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.


Gaiman, Neil. 1999. Stardust.

If this book doesn't have you at hello, I don't know that I can help you. There was once a young man who wished to gain his Heart's Desire. And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner) there was much about this young man and what happened to him that was unusual, although even he never knew the whole of it. What a great beginning. It's just so beautiful, so magical. Doesn't it just feel right?

Stardust is set in nineteenth century England in the community of Wall. (1830s and 1840s to be exact.) This community is built by a large (and by large I mean high and long) grey rock wall. There is a gap in the wall, however, a gap that is guarded at all times. Guarded so no one--especially children--can slip through, and guarded so no one can slip in. Beyond the gap, there is a meadow, a beautiful meadow that is forbidden. Forbidden except for one day (and one night) every nine years when the Faerie market comes to the meadow. This is the only time when the two communities (the rather mundane humans and the fantastical, magical faerie world) interact. Our novel opens with us meeting Dunstan Thorn.

I really can't say much more about it. I could, but I won't. It's magical. It's beautiful. It's adventuresome. It's just great storytelling. I loved every moment of it. There were so many things I loved about it that I couldn't begin to describe them in such a way as to do the book and its characters justice. Just trust me. If you haven't met Neil Gaiman, use Stardust as an introduction!!! This isn't my first Gaiman. It's my third. But it is by far my favorite.