Sunday, January 30, 2011

Review: Nobody's Prize - Esther Friesner

Synopsis: Young Helen of Sparta is not about to be left behind when her older brothers head off to join the quest for the Golden Fleece - why should boys get to have all the fun? Accompanied by her friend, the ex-slave Milo, and disguised as a boy herself, Helen sets out to join the crew of heroes aboard the fabled ship the Argo. But even with the best-laid plans, it takes all of Helen's wits, plus a favor or two, for their voyage to begin - a voyage that will bring many changes for our determined heroine.
Helen quickly faces all sorts of danger and intrigue. Not only does she have to avoid her brothers' detection, a devastatingly handsome boy catches her eye and Hercules falls in love with her boy-self. There are battles to be fought, as well as an encounter with a terrifying murderous princess. But that's only the beginning! With her beauty blossoming, Helen's journey takes her beyond the mythology of the Golden Fleece to Athens, where her very future as Queen of Sparta is threatened.

Review: This had more of a definite storyline than Nobody's Princess, and it was every bit as good. Helen continues to be a good, properly strong female heroine without being obnoxious and always disparaging against the male gender. I have always been a fan of the myth of the Golden Fleece, so I found this installment particularly fun. Esther Friesner's rendition of Jason was well in keeping with how I always suspected he may be, and her Medea was astounding. She brought new and further life to an already intriguing character; I know that whenever I read about her in the myths again, I will feel more as if I know her.

But mixed in with the adventure, the good characters, and all that, there were some delicate and disturbing content. Hercules really does fall in love with Helen's boy-self Glaucus. Resulting in Hercules's weapons bearer being quite jealous of Helen - yes, his weapons bearer doubles into Hercules's boyfriend as well. Now, I always suspected that Hercules was gay when I read the myths - I suspected that of most of the Greek heroes, except Odysseus, Jason, and Hector (the latter not necessarily a Greek hero, but I always liked him). But it was disturbing to read. Esther Friesner does not carry this to a ridiculous degree, though, and nothing actually happens. The other delicate matter the Author addresses is when Helen transitions from girlhood into womanhood by the arrival of a monthly event which we ladies detest. I'm never one who likes it when an Author brings in such issues into a story - it's invasive, though realistic, but there are some realistic matters that one need not address. One of the attractions of literature is we get a chance to live in a world where daily functions are modestly ignored. But Esther Friesner deals with this issue very delicately, with careful and few words, and it actually does serve to introduce an important plot development.

What I found most disappointing was the end. It isn't abrupt or lacking - nothing like that. But I was sad to discover that the Author gives no explanation as to why it is Helen eventually marries Prince Menelaus. He's featured very briefly and there's no indication that Helen would ever consider him as a husband. I had waited in anticipation for this - what did Helen see in Menelaus that resulted in such an intimate tie? And then nothing.

Still, I will buy Nobody's Prize to add to my collection, and if you enjoyed Nobody's Princess, you'll enjoy this one, too.

Overall Rating: 
Other Books in This Series:
1)Nobody's Princess
2)Nobody's Prize

Friday, January 28, 2011

Review: The End of Time - Avi

Synopsis: After the death of their beloved mentor, Bear, Crispin and Troth are more desperate than ever, wandering the desolate French countryside, where they don't speak the language and know no one. The only hope they cling so is that somehow they can reach Iceland, where Bear had said there were no kings or lords, and where they can live in freedom. Crispin is determined to fulfill this dream, both for himself and to honor Bear's memory. But the road to liberty is filled with danger, betrayal, and loss. Crispin must decide for himself what freedom really means - and how high a price he is willing to pay for it.

Review: The Cross of Lead - the first book in this series - didn't need a sequel, and I still think that. However, its sequels - At the Edge of the World and The End of Time - are just as good as The Cross of Lead. And I get the feeling that this one may have yet another one after it. It doesn't need one, but I have faith that Avi will do a good job, just as he did with the others. Avi is a very talented author. Never have I encountered one who can write so effectively in any genre he wishes - and for all ages. But I'm especially fond of his historical novels.

I don't really have much to say about The End of Time simply because there are no criticisms and no extreme praise that I have not already said. Normally, by the 3rd installment, an adolescent narrator becomes annoying. But Crispin, being thirteen and in general a good boy, is not annoying and I am quite fond of him. I missed Bear in this one, but as an Author, I can appreciate and understand why he had to die. I was sad that Troth left the story fairly early on, but Owen has his own charm and is an acceptable "replacement" - though that doesn't seem the right word, because he isn't a replacement; he's a new character not meant to fill in Troth's role, but just another unfortunate who Crispin meets along the way.

Like the other two, The End of Time is a very quick read, and I think can be enjoyed by any age. What I really like is in some ways each book in this series can almost act as a stand-alone volume, which is nice when one hasn't read the prequels in a while, and doesn't really have time to go back and read them first. If you haven't read At the Edge of the World, then you won't understand the full story behind Troth nor Bear's death. And if you haven't read The Cross of Lead, you won't be able to appreciate the great loss Crispin feels when Bear dies, nor will you understand why Crispin is so desperate for freedom. But the events that take place in either of those do not so heavily influence its successors that you cannot read one without the other.

The Crispin Series is a very good, quick, enjoyable read. The End of Time doesn't need a sequel, but I will not feel dread as I so often do when an Author adds on to a series that really ought to be finished. Indeed, I'll be content whether or not Avi writes another.

Overall Rating: 

Others in the Crispin Series:
1)The Cross of Lead
2)At the Edge of the World
3)The End of Time

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review: The Sherlockian - Graham Moore

Synopsis: December, 1893: Hungry for the latest Sherlock Holmes installment Londoners ripped open their Strand magazines, only to reel in horror. Holmes's creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, had killed their hero off. London spiraled into mourning, with crowds donning black armbands in grief, branding Conan Doyle an assassin, and demanding an explanation. But the cryptic author said nothing.

Eight years later, however, just as abruptly as he had "murdered" Holmes in The Final Problem, Conan Doyle brought him back for a new series of adventures. Again, the author said nothing. After his death, the diary that would have shed light on his mysterious reasons, chronicling this interim period in detail, went missing. In the decades since it has never been found.

Or has it?

January 2010: When Harold White is inducted into the preeminent Sherlock Holmes society, the Baker Street Irregulars, he never imagines he's about to embark on the hunt for the holy grail of Holmesophiles: the missing diary. But when the world's leading Doylean scholar turns up dead in his hotel room, it is Harold - using wisdom gleaned from countless detective stories - who must take up the search, both for the diary and for the killer. In a journey that hurtles from New York to London, and from the present day into the historical milieu of Conan Doyle, Harold delves perilously into the history of Sherlock Holmes and his creator - discovering a secret that proves to be anything but "elementary."

Review: Any mystery fan will love this book, but to truly appreciate it - to truly understand it - you must be a Sherlockian yourself. And I mean a real Sherlockian - not someone who gets all of their information from The Seven Per-Cent Solution and thinks that the Baker Street Irregulars are just okay.

That said, I must now move onto less pleasant things. The Sherlockian is a great mystery, but none of the characters are at all likable - except, maybe, Bram Stoker, but even he has shortcomings that are hard to ignore. I thought that I would like Harold White at first, but as the story wore on, I began to care less and less about what happened to him. This is one of those stories where you read it for the story's sake - not for the characters' sakes. But what really made me decide that I wasn't going to buy it is the language: 1 g--damn, 2 f-words, and 8 s-words. Now, a lot of the language can actually be avoided.

There are two stories going on in The Sherlockian: the mystery Harold White is trying to solve on 2010, and the one Conan Doyle is trying to solve in 1900. The book goes back-and-forth between the two, and you could actually just read Conan Doyle's story and skip the 2010-set story entirely - this is how you avoid the language. The 1900 section only has three bad words - 1 f-word and 2 s-words. And if you do this, you'll be reading the more interesting of the two mysteries. However, you cannot read the 2010-mystery without reading Conan Doyle's story, because it does end up being linked in the end, but not in a way that prevents you from reading Conan Doyle's mystery only. I will warn those of you who have easily-upset stomachs: the last two chapters set in 1900 have some pretty graphic gore.

In short, if I could just buy the chapters set in 1900 and the Author's Note (really, the most interesting part the book; definitely worth reading), then I would buy The Sherlockian. But I can't and there are better mystery stories out there with likable characters and not nearly as much language.

Overall Rating: 

Sherlockian Rating: JJJ

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Review: Erak's Ransom - John Flanagan

Synopsis: What does it mean to earn the Silver Oakleaf? So few men have done so. For Will, a mere boy and apprentice to the most difficult Ranger to please, that symbol of honor has long seemed out of reach. If he is to ever earn it, he must prove himself in ways he never imagined.

Now, in the wake of Araluen's uneasy truce with the raiding Skandians comes word that the Skandian leader, Erak, has been captured by a desert Arridi tribe. The Rangers, along with a small party of warriors, are sent to free him. But the desert is like nothing these warriors have seen before. Strangers in a strange land, they are brutalized by sandstorms, beaten by the unrelenting heat, tricked by one tribe that plays its own rules, and surprisingly befriended by another. Like a mirage, nothing is as it seems. Yet one thing is constant: the bravery of the Rangers.

Review: I am pleased to say that this Ranger's Apprentice installment was almost as good as the first four. Almost. But not quite. Why? Well, for one thing Halt gets married. I just have never seen Halt as the marrying type, let alone having a large wedding with ceremony and a bride-and-groom dance. Yes, it is largely Lady Pauline who insists on the large wedding and whatnot, and though Lady Pauline certainly broaches no argument, I just don't see Halt bending to anyone's will - not even hers - as easily as he does. And then taking up permanent residence in Castle Redmont? I beg to differ with Mr. Flanagan on this: it's not Halt.

Thankfully, though, Halt's wedding mainly serves as a dramatic arrival for Svengal, and the adventure starts. There are a lot of characters toted along on this particular adventure. Cassandra/Evelyn is back (grr), along with Halt, Horace, Svengal, Will, Gilan, Selethen the Arridi, and later Erak. When I first heard about the number, I was worried. There definitely is such a thing as too many characters on one adventure, and it's a very tricky business trying to balance them out both in dialogue and action.

Flanagan did a pretty good job of pulling it off!

Through a series of events that I won't give away, Will is separated from the group, giving a separate adventure to follow (Note: have a glass of water handy; you'll get thirsty reading it). And for the most part, Selethen, Halt, and Gilan are the only ones who talk. Cassandra has very little dialogue, which pleased me immensely - I could forget that she was there! Horace, too, was fairly mute, as was Svengal - it worked. Too much dialogue from lumps like them can be bad. Better for the Reader to pretty much forget that they are there. But the few times that either of these three characters do speak, it doesn't entirely feel as if Flanagan just made them talk so the Reader wouldn't forget about them; their comments were useful to a degree.

What also made this book almost as good as the first four was the lineup of characters. Halt is back to pretty much being Halt, Gilan is back, and of course Will and Tug - all the classics. Horace, too, must be included in this, I suppose, though I still maintain that he's not necessary. But I guess he does no serious harm, either. And the Arridi are just awesome to read about. Not as fascinating and "cool" as the Temuji (hey, they were based off of the Mongols, and sorry, but you cannot get much cooler than that), the Arridi still offer their own interest and uniqueness to the story. What The Sorcerer of the North and The Siege of Macindaw lacked is back in Erak's Ransom.

I hope the others are as good, but I doubt that they are. Still, I will read Book 8 as soon as I can.

Overall Rating: 

Other Books 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

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Review: The Diamond of Darkhold - Jeanne DuPrau

Synopsis: It's been several months since Lina and Doon escaped the dying city of Ember and, along with the rest of their people, joined the town of Sparks. Lina knows they are lucky to be there, but life aboveground is hard. Instead of opening a can for dinner, they must plant and harvest their food. And while there was no sun or moon in Ember's sky, neither was there rain, sleet, or wind. Now, in the middle of their first winter, Lina finds herself feeling homesick for her old city. It's during this dark time that Doon finds an unusual book. Torn up and missing most of its pages, it alludes to a mysterious device, a piece of technology from before the Disaster. Doon becomes convinced that the Builders of Ember meant for them to find the device when they left the city, to help them in their new lives. Together, Lina and Doon must go back underground to retrieve what was lost and bring light to a dark world.

Review: At first I had hopes that this book would prove to be a dark and rather creepy installment. Doon and Lina return to Ember! What has happened to it since then? Who has moved in to claim the ruins after the evacuation? What terrible secrets now lurk in the dark? When Lina and Doon first return to Ember, my hopes seemed to be confirmed - it was eerie, dark, and mysterious. But when Doon meets the new occupants of Ember, my hope soon crumbled into disappointment. There's nothing scary about the Troggs (and no, they are not some strange creature; that's the family name), and nothing terribly mysterious and sinister about the Diamond, either. Jeanne DuPrau had the perfect opportunity to do something similar to The Time Machine - Morlocks and Eloe - and it would have been really good. Had she done something along those lines (not necessarily right along those lines, but something similar), I would have ranked The Diamond of Darkhold every bit as good as The City of Ember.

But The City of Ember - the first book in the Ember Series - is still the best, and The Diamond of Darkhold, while an interesting read, is not necessary and a little boring. A quick read, but sadly lacking. In the end, all people learn to get along and make a better world for themselves, which then prospers and there is no fighting - etcetera. Sorry, but no. Doesn't work that way. Never will - not on this Earth, at least. While I took some small pleasure in reading The People of Sparks, The Prophet of Yonwood (which was a complete disappointment), and now The Diamond of Darkhold, I still maintain that Jeanne DuPrau did not need to write a sequel, let alone three. The City of Ember ends perfectly - let the Readers assume what happens after that.

I'll buy The Diamond of Darkhold simply to complete the series (hate having only two installments in a series), but you would be content to read no further, depending on where you are in the series. If you've just read The City of Ember, I would suggest reading no further. The sequels won't ruin the first book, but you'll be disappointed. If you have read beyond the first book - well, The Diamond of Darkhold is about as disappointing as the others.

Overall Rating: 
Other Books in the Ember Series:
1)The City of Ember
2)The People of Sparks
3)The Prophet of Yonwood

4)The Diamond of Darkhold

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Review: White Heat - K. M. Grant

Synopsis: After escaping the pyre, Raimon has taken the Blue Flame with him into hiding deep within the mountains of the Occitan. Although he longs to follow Yolanda to Paris, where she has been sent to marry Sir Hugh, he must instead fulfill his duty of protecting the Blue Flame and save their beloved country from the advancing forces set on destroying it.

In Paris, Yolanda ignores Sir Hugh's attempts to win her heart, even though she believes Raimon is dead. But as his war train, backed by the French king, heads for the Occitan, she must find a new way to fight for both her country and her own future.

Review: Yes, I know - the cover is horrible, and those of you who know me are probably wondering why I read it. This is one of those cases where you cannot judge the book by its cover - it doesn't do the story justice at all. That said, let me move on to the book itself.

It has been a while since I have read the first book in the Perfect Fire Trilogy called Blue Flame, but even so the characters and events were all fresh enough in my mind to follow White Heat with ease. After all, Blue Flame had an ending that is bloody hard to forget. It took me a little while to get used to the idea once more that a country - the land Amouroix - is in fact the narrator of the story. I know how strange that must sound, but it isn't exactly a continuous narration. Every once in a while the Amorouoix pops smoothly in to reference itself in the first-person form, and then the rest feels like a third-person story. And yet somehow retains the feeling of a first-person narration. The style suits this trilogy perfectly.

It was easy to find characters to hate in Blue Flame. One of K. M. Grant's best writing talents - in my opinion - is being able to create characters that a Reader can so effectively hate. She did it with the De Granville Trilogy and How the Hangman Lost His Heart - if it can truly be said that there is an enemy in the latter. Never have I hated a character so much as the White Wolf - at least, it has been a long time since I have. And Sir Hugh I despised with almost equal violence. At least, in Blue Flame I did. But in White Heat, I couldn't help but feel a little sorry for Sir Hugh, and though I could certainly understand why Raimon hated him, I could also understand Yolanda's slight feeling of duty towards him. Normally I hate it when an Author takes an easy-to-hate character and transforms them into a pitiable, generally good-hearted person. Perhaps because it had been a while since I read Blue Flame that I found the transition so easy, or maybe even then I felt a little sorry for Sir Hugh. Either way, the transition worked.

White Heat's ending is not as climatic and breath-taking as Blue Flame's, but it is still very good, and I am glad that K. M. Grant did not attempt another ending like in the first installment. I look forward to reading Paradise Red. With former enemies now having to come together to protect the Flame and the Occitan, I believe that there will be some interesting occurrences.

Overall Rating: 

Others in the Perfect Fire Trilogy:
1)Blue Flame
2)White Heat
3)Paradise Red

Friday, January 21, 2011

Wind-Farms Pose New Global Threat

By Miss P. Acrimony

All over the world fields and hillsides are blooming with a new kind of flower, ones whose enormous composite petals are open wide to gather the pure power of the wind. Graceful, innovative, and esthetically pleasing, these modern giants wave theirs arms in celebration of a new era of environmental awareness and responsibility, championing mankind's crusade against the imminent horrors of climate change. These marvels of cutting-edge  science represent a bold step towards a healthy relationship between humans and the planet we inhabit.

Or do they? Long touted by the scientific community as the leading solution to the greenhouse gas crisis, many experts now fear that we may have traded the dangers of climate change for another, more sinister threat.

Researchers at the Institute of Geoclimatic Inquiry began monitoring the rate and angle of the earth's rotation on its axis in relation to the gravitational season of windspeed as early as 1971, when noted magnetowindologist M. Herman Gust, PhD Blusterous Studies first postulated that the relationship could be dynamic. In recent years, researchers have recorded a sudden and steady decline in rotational speed of the earth, which has been found to coincide with the growing number of wind farms worldwide. "This development was startling," says Stinify Rearwind, Professor of Windomatics at the Institute of Geoclimatic Inquiry. "But when we began receiving reports of gradually lengthening days from our research stations in the Antarctic, it was indisputable." Similar effects have been reports throughout the Southern hemisphere.

"Global rotational lethargy is to be expected whenever trans-oceanic and polar winds are disrupted," says Dr. Pilidineusian Smith, PhD in Horticultural Physics and Inner-planetary Connectedness, who was the first to suspect that the rise in the global number of wind turbines could be a contributing factor. "Wind turbines are deliberately placed in locations where wind presence is acute, and, taking into account the surface area of the blades and the friction coefficients of their transmissions, the result is that the natural weather systems are obstructed and sometimes redirected by these large turbines. This may sound minute, but the compounded effects could be catastrophic."

Noted meter-rotationspedologist and winner of the 2004 Nobel Pert Prize, Dr. Flimbus Dompton, PhD in Socioclimatology and Enlightenment Studies, and author of the Pullzfinger Prize winner book The Winds We Ignore, agrees. "People must face it: the disruption of our winds can mean dire consequences for life on this planet. The leading experts in this field of study all agree to the indisputability of the relationship between the patterns of global air currents and the combined gyroscopic effect - CGE - they have on the rotation of the earth. The balance is delicate, and heavy spinning objects such as turbine blades are just enough to tip it over the brink of disaster. The effects of the imbalance are already being seen in the disturbed migratory patterns of certain key species of birds and insects. This further compounds the mounting patterns since the breezes caused by the flapping wings of these creatures are no longer being produced at the critical time, location, and rate as they were when migration patterns were normal." Dompton further warns that if awareness to the danger of trans-hemispheric rotational lethargy is not raised then we could expect to see such environmental catastrophes as tectonic storms and reversal of ocean currents within the next forty years. "Communities need to come together to change this," says Dompton.

In response to the mounting evidence, experts have proposed a number of possible solutions to the environmental problems resulting from over-farming of wind, including altering the direction of turbine blade rotations to compensate for trans-hemispheric rotational lethargy. Another proposition put forth by scientists at the University of Technological Technology suggests that the problem could easily be reversed by replacing the towering, multi-million dollar wind turbines with children's plastic pin-wheels, which are lower to the ground and as such are less likely to produce the same trans-hemispheric centrifugal forces. Tina Loopie, president of the Students for Centrifugal Responsibility at UT Tech, believes this to be a
 plausible solution. "Pin wheels spin at a much faster rate than a wind turbine. They require so little wind to run that even the gentle breath of a child can bring them to life. Plus they are easier to manufacture and have a much less exploitative effect on developing countries." She also argues that pin-wheel wind farms would be more in harmony with the natural environment. "They're so pretty and come in so many different colors; they are like flowers, so I think they are a great way to get kids involved and make them to know that they can make a difference," Loopie says. Opponents of this option fear that fields of pin-wheels with brightly colored blades might lead to the confusion of hummingbirds who could mistake them for flowers on their migration routes. Early research at the University of Technological Technology, however, confirms Loopie's theory.

What the future holds for the wind-turbine we once loved cannot be said, but the truth of its impact is obvious. "We have always been so adversarial in our relationship with the planet," says Dr. Flimbus Dompton. "We hope that its on the mend before it is too late for us all."

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review: Nobody's Princess - Esther Friesner

Synopsis: She is beautiful, she is a princess, and Aphrodite is her favorite goddess, but something in Helen of Sparta just itches for more out of life. Unlike her prissy sister, Clytemnestra, she takes no pleasure in weaving and embroidery. And despite what her mother says, she's not even close to being interested in getting married. Instead, she wants to do combat training with her older brothers, go on heroic adventures, and be free to do what she wants and find out who she is. Not one to count on the gods - or her looks - to take care of her, Helen sets out to get what she wants with determination and an attitude. And while it's the attitude that makes Helen a few enemies (such as the self-proclaimed "son of Poseidon," Theseus), it's also what intrigues, charms, and amuses those who become her friends, from the huntress Atalanta to the young priestess who is the Oracle of Delphi.

Review: At first, I was concerned that Helen was going to be the typical man-hating, I-can-do-anything, noodle-arms, flirtatious girl that so often populates modern literature. And I was not certain that I would be able to finish Nobody's Princess. But like Sphinx's Princess and its sequel Sphinx's Queen, Esther Friesner presents a strong female character who displays not the best common sense, but a will of iron and the correct attitude toward a life that tries to dictate how she ought to be. While I found her lack of planning things out, but going "with the flow," irksome, it was pretty much her only annoying trait.

The story itself lacks a main plotline, but rather follows Helen and her two brothers from place-to-place after they have delivered Helen's twin sister safely to her new home, and a main storyline is only revealed at the end. It's good that Esther Friesner wrote a sequel - Nobody's Prize. And since it picks up where Nobody's Princess leaves off, I trust that it will have a main plot. The lack of one in this one, though, isn't as annoying as you might think it. Plenty of interesting things still happen.

Another thing to note - if you are expecting this to be a sort of retelling of The Iliad, it isn't. It takes place way before the whole mess with Prince Paris and the city of Troy. It's a back-story, and it certainly makes me think of Helen differently when I now read The Iliad. I look forward to reading Nobody's Prize.

Overall Rating: 

Others in This Series:
1)Nobody's Princess
2)Nobody's Prize

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Princess and the Snowbird Review (Mette Ivie Harrison)

Synopsis: Liva is the headstrong daughter of the hound and the bear, heiress to all her royal parents' magic and able to transform at will into any animal she wishes.
Jens is an outcast, a boy without magic, determined to make his way in the forest beholden to no one.

Though Liva and Jens are as different as night and day, from the time their paths first cross they are irresistibly drawn to one another. Each wrestles with demons: Liva with the responsibility that comes with the vast magic she's inherited, Jens with the haunting memories he's left behind. Separately, they keep a lookout for each other and for the immense snowbird whose appearances signify a dark event on the horizon.
When a terrible threat surfaces, Liva and Jens set out in an attempt to protect all they hold dear. Much is at stake - for while their failure could spell an end to all magic, their success could bring them together at last.

Review: Like The Princess and the Hound and The Princess and the Bear, this one was an intriguing story with strong, likable characters. Also like The Princess and the Bear, it isn't a stand-alone. It's not quite as necessary to read The Princess and the Bear first as it is to read The Princess and the Hound before The Princess and the Bear, but I would recommend it simply so you can understand some of the back-story that is referenced.

I liked Mette Ivie Harrison's writing style in this one better than the others. There were not as many choppy sentences and things flowed together better. However, The Princess and the Hound is still the superior story, and The Princess and the Bear an even better one than this sequel. The Princess and the Snowbird is shorter, and the storyline sometimes seems to ignore a lot of what occurred in its prequel. Also, a lot of it felt like a loosely-disguised barrage against "humans are destroying the wild; humans just take and never give back" themes. Honestly, such a theme should never be used in a book - especially adventures and romance; it always smacks of personal political opinions of the Author, and never should personal opinions influence a storyline so heavily.

Still, The Princess and the Snowbird was an enjoyable read, and I intend to buy it.

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

Friday, January 14, 2011

Revolution Review (Jennifer Donnelly)

Synopsis: Brooklyn: Andi Alpers is on the edge. She's angry at her father for leaving, angry at her mother for not being able to cope, and heartbroken by the loss of her younger brother, Truman. Rage and grief are destroying her. And she's about to be expelled from Brooklyn Heights' most prestigious private school when her father intervenes. Now Andi must accompany him to Paris for winter break.

Alexandrine Paradis lived over two centuries ago. She dreamed of making her mark on the Paris stage, but a fateful encounter with a doomed prince of France cast her in a tragic role she didn't want - and couldn't escape. Two girls, two centuries apart. One never knowing the other. But when Andi finds Alexandrine's diary, she recognizes something in her words and is moved to the point of obsession. There's comfort and distraction for Andi in the journal's antique pages - until, on a midnight journey through the catacombs of Paris, Alexandrine's words transcend pages and time, and the past becomes suddenly terrifyingly present.

Review: Yet another review on a book that I could not - and won't - finish. I hope that this is not the case for all the new-release books I read. I tried to finish Revolution - I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. But after 196 pages out of 471, 31 chapters, and 15 s-words later, I shut its cover for good with a small, sad shake of the head.

First things first - the book is written in first-person, present-tense narrative. I hate present-tense books - it just gives the Author a "legitimate" (so some say) reason to use choppy sentences. Revolution was no exception. Second thing: Andi is one of the the most aggravating, selfish, disrespectful, idiotic, unappreciative adolescent leading-lady characters I have ever encountered. I could not stand her from the very beginning. I know that she has suffered from a traumatic experience, but it seems that she just uses that as an excuse for an attitude that was already there.

Note: the reason I don't read modern-set stories very often is because nine times out of ten, they concern dysfunctional families, depressed artistic mothers, workaholic jerky dads, a juvenile delinquent daughter - and brother, usually, unless that brother is too young to be a juvenile delinquent, in which case he is a superfluous character who is there to make the Reader feel even more miserable and depressed. That is all Revolution seemed to be about! Life has too many of these the way it is - why would anyone want to read a book about it?!

But what about Alexandrine? Through the first 17 chapters, I kept telling myself to just read until Andi found the journal - then maybe things would improve. Well, the parts with the journal are better - but not enough. Perhaps I would have been willing to wade through more of it if the journal entries didn't present just as many expletives as the rest of the book. And the modern slang Alexandrine used drove me up a wall. Another thing that drove me up a wall and made the journal parts irritating to read was the fact that when a character spoke, there are no quotation marks.

Content-wise - well, there's language. 2 g--damns, 15 s-words, and 1 f-word. In the little bit that I read - no doubt there is more. There are sexual references, but none of it explicit - again, in what little I read, so if you read this book and there is a scene somewhere beyond Chapter 32, do not blame me - I didn't read that far. What is probably the most disturbing content is how often Andi considers - and attempts - to kill herself, as well as drug abuse. A young teenage girl struggling with this issue is too real and too close to home for a lot of people to make it a comfortable read, and I found myself constantly angry at Andi - but also wanting her to die simply because, as the narrator and heroine, I found her excessively annoying.

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly does not come recommended.

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

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Princess and the Bear Review (Mette Ivie Harrison)

Synopsis: He was once a king, turned into a bear as punishment for his cruel and selfish desire. She was once a princess, now living in the form of a hound. Wary companions, they are sent - in human form - back to a time when magic went terribly astray. Together they must right the wrongs caused by this devastating power - if only they can find a way to trust each other. But even as each becomes aware of an ever-growing attraction, the stakes are rising and they must find a way to eliminate this evil force - or risk losing each other forever.

Review: People told me that you could read this one without reading The Princess and the Hound, but I don't recommend it. You won't entirely understand some of the things that are discussed, nor will you have a prior "connection" to the characters in it. This isn't a stand-alone sequel.

The Princess and the Bear is good, but not nearly as good as The Princess and the Hound. George is in it for a very brief moment, then never appears again, and Richon (the bear), while a good character in his own right, is not George. Just as Chala (the hound; her name changes from the prequel) is good, she isn't Beatrice, and I was not as fond of them - nor did I grow to be as fond of them - as I did with George and Beatrice.

Also, the story just wasn't as good. It was interesting and a pleasant surprise that Mette Ivie Harrison decided to write about what happens with the bear and the hound after the occurrences in The Princess and the Hound, but the story bordered far too much on being weird. A strange cat-man, unmagic killing everything in a weird plague-like way, time travel, and dead people rising (the latter isn't nearly as bad as it sounds, but it was still fairly weird). None of this beat George and Beatrice's story. I did find The Princess and the Bear a faster read than its prequel, but that is simply due to the shorter chapters. But the beginning almost made me stop because it was just strange. It jumps right into where Chala and Richon are still a bear and hound, and the Reader follows them around for a while in that form. I don't know why, but it was almost . . . uncomfortable reading those first few chapters. Perhaps it was the whole romantic attachment between a bear (who was human) and a hound - it was strange. And then a few things happen that just don't make sense and are all jumbled together. Finally, the story takes off when the wild man sends Chala and Richon back in time to save the kingdom from unmagic (don't ask me what that is; I don't know), and they gain human form. After that, the story is easier to read, but again - weird.

Despite my not liking The Princess and the Bear as much as The Princess and the Hound, I would recommend reading it if you have a desire to. Mette Ivie Harrison has one more book in this series - a series which I have dubbed The Animal Magic Trilogy - called The Princess and the Snowbird. According to her, it is a completely stand-alone book, but this one was supposed to be, too.

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

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sphinx's Queen Review (Esther Friesner)

Warning: May contain spoilers.
Synopsis: Overnight, every aspect of Nefertiti's life has changed. She is no longer living at the royal palace as the intended bride of the crown prince. Instead, she is being chased by the prince and his soldiers for a crime she did not commit. Traveling with two of her dearest friends, including the crown prince's brother, who helped her escape, Nefertiti takes shelter in the wild hills along the Nile's west bank. She must rely on her own resourcefulness and skills (all those secret archery lessons prove very useful) as the fugitives fight to survive. But the need for justice gnaws at Nefertiti. She is determined to plead her case to the Pharaoh and set things right. As she begins to question long-held sacred beliefs - a questioning that could alter the fabric of Egyptian society - her extraordinary journey from commoner to royalty brings adventure, intrigue, and romance.

Review: If you have read my review for Sphinx's Princess - this book's prequel - then you know that I enjoyed it, and looked forward to a similar experience while reading its sequel - Sphinx's Queen. For the most part, I was not disappointed. The characters - Nefertiti especially - are vibrant and full of life. Some of the dialogue was too modern for my taste - especially for an Egyptian-based story, - but it didn't detract from the story too much.

However, while the majority of Sphinx's Queen is every bit as intriguing and suspenseful as Sphinx's Princess, I was pretty disappointed with the ending. I will try to write this without giving anything away, but if you fear spoilers, read no further. I hate - absolutely hate it when characters reconcile with enemies. When a person is out for your blood and does everything he/she possibly can to ensure your death, the likelihood of that person to have a change of heart due to kind treatment is not high. I am not saying that it doesn't ever happen, but it is a rare occurrence - and in the case of Nefertiti and the two who do everything they can to destroy her and Amenophis have been doing similar things like that to have so full a reconciliation as they do. They start out as a full-fledged blood-feud - with the two setting Nefertiti up so they can kill her - and end up the best of buddies. Nefertiti's worst enemies suffer a complete attitude and personality change. Sorry, but it doesn't work out that way, and when it does, no one wants a book to end like that.

So aside from the disappointing occurrence between Nefertiti and her enemies in the end, Sphinx's Queen is almost every bit as good as Sphinx's Princess, and if you are curious to see how things turn out (and if you have read Sphinx's Princess, I have little doubt that you are), you won't be too disappointed.

Star Rating: 4/5 (really liked it)

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

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

The Eye of the World Review (Robert Jordan)

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and go. What was, what will be, what is, may yet fall under the Shadow. Let the Dragon ride again on the winds of time.

Not even the person in charge of writing synopsis which are found on the inside flap of a hardcover book (or on the back of a softcover, in this case) could come up with a proper summary of Robert Jordan's acclaimed masterpiece. If they did, for some reason they contrived to not put it on the back of the copy I borrowed from the library. Perhaps the Summary Writer started writing one, realized that anyone who took a half-second of a glance at it would immediately put it back, and decided, The more vague it sounds, the more readers will succumb to sheer bloody curiosity.

Well, I didn't exactly succumb to curiosity. No, unfortunately I knew exactly what I was plunging into when I picked up the first book in The Wheel of Time series. Or, at least, I thought I knew. My sister told me that I had to read at least the first book, laughing gleefully to herself. What she didn't tell me was that The Eye of the World would be a truly religious experience. . .

That is, if your religion consists of making yourself suffer as horribly as is possible. Wait! I believe Buddhism does that! Robert Jordan's series would be more appropriately named The Wheel of Suffering, not The Wheel of Time. Well, it was certainly my own little Wheel of Suffering. Though I did not finish The Eye of the World, what little I got through should ensure enlightenment for quite some time. I started reading the book with the intention of finishing it - I really did! But . . . then I looked at the Index. Then I counted the pages. And then . . . I read Chapter 1. Brisingr was easier simply because it is Young Adult fiction. This is Adult Fiction! Written by an adult! One is supposed to be waaay past this.

The Eye of the World starts with a farmboy. Surprising, right? I mean, what fantasy novel doesn't have a happy, clean, well-fed, well-spoken, educated, adolescent male suffering from a severe lack of . . . Well, everything. Now, Robert Jordan couldn't use hobbits and elves and wizards and dwarfs - oh no. But he managed to rack up . . . Oh, three very annoying adolescent farmboys (Rand, Mat, and Perrin), two men-hating women (Egwene and Nynaeve), a not-quite-a-wizard-but-knows-old-legends-and-smokes-and-has-a-white-beard dude (Thom, the gleeman), a lump who does all of the heavy work (Lan), and a female wizard lady with a glowing stick that doesn't really do anything useful until MUCH later (then the Reader and characters discover all of these nifty things it can do; things that would have solved a boatload of troubles earlier), and who hands out coins as tokens that you're not supposed to spend, but then she gets mad when you do spend it (Moiraine). Oh, yes, and later another flirtatious girl is added to the deck (Min), along with someone else and then another character who I'll get to later.

With such a large slew of characters, you would think that finding a single likable one would be fairly easy. I am laughing evilly right now, for I know most of you are thinking, Isn't there one? Well, let me put it this way: Rand is the typical fantasy farmboy - clueless, whiny, tries to be an influence to the kiddies, pretends that he isn't oogling at the passing ladies, struts around with a puffed-out chest, and shmooshes every inn's cook. Oh, yes, and of course he has a mysterious destiny that he has to come to odds with.

Mat, though, must be the most annoying out of the three. He is the "prankster," but never have I encountered a more irritating one who expresses his excitement with the most aggravating and redundant exclamations. He is also the stupidest out of the group. Example: at one point the octet of travelers are being chased by uggubuggus (i.e. monsters, or the badguy's "best soldiers") - a whole army of them. After Moiraine causes an earthquake and builds a wall of fire (something she could have done earlier!), Lan the Lump comes up with the brilliant idea of hiding out in "the one place that the Trollocs will not go." (i.e. the Trollocs are the uggubuggus.) It's a city. An abandoned city with a creepy, ominous name of Shadar Logoth. Now, this is a place that everyone would like to avoid, and our octet could've avoided it at all costs - or no cost at all. But, no, instead they decide to camp there. Mat, Rand, and Perrin go exploring. At night. They encounter a weird suspicious-acting old man by the creepy dark name of Mordeth. They follow this creepy dark fellow of the creepy dark name of Mordeth into a creepy dark staircase into a creepy dark room with lots of glittery treasure. Mordeth encourages them to take some. Through a series of not-so-complicated, but very-uninteresting events, the trio discovers that Mordeth is a dark spirit-type thingy. What a shocker. It is only after this that Moiraine informs the three stupids that, "Oh, this place is cursed and there's spirits that will kill you if you wander about at night, and by the way, there's this really bad spirit named Mordeth who will possess you if you accept any of the treasure." Talk about an FYI! Now, Mat did take something from the treasure - and after hearing this, he doesn't return it. This piece of the treasure is, of course, cursed, and it ends up, um "haunting" him later. Not only can I not believe the sheer stupidity of Mat in this escapade, but it also boggles my mind as to why this scene was even necessary. There was absolutely no reason they had to go into that city, and there is absolutely no reason why Moiraine didn't tell them earlier about the city's skeletons in the closet.

Perrin is the least annoying out of the three, but he's still pretty vexing. The only thing that keeps him from being as annoying as Rand and Mat is the fact that he doesn't talk much. Something ends up befalling Perrin, too - I didn't exactly read that part, though I skimmed it. Let us just say that Perrin contracts yellow eyes (oddly enough, none of his friends seem worried by this), and he has a yearning for raw meat, hunting, and he starts growing a bit of gray hair in places that hair isn't supposed to grow on people. Next he'll be howling at the moon. No one knows why this happens - no one cares. Next there will be a vampire.

Lan. There is not much to say about Lan the Lump. He's . . . someone. Who does . . . something. Every once in a while, Lan the Lump spoke sense. When Egwene complained for tea, he snapped "No tea!" When Egwene joins the sextet (this is before it's an octet), he makes a wonderful observation that she will serve no use. Sometimes I liked Lan the Lump, but personally, a bush would have made more contributions as a main character.

The only good character was Loial. Sadly, Loial does not appear until much, MUCH later, and even he could not get me to read those last few chapters entirely. Loial is a quiet, bookish, shy, polite sort of character. He was out of place in the story, and I wish I could adopt him. But I can't. Not unless I wrote a story with Ogres. Yes, Loial is not a human, but an Ogre - or, rather Ogier, as Jordan thought he must spell it. It is sad, Readers, when the only completely-likable character is an Ogre. Shrek even had other characters that were more likable than the ogres.

And now that I have done my litany on characters, I will move on. I have heard from several fans and ex-fans who met Robert Jordan that he was a conceited jerk. I'm not surprised; it shows in his writing. Mr. Jordan clearly saw himself as a master storyteller. I have seen worse writing, but those authors have had the excuse of youth and inexperience on their side. In the 19 chapters (294 pages) that I read word-for-word, I encountered some of the most hilariously-bad phrases I have ever seen. These are the three main highlights:

"Stars gleamed like points of light" (pg. 146) [No comment.]
"Rand's heart shriveled like an old grape." (pg. 268) [Seeing that Rand is the main character, at this point the story should be over.]
"So this is what battle is like." (pg. 146) [Rand's most profound thought.]

On top of these three most brilliant phrases, Robert Jordan also seems to suffer from the Capitalization Bug. The Capitalization Bug is when an author randomly capitalizes words to stress that they are important, without explaining why they are important. Note: capitalizing a word does not make it important. My list of RCWs (Randomly Capitalized Words), at the end of 294 pages, was 64. What I read was not even half of the book. And none of those words in that 64 are counted twice. Jordan capitalized words like Traveled (that was our favorite), All, Power, Children, Spirit, Common (and not the commons of a town), Exile, Longing, Web, Sword That Cannot Be Touched, and various colors. Jordan also thinks that if he repeats a single word over and over enough times, people will become as excited over a scene as he did when he wrote it.

Then there's the random clubs. Clubs whose jobs, positions, political standings, and whatnot are not explained (clearly the Reader is supposed to magically know about them already). There's goodie clubs that turn out to be baddie clubs (at least, I think they were baddies), and then baddie clubs that turn out to be goodie clubs. And of course all of the clubs in between. Jordan has so many clubs that he runs out of names and starts to color-code them (no joke).

Lastly, there is the You Have to be Joking moment. It is . . . Moiraine's momentary growth spurt. I know that your head is cocking to one side and your eyes are bugged out in confusion at this point. That was my exact expression when I read this. Okay, so the setup: the octet is escaping a town - never mind which one - because some sightless maggoty fellow who is obviously just in search of directions has found them (and apparently he isn't supposed to). It is nighttime, so clearly the city gates are shut. Lan the Lump kindly asks that the gates be opened, they are, then one of the baddie clubs shows up and tries to stop them. Rather than making the baddie club-members momentarily freeze, or maybe cast five-minute blindness, Moiraine grows. As tall as the city walls - taller! She towers over the city, her eyes like twin moons (that is an almost-direct quote). One hopes that her clothes grow with her, though it is never specified. After everyone else has escaped through the now-open gate, Moiraine simply steps over the walls and continues on her merry way at her normal size. Do I really have to voice my personal reaction to this? I have read of a lot of stupid spells and whatnot, but that was special.

And before I close, I would just like to make a special note of someone who I marked as my hero in the story, even though he died as soon as he appeared. Narg the Trolloc was my absolute favorite. He clearly was attempting to assure Rand in the farmhouse (yes, Rand's farmhouse is attacked by uggubuggus; sound familiar?) that he was a friendly sort and hated to see little Rand scared. Poor Narg; he never saw the sword. Narg had more personality than a single one of the others, and I really think he ought to have be instated as the book's hero. Then maybe I would have read all of it.

And so I must close, Readers. If you are wishing to reach nirvana quickly, I suggest you read The Wheel of Time. You will experience so much suffering that your Wheel of Suffering will be ended. In fact, I don't know why more Buddhists don't read The Wheel of Time to reach enlightenment.


Sunday, January 2, 2011

The Siege of Macindaw Review (John Flanagan)

Synopsis: The kingdom is in danger. Renegade knight Sir Keren has succeeded in overtaking Castle Macindaw and now is conspiring with the Scotti. The fate of Araluen rests in the hands of two young adventurers: the Ranger Will and his warrior friend, Horace. Yet for Will, the stakes are even higher. For inside Castle Macindaw, held hostage, is someone he loves.

Review: I liked this one better than The Sorcerer of the North. Despite the fact that Horace is present for all of it - and the Skandians, who were amusing when Halt was around, but just too . . . Vikingish otherwise. Be ready for the action to start immediately. The Siege of Macindaw picks up where The Sorcerer of the North leaves off. Things move at a good enough pace, the slower parts being lightened with Flanagan's typical jests between Horace and Will.

However, now I must criticize Mr. Flanagan. I really don't like to, because he is a nice fellow (I met him once at a book signing), but as a book critic - even an amateur one - I must point out pros and cons. And the con for this one is the same I have for The Battle for Skandia and The Burning Bridge: Flanagan is good at writing humor and good storylines, but he isn't cut out for battle sequences. Though Ranger's Apprentice is a fictional series, Flanagan did take some pains to do historical research of the time period that Araluan is based in - and also battle tactics (it is sad, though, that he didn't do more research on bows). Flanagan displays his research on sieges in various conversations between Will and Horace, and it is very interesting. But when it comes to writing actual battles - it is a muddle. Flanagan's writing is movie-ish, as I have said before, and when it comes to a battle, such writing style turns everything into a muddle. His technical side of descriptions logs things down, and giving perspectives from various characters is not a way a battle ought to be told. If one must write a battle, it ought to be done in an "aerial view" or as if a historian were relating it. Give formations and the whole, sometimes zoning in on specific areas when necessary.

This is harder to do than it sounds, and that's why I don't even try to write battles. And I am sorry to say that Flanagan suffers from the same difficulty in writing battle scenes that are not a muddle. And yes, I know - battles are muddles. But they shouldn't be a muddle to read. The battle in The Siege of Macindaw is easier to follow than the one in The Battle for Skandia because it is smaller in scale. But still a bit muddled.

All in all, I do look forward to reading the books that revert back to when Will is still Halt's apprentice. Book 5 and 6 were interesting and should definitely be read, but there is something still lacking in them. The thing lacking is Halt. Without Halt, Will takes on some of Halt's personality, and it doesn't quite work for such an easy-mannered, happy young man. Halt simply cannot be left out. I look forward to reading Erak's Ransom.

Star Rating: 3/5 (liked it)

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