suspect gets murdered and one of the Sternwood daughters shows up on the scene.

What I thought: Ah, now this is a mystery! It's everything you could want in a detective novel. There's a hard-boiled protagonist, mysterious dames, crime lords, menacing henchmen, plenty of cigarette smoking and consumption of liquor, the works. But it's not flat. Marlowe is unexpectedly deep, and honorable, too. Unlike Sam Spade, who I always though of as rather a jerk, Marlowe is philosophical and principled. He's loyal to his client, works with the law as best as he can without compromising the client, doesn't pack heat unless it's necessary, things like that. The review on the back of the book called Marlow a "slumming angel," which I find an immensely poetic and accurate description of his character. The California of The Big Sleep is depicted in shadowed words, as a fallen place. Marlowe presents a principled figure beaten down by the shady circumstances which surround him. Ah, but I digress. On the subject of the mystery itself, it's well constructed, with a convoluted plot that nonetheless works itself out in its beautifully depressing ending.

Overall: An archetypal detective novel that's a classic and a must-read.


Title: Alchemy
Author: Margaret Mahy

What it's about: So Roland's a normal high school student. Good grades, well-liked, great girlfriend. Life's going pretty well, a nice change from his younger years when his father left his family and his mother had to struggle to raise him and his two brothers. But then Roland's teacher confronts him about some shoplifting he did. Instead of reporting Roland, however, Mr. Hudson makes a curious deal with him: befriend class outcast Jess Ferret and report to him on her. Roland agrees because it seems a lot better than harming his reputation, but Jess Ferret turns out to be more than your normal unpopular girl. There's something strange about her, and it seems to be connected to a suppressed strangeness in Roland himself.

What I thought: I read this book once quite a few years ago and remember finding it really strange and hard to read. It's actually not. This is a good piece of light fantasy. Roland's a well developed character, complex, but not in a way that a seventeen-year-old boy wouldn't be. The climactic encounter of the book is weird, but in a Diana Wynne Jones sort of way, in that while it's describing very out of the ordinary things, you're able to follow what's going on and it all makes sense and doesn't feel like the author's just pulling crap outta thin air. This book mixes the mundane and the arcane in a very enjoyable manner, basically. You get domestic scenes followed by discussion of alchemy and the powers of the world, and it works. There's some interesting insights, too, on the nature of the world and how people view it.

Overall: Definitely a unique book and worth a try for open-minded fantasy fans.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant

Title: The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant
Author: Douglass Wallop

What it's about: Joe Boyd, a middle-aged fan of the Washington Senators baseball team, is depressed because his life has never amounted to anything much. All he has is his wife, his job as a real estate salesman, and his devotion to his baseball team - a team that's notorious for losing. One night, Joe is approached by a fellow who calls himself Applegate and who offers Joe a chance to save the Senators and help them win the pennant from the Yankees by becoming young again and playing for the team himself. Joe agrees, but with a condition. He wants an escape clause built into his contract with the devil. Only if Joe renounces the contract at a certain time will he be able to return to his old life. Joe becomes Joe Hardy, a young, talented ballplayer, and at first everything seems to be swell, but as anyone familiar with Faustian tales like this one knows, an infernal deal always has its downsides, and soon Joe has to face them.

What I thought: This here is the novel that the musical Damn Yankees is based on, and since I've been researching musicals again lately, I thought I'd give it a read. Despite being an older book, this is a solid story. Joe is an everyman sort of protagonist, the kind of normal fellow anyone can identify with, but he's not pathetic, not a Homer Simpson type. Joe's good enough at what he does, and he and his wife have a good life - things are just stuck in a rut. And you can see Joe's good qualities throughout the course of the novel, which makes him a likable fellow. Applegate is our antagonist, and he's everything a devil should be, very smooth and ruthless, with other quirks besides, like his gluttony (although I suppose that since gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, it shouldn't be so surprising). Lola was a character who seemed to have a good amount of depth and importance, but, and this could have been my fault in the reading, she didn't seem to get the development she needed. Or, well, she got what she needed, but I still thought she could have had more... Just, I thought more could have been done with her. But, you know, this is a fun book, and now I'm curious to see how the musical adaptation looks. I've got the cast recording, the libretto, and the motion picture version all on order from my library.

Overall: A light, easy read that'll keep you entertained for an hour or two.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The Year of Secret Assignments

Title: The Year of Secret Assignments
Author: Jaclyn Moriarty

What it's about: Lydia, Emily, and Cassie are three best friends in high school. For an English class assignment, they're assigned pen pals at Brookfield High, a rival school. Initially the project is just a silly diversion for the girls, but as they start to connect with their pen pals, complications crop up.

What I thought: This was one of those books that I picked up with a healthy dose of skepticism. Surely, thought I, a book with a goofy-looking cover that is told in epistolary form with all sorts of cutesy fonts and a focus on the adventures of a group of teenage girls, surely this is going to be like something off of the Disney Channel, with cliched, dramatic plotlines and cardboard characterization. But no. I was oh so pleasantly surprised, right from the very first page. Lydia's quirky writing style had me hooked and interested. And as the other two girls were introduced, I couldn't help liking Emily for her innocently self-centered outlook and Cassie's flippant sarcasm. Of course, I'm doing the girls injustice with those descriptions; they're deep, well-developed character who can't be described fully in anything less than the course of, well, the novel. And that's what happens, because this book is really all about the character development of the girls and their Brookfield pen pals. I found the relationship between Emily and Charlie to be cute, and I was of course moved by the result of Cassie's correspondence. My main beef was that while the climax of the story was certainly exciting and dramatic, it seemed just a little too... pat. Rushed? Mm. It still worked and wasn't enough to make the book bad, it was just not quite as awesome as I would have thought it could be. Still, don't let that dissuade you from reading The Year of Secret Assignments.

Overall: A highly engaging piece of teen fiction.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Shadowed Summer

Title: Shadowed Summer
Author: Saundra Mitchell

What it's about: So, it's summer, and fourteen year old Iris and her best friend Colette are prepared to spend it up to their usual tricks of make-believe and such. Two things promise to make that hard: Colette's budding attraction to neighbor boy Ben, and the fact that Iris is seeing the ghost of a young man who died many years ago. The ghost is Elijah, a guy whose disappearance was never solved. He's the town's big mystery. And so Iris, Colette, and Ben decide to solve it. However, there are those who don't want the mystery to be solved, and all the while Elijah's ghost is pestering Iris.

What I thought: Two things I especially liked about this book. First off, the characters acted like actual kids. Not that pseud0-mature Disney Channel behavior, but like actual kids. And second, the inclusion of some actual supernatural elements, particularly at the end, really ramped up the suspense. I also liked what the actual resolution to the mystery was. Pretty clever and tragic. The writing style was enjoyable, too. Very much got across the small town feel. Reminded me a bit of To Kill A Mockingbird. Er, you know, with the narrator who's somewhat precocious but still definitely a kid in her essence, as well as in how it depicted the slower, close-knit feel of the community.

Overall: A very solid story that's worth checking out.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Scrapped Princess

Title: Scrapped Princess

What it's about: Pacifica Casull is a fifteen-year-old girl who just happens to be the Scrapped Princess, the girl whose very existence will poison the world when she hits her sixteenth birthday. Everyone, seriously, everyone is out to kill this girl, the daughter of the royal family who was supposed to be killed when she was born. Only she survived, and now her foster siblings, Shannon and Raquel, are keeping her safe. As they journey to find a safe haven, they encounter many friends and foes and even some unlikely allies. And before the journey's done, Pacifica and those close to her will learn the shocking truth about their world.

What I thought: I am posting this as a public service announcement, y'all! Scrapped Princess is an amazing anime, and even though it's not a book, if you're a fan of well done stories, you can't pass this up! This series has great music and animation, very deep themes, well-developed characters, and an exciting plot that'll move you and keep you guessing until the end. It's heavy on the character development and on illustrating bonds of family and friendship. And the main characters are all great. Pacifica is not your typical heroine, but it's impossible not to like her for her plucky attitude and slightly spoiled nature. Plus, the series has a great sense of humor. It's not a humorous series, but it understands that just because you're fighting for your own survival while the entire world desires your death, that doesn't mean that life doesn't go on in its own mundane way and that funny things don't happen. That's the beauty of this series. There are so few books, movies, anime series, or fictional series in general that hit the balance of grim, deep, seriousness and the genuine goodness and happiness of life, and Scrapped Princess is one of them. So, seriously guys, check it out. Only 24 episodes, and the plot of the series is overall so well-structured that it just flies by.

Overall: Go. Watch. Now.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Good news, everyone!

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Well, I have now ordered Sense and Sensibility from the library, so that I can become familiar with the original story before reading this new book. Check out the article; there's even a video trailer for this book. Lulz. And apparently there's going to be a film of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Do want.

And for those of you who want more book reviews, I think I'll try to review Shadowed Summer next. I read it a couple weeks back, but it was very good and deserves a review. I just can't remember if I took it back to the library or not. This is why I hate it when my room's a mess. In any case, the past couple reviews were backlog books. I've been playing video games and rereading old favorites lately, not much new stuff. One book that I do have checked out that looks interesting is The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty. If I can drag myself away from TV Tropes and other distractions, I'll probably finish that some time this week.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Title: Shift
Author: Jennifer Bradbury

What it's about: Chris and his best friend Win decide to go on a bike trip across the United States in the summer after their senior year of high school. However, when the trip ends and college begins, something's wrong. Win hasn't returned home, and the FBI wants Chris to explain why.

What I thought: So I originally thought this was going to be, like, a thriller novel. Instead, it's a very deep story about friendship and growing as a person. The story is told by flashbacks of the bike trip interspersed with events from the story's present and the search for Win. What I liked the best was the realistic and complex characters, and the effective use of humor. Also, this book is just a really good example of a story about friendship, not something you see all that often. I was pulled into this book slowly at first, but by the time I hit the halfway point, there was no way I could put it down until I'd finished.

Overall: This review sadly doesn't do the book justice. I highly recommend it.

Night Watch

Title: Night Watch
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: In this installment of the Discworld's City Watch arc, His Grace Sir Samuel Vimes, Commander of Ankh-Morpork's City Watch, is anxiously awaiting the birth of his child when he's called away to deal with a persistent serial killer. Carcer Dunn is a deadly psychopath, but Vimes and his watchmen have him cornered atop one of the buildings of Unseen University when a freak accident sends Vimes and Carcer hurtling back thirty years through time, to a period of significant importance to both him and to the city itself. Now Vimes has to pursue his man in the Ankh-Morpork of the past, as well as navigate the old Watch through a time of coming crisis. If he's lucky, he'll come through this all alive, and so will one of the old Watch's newest recruits, a young lance constable named Sam Vimes.

What I thought: While rife with Pratchett's trademark wit and black humor, this is a book that's actually very deep, serious, and full of emotion. Vimes has to relive events that shaped him into the man he is in the present, and he has to struggle with changing and doing what he can and knowing his limits. The allusions to the People's Republic of Treacle Mine Road and its fate in the framing sections taking place in the present help to up the emotional impact when we see the republic take shape and start to grow. The Ankh-Morpork of the past is a dim, gritty place that we only even saw a shadow of in Guards! Guards!; after all, by that point, at least, Vetinari was in power and making the city run more efficiently and peacefully. So this view of the city's past is interesting, as are all the cameos of characters we know from the rest of the series, like Vetinari and young Nobby. We also quickly come to care for characters who've never been seen before and will never be seen again, just because of Pratchett's dynamic writing style that quickly develops and creates empathy for even the more minor characters through small details and observations that make these characters seem like real people, not just names with quirks. A lot of people name this as Pratchett's best, and I think they may very well be on to something.

Overall: A poignant addition to the Discworld series.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Only You Can Save Mankind

Title: Only You Can Save Mankind
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: Johnny Maxwell is a normal English boy who enjoys playing the occasional computer game. Fighting aliens is fun - until the aliens ask to surrender. A confused Johnny agrees to accept the surrender and to help the aliens reach safety, but upholding the bargain is harder than he thought it would be when plenty of other gamers are ready to fight aliens. Johnny has to rely on old friends and new if he wants to keep the ScreeWee safe.

What I thought: Very much a good read, with a lot of themes recognizable from the Discworld books. A good helping of What Measure Is A NonHuman? and just some general philosophizing about the nature of war, reality, and decency. The usual fare, and not too heavy-handed. Quite a lot of good humor. Quick read, though. Got through it in maybe three hours of on-and-off reading.

Overall: A good, solid book from the master.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

The Chronicles of Prydain

Title: The Chronicles of Prydain
Author: Lloyd Alexander

What it's about: Yes, I'm cheating and putting the five book series into one entry. But anyway, it's the story of a young man named Taran who lives in a land based on Wales that's being menaced by this evil guy named Arawn. Taran gets roped up into adventures, and despite being a bit of an idiot, his resolve and good heart serve him well in befriending new companions and learning about himself and what it means to be a hero, as well as in saving Prydain. The series is made up of five books: The Book of Three, wherein we're introduced to Taran, Eilonwy, Gurgi, and Fflewddur Fflam, among others. The Black Cauldron, which is probably the most well-known of the five, since Disney made an animated feature based on it, has the companions reuniting to find and destroy the titular artifact so it can't be used to make undead soldiers. The Castle of Llyr comes next, and it deals with saving Eilonwy and also starts to emphasize the feelings between her and Taran. In Taran Wanderer, the plot a bit different, with Taran looking to learn about his heritage instead of going off to defeat some evil guy, but book five, The High King, returns to that formula for a very epic conclusion to the saga. Full of allies coming together, battles with high stakes and the first instances in the entire series of characters other than Taran having viewpoint sections, and highlighting the growth of Taran and the other characters, this book presents an exciting, satisfying conclusion to a wonderful fantasy series.

What I thought: Much better than I'd dared to hope it would be, this series charmed me from the beginning and then grew on me from there. Taran starts out as your typical impulsive idiot hero, but he's got his moments of clarity, and you can see how he makes up for his lack of common sense with plenty of heart and determination. Eilonwy is an interesting character as well, an action girl who's also a bit of... well, airhead and ditz seem a little strong, but she's definitely a chatterbox, and while most of the time she's the voice of reason for Taran, she has her moments. But that all just serves to make her more unique and likable. Gurgi and Fflewddur both took a little longer to grow on me, but both the loyal forest creature and the garrulous bard found places in my heart as the books passed. I liked how the series progressed, with the first two books establishing characters and conflicts, and then the next one developing side conflicts and showing character growth in an alternate environment. And then the fourth book was quite different from the previous three, focusing more on Taran's spiritual journey than anything else, but it still managed to be entertaining. And the final book was a perfect, gripping conclusion to this series, with plenty of excitement and emotion. I'm already looking forward to when these books aren't so fresh in my head so I can read them all again.

Overall: Wonderful classics.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Title: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Author: Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

What it's about: "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains." And with that we have the striking first line of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a unique adaptation of Jane Austen's classic work. While preserving most of the original text and the story of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, this version also adds in a zombie subplot. A plague has beset England, causing zombies to walk the earth, and the five Bennet sisters are trained warriors who keep their part of the countryside safe. Elizabeth must deal with the conflicts of her proud warrior's nature with the desires of her heart.

What I thought: While I had feared this book would be gimmicky, it actually stands up pretty well. It helped that I was familiar with Pride and Prejudice, I think. The zombie scenes are pretty well integrated into the flow of the story, and there's a lot of new background given to various characters. For instance, it's established that Elizabeth and her sisters trained in the deadly arts under a Shaolin master in China. Elizabeth also has more of a violent streak than in the original story. The language is always kept close to Austen's original style. And the drawings in this edition are pretty much the cherry on top.

Overall: If you like Pride and Prejudice and silly zombie stuff, this will be heaven.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Stravaganza: City of Masks

Title: Stravaganza: City of Mask
Author: Mary Hoffman

What it's about: Lucien, a boy sick with cancer, finds that he can "stravagate", or travel to another world, when he falls asleep holding a special notebook his father bought for him. Lucien's travels take him to Bellezza, an alternate version of the city of Venice during the 16th century. In Bellezza, Lucien finds himself completely well, learns more about stravagation, and has adventures with Arianna, a girl from a nearby island. He also becomes entangled in the city's politics and finds that danger comes hand in hand with excitement in this new world.

What I thought: So I tried reading this book several years ago, but it didn't hook me. Now, maybe because of the time I spent in Italy, I find it much more engaging. Actually, I'm surprised it didn't hook me the last time I read it, because this is pretty much just the sort of story I'm always looking for. Interesting, realistic characters have adventures in a glamorous other world of magic and intrigue. What's not to like? And the book is quite detailed. You can tell that Hoffman put a lot of work into creating Bellezza and stravagation. Well, there's plenty of twists and turns and excitement, and it's all well plotted out. Some stuff I could predict, but other bits I could not, which all balances out well. Reminds me that I'd been contemplating writing a little essay on my thoughts on foreshadowing. But anyway. Great book.

Overall: Captivating tale of adventure and intrigue.

The Dragonfly Pool

Title: The Dragonfly Pool
Author: Eva Ibbotson

What it's about: Just prior to World War II, Tally Hamilton is sent away from her home in London to attend a boarding school. However, Delderton is unlike any other school. The students are quirky, the classes don't cover traditional sources of study, and the teachers are as odd and talented as they are caring. Despite her initial misgivings, Tally soon fits in at Delderton, and she even convinces the school to form a folk-dancing team in order to travel to a cultural festival in the small nation of Bergania. There she meets Karil, the crown prince. But even as Tally and Karil become friends, the threat of the Nazis casts a shadow over the lives of everyone.

What I thought: This is like The Star of Kazan, only even better. There's the same charming prose, with loving descriptions of the natural world. Actually, the beginning of the book, with its setup of Tally's life in London had be fearing this book would simply retread the path of The Star of Kazan. However, I was happily wrong. The action is concentrated on Tally and her friends at Delderton, and I am happy to say that the supporting cast is well drawn, with likable, memorable characters. There's also plenty of excitement and action, with higher stakes than in the other book. I also thought that the friendships between the characters were well-done, with plenty of depth. And I quite liked Tally. You know how when there's a character who's just generally nice, caring, optimistic, etc., there's the potential for her to be an annoying Mary Sue type? I had this worry for Tally, but Ibbotson is so good that the reader is charmed along with the other characters.

Overall: A wonderful piece of historical fiction. Charming and heartwarming.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


Title: Nation
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: A giant wave in the south Pacific devastates the island home of Mau and wrecks the ship Daphne's traveling on. The two young people have to survive and make sense of the tragedy, while coping with the arrival of more and more refugees and rebuilding the Nation.

What I thought: The above summary is a rather simple one, but as anyone familiar with Terry Pratchett's books knows, he can make the simplest of premises into a complex, funny, and touching tale. He's done it time and again in the Discworld and now he takes his magic a little closer to home, writing about the culture clash of the island nation with European culture. As always, he makes accurate philosophical observations that make you think without seeming preachy. The book has a touch of magic and mystery to it, and there's plenty of good suspenseful moments. Really, Nation is just another excellent example of the genius of Terry Pratchett.

Overall: Discworld fan or not, this is definitely a book worth picking up.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Hurray for books!

So I'm done with my anime kick and back to reading. However, what I've been reading were previously reviewed Discworld books: Feet of Clay, Going Postal, and Making Money. I went to the library this evening, though, and picked out a couple of books, at least three of which I'm sure I haven't reviewed yet. (I don't remember about Conrad's Fate.) I also spotted an article in my local newspaper about zombies in teen lit, and I just ordered the three zombie books it reviewed. Also on order from the library still is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and I'm now hold 17 out of I don't even know. So, keep an eye out for reviews of Stravaganza: City of Masks, The Dragonfly Pool, and Nation, and even more to come after those!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Julia Child

Title: Julia Child
Author: Laura Shapiro

What it's about: This is a biography of Julia Child, the French Chef. It details her development into a woman who loved food and cooking, hitting both her good and bad points. Even if you're not a big fan of cooking, Julia Child had a very interesting life that's worth reading about.

What I thought: This book does well in part because the author uses a lot of Julia's quotes from primary sources like her letters. These quotes really help the reader get a feel for Julia's personality and what made her so beloved. The book is fairly short and an easy read, but it has plenty of depth in it. There are many loving descriptions of both Julia and food, and the fondness for the subjects is what makes this such an enjoyable book.

Overall: Entertaining non-fiction.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Explanation for lack of updates

Sorry for the lack of posting, folks. It's a combination of me rereading old books that I've already reviewed (including Starclimber and High King's Tomb) and, this is the bigger reason, I've been watching so much anime you wouldn't believe. Since school let out I've watched Toradora!, all three seasons of Zero no Tsukaima, and I'm on the second season of Shakugan no Shana. Why, yes, I'm on a tsundere kick. Heh. Perhaps I'll post reviews for those series here. Sure, it's a book blog, but anime can tell stories, too. I gotta say, Toradora! had some pretty good storytelling in it, at any rate. Well, nope, this ain't dead. When I read some new stuff, I'll post about it. I don't know how much longer I can go without books, anyway.

Monday, May 4, 2009

The Zombie Survival Guide

Title: The Zombie Survival Guide
Author: Max Brooks

What it's about: In these troublesome days of swine flu and a Democrat in the White House, it is easy to overlook the very real threat posed by the undead. But despite how we think a zombie uprising could never happen, Max Brooks' chilling book proves just how wrong we are - deadly wrong, that is. Drawing on historical evidence of zombie uprisings, Brooks dictates the best survival strategies for coping with these inhuman abominations. He tells about the best strategies for surviving a siege, for escaping, and for taking matters into your own hands and hunting down the menaces yourself. Everything from zombie physiology to the best weapons to how to recognize the early warning signs of a zombie infestation is covered in this comprehensive tome. Don't be caught unawares! Order your copy today and you just might survive.

What I thought: Even though this book is fiction (at least, I hope) it makes the idea of a zombie apocalypse seem chillingly real. Brooks narrates everything in a serious tone - there's nothing tongue-in-cheek here. This book is very detailed, truly covering everything that needs to be said about surviving a zombie uprising. It's entertaining because a lot of thought went into this book, and it will provoke you to thought in turn. I know it had me analyzing the campus, trying to figure out which buildings would be most secure if zombies started attacking. Heh.

Overall: A fascinating book that'll provide both chills and food for thought.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya

Title: The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya
Author: Nagaru Tanigawa

What it's about: Average high school first-year Kyon is jolted from his average life when he becomes involved with the escapades of Haruhi Suzumiya, an eccentric girl who has no interest in the ordinary. Yearning for excitement, Haruhi creates a club called the SOS Brigade, whose mission is "to find aliens, time travelers, and espers and to have fun with them!" She forcibly recruits Kyon and three other members to form her brigade. However, these other members have their own agendas for joining, and they reveal to Kyon the secret about Haruhi. Now it's up to him and the others to keep Haruhi happy, lest she destroy the universe as we know it.

What I thought: All right, so why am I reviewing this again when I reviewed it last May? Because this version is the official English translation, not a fan version. Personally, I was very pleased with the quality. The language is very natural, with all of Kyon's snark and witty remarks kept intact. The artwork is preserved, and even the little sound effects and captions are translated. One thing untranslated is the honorifics. No -chan or -san or anything like that. However, this translation at least doesn't go the awful route the dub did and substitute "Miss" for "-san". Ugh. Really, this is just a minor quibble, and I can see why these weren't kept. Well, in any case, this is a good translation of a great story, and I encourage any fan of humorous sci-fi and high school stories to check this out.

Overall: Highly recommended.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star

Title: Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star
Author: Brandon Mull

What it's about: Taking place after Fablehaven, this book sees Kendra dealing with the consequences of the fairy queen's aid. She has to use her new abilities to help her grandparents seek out the magical relic hidden somewhere on Fablehaven's grounds. Meanwhile, she and Seth are undergoing instruction from three magical specialists who are also at Fablehaven to help. The Society of the Evening Star is on the move, also, and it's getting harder to know who to trust. It's once again up to Kendra and Seth to save the day.

What I thought: Just like in the previous book, there's plenty to spark one's imagination. The humor and genuinely dark elements are well-balanced, and you can see how Kendra and Seth grow as characters. I particularly liked the action sequence near the end and how elements from the previous book come into play here.

Overall: A very nice follow-up to Fablehaven.

The Secret Under My Skin

Title: The Secret Under My Skin
Author: Janet McNaughton

What it's about: In the future, technology is scorned and people live harsher, simpler lives. However, Blay Raytee learns that the world is more complex than what they told her in the government work-camp where she lives. She is chosen to assist the community's new bio-indicator, a young woman named Marrella, and this gives Blay the opportunity to learn about how the world works, both with politics and with science. Her new life gives her the chance to discover who she is and how she fits into the world.

What I thought: The world of the story is very well-developed. I thought the plot lacked punch. The climactic events seemed small compared to what they could have been. However, the world and the characters were engaging, and I enjoyed reading Blay's story.

Overall: Not bad, but it didn't especially wow me.

Tiger Moon

Title: Tiger Moon
Author: Antonia Michaelis

What it's about: A young woman, married to a man she does not love tells a tale to her husband's servant while she waits to be taken to the marriage bed. She tells of a hero sent to rescue a princess captured by a demon. The hero, an unlikely thief named Farhad, is joined by a white tiger named Nitish, and they quest for a gem that will allow them to barter for the princess's freedom. As the young woman tells her story, the tale starts to blend with reality, and a true hero emerges.

What I thought: Luxuriously described setting and well-drawn characters. A bit of a darker fairy tale, but with all the magic and mystical elements you could wish for. The two stories weave together nicely, and there's a touch of humor about it all.

Overall: Something different, and not bad at all.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Author: Mary Pearson

What it's about: After the accident, Jenna Fox can't remember anything. Not who she is, what her life was like, and not about the accident that brought her to this state. She has to start from scratch, looking at her life from an outsider's point of view and piecing together answers to the mystery of her life. However, ignorance, as they say, is bliss, and when Jenna finds her answers, will she wish that she'd never looked?

What I thought: First person, present tense narrative that starts fractured and grows in clarity and coherence as the book goes on, an interesting technique that mimics Jenna's recovery. Jenna is an interesting character, and her predicament is not predictable, not completely. The clues are cleverly laid, and the reveal is quite gripping. It's also the sort of thing I'd expect to be the climax of the story, but it works better where it is.

Overall: Entertaining and thought-provoking.

The Book Thief

Title: The Book Thief
Author: Markus Zusak

What it's about: Liesel Meminger is a foster child living in Nazi Germany. As the events of World War II push on, Liesel has her own small troubles adjusting to her new life to worry about. She learns to read, and she makes new friends, including her foster father, her neighbor, and a Jewish refugee. Her story is told by Death, who sees Liesel three times and who is affected by what he sees.

What I thought: Oddly enough, one of my first thoughts was to compare this book to To Kill A Mockingbird. It's the slice of life quality, how it depicts life in a time of change in a small town that seems isolated from the bigger world until that bigger world intrudes on it. Life in this book is not white-washed, but nor is it depicted as bleaker than it is. This is reality, the triumphs and the failings. It's something I noticed in Zusak's other book I Am The Messenger, and it's something I quite like when done well. This book is told in an interesting fashion. Death is the narrator, and he doesn't always treat things in a strictly linear, chronological fashion. Nonetheless it works. By the time I got to the end, it had actually moved me to tears. It's because of how good Zusak is at building relationships between his characters, and at developing the characters themselves, for that matter. Liesel's relationships with her father, with Rudy, with Max, with Rosa, and with Ilsa are all different, but they all affect her, and the emotional payoff at the end is all the better for it.

Overall: Can't recommend it highly enough.

Also, ugh, I'm behind on reviews again. Why is it that I can read so fast, but I can't manage to bang out a review when I'm done? Hm, I might just do what reviews I can manage and put the rest of the books on my list of books to read again and then review in the future.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Title: Firestorm
Author: David Klass

What it's about: By all appearances, Jack is a normal high school boy. Only he's suddenly discovering strange abilities and being chased by sinister figures. On his own, unsure of who he can trust, Jack learns that it's up to him to save the future of our world by finding the Firestorm. Accompanied by a talking dog and a ninja trainer, Jack has to complete his mission while figuring out just what is going on.

What I thought: For a book that's supposed to teach a lesson about ecology and stuff, this book rocked pretty hard. The message was an integral part of the story and thus didn't get in the way because it was the way. And the writing style was a little jarring but it suited the story. All sentence fragments and present tense and half the time you weren't sure whether it was narration or mental communication. And the occasional aside to the reader, too. This was pretty action-packed, and Jack's reactions to everything were very realistic, just how you'd imagine someone to act if he was torn away from his old life and thrown into a mission where friggin' everyone wants to kill him.

Overall: A real page-turner with a satisfying conclusion that also leaves you eager for the sequel.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

The Hunger Games

And here we come to the first of four first-person, present-tense, vaguely futuristic/dystopian kinda novels that I read in a row. This was probably the best of the four, though that's not to say the others weren't good.

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins

What it's about: In the future, the former U.S. is divided into twelve poor districts and the Capitol that rules them. To keep the people in line, the Capitol makes two kids from each district fight to the death in the Battle Royale-style Hunger Games. Our protagonist Katniss is taken to fight when she volunteers to go in her sister's place, and she and the boy from her district are taken to the Capitol to be prepared for and to fight in the games.

What I thought: First off, this is a book that makes first person present tense narration work. If you think about it, when the book has a protagonist who could die at, like, any second, you lose a lot of the suspense if it's in past tense. And the first person really got me inside Katniss's head and personality. And she's one interesting personality. Tenacious, self-centered in the way plenty of people are, clever and calculating, Katniss is a great character to follow in a story like this. Her personality gave her relationship with Peeta an interesting dynamic. I've also got to say that the world of this story really worked for me and made the battle to the death scenario believable. The whole book wasn't just a fight to the death in the arena; there was an overlying plot about the country's politics, and yet that was interesting, too. This was a well-crafted, suspenseful book.

Overall: I can't recommend this enough. I'm so excited for the sequel.

Saturday, April 4, 2009


I stumbled on this series by chance when reading an interview on Shannon Hale's blog. Hale was interviewing Brandon Mull, and she talked about liking his Fablehaven books. Well, I'm a huge fan of Hale's, so I decided to give this book a try since she recommended it.

Author: Brandon Mull

What it's about: Kendra and Seth have to spend three weeks with their reclusive grandparents. But what at first seems like it will be a boring visit soon turns out to be riddled with mystery and fantasy, because their grandparents' estate is Fablehaven, a magical creatures reserve filled with naiads, satyrs, fairies, and much, much more. But while Fablehaven is a place of wonder, there's also plenty of danger lurking in the recesses of the forest. Kendra and Seth have to use all their skills and everything they've learned at Fablehaven if they want to save the day.

What I thought: For a book that seemed like it'd be for kids, this story is surprisingly savvy. I liked Kendra as a protagonist because she wasn't dumb; she understood the importance of following the rules and thinking things through, even if she was sometimes too timid. The world of Fablehaven was interesting and well-developed, combining lots of different myths. The book doesn't skimp on danger, and the adult characters don't withhold knowledge from the kids for no reason, to create a false sense of suspense. There's definite character growth, and though this is part of a series, Fablehaven has a nicely self-contained story.

Overall: Definitely a series to keep an eye on. I'm reading the sequel right now, and it has me hooked.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Last Siege

Title: The Last Siege
Author: Jonathan Stroud

What it's about: Emily, Simon, and Marcus decide to explore the old castle near their neighborhood. Usually just a tourist attraction, over the days of winter, it becomes a stronghold for the three unlikely friends. However, the games of playing the castle's defenders soon becomes a reality as the three have to withstand a siege if they want to keep their freedom.

What I thought: For whatever reason, I read the description of the book as it suggesting something supernatural involving the siege that goes on in the later part of the book. Not a far stretch, given the sort of stuff Stroud has also written, like the Bartimaeus Trilogy or even Heroes of the Valley. But despite this being an entirely realistic book, it held my attention. Stroud's very good at evoking atmosphere; I could feel the creepiness of the abandoned castle at night. And the interaction between the three characters is realistic and interesting to watch develop and play out. Marcus's motivations also add to the suspense of the story, keeping you guessing the whole time.

Overall: Suspenseful, with a satisfactory conclusion.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Heroes of the Valley

Title: Heroes of the Valley
Author: Jonathan Stroud

What it's about: So Halli's the descendant of one of the great heroes of the valley, men who once drove away the man-eating monsters called Trows. He's the second son, however, and and an unhandsome young man, too. He also has a penchant for pranks, causing trouble, and getting into fights. So he's not particularly well-liked among the people of Svein's House. When Halli causes trouble with a member of another House at the great gathering, he sets in motion a series of events that turn everything he believed about his world upside down.

What I thought: Definitely not a story with a heroic gloss to it. Nonetheless, this book isn't so dark and depressing as to turn off a reader. The descriptions were vivid, and Halli was an interesting protagonist. He's not your usual idealistic boy hero; his love of legends makes him rather an annoyance to the rest of his House. Still, not unlikable. Aud, also, is not a perfect character, which makes her interesting and a good match for Halli. Really, I was very impressed with the climax of the book. It's very dark and atmospheric, and, well, pretty darn creepy. Also the interspersed legends of Svein add flavor to the book. If you liked The Sea of Trolls, then you'll like this, and vice versa.

Overall: Good read.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Rapunzel's Revenge

Title: Rapunzel's Revenge
Author: Shannon Hale, Dean Hale
Illustrator: Nathan Hale

What it's about: Not your traditional fairy tale (but then what else could be expected from Shannon Hale?), this graphic novel takes the long-haired heroine and puts her and her story into a western environment. After being locked in a tree tower by her plant magic-using foster mother, Mother Gothel, Rapunzel rescues herself and sets out for revenge. Along the way she meets up with Jack, a drifter with a pet goose, and the two team up to bring Mother Gothel down.

What I thought: Kick-butt heroine? Check. Inventive, well-developed setting? Check. Adventuresome plot? Check. Really, this is just a plain fun read. The art and the writing complement each well, and the end product is a fun story with a mix of humor, adventure, and fantasy.

Overall: Good, fun read. Check it out, folks.

The Land of the Silver Apples

Title: The Land of the Silver Apples
Author: Nancy Farmer

What it's about: When a midwinter ceremony goes wrong, Jack, his sister, and the Bard head for a monastery in order to find a way to drive out the evil spirits. However, there's more than meets the eye there, and Jack is soon drawn into another quest in a fantastic land. Accompanied by friends new and old, he must rescue those trapped in the land of the silver apples and lead his company back to freedom.

What I thought: Another gripping tale mixing mythologies into an exciting adventure. Characters from the first book get more development, and the characters newly introduced in this book can't be found lacking in development and personality either. Same good quality of writing and descriptions, nice mix of humor and seriousness, and the way the story flows is interesting, with danger and unexpected occurrences.

Overall: A worthy sequel to The Sea of Trolls.

Last book in this series apparently comes out some time this year, too. Rawk.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Gamer Girl

Title: Gamer Girl
Author: Mari Mancusi

What it's about: High school sophomore Maddy's life isn't exactly great. Her parents are divorced, her mom makes them move in with Maddy's weird grandma, and Maddy's immediately labeled as a freak at her new school. About the only good things in her life are her manga and her online existence as Allora, an elf character in the online game Fields of Fantasy. In Fields of Fanasy, Maddy as Allora meets SirLeo, a chivalrous knight character who becomes her friend when she still doesn't make any friends at her new school. But even if she'd like to, Maddy can't ignore her real life problems. She'll have to overcome obstacles online and off if she wants to be happy.

What I thought: Okay, I really liked this book. I don't think it's for everyone, but basically, it was really fun for me to be able to read about a protagonist who really fit the gamer/anime nerd mold. Most of the time, you read a book with a nerdy girl as the main character, she's a lit. nerd. Jane Austen or one of the Brontes or someone like that is her favorite author, or if she's a fantasy nerd, it's Tolkien. This book has very up to the minute references to things that a legit nerd like yours truly could appreciate. Mentions Facebook, Edward Cullen (in a derogatory manner, happily enough), Fields of Fantasy - a total play on WoW, and more manga references than you can shake a magic wand at. There are conversations between Maddy and SirLeo that are written as in-game instant messages, but this author doesn't bother with a lot of chat speak. A few instances of "lol, kk, ty", but no real abbreviations of words like you find in other books that include IM convos. Pretty nice, because I know that I, as a reader, find that distracting.

As a character, Maddy was engaging. Not too much of a bratty teenager, good sense of humor, relatable. Good character development over the course of the story. The romance plot wasn't too predictable, actually. At times, I was like, oh, of course, it's this guy, but there were enough other leads to actually make me genuinely unsure of the ending. And it worked out pretty well. Good development of the supporting characters, too. The club members, Maddy's family, and all the rest. All in all, this is an easy, enjoyable read that will really strike a chord with any nerdy readers out there.

Overall: Lots of fun, especially if you're an anime/gamer nerd.

And, bleh, I got behind again. I'll just have to do some short reviews to at least get them up. We'll see how that works. And when I was at the book store and bought Gamer Girl, I also picked up Heroes of the Valley, which I'll be reading and reviewing next.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Character development in musicals

So while this blog is mainly for book reviews, I had also planned to use it to post my thoughts on writing and storytelling and such. And the other night I was thinking about stories as told through theatre - and drama definitely has a written component, when talking about traditional drama, at least. So I wrote down my thoughts, using Wicked as my main example. So, spoiler warning there, if anyone really wants to see that show and doesn't want even very vague spoilers.

There's something interesting about having a storyteller's mind: I can always find depth in a story. I know those who disparage musicals because they don't have much substance to their stories; I disagree because sometimes you can create your own depth by interpreting the clues the librettist gives you. I find that a lot of my enjoyment of a show comes from dissecting the characters in my head, trying to understand their motivations and the fullness of their personalities. People say that there's not much to Wicked; I think that if you ponder it, both of the female leads are very deep. I've always liked Galinda because her character is particularly engaging to me in how she develops. She starts as the vapid queen bee of Shiz University, but as she and Elphaba open up to each other, we see that she has a sweet side, as well as more perception and smarts than she lets on. Galinda clings to her status and tries to keep her world from changing. Her acquaintance with Elphaba forces her to eventually grow and take responsibility, a bit too late, but that just makes the outcome of the musical all the more tragic. If you think about it, Galinda has the sadder ending to her story. She thinks her friend and her love interest are both dead, everyone hates Elphie, and Galinda herself helped to bring this all about by not being strong enough at first. Her new position of power doesn't make up for this. See, I think Elphaba's pretty interesting, too, but I don't think many people see the depth of Galinda's character. Did I think of all this when I was seeing the play? No, not really. I watched the play, absorbed what I was given, and did some rudimentary analysis, but I carry my impression around, and I can always go back and think about the story and characters at my leisure. Just one example of how a storyteller's mind allows me to take great pleasure from something in a way that might not occur to everyone.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The Sea of Trolls

Title: The Sea of Trolls
Author: Nancy Farmer

What it's about: Jack is a young Saxon lad apprenticed to the local bard. He learns much from the man, about music and the life force that exists in the world. Then one day Jack and his sister Lucy are kidnapped by Northmen. Only Jack's skill as a bard keeps the siblings safe. But even that's not enough when they come up against the cruel queen of the Northmen. Jack will have to call on all his skills as a bard and all of his allies if he's to succeed in his quest.

What I thought: This is a very creative adventure story that draws on a lot of Norse mythology and tells an enjoyable tale. There's a definitely fairy tale sort of vibe to this, and though it's written somewhat simply, the author doesn't shy from describing violence and creating complex characters. The occasional bleakness doesn't overshadow the sense of wonder and adventure, however. This is a very fun adventure story that's steeped in Norse mythology and makes for an engrossing read.

Overall: Highly recommended.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Many Waters

Title: Many Waters
Author: Madeleine L'Engle

What it's about: Twins Sandy and Dennys Murry are bamfed back to Biblical times when they mess with one of their father's space-time experiments. Finding themselves in a well-known story from the book of Genesis, they lend their aid to the family who saved their lives and end up learning about themselves and about love.

What I thought: Simple but rich descriptions and a novel premise make this a book I've always been fond of. Religious lore is heavily drawn on, but there's no preachy moralizing, so it's all good. The characters are well-drawn, and the depictions of antediluvian life are interesting.

Overall: Probably makes the most sense if you read it in sequence with the rest of L'Engle's Time Quartet books.

Friday, February 27, 2009


Title: Starclimber
Author: Kenneth Oppel

What it's about: Matt Cruse and Kate de Vries have adventures... IN SPACE! They get selected to be part of the first voyage into space. However, space travel is like nothing they've done before, and the journey is fraught with risk. Factor into that some personal drama in that Kate's parents are more concerned than ever with getting her married off, and you've got one monumental trip.

What I thought: So. I was super-duper excited when this book came in. I'd preordered it and everything. And I blazed through it in under eight hours, while having to contend with two classes and a midterm, no less, so I think that tells you a little about how gripping it was.

So I thought it was interesting that there was much less of a focus on flight in this book than in the previous two. Not a bad thing, of course. I liked how there was a real sense of fragility for the trip, which gave it more realism and suspense. The space-dwelling life forms didn't really strain my disbelief, which I was glad about. I thought that the characterization was quite good. One complaint that I'd read others having with the previous two books was that Matt was always up against some older alpha male type he had to prove himself to. Shepherd was the closest thing to this role, but the way the two interacted worked for me. It was good to see Captain Walken again, too. I really liked the whole makeup of the crew for the Starclimber. The group was varied, which made for some really great interaction. Also of interest to me was how the relationship between Matt and Kate. Things get more serious between the two, and while Matt has always had a jealous streak that sometimes made me want to facepalm, in this book you could see where he was coming from. Kate's selfish streak, more charming than anything in previous books, becomes more of a real concern. She's an interesting character. Reminds me of Suzumiya Haruhi in how she acts sometimes. Anyway, the romantic drama plays out well. I also like that we were introduced to Matt and Kate's families and the small inclusion of the sufrage subplot.

Overall: A real wow of a sequel. Great, great book. Already can't wait to reread it.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Title: Airman
Author: Eoin Colfer

What it's about: Set around the 1890s, this book is about Conor Broekhart, a young man who dreams of building a flying machine. He lives with his family on the Saltee Islands, a small kingdom near Ireland. Conor's life is what any boy would dream of until he's falsely implicated in a plot to kill the king and then thrown in prison. However, he still has his dreams, and Conor works to gain his freedoms and right the wrongs committed against him.

What I thought: I haven't read any of Colfer's books in years, and I was pleasantly surprised by just how good this one is. I thought Conor might turn out to be a Gary Stu character, but instead, despite all his talents and such, he turns out to develop quite believably. The story's pace seemed almost a little too fast, but it was still enjoyable. There was plenty of swashbuckling and clever plotting, and this was an overall good piece of historical fiction.

Overall: A very good book. If you like Kenneth Oppel's stuff, this is worth a read.

Enna Burning

Title: Enna Burning
Author: Shannon Hale

What it's about: After The Goose Girl, it looked like a happy ending for Isi, Enna, and all of Bayern. However, Tira, Bayern's neighbor to the south, starts a war, leaving Bayern in dire straits. Enna wants to help, and she gets her chance when she discovers the talent to speak with fire. But controlling the elements comes with a price, and if Enna's not careful, she might find herself in over her head.

What I thought: Where The Goose Girl is pretty much a straightforward fairy tale with added depth, Enna Burning takes a much darker turn. The characters from the first book are built on and given more depth, and the world of the story is developed further. Enna's an interesting character, and the choices she makes are tricky and realistic. I thought the flow of the story was interesting. Unlike the first book, what felt like the climax happened rather early, I thought. However, just because it didn't end with a bang doesn't make this bad. The story flowed to a slower, but still very interesting, ending.

Overall: Not a fairytale, but a very enjoyable tale nonetheless.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Title: Evernight
Author: Claudia Gray

What it's about: Evernight boarding school is a creepy place, but it's home for Bianca Olivier, whose parents have accepted teaching jobs at the elite school. Bianca is out of her element among the sophisticated students, but she finds a friend in Lucas, another new student who's somewhat rough around the edges. The two form a bond, but will that be enough to survive the sinister secrets of Evernight?

What I thought: Though this is a vampire novel, it's no Twilight. Evernight was surprisingly engaging and well-written. The twists came naturally; I was surprised by them, but they were justified well enough. Bianca was a good protagonist, not made out to be a caricature of a clumsy loser like Bella Swan, but a more realistic portrayal of an awkward teenage girl. She develops pretty well over the course of the story. The supporting cast is well-developed, too, as is the vampire lore and Evernight itself.

Overall: You wanna read about vampire, read Evernight. Definitely a solid book.

Man, I fell out of the habit of reviewing again. Nyoro~n. Got the flu, and though I read a ton, I pretty much lacked the motivation to review the books. I will try to get River Secrets, Love Among the Walnuts, and Enna Burning reviewed, though.

Friday, February 6, 2009

'Night, Mother

Title: 'Night, Mother
Author: Marsha Norman

What it's about: One night, Jessie tells her mother that she plans to commit suicide that evening. What follows is the final conversation between the two women.

What I thought: Rather moving and very disturbing. This play gets very emotionally charged, especially at the end. Jessie's a rather interesting character. I mean, anyone who's that calm when planning to commit suicide... But, uh, very depressing.

Overall: Good play, but not exactly a fun read.

Princess Academy

Title: Princess Academy
Author: Shannon Hale

What it's about: The village of Mt. Eskel is a secluded one where the people live a simple life mining linder stones to sell to traders. Miri, a young village girl who doesn't work in the quarry, has never thought about life outside of her mountain. Then one day the traders are accompanied by an emissary from the king. The priests of the kingdom have divined that the prince's bride will be a girl from Mt. Eskel, so all the eligible girls must attend an academy to recieve polish so that the prince can choose his bride from among them. Now Miri and the other girls have to adapt to learning an overwhelming amount of new things, all taught by a strict tutor. But despite the hardships, Miri learns many important things, including more about who she is as a person.

What I thought: This was the first of Shannon Hale's books that I read, and I thought it was great. As with The Goose Girl, the world of the story is well-developed, with plenty of little touches of culture that make the story and its inhabitants seem more real. Quarry-speaking was an interesting invention, and I liked the imagery that ran through this. Miri was a good protagonist, someone relatable and clever. In regards to the ending, I don't believe I was able to predict it when first I read this, so I think that also says something good for this book.

Overall: A very nice stand-alone read, good for getting into Hale's books.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Dragon Heir

Title: The Dragon Heir
Author: Cinda Chima

What it's about: So the conflict between the magical guilds is ramping up. The rebels are facing a tough fight, and not all of their possible allies are interested in taking part. Madison Moss, for example, just wants to go to art school and forget about wizards. Easier said than done, though, since Seph McCauley, the guy she's crushin' on, is a very powerful wizard and stuck in the middle of things. Despite all the pressure, though, Maddie does her best to stay uninvolved. Meanwhile, Jason Haley wishes he could get deeper into the fight. After a successful raid of magical artifacts, he's stuck in the town of Trinity, the not-so-hidden rebel base, guarding the find and wanting some way to become more powerful so he can help the cause. Personal agendas are rife amongst good guys and bad, and as the final battle approaches, Jason, Maddie, and their friends have to make tough choices and sacrifices.

What I thought: Very nice sequel, which takes stuff mentioned in previous books and builds on them to a successful conclusion. A lot of good character development, and the story gets pretty dark in tone. I thought the ending was a little rushed, the "where are they now?" bits, I mean, but overall, it was an engrossing read.

Overall: It... was an engrossing read.

And with this book, I read eight novels in January, plus half of The Goose Girl. I had listened to the first half on audiobook, and I decided I'd just read what I had left. Well, in February, I shall read no less than, and hopefully more than, eight books! Well, I also read some plays this month, too. A lot of plays and drama. 'Cause I'm in three different theatre classes this semester. Maybe I'll review some of them.