Category Archives: B

Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood's End cover artChildhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

A single brilliant star glowed in the center of the screen: no one could have told, from this distance, that the sun had ever possessed planets or that one of them had been lost.

p. 218 Ballantine Books 1991

In Childhood’s End, Clarke kills off the human race and wipes out Earth.

First, he has disappear all human individuality, he asserts that Man has no place in the stars, and he gives us up to an inevitable evolutionary leap in mental prowess.

Clarke makes some problematic leaps in telling the narrative of the last generation:  People will be corralled into a stagnation of peace. They will let go of all creativity. They will lose the will to live once their children are gone.

Secondly, Man will give up space exploration as an unnecessary science, because a far superior technology exists that we could never rival and because there is so much still to be discovered here on Earth after all. (This is particularly striking to me at this time considering that the US’s last manned space flight took off this week. What would Clarke think of that?) To compound this assertion, when one traveler stows away Jonah in the whale style to the world of the Overlords, he struggles to deal with a few months in the new environment and is cowed, also contending that Man could not deal with what he would find or the enormity of the universe.

The build-up of the novel is that mankind is ready to take the evolutionary leap to lose all self and merge suddenly psychic minds into the Overmind, like the essence of the universe and his answer to religiosity and the Armageddon. He mixes end-of-the-world myth with paranormal as a grand explanation. Let me note that I did like the gimmick of why mankind has a deep and lingering concept of the devil. (Not going to say more and ruin that one for you.)

For historical context, the feelings of post-WWII and the beginning of the Cold War weigh heavily on Clarke’s creation of a Utopia on Earth after the Overlords arrive, with lingerings on themes such as total war, and on the exercise of their power mostly through psychological maneuvering.

This is science fiction, but asking the reader to suspend their disbelief that the evolutionary leap to a mind power could happen in one generation and could be the same across life forms in the universe is preposterous. Individuality is overrated, as declared by his comments on the final punch, when the children lose their physical forms and go to join the Overmind.  He makes the comparison to the individual parts making the mass in a colony of bacteria, or organs operating in a body, which I actually ascribe to.  Imagine all the working parts on this Earth, interacting and living and making up the history of humanity.  But important in that, and a theme in many works, is the human element both of unpredictability and of ingenuity. One cannot minimize these in any telling of humans as a collective entity.

I find these three ways of killing off the Earth objectionable and annoying.

But check the inside cover.

The opinions expressed in this book are not those of the author.

Thanks Mr. Arthur C. Clarke, but even if it is all in satire, I would contend that it did not adequately convey that.  As a whole the novel is not focused enough to be gripping or compelling in theme. There is mismatched pacing; the first portion is inordinately long compared to all that could be developed around the last part, such as when Jan returns or when George and Jean start their new life on Athens.  If you want to read in my opinion a better example of what Clarke is capable of, pick up Against the Fall of Night or Rendezvous with Rama.

But I am glad that Clarke does not believe in his heart that Man has no place in the stars.

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Spinners

Donna Jo Napoli and Richard Tchen 1999

Another retelling, this of the Rumpelstiltskin fable.  I liked it fine.  The storyline ebbed and flowed, picking up different pieces well.  The characters’ feelings towards spinning, the baby were telling and fascinating for the reader.  It is skillful how the authors set up a lot of sympathy for the crippled spinner character but hold his wrongdoings and appearance in the story and end with his defeat.  One wonders whether to forgive his theft and presumption for the grain of pure heart he holds.

I wonder, which fairy tale is most often pondered and retold?  This and Beauty and the Beast are ones I’ve seen quite often, is there a special draw that these stories hold for an author?  Maybe a current that ties them together is the undefined identity and intentions of the villain characters, Rumpelstiltskin and the Beast.  Some authors choose to emphasize their villainy and others tell of the misrepresented soul forsaken in the sweep of history.

Personally, I think authors should feel free to take more leeway with these tales, to branch out from the hard and fast story line and make leaps of assumptions that lead to new truths.

Beauty

Robin McKinley 1978

(This is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.) Kind of nice.  This book reminded me a lot of Spindle’s End.  Please pardon me, but for whatever reason, some of McKinley’s books do not agree with me.  Mainly I feel that the core story of Beauty and the Beast was neglected and most of the emphasis is on the back story, which I suppose is understandable and likely what she was going for.  But personally I get more enjoyment out of my shady perception of the tale and the Disney depiction.

First off there was a severe separation between the life with the sisters at home and the (short) life with the Beast in the castle.  The transition’s drama and emotional upheavals didn’t seem real.  The magic, integral to the story, was left murky where it could’ve been explained, and there were weird bits like one finds at the end of Spindle’s End.  Because after all magic has to make sense a little bit.

Secondly, none of the details of the fantasy world really struck me.  I felt like McKinley much more focused on the blacksmith shop and the garden by the little country house than the lawns and gardens of the castle.  But that’s not altogether true; Beauty’s room was a nice enough place that saw some setting development.  Importantly, though, I was severely unaware of what the Beast was supposed to look like and struggled to visualize him the whole time, even after he transformed.  His past self, the character in the painting, was well-played though.  And I think the character with the best development is the horse.

Overall, there are points where this book shines and others where I was left grasping.  But in the end it did not leave me with a strikingly different interpretation or probing look at the tale that I always knew.  So, sorry Ms. McKinley, but I’d say stick with the real greats, The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown.

At Home in Mitford

Jan Karon 1994

Definitely enjoyable, a quaint view of a preacher’s flock in small-town Mitford, North Carolina.  Unlike some religious books, this story does not drown the reader with passages from the bible, barely masked sermons and declarations of divine faith.  It is an honest and heart-warming easy look at their daily lives.

Father Tim has led his flock in Mitford for over thirty years with nary a vacation– no time for one!  Besides conducting services, visiting parishioners and other regular duties, he suddenly becomes the owner and friend of a large scripture-loving dog, takes in a 11-year old who has had too much to bear, contracts diabetes, and finds stolen jewels in a church closet.

(It has also been made into a musical.)

The Time Machine

1957 cover art, courtesy of monikalel42 on flickr

H.G. Wells 1895

Thanks Wishbone for exposing a young mind to another great story, this, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells.

This book harbors more than just the era-typical beginnings of sci-fi and drawing-room stories, topics of communism, social stratification and Darwin-ism murmur in its pages.  Furthermore, the cover portrays the most striking part of the book, the end where The Time Traveller witnesses the eclipsing of a very red, cold sun.  The rest of the tale revolves around H.G. Wells’ speculations on the direction humanity was headed, namely towards a complete stratification into two separate species in 800,000 years.  The “Haves” or Eloi live  in beautiful comfort but also ignorance, the “Have-nots” or Morlocks live below ground in darkness and savagery.  The future the inventor emerged into is humanity in decay.

His book is interesting and imaginative, although at times he speaks like the fluttering of a moth, the character tiring and resolving and worrying constantly.  I liked very much his imagined mechanics of time travel, with days blurring in and out to grey.  The Epilogue holds a gem not really explored in the book but great at an ending thought as a friend of the traveler reflects on what he has witnessed and his lost friend: “And I have by me, for my comfort, two strange white flowers–shrivelled now, and brown and flat and brittle–to witness that even when mind and strength had gone, gratitude and a mutual tenderness still lived on in the heart of man.”

And being a Doctor Who fan, I found this intriguing: “The Time Machine book appears in Doctor Who when the Doctor is reading the novel in the 1996 TV Movie. H.G. Wells’ story is the inspiration for many modern time travel science fiction, including Doctor Who.” ~ Monikalel42‘s flickr page

More on Richard Powers’ sci-fi cover art, or this fun selection of his images

Den of the White Fox

Lensey Namioka

From School Library Journal– An intriguing blend of historical fiction and mystery that will be appreciated by fans of either genre. Freelance samurai Matsuzo and Zenta are warned that the valley they are about to enter is an “unwholesome place after dark.” Rumors about a powerful spirit that haunts the area and the more tangible threat of an occupying army fail to dissuade the two, however, and they descend into the valley’s depths. The place is rife with intrigue and the samurai establish an uneasy existence among the locals, ever unsure of who is friend and who is foe. As the plot unfolds, the two warriors attempt to solve the mystery of the White Fox, a shadowy figure who might be the leader of a political rebellion or a supernatural spirit. This extremely well-researched work gives readers a real sense of what life was like in 16th-century Japan. As a mystery, it is methodically planned and resolved with no loose ends. The characters are all well developed and interestingly drawn and YAs will be as unsure as the samurai about whom to trust. The language is challenging and includes some Japanese words. This novel will expose teens to a fascinating period in world history. -Robyn Ryan Vandenbroek, formerly at Otterville Public School, Ontario. Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

This might make more sense if I had started with the first Zenta & Matsuzo book.  I did like the historical aspects and some of the characters, but I don’t know how subtly the “plot unfolding” happened.  Intriguing thoughts presented, switching between characters could be a tad more perceptible?

The Robots of Dawn

Isaac Asimov 1983

Asimov completed this book much later than the first two in the series.  Knowing this, and curious to see if his writing style had changed, I would say that it is more descriptive (the book is indeed much longer) but altogether stays very much true to the voice of the other works.

This book is a triumphant tale for earthmen, the general progress of humanity, and productive compromise.  The murder mystery itself causes much consternation to both Elijah Baley and the reader, but it comes with many discoveries about the case that prevent throwing down the book in disgust.  Baley again delves into a foreign culture, this time with less encouragement and much more pressure, and finds that the Aurorans are not as perfect as they think suppose to be. Continue reading

The Naked Sun

Isaac Asimov 1956

Second installment of the Lije Baley, Daneel Olivaw detective cases.  Baley’s success with the murder case of Dr. Sarton from Aurora, mostly his success at working with the Spacers and navigating the cultures, has gotten him the attention of the Outer Worlds.  He is called to Solaria to help solve a murder case on a planet where there are no police–nor need of them, they thought.

Lije Baley’s trip to an Outer World, him being one of the only humans to do so in the past few hundred years, gives humanity a glimpse at their haughty rivals.  Lije has to not only solve a murder case under galactic scrutiny, but he has to do so in a culture completely opposite to his own.  On Solaria there are ten thousand robots for every human, and humans each have their own estate covering miles of the planet.  Personal contact is absolutely taboo and most interaction happens through “viewing,” advanced holograms.  This attitude towards space also means that Baley will have to confront the openness of outside.

As he frustratingly deals with the Solarians he discovers their greatest strengths are their weaknesses and that they aren’t as dissimilar from their earth-men beginnings as they’d like to believe: they still harbor jealousy, fear, and insecurity.  He also discovers strife between Solaria and Aurora and a hint at greater workings in the galaxy.

The scene where Baley is interviewing the sociologist felt like talking to Candide’s professor.  And can anyone tell me why the blue eyeshadow on earlobes?

The Caves of Steel

Isaac Asimov 1953

But now, Earthmen are so coddled, so enwombed in their imprisoning caves of steel, that they are caught forever.  Caves of Steel, Del Rey page 120

summary Mankind has continued to boom in population and has entrenched itself in highly efficient Cities, so efficient that the slightest imbalance or disaster would be fatal. Space travel did allow the colonization of 50 Outer Worlds, but that was hundreds of years ago.  The emigrants’ descendants, Spacers, are much different now and thoroughly disliked by Earthmen.  The Spacers are powerful, and the murder of one of their researchers calls for an investigation between Spacetown and the City, as well as investigators from both cultures.  Lije Baley must work with a Spacer robot (robots, a group hated even more than Spacers) to solve the case, with his job, his family’s status, and Earth’s relationship with Spacers depending on it.  Surprises are in store for Baley as he learns the truth about Earth and races to save his life and the future of humankind.

At first Baley’s false guesses about the murderer, done in dramatic fashion, struck me as sudden, bordering on hasty, but they ultimately serve to divulge new clues that fit into the end solution.  It is also surprising how things work out between Baley and R. Daneel Olivaw.  The novel becomes less about the conflict between human labor and robot replacement than about the agendas of Spacers, Medievalists, politicians and romanticists.

Asimov creates a futuristic world (well-woven into storyline) with intriguing technologies and a very interesting look at how the human psyche may evolve and cope with a densely packed and controlled environment, but with much more brevity and positivity than a future such as Aldous Huxley envisioned.  For a murder mystery, I liked the ending; Baley on his toes, working off of evidence he suspects is there.  The cerebroanalytic analysis, however, is just too convenient.  And no error?  Quite an advanced robot.

The Three Apples (Arabian Nights, 1001 Nights)

An annotated index of the Arabian Nights tales (very good), Full-text: dasburo.com/Sacred-texts.com, translated by Sir Richard Burton 1850

I love the Arabian Nights tales!  Reading Guys Lit Wire last night & their list of favorite short stories I was prompted to read The Three Apples:

The story begins with governors going to the streets to ask how their officials are doing.  They meet a man, very poor with no fish to bring home to his family, and bring him back to the river with the promise to buy anything he catches.  He goes home happily with coins in exchange for the large chest that they pulled out of the river.  Inside, in a basket of palm fronds and wrapped in a hanging, is the corpse of a fair lady.  The Caliph charges Jafar to find the murderer or die in his place. 

After three days Jafar is up on the scaffold to be hanged when two men approach and insist that they murdered the lady.  The young man tells that his wife had been sick for many days and desired an apple, he loved her dearly so he searched and had to travel many days, but he brought her back three apples.  Later he saw a slave in the marketplace tossing an apple, and the slave said that he dined with the lady and she gave him the apple.  In a rage the man returned home and killed his wife, cutting her to pieces and putting her in the chest.  When he returned home his son was weeping by her bed, and he told how he had taken one of the apples to play outside when a slave had walked by and beaten him up for his apple.

On hearing this tale the Caliph is again furious and charges Jafar to find the slave or die in his place.  Again after three days Jafar has written his will and is saying goodbye to his family when he discovers an apple in his daughter’s pocket.  It is the same apple, and he discovers that the slave is one of his own.  He brings the slave to the Caliph but saves him by offering an even more impressive story than the one of the three apples that the king just witnessed in exchange for the slave’s life, the story of Nur Al-Din Ali and his son Badr Al-Din Hasan.

Le premier jardin

Anne Hébert

Entrez dans le monde de l’actrice Flora Fontagne quand elle retourne à son pays natal, la place à laquelle elle a juré de jamais retourné.  Elle explore la ville de Québec où elle lutte avec son passé caché et essaie de trouver sa fille.  Pour remplir le vide de son propre histoire et identité, elle crée et joue des rôles du passé du Québec.  Grace à ces imaginations, on apprend beaucoup concernant l’histoire de la ville mais surtout concernant Flora Fontagnes elle-même.

En tout c’est un roman interéssant, avec beaucoup de symbolisme.  Hébert examine l’epreuve de s’occuper d’un passé tragique/difficile et le travail dur qu’on fait pour être “actrice.”  Je pense aussi qu’elle aime beaucoup la France.

Troy

Adele Geras

{Summary found on Wikipedia.com} :  The plot focuses on several women of Troy, ranging from powerful rich maidens to the servant girls who live in the town. The women all suffer in emotional ways with the decade long war at the center of their pain. Orphan sisters Xanthe and Marpessa live in Priam’s palace as maids and surrogate daughters to Andromache and Helen, respectively.  Andromache is Hector’s wife and mother to Astynax, whom Xanthe cares for like her own child. Marpessa sees the gods but keeps to herself because she knows that people will label her “disturbed” like Hector’s sister Cassandra.

The story picks up steam when Eros hits Xanthe with a silver-blue arrow, while she is working in the Blood room (where the fallen soldiers are taken to be nursed back to health). Xanthe falls in love with Alastor, who then impregnates Marpessa, a triangle brought about because Aphrodite longs for any entertainment other than the war. Polyxena, a friend of the two sisters, is hopelessly in love with Iason, who loves Xanthe.

Geras fills in the holes between each of the subplots with gossip from the servants of Priam’s palace. They serve as the Greek chorus and converse among themselves with how lazy Helen is or how estranged from her family Andromache is. Eventually the story winds down with the inevitable wooden horse and the sacking of Troy.

Geras shines as a storyteller and multi-subplot manager. She carefully scripts each plot to tell the inner feelings of the Trojan woman. The reader knows how the story ends (the rape and pillage of Troy) but what keeps them reading is the interest in the characters’ dreams and ultimate futures.

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Faerie Wars

by Herbie Brennan

Very good.  Poor Henry, but he handled the circumstances very well.  So did Pyrgus, I was impressed.

{From faeriewars.com: What’s Henry to do when his parent’s marriage starts to fall apart? What can he do except get on with his summer job of cleaning out Mr Fogarty’s shed. But there’s something in that shed that will turn Henry’s whole life inside out and take him into a whole different level of reality

What’s Pyrgus to do when the animals he loves come under threat? What can he do except rescue those he canand fall foul of those who threaten the entire Faerie Realm? Soon there’s only one thing for it and that’s to leave the realm completely

When Henry and Pyrgus get together, an entire world hangs in the balance and those they love face nightmare dangers.

Faerie Wars is an extraordinary, pageturning read full of tension, adventure and the kind of detail that ensures you‘ll be holding your breath as the story unfolds.}

Queen of Babble

by Meg Cabot

From Booklist: “Lizzie Nichols, a fashion-history major, wants nothing more than to graduate college and then fly off to London to be with her boyfriend, Andy. But at her graduation party, Lizzie finds out that she can’t graduate until she writes a senior thesis. And when she lands in London, Andy turns out to be a liar, gambler, and a fashion disaster. Lizzie, stuck in London with an unchangeable ticket home, escapes Andy via the Chunnel in hopes that her friend Shari, who is catering weddings for the summer at a French château, can help. On the train, Lizzie meets a stranger, Jean-Luc, and spills everything that has happened, only to find out that he is the son of the château’s owner. At the château, Lizzie continues to babble when she shouldn’t, ticking off Jean-Luc, shocking his mother, and upsetting a bride. Will she ever learn to keep her mouth shut?”

Warning, this book lives up to its name.  At times Lizzie’s internal babbling was so distracting I would lose the real conversation.  But I’m sure this was intended, just like in real life when we talk to ourselves and get lost in our own thoughts sometimes we look up and the scenery has changed.  One place though that irked me was when she was illusioning that Luke was a kidnapper/murder preying on innocent travelers.  It’s like, come on, even YOU should be able to see that you will end up together! Continue reading

The King’s Daughter

by Suzanne Martel

Wow, exceeded my expectations.  I hated the cover picture but couldn’t pass up a book about Québec for $1, and I was pleased to find that it as a lovely classic look underneath.  My mother also read and enjoyed this novel, which I would recommend to others interested in the frontier of Quebec from a historical fiction perspective.  I think this book also helped me appreciate Le Premier Jardin more.

{From the publisher:  A historical novel that realistically depicts life in 17th-century Quebec from the point of view of a French teenager.  In 1672, eighteen-year-old Jeanne Chatel has just been chosen as a “king’s daughter”, one of the hundreds of young women sent to the wilderness of North America by the French government to become the brides of farmers, soldiers, and trappers.

Jeanne has been raised in a convent. But with her independent spirit, she doesn’t hesitate when she’s given the chance to go to New France. Her vivid imagination conjures up a brilliant new life full of romance and adventure.

Upon arrival, however, Jeanne discovers that she must put aside her romantic dreams.  Her husband is not a dashing young military officer, but a proud, silent trapper who lives with his two small children in a remote cabin.  Jeanne must draw on all her courage and imagination to adjust to this backwoods life and respond to the dangers that surround her.  She learns to paddle a canoe and fire a musket, masquerades as a man to save her husband’s fur-trading permit, and fights off marauding Indians.  By the end of a year, she has won the love of her husband and his family — and at last feels truly at home in her new land.

The King’s Daughter is a classic story of adventure and discovery, a tale for every young reader looking for a plucky heroine or intrigued by our continent’s colonial past.}

Eskimo.com has great commentary and biographical information on Suzanne Martel.

Deep Secret

by Diana Wynne Jones

Good book.  It gets very involving and although it brushes over some details the ones we have are magnificent.  Jones has created a universe where we see multiple planets, where dynasties crumble, and where very strange things happen at Science Conventions.

{From the publisher, Torr: Rupert Venables is a Magid. It’s a Magid’s job to oversee what goes on in the vast Multiverse. Actually, Rupert is really only a junior Magid. But he’s got a king-sized problem. Rupert’s territory includes Earth and the Empire of Korfyros. When his mentor dies Rupert must find a replacement. But there are hundreds of candidates. How is he supposed to choose? And interviewing each one could take forever. Unless. What if he could round them all up in one place? Simple!}

I would recommend this to everyone, even though it’s probably more likable to 16+ (because of pacing, not language or mature topics, in fact it was marketed towards adults), British-lovers and fantasy/sci-fi enthusiasts.  The next book in the series is called The Merlin Conspiracy.

The Artemis Fowl Files

Eoin Colfer

First ‘extras’ or fan-targeted companion book I’ve read, and I felt like it was a nice read, offering a degree of satisfaction, and furthermore I think it’s good to have a format like this where the author can release short stories or snippets that they really like but do not fit into one of their novels.  This allows some just-for-fun stories with the characters you already love, and more great writing from the author you already love.

The short story about the blue diamond that Artemis enlists Mulch Diggums’ help to obtain is just as intriguing and witty as the rest of the series, but touching, and I loved the ending.  The short story about Holly Short joining the LEPrecon is also good to learn more about the feisty heroine.

Paper Towns

by John Green

Wow.  A good, intense read.  This reminded me slightly of So Yesterday by Scott Westerfeld (only with out all the fashion and with more deep psychological probing) and The Schwa Was Here by Neal Shusterman.

Quentin Jacobsen has spent a lifetime loving the magnificently adventurous Margo Roth Spiegelman from afar.  So when she cracks open a window and climbs back into his life–dressed like a ninja and summoning him for an ingenious campaign of revenge–he follows.
After their all-nighter ends and a new day breaks, Q arrives at school to discover that Margo, always and enigma, has now become a mystery.  But Q soon learns that there are clues–and they’re for him.  Urged down a disconnected path, the closer he gets, the less Q sees the girl he thought he knew.

Mr. Green likes his road trips.  I read An Abundance of Katherines, and it also involves a road trip.  But this one is serious fun.  The black Santas were pretty hilarious too.  I was cracking up and laughing so loud that my cat stared at me in a disgruntled manner.

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Wicked Lovely

Wicked Lovely cover, UK version

Melissa Marr

Aislinn is a junior  in Huntsdale, south of Pittsburgh.  She is friends with Seth, an independent guy who lives in a train car made of steel.  That fact is important because they, the fey, don’t like iron or steel.  Aislinn is extremely rare in that she can see the faeries that are so used to being invisible to mortals.  Problems arise when the Summer King, Keenan, inadvertently picks Aislinn to be the next Summer Queen, a choice that cannot be escaped and equals immortality or living death.  The story unravels and Aislinn learns the depth of her love, the futility of cowardice, and that she has the power to make better options for herself.

I really like Seth.  He is almost an Edward Cullen type–perfect lover, always loyal.  He now has the sight, but the issue of his immortality remains.  Perhaps it will be answered in the next two books, Ink Exchange and Fragile Eternity.  I’m glad Donia didn’t die either.  I liked her and felt really bad about her circumstances.

Worthwhile read.

Talk

by Kathe Koja

Good book!  One day one of our librarians, Lisa, handed this to me and prepared me with the knowledge that this book was written in stream of consciousness style.  I had heard scary things about this mode d’emploi, so I sat down with it, ready for a battle.

Instead I eased into a pleasurable narrative about some teenagers dealing with a controversial school play and the emotions running below the surface.

{From PinkBooks.com: Kit Webster is hiding a secret. Carma, his best friend, has already figured it out, and pushes him to audition for the high school play, Talk. When he’s cast as the male lead, he expects to escape his own life for a while and become a different person. What he gets instead is the role of a lifetime: Kit Webster. In the play, Kit’s thrown together with Lindsay Walsh, the female lead and the school’s teen queen. Lindsay, tired of the shallow and selfish boys from her usual circle of friends, sees something real in Kit – and wants it. But Kit’s attention is focused on Pablo, another boy in school. The play is controversial; the parents put pressure on the school to shut it down. And when Kit and Lindsay rally to save Talk, they find themselves deep into a battle for the truth: onstage, and inside themselves.}

I would recommend this to anyone interested in LGBT or stream-of-consciousness style writing.

The Hunger Games

by Suzanne Collins

Excellent!  I first heard of this book from The Bookshelf Collection, and knew I had to get my hands on it.

From discussion on Nerdfighters: “The whole concept of a Hunger Games is exciting. Absolutely terrible and awful but I love it… the beginning was powerful, it drew a dark scene and brought out a heroine we could all love… the beginning was powerful, it drew a dark scene and brought out a heroine we could all love… lolcat blurb: Im in ur gamez messin wit ur kapital”

{Summary from Scholastic, where you can hear an excerpt read by Suzanne Collins herself!:  In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Each year, the districts are forced by the Capitol to send one boy and one girl to participate in the Hunger Games, a brutal and terrifying fight to the death – televised for all of Panem to see.

Survival is second nature for sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who struggles to feed her mother and younger sister by secretly hunting and gathering beyond the fences of District 12. When Katniss steps in to take the place of her sister in the Hunger Games, she knows it may be her death sentence. If she is to survive, she must weigh survival against humanity and life against love.}

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Gathering of Pearls

by Sook Nyul Choi

I could personally relate to this short novelette about a girl entering a new world and adapting to college.  A good view of one Korean immigrant’s perspective.  Otherwise very short and moderate.  I think it is best to read the whole series:

{From an anonymous reviewer on Amazon: This book is a sequel to Year of impossible Goodbyes and Echoes of the White Giraffe. Year of Impossible Goodbyes won a Judy Lopez Award and was chosen as an American Library Association Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults. The author of these books, Sook Nyul Choi, also made a picture book titled Halmoni and the Picnic.

This book is mainly about a girl named Sookan who is a foreign exchange student from Korea. She goes to a college in New York City, and finds out how different life in the United States is from Korean life. Sookan struggles with an internal and external conflict. She doesn’t know if she should act Korean and keep Korea’s ways or give up all of that and act like Americans. She is afraid that of she becomes to American-like her family will be dissatisfied with how she has become. Sookan finds that she is becoming more American-like and scolds herself for not following the Korean ways enough. Her external conflict is that she overworks herself with all of her subjects and gets a serious lack of sleep since she studies so much. She would stay up many hours into the night and study, sleep a few hours, and wake up early to study more. It’s very interesting how she fights through all of her difficulties, so I would definitely recommend this book to teenagers interested in college and/or becoming a foreign exchange student in the future.}

Brave New World

by Alduous Huxley

A vision of our future world from Huxley’s view in the 1930’s when the helicopter was a striking new invention and Ford was changing the world with his mass production lines.  After a big disaster the world has been condensed and formed into nine World States, each with a supreme leader.  People are no longer born but are grown in conveyor-belt style, and specially engineered to fill their regimented social roles.

The reader follows some characters on the top of the scale, the Alphas, Bernard and Hutch.  One struggles to fit into his social role and the other fits easily but longs for forbidden poetry.  They both push the limits of their society and get entangled with a savage from one of the wild tribes left in southwestern America.  Their struggles carry them to the top of society and end in disappointing, exhilarating, and utterly devastating ways.

Good book to read, just to be aware of it, and for it’s good points about society and good descriptive scenes.  Some things are ludicrous, like the fact that this world structure would work, and the parts where John the Savage can argue eloquently and fully understand the depths of Shakespeare from seeing the book some while he was a child.

This book was among the ranks of Wuthering Heights, Frankenstein, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Gulliver’s Travels that we covered in AP English my senior year.   Personally, I wanted to cover more books.   What about Slaughterhouse FiveMiddlemarchIn Cold BloodGrapes of WrathInvisible ManCatch-22The Things They CarriedOf Mice and Men Heart of DarknessDavid Copperfield?  Come on, let’s read people!

I did enjoy Wuthering Heights and Hamlet, but I think Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland would be a better substitute for Gulliver’s Travels.  I’ve heard Brave New World and 1984 compared a lot, as Orual said in a conversation about AP books on College Confidential: “I recommend Brave New World over 1984, but it depends on whether you’d prefer to read about how things we like destroy us or about how things we hate destroy us.”

The Book of Mordred

The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vande Velde

The Book of Mordred by Vivian Vande Velde

by Vivian Vande Velde

Before this novel the most I’d heard about King Arthur and the knights of the round table came from the 1998 movie Merlin (directed by Steve Barron and starring Sam Neill), the Whoopi Goldberg movie A Knight in Camelot, and our readings in English class, including “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.”

This was an interesting book and gives even more insight into the life of people and mythology from these times.  The writing style and voice is not quite to my liking, but I enjoyed the book more when I got to the part narrated by Keira. (This book is divided into three parts, each narrated by a different woman [Alayna, Nimue, and Keira] who was important in Mordred’s life.  They take us on separate adventures.)

The part with Nimue is very interesting. I did not imagine a blonde-haired witch with the habit of second-guessing herself for Merlin’s wife, and I didn’t like how Nimue got between Alayna and Mordred. I was really routing for that couple.

As the inside cover summary warns, this is a different interpretation than the usual Arthur legends.  It is a focus on the villain, Mordred, not so much a villain in this version, and actually a part of the knights of the round table.  I liked this alternative look at the dashing rogue, but I was looking for a little more depth in his reasoning and the factors that contributed to tipping points in his thinking and actions.

But things are definitely different.  From HomeschoolBuzz.com: “Lancelot is not a hero, and Mordred is simply a misunderstood, strong, charismatic, and likeable old fellow.”  And new characters are introduced.  You probably didn’t recognize the names Alayna and Keira, they’re new, and so is an evil wizard named Halbert.

(Details about the ending are hidden below, stop here to avoid plot spoilers!)

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The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stewart

Young Adult books are gaining esteem for their quality and contribution to great literature.  Juvenile fiction can also be an enriching genre not to be overlooked by those over the age of 15.  (Need I mention Harry Potter?)  The Mysterious Benedict Society is one of the juvenile classification that any adult can still appreciate.

Good read.  The intriguing cover is a good representation of what you’ll find inside.  This book can be separated into two parts, the test/finding of amazing kids, and the battle against the evil mastermind.  I enjoyed both; the first part was so interesting, and will excite anyone who likes puzzles.  The second part was full of interesting twists and turns and makes the reader think.  Stewart has a lot of fresh ideas.

Excellent book.