Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Note: The Queen of Attolia is the sequel to The Thief

Plot: Eugenides, the Thief of Eddis, has taunted the queen of neighboring kingdom, Attolia, too many times. He cleverly steals items from Queen Attolia's strongholds and places them around her castle for her to find, sure that he will never be caught. But the Queen of Attolia is furious, and determined to capture and punish the Thief once and for all. Eugenides has heard the stories of what prisoners in her palace endure, and rarely survive, but he is cocky, and confident that he is under the protection of the gods. But will the gods protect Eugenides from fate, and from his own destiny?

Comments: I loved this book! I read the whole thing in one night (which I really wasn't planning on), and only after I had gotten hooked did I realize - there was a prequel. Oops. So, I read The Queen of Attolia before The Thief, but there really wasn't much I didn't understand. I suggest reading the books in order, but I'm sorry I can't give you a review on the first book before the second book's review. This is a great adventure book, and I recommend for reading all at once (it's hard not to).

Reading the inside cover, I thought this book would be focused on the queen attempting to capture the Thief, and the Thief doing his best to escape. But really the story is more about the Thief's struggles back at home and the political war going on between multiple empires. I like reading about the political games the enemies play and the meaning hidden among polite words exchanged between them. Don't think, however, that this book is about politics - definitely not! But a big part of the story is the witty, clever tactics used in war, and I had a good time imagining the plot unfolding.

I can easily imagine all the characters, especially Eugenides. I can't necessarily relate to all of them, but the different traits and personalities often remind me of people I know, which made it more fun and easier to imagine the people. I love the different personalities, from witty, dry Eugenides to mature, strong Queen Eddis. The variation of characters makes for a colorful setting.

Rating: I rate this book a seven and a half out of ten.

On Fortune's Wheel by Cynthia Voigt

Plot: Birle, a soon-to-be-married innkeeper's daughter, spots a figure making away with one of the village boats. In chasing the thief, she ends up in the same boat, floating downriver. When Birle discovers that the stranger is a Lord, she begs to accompany him on his secretive journey throughout the lands. They leave the kingdom, but soon Birle begins to wonder if she'll ever get home...

Comments: this book is best for reading a chapter or two at a time, being a rather long story, is somewhat difficult to read all at once. If you do read it all in an afternoon, I suggest setting a timer so you don't forget to eat (this happens to me all the time, and then I'm all light-headed and my stomach's growling when I turn the last page). This book isn't necessarily light-hearted reading, but it's definitely not dark or heavy reading. I consider it a good life-like tale, with happy bits and sad bits, but it's a relatively easy read and falls into the fiction/fantasy genre.

The plot was well thought-out and interesting, but I think the general idea could have evolved into a better story than it did. I could relate to and easily imagine some of the characters, see their faces and hear their voices, but with others I found it hard to picture them. Not just what they look like: with several characters, I didn't feel like I knew them; I couldn't feel them living through the story, as if they were just a sentence or a frown instead of an entire person. The characters interacted well, but I had a hard time relating to Birle's relationship with the Lord. She's very formal and humble around him, and the Lord is completely aware that she is "inferior" to him, and he acts as if she is his servant - which, in the ways of the Kingdom, she technically is. I don't like the way he treats her, though I understand that's how life works in the Kingdom. It's an interesting perspective, and it makes me appreciate the equality we have in America.

I like the way Cynthia Voigt wrote the dialogue, with the speech being different from modern day English. The storyline is easy to follow, and the plot has twists and turns so you stay interested. All in all, this was a good book, with some unexpected bits that liven up the story and make you wonder.

Rate: I rate this book a six out of ten. Good, but not great.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Gideon the Cutpurse by Linda Buckley-Archer

Book one in the Time Quake Trilogy

Plot: modern day kids Peter and Kate, different as could be, are accidentally transported to the 18th century by a mishap with an anti-gravity machine. They are completely baffled and have no idea what just happened and where they were. However, they do know that they need to get the anti-gravity machine back from a notorious thief named the Tar Man. A young man named Gideon makes their acquaintance and helps them find their way to a nearby city, where they attempt to track down the thief. Will Kate and Peter get back to the 21st century, or will they be stuck in the 1700's for the rest of their lives?

Comments: this book was fun and an interesting adventure, but I'm not sure why the title is focused on Gideon. Really, he wasn't in it much, and the main characters were Peter and Kate. That had me kind of confused, because when the book started talking about Gideon, I thought "aha! Here comes the main character!" but it kept focusing on the two kids. After a bit I realized my mistake, and started paying more attention to the time-travelers. The characters are extremely easy to imagine, especially the scornful looks Sidney dishes out, and the booming laugh of the friendly parson. Though I don't know much about England in the 1700's, it's rather simple to picture the streets and carriages and clothes as the story unfolds.

The plot is an original one, and it's a very nice effect to show what's happening back in the 21st century as Peter and Kate cope in the 18th. I think the story focused more on Kate's parents, however, or at least her dad. True, he was discovering things he didn't want the police to know, things that were important for getting Kate and Peter back, but it felt like in most scenes, Peter's parents are worried and upset in the background as Kate's dad is the main focus. Just saying. The ending was unexpected (though I guess I should have realized something of the sort would happen, as how else would the trilogy continue?) but fitting. I mean, it made sense, and I can't wait to read the next book, The Time Thief!

Rating: I'm rating this book a six and a half out of ten.

The Nation by Terry Pratchett

Plot: a young boy is the only survivor in his village (and the whole island) after a huge tsunami strikes. He soon meets a young European girl whose ship was washed ashore during the storm, and she is also the only survivor. Soon, survivors of the tsunami come from other islands, trying to find somewhere safe from the cannibal Raiders. Everyone must work together to create a new life, a new home, a new future.

Comments: I really enjoyed reading this book, and I think it's a great read. Probably best for reading a few chapters at a time (I would have read it all at once, but it's a bit too large for that). Try reading it on a weekend, maybe. I was surprised that the author of this book is Terry Pratchett, simply because it didn't seem like something he would write. I don't mean that he should only write certain kinds of books - definitely not! I just mean that I've read a lot of other books by Terry Pratchett, and they seem more fantasy books, while this seems all very real. Anyways, the plot of this story was unlike any I've read before. It's original and very creative. I love the tremendous detail Pratchett puts into all the religion and culture of the natives!

The characters are not necessarily easy to relate to, as most of them are natives and have a completely different way of thinking, talking, and in general, living. But I can imagine them pretty well, even how they look. I like how everyone adapts to the situation fast, taking charge or obeying orders quick as you please. A tsunami is hard to get over, but working together, the "Nation" gets life as back to normal as it could get, given the circumstances. I understood the ending and appreciated Pratchett's honesty about life and the world. I didn't necessarily like it at first, but I'm glad the last bit is rather long, so that I could get used to the idea and realize it fit the story.

Rating: I shall rate this book a seven out of ten. A great read!

The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey by Trenton Lee Stewart

Book two in the Mysterious Benedict Society series. See The Mysterious Benedict Society.

Plot: Reynie, Sticky, Constance, and Kate are back, and they can't believe it's been six months! Their first mission was to save the world from the evil Ledroptha Curtain taking over everyone's brains, but this time, he's trying to...make everyone fall asleep? The Mysterious Benedict Society members are on their own this time, and they're in a race to the finish. Can they find Curtain and stop his evil plans in time?

Comments: I think I liked the first book better, but this was still a good book. I recommend this book for reading all at once. I have to confess: I picked up this book at 11pm one night and didn't put it down until I was finished. Looking at the clock, I realizes it was 3am, and I had to go to school the same day. Oops. Therefore, I suggest reading this early in the day, or on a weekend. The plot is very different from the prequel. The Mysterious Benedict Society was focused mainly in one place, but The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey is all over the world. The characters don't normally spend enough time in one place to establish much of a setting. Sometimes the different places they go gets a little hard to follow, but all in all it's okay.

I already know all the characters, so the author doesn't need to describe them much. I can relate to all of them in different ways, and I think they cover a wide variety of people and fit together well. However, it felt like I was watching a play where I didn't really know the roles the actors were playing. Everything was kind of distant, as if I could only observe them instead of relate to them. I felt like there were too many secrets, too many things going on I couldn't understand. I also had trouble with new, minor characters, because it was hard to tell if someone was going to turn out to be on Curtain's side or not. Not exactly confusing, but it made me feel suspicious of everyone.

Rating: I rate this book a six and three-fourths out of ten.

Firehorse by Diane Lee Wilson

Plot: when horse-loving teenager, Rachel, has to move to Boston in the year 1872, she is forced to leave behind her beloved horse, Peaches. Rachel does not think she'll like Boston very much, but soon she discovers a new horse, The Governor's Girl. The Girl is a firehorse, and was burned badly in a huge blaze. Rachel takes her in and cares for her, but her father has strict ideas on where women belong - in the home. Will The Governor's Girl be left for dead, thrown out by Rachel's father?

Comments: this book was a great read, probably best for reading all at once on a lazy afternoon or a rainy Saturday. This is a sound fictional tale, good for all kinds of readers. I've never been one for horse-focused stories, but I think the dilemma of the injured horse is nicely weaved in with Rachel's daily life and problems in 1872 Boston. The characters are easy to imagine, simply because I can either relate to them or compare them with someone I know. I don't know whether the characters are modeled after real people or not, but I can definitely think of them as real people. Everything seems so real, as if this is an official narrative written by an American in the late 1800's. I know that the author is writing about real problems in Boston (the contagious horse disease "distemper" spread through the city, striking at least thirty thousand horses) and getting little details from a diary she found, but it's all very well-written.

I have virtually no experience with anything horse-related, but in my opinion, it's very informative and easy to understand. It wasn't completely focused on horses, more on the people around them. I like the point of the view the book is written in, and I can relate to the main character, Rachel. No, I don't want to become a veterinary, and no, I don't have a strict, sexist (not then, I suppose) father, but I like her attitude and the way she won't give up on what she believes in. This book teaches an important lesson; be who YOU want to be, and do what YOU want to do.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten. Interesting plot, nice moral, all in all a nice read.

A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer

Plot: a young girl living in an impoverished village with her deceased mother's relatives is being married off to a stranger. Worse yet, he already has two wives! Frantic to escape this unearned punishment, Nhamo runs away to find her long-lost father's family in distant Zimbabwe.

Comments: this book was very interesting, and had a viewpoint unlike one I'd ever seen. The plot could have been based on a true story (actually, I think it was), it was so real. The descriptions of the setting were well-written, and though I've never been any of the places the story took place in (or, indeed, seen many pictures of them), I could easily imagine what everything looked like. The characters fit into the story well, and they were definitely easy to imagine. Nhamo's grouchy grandpa yelling at the boys, her young cousin smiling sweetly, her stingy aunt glaring at her. I like the wide variety of characters, as well. They help to show me what life in her village - and beyond it - was like. I especially like the name of the main character, Nhamo. I wonder why anyone would have named her Nhamo, knowing that it means "disaster". It doesn't seem like a very big deal in the story, being named "disaster".

The plot was an original idea. A young girl has to run away and survive on her own in the middle of nowhere to avoid an arranged marriage. It was a mixture of an adventure story and a survival novel, almost guaranteeing a curious read. She faced all kinds of danger, such as drowning, being attacked by a wild animal, and starvation. Nhamo had to adapt to each problem and cope as best as she could. The spirit concept was very interesting, with all the water spirits, animal spirits, gods, etc. I learned a bit about different cultures, reading this book. I think that the book went on too long, however. Large sections in the middle didn't keep me very captivated, and I was constantly on the verge of putting the book down for a while. I think Nancy Farmer could have cut down a little bit, because after a while, it seemed like nothing new was happening. But it was a good beginning, a satisfying ending, and an interesting middle, and I recommend this book for reading a chapter at a time.

Rating: I rate this book a six out of ten.