Sunday, September 30, 2007

Empire (A Becky Review)

Empire by Orson Scott Card, 2006.

I read this book for the Cardathon challenge and the R.I.P. II challenge. I have mixed views on this one. It's not that I disliked it, I didn't. But I didn't love it. The characters, well, I liked them. But this was more about premise than action or characters. (There was plenty of action, believe me, but you never forgot that it was action based on a certain premise.) Politics. Media. Scary subjects for those liking to remain neutral observers of the world around them. The novel is about the polarization of America into red and blue. Conservative and liberals. Republicans and Democrats. Radical views. Strict dogmas. Plenty of rhetoric and media coverage. No middle ground. The situation in this future-America is bleak. The country is divided--strongly divided. There are people--hundreds of thousands if not millions--that hate the President and his particular party. Congress is divided as well. These two parties are always at ends with one another. Can't see eye to eye on anything. Determined to disagree on even the smallest issue. Compromise is never an option. They fight and bicker over everything. In this charged environment, a few men in the military are working on a secret secret project. A project that leads to a destructive climax. Well, not a climax so much as an opening premise. Reuben Malich--Major Malich--is working on a top-secret project that supposedly came directly from the White House. He's supposed to write up a plan on how to assassinate the President, so that they can then work on ways to prevent such an attack. He's playing devil's advocate if you will. He's supposed to think like a criminal and find the weaknesses in the system. The problem? He's being used--set up--by the bad guys. His plans become the plan that actually works at crippling the nation as we know it. The president, vice president, and secretary of defense (as well as a lot of other people) are killed--murdered. Now it is up to Reuben and his few friends--including his new assistant Captain Coleman to find out just who these "bad guys" are and uncover the whole plot. The plot is complex, not difficult to dissect afterwards, but a mystery while you're reading it. I can't really go into it here. The characters were okay for me. But none of them were developed that well. None of them were particularly strong or outstanding. The action was fast-paced. But again, it was driven by the premise of "what if????" And while the premise is arguably interesting in and of itself, I don't know that it was enough to carry the novel alone. This one had no tidy ending either. So it's one of those where you have to try to guess what would happen next. So instead of having a rather boring but satisfactory "Ah, America will be okay and everything is back to normal and just as it should be" feeling, you're left with a bit of angst. Am I glad I read it? Definitely. Did it make me think? Sure. Is it my least favorite Card novel? No. But it doesn't come close to my top ten.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Two Mini-Challenges

These two mini-challenges are compatible--very compatible--with the Cardathon Challenge. But you don't have to be a participant in the Cardathon to join one of the mini-challenges. These "mini-challenges" are not as open-ended as most challenges. But they're not strict either.

One would be to read and/or watch at least two Jane Austen novels/movies in 2008. Masterpiece Theatre is showing all 6 movies in the 2008 season. I am going to be aiming for all 6. But if you want to just watch two movies and blog about them, that is fine too. It would still be participating. For those that may not get PBS, rent (or buy) two Austen movies--any version--and you'll still qualify as a participant. Want to read an Austen biography as a substitute for one of the novels, go for it. Or watch Becoming Jane as a substitute for one of the movies. I'll allow it. Just read two Austen-related books. OR watch two Austen-related movies. You can always read more or watch more. What about audio books? Sure. Listening would count as well. Whatever you want. It's supposed to be fun.

The second challenge would be an Inkling-related challenge. One would commit to reading at least two books by C.S. Lewis (I suggest the Chronicles of Narnia, a seven book series) and reading two books by J.R.R. Tolkien. Movies once again are acceptable. If you want to watch the somewhat new and forthcoming movies The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe and Prince Caspian that would be fine. A biography of Lewis or Tolkien can be substituted for one of the books. You can watch a mix of Lord of the Rings and Narnia movies. Or you can stick to the books. Whatever you want. I'll be wanting to read all seven of the Narnia books. The Hobbit. And the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

If you're interested in either please leave a comment. (But be specific as to which one you're considering.) These challenges *officially* start in January 2008. The Masterpiece season begins then. But you could begin whenever you want. But I'm not planning on starting until the new year.

Booklogged's List

So, what will I be reading for this challenge? I haven't whittled my choices down to the final selections, but this is the 'long list'.

Books by Card
An Open Book
Hart's Hope
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus
Invasive Procedures
Treasure Box
Cruel Miracles

Books Reviewed by Card on his Website
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Foundation by Isaac Asimov
Goodnight, Irene by Jan Burke (an Irene Kelly mystery)
Memory and Dream by Charles de Lint
The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling
The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz
TheMessenger of Truth by Jacqueline Winspear

I can highly recommend Enchantment and Ender's Game, both by Card.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

Heart-Shaped Box will most probably not make it onto the list of favorite books of the year, but it's a hell of a debut novel for Joe Hill. The book didn't start off all that great for me. It centers around a rock star who is a collector of dark and occult-like objects such as sketches of the seven dwarfs drawn by John Wayne Gacy and a smut film; plays death metal music, and dates goth chicks. So it inherently had a few aspects too it that were just a bit too cliche for my taste while the story was being set up. They were mostly too cliche for my taste because I was a part of this culture as a teen and in my early college days and I guess I'm still there at heart...just don't dress the part. It was just a bit overdone. But once Hill got comfortable with his story and the whole goth, shock thing was dropped and we met our real, vulnerable characters, I really enjoyed the rest of the ride.

Heart-Shaped Box is the story of a rock star with a past. Jude Coyne has lived a life of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Needless to say he's been with many women throughout his career and has taken to naming some of them after the states that he met them in. His current live-in girlfriend is Georgia and Jude's found more comfort in her than he's found in anyone else in awhile. His only other true relationships are with his two German Shepperds. He hasn't spoken with his father in over 30 years after suffering a horrible childhood with him, two of his best friends and former band mates are dead, and his only other friend is his assistant, but he's more of a secretary than a friend.

So here's the scary part...As I mentioned before, Jude's a collector of all things macabre and can't turn down an offer of something new to add to his collection. The assistant friend mentioned above one day finds a suit for sale on an eBay-like auction site. Here's the catch - the suit belongs to a dead man who has been haunting the house that it occupies. The auction says that the man never got to wear this suit in his earthly life and will follow the suit wherever it goes. Jude buys the suit for $1000, essentially buying a ghost to add to his collection. Well, Jude gets his ghost. The suit arrives in a black heart-shaped box. Shortly after Jude awakens at night to find a man sitting in his hallway wearing the suit with his eyes scribbled out and swinging a razor blade on a chain. But there's more to the ghost than Jude knows and both his life and Georgia's is at the cover says "sooner or later the dead catch up..."

I've heard plenty of people say that this novel scared the crap out of them and kept them up all night. I can't say that it did that for me, but that's nothing against the author. I'm rarely truly freaked out by books. This book did have my heart pounding with suspense at certain parts and I was definitely flying through some pages. I tend to not scare easily though. The only things that truly frighten me are "jump out at you" moments, so movies and haunted houses will do the trick! Now there were scenes in this novel that repulsed me and be warned that there are topics that arise in this book that are quite disturbing. But I think that Hill handled everything well, and I have to say that I will be reading Mr. Hill's next novel whenever it is published. I know that he has a collection of short stories coming out soon called 20th Century Ghosts and it is already available in the UK!

Monday, September 24, 2007

Uncle Orson

There are books that have such a powerful impact that it's not enough to remember them -- you have to reread them.

My rereading list -- or "ReBooks" for short -- has long included Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Asimov's Foundation, the former on a five-year schedule and the latter about every ten years.

Other ReBooks made the list mostly because I wanted to share them, aloud, with my kids as they came to the right age: Lewis's Narnia series, for instance.

Gone with the Wind used to be a ReBook for me, but it has been at least twenty years now so maybe it has slipped off the list. My childhood favorites, Dawn's Early Light and Yankee Stranger, the first two books in Elswyth Thane's Williamsburg series, are still ReBooks for me and my mother, though I don't know how many others would regard them the same way.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Jane Austen in 2008

I found this via A Reader's Journal, I have exciting news for all Austen fans :) Masterpiece Theatre is going to broadcast all six of Austen's novels in 2008! Isn't that absolutely thrilling???? They also say they're going to broadcast a brand new "drama" based on her life. Be sure to enter the contest to win a free 6-in-1 collection of Austen novels. They're giving away 100 copies. To enter, just sign up for their newsletter. Not only will they let you know when the shows are airing, you might just win a free book!

Mansfield Park
Northanger Abbey
Pride and Prejudice
Sense and Sensibility

Since all of Austen's work is eligible for the Cardathon challenge, I hope that some of you will consider reading at least one or two of her books. I think this would make a great mini-challenge as well. To watch and/or read these six novels.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Pride and Prejudice (A Becky Review)

This post is going to make the rounds. It qualifies as a "Christian" read since this edition was printed by Bethany House. This "insight edition" features notes relevant to everyone, generally speaking, but has a few targeting the Christian crowd specifically. It qualifies as appealing to the young adult crowd--which means I'll be posting it on Becky's Book Reviews. It also qualifies for two challenges I'm participating in: the Something About Me challenge and the Cardathon Challenge.

Why did I choose to read Pride and Prejudice? I love the novel. I haven't always *loved* the novel. There was a long period of my life where I was unfamiliar with this glorious work. I knew I wanted to read it one day. But I didn't have any immediate plans to make it happen. I picked up a copy--I believe it was a Dover edition--a really cheap edition, by the way, for under three bucks. I got to it in December 2005. Years after buying the book. My motivation then? Well, my best friend, Julie, loved the book. And we were discussing the movie. (The most recent movie had just reached theaters and I wanted to go see the movie...but not until I had read the book.) I read it in probably two to four days. I devoured it really. It was just so wonderful. I was graduating with my degree in library science at the time and had some gift cards to spend, so I bought the A&E DVD version with Colin Firth. If I hadn't been convinced of its wonderfulness before, I certainly would've been after seeing the movie! I remember spending the 23rd and 24th of December watching the movie and wrapping presents and feeling all wonderfully giddy. That January, I introduced the movie to my dad. I didn't know if he would like it. It is rather long. It does have a lot of dialogue. But as soon as Mr. Collins came into the scene, Dad was hooked. That summer, June or July 2006, I introduced the movie to my sister. She was skeptical at first. She thought the first hour or so rather boring. But soon she was a fan as well. Then I introduced everyone to Bride and Prejudice. Of course, Julie was the one who first introduced ME to Bride and I can't take all the credit. So there was much fun and love being spread all around in the family.

But why reread Pride and Prejudice now? Well, I saw it on the Something about Me challenge. It was tempting. But when I saw that Bethany House was releasing a special edition of the book along with their novel Just Jane by Nancy Moser--and that this edition would feature book club type questions--I really couldn't resist it. So I did request a review copy. And it came late last week. As soon as it arrived, I began reading it.

Did I discover anything new the second time around? Well, I don't know about "new" discoveries, but I certainly appreciated it more. I was able to savor it more. I knew what to expect, what was coming. I knew which bits were the "best" parts. I knew the characters. I knew their strengths and weaknesses. I love the language, the style, the romance, the characters. It really is just oh-so-magical.

For those that are unfamiliar, the plot is relatively simple. Jane and Elizabeth are the two oldest sisters in a family of five daughters. It's Regency England. Their family connections aren't the greatest, and it's really imperative that at least one or two of the daughters marry well so that they can be provided for after their father's death. Mrs. Bennet is all about getting her daughters matched up and paired off. And she's a very silly woman. Mr. Bennet is a caring father, who dotes on Elizabeth and merely tolerates the three younger sisters--who rather take after the mother. Jane is a sweet dear. Elizabeth a wit. And the book is about the complicated courtships of the two oldest children. Of course, Lydia, the youngest has her moments as the center of attention. But this isn't her story, thank goodness! Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Wickham and, of course, the unforgettable Mr. Collins play the love interests.

It's a story of love, hate, friendship, family, disdain, disgust, joy, regret, and jealousy. Lots and lots of jealousy. It is a read I recommend to everyone!

What is it about the "Insight Edition" that makes it special? It does feature notes. Mostly cultural notes--not scholarly ones. It likes to comment on the various movie versions of the book. It likes to add in tidbits about Austen's life and time. It points out that Jane is a good "Christian" girl. And it does feature discussion questions. The only thing I am disappointed about in this edition was the fact that I found four typos. One on the very first page. They misspelled first. They even misspelled his on one occasion as "vhis." This is sad, but hopefully it will be corrected with subsequent printings. Typos do happen. But all four could have easily been caught even with spellcheck, and they definitely would have been caught with a human proofreader.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Invasive Procedures by Orson Scott Card and Aaron Johnston

You might say that I lucked out when I stumbled across my "favorite author". Orson Scott Card manages to publish about two to three books a year, has about 50 books under his belt, and has written books, poetry, and short stories in just about every genre imaginable. His first publication of this year was Space Boy (my review), a very limited run by Subterranean Press, that was enjoyable but doesn't even compare to his latest collaboration with screenwriter Aaron Johnston, Invasive Procedures.

Invasive Procedures is the story of the dangers of genetic manipulation. It can certainly be classified as science fiction as Card dots his i's and crosses his t's when it comes to the science aspect, but I'd consider this one more of a bio-medical/political thriller. The setting is Los Angeles in the near future. Geneticist George Galen has created a group of super humans called "Healers". Galen is the villain of the novel, but he's a charming villain, the most dangerous kind. His Healers are giants, around 7 feet in height, have the bodies of gods, and go throughout the community recruiting the sick and homeless in a cult like fashion for Galen's genetic experiment - to help the human race evolve.

Here's where the story gets interesting. Galen has developed a virus that cures deadly genetic diseases such as Parkinson's, Sickle-Cell Anemia, etc. Viruses work by attaching to DNA and changing their structure and Galen has developed a virus that will do just that for these diseases. However, the virus he has developed is deadly to the general population and causes near immediate death. It can save the life of the few who need it, but can cause the death of the many to whom it is toxic. In steps Frank Hartman. Frank Hartman has been recruited by the Biohazard Agency, an FBI-like governmental agency, to develop an anti-virus to or vaccination to Galen's virus. Galen soon realizes the plans that the government has to stop his advancement of the human race and one thrilling novel ensues.

I've always said that I love Card for his characters, and this novel is no exception. Frank Hartman is one of the strongest heroes I've read in a while. Joining him in his race against Galen are Galen's test subjects, a group of homeless people that he picks up, offering them a hot meal and a bed, and while he does give them that, they also get much more than what they thought they were in for.

Dolores is my favorite of this group. She is an elderly homeless woman with no family who slept on a playground before Galen picked her up. She has extremely low self esteem, but a wonderful sense of humor and was a delight to read and my heart went out to her. Nick and Jonathan were two younger punk kids who were homeless heroin addicts. Both put up a tough front, but Card shows us the young kid inside just begging for help and love. There story was touching as well. Hal, I had no sympathy for! Hal is a drunk who is arrogant and loud when he's picked up and remains that way throughout the book...he just got on my nerves. And Byron is the last of the group. Byron was mistaken for a homeless person, but is really a tax attorney whose car broke down and he just needed a lift. He's a great guy and another strong character.

Put all of these wonderful characters together along with a doctor forced to perfom surgery on all of them against her will while her child is held at ransom along with one of the most thrilling and forward moving story lines I've read in awhile, and you get a book that is heart stopping and very meaningful in these days of lightning speed medical advancement...not that I think we're at risk of something like this ever actually happening.

This one just came out Tuesday, so it should be well stocked in most bookstores. I highly recommend as I usually do with most books :p But this one really was a 5 out of 5. It's based on an Orson Scott Card short story originally published in 1979 by the name of "Malpractice."

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Worthing Saga (A Becky Review)

Card, Orson Scott. The Worthing Saga.

Imagine living in a world where there is no pain, no suffering, no grief, no fear, no anger, no violence, no injury. Wrong actions, in a sense, have ceased to have consequences. If a person were to hurt himself/herself chopping wood or tending the fires, then there would be instant--almost magical--healing. Even morally wrong actions are prevented, on this world there are no children out of wedlock; and the child is always the husband's never the lover's if you're an adulteress. Yes, there is an occasional death, but never for the very young, never for the able-bodied. It is hard to imagine for us this life of easy contentment. A life with no struggles? A life truly worry-free? A world where fire doesn't burn you and ice doesn't freeze you? Surely there must be a catch, right? Some reason why this world isn't a perfect paradise...

The change came in the middle of the night. Imagine going to bed with everything being quite all right, and waking up to find that life is not what you thought it was. Pain. Grief. Suffering. Worry. Fear. Anger. And it wasn't just emotional, as the village learned. It was physical, too. As one accident after another occurred, the villagers soon realized that they could not only be hurt, but they could also DIE. With the whole village (and indeed the whole world) in confusion, no one knows quite what to think. Is God dead? If God is still watching over them, why then is there suffering? Why suffering after all these centuries of watchful care? Folks are going along muttering that God doesn't look out for them anymore.

The old clerk trembled and nodded and his voice quivered as he spoke. 'I have read the books of ancient times,' he began, and all eyes turned to him. 'I have read the books of ancient times, and in them the old ones spoke of wounds that bleed like slaughtered cattle, and great griefs when the living suddenly are dead, and anger that turns to blows among people. But that was long, long ago, when men were still animals, and God was young and inexperienced. (5-6)

Yes, no one understands this Day of Pain. Least of all, Lared, our young hero. But it is Lared who will become the chosen speaker that will write the story and tell the tales that will explain this Day and give it meaning. Two strangers come to the inn, the inn that Lared's parents own, and it is Lared and his sister, Sala, who befriend them. Jason. Justice. A man and woman. The two are mysterious, no doubt about it, and more than one person suspects that they're coming is linked with the Day of Pain.

The two share their stories mostly through dreams and waking visions. Jason will occasionally share one the old-fashioned way, but most are transmitted directly into Lared's mind. Lared doesn't know what to think. He doesn't like the dreams. He doesn't like the uneasy feelings they leave him with...but he also knows that he has been called, chosen, if you will, to write this down. To record them. It is not his place to understand everything, just to write it down as it's been given to him.

Lared and his village provide the framework for the stories that Jason and Justice share. It is a story of two men, one empire, and one powerful drug.

Abner Doon. A name that still strikes fear in people thousands of years after his death. Some even say that he was the devil himself. But was he really? His name is associated with death and destruction, and in some ways, it is easy to understand why. He caused the death and destruction of the EMPIRE. The very arrogant, often corrupt, very stagnant empire. But was the fall of the empire really that bad? Wasn't it better for humanity in general? Jason Worthing certainly thinks so.

Jason Worthing. Another name that people fear to speak aloud. Why? It is a name of reverence. Many people feel that Jason Worthing is God. The creator of life. The sustainer of the universe, even. But was he really? Yes, he had a hand in establishing life and building civilization, at least on one planet, but the creator of all life? No. Just an ordinary man with unusual psychic powers who came from a technologically advanced society.

The empire. It's not that the empire was completely evil. Sure the empire had its fair share of corrupt and power-hungry politicians. More than its fair share. Every branch of the empire had its corrupt officials. And there was nothing that couldn't be bought--as long as you had money. But that wasn't the real crime of the empire. The real crime was that humanity was being robbed of its very soul, its very essence. They had lost the point of living. They were corrupting the very nature of our existence.

Somec. Perhaps the most powerful drug the empire had ever known. What did it do? It put the user into a deep sleep, a coma, if you will. First, the user would have his/her memories downloaded or recorded, if you will, onto a tape or into a bubble. I forget quite how they did it. I just know that there was a way of downloading and uploading memory. Then the assistant would inject somec. It wasn't a pretty picture. It burned. It hurt. It caused severe physical problems--sweating, discomfort, pain--but the user would forever be unaware of it because the memories would never include this part of the experience. Who was it for? At first, it was just for starship pilots. Their skills would be needed throughout a long voyage. And if a trip took hundreds or perhaps thousands of years, then they'd need Somec to function. The computer would always be able to wake them up in case of an emergency. But they'd arrive at their destination intact. So for colonization vessels, it really couldn't be any better. A ship would carry three hundred or so passengers and all the supplies needed to create and establish a civilization on another planet. So there were a few valid uses of the drug, I suppose. But the real corruption began when somec became a common necessity for the people.

Imagine the possibility of immortality. Somec offered immortality. The wealthy. The elite. The powerful. The brilliant minds of society were all given the chance for immortality. The more valuable society deemed you, the longer you would sleep between waking cycles. The common people lived and died naturally enough. But a good portion of society, became obsessed with immortality. But is living a thousand years natural if you spend 70% of it or so asleep? What does it accomplish really? You're not able to have friendships with others unless you're on the same sleep cycle. You're not able to maintain family relationships either. People could theoretically outlive their great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren. Love becomes to a certain extent irrelevant. Most things become irrelevant. No time for the finer things in life. Love. Romance. Music. Art. For not only do most people spend most of their times asleep, what little time they're awake they're obsessed with power, money, fame, greed, control. They always want more, more, more. Never content. There is no longer any joy in living life. But really too few people notice what they're missing. Except for one. The aforementioned Abner Doon.

Abner "rescues" Jason, if you will, and offers him a chance to become a part of something great. Jason becomes a starship pilot, a very famous starship pilot, and he eventually leads a colonization ship. Abner's big plan--besides the fall of the Empire--is to recreate life as it used to be. His plan? To spread humanity throughout the galaxy. To have human civilizations sprout up on thousands of planets. He knows that with the fall of the Empire, with the fall of technology, it will be thousands upon thousands of years before ANY civilization becomes advanced enough for star flight. He sees this as a way for humanity to wipe the slate clean and begin anew.

The Worthing Saga is the story of Jason's planet. How Jason "fathered" or "created" that world. And what happened to its inhabitants. What happened to his descendants. All these stories--and there are many--span thousands of years. Everything is leading the reader back to Lared. Back to the Day of Pain.

The Worthing Saga is about the meaning of life. It is about what it means to be human. It asks important questions. It goes where few novels do. It asks what the meaning of pain and suffering is. It asks what the meaning of struggles are. It is ethical in nature. It asks the hard questions. But it is philosophical as well.

The Worthing Saga contains the previously published The Worthing Chronicle and nine short stories.

Monday, September 17, 2007

My Pup Helping Me Read

Here I am plodding through The Omnivore's Dilemma. My buddy Otis is alway keeping me company. I never did finish this book. I'm not sure why. I teach biology and find the idea behind the book fascinating. Maybe it was Pollan's writing style of just the time of the summer. I'll try it again some time but not for awhile. Did anyone else have trouble with this book?

Kailana's List

These are the books that I OWN that are recommended by Orson Scott Card or written by him. It will likely change a few times and I will likely buy books, but these are the books on my TBR pile.

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (Review forth-coming)
Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

Obviously, I am going to have to buy some more books by him, but I will! I just had to read him first.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
All of Jane Austen's Books
Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Various Books by the Bronte Sisters
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
Various Books by Charles de Lint
Various Books by Charles Dickens
The Bone Doll's Twin and its sequels by Lynn Flewelling
A couple books I still have not read by Neil Gaiman
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
The Tawny Man Trilogy by Robin Hobb (The Golden Fool review forth-coming)
Various Books by Anne McCaffrey
Mary Stewart's Quartet
Jack Whye's Camuloud Series (I am up to book 4)
Sword of the Rightful King by Jane Yolen

Probably have others, those are just the ones I see right now.

Lost Boys (A Becky Review)

I read Lost Boys for the R.I.P. II Challenge and the Read the Author Challenge. I had avoided it for years quite honestly because it is not really my kind of book. The premise is simple, what if a boy's "imaginary" friends weren't imaginary. What if they were ghosts. What if a boy's changed behavior wasn't the result of a cross-country move, what if their new house was the burial ground for kidnapped and murdered children. What if he was the only one who could see them, hear them, talk with them. What if no one believed your story. Meet Stevie. A young boy--seven and eight--who is the 'sensitive' one in his family. Thought to be odd by his classmates, Steve's insight isn't as imaginary as folks think. The oldest child--with two younger siblings and another on the way--the year of 1983 is a living nightmare. His father, devastated by the economic recession gets a job as a writer of computer manuals. He was a game programmer. A rather successful one. The mother is lost in taking care of her children and busying herself with church work. Neither is quite aware of the dangers that await them in this small town in North Carolina.

It's an uncomfortable read that never gets any easier. Why? It paints the horrors of humanity--the depravity of man--in a thoroughly realistic and haunting way. Though there is 'one' main threat, the sickness and cruelty of the human race surround this family. The coworker who is a bit too insistent on babysitting. The teacher whose cruelty is just unspeakable. The neighbor who is quite possibly certifiably crazy yet off his medication. And then there is the serial killer/child molester. This seemingly "normal" and "safe" neighborhood is anything but. And that is what makes Lost Boys so scary. The fact that even though these are cautious parents who want only the best for their children, in some ways they are helpless to protect them. It is what you don't know that may come back to haunt you when all is said and done.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Becky's List

The Cardathon Challenge List:

Books I'm 100% planning on reading

Books by J.R.R. Tolkien
The Hobbit
Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring
Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers
Lord of the Rings: Return of the King
The Silmarillion

Books by C.S. Lewis

The Lion The Witch and The Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
Voyage of the Dawn Treader
Silver Chair
Horse and His Boy
Magician's Nephew
Last Battle

Books by Orson Scott Card
Children of the Mind
Ender's Shadow
Shadow of the Hegemon
Shadow Puppets
Shadow of the Giant
Pastwatch: The Redemption of Christopher Columbus

Books I'd like to potentially read

*At least one book by Isaac Asimov (maybe more)
*Several books by Jane Austen
*At least one book by Ray Bradbury (maybe more)
*Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (I'd like to at least try to read this. If I don't like it, I can always abort.)
*At least one book by Neil Gaiman
*At least one book by Robert Heinlein
*At least one book by George R.R. Martin
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
*Around the World in 80 Days by Verne
*The Once and Future King by T.H. White

Ideally, I will read *every* book on the list and have the time and energy to read beyond this initial list. There are many, many books that I'd like to get to eventually. This is just a starting point.

Becky's Review of Speaker for the Dead

Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card.

Speaker for the Dead is the sequel to Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. But in many ways, it is even more instrumental than Ender's Game. You see, Ender's Game started out as a story--a short story. Orson Scott Card was working on ideas for a new novel, and the basic premise of Speaker for the Dead came to him. Although, at the time the Speaker was a Singer. He thought and worked and thought and worked. And then it came to him, what if the Speaker was Ender! What if he used one of his *old* characters, and gave him a new story. There was one problem. The story needed to be fleshed out before this new novel could work. And it needed more "fleshing" than just a simple prologue or chapter could do. What he needed was to turn his original story into a novel all its own. This is when the characters (we know and love) came into existence. This is when Andrew/Ender was "born."

Speaker for the Dead is a sequel, but it didn't begin life that way--and you don't have to read it that way, either. It was my intention all along for Speaker to be able to stand alone, for it to make sense whether you have read Ender's Game or not. Indeed, in my mind this was the "real" book; if I hadn't been trying to write Speaker for the Dead back in 1983, there would never have been a novel version of Ender's Game at all.
How did Speaker for the Dead come to be? As with all my stories, this one began with more than one idea. The concept of a "speaker for the dead" arose from my experiences with death and funerals. I have written of this at greater length elsewhere; suffice it to say that I grew dissatisfied with the way that we use our funerals to revise the life of the dead, to give the dead a story so different from their actual life that, in effect, we kill them all over again. No, that is too strong. Let me just say that we erase them, we edit them, we make them into a person much easier to live with than the person who actually lived.
I rejected that idea. . . No, to understand who a person really was, what his or her life really meant, the speaker for the dead would have to explain their self-story--what they meant to do, what they actually did, what they regretted, what they rejoiced in. That's the story that we never know, the story that we never can know--and yet, at the time of death, it's the only story truly worth telling.
Speaker for the Dead is the story of a planet, a colony, in need. Lusitania. Home of colonists, Catholic colonists who speak Portuguese and Stark, and home of the "Piggies", pequeninos, "Little Ones." It has been three thousand years since the close of Ender's Game. Humans have supposedly learned much since the xenocide. They have come to regret the destruction of the Hive Queen and the "buggers" and have a new policy when dealing with alien species. This policy plays an important role in Speaker for the Dead. The pequeninos are different--very different from the human colonists. Their is a fence separating the two. Only xenologists--one or two at a time--could visit the pequeninos. Only for a few hours each day. And their were strict guidelines as to how much they could ask and tell. Pipo and Libo are the xenologists. One master, one apprentice. Novinha is the (young) xenobiologist. The three work together closely, but when tragedy strikes--Pipo's murdered by the Piggies--lives are destroyed and things are set into motion that can't be undone.

Andrew Wiggin is THE Speaker for the Dead, though only a few know it. (There are many who have that title of "speaker" but only one is the original. The author of The Hive Queen and the Hegemon.) When he receives the call to 'speak' the death of Pipo, he begins his journey to Lusitania...little knowing that it will forever change his life and determine his destiny.

There are many things I loved about Speaker. I love how Ender has matured into Andrew. I loved seeing how much he's grown...changed. He is wise. But his wisdom doesn't make him less human, it makes him more human. I love how this novel is about taking broken things, messy things, ugly things--and making them whole, making sense of the chaos, making them beautiful. In some ways, it is more philosophical than Ender's Game. Again, it is the characters that make Speaker for the Dead such an outstanding novel. His characters aren't perfect--far from it--but they're real.

Sickness and healing are in every heart. Death and deliverance are in every hand. (240)

Of all of the humans, he is the one who will understand us. (347)

When you really know someone, you can't hate them. (370)

Once you understand what people really want, you can't hate them anymore. You can fear them, but you can't hate them, because you can always find the same desires in your own heart. (370)

Friday, September 14, 2007

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

Orson Scott Card rated Eifelheim by Michael Flynn "the best science fiction novel not by me" in 2006. He further writes, "This story of alien visitors to a medieval German village, and the modern scientists trying to piece together what really happened, will fill your mind with unforgettable images."

I wanted to love Eifelheim as much as Card did. I really, really did. But its 316 pages felt like 600 at times. The book I wanted to read was Eifelheim for Dummies. I found the text to be just a bit too demanding to hold my attention for long segments of time. Why? It is mostly set in medieval Germany. 14th century Rhineland/Black Forest to be exact. The chief narrator is a priest named Dietrich. The names of the villagers, the names of the surrounding enemies, the names of the aliens, require much juggling. I had a hard time figuring out who was who and who was what for most of the novel despite the fact that there was a chart in the beginning of the novel. In fact, only two characters stood out: Deitrich, the priest, and and Hans, one of the aliens. Everyone else was just a name. Sometimes I'd remember what their profession was or what their social class was or what their sub-plot was, most of the time it stayed a blur. But the diverse cast of characters with longish names isn't the main problem. NO, that would be the fact that this novel lacks something crucial if you want the readership to include the "common" man or woman. A glossary. If you're going to use German and Latin phrases and words--generally several per page--you've got to either give the reader some indication as to what they mean either in the text iteself or at the back of the book in a glossary. There are also a good many English words that went right over my head. They certainly weren't on any SAT list I encountered. So there could be at any time over half a page that was undecipherable for me unless I wanted to try to find a dictionary or seek out a translation help. I didn't. Therefore, much of the story stayed over my head. I figured that I was able to hold some of the main plot together, and that the rest was just beyond me. The main plot? Aliens--two groups of traveling aliens--"crash" outside this German village. They didn't intend to be stranded. I don't think they meant to visit or stop at all. The priest and some other villagers find them. The priest decides to help these travelers. To treat them as friends. To welcome them, care for them, provide for them. Half the village, however, thinks these "aliens" are demons. So the book is about how these two groups learn to coexist. How they learn to get along. How they come to understand one another. How they perceive one another. What they do for one another. It is an opportunity to explore the faith--do you welcome all, love all, appreciate all, or do you judge, hate, and despise those who are "different" "other" or "foreign." Do you demonize what you don't understand, or do you treat them as a "neighbor."

There are religious, scientific, philosophical, political, and economic subplots as well. The book is heavy in dialogue. And I wish I could understand more than ten percent of it. I should also mention that it is "rich" in cultural and national history. Since I was completely unfamiliar with this time period--at least from the German point of view--it was a bit overwhelming at times. I think I'm not the only one who will have a hard time connecting with this time period.

Yet despite all my frustrations, I was intrigued enough by the concept, I cared enough, to want to keep persevering through it all. By page 270 or 280, I was beginning to grasp it. Beginning to understand more and able to follow it better. But I realize that most people aren't that patient.

I would be curious to see other reviews of this one. Am I the only one that had a hard time comprehending the language and vocabulary? The only one who felt out of their element when trying to make sense of this foreign culture/setting/time period?
The primary problems with the novel lie with the pacing and structure. The 14th-century narrative that makes up most of the book moves exceedingly slow, with the most interesting events appearing as compelling moments that are interspersed within long sections of medieval village life, church services and theological discussions that sometimes become tedious. The contemporary sections with Tom and Sharon are too short and too far between to be compelling on their own, and the narrative device that has their story being told by a German colleague seems extraneous. This would have been a better novel if the 14th-century narrative had been tightened and the 21st-century story had been made more compelling, with Tom's historical documents providing more of the 14th-century story.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Stephanie's Intro and List of books!

Hi everyone!! Thanks for letting me read along with all of you! This is probably going to be a definite "challenge" for me. Since I might be one of the few that join up that has never actually READ a book by Orson Scott Card!! Weird, huh? But I'm going on faith, and the word of many of my fellow bloggers, all of whom I hold in the highest respect!!

So....I perused the list of OSC books and reviews and recommendations and came up with a list. Ok, it's a whopper of a list!! So, I actually reserve the right to pick and choose from said list. If I can read them all....great! If not, I will definitely get in at least 12!

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
Seventh Son by Orson Scott Card
The Memory of Earth by Orson Scott Card
Sarah by OSC
Lost Boys by OSC
Enchantment by OSC
A Planet Called Treason by OSC
Capitol by OSC
Hot Sleep by OSC
Eye for and Eye by OSC
Treasure Box by OSC
Wyrms by OSC

Then comes the reviews and recommendations:

Assassin's Apprentice by Robin Hobb
The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov
Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbit
Murder of Roger Ackroid by Agatha Christie
The Black Echo by Michael Connelly
Widdershins by Charles de Lint
The Bone Doll's Twin by Lynn Flewelling
The Puppet Masters (or Farmer in the Sky) by Robert Heinlein
The Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini
Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz
Holes by Louis Sacher
Digging to America by Anne Tyler

So, I guess we will see how far I get!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Fox by Sherwood Smith

New Eligible Book to Add to the list:

OSC reviewed this one 8/26/07--though it wasn't posted online until 9/7/07

A few months ago, I reviewed Sherwood Smith's fantasy novel Inda, the first volume of a projected trilogy, and I believe I said very positive things.

I recently read volume two, Fox, and the achievement of this writer is only getting more remarkable.

So many fantasy novels take place in a space about the size (and with as much variety) as the state of Delaware.

But in Fox, Smith opens up the novel into a wide, wide world, with enormous variety. Here we have nation within nation, layers of history, and a real sense that there are kingdoms and empires on several continents, with complex interactions among them, and wide variation in their cultures.

Every group has its own history, its own objectives, its own grievances. And Smith handles the relationships and machinations among them so deftly that you don't realize you're being given a course in politics.

The novel begins by plunging into the story about fifteen minutes after the end of the previous volume. I strongly recommend that you reread that last chapter of Inda before starting to read Fox. Otherwise, you'll be as lost as I was. As with the first volume, Smith does not define things as she goes along: You're expected either to remember or figure it out.

But the sense of dislocation is only momentary. Within a chapter or two I was fully reoriented, despite the months between volumes. And what a ride this new book is!

Though the international politics is deftly handled, what matters most is that the personal stories are believable and compelling. The close-in core of Inda's companions; the second core of characters surrounding Prince Evred; the potential rival to Inda for leadership of his anti-pirate pirate fleet, Fox; and the most mysterious character, a warrior mage named Ramis who seems able to control space and time -- all are richly created, sympathetic, and real.

Nor does Smith infinitely postpone decisive action, the way so many writers of long series do. No, when it's time for something to happen, it happens, and Smith flings out the consequences with reckless abandon. It's often quite breathtaking how daring she is.

Naming and vocabulary are, as always in this series, a challenge. Inda goes by the nom de guerre of "Elgar the Fox," perhaps intending that he be confused with his ally and rival, whose name is Fox.

After a while, titles like sierlaef and harskialdna begin to sound like natural words, and family names like Montredavan-An and personal names like Indevan-Laef Algara-Vayir become not just pronounceable, but freighted with all kinds of meaning. It's as if we enter into the culture, like immigrants who finally catch on to the language.

Sexuality in these books is a bit utopian (in a libertarian sense) and denies much of human evolution -- it's a world in which sexual activity is largely separated from mating and child-rearing, and sexual orientation is accepted no matter which way it turns.

But nothing is ever pornographic. You don't necessarily give this book to pre-adolescents, but nobody is going to learn the facts of life from it, either. As always, the best suggestion, if you have a fantasy-loving teen, is to read it yourself and then discuss the issues raised by the books in an intelligent way. It works far better than banning a book at keeping your child's moral lens clearly focused.

In the past few months I've started reading more than a dozen fantasy novels or series; I haven't reviewed them here because they were, to put it kindly, a waste of my time, and I didn't bother finishing them.

By contrast, I didn't want Fox to end. I savored every paragraph and continued to live in the book for days afterward.

I keep thinking that if I write a good enough review, the publisher or author will relent and let me read the next volume early. Like now. Please.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Princess and the Hound

Harrison, Mette Ivie. 2007. The Princess and the Hound.

If you've been reading this blog long, you've probably guessed that the more I love a book, the harder it is for me to express it clearly. This book had me at hello. I mean, I was hooked from the very beginning. I was under Harrison's magic spell immediately. Her writing, her style, is just unbelievable. The Princess and the Hound reads like a fairy tale--magic spells and all. It's enchanting. It's exciting. It's ever-so-good. You'd think that with the word "Princess" in the title, it would be narrated by a girl--a princess. You would think that it would be a love story of how a princess is swept off her feet by a prince from a neighboring country and who goes on to live happily ever after. But that is not this story. It is narrated by George. A prince. The story begins when he is quite young--probably four or five--and continues through his teen years. It is a story of a kingdom in turmoil. Those with animal magic are forced to live hidden, secret lives. Accused of being "evil" and "unnatural" by their animals for being able to talk to animals and communicate with them, their very lives are at stake if they are discovered. To possess animal magic is to be condemned to die a painful death. George and his mother, the Queen, shared a secret. Both have the magic. Both hide the magic. But it was in hiding the magic, in being untrue to herself, that the Queen succumbed to a terrible fever and died. George doesn't want to die, but he doesn't want to give himself over to the magic either. He wants to control it. Hide it. Suppress it as much as possible.

So far I'm doing an absolute horrible job in sharing what this story is all about. One boy, a prince, one girl, a princess. Two kingdoms trying to keep peace. An arranged marriage. Those are the bare facts without embellishment. George and the princess, Beatrice, have their own secrets, hurts, fears, worries. Each one has reasons to mistrust others and hide their "true" selves and true thoughts and feelings. It is in this gradual revealing to one another that all unfolds and the magic released to do its healing.

Love. Loss. Pain. Confusion. Fear. Hope. Forgiveness. Compassion. Justice. This book has it all.

When the Sleeper Wakes

When the Sleeper Wakes by H.G. Wells is a story about a man with insomnia who falls into a trance and sleeps for two hundred years. Imagine falling asleep in Victorian England, and waking up two hundred years later. Imagine the changes in society. In landscape. In politics. In everything. This is the future that Wells imagined. The Sleeper--a man named Graham--wakes up to find himself the center of attention. Not only because he's famous...but because he's wealthy. In his sleep, he has become the "master" of the world. He now "owns" most of the companies, most of the lands, etc. in the world. But is it really his for the taking? As Graham discovers, this society--this government--of sorts has secrets, lies, and propaganda. All is not as it appears. All is not as they tell him. Some sort of action on his part is required, but can he realize it in time to save the world? to save himself?

When the Sleeper Wakes definitely falls into the category of dystopic fiction. Wells' dystopia has some frightening aspects--including brainwashing and manipulation. The lower class lives in total enslavement. They live to obey. They live to serve. The middle class aren't really much better off. Most of the upper class waste their lives living it up in one of the Pleasure Cities. Only a small percent of the upper class serve as the elite and "rule" the world. Not with justice. Not with equality. But selfishly, ruthlessly, with total disregard for others. The Sleeper, Graham, wants to change all that. But can one man really make a difference? Can he be the people's messiah? Can he free the people from slavery?

The book has an introduction by Orson Scott Card. He writes, "Today there are hundreds of different doors into science fiction. But at the beginning, there was only one door, and H.G. Wells was the one who turned the key, opened it, and stepped through, showing everyone else the way." (xx)

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Alpha Oops: The Day Z Went First

Occasionally, Orson Scott Card reviews picture books for his "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" column on Hatrack. Alpha Oops is one of these.

Alpha Oops by Alethea Kontis and illustrated by Bob Kolar is a fun, light read about the day when Z (and the rest of the letters) decided to change things up a bit when it came to the alphabet. A, the natural leader, had some issues to work out, of course. He didn't like being bossed around by the letter Z. But all works out rather well in the end. It's a comical read that "kids" of all ages will enjoy.

I think this story would pair well with Chicka, Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr. And it is especially appropriate for this time of year--back-to-school.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Becky's Review of The Thirteenth Tale

Originally posted on Becky's Book Reviews.

Haunted by the loss of a twin she never knew and wasn't supposed to know about, Margaret Lea, the daughter of an antiques and collectibles bookseller, accepts Vida Winter's strange offer to come stay with her and hear her true story. Ms. Vida Winter is a famous--a world-famous--author. She's known not only for her excellent prose, but for her ability to spin a story--a web of lies--for the journalists and reporters that come round every time a new book is released. There are hundreds of printed stories about Ms. Winter's childhood circulating about. None of them are true. Miss Lea knows this, of course, when she goes. The invitation was so touching though--leaving words that echo down deep inside her--that Margaret just can't say no.

Preparing for her journey, Margaret immerses herself in Winter's novels. Within a matter of days, she has fallen in love with the way this woman tells a story, writes a book, crafts a narrative.

Of course one always hopes for something special when one reads an author one hasn't read before, and Miss Winter's books gave me the same thrill I had when I discovered the Landier diaries, for instance. But it was more than that. I have always been a reader; I have read at every stage of my life, and there has never been a time when reading was not my greatest joy. And yet I cannot pretend that the reading I have done in my adult years matches in its impact on my soul the reading I did as a child. I still believe in stories. I still forget myself when I am in the middle of a good book. Yet it is not the same. Books are, for me, it must be said, the most important thing; what I cannot forget is that there was a time when they were at once more banal and more essential than that. When I was a child, books were everything. And so there is in me, always, a nostalgic yearning for the lost pleasure of books. It is not a yearning that one ever expects to be fulfilled. And during this time, these days when I read all day and half the night, when I slept under a counterpane strewn with books, when my sleep was black and dreamless and passed in a flash and I woke to read again--the lost joys of reading returned to me. Miss Winter restored to me the virginal qualities of the novice reader, and then with her stories she ravished me. (32)

The story is a weaving of the past and present. Each day Miss Winter shares a little bit more of her life story. The beginning. The middle. The end. Each night Margaret is haunted not only by her day's work but by the loss of her twin. Her own family secrets. Her own hurts and pains. The story is both Miss Winter's and Margaret's. Secrets. Lies. Broken families. Ghosts. Violence. Loss. Betrayal. Love.

The Thirteenth Tale is an unforgettable read. Enjoyable from cover to cover. It's haunting. It's powerful. It's one-of-a-kind.