Friday, December 31, 2010

The Sorcerer of the North Review (John Flanagan)

Synopsis: Several years have passed since the apprentice and his master, Will and Halt, led the Skandians to victory against invaders, and Will is finally a full-fledged Ranger with his own fief to look after. The fief seems sleepy - boring, even - until Lord Syron, master of a castle far in the north, is struck down by a mysterious illness. Joined by his friend Alyss, Will is suddenly thrown headfirst into an extraordinary adventure, investigating fears of sorcery and trying to determine who is loyal to Lord Syron . . . and who is planning to betray him. Will and Alyss must battle growing hysteria, traitors, and most of all, time. Lord Syron is fading, but when Alyss is taken hostage, Will is forced to make a desperate choice between loyalty to his mission and loyalty to his friend . . .

Review: I feel ashamed that I, a devoted bookworm and fan of the Ranger's Apprentice series, should have taken so long to get to Book 5. Especially when I was so excited about it. But even the best of us get distracted by life in general and other books that demand our attention. Despite the long delay, I have finally finished The Sorcerer of the North and intend to read The Siege of Macindaw in short order.

Before I begin my review, I want to inform you that The Ruins of Gorlan is my absolute favorite in this series. It always has been, and it always will be. The fact of the matter is I don't like Horace. Rather, I liked Horace in The Ruins of Gorlan because he was an ineffectual bully and it suited him so well. I didn't like it when John Flanagan made him and Will best friends, for now it meant that The Hulk (as I and my sister have dubbed him) would be almost everywhere that Will was. While it lent for some funny scenes in The Icebound Land, I don't agree that having a virtual wall as a main character is a good idea. So I was glad when I opened this book and found no Horace. Until the end, that is. Which means The Hulk is back in for The Siege of Macindaw. Sigh.

The Sorcerer of the North was not my favorite from the very start. Something struck me as off about the characters, and last night I finally pegged it: Will has taken on some of the characteristics of Halt. While this certainly would happen because Will has trained under Halt, it was more like the Author was trying to combine Halt and Will together, and the result was not very pleasing. Will is Will; Halt is Halt. The two personalities do not mix well in one person. And also, what short and few scenes Halt is in, he isn't acting himself. I realize that Halt is now older than in the previous four books, but there was still something that did not ring quite true to his character. His comments were almost childish and often completely unnecessary. Halt is not someone who would make unnecessary chatter. Also, the dialogue became much more modern in style. John Flanagan's dialogue has always been rather modern-styled, and his writing in general movie-ish. I excuse him this fault because he used to write for the television sitcom Hey Dad! But it really felt as if it were vamped up more in this one.

However, I don't want my Readers to get the impression that I disliked this book, because I didn't. The storyline was very intriguing and I didn't figure out who was to blame for the hauntings and whatnot until I was halfway through the book. (Of course, once I did, it was so obvious that I became frustrated with the characters for not figuring it out just as quickly. But I suppose that if they had, the book would not have been as long.) And I am immensely glad that Alyss replaces Evelyn/Princess Cassandra as the leading lady. I really liked Alyss. She is intelligent, resourceful, not at all afraid to get her hands dirty, but still retains a very sophisticated, elegant manner. She doesn't tote an attitude about, and while there is certainly flirting between her and Will (inevitable, that), she is not obnoxiously mushy around him at all. When she is working, her mind is completely on the job at hand. And she is able to have friendly talks with Will without it turning into mushy-mushies every bloody time. Most importantly - and what makes her so much better than Evelyn - Alyss is useful and does not whine.

I am glad that I have The Siege of Macindaw to read directly after this one; the two are most certainly connected. Book 5 - The Sorcerer of the North isn't as good as the first 4 - I wasn't expecting it to be, - but it was still very enjoyable and the storyline quite engaging. Fans of Halt will be sad that he isn't in it much, but fans of Tug (like me!) will be pleased that Will isn't forced to travel without his clever little pony, but takes him along.

Like all of Ranger's Apprentice, this one comes highly recommended - just don't expect it to be as good as the first four.

Star Rating: 2/5 (it was ok)

Others in the Ranger's Apprentice Series:
1)The Ruins of Gorlan
2)The Burning Bridge
3)The Icebound Land
4)The Battle for Skandia
5)The Sorcerer of the North
6)The Siege of Macindaw
7)Erak's Ransom
8)The Kings of Clonmel
9)Halt's Peril

10)The Emperor of Nihon-Ja
11)The Lost Stories

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Voyage of the Dawn Treader

Rated: PG

I will skip a synopsis for this and "cut to the chase," as it were. After all, I am pretty certain that most everyone has a pretty good idea what it is about - and anyway, a synopsis would not be able to help you much.

I will start off by saying that I did enjoy the third installment of The Chronicles of Narnia. It was not as good as The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe or Prince Caspian, true. I wasn't expecting it to be. There was a new director, new composer, and a new company to replace Disney. Such new things usually make a sequel not as good as its predecessors. So since I did not go in with such high expectations as most seem to have, I was able to like it for what it was.

Part of what made this one not as good as the other two is the fact that there isn't much of a storyline. This is no fault of the producers - the book doesn't have much of a storyline, either, and the makers tried to fix this as much as they could. They probably could have done a better job than they did, but then Narnia purists would be complaining even louder than they already are. Given these factors, the director did his best.

But, honestly, could they not have done better with the ship itself? While very pretty visually, anyone who knows anything about ships will notice many things amiss. Things like untarred lines, flimsy blocks and clips that, were they on a real ship, would snap in a trice should any real strain be put on them. Yes, most people will not notice this - but I really cannot pardon the lack of tar on lines. Even an untrained eye would catch this; it is a fundamental aspect of a working vessel. The sea and the weather that accompanies it is hard on rope, wood, paint, etc. Tar protects.

This aspect was more painful for my sister than I, her being a scholar of ships and sailing in general. What amused me most were some points concerning . . . Caspian. Correct me if I am wrong, dear Readers, but did Caspian not have a decidedly Spanish accent in the second movie? I know, it was not his real accent; that he is British. That is obvious if you watch Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I don't know if the director decided that with the very long hair (longer than mine!) and sad little beginnings of a beard, Caspian would just seem too gay with a Spanish accent and chose to bag it altogether, or what. But Caspian is now British - and decidedly from London. I am sorry - absolutely everyone will notice that. And I could not stop cackling over it.

And so I must close my review. It is an enjoyable movie and was a great source of amusement for my sister and I. It is a good thing there were only two other people in the theater; we might have been thrown out if there were more to overhear our snickers and hilarious comments concerning Caspian's brilliant locks (and no, these were not comments in favor of). I will probably buy it when it comes out on DVD, but it is not necessarily one you have to see in theaters. Unless you simply must see it in 3D - which I didn't; 3D gives me a headache. And as enjoyable as this one was, I do hope The Silver Chair is better. I have hopes for that one, for it has more of a storyline than Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jane Review (April Lindner)

Forced to drop out of an esteemed East coast college after the sudden death of her parents, Jane Moore takes a nanny job at Thornfield Park, the estate of Nico Rathburn, a world-famous rock star on the brink of a huge comeback. Practical and independent, Jane reluctantly becomes entranced by her magnetic and brooding employer and finds herself in the midst of a forbidden romance.

But there's a mystery at Thornfield, and Jane's much-envied relationship with Nico is soon tested by an agonizing revelation from his past. Torn between her feelings for Nico and his fateful secret, Jane must decide: Does being true to herself mean giving up on true love?

This will be the first review I have written on a book that I have not finished. But I won't finish it - I don't need to. I dislike modern-set stories, but I was willing to try this one out because it was a contemporary version of the famous novel Jane Eyre, which I enjoyed. I was curious to see what April Lindner would do with it.

Four words: I was not impressed. While Jane Moore herself is, for the most part, a likable character and fairly close to Jane Eyre, Nico Rathburn is an entirely different story. I never liked Mr. Rochester from Jane Eyre, but my dislike for Nico Rathburn were for the simple reason that he was not at all like Mr. Rochester, and just basically annoying. However, the characters are the least disagreeable aspects of this book.

I got to Chapter 18 - so 209 pages into Jane. It is 365 pages long, 27 chapters. In that short span of words, I encountered 8 f-words and 5 s-words. I know there are few people who care about that, but I do, and for those of my Readers who are like-minded, you will understand my frustration and appreciate the warning. There was no need for the language - especially when the story is based off of Jane Eyre! But what made me close the book so firmly and set it on my "To Return To Library" shelf was the beginning of Chapter 18 - Jane and Nico sleep together. Whether they actually go through with this scene, I don't know, nor do I intend to find out. But what little I skimmed, it is explicit and it completely ruined the Author's claim of being a true Jane Eyre fan. No real fan of Charlotte Bronte's classic story would ever have Jane give into such immoral whims. In fact, in Jane Eyre, Jane outright refuses to live as Mr. Rochester's mistress.

So, for those of you who like Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and were curious to read Jane - a contemporary version, - you will be disappointed. In modernizing it, April Lindner tainted the story with unnecessary language and sexual content that is completely out of the spirit of Jane Eyre.

Star Rating: 1/5 (didn't like it)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The London Eye Mystery Review (Siobhan Dowd)

When Aunt Gloria's son, Salim, mysteriously disappears from a sealed pod on the London Eye, everyone is frantic. Has he spontaneous combusted? (Ted's theory.) Has he been kidnapped? (Aunt Gloria's theory.) Is he even still alive? (The family's unspoken fear.) Even the police are baffled. Ted, whose brain runs on its own unique operating system, and his older sister, Kat, overcome their prickly relationship to become sleuthing partners. They follow a trail of clues across London in a desperate bid to find their cousin, while time ticks dangerously by.

I wouldn't say that this was a bad read, but it was a little boring, as far as mysteries go. But I will get to that later. I was expecting Ted to be annoying, but he is a surprisingly likable character. Kat is the annoying one, and I wished several times that she would disappear and never return.

That said - on to the mystery. It was not as involved as I was hoping. The Reader does not get the pleasure of solving the case with the characters (though I figured out about half of the answers fairly quickly), but instead only receive part of Ted's thought process so we are almost as much in the dark as everyone else. It can be annoying. Every mystery Reader wants to be given the opportunity of following their "detective's" thought patterns so they can feel as if they are assisting in solving the case. All in all, the mystery was a disappointment and was wrapped up in a manner that left me feeling a little sad and bereft of concern for the characters themselves.

Despite the mystery's lack of real interest, I have to say that I enjoyed the Author's writing. I love British writers - there is a quality to their style that is lost in a lot of other literature. At times, it might be difficult for someone who doesn't know much about British terms, but there are not too many instances like that. I usually dislike modern-set stories (who wants to read about the 21st century? We live it, after all), but Siobhan Dowd's writing made all the difference and kept me interested enough to finish the book.

Star Rating: 3/5 (liked it)

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Dead Drop Review (Jennifer Allison)

For fourteen-year-old (soon to be fifteen) psychic investigator Gilda Joyce, a summer internship at the Washington, D.C., International Spy Museum gives her the perfect opportunity to sport her vintage spywear, cavort with real C.I.A. agents, and expand her knowledge of gadgetry and surveillance. But when the spy museum acquires new Cold War-era artifacts from a former Soviet spy, things get a little . . . weird. Suddenly, the ghost of Abraham Lincoln haunts Gilda's dreams, and a mysterious spectral woman with a bloodstained star keeps appearing in spy museum exhibits. Seeing her chance to solve a mystery, Gilda takes the case, but she soon finds out that she's in far deeper than she imagined. After intercepting a "dead drop" - a spy's encoded message hidden in a Washington, D.C. cemetery - Gilda realizes her case is not only a matter of investigating the supernatural; she's involved in an urgent matter of national security.

Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, Gilda Joyce and the Ladies of the Lake, and Gilda Joyce and the Ghost Sonata - the three preceding books to this one - were disturbing, and I'm not entirely certain why I read the next two after the first one. They weren't good right-before-bedtime reads, and some of the content pertaining to the murders was disconcerting (i.e. in one of them, a girl almost purposely takes a drug overdose because she's tired of living). What I did like about the other three as opposed to The Dead Drop was the fact that at the end, Jennifer Allison did not specify whether or not there actually was a ghost. She more or less left it up to the Reader; a ghost could have actually been involved, but at the same time she offered a realistic, plausible explanation. The Ghost Sonata is when she stopped doing this and got ghosts more involved.

In The Dead Drop, there is no question of there being ghosts. The Dead Drop is not as disturbing as the other three, and I was able to read it comfortably before going to bed. There are some instances that are, of course, spooky, but not quite in the same way as, say, The Ladies of the Lake.

But the main reason I keep reading Gilda Joyce is because while actual ghosts are involved, the stories themselves really are intriguing mysteries, and Gilda herself is a very fun and unique character. I can share her love for vintage (though, in my opinion, she chooses the wrong era) and her love for working on a manual typewriter. There is simply no denying the fact that Gilda is a great heroine that keeps a Reader laughing. While the first three books have some pretty creepy and disturbing content, I think it can be a fun series to read. At times.

Star Rating: 3/5 (liked it)

Others in the Gilda Joyce Series:
1)Psychic Investigator
2)The Ladies of the Lake
3)The Ghost Sonata
4)The Dead Drop
5)The Bones of the Holy

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Wager Review (Donna Jo Napoli)

Don Giovanni is no beggar. A few months ago he was the wealthiest and handsomest young man in Messina, until a tidal wave washed away everything he owned. Though he's now homeless and poor, he still has his pride - and his good looks. Yet winter is coming, and Don Giovanni has nowhere to go, nothing to eat.

When a well-dressed stranger offers him unlimited wealth in exchange for a simple-sounding wager, Don Giovanni knows he shouldn't take it. Only the devil would offer a deal like this, and only a fool would accept. But Don Giovanni is desperate. Against his better judgment he enters into a deal with the devil: he will not change his clothes or bathe for three years, three months, and three days.

Beauty is a small price to pay for worldly wealth, isn't it? Unless Don Giovanni loses the wager - and with it, his soul.

The Wager is based off of an old Sicilian fairy tale, so you can assume that Don Giovanni actually does make a bargain with the devil. But that is as far as this book goes toward supernatural/magic content.

It has been a long time since I've read one of Donna Jo Napoli's books. I remember most of her stories with fondness and a little frustration toward her characters. Don Giovanni is aggravating, but The Wager is one of those tales where you don't particularly care for any of the characters (except Cani, his dog). You read it out of curiosity, and you finish it out of curiosity. I didn't care what happened to Don Giovanni, I didn't particularly feel sorry for him, and I didn't dislike him, either. It was very difficult, for some reason, to attach to Don Giovanni in any manner.

Which may partially be why this is a book that is difficult to get through. But it isn't the only reason. The Wager is not a book you should read while you are eating a meal, or if your stomach is empty. The whole premise of the story is how Don Giovanni copes with not bathing, changing his clothes, or combing his hair for three years, three months, and three days. Donna Jo Napoli likes detail, and when a story's premise is about someone who doesn't bathe for that long, you can imagine where her detail focuses. Dirt. Filth. Stench. The resulting effect on a person's physical health when they don't wash. It would turn anyone's stomach. On top of that, the devil finds various ways to make Don Giovanni's filth increase, and there is a particular incident that is really disgusting. I had to stop reading because my stomach was so hungry, and it was turning to a degree that threatened to make me physically sick.

That, unfortunately, isn't the only content. Don Giovanni loves women, and everyone seems to give themselves freely to him. While there are no actual sexual scenes, there is lots of alluding to past relationships, as well as pleasant feelings compared to physical, intimate contact with a woman. Most of this is in the beginning of the book, and it isn't terribly explicit, but it is worth noting.

The Wager was an interesting story, but I don't think I'll buy it, and I certainly won't read it again. Definitely not for weak stomachs.
Star Rating: 2/5 (it was ok)

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reckless Review (Cornelia Funke)

For Jacob Reckless, the real world holds nothing but heartache and trouble. He hates it. But in the Mirrorworld, he can escape all of that and live a life of adventure and danger. But one fateful day Jacob's younger brother Will follows him, and when an accident starts turning Will into a monster, Jacob has to abandon his usual life in the Mirrorworld and save him. Before it's too late. The Mirrorworld holds thousands of dangers not even the Brothers Grimm could dream up, but with the help of Clara - Will's true love - and a young vixen named Fox, Jacob may just succeed.
Cornelia's new masterpiece kept me turning the pages. The Mirrorworld is like a land populated with darker versions of classic fairy tales. And of course, Cornelia also populates this world with her own original creatures. As usual, her writing style is fluid and very vivid, conjuring up a world that only children are able to see. But Cornelia brings back that childhood feeling to her older Readers, making it an enjoyable read for anyone.

For those who loved her Inkworld Trilogy - Reckless will not disappoint. The Mirrorworld is as rich as the Inkworld - and just as fantastic. I really do love Cornelia's fairy-worlds; they possess the classic style of old German fairy tales. For this story, Cornelia did something a little different. While her other characters and places in previous books took on Italian names, this one had German-like names. Also, the Mirrorworld has taken on the technology and fashion of the early-to-middling Victorian era. You wouldn't think that dwarves and trolls and fairies would fit into an era like that, but Cornelia does a remarkable job with what is usually paired with medieval times, and putting it into a more modern era. I certainly never thought ogres and seven-league boots fit in with trains and factories.

The characters themselves are both enduring and frustrating - but not to a bad degree. Will's undying trust in Jacob can be a little irksome, but it is hard to fault him for it. At first, Clara threatened to be a useless tag-along who can't do anything, but she turns out to be brave and tries to help as much as she can. Fox was my favorite - she was the most sensible and kept everyone on track.

And now Jacob . . . I will admit that he wasn't nearly as annoying as I was expecting him to be. He thinks only of his brother the entire time of their quest, constantly blames himself for what happened, and is overall trying to do what's right. The times he messes up are not due to any true recklessness on his part. There are some things that just can't be stopped. Even the most experienced adventurer runs into trouble now and then. Really, what was most annoying about him was his womanizing.

No, he does not - thank goodness - chase after every girl and flirt 24/7. Nor does he always go on about his good looks, how no girl can resist him, etc. But there are plenty of alludements to his past relationships - most of which the book seems to hint eventually led to intercourse of the most intimate kind. There is actually a scene in the book that - though hinted at in the most delicate words and in as few as possible - it is clear what he and the woman are doing. It's really hard to like a character when they act so dishonorably. And Jacob is likeable in every other way! Very frustrating.

Reckless by Cornelia Funke is just as good as her other books. It's dark - there are instances that will scare younger Readers, especially when the Tailor appears - and there are more sexual alludements than I would like to find in a kid's book. They would go over a younger Reader's head, for Cornelia is never explicit, but it is something to keep in mind if you're considering reading it out loud to a kid. Other than that, it's exciting and a quick read. And judging by the way it ends, there may be a sequel in the future.

Star Rating: 4/5 (really liked it)

Others in The Mirrorworld Trilogy:

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Body at the Tower Review (Y.S. Lee)

Synopsis: Mary Quinn is now a trusted member of the Agency - the all-female detective unit operating out of Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls. Her new assignment sends her to the building site of the Houses of Parliament, dressed as a pauper-boy, in order to investigate the mysterious death of one of the workers. Though Mary spent most of her younger years in the guise of a boy, this assignment proves to have its difficulties in maintaining her assumed identity - especially when James Easton reappears as inspector of the site's safety. There are games afoot, and Mary has little time to solve it before another death occurs.

Review: I cannot say how much I love mystery stories set in Victorian England. The Agency series is a bit earlier in the Victorian era than I especially like reading about, but it isn't too early to make me completely disinterested. As usual, Y.S. Lee terrifically captures London's dark, dank streets with her well-researched history and language. Unlike A Spy in the House (Book 1), her visual descriptions do not bring a Reader's mental eye too close for comfort. And also unlike A Spy in the House, the ending was not nearly as cliche and irritating.

But . . . James Easton. I cannot tolerate him, nor the conversations he and Mary have. Their bantering is a little better in this one than in Book 1, but it still exceeds an annoying factor that made my eye twitch, set my teeth on edge, and made me wish that a horse would run over James. His arrogance and womanizing causes his "cheeky" and "shining" grin to be as a mosquito in one's ear. It's not cute; it's just as disgusting and pathetic as those adolescent males who think if they ooze charm, one will forget their lack of honor and instead believe lack thereof to be endearing. I wanted to yell at Mary that she was far more intelligent and sensible than to fall for James's nauseating flirtations. Why - oh why - can authors no longer write leading male characters that are honorable and pleasant to be around?! This seemingly very simple fact made The Body at the Tower a very hard read, and also made it fall short of what it could have been.

Maybe Book 3 will be better?

Overall Rating: JJJ

Other Books in The Agency Series:
1)A Spy in the House
2)The Body at the Tower

3)The Traitor in the Tunnel

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Princess of Glass Review (Jessica Day George)

Having once been cursed to dance every night with her sisters, Princess Poppy has vowed never again to put on a pair of dancing slippers. Which is why she's reluctant to participate in the royal exchange program that her father and some of their neighbor kings have cooked up.

Life in far-off Breton isn't so bad, not when there's money to be won playing cards and a handsome prince promising friendship . . . and maybe something more. But when a hapless servant named Eleanora enters the picture and sets her sights on the prince, too, which girl will win his heart? And who is behind the magnificent gowns and slippers that the penniless Eleanora has been wearing to the balls? Only Princess Poppy can see through the magic that holds the rest of the kingdom in its spell. And having fought against one curse before, she's just the girl to take on another!

Once more, I am impressed with Jessica Day George's male and female characters. It is a great mark of talent nowadays when an Author can write interactions between male and female characters (especially ones that are meant to end up together in the end) without making it annoying. I absolutely hate these "playful" banters - and I'm talking about the ones where the girl pretends to be all tough and hate the man, when in fact she is sweet on him, and visa-versa. It is so modern and overall aggravating. It isn't funny; not in my opinion, and Authors do it so much now, which results in the unfortunate occurrence of both characters being irritating beyond words.

Christian, Prince of the Danelaw, is not irritating. He isn't Galen from Princess of the Midnight Ball, but he is just as likable. The Reader cannot help but feel sorry for him when he falls under the spell. You don't want to see him acting stupid, and you end up feeling embarrassed for him (and Dickon) when he makes a fool of himself. But poor Christian isn't to blame, and he struggles valiantly and realizes fairly quickly that something is not right.

Poppy is spirited and not the most ladylike woman around, but she isn't what my sister and I call a "leather-bra-wearing-kick-butt-I-can-do-absolutely-anything-despite-my-noodle-arms" girl who stomps around in clothes that will produce uncouth comments from males, but gets mad when this happens, but is secretly flirting in her anger. She is tough, sharp-witted, and certainly isn't afraid of getting her hands dirty. She does what needs to be done, and yet retains the attitude and grace a woman of late eighteen to early nineteenth-century would have. She's practical, and I absolutely love practical-minded female characters.

The story itself was intriguing. I have read many variations of Cinderella, and this was one of the best. Cinderella - or Ella, as she is usually called in variations - was always the focus of the story, and portrayed as the absolute victim. This one portrayed things a little differently, and I actually didn't like her at first. Even when it is revealed that she is, overall, a victim, she isn't the strong-willed girl most Authors like to see her as, but shy and frightened. It was a very interesting version to read, and in some ways it is my favorite.

I rather hope Jessica Day George writes more stories with the twelve princesses from Princess of the Midnight Ball. I would like to know what happens to the others, and I'm certain there are plenty of fairy tales for Jessica Day George to build around. I'm certainly adding this one along with its companion to my collection.
Star Rating: 5/5 (this book was amazing)

Read Hazel West's review here!

Others in This Series:
1)Princess of the Midnight Ball
2)Princess of Glass

3)Princess of the Silver Woods

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Inside Story Review (Michael Buckley)

Sabrina and Daphne Grimm have studied hundreds of fairy tales as part of their family business, but they never thought they'd actually be in one. And yet that's exactly what happens when they follow the diabolical Master of the Scarlet Hand into the Book of Everafter - a mysterious tome in which copies of the world's fairy tales live out their stories over and over again. The Grimms must track down the Master while avoiding the Book's tyrannical Editor, who is devoted to keeping the stories on track, and his army of story-gobbling revisers. In the Book of Everafter, stories can be rewritten and destinies changed, which is why Sabrina and Daphne must find the Master before he can alter his fate - and the fate of the whole world.

I've found this series funny and one of the cleverest "retellings" I've read in a long time. Most of the characters are annoying, especially Sabrina, but if you are a fan of fairy tales and like to read comedies based on them, then you can ignore these annoyances. Daphne is awesome, and Sabrina does get a little better after . . . five or six books. And the series definitely keeps you guessing once the main plot is introduced (which doesn't take long). That said, let us turn our attention to Book Eight.

I didn't hold too much hope for this one. Eight books is a lot, and authors can make fun of fairy tales for only so long. After reading Book Seven - The Everafter War - I was a little tired of them and dearly wishing Michael Buckley would stop, even though I was greatly impressed with Book Seven's twisty and unexpected ending. Who would have ever guessed that he would turn out to be the Master? I'm glad it took Mr. Buckley a year to write The Inside Story, otherwise I might have found this one tedious. But the rest did my perspective good, and even so there is no denying that this one was entertaining.

As an author, I view characters in a much different manner than your day-to-day bookworm. They can be, and usually are, as real to me as any friend. They have their personalities, desires, bad days, and undying loyalty (or clever evilness, depending on what sort of character they are). An author may think they control their characters' fates, but meddle with their wishes too much and the characters may rebel. It is because of this that I found the situations involving the Editor and the characters in the Book of Everafter so hilarious and rather relate-able (in a sense). The Editor thought he controlled the characters; he revised and revised as much as he wanted in order to keep the stories on track, but in the end some of the characters rebel and he has a hard time keeping them from killing him. In reality, rebellious characters won't kill you (not usually), but they will leave your service, giving you nothing but an empty shell with their name. And trust me - readers notice when this happens.

Over all, this was a fun adventure - following Sabrina and Daphne through various familiar fairy tales and seeing how they messed them up. A safe "what-if" scenario. I particularly liked what Michael Buckley did with the Snow White story. He introduces a concept that Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs wasn't always like it is now; that it was once a very dark, depressing, and dramatic story that was too dangerous to be kept that way, and it had to be revised. But the dangerous element could not simply be wiped away - it is still out there, desiring to be free.

Fans of the The Sisters Grimm won't be disappointed. Especially with the hilarious situation between Puck and Sabrina, and the surprising end (though not nearly as surprising as The Everafter War). My only hope is that Michael Buckley will not drag this series out to a point where people just get sick to the teeth of it and quit. Buckley can get by with at least one more installment - possibly two more, but it will be stretching it. Any more and he will be hitting the dangerous zone.
Star Rating: 3/5 (liked it)

Others in The Sisters Grimm Series:
1)The Fairy-Tale Detectives
2)The Unusual Suspects
3)The Problem Child
4)Once Upon a Crime
5)Magic and Other Misdemeanors
6)Tales from the Hood
7)The Everafter War
8)The Inside Story

9)The Council of Mirrors

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Princess and the Hound Review (Mette Ivie Harrison)

Prince George, heir to the kingdom of Kendel, was born with the gift of animal-magic - being able to speak with animals in their own language. It is a gift that he inherited from his mother. But animal-magic is feared and those with its gift are guaranteed to face a cruel fate if anyone finds out. Even the prince. So George has had to keep it secret his entire life, and when the queen's animal-magic ultimately leads to her own death, George comes to fear his gift. He grows up as a prince ought, but his fear has made him shy away from other people - and love. Betrayal is a bittersweet drink - one he never wants to experience again.

But when George travels to the neighboring kingdom of Sarrey to meet his fiancee, the Princess Beatrice, he discovers that perhaps love isn't a thing to fear. And maybe he can trust someone with his secret. After all, it is clear that Beatrice has her own secrets. Anyone could guess that with her hound . . .

It took me a while to become interested in the story. The first few chapters mainly focus on George's childhood, and while I first disliked these chapters, I now realize that perhaps I would not have come to care for George as I do if the Author hadn't put them in. Besides, certain events in his childhood are very important to the story's plot. What ranks this book as being higher up on my list than I thought it would be was the fact that I was stumped for quite some time as to what the plot-twist would turn out to be. I only figured out maybe two pages away from when it is revealed.

I have nothing negative to say about the characters. Beatrice is a strong-willed young woman whose pride and coldness sometimes got on my nerves, but I could not help but like her. She had a reason for being so cold and I'm not one to chide anyone's pride, having that fault myself. I certainly thought her treatment towards George sometimes unwarranted, but that was only because I, as the Reader, knew him, whereas Beatrice, another character, hadn't a clue that George was someone she could trust.

The writing itself is very Mette Ivie Harrison. Rich and vivid, without being too movie-ish. Actually, I don't think this book would translate into a very good movie. It would certainly be an odd one. And it is my opinion that if writing doesn't translate into a good movie without making major changes, chances are the Author did a good job writing it.

The romantic aspect of the story is perhaps a little disappointing. It doesn't take George long to decide that his feelings for Beatrice extend beyond friendship. However, Beatrice is much more guarded with her feelings and rather than saying, "I love you, George," she says, "I believe that I can learn to love you." Definitely a more realistic reaction, considering they hardly know each other, but somehow disappointing nonetheless, and the Reader is left feeling very sorry for George, who so obviously does love her. Still, Beatrice is not cruel and comes to no longer view their marriage as merely an alliance between the two kingdoms. And she does make an effort to learn to love him, and it is left to the Reader to assume that she comes to love him deeply. Her unwillingness to simply fall in love with someone she hardly knows certainly shows intelligence on her part. ;)

I don't think The Princess and the Hound needs a sequel, but I'll read it anyway. From what I have heard of The Princess and Bear, it isn't exactly a sequel. The series may someday find its way into my collection.

Star Rating: 3/5 (liked it)

Others in This Trilogy:
1)The Princess and the Hound
2)The Princess and the Bear
3)The Princess and the Snowbird

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Silver Blade Review (Sally Gardner)

As the French Revolution descends into nightmare, Yann Margoza, a mysterious and extraordinary practitioner of magic, uses his skills to confound his enemies and help spirit refugees out of France. If he fails, their fates lie under the blade of the guillotine. But the question of Yann's true identity and the kidnapping of his true love, Sido, expose him to dangers that threaten to destroy him. With Paris on the verge of collapse, Yann must summon all his strength and courage to rescue his beloved Sido and outwit the devil's own - this time for good.

I will start off by saying that I like The Red Necklace better than its sequel. Sally Gardner likes weird in her stories, and The Silver Blade is certainly no exception. I thought the first one was weird! Well, the weirdness factor is vamped up for this two-book series's finale. While the weirdness in The Red Necklace didn't detract from the story, it did in this one because it was so embedded in the storyline.

Kalliovski isn't dead, naturally. The devil has claimed his soul and brought him to life. Whether or not that is literal, I am still not entirely certain, but judging by how Kalliovski meets his demise in The Silver Blade, I am thinking that it is meant literally. I mean, Kalliovski can't go out in the daylight (no, he isn't a vampire), he lives in the catacombs, and he has one skeletal hand. And I don't mean a hand so withered it looks skeletal - it really is just bone. At least, I think . . .

That is one problem - and appeal - to Sally Gardner's stories. You are never certain whether something is meant to be taken literally or if it just figurative; if it is the character's way of expressing how they viewed something, or if that is really what they saw. It is hard to put into words what exactly I mean. It is like there is a sheer screen laid over the true image, and if you look closely you can see a ghastly rendition of what is being said. It can be very frustrating in her stories, but it is also, oddly enough, what I like about them.

That said, I must reassure you that all of the characters are just as likable, sensible, and good as they are in The Red Necklace. Yann and Sido's love for each other is given more of a forefront, but it isn't at all annoying. Not a slushy young romance that is common among Young Adult authors. Yann does react violently and irrationally to the news that he is Kalliovski's son, and I was worried that Sally Gardner would pull in the annoyingly common theme of the hero fighting against his becoming like his father. Give that twist a rest already!! But that didn't happen, and I was immensely pleased. Yann took a week to recover from the shock of it, which is covered in one swift chapter. He forgives and moves on, though isn't quite as rational in his escapades as he once was. Still, Yann does in the end act rationally. And I cannot sing Sido's praises enough. What an intelligent girl! She has a good, strong head on her shoulders.

I wish Sally Gardner had laid off on the weirdness. I absolutely loved Kalliovski as a villain in The Red Necklace. He was creepy, he was intelligent, he was completely cloaked in mystery, and he had things in control. But the magic and supernatural aspects of The Silver Blade really take away from Kalliovski. I could no long respect him as an intelligent villain. He was no more scary than your common bad wizard sitting in a tower all day. About the only thing that kept him even a little bit on the creepy villain side was his flair for the rich and immaculate dress. I was sorely disappointed in the sort of villain Kalliovski had sunk to. Really, dear Count, I expected much better of you!

The Silver Blade by Sally Gardner will find its way into my collection, if only because I liked The Red Necklace and don't like having incomplete series.
Star Rating: 3/4 (liked it)

Others in This Series:
1)The Red Necklace
2)The Silver Blade

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Crocodile Tears Review (Anthony Horowitz)

For a year of Alex Rider's young fourteen-year-old life, he has more or less unwillingly worked for MI6. He's been shot, nearly drowned, and almost met an untimely demise in more ways than can be counted. He's had seven successful missions. But now he's turned his back on MI6. All Alex wants is to return to a normal teenage life.

But danger just finds Alex, and when a New Year celebration ends in a car crash, Alex starts to suspect that his normal life is going to have to wait. One thing leads to another when a journalist appears on Alex's front doorstep, and he soon finds himself on another mission for MI6: break into the computer of one Leonard Straik of Greenfields bio research center and download its contents. But things are far deeper than even Alan Blunt - head of MI6 - could have guessed, and Alex is right in the middle of it.

I've looked for a good spy series and I was simply delighted when I finally picked up the Alex Rider series. Seven books later and I was dearly wishing that poor Alex would get a break from everything. I was glad when Anthony Horowitz ended the series with Snakehead.

But then this one came out and I was a little worried. Series, even good ones, can carry on only for so long! From the very beginning, Crocodile Tears was not my favorite, but I wasn't disappointed, either. The very first page contained the action and sinisterness that is so trademark of Alex Rider, and it didn't stop. I wouldn't say that I was ever held in suspense (because the books are pretty predictable), but I was certainly interested.

Alex himself is a good character. I don't say that often about teenage boy characters - they are almost always as annoying as real-life adolescent males. But I liked Alex from the start and still do. I felt terrible that Alex was once more wrenched from his life. And while I was never in alarm for his life, I felt sorry every time he was injured.

This wasn't Anthony Horowitz's masterpiece. Those dealing with Scorpia are my favorites. But after a rest, this was a good comeback. His writing style was still very much the same - movie-ish. Normally I don't like that, but for a series like Alex Rider, it works. He still went into great mechanical detail, showing off the research he did, knowing full well that his Readers don't know what he's talking about, but hey! It sounds cool and we Readers get the general gist of it, right?

There was one scene, though, that sent chills up my spine: Chapter 9 - Invisible Man. When MI6 deals with the journalist. It did creep me out and it was my favorite chapter. I re-read it when I finished the book. It is like a nightmare. What would it be like if it happened to you?? Creepy!!

Two thumbs up for Crocodile Tears. Normally the 8th book in a series doesn't turn out well, but Anthony Horowitz was successful in his comeback. However, I do hope he gives poor Alex a rest sometime soon in the future.

Star Rating: 4/5 (really liked it)

Others in the Alex Rider Series:
2)Point Blank
3)Skeleton Key
4)Eagle Strike
6)Ark Angel
8)Crocodile Tears
9)Scorpia Rising

Friday, August 13, 2010

Princess of the Midnight Ball Review (Jessica Day George)

Princess Rose is the eldest of twelve sisters condemned to dance each night for the wicked King Under Stone in his palace deep within the earth. It is a curse that has haunted the girls since their birth - and only death will set them free.

Then Rose meets Galen, a young soldier-turned-gardener with an eye for adventure and a resolve that matches her own, and freedom suddenly begins to seem a little less impossible. To defeat the king and his dark court, they will need one invisibility cloak, a black wool chain knit with enchanted silver needles, and that most critical ingredient of all - true love.

I've read a lot of renditions of The Twelve Dancing Princess. Some of them have been good, some of them have been bad. I was expecting this one to be just as moderately-good as the rest. I was very pleasantly surprised. I know I have said this in previous reviews: I tip my hat to authors who can make me fall in love with their characters. Orchid, Poppy, Lily - all twelve princesses I quickly began to regard as my own sisters, the younger ones especially. And Galen is the exact sort of brother I would love to have. I cared about Rose and Galen's fate more than I have cared about characters in a long time.

Aside from the characters, Jessica Day George's setting for the story was brilliant. What I love second to stories based in the actual world? Stories that are based in a world that is heavily based off of our world and a specific time period. In this case, early nineteenth-century Germany. I loved it. I also loved her "spins" on the other countries - Spania (Spain), Roma (presumably Italy, since Rome is, in Italian, called Roma), etcetera. She even went so far as to put the Catholic church into the story, though never addressed it as such. Had it not been for the names of places, I might have thought I was reading one of those "historical fantasy" books. You know - that new genre for writers to take a historical era from the real world and throw in magic.

I was completely swept away by Princess of the Midnight Ball.
I knew how the story would end - goodness, how many times have I read The Twelve Dancing Princesses?? But I still found myself in complete suspense, gasping out loud and biting my nails in concern. And of course, when the end came, I gave a huge sigh of relief and closed the cover with a contented smile. After reading Mira, Mirror, which had a thoroughly unsatisfying ending, this book was perfect.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George will definitely be added to my shelves.

Star Rating: 5/5 (this book was amazing)

Read Hazel West's review here!

Others in This Series:
1)Princess of the Midnight Ball
2)Princess of Glass
3)Princess of the Silver Woods

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mira, Mirror Review (Mette Ivie Harrison)

Abandoned by her parents, then apprenticed to a witch, Mira is captivated by the witch's other young apprentice, who adopts her as a sister. Mira would do anything for this beautiful girl - and that's just what her sister bargains for. With the utterance of a simple spell, Mira's body is turned to wood, her face to glass. Her only power is the magic her sister gives her, the power to make her sister a queen.

But one day the sister disappears, and where one fairy tale ends, another begins. Mira is left to gather dust until a new hope arrives - a peasant girl with troubles of her own. Soon the two are on their way to find a new kind of magic, a magic that gives life instead of taking it.

Mira, Mirror wasn't as good as I was anticipating. I expected a comedy, but it is actually pretty dark. It took me a little while to get used to it, and in the end I cannot entirely say that I liked it. Mira is very hard to like. The Reader isn't given much of an opportunity in the beginning to "connect" with Mira before she is turned into a mirror, and therefore it is hard to appreciate and sympathize with her new hardened personality that is almost as uncaring as her sister's.

But the story isn't really about Mira. It is more about the two girls - Ivana and Talia - whom Mira more or less inadvertently unites. Ivana, at first, got a little on my nerves, though I think it was mostly because I was already tired of Mira and took some of that frustration out on Ivana. I felt bad about it later. But Talia is completely likable, and though a little foolish in some of her choices, she quickly learns her lessons and moves on.

The ending was a great disappointment. It felt like it was lacking. If Mette Ivie Harrison had included an epilogue, I would have been satisfied. But the way it ended left questions. What happens to Mira now; to the Duke and Ivana? Does Talia convince her father that her plans for the future are good ones? None of that is answered, and I was very disappointed, because the book really does keep the Reader in suspense.

Mira, Mirror by Mette Ivie Harrison, while mostly an interesting and enjoyable read, won't be added to my collection.
Star Rating: 3/5 (liked it)

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Red Necklace Review (Sally Gardner)

The winds of change are blowing through Paris in 1789, both for France and a mysterious Gypsy boy named Yann Margoza. He was born with a gift for knowing what people are thinking and an uncanny ability to throw his voice, skills he uses while working for a foolish magician. On the night of a special performance, he meets shy Sido, a lonely heiress with a cold-hearted father. Though they have the shortest of conversations, an attachment is born that will influence both of their paths. While revolution is afoot in France, Sido is being used as the pawn of the fearful villain Count Kalliovski. Some have instead called him the devil; and only Yann, for Sido's sake, will dare to oppose him.

I had my doubts about this book when I first picked it up. I saw it as one that could have the potential of swinging in either direction - and violently. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was absolutely captivated by it. Sally Gardner's style of writing for this particular book struck an immediate interest in me. It was very quaint and classic, but hilarious. I laughed myself silly over the passages concerning the Marquis de Villeduval and his extravagances.

Concerning the characters themselves, I have little negative comments. I was concerned that Sido would be like every other aristocratic-bred heroine out there - hard to like and stubborn to an annoying degree. Sido wasn't. She was intelligent, stubborn to a good degree, and trusting of those who ought to be trusted. What bad circumstances happened to her were not brought on by her own stupidity, but simply bad circumstances. My heart went out to her completely. Yann, too, is a very likable character, and not the typical modern adolescent hero who cannot stop thinking about the heroine. Yann does think about Sido, but in terms of rescuing her, not how smooth her skin is. Those sort of thoughts are always covered in the quickest and most fleeting manner, which is pleasing. And Count Kalliovski gave me tingles up my spine, which usually means that he is an excellent villain.

However, Sally Gardner likes to dabble in the strange. Her stories can seem very normal, but then there will be an element that will make you pause and wonder, "Where did she get that?!" Yann reading minds and Tetu the dwarf being able to move objects without touching them were acceptable. Strange, but acceptable. But then things became stranger when Yann visits a group of Gypsies in London, and then later breaks into Kalliovski's townhouse. That is when it got really strange. It didn't entirely ruin my high opinion of the story itself, but it certainly puzzled me. It wasn't entirely out of place, but then again, it didn't fit in. It was just strange. Thankfully, such parts are not common in The Red Necklace.

I look forward to reading its sequel - The Silver Blade.

Star Rating: 4/5 (really liked it)

Others in This Series:
1)The Red Necklace
2)The Silver Blade

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye Review (Nancy Springer)

Synopsis: As Enola Holmes - much younger sister of Sherlock Holmes - searches for the missing Lady Blanchefleur del Campo, she discovers that Sherlock is just as diligently searching for Enola herself - and this time he really needs to catch her! He is in possession of a most peculiar package, a message from their long-lost mother that only Enola can decipher. Sherlock, along with their fastidious brother Mycroft, must follow Enola into the reeking tunnels of London's dark underbelly as they solve a triple mystery: What had happened to their mother? And to Lady Blanchefleur? And what does either have to do with Mycroft, who holds Enola's future in his ever-so-proper hands?

Review: I have been an avid reader of Nancy Springer's Enola Holmes series, and I have enjoyed every single one of them - even if her rendition of Watson and Holmes are not entirely accurate. Enola is a hilarious and quite engaging character - one that is easily liked. She is a bit naive and follows her instincts often without prior planning, but she is able to scrape her way out of predicaments that keep the Reader from getting frustrated with her. I've found Nancy Springer's series to be full of rich Victorian-England facts that - thanks to research on my own part - I feel that I can trust entirely to being accurate.

That said, I hate to confess that The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye was not my favorite. It wasn't necessarily a disappointing ending, and everything wrapped itself up well. But it was lacking in the general feel of the rest of the books. The codes, clues, chases, disguises . . . I liked that Nancy Springer revisited characters and Enola's roles - sort of like a trip down Memory Lane. It made me feel content. But all of the other books have held a sort of darkness to them. The Reader could feel the cold, clammy streets of the East End, the panic and heartthrob as the garrotter tightened the cord about one's neck. I didn't get that feeling at all in this one. Dark London was not made present, and that has partly been the very essence of Enola Holmes. Nancy Springer has presented the beautiful and the dark of London in every story in new and interesting ways, but the series's conclusion . . .

Still, Nancy Springer could have given a very unsatisfactory ending, and if all I have to complain about is that, then I am satisfied. I wish the series weren't done, but at least it went out well.

Overall Rating: |||||

Sherlockian Rating: |||||

Others in the Enola Holmes Mystery Series:
1)The Case of the Missing Marquess
2)The Case of the Left-Handed Lady
3)The Case of the Bizarre Bouquet
4)The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan
5)The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline
6)The Case of the Gypsy Good-bye

Monday, August 2, 2010

Sphinx's Princess Review (Esther Friesner)

Nefertiti is a dutiful, docile child, whose only interests, aside from the normal pursuits of a commoner's daughter, are music and dance. But an encounter with a scribe arouses secret lessons in the arts of reading and writing. As she enters her teen years, her growing beauty and her developing singing and dancing skills attract attention near and far. And when her aunt, Queen Tiye, summons Nefertiti's family, her life takes an unexpected turn. The strong-willed queen plans to use Nefertiti as a pawn in her desire for power. Even though she must obey the queen and live in the royal palace at Thebes, Nefertiti's spirit and mind will not rest. She continues to challenge herself, learning how to drive a chariot and hunt with a bow. With control of a kingdom at stake and threats at every turn, Nefertiti is forced to make choices and stand up for her beliefs in ways she never imagined.

I absolutely love stories about Ancient Egypt. At the age of seven, I gobbled up every book the local library afforded on Egyptian history. I became an expert on the Egyptian mummification process at ten years of age - that is still an accomplishment that I am especially proud of, though I confess that I am a tad bit rusty on the process now; it's been years since I have reviewed. When I went to the Field Museum in Chicago many years back, I only cared about the Egyptian display and practically went bonkers when my friend's mom surprised us with tickets to the King Tut exhibit that was visiting then. I cannot describe the untold joy I had rushing from one display case to the other, babbling on and on about the artifact therein and the theories surrounding this city and that pharaoh. I had employees asking me if I would care to come work there someday (my reply was a yearning yes, but sadly I don't think I could live in Chicago even for my beloved mummies). I am not entirely certain why Ancient Egypt held such allurement for me, but I was fascinated by them even more than the Romans - which is saying a lot for me. I wanted to be a professional Egyptologist, until I found out that being one mostly meant teaching at a university, rather than gallivanting off to Egypt to visit the pyramids and Giza Plateau. I ought to have been born in a year that would have permitted me to be in my early 20s when King Tut was discovered.

That said, let me now review this book. Nefertiti is one of the royal Egyptian figures that I used to read about the most, but I have regrettably forgotten most of what I read about her over the years. Nevertheless, I found Esther Friesner's take on how Nefertiti came to power fairly compelling. Her writing style captured the richness of Egypt in a way that I have not encountered in fiction for a while. I cared for Nefertiti, her little slave girl Berett, and Henenu - who was my favorite. At times, I even found myself caring for the minor characters just as much as for the major - sometimes even more so. What an accomplishment when an author can do that!!

The story itself is intriguing. At first, I found that to get to the actual storyline took a little while, and I was slightly bored in the beginning. I wouldn't ask nor advise Esther Friesner to cut out these passages, because they were certainly important for laying out the groundwork for the story. I imagine that when I go back to read Sphinx's Princess again, I won't find the passages so boring. Sometimes it's just the mood I am in.

I especially liked how Esther Friesner blended in Egyptian beliefs without giving the story a supernatural or fantastical feeling to it. The only thing that approaches fantasy is the dreams Nefertiti sometimes has. The way she included the Egyptian religion felt very authentic, unlike most authors, who somehow end up muddling the whole affair. I have always had trouble keeping the different Egyptian gods and goddesses straight in my head, but Ms. Friesner actually helped me remember who was who and what they were in control of. I am glad that I am not Catholic, for it must be just as confusing keeping all of the saints in order. ;)

I enjoyed Sphinx's Princess and look forward to reading the sequel - Sphinx's Queen. I also need to read Esther Friesner's two books about Helen of Troy - Nobody's Princess and Nobody's Prize. Unfortunately, the library doesn't have them . . .

Star Rating: 4/5 (really liked it)

Others in This Series:
1)Sphinx's Princess
2)Sphinx's Queen

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Dinotopia Lost Review (Alan Dean Foster)

In all Dinotopia's countless centuries, rarely has a vessel reached her peaceful shores except as a splintered wreck, until a mighty, storm-swollen breaker hurls the pirate ship Condor beyond the treacherous fangs of the coral reefs that surround the island. When marauding pirates capture a family of Struthiomimuses, young skybax rider Will Denison leads a tiny band of rescuers on a pursuit that takes them into the perilous Rainy Basin, where tryannosaurs still stalk the steamy forest long abandoned by civilized Dinotopians. Doggedly tracking the invaders, Will and his companions, Chaz and Keelk, must face many dangers - both old and new.

As a child, I loved Dinotopia stories! All of them involved exploring and danger and adventure. More often than not, I found myself more attached to the saurian characters than the human. I was first interested in Dinotopia when I saw the Hallmark mini-series. It wasn't until one of my friend's loaned me The World Beneath and A Land Apart from Time that I realized how much the TV series distorted James Gurney's original stories - a fact that still irks me to no end. I was sorry that James Gurney hadn't written more Dinotopia books - his were my favorites, - but I gobbled up the paperback series very quickly, as well as the two books Alan Dean Foster has written - The Hand of Dinotopia and now Dinotopia Lost. The only Dinotopia book I haven't read is First Flight - which is, unfortunately, extremely difficult to gets one's hands on because it is out of print.

Dinotopia Lost wasn't entirely a letdown. It had the same sense of adventure and exploration. Even though these stories take place in a utopian society, the villains always get their comeuppance. Their demise is rarely as satisfying as it could be, but at least people still die. And one cannot have a good adventure story without some characters dying. What I have always mainly loved about these stories is the era. I love the fact that James Gurney chose the 19th century - and added a great deal of that same flavor to Dinotopia itself. I doubt I would have been as enchanted with his world if he had done otherwise.

But reading these stories now, at an older age, is interesting. I have a different perspective on it. I still love the adventure, the humor, and of course Will Denison (I wish this particular one had had Sylvia in it; she's a favorite as well). But when I was little, I was able to block out the flaws in basing stories in a utopian society and just enjoy the adventure. Now, it was more difficult. I couldn't ignore Alan Dean Foster's spouting of utopian ideals - aspects that always made the TV mini-series nauseating to me, even as a child - and the overall sense that he was disparaging the world. I tried to become drawn into the story, but with every phrase consisting of "in harmony with" or "helping each other," I could not help but repeat silently to myself, Utopian societies just don't work. History has proven that. The nice thing about James Gurney's Dinotopia books is he spends more time concentrating on the adventure and exploration than ideals.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the only thing that irritated me about Dinotopia Lost. There are pirates. Now, pirates were in existence in some parts of world during the 19th century - pirates still exist to this day. But the pirates in this story seemed as if they belonged more in some poorly-written swashbuckler, whose author (it is painfully obvious) has spent all of his life in a landlocked location and has gained all of his "sea knowledge" from equally-inaccurate sources like Pirates of the Caribbean.

I will always enjoy Dinotopia stories to an extent - they were a part of my childhood. But reading ones that are written by someone else other than James Gurney are not as enjoyable now as it once was. Still, I am pleased to at last be able to say that I have read all Dinotopia books, save one.

Star Rating: 3/5 (liked it)

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Camilla Review (Madeleine L'Engle)

Synopsis: Fifteen-year-old Camilla Dickinson has led a sheltered life on the Upper East Side of New York City with her architect father and stunningly beautiful mother. But this winter the security she has always known is vanishing as her parents' marriage begins to crumble - and Camilla is caught in the middle. She finds a way to escape her troubles when she meets Frank, her best friend's brother, who is someone she can really talk to about life, death, God, and her dream of becoming an astronomer. As Camilla and Frank roam the streets together lost in conversation and he introduces her to people who are so different from those she has met before, he opens her eyes to worlds beyond her own, almost as if he were a telescope helping her to see the stars.

Review: I can see this book being enjoyed by certain people, but for me it was a waste of time. I don't care for coming-of-age stories and families being ripped apart by cheating parents and divorces. I don't care to read about adolescent romances or the pubescent thoughts of girls - or especially boys. I simply don't care. It doesn't make for an interesting story and it lacks plotline and villains. It also leaves one feeling depressed, because no one - once they have gone through puberty - desires to read about it and bring all of those horrid memories back again.

It was depressing. Utterly depressing! I like family dramas, but only when they involve nations going to war like the Medieval and Elizabethan eras. Or Mongolian tribal fights. Not when it is about day-to-day family dramas involving simply messed-up people who care only for themselves and not their children. Life is too full of such situations. I certainly cannot see how someone who has come from that background would enjoy reading a book about it! I don't come from such a situation and I didn't enjoy Camilla. The only redeeming quality about this story was the era that it takes place in. But that's it.

I won't be buying Camilla by Madeleine L'Engle. It wasn't poorly written - though whenever Camilla's mother's dialogue came up, I groaned. Very choppy and annoying to read, - but the storyline was uninteresting, depressing, and the ending extremely abrupt - as endings for stories with no storyline tend to be.

Overall Rating: KK