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

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Alphabet of Dreams Review (Susan Fletcher)

Synopsis: Mitra and her little brother, Babak, are beggars in the city of Rhagae, scratching out a living as best as they can with what they can beg for - or steal. But Mitra burns with hope and ambition, for she and Babak are not what they seem. They are of royal blood, but their father's ill-fated plot against the evil tyrant, King Phraates, has resulted in their father's death and their exile. Now disguised as a boy, Mitra has never given up believing they can rejoin what is left of their family and regain their rightful standing in the world.

Then they discover that Babak has a strange gift: If he sleeps with an item belonging to someone, he can know that person's dreams. Mitra believes that they can use this gift to find passage back to the city of Palmyra and their remaining kinsmen. But soon Babak and his abilities come to the attention of a powerful Magus - one who has read portents in the stars of the coming of a new king and the dawn of a new age. Soon Mitra and Babak find themselves on the road to Bethlehem.

I really was not expecting this story to be very good. I was expecting it to be downright weird. Twists on the Christmas story tend to be. But Alphabet of Dreams actually wasn't! Granted, it did have a small sense of weirdness - any story having to do with dreams will. But it tied in well with the Magi and the journey to Bethlehem. I was pleasantly surprised.

Mitra is a character that one can get frustrated with very easily. She's a good character and cares for Babak in a sisterly fashion that would make anyone like her. But her constant desire to escape and go to Palmyra grows annoying. She's bad at planning escapes and so it always goes wrong for her. She's one of those characters that always makes the same stupid mistake and never learns. But apart from that, Mitra isn't entirely unbearable. And Babak is just too adorable and sweet.

My favorite character, though, was Giv. The exact moment he stepped into the story, I liked him. Giv conserves his words, watches out for Mitra and Babak diligently, and is just overall an awesome character. I really liked him; the exact sort of character I absolutely love to put into my own stories. As a Reader, I trusted him right off and was irritated with Mitra for not feeling the same way. Giv made the story worth reading.

Susan Fletcher's writing style really shone in this story. The only irritating aspect in it is a very minor one. There was one character - Koosha - who is fairly minor and he's not in it for long. But he often uses the word "savage" to describe something awesome. Like "savagely soft wool." It felt like a replacement for the modern phrase "wickedly good." It felt very out of place. But, again, Koosha isn't in the story much, so it's a minor annoyance.

Overall Rating: {{{{