Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Storm Thief by Chris Wooding

Plot: In a city where probability storms can cause children to turn to glass, streets to rearrange, and extra limbs to grow, anything can happen at any time. Rail and Moa, two ghetto thieves, find an ancient artifact that could bring them immense riches - but they have to hide it from their thief-mistress first. They meet up with a golem while on the run and together they struggle to stay out of the hands of the tyrannical Protectorate.

Comments: This is probably considered a fantasy book, though in the end you find a scientific answer to everything. I liked it, but my appreciation slowly ebbed the further along I got in the story. It turned out okay, but I didn't enjoy the ending.

The characters are surprisingly easy to imagine (for once), and the story line was easy to follow. I was constantly trying to find a connection between the Faded and our modern day world, but once I gave up on that, the book was a little less confusing. I think Chris Wooding does a pretty good job of making you feel a certain way about events and characters, but if Moa's tearful, silent pleading to Rail towards the end (if you read it, you'll know what I mean) was meant to endear me to her pitiful self, it failed utterly. I actually felt contemptuous towards her, like how the rich and protected feel towards the ghetto-people. And when Rail agreed, I felt almost as mad at him for falling for it.

The plot is creative and highly original, and I appreciate the complexity of the Fade and the technologies and settings Wooding describes. However, I think he could have chosen a better ending - unless there will be a sequel. Then, the ending might be okay. But if this is where it ends, I don't like it. I don't think the story should end this way.

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

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne

Plot: well-known scientist and professor, Pierre Aronnax, and his servant and loyal companion, Conseil, embark on a journey to locate and destroy a mysterious monster that has been haunting the seas. However, when their steamer engages in battle with the sea monster and the two are knocked overboard along with the harpoonist Ned Land, they come face-to-face with the monster - and it's the last thing they expected.

Comments: I remembered watching the movie Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea a long time ago when I saw this old classic quietly lounging on the shelf. However, the only part I remember from the movie is who I now recognize as Ned Land choking on his food after being told is was "octopus pudding", or some other dish unlikely to be made of octopus. I think I'll rent the movie and watch it again, to compare it with the book. If I do (not likely - I'll probably forget about it the moment I post this), I'll be sure to update this and discuss the differences and similarities.

I love classics. I do consider Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea a classic, but my general definition of the term "classic book" is pretty much limited to "old book", so maybe I'm not technically correct. In any case, one thing I love about classics is the way they are written (and my definition fits well in its purpose, because I love the older, more formal way of writing). The formal, polite speech (excepting Ned land), the (sometimes tedious) meticulously described settings, everything so organized and official and correct. Though I must admit, I often skimmed paragraphs in this book, sometimes even whole pages, bored with the names, descriptions, and classifications of the wildlife so thoroughly cataloged. I also did not particularly enjoy reading through all the math and science calculations and discussions, but then, I suppose the entire book is meant more as an intellectual one.

The plot is like none I've ever read - though I already knew the general concept when I began reading it, giving me an unshakable feeling of de ja vu - and the story is completely original. I don't know how Jules Verne thought this up, but it is a masterpiece of creativity, of imagination. The descriptions of the characters make it easy for me to build up an image of them in my mind, though it feels strange, the way the characters interact. It all seems very posed, very scripted. I do, however, recognize that this is, in my own terms, a classic, and this could very well be how people were when the book was written. This story causes the mind to open up and wonder at everything we take for granted in our modern world.

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

The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner

Note: book 3 in the series. First is The Thief, then The Queen of Attolia, next is The King of Attolia, and finally, A Conspiracy of Kings (out April 2010).

Plot: Eugenides is now king of Attolia, and he seems to be having trouble adjusting. The Queen's Guard resents his marriage to their beloved queen, and Eugenides must find a way to prove to them how capable and worthy he is of his new title. But will he have an "accident" before he can win over the Guard?

Comments: This is my favorite book yet! I actually read this immediately after reading The Thief (since I accidentally read The Queen of Attolia first), and comparing the three books, I can confidently say that I liked this one the best.Though this book didn't completely focus on Eugenides, I loved his character (as ever) and the way he fooled everyone into thinking he was a stupid, weak king. His schemes are so complicated that only at the end do you realize just how much detail went into his plans, how easy it would have been for everything to mess up.

I like the new main character (in addition to the king), Costis. He seems good-natured (excusing a *ahem* slight mishap in the beginning of the story), he's funny, loyal, hard-working, and after a while, he becomes one of the few people to respect the king. I think the way the king treats him is a little rude, though some may argue that it's within his right - because of his royalty and the "slight mishap" I mentioned. I like how he eventually comes to know and honor the king, though the rest of the Guard despises him. I appreciate his insight and how he can see what other cannot.

Once again, the sheer wit keeps me laughing and the twisting, unpredictable plot keeps me interested. I can't wait for the next book to come out, A Conspiracy of Kings! Though if Eugenides is not a main character, I will be extremely disappointed, and may even boycott the book altogether...

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

Note: book 1 in the series. Next book is The Queen of Attolia, then The King of Attolia, and finally, A Conspiracy of Kings (out April 2010).

Plot: The king's scholar believes he knows the location of a priceless treasure, but he needs a skilled thief to retrieve it. He chooses a thief called Gen from the king's prison and begins the journey, eager to recover this ancient artifact. But Gen doesn't seem all too interested...

Comments: I accidentally read The Queen of Attolia before The Thief, so there were a couple details that were confusing (in The Queen of Attolia). But now that I've read The Thief, everything clears right up. I felt like the plot in The Queen of Attolia moved faster than in The Thief, but I liked The Thief more. I think this is because there's less of the political games and war strategies and monologues; there's more action, hilarious dialogue (Gen is extremely witty, often to his misfortune), and adventure. The setting moves around a little more, and I think the book focuses more on Gen in The Thief.

The characters are easy to relate to and feel, but I can't imagine what they look like. I can hear their voices and imagine them as real people, but I just can't imagine their faces. True, I've never been really good imagining characters' appearances, but whenever I try to play out a scene in my mind, I can only see figures with no faces. I like the variety of personalities in the characters. They fit together well. It's also nice that there aren't many characters, because that's less names and details you have to remember.

The plot is interesting and original, and I liked the folktales mixed in. The storyline was easy to follow (though sometimes the folktales were confusing) and the whole story is in general an easy book to read. I read the entire book all the way through without stopping, I was so engrossed in the story! Gen is mischievous and rebellious and funny, which is perfect in this serious, no-nonsense quest for an ancient treasure!

Rating: I'll rate this book a seven out of ten. Easy, funny read!

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Ranger's Apprentice Series by John Flanagan

Note: The names of the books, in order, are: The Ruins of Gorlan, The Burning Bridge, The Icebound Land, The Battle for Skandia, and The Sorcerer of the North. There are other books out and more soon to be published, but these are the ones I have read so far. Click here for book six.

Plot: when Will is chosen to become a Ranger's apprentice, he doesn't know what to think. The Rangers are an elite group of warriors that protect the kingdom. They have mastered the arts of archery, invisibility (or at least the ability to remain unseen), strategy, observation, and many more such skills. Will is apprenticed to Halt, one of the best Rangers in the kingdom, and he teaches Will all he knows.

Comments: I loved the first four books in this series, but I didn't really like the fifth one. In the first four, Will is a teenager, learning the secretive arts of being Ranger, and he has all sorts of dangerous, live-threatening adventures. But the fifth book skips ahead to when Will is an adult, a fully-fledged Ranger himself, and I didn't appreciate that. I would have preferred to continue reading about the apprentice Will instead of the Ranger Will. However, I'm about to read The Sorcerer of the North again and I'll do my best to lay aside my prejudices and see if I enjoy the book better this time.

The characters are very different from each other, and even the minor characters show up vividly in my mind. John Flanagan has a skill for describing people using their appearances, their actions, and even their speech. They interact smoothly and a lot like I would imagine people in modern day to interact. The characters fit the settings well and don't seem out of place even when they kind of are.

I love Will's cheekiness and enthusiasm and Halt's mock-seriousness and patience. They fit perfectly as apprentice and teacher, and I like that Will makes Halt less grave and more appreciative to life and laughter - though Halt rarely smiles. I like how every story is different and that I am always interested throughout the books. These are great adventure stories, and I might have even learned a thing or two about war tactics and strategies.

Rating: I shall rate this series (so far) a seven and a half out of ten. Very well written.

The Last Apprentice Series by Joseph Delaney

The names of the books are, in correct order, The Spook's Apprentice, The Spook's Curse, The Spook's Secret, The Spook's Battle, The Spook's Mistake and The Spook's Sacrifice. However, the names of the books as published in the USA, in correct order, are: Revenge of the Witch, Curse of the Bane, Night of the Soul Stealer, Attack of the Fiend, Wrath of the Bloodeye, and Clash of the Demons.

Plot: The seventh son of a seventh son, Thomas Ward, is apprenticed to a spook, a dangerous trade envied by no one. Spooks protect their counties from all manner of mysterious and magical creatures, and Tom is training to become such a protector. These are the chronicles of Tom's lessons, adventures, and life as the spook's last apprentice.

Comments: I love this series! The books are great for fantasy-lovers and can be read all at once or a chapter at a time. Though the plots (and settings) vary dramatically, the main characters and general concepts are the same; Tom Ward training from John Gregory to become a spook. The characters are well described, and I have an easy time imagining them. I can relate to a lot of them, and it makes it so much easier to imagine someone when you understand them.

I don't like how the Spook believes he is always right. Like with Alice, Tom's young witch friend; the spook thinks he knows best, and maybe he does, but he leaves Tom no choices and I don't appreciate that. But I suppose that's just his character, right? I love how innocent Tom is, the way he trusts almost everyone (though the Spook soon warns him to discontinue that habit), and how he doesn't believe in any kind of violence. Sometimes I get annoyed with how he doesn't stand up for himself or - occasionally - others, but I guess that's just how he is. He's always polite and fair, and I wonder how he rarely gets angry or thinks about himself.

I think this series is intriguing, mysterious, and fun to read. The plots become a little predictable as you proceed further into the series, but the stories are still very different from each other and individually enjoyable. I definitely recommend this series!

Rating: I will rate this series an eight out of ten.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Also known as Th1rteen R3asons Why. This book has mature content.

Plot: Clay Jensen comes home from high school one day to find a mailed box of cassette tapes with no return address. When he starts listening to cassette number 1, side A, he realizes these tapes were recorded by Hannah Baker, his old crush, who had recently committed suicide. On these tapes, she says, are the stories of thirteen people, the reasons why she decided to quit this world. Clay is apparently one of the thirteen people, and he is forced to listen to all the tapes to find out what role he played in Hannah's death.

Comments: this was an amazing story. I read it all in one afternoon, but it took me hours. Here's what I recommend: find a day where you have nothing you need to do (a weekend?) and start reading this book sometime in the morning. Have snacks within reach, maybe a pillow or a blanket, and just read all the way through. The reason I strongly suggest reading this book all at once is because it's a rather difficult read. It's a great book with an important lesson, and I highly recommend it, but I have a feeling that if you read half the book and put it down, you wouldn't be able to bring yourself to pick it back up. As I said, it's a difficult read; it's not exactly an uplifting book. But if you read the entire story, you'll feel better by the end. Trust me; I was not in the best of moods throughout the book, but by the time I read the last words, I felt like a burden had been lifted from my shoulders; I felt enlightened.

This book is not meant as light-hearted reading, and I warn you that there is some adult content. There is some swearing, sexual content, and general details and concepts related to suicide. I do not recommend this for anyone younger than thirteen, or better, fourteen.

The way this story is written, you have extremely limited information about the characters. In fact, the most important characters, the thirteen reasons, are revealed one by one, so that new people are being introduced and described from Hannah's point of view (along with Clay's thoughts and memories) throughout the story. However, this doesn't restrict your image of the characters; I can easily imagine these people, these thirteen reasons, and the way Jay Asher describes them and portrays them through Hannah's eyes has the incredible effect of making you feel like you know the character, know them for what they really are. Though a lot of the traits of these characters are somewhat unfamiliar to me (the bad ones), I feel almost like I am Hannah Baker, and I think I understand why she killed herself. Though I never went through the things she did, and I don't know what those thirteen reasons are like, I almost understood why she gave up. This is part of the lesson, showing the readers how cruel people can be without realizing it, how a joke or a rumor can blow up into something that results in suicide.

The rest of the lesson I'll leave for you to find out. This book is written extremely well, but sometimes the story line was a little confusing. Hannah would be talking and Clay would reflect on a memory or think about something in between her words. It was hard to concentrate on two totally different things at the same time.

Rating: I rate this book an eight and a half out of ten. A must-read.