Friday, April 29, 2011

Review: Sabotaged - Margaret Peterson Haddix

Synopsis: After helping Chip and Alex survive fifteenth-century London with no preparation at all, Jonah and Katherine think that their next job will be a snap. Their mission: to help return Andrea - who is really Virginia Dare - back to the lost colony of Roanoke in the sixteenth century. They'll help her restore the balance of history, and then they can all go home.

Sounds simple, easy, and safe. But right away things start to go wrong. They lose the Elucidator and aren't sure where in time they've landed. As Jonah, Katherine, and Andrea struggle to survive without food, water, supplies, or a way to contact anyone for rescue, they try to piece together the mysterious history of Roanoke. What happened to the missing colonists? Does it have anything to do with their current predicament? And how can they help Andrea restore history if they don't even know what century they're in? The more Jonah and Katherine look for answers, the more questions they have.

Review: Like the other two, Sabotaged is weird, but interesting. I was pleased that Chip wasn't in this one; Katherine did not irritate me nearly as much because of it. And Ms. Haddix manages to make the plotline develop by immediately throwing in a twist, with plenty of others following close at its heels. The end will definitely leave you wanting to read the sequel (due to come out in a few months!).

Despite the plot-twists, I cannot say that Sabotaged was my favorite. When Ms. Haddix starts to touch on the Indians and colonist situation(s), it begins to feel very bogged down with the Author's personal opinions. In short, very preachy. And it gets in the way of the story, like really, really sticky, irritating mud impeding your walking forward. And the new villain, Second, wasn't nearly as intimidating as I was hoping. I can't say that I disliked him - he is a fairly good villain, but there seemed something not quite right with his character. Like something was missing.

Despite those complaints, Sabotaged is a good installment. Fans of JB (like me) will be especially pleased.

Overall Rating: 

Others in The Missing Series:


Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Review: The Emperor of Nihon-Ja - John Flanagan

Synopsis: In his brief time as an Araluen knight, Horace has traveled the known world and fought countless bloody battles. All for his country, his king, and his friends. For all that is right.

When Horace travels to the exotic land of Nihon-Ja to study the Senshi fighting technique, it isn't long before he finds himself pulled into a battle that is not his - but one he knows in his heart he must wage. The Nihon-Ja emperor, a defender of the common man, has been forcibly dethroned, and only Horace, Will, and their Araluen friends, along with a group of untrained woodcutters and farmers, can restore the emperor to the throne.

Review: I started the final installment of the Ranger's Apprentice series with some apprehension. I pictured Horace doing karate and other martial arts. In short, I saw The Emperor of Nihon-Ja being absolutely . . . well, silly. But sometimes my imagination runs wild. My main concern was the thickness of Book 10. When books in a series start out fairly thin, then get thicker and thicker, it is usually a sign that the Author is being paid by the word (or letter), and when that happens, the Author throws the storyline out the window.

Though there are plenty of places where I think John Flanagan could have used fewer words, I can't say that there were any scenes that he could have cut out. Every step of this particular book felt planned. I never got the sense that Mr. Flanagan was kind of guessing, and making things happen for convenience's sake. Everything really felt like it had a full purpose (though I have to confess sometimes it felt like The Elder Scrolls or some other fantasy RPG: "you have to do this for me before I help you with your quest" type of thing).

However, there is the matter of the characters. Let me see . . . There's Horace, Will, Halt, Evanlyn/Cassandra, Selethen, Alyss, Shigeru, and a bunch of other Nihon-Jan characters that I won't include because they're not major major characters - like the type that are there 24/7-major. There are also some returning Skandians, but they don't remain in the book the entire time. So, not including those, that's seven characters!! Call me a heartless Author, but when you have that many main characters that you're toting around, there needs to be some executions. Sorry. But surprisingly, this wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. For one thing, for a good portion of the story, Horace's group (i.e. him and the Nihon-Jan characters) and Will's group (i.e. everyone else) have their own separate adventure. Then when they pair up for the final battle, the Skandians are not included, and two of the main characters split off to have their own adventure. So the pile-up isn't nearly as bad as I was anticipating. Still, that many main characters demands some heart-wrenching deaths.

As far as battles and technical details go: I was pleasantly surprised with how successfully written the final battle was in The Emperor of Nihon-Ja. Flanagan managed to maintain the "aerial perspective" for almost all of it, and the other battles were more like skirmishes than actual battles, which he's always been pretty good at writing. And of course, he was spot on with the technical details. Perhaps too much so, as always, making it feel very movie-ish at times, but still, sometimes it is better to be overly technical than write something that isn't realistic. I am no expert on Japanese history or culture, but from what little I have studied, Flanagan's statements seemed accurate. I particularly wish to commend him on actually researching the katana. Nothing irritates me more than Authors who write about swords and haven't researched them.

All in all, The Emperor of Nihon-Ja was good! An excellent way to finally wrap up the series. The only truly irritating thing about this book is the interactions between Alyss and Evanlyn. I have always found the princess annoying, but she seemed to be doubly so. And Alyss even got on my nerves. Really, couldn't they just sit down and talk about their feelings for Will like reasonable people?

Two thumbs up for The Emperor of Nihon-Ja!

Overall Rating: 

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

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Review: Sent - Margaret Peterson Haddix

Synopsis: Thirteen-year-olds Jonah and Chip are reeling from the news that they're both missing children from history, kidnapped from their proper time period. Before they can fully absorb this revelation, a time purist named JB sends Chip and another boy, Alex, back to the fifteenth century, where they supposedly belong. Jonah and his sister, Katherine, grab Chip's arm just as he's being sent away. The result? Jonah and Katherine also end up in the fifteenth century, where they decidedly do not belong.

Chip's true identity is Edward V, king of England, and Alex is his younger brother, Richard, Duke of York. But Chip is convinced that his uncle, Richard of Gloucester, plans to kill them and seize the throne for himself.

JB promises that if the kids can "fix time," he will allow them to return to the present day. But how can they possibly return home safely when history claims that Chip and Alex were murdered?

Review: As with Found, saying that I liked Sent is not entirely the right way of putting it. It was interesting, exciting, clever, and easy to follow. There was nothing I disliked, but like just isn't the word, which is the case with most time-travel stories.

It helps to have a knowledge of history when reading this simply because it helps the Reader appreciate the way Margaret Peterson Haddix puts the story of Edward V and his brother, Richard, together. Every fan of history's mysteries (such as the odd "disappearance" of the two royal boys) loves to read a new take on what really happened. Haddix's very premise of The Missing series has set up an ideal way for her to introduce interesting theories concerning cases like the Duchess Anastasia and others like her, who seem to have just disappeared from time itself. I absolutely love time-travel books for this very reason: it presents the "what ifs" of history; a tiny glimpse at what could have happened. And every historian - amateur or professional - loves to explore that.

The characters improved in Sent. Alex is a wonderful addition to the group, but Katherine gets increasingly annoying. I still imaged her older than Jonah, even though she is supposed to be about two years younger than him and Chip. But she's a pretty easy fifth wheel to ignore. One thing that does get very irritating is how the kids never let JB explain anything. They always cut him off right when he's about to offer something potentially helpful - and all because they think that he doesn't care whether or not Chip and Alex die. Urgh! It drove me up a wall!! I never felt sorry for Jonah, Chip, Alex, and Katherine when a situation got sticky because they never gave JB enough time to explain what to do. That's a pet peeve of mine.

However, Sent is a worthwhile read. It is better than Found, and I believe that Sabotaged is going to be even better.

Overall Rating: 

Others in The Missing Series:


Sunday, April 3, 2011

Review: Scorpia Rising - Anthony Horowitz

Synopsis: In his time as a British spy, Alex Rider has taken on countless enemies. While he's never come away unscathed, he's always completed his missions. But there is one enemy that just won't stay down, the terrorist organization that murdered his parents and forever changed Alex's life: Scorpia.

Back and more powerful than ever, Scorpia has its sights set on the turbulent Middle East, and Alex must risk his life in one of the most volatile regions in the world. His mission? Put Scorpia out of business. Permanently.

But this may be one mission Alex won't be coming home from. You've been hoping this day would never come, but you won't be able to tear yourself away from the final chapter in this international #1 best-selling series.

Review: An absolutely brilliant conclusion for the series, from beginning to end. I actually had doubts about whether or not Alex would live; the first time that that has ever happened in reading any of the Alex Rider books. Scorpia has, by far, always been Anthony Horowitz's best villains, and what better way to wrap everything up than to have Alex face them once more? Though Scorpia, as a whole, is hardly Alex's worst enemy in this volume. Yet another comes back from a past mission to haunt him, and it's good. Horowitz's choice to allow the Reader to actually see what Scorpia is planning was a new and excellent move on his part as the Author. We have always gotten a small window into what the master villain is planning, but this time we get about half of the book to find it out, making things, believe it or not, a lot more suspenseful. We get to see just enough to understand a little beyond the general gist of what is happening, but we still wonder: What's truly happening?

Scorpia Rising
really suffers from no shortcomings that others didn't as well. It is written in a very movie-ish style, which I accept because for a spy series like this, I suppose it would be difficult to write it otherwise. But the chase scene toward the end felt like it dragged. The Author focused on every little detail so much that I found myself tapping my fingers impatiently against the pages. However, it ends satisfactorily, as if to make up for the drag. The villains are pretty cliche, as in all the others. They graciously explain the whole extent of the plan to Alex before killing him, and even before they do that they explain how they are going to kill him. If villains did this more often in real life, fewer people would probably die. But I have to admit that I would miss the clicheness a bit; it's a spy series, after all, and what is a spy series without gadgets, crazy villains who politely explain everything just in case we miss something, and of course the unusual forms of death? No, it just wouldn't be the same.

But for all of those typical shortcomings, Scorpia Rising offers a lot of surprises. I found myself more than once thinking, Wow, I really didn't see that coming. If it weren't for these twists, Scorpia Rising would have been a disappointing grand finale. But it isn't. The end is, in a way, like no other Alex Rider book. It surprised me a little, made me sad, but happy and satisfied at the same time. And also unlike the others, it actually felt like a conclusion. Alex Rider is finally at rest.

I was pleased.

Overall Rating: 

Others in the Alex Rider Series:

2)Point Blank
3)Skeleton Key
4)Eagle Strike
6)Ark Angel
8)Crocodile Tears
9)Scorpia Rising