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.