Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I never knew there was a sequel to Everlost until recently. But that's what Everwild is. Go read the first book, or at least its review, since I think I did a decent explanation in the review entry. Anyway, Everwild takes place a fair amount of time after the first book. Nick is the Chocolate Ogre who opposes Mary Hightower, and Allie and Mikey are journeying on their own. We get a bunch of new characters, too, including other skinjackers besides Allie and an ecto-ripper. What surprised me a lot about this book is how heavy on the romance it was. I mean, it's not like Shusterman never has any romance in his books that I've read, but it becomes much more of a driving force in this novel. The interaction with the living world also increases, as do the stakes of everything. Near the end are some moments where I couldn't quite believe that the antagonists were actually going to get away with what they did. The mysteries of Everlost increase. What is west of the Mississipi? Also, Allie's time in Memphis totally did not pan out how I thought it would. But the upshot of this all is that Shusterman has crafted a page-turner that works and continually surprises the reader. Check this series out.


So apparently I didn't review this book back when I originally read it. Whoops! It's high time I corrected that mistake, because all of you out there in Readerland deserve to know about this great series. Well, I just read Behemoth, the second book in this series by Scott Westerfeld, but for this entry I'll only talk about Leviathan, the first book. That's what's in the subject line of this article, after all.

Especially after reading Behemoth, but even before, this book really has that feel of a first book in a trilogy. A lot is set up and many new concepts are explained. There's conflict and a resolution at the end of this book, but it doesn't really feel like anything was completed. It's not bad, just makes you really hungry for more. Now, in the world of Leviathan, it's similar to our world prior to WWI, but the big difference is in the war machines. Germany and Austria-Hungary use giant mechanical war machines and are known as Clankers because of their reliance on machines. Great Britain and its allies are Darwinists and use science to create modified animals, including great living airships that are whole ecosystems unto themselves. Personally, I think the Clankers have the cooler way of it, but Westerfeld gives the two sides equal treatment. So who are our main characters? Alek, an Austro-Hungarian prince on the run, and Deryn, a girl disguised as a boy so she can serve on a British airship. I like Alek. He's a bit spoiled because of his upbringing, but he's also kind and willing to learn. Deryn seems like she'd be a bit annoying to be around because she's a bit superior and cocky, but her point of view sections round Deryn out a bit. The supporting characters are all decent, but special mentions go to Volger and Dr. Barlow for the layers of depth each possesses.

I'm gonna end this review here, since it's harder than I thought to talk about Leviathan without letting what I know from Behemoth influence things.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

This is not the sort of book I'd normally read. But I was feeling woefully under-read when it came to Literature and the sort of books that you're supposed to read, so I checked a bunch out of the library, including Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. And I was hooked very quickly. Right from the beginning, Christopher, the narrator, is distinguished by his voice and the very deliberate way he tells the story. The story, we are informed, is about who killed Wellington the poodle, a dog of whom Christopher was very fond. Because of his specific way of looking at the world, Christopher places solving the crime as a matter of great importance, and his detecting soon leads to unraveling an even deeper secret. Throughout the book there are digressions about prime numbers, colors, constellations, maths problems, and other things. In some ways I'm reminded of Life of Pi. Even though this book is about a struggling family, it worked for me, I think, because of Christopher's matter-of-fact way of narrating things. There was never any sense of being supposed to pity the Boones. However, I still did sympathize with his parents. We never get a name for what's going on with Christopher, but even though he's smart in many ways, it's also clear that he's high-maintenance, and that can't be easy on parents. In the end, though, this is a hopeful book with an uplifting conclusion, and I'm glad I read it.

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life

So I've seen the Scott Pilgrim movie, and it was pretty cool. I have to say that the art style of the graphic novel is very appealing to me. The characters are cute-looking, but it's not jarring when paired with fight scenes and such. For a series that apparently focuses on Scott fighting Ramona's evil exes, Ramona's introduction takes a while. Scott seems like somewhat less of an unappealing jerk in the graphic novel than he does in the movie. Also the fact that he's not played by Michael Cera in this version is good. Don't get me wrong, I like Michael Cera, though he will always be George Michael Bluth to me, but he just doesn't seem like a Scott Pilgrim to me. I have much less to say about this than I thought, probably because, having seen the movie, it's hard to comment on just the first part of the story. Well, maybe I'll read the rest of this series.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Monsters of Men

This entry has spoilers. The book is good, the entire series is good, just take my word for it and read these books.

Monsters of Men was everything I hoped and more than I expected. A brutal, gut-wrenching finale to the series that didn't pull a single punch. Complications were introduced and resolved, but layered on top of one another. Every time you had some hope, something would go wrong, but before things were truly doomed, the heroes would pull through. That is what makes this series so great, that it's hopeful, even when hope's hard to come by. The ending, too. When I thought to myself about how I thought the series should end, my thought was that for it to end happily, with everything resolved, would be betraying the spirit of the story. Rather, it had to end with hope for the future, with the main conflict resolved but still a ways to go with fixing everything.

The relationship between Todd and Viola, always paramount, was well handled. Trust that was tested in The Ask and the Answer was strengthened even as new pressures were put upon it. The development with Todd's Noise and Viola's illness kept things believably tense between the two without sacrificing the devotion they have. The new viewpoint character was a total shocker, but it makes perfect sense. I knew that 1017 was going to show up, but I didn't expect his role to be so big. Not, perhaps, as interesting to read about as Todd and Viola, whom I'd already come to like, but still a new and wholly different perspective on this world and the conflicts. And, really, it was great to see more of how the Spackle lived and fit into the world. The Mayor stayed an interesting villain for the most part; he kept his chessmaster smarts pretty much the whole time. Near the end, when Ben came back, I was afraid of woobiefication, something coming up that would seem like the reader was supposed to think the Mayor wasn't so bad after all, he just needed love or whatever, but during the final confrontation when he revealed how the Noise was driving him crazy, I was able to buy that as motivation and think the ending was satisfactory. I also could respect the aftermath of that encounter, where we got another gut punch like this series is so good at serving up, but without losing that final hope for the future. Like I said earlier, that's what I love about this series, that despite all the bad stuff that happens, it keeps pushing the fact that you gotta have hope.

The pacing was kind of my only issue. A lot needed to happen, and because of the type of characters that Mistress Coyle and the Mayor are, there was a lot of one-upping and politics and whatnot that kind of seemed to drag on in between the more main events. But that didn't stop me from reading the entire thing in about three hours just now, so yeah. Uh, so perhaps I could have said more or been more coherent if I had put this entry off, but, well, I didn't exactly plan to read this book tonight, I should have been in bed a couple of hours ago, but I teased myself by reading the first prologue pages and then just had to finish it. Unlike Mockingjay, this was a worthy conclusion to the series, although I guess I do have to admit that I probably still like the first book in this series best, just because I absolutely love the dynamic between Todd and Viola, and the second and third books don't have them together as much. But yeah, that's all. Off to find fanfiction for this series. /o/

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Maze Runner

This three a.m. post brought to you by my guilt for not updating more often. And so, let us discuss... The Maze Runner. By James Dashner (which is a really cool name), this YA novel takes place in a frickin' creepy place called the Glade. The Glade is surrounded by a maze, and aside from the several dozen teenage boys who inhabit the Glade, there's no one. One day a fellow name Thomas arrives in the Glade. Like all of the other boys, he can't remember anything but his name. Freaked out by this, Thomas is determined to find an answer to the mysteries of the Glade and the maze that surrounds it. As he becomes accepted by the other Gladers, Thomas begins to put together the pieces of the puzzle. Things only get more complicated when a lone girl arrives at the Glade, and Thomas is sure that he's seen her before. Now, with his new friends and allies, he must solve the maze - if that's even possible.

Okay, now that you've got an idea as to what this story's about, may I just say that where this book scores its biggest hit is in the creepy ambiance that you always feel when you're reading it. The Glade's not natural, the maze is more horrifying the less you know of it and the secrets behind it, and even the end of the book, with its sucker punch lead-in to the next book, just amps up the quiet horror of everything. As for characters, while I can't say that The Maze Runner has the most brilliant characterization or fascinating characters that I've ever seen, the cast of this book is definitely above average. Thomas is a bit... not bland, just... he definitely feels like he's supposed to be the hero, that is, you can tell the author constructed him to fit that role as you read. Not a bad character by any shot, though. Chuck was another character who was obviously supposed to fill a role as a sort of morality pet (or a similar trope; it's late, and I dare not make a full-fledged foray into TV Tropes to get exactly the right trope) or whatever to remind Thomas of what he's fighting for. Alby, Newt, Minho, and Teresa were all quite satisfactory to my mind. Teresa didn't fall into the trap of being all Girl Power and acting stupid and coy just because she's the token girl or whatever. Basically I just thought she was a pretty convincing female character. The Keepers of the Glade were all interesting to read about, and even though they didn't all get equal screen time, you still got the feeling that there were characters outside of the main characters who mattered in this little society.

Overall, The Maze Runner is a gripping read. Mystery with a bit of a horror feel and the promise of more to come in the sequel. If you're looking for a satisfying YA novel, check this out.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Alien Secrets

Alien Secrets by Annette Curtis Klause is a book I remember from grade school or so. Puck, the novel's protagonist, is a young girl, good-hearted but curious and not at all docile. Really, I think she's quite well-written, with Klause balancing Puck's troublesome tomboy aspects with her respect for people who prove themselves worthy of trust and her schoolgirl crush on a college-age older guy. Okay, so that this isn't all being said in a vacuum, have some plot. See, after being kicked out of school, Puck is being shipped off from Earth to reunite with her parents on an alien planet. On the ship she meets an alien from the same planet to which she is headed, a fellow named Hush who has been entrusted with a symbol of his people's freedom. However, someone on the ship is out to steal the artefact, and if that's not bad enough, Puck is pretty sure that one of the other passengers is a murderer. With cunning and courage, Puck has to make friends and unmask enemies, all without ending up lost in hyperspace forever. Anyway, with that sketch out of the way, I have to say one of the things that stuck with me about this novel was the grown-up atmosphere of it all. That is, nothing objectionable, but this book does not talk down to the reader. If you're a kid reading this, you're in Puck's shoes, trying to understand what's going on with the all-adult crew and passengers. There's real danger, and Puck's not treated with kid gloves just because she's, well, a kid. The mystery is pretty well set up, and the climax of the novel is definitely exciting. Overall, this is a very solid read, and a good YA novel for those who are looking for something outside the norm.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Princetta

So we all know the story about the rebellious princess who runs away from home because no one *~understands her~*. She's a special snowflake, and once she's out of the restrictions of royal life, she blossoms like the rare exotic flower she is, and finds true love with scenes bordering of stuff from a Harlequin novel, blah blah blah. The Princetta by Anne-Laure Bondoux takes the idea of a runaway princess and plays it out a bit more naturalistically. Our heroine, Malva, is the princetta of Galnicia, which seems to be sort of based on Spain. The whole world of the story is a skewed version of our own, but with enough alterations to make it its own place. Anyway, Malva is not content to live the life her parents have planned for her. And, to be fair, her dad's kind of a jerk, mocking her writings and making her burn them. I mean, jeez. And so Malva and her handmaiden Philomena escape with the help of Malva's tutor, the Archont. Free to explore the world, Malva makes her goal Elgolia, a mythical land she hears about in a sailor's tale. But her quest is hindered by the vastness of the world and the enemies it holds, as well as by the rescue mission mounted by her parents which includes among its members the young sailor Orpheus, who provides the second viewpoint of the story.

So I really like that while Malva is a rebellious princess, she's also not stupid and is mostly not so stubborn that she ends up shooting herself in the foot. Realistic consequences ensue from Malva's decision to run away. She's not perfect, and she suffers, and she learns from what she endures. The whole sequence in the Archipelago was well-done, and while Malva and Orpheus are the main characters, the supporting characters on the Fabula were all sufficiently developed that their struggles and sacrifices were moving. The ending, too, was original and executed well. I honestly didn't expect it, but it worked for the type of story which this is.

The Anubis Gates

The Anubis Gates by Tim Powers is almost everything I hoped it would be. Time travel, mystery, magic, romance, action. But it's just not enough. Almost, but not quite. Well, I enjoyed this book. There's nothing where the author left something hanging. It's more that events seemed to whiz by too quickly. Everything made sense, but I hungered for more detail. The Antaeus Brotherhood. More background on the Master. A little more time focusing on Brendan's time as a beggar. Especially more interactions between Brendan and Jacky. I mean, if you're going to have a preordained romance, then give us some scenes where the characters get to know each other on more than a superficial level. Another hundred pages would have been wonderful. This book's only about four hundred, after all. There is plenty of action in those pages, however. Time travel, the mystery of the Egyptian magicians, Dog-Face Joe, Horrabin, Darrow, Dr. Romany and all the rest. You know, on reflection, I really think that the length is the biggest flaw in this novel, since it's excellently plotted. There's just not enough time to show instead of tell some events, particularly in the home stretch of the story, with the events leading up to Brendan's return to England and what happens from there.

Well, that was probably confusing, but it'll make sense when you read it again, just like the book it talks about. This was my second time reading this book, and, like with Diana Wynne Jones, the second read clears up a lot of things 'cause you're able to pick up clues and make connections that would fly past you the first time. So, anyway, I do recommend The Anubis Gates.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010


The Hunger Games books are very good. I don't deny that. However, I just wonder if I might have outgrown them in the past couple years since I first read The Hunger Games. Now, I enjoyed Mockingjay, I really did. But... Well, bear with me. I'd like to give my thoughts and impressions, but they'll be disjointed as I try to figure out why I'm not such a fan of the series anymore. I suppose I lost patience with the romance drama pretty quickly. Really, some of my favorite moments are when Katniss is either called on her issues or when she has enough clarity to realize that she's messed up without angsting about it at the same time. I mean, one of the reasons I liked Katniss in the first book was that you don't really see a rational, calculating heroine who acts pragmatic even to the point of shocking coldness. In Mockingjay, I liked the parts where Katniss wasn't dealing with her boytoys but instead focusing on the business of training and being an awesome action girl. The main reason I liked the first book so much was because of the how the action all really culminated in the arena. Indeed, maybe it's just my own misconceptions about how the series should have played out, because the less focus on the actual games, the less riveted I was. Well. Um. This is kind of embarrassing, but the last book I read before Mockingjay was The Host, right? (I sometimes post reviews out of order; it was.) I feel weird saying this, but I actually liked The Host better than Mockingjay. There wasn't an angst overload, the romance actually stayed fairly low-key but still drove the plot when needed, the pacing was better. Just... Yeah. I suppose I'll put it this way. If you're someone who thought that Catching Fire was better than The Hunger Games, then you'll really enjoy Mockingjay. As for me, it just wasn't what I was hoping for. Still an objectively good book, though. I can't honestly say that I hated it, after all.

Flora's Dare

This sequel to Flora Segunda takes all that was great about the first book and ups the ante in a harrowing high-stakes adventure. Picking up shortly after the first book, we find Flora in the midst of her quest to become a ranger. Her ambitions are put to the test when she discovers the eldritch abomination that's causing the earthquakes that are plaguing Califa. Now Flora has to master Grammatica and ally with her family's enemy, all while avoiding her new curfew - and all this without the help of Udo, her best friend, who has gotten into some trouble of his own. This sequel keeps its main story nicely self-contained while further exploring mysteries and secrets introduced in the first book and introducing some more of its own. Flora's family's past and the politics of the republic are fleshed out, as are the nature of Grammatica and Nini Mo's adventures and plenty of other aspects of the fascinating world that Ysabeau S. Wilce has crafted. Well, really all I wanted to say was that I was once again impressed by the detail and depth that has been poured into this series, and I cannot wait for a third book to be released.

The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya

In this collection of short stories by Nagaru Tanigawa, we see four different episodes from the early months of the SOS Brigade's existence. The SOS Brigade (Save the world by Overloading it with fun: Haruhi Suzumiya's Brigade) is an organization created by, of course, Haruhi Suzumiya, a Japanese high school girl who is bored with how ordinary life is. In the first book, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, we were introduced to Haruhi, everyman Kyon, alien interface Yuki Nagato, time-traveler Mikuru Asahina, and esper Itsuki Koizumi. Now, in this third book which is second chronologically, we find out how the SOS Brigade fills its days. In the story "The Boredom of Haruhi Suzumiya" we find that apparently baseball is diverting enough for Haruhi, since she enters the brigade and a few of their friends in a baseball tournament where losing quickly comes to mean the end of the world as we know it. "Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody" details a fateful Tanabata holiday, laying the groundwork for later parts of the series and also showcasing time-travel in action for the first time. "Mysterique Sign" has the SOS Brigade solving a supernatural case a disappearance - though of course Haruhi is once again left out of the loop. And "Remote Island Syndrome" (one of my personal favorite) gives us a bona fide murder mystery in a closed circle situation. When the SOS Brigade goes to a remote island for a short vacation, fun in the sun turns sour when the master of the mansion is found dead. Trapped by a storm with a murderer lurking, it's up to Kyon, Haruhi, and the others to figure out whodunnit.

This is a mixed bag of stories. "Mysterique Sign" and "Boredom" are fun, though not especially favorites of mine. I like "Bamboo Leaf Rhapsody" because of how it brings in time travel and how it shows us more of both Haruhi's past and how her mind works. And also because it brings us this gif of Mikuru doing the Macarena. (Well, close enough. It amuses me, anyway). "Remote Island Syndrome" is my favorite story in this novel. I do like murder mysteries, of course, but besides that, we also get a lot of SOS Brigade bonding where the characters get to have fun like normal high school students (including getting drunk a couple times, because of course Haruhi would embrace alcohol with the same enthusiasm with which she embraces everything else). I have to confess that I think that the anime adaptation of this particular story is better than the written version, partly because of some changes made to how the mystery plays out and also because this story is given two episodes, which allows things to unfold more vividly. Still, "Remote Island Syndrome" is one of the better stories in this collection and in the series overall, in my mind. Anyway, this is an excellent translation and a great buy for any fan of the series.

The Host

I am firmly in the anti-Twilight camp. The first book was, at best, on the level of an amusing beach read, and the second book was one that I very nearly hurled across my bedroom. I didn't even touch the latter two books, and everything I've read about them assures me that I made the right choice. But I'd heard good things about Stephenie Meyer's book The Host, and so a couple weeks ago I asked my cousin if she had a copy I could borrow. It sat on my to-read shelf for a while before I picked it up on a whim today. It's a little over six hundred pages; I finished it in six hours. Basically, this book is surprisingly good.

Okay, so a little bit about it. Imagine that someone wrote up a one paragraph summary of the Animorphs series, ran it through Babelfish a couple of times, then posted it as an unattributed writing prompt to a romance writers' group. Basically, there are these aliens, called "souls", that have taken over Earth. They're pretty peaceful and conquered by subtle assimilation, but it still sucks for humans because they basically disappear. Seriously, just think Yeerk. ... Actually, I did that a little too much while reading because I would occasionally think, why don't they just morph? Anyway. Our heroine is a soul named Wanderer, who's had a ton of hosts in the past but is now stuck in Melanie, a rebellious host whose consciousness hasn't faded away. Wanderer wants to fit into her new life on Earth, but Melanie's memories interfere, and eventually the two of them band together to look for the other free humans that Melanie left behind. From there, the novel explores what it means to be human and the sacrifices that it takes to earn freedom.

I think my favorite feature of the book was that it was not focused on romance to the exclusion of everything else. There's just as much importance placed on friendship and trust (think nakama), and the relationship between Wanderer and Melanie is especially well-done. And even the romance aspect is well-done. The love interests are flawed without being repulsive, and the complex feelings of all the characters involved are handled adeptly. I think this novel was helped by having something larger at stake than just the romantic feelings of the characters. The whole matter of souls and freedom allowed for the drama quotient to be upped in a way that felt natural. The book is really freaking long, but the pacing is fine, so while a lot happens, the book never seems to drag. The basic writing style is good, too. No adjective abuse, just nice and descriptive prose. I particularly liked the worldbuilding and the imagination that went into the development of the souls and the other aliens and worlds that were described. There might be stuff to nitpick in this book, but it was overall a good enough read that I don't feel compelled to go searching for flaws. Basically, this book is surprisingly good, and even if you wrote Meyer off after suffering through Twilight, The Host is definitely worth checking out. It's above average, with some moments that really shine.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Legally Blonde

Anyone who knows me will be completely unsurprised at my reading choice this time around: Legally Blonde by Amanda Brown. Yes, the book on which the movie was based (which in its turn spawned a musical adaptation which I love). However, anyone who's seen the Reese Witherspoon film or the new musical will be surprised at how different the book is from its adaptations. It's not that anything is changed on a huge scale, but everything has been altered in little ways, so it's sort of a Twilight Zone feel. You know the story, but you sort of don't.

Well, for those of you who aren't women, I should explain the plot. Sorority girl Elle Woods is in her senior year of college and is totally expecting her boyfriend Warner Huntington III to propose. However, Warner is headed to Stanford for law school, and he needs a girlfriend who's more serious than Elle. But while Elle Woods might appear to be a ditzy blond Delta Gamma, she's got innate smarts and the passion to get what she wants. Wanting Warner back, she aces the LSATs and gets into Stanford herself. Of course, it takes more than showing up at Stanford Law to win Warner back. In over her head, Elle has to deal with a completely new lifestyle (shockingly enough, being Homecoming Queen does not win Elle instant popularity) and figure out what she really wants. However, with help from new friends and an internship with a prestigious law firm, Elle gets the opportunity to shine.

Anyway, one of the things I like the most about the Legally Blonde story is that behind its silly premise, there's actually a lesson to be learned. Don't judge people on appearances. You can be more than what everyone tells you you can be. Especially in the musical version, the story seems like an inversion of the Beautiful All Along trope; Elle's always smart (4.0 average, kickin' LSAT score), but it takes everyone a while to realize that because all they see is her blonde hair and matching outlook on life.

Anyway, Legally Blonde is a fun, breezy read. Short chapters, fast pace, nothing that demands intense concentration. It's just an amusing books that's put together well. If you're looking for a light, fun girl power book, this is it.

(Also, I need a better tagging system. I tried to go through and systematically tag everything, but it's tricky to know how to classify things.)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Troy High

Troy High by Shana Norris is fun. That is, I think, the best word for it. It's a stand-alone novel with a fast pace and a simple story. The basic idea is that it's a modern retelling of the Iliad. Two rival high schools, with football teams named the Trojans and the Spartans. Incidentally, my grade school's mascot was the Trojans, which you can bet we made jokes about when we were old enough to understand the sort of jokes that might be made. In any case, Trojans and Spartans are bitter enemies. Our heroine, Cassie Prince, is a rare exception, since her best friend, Greg Mennon, is a Spartan while she is a Trojan. Cassie, based on Cassandra the Seer in the Iliad, is the only who sees that trouble might be afoot when Elena Argos, a recent transfer from Lacede, home of the Spartans, decides to dump her old boyfriend Lucas Mennon for Perry Prince. This transfer of affection is perceived as an insult to Spartan pride, and the rivalry between the two schools gets even more heated. Pranks escalate, and Cassie is torn between loyalty to her brothers, the star players for the Trojans, and loyalty to Greg, her best friend whom she has also realized she has feelings for.

The reason this story works, I think, is that Elena is not a one-dimensional, catty popular girl. She's the start of all the trouble, and she is rather a typical cheerleader, but she's genuinely nice to Cassie, which makes Cassie's continued loyalty to Elena and the Trojans that much more believable. Greg's a good guy, but he also falls prey to the rivalry, so, again, the loyalty issue is complicated in a way where you don't think Cassie is dumb for not doing one thing or the other. The story zips along, without too much dwelling on teen angst, and Cassie has a natural narrative voice which doesn't jerk you out of the story. Troy High is not exactly going to become a classic of western literature like its source material, but it's definitely a fun read that I highly recommend.

The Hourglass Door

The Hourglass Door by Lisa Mangum is above average romance/adventure fare. Abby Edmunds is a totally normal high school senior with a normal life: she spends time with her boyfriend, applies for colleges along with her best friends, and assistant directs the school's production of Much Ado About Nothing. But at play practice one day she meets the new Italian exchange student, Dante Alexander. As is expected in books like this, she is immediately attracted to him. However, what kept me reading was that Dante was not a brooding, mysterious bad boy, or, rather, there was more to him than that. He and Abby develop a friendship and chemistry between the two of them that is fairly legitimately built up as lacking in Abby's relationship with Jason, her neighbor/childhood friend/boyfriend. Also to the book's credit is that Jason isn't depicted as some dumb lug; he's a truly nice, thoughtful guy who cares about Abby and she about him, even if there's no spark of romance there. The historical/time travel elements of the plot are handled well enough, although we don't get much resolution because, of course, this is a series and not a stand-alone novel. I'll keep an eye out for the second book, and I hope that we get to visit sixteenth-century Italy, because we know that Renaissance Italy is a favorite setting of mine, just as I love to see theatre and drama in books. Well, overall, The Hourglass Door was a decent read, even if it's not anything to rave about.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Flora Segunda

Flora Fyrdraaca lives in a magical house with a magical butler, but both house and butler have seen better days. Though the Fyrdraaca family is one of the big names in the city of Califa, you wouldn't know it to see Flora trying to manage the household and her mentally damaged father on her own while her mother, the Commanding General of the Army, is off on business. Then one day, shortly before her fourteenth birthday, Flora stumbles upon the house's banished butler in a lonely library that Flora has never seen before. The butler, a magical spirit named Valefor who used to be in charge of making sure the Fyrdraaca family lived in luxury, is now a pale shadow of his former self. But, he tells Flora, with her help he can be restored, and she'll be relieved of the burden of keeping up the house without magic. Tired of running herself ragged and tempted by a small taste of the Valefor's magical powers (including delicious foods he can whip up), Flora agrees, bringing her best friend Udo along for the ride. Of course, nothing goes quite the way Flora plans, and so there are all sorts of zany magickal hijinks and whatnot.

Okay, so. What makes this book so great? Well, first off, it's stunningly original and detailed in its worldbuilding. Sure there's hints of inspiration from real world cultures, but there's no way you could say, "Oh, it's like Victorian England but with magic," or anything so simple as that. Indeed, the dominant real-world inspiration seems to be Spanish, such as the Catorcena, the celebration of the fourteenth birthday, when a child becomes an adult. The fashions are another thing entirely, with everyone, men and women, wearing skirts or kilts for the most part. That's a simple but quick indicator that this isn't Western Europe as we know it. And the world-building and glimpses of history we see all fit together tightly. And I particularly like the detail given to the adventures of Nini Mo and her rangers.

Ah, this is why I shouldn't be lazy about writing these reviews, all the things I want to say become less fresh in my mind. But let's see. Well, the plot makes sense, moves quickly, and packs in a lot of action. The system of magic is clever and mysterious, but never seems to break its own rules. What I really loved was the depth given to all the characters. Flora's parents, in particular, have multiple facets and parts of their histories that aren't explored but which still affect their behavior and the story. That is, the first book doesn't give it all away. Flora is a fine protagonist. She's flawed but personable, doesn't always succeed, gets called out when she deserves it, and is an active heroine. Valefor and Udo both are good supporting characters and act as foils for Flora and each other. Well. Anyway, there's a second book in the series, and I have ordered it from the library, so we shall see how Flora's story continues to unfold since, like, all the best series, there is still plenty more to learn about our heroine and her world, more than could be covered in one book.

Monday, August 9, 2010

For the Win

For the Win by Cory Doctorow. Take one part MMO, one part economics lesson, and one part underdog story. That's For the Win in a nutshell. In the not too distant future, online gaming is even more popular than it is now. People make their living from the games, not just the companies who run them but players who work as gold farmers and the like. In some parts of the world, gold farming is run like sweatshop labor, and it's still the best living the kids playing are bound to see. However, there are brave workers who want to see a change in the system, for gamers to be treated fairly and paid fairly. Online and offline, the forces gather, preparing for a revolution and a change for the better. Wrapped up in this sprawling story are Wei-Dong, an American gamer who lives in privilege, Mala, an Indian girl whose prowess at gaming has earned her respect and income, and Matthew, a Chinese gamer who once farmed gold for a boss and is now trying to strike out on his own, as well as many others. Truly a global tale, this book succeeds for several reasons: the realistic, if not always likable, characters; the believable depictions of online gaming (I'm not a huge MMO player (but I love Puzzle Pirates) but I've played a few in my time and hang out with many who play religiously, and all of the stuff in this book rings true); the economic knowledge that understanding of the plot hinges on is explained simply but thoroughly; and the story walks the line between being realistic and hopeful in its outlook. I was constantly reminded of Neal Stephenson's writing, particularlyThe Diamond Age, but while the books are similar in the large casts and casual integration of semi-advanced and/or obscure subjects, Doctorow's book is a lot less grim, less of a crapsack world.

I'll finish up by saying that this book should be read by all gamers and anyone with a social conscious. Just like any good Terry Pratchett novel, Cory Doctorow's For the Win has a message hidden within its gripping story, something for you to think about long after you've closed the book. All in all, this is a great novel.

The Grimm Legacy

So, The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman is one of those books that totally looks like it's going to be hokey and I'm going to read it, cringe, and put it away. To my extreme delight, this book was a Kiki Strike - a surprisingly enjoyable story that I never expected. So, the basic premise of this book is that Elizabeth Rew, a normal girl who's an outcast at her new school, gets a job at the New York Circulating Material Repository, which is a library for things. Only, along with the mundane materials, there is a whole vault of magical items from the Grimm fairy tales. So, Elizabeth gets the job, but things aren't all candy and bunnies: magical items have been disappearing from the collection, and other library pages are under suspicion. There's also some well-executed teen romance drama which adds another layer to the shifting loyalties of the characters.

The whole thing works primarily because Elizabeth is a realistic, likable viewpoint character. She's got a good narrative voice, descriptive, but not in a way that makes you wonder why a high school girl is talking like that. She is also, and I love her character so much for this, not a complete idiot. I mean, she's a teenage girl who doesn't let her hormones drive her every action, who doesn't trust people who are blatantly untrustworthy, and who actually trusts authority figures. Glory be! From her point of view, we get to see the Repository and all of the various interesting magical items in the Grimm collection. The author, Ms. Shulman, makes good use of common and obscure fairy tales from which to pull items that feature in the story. The secondary characters were all nicely developed. Every time I thought I'd predicted what one of them was up to, whether they were a traitor or not, things would get more complex. Even the romance wasn't particularly formulaic, and the whole book had a sense of humor about it, not overtly so, but enough to keep the story light. I think the plot was the weakest part of the book, not that it was at all bad. It just felt that the story was more in the characters and their relationships with each other (and not just limited to the romantic relationships). I also got very slightly lost towards the end of the book when they confronted the bad guys. Not enough that it wasn't fun, but more where I was like, "I'm not sure what's going on, but whatever, it's cool, I'll go along with this." A nice thing about this book was that, while there's room for a sequel, it never felt like this story was just a set-up for something else. The Grimm Legacy easily holds its own as a standalone story.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Perchance to Dream

We start with a correction to the Twilight Zone entry. Richard Matheson did not write a novel called Perchance to Dream; his novel is called What Dreams May Come. I suppose the similar names (both phrases being from Hamlet's famous soliloquy), along with the fact that today's book does share a name with Charles Beaumont's short story, caused the mix-up.

Well! Without further ado, let us move on to the book of the entry, Lisa Mantchev's Perchance to Dream. A sequel to Eyes Like Stars, this novel wraps up the story begun in the first book. Beatrice Shakespeare Smith is off on a quest to rescue her pirate lover Nate from the clutches of Sedna the sea goddess with her fairy allies and the spirit Ariel. Other characters include an enigmatic thief and Bertie's father, as well as a troupe of traveling players. The sea goddess herself even makes an appearance. Well, look, I have to be honest. As much as I did enjoy this book, it was not as good as the first. Eyes Like Stars. If you'll allow me to get theatrical here, I think it was the way the first book kept close to the Aristotelian unities of time, place, and action. The action was compressed to within just a few days, it all took place within a few locales in the theatre, and there was really only one main plot. (It doesn't completely keep with the unities, but that is totally understandable as a book is not a play, and, anyway, the unities are kind of boring. But you can't go wrong with keeping things simple at times!) Perchance to Dream throws Bertie and her company into the wilder world outside the theatre, but while I eventually got into the groove of what was going on, the way the magic of words was introduced and used kept confusing me, and I just kind of went along with the flow instead of really absorbing what was going on. Waschbar and the Scrimshander were both important characters, but they were really abruptly introduced. I just felt that the novel's breakneck pace and piles of new information made it a bit of muddle. Diana Wynne Jones can pull that sort of thing off, but she's a rare writer. However, for all that I'm complaining, I still genuinely liked this book. I'll also give Ms. Mantchev props for handling the romance. It could have so easily turned into something like Twilight, except for Bertie's more sensible outlook. And I have to admit that I actually gained sympathy for Ariel, whom I was not particularly fond of in the first book. Really, all of the characters shone by the end of this book, even the Scrimshander, who took even longer to win me over than Ariel did. Wikipedia tells me there will be a third book. With luck, it will slow down the pacing and focus more on the characters in a single theatrical setting, what made the first book so great.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Prince of Mist

The Prince of Mist could be called The Shadow of the Wind lite, except that would be doing a disservice to both books. The Prince of Mist could perhaps be said to be a precursor, an introduction to Zafon's masterwork, except that also seems to belittle the shorter but no less enthralling earlier book. The Prince of Mist is one of those children's books that is not a children's book, because it can be enjoyed by anyone, and associating it only with children would be doing it a disservice, though heaven knows that child readers are no idiots. I suppose I could best compare The Prince of Mist to The Westing Game in this regard. Child characters and a writing style a child could comprehend, but a very intricate plot and unexpectedly dark plot material. Haunted statues, a devilish man with dark magic, a sunken ship that went down with dozens of forsaken souls on board, a house built by a rich man whose family was soon after struck by tragedy, all of this is trademark Zafon, and everything comes together in a tight plot that will tug at your heart and make you glad to have a light on while you read. This is an excellent tragedy, and it's all the better for having characters you as the reader will identify and sympathize with. Max is a well-executed normal boy protagonist, Alicia is neither too haughty nor too sensual to be unlikable, and Roland is just shy of being too cocky, and so you don't end up hating him. I mean, when I started reading, I was sure I could peg the character types, but it was pleasant to find that instead of just being types, the three main characters were actually individual personalities. But still, first novel or not, I should not have expected less from Zafon.

Well, this was more reflection than review. Ah, get used to it, I guess? Okay, okay, here's a bit about the actual plot. With World War II looming, Max and his family move from the city to a seaside town. The town is sleepy, but the house Max's family moves into is wreathed in a tragic past. Max's new friend Roland tells him and his sister Alicia about the Fleischmann family who lived there until their son Jacob died. Meanwhile, Max discovers a garden full of freakin' creepy statues including one of a scary clown. I mean, jeez, Zafon, dead children aren't enough for you, you have to freaking have clowns in this book? Master of horror, indeed. Tragedy circles ever closer around Max, Alicia, and Roland, and connected to it all is a mysterious character called the Prince of Mist.

Anyway! If you haven't read anything by Zafon, either this book or The Shadow of the Wind is good to start with. And you should start with one of them. Right now. Because Zafon is amazing.

The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories; or, my reading material as a child probably explains how weird I am today.

Growing up, browsing the family bookshelf for new reading material was not exactly my favorite activity. After all, it meant that I had exhausted my usual supply of books and was taking a gamble on the contents of the eclectic collection we kept in the living room. The Book of Questions and Imponderables were favorites from a young age, the one being very easy and occasionally thought-provoking and the other stimulating my mind in unusual ways. The New York Public Library Desk Reference was another favorite, holding an extremely varied assortment of facts that I, as an aspiring scholar, sopped up in the hopes of taking a short cut to scholarship. There were other books, too. A collection of great vampire stories and Murder for Christmas, both of which looked interesting but contained material either too dense or too frightening for a young girl, a book on military survival which I absorbed during a phase when I fancied myself an adventurer, business law, a book on card games, self-help and home improvement, an Idiot's Guide to Planning the Perfect Vacation, a book on the history of the world and one on the civil war, the first two Hitchhiker's Guide books and a few volumes of boys' adventure stories from the turn of the century. I would come back to these and others over and over throughout the years, gleaning a little more knowledge each time. But there were two books that I have come to love better than all the others, two books that I grew up with, that I read more and more of as my tastes expanded. What were these magical volumes? The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories and Rod Serling's Twilight Zone.

Rod Serling's Twilight Zone is the one I favor less of the two, though it's still very good, holding such gripping tales as "The Tiger God," "The 16-Millimeter Shrine," and "The Purple Testament." But The Twilight Zone: The Original Stories holds the stories that have stayed with me, even haunted me. And it's these stories that I want to talk about.

We start off with "One for the Angels," a beautiful story about Lou Bookman, a small-time salesman who's not ready to die, not until he's made a big sales pitch, a pitch for the angels. However, when Death shows up, the stakes will be higher than Lou ever imagined. While the story itself is a bit predictable, the charm in this opening story is in the telling.

"Perchance to Dream" is more what you think of when you think of the Twilight Zone, a chilling mindscrew. Phillip Hall is unable to sleep because death awaits when he does. This story's horrifying because, when you think about it, what do you do when your dreams become deadly and there's nothing you can do to avoid eventually dropping off into sleep?

In a funny little coincidence, the next story, "Disappearing Act, was written by Richard Matheson, who also wrote a novel called Perchance to Dream, the name of the previous story. But that's tangential. "Disappearing Act" is another chiller about the inevitable, this time about a man whose very existance is disappearing around him.

"Time Enough at Last" should be in the same vein as the previous two stories, except that this one is well known enough that it's even been parodied. When the world ends, Henry Bemis finally has time to read a book, only he's broken his glasses.

"What You Need" was an early favorite of mine, with more complexity to its characters and plot than the shorter stories that preceeded it. I think what I like about it is how it slowly unwinds itself to its conclusion that you don't even expect until you read it.

"Third from the Sun" is another story that is probably familiar to most people. It's got a bleak feel to it, as the family covertly prepares to leave behind the only life they've ever known. And the twist to the story is skillfully kept until the reveal at the end.

"Elegy" is straight up creepy, in a sort of uncanny valley way. It seems innocent enough, and that just makes the final revelation all the more horrifying. Really, a lot of these stories are Fridge Horror, to invoke the trope. You read them, are mildly chilled, and then you're up thinking all night about all of the truly horrific implications.

"Brothers Beyond the Void" features a theme seen a fair amount in sci-fi. "People are alike all over," huh? It's really very depressing.

The next story, "The Howling Man," is one that I haven't fully read yet. As I said, I've slowly come to read and enjoy more and more of these stories over the years, so it's not surprising to me that I still haven't read a couple all the way through.

I cannot believe that more people haven't heard of "It's a Good Life." It is one of my favorite Twilight Zone stories to reference, but no one gets it! And this isn't even fridge horror, it's horror all the way through, despite the veneer of happiness that the characters put up. Because you can't say the wrong thing around Anthony or he might make everything worse. Think Haruhi Suzumiya as a child. Yeah.

"The Valley was Still" is a Civil War story incorporating witchcraft and a Faustian bargain. Not a favorite of mine, but certainly a good entry in this collection.

"The Jungle" is a story I only read once. It's dark and different, and perhaps I'll like it better after reading it again.

"To Serve Man." Oh, come on, everyone knows this one. It's still interesting to read how the story plays out, though, even if you know the ending. Spoilers: Soylent Green is people.

"Little Girl Lost." Good grief, it's only in writing this that I realize just how many Twilight Zone spoofs The Simpsons have done. The little girl gets trapped in another dimension after crawling under the couch. Not especially terrifying, more intellectually interesting.

"Four O'Clock" is on the surface rather a funny little story. It's one of the shortest in the book, and it sets up its premise with skill. The twist at the end is almost expected. It's another case when you're going to be more disturbed when you think back to the story later, rather than right when you read it for the first time.

The next story is, like "One for the Angels," more of a fairy tale than a horror story. "I Sing the Body Electric!" is a fanciful story by Ray Bradbury about a family of three children and their widowed father who purchase a wonderfully fantastic robotic grandmother. It's touching and heartfelt, and I'm sure I cried while reading it. There's no twist ending, no darkness lurking at the edges. This is just a sweet story about love and family and growing up. It was a favorite of mine from the first time I read it, and it continues to hold a very special place in my heart.

If the previous story features a warm grandmother, "The Changing of the Guard" has the grandfatherly figure of Professor Fowler, an old teacher at a boys' school. As with "I Sing the Body Electric," there's a bit of the supernatural, but rather than acting as an alienating force, it instead reaffirms the innate humanity of the professor and all of the students whose lives he touched.

"In His Image" goes right back to the mindscrewing. I would say that this story most reminds me of Diana Wynne Jones' novel Hexwood because both require several readings before you have even an inkling of what just occurred. I could try to say more about it, but instead I'll just tell you that it confuses and invigorates the mind, puzzles and horrifies, and the resolution is fitting if not completely satisfactory, but in a good way.

"Mute" is one of the stories in this anthology that I had trouble reading until fairly recently. A bit confusing, not a lot of action. It's less supernatural than some of the other stories, with more of a focus on humans and their innate abilities.

I don't think I've ever gotten through, or even attempted, "Death Ship" yet.

For all that "The Devil, You Say?" involves Faustian bargains, it's actually really a fun story. When a man sells his soul in order to be able to have a successful small town paper and then passes the burden on to his son, the son has to scramble to outwit Satan and return his life to normal, all while pursuing the girl of his dreams.

"Blind Alley" presents a much bleaker take on a deal with the devil, wherein the perils of greed are outlined much more starkly and with a chilling sense of futility. I don't have much else to say, as this is one of the stories that I've only read once.

I've never read "Song for a Lady" yet either.

"Steel." A boy and his robot. Only Kelly and Pole are not boys, they're down on their luck robot fighters, and the robots are fighting machines, and the story is basically just a lot of bleak build-up to the inevitable finish. Very little sci-fi, very depressing story.

"Nightmare at 20,000 Feet." Look, if you don't know this story already, shame on you. Go absorb some pop culture!

"The Old Man" is a post-apocalyptic story about human nature and mob rule. It's short and plot-driven, and the twist at the end is really the only remarkable thing about it.

"The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross" brings to mind the earlier story "What You Need." Salvadore Ross learns that he can barter the intangible and the seemingly unchangeable in order to better himself and win the heart of the girl he loves. However, this wouldn't be a Twilight Zone story if there weren't a catch.

Here we are. We've reached the story that I find the most chilling of everything in this entire collection. Charles Beaumont's "The Beautiful People." The terrifying thing about this story, to me, is losing yourself and being helpless to stop it. I've had quite a few surgeries in my time, and something about the sinister possibilities of hospitals and surgical procedures just chills me to the bone. You know what book this story reminds me of? Well, yes, Scott Westerfeld's Uglies, sort of, but more than that it reminds me of Unwind by Neal Shusterman. I mean, this story is definitely a good one, but it's also personally one of the most chilling, haunting things I've read.

The next story, in contrast, has left pretty much no impression on me. I know that I've read "Long Distance Call" before, but I had to flip through it to read the end before I remembered much about it. It's like something out of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, that childhood standby of tame tales and grotesque pictures.

The anthology ends with a classic story by Ambrose Bierce, "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." This is another famous one where the twist ending is well known. I don't have much of an impression of it because I never read it after the first time.

Overall, some of these stories are really wonderful and have enriched my imagination. I'll say that my favorites would be "One for the Angels," "What You Need," "Elegy," "I Sing the Body Electric!," "In His Image," and "The Beautiful People," with "It's a Good Life" and "The Changing of the Guard" getting honourable mentions.

Well! I hope that this post intrigued you and made you want to read these stories. There wasn't too much summarizing, more my impressions, really, but I hope this was still interesting to read. I'll do my best to post more updates.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Another summer of a hundred books, plus some books I'm anticipating

This summer I'm doing the one hundred books thing again. I think it will be fun and also give me more motivation to post here because I am incredibly lazy when I don't have some sort of deadline imposed on myself. But, yeah, since I'm graduating, I'll need some sort of project to keep me busy, especially if the internships and whatnot don't all pan out. I'll do my best!

So here's a list of series I like and which need to have sequels, along with status of said sequels.

Leviathan - Westerfeld's website puts Behemoth at October 2010.
Hunger Games - Mockingjay is slated for late August of this year, according to Amazon.
Chaos Walking - Monsters of Men in late September, going by Amazon.
Malice - Amazon lists Havoc, the sequel, as being released in October of this year.
Suzumiya Haruhi series - Suzumiya Haruhi no Kyogaku, The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya has finally been announced, though Haruhi knows when we'll see an English version, especially since Baka-Tsuki can't translate anymore. However, Boredom has an English release in July, again going by Amazon.
Green Rider - Fourth book manuscript finished and in editing, according to author's website.
Kiki Strike - Very little information available, but it appears that book three is at least in the works. Kirsten Miller also has a book called The Eternal Ones coming out in August that I feel compelled to check out.
Theatre Illuminata - Book two, Perchance to Dream, is coming out in May.
Stravaganza - City of Ships is listed as coming out in June.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Two Funny Literature-Related Links

First of all, I bring you guys the Lyttle Lytton Contest. This contest, which focuses on writing intentionally unintentionally bad first sentences to novels, never fails to leave me in tears before I'm halfway through a page. "Jennifer stood there, quietly ovulating." That is the sort of wonderfully cringe-worthy fiction that this contest attempts to chronicle. Go over there, read and laugh at all the entries, then come back here and share your favorites in the comments, and I'll join in too.

Second, Disney is apparently releasing a new, updated Harriet the Spy movie that makes Harriet a blogger who gets in a blogging contest with a popular girl in her high school and stalks a celebrity. Yeah. I know. However, the post that alerted me to this promised that all was not lost. Even from seemingly dark news can come incredible hilarity, like this Jezebel article that playfully suggests other possible updates to children's books, such as "From The Mixed-Up Tweets Of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler" and "Little Blog on the Prairie." Both the Jezebel article and the Fandom Lounge post have plenty of comments with further title suggestions. Can you guys come up with any more? My ideas: "The Monster at the End of This Youtube Video" and "Where the /b/tards Are." XP

Friday, February 26, 2010


Five Reasons You Should Read Shiver By Maggie Stiefvater

1. Creativity - The concept of werewolves isn't an original one, but Stiefvater's treatment of the condition is. These werewolves transform when the temperature drops too low, not during a full moon (though that bit of werewolf lore is addressed). Also, the ending is creatively done, foreshadowed during the book, and executed in a gripping fashion.

2. Humor - The characters in Shiver seemed fun and real, and a big part of this was that Sam and Grace both had senses of humor. Amazing how that goes a long way towards making characters more likable and the story in general seem more inviting and realistic. Three words: washer and dryer. All I'm gonna say.

3. Prose - Stiefvater has talent. The prose is Shiver was straightforward when it needed to be and poetic when that served the mood. And, by gum, the mere fact that Sam could think in song lyrics at times and not annoy the everlovin' crap out of me? That's an achievement all on its own.

4. Characters - I liked both Sam and Grace, and I cared about their romance and problems. Grace is a normal girl, and compared to some paranormal romance protagonists (Bella Swan, I am looking at you), she remains sensible when dealing with her boyfriend. Sam, whom I initially thought I'd dislike because he seemed like he would be a tragic, emo, misunderstood soul, turned out to be a well-rounded, fairly cheerful (as much so as a werewolf guy in his situation would reasonably be), and reasonably clear-headed individual.

5. Plot - Perhaps I should say "plots," as there is plenty going on in this book. Besides just the Sam and Grace romance, there's the mysterious death of Jack Culpeper, and Grace's relationships with her parents and Olivia and Rachel. These different plot threads are juggled skillfully, and they all pull together in the end to satisfying conclusions.

To sum it up, this is an overall great book. It takes a normal romance story, raises the stakes, adds excitement and supernatural elements, and wraps it up in a beautifully written package.

Also, right before posting this, I realized I needed to check the spelling of the author's last name, so I got up, walked over to my bookshelf, and looked. Walking back to my computer, I realized I could have just googled it. I'm... really not sure how to feel about this.

Friday, February 12, 2010


So Incarceron seems to be following the trend of dark sci-fi/fantasy in sorta post-apocalyptic settings that I've been seeing a lot of in the books I read lately. This book reminds me particularly of The Maze Runner (which, um, I forgot to review when I read it a couple weeks back, oops), but also of stuff like The Hunger Games, the Chaos Walking books, and sort of like Leviathan, too (another book that missed a review). So, yeah, there's a talking point. Have any of you guys out there noticed this YA fiction trend, or is it all in my head?

But anyway, let's talk about Incarceron on its own merits. So I started reading the book at about four o'clock in the afternoon the day I got it, and I finished it at 10:30. Six and a half hours, during which I also attended class for an hour and forty-five minutes, got dinner, took an online test, and played Civilization II. So, uh, yeah, I freaking blazed through this book, all things considered. Shades of The Knife of Never Letting Go. So, yeah, this was a pretty gripping read (unlike the books in the previous review).

Basically, Incarceron is a prison. One that sounds like some sort of Transformer or other type of giant robot, but anyway. It's this mega prison that was designed as sort of a grand experiment in prisoner reform. However, if things had really worked out like that, we wouldn't have a story. Instead, we meet Finn, a young man who's a member of a gang inside Incarceron. He and his band are just one of the many groups who struggle to survive inside the intelligent, malevolent prison. Then one day he finds a key, a link to the outside world. Enter Claudia, daughter of no less important a person than the very Warden of Incarceron. (Heh, the name still amuses me. "Incarceron destroy puny humans!") Claudia, once she's clued into the fact that Incarceron isn't the paradise it's supposed to be, is totally cool with helping Finn and his friends escape. However, she's not a total altruist. She's got problems of her own in the outside world, and she thinks Finn is the key to solving them.

So first of all, the characters. I like Finn. He's a pretty decent guy, for all that he's spent his life in a giant freaking prison. Compared to his companions, he's not at all a ruthless thug. Good, solid hero character with a nice bit of mystery in his past. (Isn't that always the case?) As for Claudia, what I liked about her character is that she's somewhat selfishly motivated. She doesn't want to help the prisoners just because she's a good person (and she is, we do see that), but she's got her own reasons for wanting Finn to be freed. And it makes sense, given her upbringing. Her father raised her to be the perfect queen and to have a chance in the court lifestyle. But, yeah, I just liked that because I have a fondness for characters with human weaknesses (see also Galinda in Wicked the musical). But anyway, besides the main characters, the supporting cast is also well drawn. Kiero is pretty complex in his own right, leaving you perpetually unsure of his true loyalty, and the Warden is similarly inscrutable. Well, next there's the setting, and I have to admit, the first chapter from Claudia's viewpoint threw me 'cause I didn't know why we were suddenly back in Regency times (or whichever period the Era is actually mimicking). But it the important thing is that this works. Incarceron is freaky and nightmarish, but you get, like, a Stepford Suburbia feel from the outside world that's just as bad. The worlds play off and reveal things about each other that just intensifies the mystery and subtle horror. And as for the plot, well, it's good. Good foreshadowing for the most part, unfolds at a nice clip for all the revelations, high stakes for the conflict, and, strewth, does it ever leave off at a cliffhanger point.

Well, I wanted to say more about this book at some point, but this review has been languishing on my desktop for long enough, so I'll just post it. Currently rereading the Chronicles of Prydain and Airman, so there won't be reviews for those.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Fionavar Tapestry

So Guy Gavriel Kay is supposed to be this amazing fantasy author. Perhaps he is. But what matters to me is whether an author can captivate my imagination, and he could not. Others may enjoy his books, and, like with the ASoIaF guy, I can acknowledge that this guy can write well, but it just doesn't work for me. Anyway, enough with the apologizing, here's what I thought. So I read all of The Summer Tree and most of The Wandering Fire. I got so far because at parts Kay really did succeed in making me interested and care about the fate of these characters and this land. Although I have to wonder, if Fionavar is the first of all the worlds, why's it stuck in the middle ages when Earth is all whoosh jet planes? But I digress. Anyway, you've got these five university students from Toronto who are whisked away to a magical world on a suspiciously frivolous cause, just to be special guests at a festival. But of course they all have magical destinies, because no one in a fantasy novel ever doesn't have one of those. Hm, this reminds me of why I read so little high fantasy. Anyway, the five characters are Dave, Jen, Kevin, Kim, and Paul, and I only gave a crap about two of them for more than a couple pages at a time. Paul's a whiny emo kid because his girlfriend died. And you know what? If you can't make me care about tragic sundered love, you're doing it wrong. Kevin's a two-dimensional horndog who only cares about doing the ladies. Jen... I didn't really have a problem with her, but she didn't get, like, any fleshing out before she disappeared from the main plot for a while. I liked Kim well enough. She seemed to deal with her Destiny without totally going all mystical. And when Dave finally showed up, I really enjoyed the portion of the book with him and the Dalrei. That was fun. I dunno, there were snatches of the book where the characters seemed realistic and like interesting people, but too often the narrative was third person omniscient, not in anybody's head. And furthermore, the viewpoints jumped around so much, and more often than not the characters would have revelations about their Destinies, and though the reader was watching the character, the reader would not be clued into what any of this was about. And look, all of them are special? All of them have magical destinies? It's like a forum roleplay, where players keep trying to one-up each other in terms of power levels and specialness. "My character has a magic sword!" "My character can turn into a dragon!" "My character is the reincarnation of a dead hero!" "My character can completely manipulate the time flow and is immortal and can nullify any bad magic!" I mean, seriously.

Well, this was a vitriolic little review. Bad weekend. Got my wisdom teeth taken out and then couldn't even recover peacefully 'cause of the ruddy blizzard knocking our power out for a little under two full days. So I'm not in the mindset to be charitable to this series. The Fionavar Tapestry isn't bad, but it's certainly something that you need to have the right taste for.

With luck I'll finish some of the half-written reviews I have on my computer and post them soon.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Eyes Like Stars

Eyes Like Stars - Lisa Mantchev

So I read this the other day and was pleased with the funny, engaging story. So we've got Beatrice Shakespeare Smith, called Bertie, a seventeen year old girl who lives in the Theatre Illuminata, right? Yeah, in this theatre, the characters from the play are alive, able to hang out and interact with Bertie, and her best friends include four mischievous fairies and Nate, a pirate character. It's a pretty fun life, but Bertie is always getting into trouble because of her antics. Then one day it's the last straw, and the Theater Manager says that she'll have to leave unless she can find a way to make herself invaluable to the theatre. Bertie manages to figure out a plan, but the hard part comes in the execution, and that doesn't even take into account the sabotage and secrets that she comes up against.

So, yeah, it's a book about the theatre. So y'all know I like it, 'cause I totally dig the theatre. Plenty of references to theatre (and I swear I saw a reference to getting eaten by a grue, what) which made for some very nice moments of recognition when I picked them up. That's always fun. And the inclusion of familiar Shakespearean characters and seeing the interpretations of them gave another dimension to the book. Hm, well, we never actually leave the theatre in this story, and the Theatre Illuminata is such a magical place, I could never place the time period, which I thought was great because it just added to the magic and mystery of the story. And I quite liked Bertie herself. She's a familiar character type, the spunky girl who causes chaos but who has a good heart. She's smart, offbeat, somewhat girly instead of overwhelmingly tomboyish, and very creative. So when she decides on her plan on how to remain at the theatre, we buy that she's able to pull it off. Also nice is that her actions do have consequences, and even though things are mostly okay at the end, there's still a big burden of guilt regarding her one slip-up that she'll need to fix in the next book. Oh, and I do like that the story was mostly self-contained even while setting up for a sequel. I don't like reading one story stretched over multiple books. Give me story arcs that are as self-contained as possible but which contribute to a larger whole.

Anyway, Eyes Like Stars was a very enjoyable read. It's fairly substantial, but if you're like me, you'll blaze through it because it keeps your interest the whole way through.

Oh, and since I forgot to mention this in the last post, thanks to everyone who commented on the discussion post from earlier in the month. We came up with some great thoughts. ^_^


Avalanche by Arthur Roth is a book I remember reading in grade school. I recently found it again after a post on the LiveJournal community whatwasthatbook. Very useful comm, that one. I had good memories of the book, so I requested it from the library to read again.

So anyway, in Avalanche, fourteen year old Chris Palmer is trapped in an avalanche. What it says on the tin, basically. And what follows is a narrative that tracks Chris's time trapped beneath the snow as he tries to stay alive long enough to be rescued. There's not a lot of action, but the book is full of surprisingly interesting introspection and character development. In his mind, through memories and dreams, Chris untangles the troubled relationships he has with his mother, father, and his brother Terry. Chris, with a weak heart and scarlet fever as a child, has never felt good enough when compared to his athlete brother, and he feels that his father resents him for not being like Terry. In between flashbacks to the past, we see Chris struggle to deal with hunger, cold, and fear as the days go by.

One thing I liked about this book was that, despite it being for a younger age group, it didn't gloss over any of the darker aspects of the story. You get every carefully considered detail of what Chris does as he works to survive in the snow, and Chris even entertains the thought of taking his own life when he gets too overwhelmed. I mean, that's not something you usually see in a book that middle school kids might read. But, yeah, I liked this book. A clean, simple style, plenty going on, and Chris is a well-rounded character, with flaws and talents both, realistic, basically. Well, this is a short book, but it's very engaging and a quick read.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Whose story?

A short note before getting to the meat of this post. As you can see, updates have been scarce as of late. I've been reading, to be sure, but I simply had no motivation to post reviews. I'm going to try some different things, more musings on fiction and more casual reviews where I'll mainly just discuss the book instead of keeping to a format. So, to start that off, let's talk about characters.


In Directing I a couple years back, my director told our class something important about play analysis that has stuck with me ever since: when you're going to be directing a show, you need to decide which character the show belongs to. That means you have to decide who has the journey of character development that you want to follow. Even in an ensemble piece, my director stressed, you need to decide whose play it really is. Now, this advice has been stuck in my mind ever since, as I've always wondered if it applied to novels as it did to plays. It gives me an interesting perspective from which to analyse stories. Whose story, I ask myself, is this?

Sometimes it's obvious who the main character is. In A Doll's House, Ibsen's tense drama that gave rise to naturalism in drama, you would have to be very creative in order to justify the play being anyone else's besides Nora's. This play is all about Nora's inner struggle. Similarly, plenty of books have obvious main characters. Who is The Goose Girl about but Anidori? Her journey from a weak-willed girl to a strong-minded woman with the courage to take her destiny in her own hands in the whole point of the novel. No one else gets nearly as much focus as Ani does.

However, there are cases where it's trickier to decide whose story is the most important one. Taking another stage example, look at Wicked. Knee-jerk reaction is to characterize this as Elphaba's play; after all, she's the Wicked Witch of the West, the one who is "wicked". But some, myself included, might argue that Galinda has at least as big a journey of character development, possibly even a bigger one than Elphie. After all, we see Galinda go from a mean-spirited rich girl to a well-meaning ditz in just the first act, and from then she has to make choices about her future and her friendship with Elphaba. There's a real human struggle in her path, choosing between what's right and what's easy, and she doesn't always make the right choice either. In my book, that's certainly fuel for the possibility of making Wicked Galinda's show. And what about in books? Well, let's take another of my favorite series and look at The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Haruhi's the title character, Kyon's the narrator. Again, Kyon seems the obvious choice since we're inside his head, but it's Haruhi's development as a character that we're following, watching as she goes from a frankly terrifying amoral hellion into a determined but good-hearted girl who's always looking for more fun and adventure. She learns the value of her friendships with the members of the SOS Brigade and calms down and learns to enjoy life instead of moping about how it's not exciting enough. So again, whose story is this?

However, what about books like The Ask and the Answer? Two points of view in that one. Sure, Todd was the sole POV character in The Knife of Never Letting Go, but it made complete sense for there to be only one viewpoint in that book. At first we're not supposed to know that there's even a girl in the picture, and then we're following Todd's complete confusion as he tries to figure out this person with no Noise and who doesn't even seem to be able to sleep. Viola would lose a lot of her mystery if we were in her head, and consequently the reader wouldn't be able to identify with Todd quite as well. A large, large part of the novel's success as a moving story rides on seeing the relationship between Todd and Viola develop as Todd comes to understand her better. But then we come to The Ask and the Answer, where both characters get viewpoints. So is it still just Todd's story? Seems to shortchange Viola quite a bit that way, since we suddenly understand her so much better than we did in the first book just by being inside her head.

So, is this problem of whose story negated in novels by the author's ability to utilize multiple viewpoints? I actually don't have an answer. Can you say that just because each character gets a viewpoint section that one's not more important than the other? Especially with books series that have tons of viewpoints, like Green Rider or A Song of Ice and Fire, it becomes harder to weigh the characters equally. So is it a necessity that even in novels there can only be one truly main character in a work? I'm not at all sure, but I'm certainly going to continue to keep this in mind when writing my own stories and when reading the works of others. If nothing else, it continues to provide me with an excellent perspective from which to analyze media.


Well, I'm interested in people's thoughts on this issue, so if you have anything to say, please leave a comment! I'd like to know if other people have ever thought like this as well, or if this has given you a new way to look at stories. Also, expect either a book ramble or another discussion post within the next few days. I have an idea for a top ten female protagonists post that I've been working on for a while. Still need a few more girls for my list, though.