Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Ender in Exile

Yes I know, I'm not the first or only one to post a review of ENDER IN EXILE, but I've been a member of this blog for a long time and have never posted. So, here goes:

If you know me at all, it’s no secret that my favorite author is Orson Scott Card and my favorite series is Ender’s Game. Therefore, I jumped at the chance to read ENDER IN EXILE.

First of all, it goes without saying that if you like any of the Ender books, you must read this one. The neat thing is, you could really read it anytime. If you just read ENDER’S GAME, this would be a great sequel. But it sort of continues the SHADOW OF THE GIANT timeline too. Or if you’ve already read them all, this is a wonderful way to get to visit the Enderverse again. (I’ve already read the series a few times, so a new book was a welcome gift to me).

Now I’ll get to the review. This picks up right after the war. Most of the children are going back home. But Ender, savior of the world, could end up being a pawn to anyone who gets their hands on him, so rather than be in danger on Earth, he’s sent to govern a new colony in space. Valentine knows she’ll never see him again on Earth, so she decides to join him. Peter had originally wanted him home, so he could use him for his own purposes, but realizes that he’ll be better off without Ender overshadowing him.

This novel tells the story of Ender at that first colony then follows him to another colony where his life is seriously threatened. But it’s really about a boy of thirteen figuring out how to live with the guilt of what he’s done. Several good people try to convince him along the way to forgive himself and move on (Graff, Valentine). However, he is the only one who can do that. It doesn’t matter how many people tell him to do it, he must find a way that works for him.

He finally does find a way. Or at least something that gives him great relief. I was hoping this would be the book where he found the Hive Queen.I loved hearing the story behind the writing of The Hive Queen & The Hegemon. I also enjoyed immensely seeing the interactions and relationship build between Ender & Valentine. I always loved the two of them together (almost as much as Ender & Jane).

One event that I wanted to know more about was how Ender went from "Ender - Savior of the World" to "Ender the Xenocide." It was mentioned in other books, but here we see step-by-step how the public opinion was manipulated. It’s actually pretty scary how easily that type of thing can happen.

This was an enjoyable trip, indeed. In fact, I feel like I want to go back and read more from the series.

If you’re a fan, you won’t need my prompting to read this one. If you’re not yet a fan, begin the journey with ENDER’S GAME and you’ll quickly become one.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cardathon Completed! (3M)

Thanks so much for hosting this challenge, Becky! I enjoyed all of the books I read, but my favorite was probably The Graveyard Book. I love Neil Gaiman!

The books I read (10 total and 2 by Card):

Card, Orson Scott

  • Ender's Game (review to come)

  • Ender in Exile (review to come)

Gaiman, Neil

Rowling, J.K.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ender In Exile

Card, Orson Scott. 2008. Ender in Exile.

Ender in Exile is the "new direct sequel" to Ender's Game. And in a way, that's true enough. The novel begins with Ender on Eros. His brother, Peter, and sister, Valentine, are on Earth. One lobbying for his return, the other arguing that he should not be allowed to come home. At all. Ever. If Ender was sent home, so the argument goes, he'd be a pawn for governments and militaries to fight over. He'd be targeted by power-hungry individuals for the rest of his life. Right? Those that have read the Shadow books (Ender's Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, Shadow of the Giant) know that is exactly what happened to other Battle School children--including Petra, Bean, and Alai--when they returned. With the return of the children come wars and rumors of wars. Valentine--a.k.a. Demosthenes--wants better than that for her brother. Valentine loves her brother. If he can't come to her, she'll go to him. She decides to join her brother in space in his exile.

Admiral Ender will soon become Governor Wiggin when he's sent (along with Valentine) with one of the first (I think it is the very first) colonization vessels. At thirteen, he doesn't feel ready for the job no matter what anyone on Eros or Earth has to say about his legendary hero status. And there is at least one man on board--a fellow Admiral--who is captain of the ship--Quincy Morgan--who feels that Ender is a sham of a man. He glories himself to be the better man for the job. And he plans accordingly.

This journey will take a little over forty years give or take a month or two. But for Ender--and for the others that remain awake for this flight--it will be just two years. Who would choose to stay awake when they had the option of sleeping and not aging? You might be surprised at how many. Ender chooses because he wants those two years desperately to make him "mature" into a man that a colony of strangers would respect. Valentine chooses because it will give her time with Ender...and it will give her time to write. She's got plans for writing about Battle School and the Formic Wars. The reader is also introduced to two others that choose to remain awake: Dorabella and Alessandra Toscano. Dorabella is a strange woman living in a fantasy world and dreaming big dreams. Here is a feisty woman with ambition. Alessandra is the much shyer, much quieter, mostly-obedient daughter who's afraid to stand up to her mother.

Where are they going? Colony 1. But this colony is soon given a name: Shakespeare. And Ender begins communicating with the governor even before they've left Eros. He wants to know everything about the planet, everything about the people, he wants to make these vital connections, and it's not because he has to. The reader is introduced to some of these colonists throughout. (None will be familiar except Abra.)

A lot can happen in forty or fifty years. And Andrew and Valentine are not cut off completely from Earth. Not exactly. So we do hear about Peter becoming Hegemon. About the wars on Earth. About Bean and Petra and the others whose adventures we followed in the Shadow books.

At some point in the book, Andrew learns about another colony-in-the-making that will be governed by a Battle School graduate named Virlomi. And on that ship is a child that Graff feels is the missing ninth child of Bean and Petra. He wants Andrew--if he's able--to go to this new Colony if he gets the chance to find out for sure. The colony in question is Ganges. On this ship and on this colony are several people whom the reader first met in one or more of the Shadow books.

So Ender in Exile is also the direct sequel to Shadow of the Giant. It follows a handful of the characters into space. And we also follow in a limited capacity those left behind--Peter, Petra, Graff, etc.

Almost everything that happens (but not all of what happens) was hinted at in the final chapter of Ender's Game. There aren't any BIG surprises along the way. The Ender of Ender in Exile is a boy in transition. He's not yet a man. He's not the wise-beyond-his-years Speaker For the Dead. He's a guilt-ridden boy who is burdened by what he's done--the deaths of those two boys, the annihilation of the Buggers--and he is anxious to make amends. He's a good-natured, boy who is seeking answers, always seeking.

How does Ender in Exile compare to others in the series? I enjoyed it. While it could never take the place in my heart for Ender's Game and Speaker for the Dead, it certainly belongs there with the others. We've got a good mix of old characters and new characters. The characterization--like always--is great. The plot was as exciting (in a way) and well paced as others. This one wasn't as bogged down with politics and strategies. Nor was it bogged down with philosophy. I'm not picking on the other sequels--I happen to enjoy them all--but I also acknowledge that some fans of Ender's Game are turned off by the sequels.

I've never been sure how to order these books. I read them Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, Ender's Shadow, Shadow of the Hegemon, Shadow Puppets, Shadow of the Giant, Ender in Exile. But chronologically, they're all over the place. All of Ender in Exile occurs within the final chapter of Ender's Game and before Speaker of the Dead opens. But there are events discussed or mentioned in Ender in Exile from the Shadow books. There are characters introduced in the Shadow books that are a part of the action in Ender In Exile. So I'm not sure what order to recommend them anymore. I think they can be enjoyed in any order perhaps.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Revisiting Ender

In celebration of the release of Ender in Exile, I decided to reread Ender's Game. Though I admit it doesn't take much for me to find a good reason to revisit an old friend like Ender. There are times I wonder why I keep going back again and again and again. What is it about Ender and his friends that I just can't get enough of? I don't have the answer to that. But I do know that each time with Ender is just as magical as the previous times. I never get tired of reading Ender's Game no matter how many times I reread it. And there aren't that many books I can say that about.

First sentence: "I've watched through his eyes, I've listened through his ears, and I tell you he's the one. Or at least as close as we're going to get."

Ender's Game is a story about children who don't act like children. Set several hundred years in the future after the first and second wars with the Buggers (or formics), the military-powers-that-be take the most promising children and send them into space to attend Battle School. There they are raised to be soldiers and officers and commanders. No kindness or compassion allowed. Our hero, Andrew Wiggin, is just six when he's taken to Battle School. His nickname is Ender, and he's one-of-a-kind almost from the very beginning. He's the child that shows the most potential, the most promise. But to get him to commander-stage, he'll have to be treated harshly. Even more harshly than his fellow launchies. Do the end results justify the means? You'll have to read and see for yourself.

For my more extensive review of Ender's Game, see this review.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Card, Orson Scott. 1991. Xenocide.

Xenocide is the sequel to Speaker for the Dead. (Speaker for the Dead is the sequel to Ender's Game. Ender's Game is my favorite, favorite book.) Xenocide is an intricately complex plot following the saga of characters (mainly) introduced in Speaker for the Dead. Speaker for the Dead concludes with the threat of the destruction of the planet of Lusitania. Which would mean the destruction of the pequeninos (piggies), the human colonists (including Andrew Wiggin, his wife, his stepchildren, etc.) and the Hive Queen (the Buggers). The Lusitania Fleet has been launched, and the order to destroy the planet using the M.D. Device (Little Doctor) has been given. If it wasn't for Jane, the life-force residing in the ansibles and computers, the impending doom would be absolutely, completely certain. As it is, it is only mostly certain that xenocide will occur once again. (Xenocide being genocide of an entire species. While the human colonists would lose their lives, the human race would go on in the other hundreds of worlds colonized. But xenocide is a very real threat to two alien species: the Hive Queen (and her workers, etc) and the Pequeninos.)

There are so very many characters to keep track of in Xenocide. As I mentioned, most were introduced in Speaker for the Dead. Andrew and Valentine. Andrew's wife, Novinha. Andrew's step-children: Miro, Ela, Quim, Olhado, Quaro, Grego. The piggies of utmost importance are Planter and Glass. (Not counting the fathertrees Human and Rooter, etc.) The Hive Queen of course. Jane, the character that pulls most of the book together. But there are three characters that are brand new to the story. Three people from the Chinese colony of Path: Han Fei-tzu, Han Qing-jao, and Si Wang-mu.

The plot is too intricate and complex to go into all the details. The book is all about life-and-death matters. The colonists are trying to figure out a way to kill the descolada before it destroys them. They hope that if they can destroy it, then perhaps they'll be saved as well. The Hive Queen is busy building star ships. She wants some for herself. But she's also building some for the Pequeninos. She doesn't want another alien species destroyed by human stupidity. But the humans know that while the Hive Queen may be intelligent enough to find a way to kill the descolada from tainting them and their DNA--the Piggies aren't nearly advanced enough to do so. (The descolada is essential for the Pequeninos to survive. It is linked to their DNA. It is how they procreate and continue on in the third life.)

Xenocide is an interesting novel. But one that doesn't stand on its own. It begins in the middle of things, and ends with no resolution. (Or very little resolution.) It's the middle book of a trilogy (in a way) and while it's important...crucial for the progression of the story...it isn't as satisfying in some ways as the others in the series.

That being said, I do like it. I made the mistake, this time round, of not having read it close enough to Speaker for the Dead. It's been about fifteen or sixteen months since I read Speaker for the Dead. And some books are just better read in close proximity.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Margaret Peterson Haddix's Found

Haddix, Margaret Peterson. 2008. The Missing Book 1: Found.

I may be a bit biased--slightly--since I love, love, love Margaret Peterson Haddix. My expectations were high with this her first book in a new series. And I was NOT disappointed. I was WOWed. I'm not foolish enough to think that this one will WOW every single kid, teen, or adult out there. But for those that love science fiction and mysteries...this one is for you.

Here's the opening of the prologue: "It wasn't there. Then it was. Later, that was how Angela DuPre would describe the airplane--over and over, to one investigator after another--until she was told never to speak of it again. But when she first saw the plane that night, she wasn't thinking about mysteries or secrets."

What Angela DuPre witnessed on her first day of the job was indescribably unbelievable. Perplexing. A plane that appeared and disappeared on the runway. A plane that she found minus the pilot and flight attendants. A flight were all thirty-six passengers were babies. Sounds crazy, right? How could an unscheduled plane--a plane that did not show up on any of their radars--land on their runway to begin with? How could it have gotten there without a pilot on board? Why babies? But even more strange was the fact that once the babies were unloaded, and the proper authorities called...the plane vanished into thin air. Angela DuPre witnessed the unbelievable alright. But she wasn't crazy.

The Found opens thirteen years later. Our hero is a boy named Jonah. He's got a best friend, Chip, and a slightly younger sister, Katherine. Our book opens with the arrival of several mystery letters. Two letters. Thirteen words. Lives are going to change.

"You are one of the missing."
"Beware! They're coming back to get you."

Found is a suspenseful, mysterious action-and-adventure novel that will thrill those that love science fiction. Of course I can't promise that it will "thrill" every reader. But I know it kept me reading. I couldn't put it down. And I was loving every minute of it. The pacing was just right. The characters were nicely developed--and are sure to improve upon with each novel that is published in the series. The only problem with the book is that it left me wanting more...wanting more now! I don't want to have to wait for the next novel to come out. I want to know what happens to Jonah and Katherine and Chip NOW! There's this intensity and immediacy that I just don't find in many other books.

Other reviews, Semicolon, The Reading Zone, KidsReads.com, Mrs. Hill,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Just so you know

I do routinely go in and update the listing of Card-Recommended Titles. I scan his "Uncle Orson Reviews Everything" columns so religiously that if it's mentioned, I update it immediately :)
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Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Last Battle

Lewis, C.S. 1956. The Last Battle.

In the last days of Narnia, far up to the west beyond Lantern Waste and close beside the great waterfall, there lived an Ape. He was so old that no one could remember when he had first come to live in those parts, and he was the cleverest, ugliest, most wrinkled Ape you can imagine. He had a little house, built of wood and thatched with leaves, up in the fork of a great tree, and his name was Shift. There were very few Talking Beasts or Men or Dwarfs, or people of any sort, in that part of the wood, but Shift had one friend and neighbour who was a donkey called Puzzle. At least they both said they were friends, but from the way things went on you might have thought Puzzle was more like Shift's servant than his friend.

The beginning of the end starts with one donkey, one ape, and one lion skin that floats downstream. From that skin an evil plot is born, and from that plot much blood is shed and much harm is done for every living thing (man, animal, tree, etc.) in Narnia. Shift's plot? To have Puzzle wear the lion skin and "be" Aslan for curious persons to gaze upon from a distance. Shift's real plot? To use the name of Aslan to get exactly what he wants.

It has been many generations since King Rilian ruled. Now his descendant, a king named Tirian, reigns. Though his luck seems to change overnight. One day a king, the next a prisoner. And all because "Aslan" has arrived back in Narnia.

Using the famed line "He's not a tame lion" people reason away all the signs that this is NOT Aslan. He commands the destruction of trees with spirits? Not a tame lion. He demands talking beasts to become his slaves? Not a tame lion. Demands servitude and exile from dwarfs? Not a tame lion. It's easy to say from our perspective that these animals, these individuals are a bit too gullible. But when you stop and think about it, the reader knows more, has experienced more. There haven't been any Aslan spottings in hundreds perhaps a thousand years. What the average Narnian knows is just stories passed down generation by generation by generation. Is it really so hard to see that perhaps their faith has more doubt than certainty? The truth is the average Narnian has not had any "use" for Aslan and his stories in their practical lives. So their faith isn't as "active" as it could be, should be perhaps.

King Tirian won't be fooled for long. He starts off highly suspicious and remains so for the most part. Once he's been captured, imprisoned, Tirian starts to think, to really think about Narnia, about Narnian history, about what he knows to be true, to be right. He realizes that humans from another world have always always been a part of the action. That the arrival of humans almost always accompanies these Aslan sightings. There is always a link. So he delivers a heartfelt prayer that these human saviors will come once again and fight for Narnia, to fight for freedom, to fight for right.

His prayer is answered in a way, but not in the way he hoped. I hope this isn't too much of a spoiler for readers. But it is called The Last Battle for a reason. Narnia is coming to an end. The world, the country, is dying. Tirian and the humans who arrive--Jill, Eustace, Lucy, Edmund, Peter, Digory, and Polly--are there to witness the end of Narnia and the beginning of their after lives.

As a child, I enjoyed this one. I would have put it above many of the other books in the series--including Horse and His Boy and Silver Chair--but as an adult I have a new perspective altogether. While some of the aspects of this one work for me, there were quite a few significant problems.

I'm not sure if other readers will share my quibbles or not. They may have different issues than I do. Among one of the reasons why people may find the last one disappointing is that...


all the humans die. Jill. Eustace. Peter. Edmund. Lucy. Digory. Polly. Most of them (I think most of them) die as a result of a train accident. (The Pevensie parents die as well but we still don't see them in the book.) I'm not sure if killing off all your characters will leave readers satisfied. Yes, the characters themselves are happy. But the deaths of so many seem tragic to me. Not that death itself is tragic. (Death can be a good thing. It can be a blessing.)

Second. Susan is missing. She's no longer a "friend" of Narnia. This is 'tragic' for several reasons. One is that technically speaking she will have lost her mother, father, two brothers, and a sister. She'll be all alone in the world. Two is the not-so-subtle theme that you can lose your salvation. If being a friend of Narnia translates directly into being a Christian, then Lewis' message seems to be that Susan represents Christians that have fallen from grace and lost their salvation, lost their way. Of course there are some believers who do in fact believe that this is the case. That Christians can un-Christian themselves, un-save themselves, re-damn themselves. I for one am not one of them. Of course, there is the potential that this fictional Susan could regain her friend status later on in life. That she could have another opportunity to believe. But Susan as allegory just doesn't work for me.

For those readers who are not approaching these seven novels as a Christian believer, for those that are reading them because they are fantasy--pure and simple and fun fantasy--then The Last Battle is a fitting conclusion.

Edited: I did edit out a theological rant simply because I feel that this may not be the best forum for such a theological can of worms :)

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

I have other books that I really need to review, but I wanted to give this book the justice it deserved, so I am reviewing it now. It is by far one of the best books I read this year, so I am glad I went to the store the other day to pick up a copy. Marg and Stephanie have both had wonderful things to say about it, so I suppose they are happy that I didn't end up hating it!

Melanie Stryder refuses to fade away. The earth has been invaded by a
species that take over the minds of their human hosts while leaving their bodies
intact, and most of humanity has succumbed.

Wanderer, the invading "soul" who has been given Melanie's body, knew about
the challenges of living inside a human: the overwhelming emotions, the too
vivid memories. But there was one difficulty Wanderer didn't expect: the former
tenant of her body refusing to relinquish possession of her mind.

Melanie fills Wanderer's thoughts with visions of the man Melanie
loves-Jared, a human who still lives in hiding. Unable to separate herself from
her body's desires, Wanderer yearns for a man she's never met. As outside forces
make Wanderer and Melanie unwilling allies, they set off to search for the man
they both love.

Featuring what may be the first love triangle involving only two bodies,
THE HOST is a riveting and unforgettable novel that will bring a vast new
readership to one of the most compelling writers of our time.

I was a little worried about this book. I have the worst problem with not agreeing with other people's opinions on books, so I was a little worried that I was not going to like it as much as other people did. Marg and Stephanie usually have good taste, though, so I really shouldn't have been worried at all. The other thing I was worried about was the love triangle thing... I am just not a romance reader. The interesting thing is that when I finished the book and saw people calling it a romance, it sort of surprised me. I am perfectly aware of the romance aspect of the book, but there are other things that caught my attention.

Anyways, carrying on. This book was a perfect science fiction novel to enjoy. I read more fantasy than science fiction, so I really cannot remember the last time I sat down with one that I enjoyed so much. I was hooked from the first page. I was mad that I, as usual, never seemed to have time to read it, but at the same time, I was sad when it was over. It only took me a couple days to read it, in any case, and if anyone is paying attention to my slacking reading numbers this year you would know that is pretty fast for me. It's a pretty big book and I flew through it. Apparently I should not read at work, though, someone told me yesterday that they walked by and I was totally oblivious. Different book, but I still should've been paying more attention...

So, as the description says above an alien species has taken over the people of earth's bodies and minds. The human has been lost, in most cases, while the alien continues to survive. This is not the first planet that they have taken over in this manner, but it is the first planet with such an advanced species. Humans have a lot more going on in their minds that the aliens have to adjust to. Melanie Stryder is taken over by an alien that is named Wanderer by the doctors on Earth. She has never found a planet that she wanted to call home, so she has been moving from place to place. As the novel progresses, her name is shortened to Wanda. Unlike the norm, her human is still aware and still talking to her, something that is not supposed to happen. It makes it all that more difficult for her to adjust.

Instead of being enemies, Melanie's memories of the man that she loves bring them together. They set out on a quest to see if they can locate this man, a man that Wanderer has never met but feels very strongly for. Wanderer and Melanie have conversations that make you laugh out loud at times, especially when Wanderer does things that Melanie does not approve of. Wanderer's race is a very peaceful race at their core, while humans are known to be a bit violent, so it is an interesting contrast. This book goes in some interesting directions. I cannot say it ever really surprised me, but it did make for an interesting chain of events. I have to say that I was not very fond of Jared, Melanie's love, but I did enjoy Ian. He is a very interesting character. I have seen that a couple other places.

In conclusion, I disagree on the love triangle idea. I think it was a bit more complicated than that, especially as the story progressed. All I know for sure, though, is that I really enjoyed this book. I strongly recommend it to everyone, even if science fiction is not your thing.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Magician's Nephew

Lewis, C.S. 1955. The Magician's Nephew.

As long as folks don't erroneously place this one first in the series, I have no problems with this one at all. It's an interesting story of a young boy, Digory, and a young girl, Polly, and their adventures and misadventures in and out of this world, this reality.

"This is a story about something that happened long ago when your grandfather was a child. It is a very important story because it shows how all the comings and goings between our own world and the land of Narnia first began."

It assumes--presumes--a familiarity of sorts with Narnia, with Aslan, with the White Witch, with the Lamp Post, with the Wardrobe, with the Professor. (And it's just a bit silly to think this one should come first.)

Digory, the young boy, grows up to be the Professor from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. And this story is one of creation. How the world of Narnia came to be. How it was created. How evil was introduced into it. And how a promise of a savior was introduced as well. Hope. Promise. This one is rich in meaning.

The story for this one? Digory has a sick mother. Him and his mother are living with the Ketterleys. Mr. Ketterley is the boy's uncle. And he is mad, crazy, out-of-touch with reality, obsessed. He feels as the last person (in his reckoning at least) who had a godmother with a touch of real fairy blood in her that he is destined for great things, great discoveries. His dreams are of being a powerful and great magician. He loves power; he uses it as a front to his own weakness both physical and mental. He's really an overgrown baby. Very fearful. Very immature. He tricks Polly so he can use her in an experiment, and then using Polly as incentive, he has Digory as a human guinea pig as well.

Polly and Digory travel to another reality--several different realities--in fact. The book is full of their adventures and misadventures as they keep trying to set things right.

Aslan plays a big role in this one. And I love those scenes. I do.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Horse and His Boy

Lewis, C.S. 1954. The Horse and His Boy.

"This is the story of an adventure that happened in Narnia and Calormen and the lands between, in the Golden Age when Peter was High King in Narnia and his brother and his two sisters were King and Queens under him."

Our hero is a young boy named Shasta. He meets two talking horses, Bree and Hwin, and a young girl, Aravis. Together--all for various reasons--are traveling secretly to the North, to Narnia. Shasta, for example, is running away because his 'father' wants to sell him into slavery. Bree, one of the horses, is a talking horse that has been "owned" too long for his liking by a foreign soldier. He dreams of Narnia and of freedom. Aravis is running away from an arranged marriage. And Hwin, like Bree, is a horse Narnia-bound. Their journey isn't as easy and as smooth as they'd like. There are a few bumps along the way. Unexpected detours and delays. A few scares. A few close calls. Great danger that they always seem to be one step ahead of. But they soon discover that there is a purpose--strange as it seems to them--behind everything.

One of my favorite things about The Horse and His Boy is that it illustrates Romans 8. Aslan the lion is behind everything. Though silent and unrecognized, unacknowledged, he is traveling with these four on their way. And he has a plan and a purpose.

"Don't you think it was bad luck to meet so many lions?" said Shasta.
"There was only one lion," said the Voice.
"What on earth do you mean? I've just told you there were at least two the first night, and--"
"There was only one: but he was swift of foot."
"How do you know?"
"I was the lion." And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. "I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you."
"Then it was you who wounded Aravis?"
"It was I."
"But what for?"
"Child," said the Voice, "I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but his own."
"Who are you?" asked Shasta.
"Myself," said the voice, very deep and low so that the earth shook: and again, "Myself", loud and clear and gay: and then the third time "Myself", whispered so softly you could hardly hear it, and yet it seemed to come from all round you as if the leaves rustled with it.
Shasta was no longer afraid that the Voice belonged to something that would eat him, nor that it was the voice of a ghost. But a new and different sort of trembling came over him. Yet he felt glad too. (281)

So perhaps if this one has a spiritual message it is one of God's providence and sovereignty.

As a child reader, I didn't get this one at all. I didn't get the theme. It wasn't an obvious one to me then. Not even as a teen. It was only in this past reading that I saw some inkling of a spiritual message within the pages. I thought, growing up, that it was a rather dinky story about horses. And I'm not really a horse-loving person. But this time I seem to see just a bit more.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews
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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Host Book Discussion Group

The Host by Stephenie Meyer is the selection for the month of July at Becky’s Online Reading Group.

The Host
by Stephenie Meyer
July’s Book-of-the-Month at Becky’s Online Reading Group

Day 0: July 2nd; Share thoughts on cover, flap, blurbs, prologue, first paragraph of chapter one. In other word–first impressions. Also might want to visit Stephenie Meyer’s website or the book website.
As “homework” between 7/2 and 7/7 read The Host 1-58 (Prologue through chapter 6)

Day 1: July 7th. Discuss chapters 1-6 (pp. 1-58   )
As “homework” to read between 7/7 and 7/9 read pp. 59 - 117 (Chapters 7 - 12)

Day 2: July 9th. Discuss chapters 7-12 (pp. 59-117)
As “homework” to read between 7/9 and 7/11 read 118-180 (Chapters 13-18  )

Day 3: July 11th. Discuss chapters 13-18 (pp. 118-180)
As “homework” to read between 7/11 and 7/14 read 181 - 243 (Chapters 19-24)

Day 4: July 14th. Discuss chapters 19-24 (pp. 181-243)
As “homework” to read between 7/14 and 7/16 read 244- 312 (Chapter 25-30)

Day 5: July 16th. Discuss chapters 25-30 (pp. 244-312)
As “homework” to read between 7/16 and 7/18 read 313-357 (Chapters 31-34)

Day 6: July 18th. Discuss chapters 31-34 (pp. 313-357)
As “homework” to read between 7/16 and 7/21 read 358 - 407 (Chapters 35-39)

Day 7: July 21rst. Discuss chapters 35-39 (pp. 358-407)
As “homework” to read between 7/21 and 7/23 read 408 - 456 (Chapters 40-44)

Day 8: July 23rd. Discuss chapters 40-44 (pp. 408-456)
As “homework” to read between 7/23 and 7/25 read 457 - 505 (Chapters 45 - 49)

Day 9: July 25th. Discuss chapters 45-49 (pp. 457-505)
As “homework” to read between 7/25 and 7/28 read 506 - 558 (Chapters 50 - 54)

Day 10: July 28th. Discuss Chapters 50-54 (pp. 506-558   )
As “homework” to read between 7/28 and 7/30 read 559 - 619 (Chapters 55 - epilogue)

Day 11: July 30th. Discuss chapters 55 - the epilogue (pp. 559-619)
Share closing thoughts and final impressions.

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Monday, June 30, 2008

Ender's Game

Andrew 'Ender' Wiggin is a 'third' - meaning he was the third born child to his family in a world where there is over-population and only two children are permitted. His parents were given permission to have a third child though, this being due to the fact that his older brother and sister were extremely bright and were *almost* right for the task required of them, but not quite. It is hoped that Ender will be less vicious than his brother but not as placid as his sister.

The problem is that fifty years ago the human race was almost annihilated by an insect race of beings from another planet. Known as the 'buggers' (I think because they were 'bugs') they were defeated by a brilliant military commander. The fear is that the aliens are about to repeat their invasion attempt and the hunt is on for another such commander, but he will have to be trained from childhood. Ender fits the bill. He is six when whisked off to Battle school to join hundreds of other boys, to train, in a bid to save the world by way of brutal mock 'games'. But Ender is not popular. He is the brightest of the bright and resented by the other boys and, for some reason, the officers running the school are purposely making his life difficult. In other words he's being tested to see how much he can take. Is Ender up to the challenge?

It's not often that I'm this ambivilent about a story. On the one hand I found it to be a pageturner - Card's writing is extremely readable and the story is pacey and really quite exciting. I finished it in two days and that's pretty quick reading for me, so clearly I couldn't put it down. On the other hand I had issues with a couple of things. Mainly it was to do with the kind of dialogue and thoughts Card embued small children with. It was all too adult and, although I realise that these are supposed to be bright kids, I didn't find that aspect of it realistic. Not that Card is the only author to do this by any means - it's very common.

The other thing that struck me was that Card was writing a novel set sometime in the future. It wasn't clear how many years (a hundred?) but, whatever, I found it bizarre that a science fiction author, who would supposedly be forward thinking, did not forsee the role women would come to play in the armed forces. Even just thirty years after he wrote the book women are fighting and dying in combat zones around the world. He put one girl in his school, *one*.

Nevertheless, despite my issues with the book, I did, as I said, enjoy it a great deal. Much of the book is 'edge of the seat' stuff and it has a fantastic twist near the end which I didn't see coming at all. I must also add that it was the last few pages which intrigued me the most and because of that I plan to get a copy of the sequel, Speaker for the Dead, as soon as possible as I suspect that one might be a bit more to my taste. My husband grabbed Ender's Game off me as soon as I finished so it'll be interesting to see what he thinks.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

First Meetings in the Enderverse

First Meetings in the Enderverse by Orson Scott Card
Illustrated by Craig Phillips
A book in the Ender series

Pages: 208
First Published: 2003
Genre: science fiction, short stories
Rating: 4/5

First sentence:

John Paul hated school.

Comments: This is a collection 4 novellas that either feature Ender Wiggin or his family. They have all been previously published except one "Teacher's Pest" is original to this volume."The Polish Boy" tells the story of Ender's father and how he was noticed by the government as a possible battle school student."Teacher's Pest" tells how Ender's parents met."Ender's Game" is the original story written in 1977 which inspired the novel of the same name."The Investment Counselor" is the story of how Ender first meets Jane.Due to the information found in these stories this book is best read anytime after "Xenocide", the third Ender book. I enjoyed all the stories and while I wouldn't call them brilliant, they were all enjoyable. A must for fans of the series.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Enchantment by Orson Scott Card

After the big disappointment of Tanith Lee's White as Snow, the question is: Can Orson Scott Card do better in the "retelling of a fairy tale" department? Couldn't do worse, right? Of course, all you Card fans out there (and you KNOW who you are), already have the answer to that question! Enchantment by Orson Scott Card (400 pgs, Del Ray) is a modern day Sleeping Beauty (sort of....I'll get to that!)

"I'm ten years old, my whole life you've called me Vanya. My name is on the school records, on government papers as Ivan Petrovich Smetski. Now you tell me I'm really Itzak Shlomo. What am I, a Jewish secret agent?"

Growing up in Russia isn't easy if you were Jewish. Ivan's parents wanted to get him to America, so he could grow up in a land of freedom. And the way they were going to do it was by declaring themselves Jewish, and applying for a Visa to Israel. From there, they were going to go to America. Ivan could grow up free, and Piotr Smetski could teach at a University. But declaring yourself Jewish in 1975 had it's drawbacks in Russia. After Professor Smetski lost his job, the family lost their apartment, and still no Visa was to be had. So the Smetski's moved to the country near Kiev to live with Cousin Marek and his wife.

One day when Ivan was out running, he came across a clearing in the woods. The canopy of leaves overhead was "so dense that it was perpetually dusk at ground level". The ground was covered with leaves. When a slight breeze stirred the leaves, young Ivan could see something at the center. It was a woman: a beautiful, sleeping woman on a pedestal. And when the leaves moved, it wasn't just ground that it covered, but a wide chasm. Then something moved, and Ivan realized that he wasn't alone with the sleeping woman. There was some sort of creature hidden in the leaves. For a ten-year-old boy, this was too much. He ran off as fast as he could. But he never got a chance to tell anyone about what he saw (if he REALLY saw anything at all). Because when he returned to the country house, the family's Visa had come through and everyone was hurrying to get ready.

The plan worked, and the Smetski's immigrated to New York, to a small town close to Syracuse. And this is where Ivan grew into a man. He became a track star and a scholar. Fourteen years later, Ivan was working on his dissertation for his graduate degree. He was studying Russian Folklore and Ancient Languages, and figured the best way to finish his work would be to go back to Russia. At least that's what he told himself. Because in the back of his mind, he knew that he wanted to see if the woman, the clearing and the beast under the leaves was real.

The story of the Sleeping Beauty in most fairy tales ends once the Prince or Knight awakens the Princess and they live "Happily Ever After". But our story is only beginning. The best part of this tale is what happens after the beauty is awakened. Katerina is a 9th Century Princess who was hidden in time by the evil witch Baba Yaga. Baba Yaga's powers were so great because she had bound the Russian God, the Great Bear to her and was feeding off his power. What did she want? She wanted to rule to land of Tania, Katerina's land. So she hid Katerina away.....not knowing that Ivan would find her and lead her back to the 9th Century.

I have to admit, I wasn't thrilled with Katerina for a very long time in this book. She was so headstrong (which I usually like in a female character) that she wouldn't listen to reason. She had no sympathy for Ivan coming to a new place and time....and having no idea what the customs were or how he was supposed to act. But when fate sends the couple back to the modern time, she realized just how hard life was for someone who didn't have a clue.

Ivan, however, was a pure soul and I just fell in love with him right from the start. Far sooner than Katerina, that's for sure. Card did an incredible job of intertwining the lives of 2 people from different eras and making a fairy tale come to life. He truly is the gifted writer that so many of you keep trying to tell me!! On top of the fairy tale, he mixes in Russian folklore and creates a cast of characters that will stay with me for a long time. This was really a remarkable book, and one that far surpassed the Tanith Lee story of Snow White. I just wish I had read this one first. If you are a fan of Card, or just a fan of fairy tales, this is one book that you must be sure to read!! 4.5/5

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Hobbit

Tolkien, J.R.R. 1937, 1966. The Hobbit.

In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort. (3)

Hobbits do like to be comfortable. That is a fact. But in The Hobbit, we read of one hobbit in particular, a Mr. Bilbo Baggins, who leaves his life of comfort behind him to go on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure with thirteen dwarves and one wizard. It is the story of how he went from being a respectable hobbit to a very unrespectable, "odd" little hobbit. Bilbo never meant to have an adventure. He was quite clear on that. But never say never. It all starts with a visit from a wizard, Gandalf. That visit leads to another visit--a visit by thirteen dwarves--who call upon him unawares and give him the surprise of his life. They want him--they expect him--to be a part of their expedition, their adventure, their journey to go off and kill a dragon, Smaug by name, and steal his treasure. It's laughable almost, at least at first, but slowly and surely Bilbo gets carried away with it all. And the adventures that follow--oh my!

The Hobbit is a charming and delightful though-not-a-thin adventure book that everyone should read. (Or at least attempt to read! By that I mean, while I loved it--while I think many many people love it--I suppose no one book can please everyone. But this one should at least be attempted, tested to see if you like this sort of thing.)

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

The Host by Stephenie Meyer

Meyer, Stephenie. 2008. The Host.

The Healer's name was Fords Deep Waters. Because he was a soul, by nature he was all things good: compassionate, patient, honest, virtuous, and full of love. Anxiety was an unusual emotion for Fords Deep Waters. Irritation was even rarer. However, because Fords Deep Waters lived inside a human body, irritation was sometimes inescapable.

Thus begins the highly anticipated first adult novel by Stephenie Meyer. The opening scene shows a man, occupation Healer, getting ready to implant a Soul into a human being. These souls are parasitic aliens that have spread across the galaxy. They are able to take hosts--different hosts--on each planet. Our narrator is a Soul named Wanderer. She's unusual, in a way, because she has been to many planets--I can't remember if it's seven or eight or nine--and lived that many lifetimes. The souls know no death, they just move onto a new host when their host's body dies. This is Wanderer's first time on Earth, her first time in a human host. Our secondary narrator is a woman named Melanie. And you've probably guessed by now that she is the host body to Wanderer.

These aliens didn't take over the world overnight. They didn't announce their arrival at all. Their goal--if they had a goal--was to assimilate quietly and peacefully with humans. It wasn't until the humans noticed that something was off that there was any resistance, any battles, any blood shed. What was off? Humans were being too nice, too perfect, too Mayberry. From the Souls' perspective, they were doing humanity a huge favor. They were turning these rowdy and unpredictable and altogether too violent and volatile humans into peace-loving, happy-go-lucky people. Souls love everybody, accept everybody, trust everybody. Except for that one teeny tiny little detail that they won't take no for an answer. All humans must be implanted. As long as their are humans without Souls then there is the potential for blood shed and loss. To "protect" themselves--or so they claim--they must either assimilate or destroy those resisting pesky humans. Those Souls that are seeking to destroy and/or assimilate humans are called Seekers.

Melanie's luck has run out. Or so she thinks. On the verge of being captured, she throws herself down an elevator shaft. She thinks that she'll avoid her fate by destroying her body. But Healers are really good at repairing the human body--another so called "benefit" to this alien domination.

Wanderer and Melanie are soon to be linked together for life. Not that that is the plan. Souls are supposed to erase, eradicate, the consciousness, the personality of their hosts. But Wanderer finds that Melanie will not go down without a fight. She guards her life, her secrets, closely. She will not accept the finality of the situation.

Life is about to turn very interesting for this two-in-one package as they journey together into the Arizona desert to find the meaning of it all. It's a story about humanity, about sentient life forms, about right and wrong, about justice, about love, about forgiveness, and grace, and redemption. It's a novel with a lot of heart and soul and gumption.

This concept isn't completely original. They're not as overtly (openly) evil as the goa'uld (go-ah-OOLD) by any means. But the concept of a parasite invading through the neck and wrapping themselves around the spine and brain and 'controlling' the human and 'erasing' the host personality has been done before. So has the concept of a human host living side-by-side compatibly with a parasite--that's a Tok'ra for you. Tok'ras are the 'good guys' in the parasite world (supposedly though Jack still calls them snakeheads) who only enter voluntary hosts. Even the concept of love can be seen to be similar to that found in Stargate--the parasite and host body falling in love with their mate's parasite and host body. Four personalities, two bodies, love all around. To see the ultra-unpleasant (evil) "implantation" of goa'uld watch The Children of the Gods. But be warned there are moments of nudity.

It was hard not to think about goa'ulds and tok'ras while reading The Host. That could be because I tend to relate all things back to Stargate eventually if at all possible. It doesn't have to be oh-so-obvious. In this case, I think if you've seen Stargate at all, you can see the connection in some ways, but not in all ways.

This story has plenty to make it special all on its own. I don't want to get into the particulars but the environment was very unusual but it worked. In some very teeny tiny way it reminded me of Dune. I don't know why. I've only seen the movie once. But there were scenes from that movie that came to mind when reading the book. Maybe it's the desert environment. (There are no giant worms however.) I don't know. At this point, it's irrelevant. (Maybe also slightly Journey to the Center of the Earth). She created a world that is so strange, so different from present day life, from reality. It's a world that it's easy to get swept up into in a way. The setting, the characters. It just worked. It was very rich in detail. I thought the depths of the back-story was just really well done. (The little details that Wanderer discloses in her storytelling and her question and answer sessions.)

I can't say that I fell quite in love with it as much as I did Twilight upon first reading it. But it's good. The romance, the chemistry, isn't quite as intense, quite as magical as it is for Bella/Edward/Jacob. But it isn't a romance without some merit. I personally was more into Ian than Jared, but that's just me.

First sentence of chapter one: I knew it would begin with the end, and the end would look like death to these eyes. I had been warned. Not these eyes. My eyes. Mine. This was me now. (9)

So I definitely recommend it. Do you have to love science fiction? It might help. But if you're not a fan, don't let the genre turn you off. This is a story about what it means to be human. (In some ways it mirrors the themes of the novel Frankenstein--what it means to be human, to live, what it means to be a monster.) It's a human-interest story therefore. It explores the depths--the good, the bad, the ugly--of humanity in general. The fact that some humans have been possessed by aliens while others haven't is just a distinction that separates it from other novels you might have read through the years. But science fiction fans, I hope, will be pleased with it as well as newbies.

I would have read it anyway--it's got Stephenie Meyer's name attached to it--but it comes with a blurb from Orson Scott Card himself. So you know it has to be good.

And for those that are curious, I tend to like Wanda/Melanie much much more than Bella as far as personality goes. In Twilight, Bella didn't annoy me so much. But in some of the sequels, I found myself growing more and more irked at her. Definitely to a point where I understood where all the hate was coming from saying that she was too whiny and mindless (in a way). Not that I'll ever reach a point where I'll stop reading the series. Who could stop now? (I'm on Team Jacob by the way.)

You can read the prologue and the first four chapters here.

© Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Assassin's Quest - Robin Hobb

Assassin’s Quest is actually book three in the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb. (OSC recommneds *all* of her books.) I read the first two in the series in 2006 and it’s taken me two years to get back to it, a fact which I really do regret.

The main character in these books is Fitz. A nameless boy with no memories of the time before his mother gave him up, Fitz is brought up in the stables of Buckkeep, a coastal fortress, by stablemaster, Burrich, until he’s old enough to realize that he’s a royal bastard. He’s then taken into the main castle to learn court behaviour and, later, the role of a court assassin under the mysterious Chade. Fitz, it turns out, is the illegitimate son of the king-in-waiting, Chivalry, who has abdicated his position because of this bastard son and disappeared. His successor is Verity, a prince very powerful in the ‘Skill’ - a kind of magic that he has to use to try to prevent the Red Ship raiders from decimating the country’s coastline and ‘forging’ (rendering souless) the inhabitants. There is another brother, Regal, with a lust for power and a willingness to do anything to gain it and it is Fitz’s battle to stop this happening, and to help Verity with the war, which take up the majority of the first two books, Assassin’s Apprentice and Royal Assassin.

Assassin’s Quest picks up the story at the point where Verity has been gone for about a year. He set off to find a mysterious race called The Elderlings, to gain their assistance with the Red Ships, and has not returned. Regal has proclaimed himself king and is allowing the Red Ships to wreak havoc along the coast having moved himself and his court well inland to safety. Fitz first has to rehabilitate himself after a traumatic incident and then sets off to find Verity and The Elderlings. It’s a very long journey and most of the book revolves around his travels, incidents along the way, new characters he meets - and old ones as the enigmatic ‘Fool’ re-enters the fray. And more than that I’m not going to say as it would involve serious spoilers.

To tell the truth, I don’t believe I personally can do justice to these books. I’m going to stick my neck right out though and say that this series is one the best fantasy series out there and that Robin Hobb is a writer of the first calibre. The plotlines that run through the books are complex. There are twists and turns galore, political and court intrigue, and I would add that this is not a ‘fun’ or ‘light’ read and is definitely for adults, not children. Many dreadful things happen to all of the characters and there are readers who might find it all a bit much. I myself like humour and ‘some’ lightness in my reading but there isn’t a lot to be had in this series. Truthfully, if I knew why none of this mattered one iota to me, I’d say so. I think, to be honest, that it all boils down to the quality of the story-telling.

There are two more series in this universe. After the ‘Farseer’ trilogy come the three ‘Liveship Traders’ books and then the ‘Tawny Man’ trilogy. The ‘Liveship Traders’ series is set in the same world and country but with none of the same characters. The ‘Tawny Man’ books carry on with the story of Fitz and The Fool, so you could skip the middle series but most people suggest that you really shouldn’t. And I don’t plan to. And nor do I intend to wait another two years before I get back to reading Robin Hobb.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Want to read Worthing Saga with me????

Becky's Online Reading Group will be reading The Worthing Saga by Orson Scott Card for the month of June. Orson Scott Card--as many of you know--is one of my favorite, favorite, favorite authors. And this book isn't as widely known (and as widely read) as his Ender series. (Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, Children of the Mind, Ender's Shadow, etc.) I'm choosing this one because I love it, obviously, but also because I hope to encourage others to read it as well. You can read the first chapter online here. Discussions will be on Mondays and Fridays, except for the weekend of the 48 Hour Readathon. It will be one day early that week.

The Worthing Saga
by Orson Scott Card

Monday, June 2, 2008 Day One: Author's Introduction - chapter 2 (roughly 1-37)
Thursday June 5, 2008 Day Two: Chapter 3 - chapter 4 (roughly 38- 92)
Monday, June 9, 2008 Day Three: Chapter 5 (93 - 119)
Friday, June 13, 2008 Day Four: Chapter 6 - Chapter 7 (120-153)
Monday, June 16, 2008 Day Five: Chapter 8 (154-205)
Friday, June 20, 2008 Day Six: Chapter 9 - 12 (206-271)
Monday, June 23, 2008 Day Seven: Chapter 13 - 15 (277-329)
Friday, June 27, 2008 Day Eight: Chapter 16 - 18 (330-401)
Monday, June 30, 2008 Day Nine: Chapter 19 - 21 (407-458)

"This book brings together all the Worthing stories for the first time in one volume. In a way, the Worthing tales are at the root of my work in science fiction..."

...Orson Scott Card

It was a miracle of science that permitted human beings to live, if not forever, then for a long, long time. Some people, anyway. The rich, the powerful - they lived their lives at the rate of one year every ten. Somec created two societies: that of people who lived out their normal span and died, and those who slept away the decades, skipping over the intervening years and events, It allowed great plans to be put in motion. It allowed interstellar Empires to be built. It came near to destroying humanity.

After a long, long time of decadence and stagnation, a few seed ships were sent out to save our species. They carried human embryos and supplies, and teaching robots, and one man. The Worthing Saga is the story of one of these men, Jason Worthing, and the world he found for the seed he carried.

Copyright © 1990 Orson Scott Card

New to Becky's Online Reading Group. See the 'about' page to answer your questions about participation.

Friday, April 18, 2008

And Then There Were None

All Agatha Christie books are recommended by Orson Scott Card, so this one qualifies!

Ten strangers have been invited by a mysterious host to stay for a visit in the host's luxurious house. This house resides on a private island. Once they all are settled in, they are confronted with the reason why they had been chosen for the occasion. The reason has each member in the house looking at each other with apprehension - and rightfully so. Unfortunately, their time together as a group is limited due to the one-by-one elimination of each house guest.

I really enjoyed this! Throughout the entire book, the level of suspense was kept high by all the twists and turns. It made me eager to get back to it as soon as I could; I was definitely hooked. However, I have to say that the very ending wasn't as exciting as the rest of the book. For some reason, I expected to be wowed and I wasn't, but it was still a very good read and I'm glad I finally made time for it.

When the Bough Breaks

All Jonathan Kellerman books are recommended by Orson Scott Card, so this one qualifies!

This is Kellerman's first in the Alex Delaware series. Alex is a 33-year-old, retired, child psychologist and is recouping from burn-out. During this time, Milo Sturgis enters the scene as a LAPD detective who asks for Alex's help with a case that includes a 7-year-old girl who has possibly seen something relating to a double homicide. Once Alex gets involved, he doesn't let up until all questions are answered.

Boy, was this dated. There were turn-tables playing Linda Ronstadt albums, knit ties, Merv Griffin and other 80's sightings. They were fun - not distracting or prevalent.

While Alex came across as a mild-mannered individual (although he could be tough when needed), the subject matter (child abuse) was the opposite - cruel and despicable. While getting to the source of evil, there were some spots that were sluggish due to an abundance of unnecessary details, but overall it was interesting and kept my attention.

Alex ended up playing both psychologist and detective, which I felt was too much for this character; I would have liked to have seen more of Milo. The plethora of bad guys and, in general, the many, many characters lead to a slightly complicated, but . . . satisfying ending. For a first, it was good. I will continue with the series; the next up is titled Blood Test.

Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak

In his January 2007 review of Speak, Orson Scott Card says the following:
Author Laurie Halse Anderson has achieved something unusual and fine with this novel. As a work of literary art and as a bit of practical moral instruction, I can't imagine how it could be better. It's so entertaining you don't realize you're being taught something important; and the experience is so powerful you can easily forget that it is, after all, just art. ...

[Speak] shows contemporary American fiction at its very best.
I also loved Speak! And I recommended it to my 17yo daughter, who loved it too. My complete review is here.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Becky's Review of Speak

Anderson, Laurie Halse. 1999. Speak.

It is my first morning of high school. I have seven new notebooks, a skirt I hate, and a stomachache.

Meet Melinda. A ninth grader, a freshman. Maybe her experiences will remind you of your own high school days. Maybe not. But whether you were popular or among the outcasts, Speak has something vital to offer readers. Her story is powerful, yet not without humor.


1. We are here to help you.

2. You will have enough time to get to your class before the bell rings.

3. The dress-code will be enforced.

4. No smoking is allowed on school grounds.

5. Our football team will win the championship this year.

6. We expect more of you here.

7. Guidance counselors are always available to listen.

8. Your schedule was created with your needs in mind.

9. Your locker combination is private.

10. These will be the years you look back on fondly.

Speak places high school life under the microscope. In minute detail, the reader sees what high school is like perhaps from a perspective that is new to them. (Or perhaps one that feels all-too-familiar). The teachers. The students. The classmates. The classes. The cafeteria. The bus rides. Melinda isn't happy, and it shows, but she's an example of how appearances can be deceiving. Labeled a trouble maker by a few of her teachers and some of the administration, despised by most of her classmates, she would be easy to brush off, to cast aside as just another lazy, rebellious teen. A teen that needs discipline, punishment, stern lectures, but never a teen that needs compassion and mercy and understanding. But there is always more going on underneath the surface. Always.

I think Speak should be required reading for any adult who is working with teens or who plans to work with teens. As for requiring it for teens within the classroom setting, I'm not so sure. For one, any time a book is required it loses its power. If you "have" to read it, then it strips away most of your natural inclinations to like it. I certainly never "liked" any of my assigned reading. The message of Speak might lose its resonance if it is forced. Especially if it is dissected and analyzed for hidden messages and symbolism. That being said, I do feel it's a true must-read. And it does have much that would be discussion-worthy.

What do I love about Speak? Well, it's authentic. And it's thought-provoking. If you're an adult, it makes you remember (or is prone to making you remember) your own high school days. Rather those days were painful and you're still a bit bitter or if you were one of the rare who actually remember high school "as the best time of your life." It's all in the details. The small things. The small daily interactions of how you relate with others, and how they relate to you. All the little things that add up to create the big picture. I didn't read it as a teen. The book was published when I was in college. But I would hope that the book would help those teens who are going through some of these situations not feel so alone, so isolated. I would hope that they'd feel understood. And for those teens that are bullies, I hope that the book would make them think about their actions a little more, take time to think about how these "little" things are adding up to big-time misery for those that are 'beneath' them. I'm not naive enough to think that this book will have the same impact on every one who reads it. It is just one book after all. But I hope that those who do read it, it will have a strong enough impact that the story will stay with them for a while.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Sword of the Rightful King

Yolen, Jane. 2003. Sword of the Rightful King.

Sword of the Rightful King: A Novel of King Arthur by Jane Yolen is a more realistic, less legendary presentation of King Arthur. What do I mean? Well, it shows the behind-the-scenes drama of Arthur's court, Arthur's kingdom. It shows in some ways how those legends got started--some directly, some indirectly. Merlinnus, for example, created and fabricated the Sword in the Stone. It was a deliberate hoax on his part. A way to fool the people, manipulate them in such a way that the doubters of Arthur would be convinced that he was DESTINED to be king. Arthur was in on the secret. As was Merlinnus' new apprentice, Gawen. This angle removes some of the glamour, some of the glory from the story, in my opinion. But it doesn't necessarily mean that the story is any less compelling. Another legend debunked is Gawaine and the Green Knight.

Told from multiple view points, the reader is able to get into the hearts and minds of Arthur, Merlinnus, Gawaine, Morgause, Gawen, etc. The reader is able to get the full story, the full spectrum of what's going on in this turbulent spring and summer as they prepare for the Solstice.

I enjoyed this book. But I didn't enjoy it as much as The Sword in the Stone. It may be more realistic, more practical, but I like my legends to be legendary. So it's a good book, an enjoyable book, but not a great book.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Speaker for the Dead

I don't know what to say about this book, because it's so good, so wonderful, so human, in ways I don't know how to articulate. But I'll try.

Speaker for the Dead begins about 3,000 years after the end of Ender's Game. It takes place on the small colony world of Lusitania, whose only human inhabitants are a small village of Brazilian-Portuguese Catholics. However, Lusitania is also home to the first sentient alien species humanity has encountered in the Bugger Wars three millenia earlier. Due to the time dilation effect of faster-than-light travel, Andrew Wiggin is still only 35 years old. When the call goes out for a speaker for the dead, he can't resist travelling to Lusitania.

That's a really inadequate summary, and it only touches on the plot, which, although excellent, isn't at the core of the book. It's the people and ideas that make Speaker for the Dead so special, that set it apart from other science fiction. OSC manages to explore some really compelling xenology and xenobiology (i.e. alien anthropology and biology), without sacrificing character development. Not all the people in Speaker for the Dead are human, but they are all interesting and complex and very, very real, because Card never takes the easy way out.

A good example of this is Bishop Pelegrino, the religious leader of the community. At first, he seems like the reactionary, righteous, slightly stupid Catholic priest recognizable from many other books, but Card is a better writer than to stop there. Although he does have these traits to some degree, they are far outweighed by his ability to be flexible, by his caring for his community, and by his compassion.

I love the world Card creates on Lusitania, because it's just so interesting. The Piggies, of course, and the mystery of their society, but especially the human community of Milagre. I look forward to seeing more of both in the third book in the series, Xenocide. When I started this book, I didn't think any sequel could come close to being as good as Ender's Game, but I was wrong. As amazing as that book was, Speaker for the Dead somehow manages to live up to it. I can now number Orson Scott Card among my very favourite writers.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

A Compatible Challenge

Readers Noir is hosting the Walter Mosely Challenge. The challenge begins today, April 9th, and goes through August 9th.
Read 10 Walter Mosely books written from this date on. At the rate that he moves we'll be reading for life. To read along with me comment on this post, and link it to your blog.
Check back in on the 9th of every month to see how far we've all come. Read:
4 from his Easy Rawlins Series,
2 from his Fearless Jones Series,
1 from his Science Fiction Series,
3 from any of his other genres.

All of his novels qualify for the Cardathon challenge. So you may want to consider this.


Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The Sword in the Stone

White, T.H. The Once and Future King.
Part One: The Sword in the Stone

I have been wanting to read this book for years. It's been on my to-be-read list for ages. But I decided fairly early on that 2008 would be THE YEAR to make it happen at last. The first book in The Once and Future King is The Sword in the Stone. I was somewhat familiar with the story having seen at least glimpses of the movie growing up. We never owned it on VHS, but I do think I probably saw at least clips of it on tv now and then. Our hero is a young boy, Wart, who is growing up alongside another little boy, Kay. Kay is going to grow up into quite a legacy. He's going to be a knight. Wart is not his 'equal' in that sense. He's going to grow up to be his squire. Or so everyone thinks. The book focuses on the boys' education. Particularly on Wart's education. Even the first sentence highlights this: "On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays it was Court Hand and Summulae Logicales, while the rest of the week it was the Organon, Repetition and Astrology." In the first few pages, we learn that while the boys at one time did have a governess looking out for them, she has since left. The boys are in need of someone--a tutor--to help with their education.

Wart is the one who accidentally stumbles onto a solution for their problem. He discovers Merlyn quite by chance. Merlyn is a wonderful teacher. As you probably remember, he ages backward. He's old, but getting younger by the day. He knows the future, but he's living in the moment. I don't quite "understand" all the implications of this. It befuddles me if I try to wrap my mind around the concept. But regardless, the chapters focus on their relationship. This teacher-student relationship. Wart is getting extra-attention and extra-guidance than Kay. Kay is sometimes jealous, sometimes quite a jerk, but he can't quite help it.

Wart loves best the lessons where Merlyn turns him into an animal, vegetable, or mineral. He spends time as a fish, bird, ant, badger, and I can't-quite-remember-what else. But he spends his childhood and teen years learning to think, learning to question. He is a very curious boy/man. And he learns so much because he is able to listen--really listen--and observe the world around him.

The book has many many characters many of whom are delightful. The book also shows Wart and Kay having an adventure or two with Robin Wood (Wood-not-Hood) and Lady Marian and Little John and the whole gang of 'Merry Men.'

I don't think I would be spoiling it for anyone if I mentioned the ending, but just in case you don't know who Wart grows up to be, stop reading and consider yourself fully warned.

The book concludes with the rather famous sword-in-the-stone incident. Wart quite by chance pulls out the sword. Kay is in need of a sword, and he is "borrowing" it from a war monument or so he thinks. Kay's own sword accidentally being left behind at the inn. Wart isn't trying to be king. He isn't wanting to rise above Kay. But it's just natural for him. He is the one--the only one--who seems to be able to pull this sword out of the stone. Merlyn later fills him in on a little secret.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this book. I look forward to reading the rest of the novel. I will be reviewing them separately. But when I have finished all four, I'll do a recap post and link them all together.

Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague

Mull, Brandon. 2008. Fablehaven: Grip Of the Shadow Plague.

On a muggy August day, Seth hurried along a faint path, eyes scanning the lush foliage to his left. Tall, mossy trees overshadowed a verdant sea of bushes and ferns.

The third in the series, Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague continues the story of Kendra and Seth Sorenson, an unforgettable brother-sister team that (along with several 'responsible' adults including their grandparents) enjoys spending their summer vacations fighting in the ultimate battle between good and evil. If you haven't read the first two in the series, you should definitely do so. (That is if you love fantasy.) I enjoyed the first two. I really did. But this third one is even better--if that's possible. Every page was a pleasure. I didn't want to put it down.

For those that are familiar with the series, expect more of the same. But for those unfamiliar with Brandon Mull's fabulous series here's what you can expect. Adventure. More adventure. Danger. Action. Even more adventure. Some mystery. Some intrigue. Some surprises. If you love action, adventure, and mystery, then Fablehaven is definitely for you!

What's the third one about? Well the subtitle of "Grip of the Shadow Plague" says it all. Book 2 closes with the family securing--saving--Fablehaven, doesn't it? Does it? The traitor, Vanessa, has been captured and imprisoned in the Quiet Box. The Sphinx has taken away the other prisoner--the one who was released from the Quiet Box--and all seems to be well. But then if you remember Kendra discovers a note implying or suggesting that the Sphinx is not who he appears. That he is in fact the bad guy though he's been masquerading as one of the good guys--one of the top good guys--for decades and decades. The third book explores that claim and seeks to solve that mystery once and for all. But that doesn't even begin to capture what the third book is about. It is exciting. It is intense. It is good.

471 pages

Sense and Sensibility

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen. What can I say? I didn't love it like I loved (or loved, loved, loved) Persuasion or Pride and Prejudice. It was so different to Northanger Abbey in a way which makes it more difficult to compare. But in its favor, I didn't dislike it like I disliked Mansfeld Park or Emma. (A word on Emma's behalf. Emma, the character, annoys me. I know she's supposed to be annoying because she represents the young and foolish and rich and selfish and spoiled stereotype. But still. It's hard to like someone like that. It would be like reading a book told from Lydia's perspective. I wonder if anyone has done that???)

Sense and Sensibility is the story of the Dashwood family. The mother has recently been widowed. She's got a step-son who's inherited everything, and her own three daughters. She's also got a daughter-in-law from hell. Really. This woman would make even a saint think that. The two are somewhat indirectly pushed out the door by the couple--Mr. and Mrs. John Dashwood. They're insufferable to live with. And they're rude and pushy. Contemptible really. The only good thing that happens is that Elinor meets a young man, Edward Ferrars, and falls in love. Though nothing is promised or exchanged between them.

The Dashwoods (mother and three daughters: Elinor, Marianne, Margaret) move to a cottage quite a distance away. (Barton I believe is the place where they're staying.) While there, Marianne 'makes' two men fall in love with her. Colonel Brandon, a respectable but older gentleman, and the young and dashing and ever-so-handsome Mr. Willoughby. Marianne sees only Willoughby. Brandon doesn't stand a chance. They also meet many people in the neighborhood--Mrs. Jennings, the Middletons, the Palmers, the Steeles, etc.

The story centers around the love lives of the two older sisters Elinor and Marianne. Often the two are down on their luck. Money plays a big role in the novel. But Jane Austen loved happy endings so never fear. It may take a good many pages, but Marianne and Elinor are assured of finding men that suit them perfectly one way or another.

368 pages.
Originally published in 1811.
First sentence: The family of Dashwood had long been settled in Sussex.


de Lint, Charles. 2008. Dingo.

No one likes to think it of their father, but there are days when I can't help but feel that somehow I got stuck with the biggest loser of all loser dads. It's mostly on days like this when he's off on a house call to buy new stock and I'm stuck minding the store.

Miguel's father has a store--Mike's Used Comics & Records. And it is while Miguel is tending his father's store that he meet the girl. Or perhaps it should be The Girl. Everything had been going along, business as usual, until the moment he sees her through the window. "Ever have one of those moments when everything just kind of stops and it feels as though the whole universe is focused on this one thing that's got your attention? That's what it's like when I see her go by the window, hesitate at the door to look behind her, and then come in. It's gray and dismal outside, but she's got the sun in her hair--long, red-gold tangles that are frizzing because of the damp and give her a halo." (5) This mystery girl, Lainey, and her dog, Em, are from Australia. Everything about them fascinates this young teenage boy. Everything. She is a complete mystery, but one that he's happy to want to solve. He even dreams about her. That might not be completely unusual--boys dreaming about girls--but this dream is highly unusual. But I'll let you see that for yourself!

I'm NOT going to say one word more about the novel. Okay, that's a lie. But I'm not going to talk about the plot in any case. Everything about this novel--the characters, the plot, the language--is well done. I can't think of a single flaw. I can't really get into what I liked most about the characters, but I can say this. They were complex. Definitely interesting to read about, to care about.

Highly recommended to fantasy fans.

This was my first Charles de Lint novel, but it won't be my last.