Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ender's Game

Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card
352 pages
Middle School+

 At a young age, Ender Wiggin is drafted to fight the alien Buggers.  He's brilliant, a great strategist, and 6 years old.  After rejecting his older brother for excessive violence, and then sister for not being aggressive enough, Ender seems like the best hope for mankind against the next Bugger invasion.  With nothing besides the clothes on his back, Ender is sent off to Battleschool.

Up in the space station of Battleschool, Ender is not the only child prodigy.  He's not even the smallest, but he might be the best.  Quickly adapting to the life of classes and simulated battles, Ender excels.  He is innovative, bright, and beating students that have been there years longer than he has.  On the outside, life couldn't be better.

But Ender's life is lonely.  He misses his sister, his victories feel hollow, and the simulated games are losing their appeal.  If Ender really is mankind's best hope, then where is his hope and happiness?

Wow, what a book.  Super powerful, and even more the next time you read it.  Knowing what you learn at the end of the book (don't jump ahead!  Read it in order) makes the rest of it really interesting.  Like a lot of other books, the more times you read it, the deeper and more significant references and actions in the book are.  Definitely read this more than once.

This book is full of people doing bad things and withholding secrets for the "greater good."  Even within the book, there are consequences for these people, but how much suffering do we let people go through for their own good?  While ultimately, it saves the world, what damage does it do to Ender and his friends?  Is that trade off acceptable?  I could write papers upon papers on this book (not that I really want to, but hey, there are enough issues to keep a writer occupied for years).

I know they are doing a movie on this, and I have mixed feelings about how it will turn out.  While I'm excited for a lot of it, but I'm also not quite sure how they are going to get all of Ender's angst and personal struggles communicated to the audience.  So much of the book happens in Ender's head: are they going to change that?  Make him more reactive to people?  Should be interesting to see the movie!

So, overall, great book that makes the reader think.  Deep, thought provoking, and a little disturbing at times.  While the characters in the book are young, I would give this mostly to high school student, and maybe the occasional middle school.  Lots of violence in the book, both military and person to person, not to mention a little language.  Not knowing what the movie is like yet, don't know if you need to read the book before you seen the movie or not...  But amazing book!  Have fun and read it!

Quick note about sequels or companion books- I liked Ender's Shadow and that series a lot more than the Speaker for the Dead series.  To me, the books that followed Ender (Speaker for the Dead) just got weird and hard to read, but I last read them as a teen.  Ender's Shadow was much more interesting to me.  But that is just by opinion. 

Friday, September 20, 2013

Been gone a while...

So, apparently I can't write when I'm sick...  Got sick last week, so even though I had finished Ender's Game and a couple others, I couldn't write my blog posts about them.  And then I went to Yellowstone (still half sick) and got distracted by geysers and waterfalls.  Anyways, back now!  Healthy and going strong!  Expect a few more posts over the weekend to make up for my long absence!

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Daughter of Smoke and Bone
by Laini Taylor
432 pages
High School

Nothing about Kazou is typical.  From her long blue hair (which grows that way) to her lack of knowledge about her past, her life is one great mystery not only to herself, but to others.  It doesn't help that she is constantly disappearing to run errands for the only family she does know, a misfit group of monsters.

Raise by the beasts that look like a mix of human and animals, she is used to the extraordinary: monsters, wishes, and portals that open into different places in the world all through the same doorway.  Trying to balance her normal life as an art student and her life with them, friends have been few and far between. 

On her current errand, Kazou is sent again to pick up teeth from one of her regular traders.  While there, she feels a little unsettled, like someone is watching her.  Across a crowded market, she sees him: perfectly beautiful, fierce and vibrant, a man that is unknown but hauntingly familiar.  Deciding to flee from him, she rushes back toward a portal, only to be blocked by him, an angel with fiery wings and swift flight.  After they fight, Kazou barely makes it back to the portal, only to fall in, half dead.

Thus begins the newest, and strangest so far, chapter in Kazou's life.  Just who is the angel?  Why didn't he kill her, even though he could have, and who are these monsters that have raised her? Where did the scorch marks on all the portals come from?  And just who is she?

Wow.  Interesting book.  I have tried to read it before, and got sidetracked or distracted by other things, and now wish I had read this sooner!  Great mix of semi-ordinary girl in strange circumstances discovers things are even stranger than she thinks.  I love that even though she didn't grow up in normal circumstances, she is still normal in other ways: she spends wishes on trivial things, has an annoying ex-boyfriend, and a favorite place to hang out and eat.  Stuff like that makes her feel normal, even if she really isn't.

One thing that I'm not sure if I liked or not was the story telling time line.  While trying not to give too much away, the reader kind of enters into the middle of the story, and much of who Kazou is, and why she is in that situation is told through flash backs.  While not necessarily hard to understand, it chops up the story a little, and jumps back and forth, and here and there, giving you glimpses, and then later filling out those glimpses into full scenes.  Kind of weird.  Knowing what I do at the end of the book, it seems kind of necessary, but still not really smooth.

I did really like the world created in this novel: the angels vs. the chimaeras.  Great setting for this story: the impossible lovers.  But the richness of the chimaera world is great.  I really loved the world, and can't wait to see how it all turns out.

Overall: pretty good book!  I had a hard time not reading this time through.  I did rate as high school mostly for what was implied sexually (nothing overt, just the occasional kiss), and for the implied violence as well.  Angels and chimaera do NOT get along well.  Great book.  I would recommend for people that like The Mortal Instruments series! 

Thursday, September 5, 2013


by Gordon Korman
288 pages
Late elementary+

Donovan Curtis isn't really a bad kid, he just lacks impulse control.  When that impulse is to whack a bronze statue of Atlas on the backside, which causes the globe on his shoulders to come of and roll into the gym during a basketball game, it cause him lots of trouble.  Especially with the superintendent standing right there.  After going to his office and getting his name written down, Donovan expects the worst: the dreaded call to his parents.  When that never comes, Donovan wonders what happened.

Then the completely unexpected happens: instead of getting reprimanded for what he did, Donovan is getting promoted.  His parents received in the mail a letter stating that because of his excellent test scores, he has been invited to attend the Academy of Scholastic Distinction, the school for the super smart kids.  Donovan figures this is a great place to hide from the superintendent until he remembers to punish him.

At this school, Donovan couldn't be more out of place.  While other kids are acing calculus, everything said in class is going way over his head.  His only redeeming feature: he's normal.  He quickly names the school robot (Tin Man), makes the robotics team a true team, and introduces the smart kids to YouTube.  Making their days better, he seems to fit in, even without the smarts.

But can he stay there forever? His teachers are quickly realizing he's not gifted, the superintendent is still looking for him, and now his pregnant sister is moving back home.  On top of all of this, he's got to take care of her spastic dog that doesn't like anyone but him.  How long can he keep hiding, and keep his random impulses under control?

This book made me laugh so much.  The visual of a kid whacking Atlas' backside with a tree branch, and watching, horrified, as it rolls into the school gym was priceless.  He is continually defying expectations and norms.  Quirky kid, who just doesn't want to be yelled at.

I liked how the point of view switched between people.  It always came back to Donovan, but you got a great look at how frustrated the superintendent is when he loses Donovan's name, and how his new teacher really likes him and values what he is doing for the class, but wonders why this kid was chosen for the gifted school.  Makes you realize the other characters in the book aren't necessarily oblivious to what is happening, and gives their perspective on the story as well.  While in other books, I have seen this distract from the story line, it really worked out well in this instant.

Another thing I really liked was how the characters could grow while staying true to themselves.  Donovan changed his perspective on some things, grew out of some childish tendencies, but at the end is still struggling with his impulse control (great scene!  Robot showdown!).  He is still himself, but an improved version of himself.

Overall, really good book.  The characters were fun, the story was great, and had meaning without being preachy or trite.  Lots of humor, and both girls and boys should enjoy it.  Have fun reading it!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Diviners

The Diviners
by Libba Bray
592 pages
High School+

Evie O'Neill is in trouble.  Again.  While at a party in town, she was not only drinking (NOT allowed during Prohibition), but she also decided to tell secrets.  Secrets she should have no way of knowing.  When this gets her in hot water, Evie gets shipped off to New York to live with her uncle for a little while.

While Evie didn't expect Uncle Will to completely hip, she gets the creeps at his place of employment: The Museum of  American Folklore, Superstition, and the Occult—also known as "The Museum of the Creepy Crawlies." Filled with haunted and sinister looking things.  While thrilled to be in New York with all the glitz and glamor, she is not as thrilled with the Museum.   But together with her uncle's assistant Jericho, she is now helping show the few visitors they get around.

 One day, when a policeman asks Uncle Will to consult on a bizarre murder, Evie decides to come along for the ride.  At the murder scene, she is moved to pity for the victim, a young girl who is now missing her eyes.  Filled with sympathy, Evie bends down to straighten a bow on the shoe, and is suddenly seeing images from the girl's life.  This is what got Evie in trouble in the first place: when holding something connected to a person, she sees into their lives.

Pulled into the mysterious murders, Evie must help her uncle solve the cases.  Why are the bodies missing parts?  What is with the strange verses left at the scenes?  And will Evie's talent be more help or will it endanger her and her friends?

On this book I am a little torn on if I liked it or not.  I liked the characters alright, the story was interesting, great setting, good background, but the length and pacing of the story bugged me a little.  It took forever before things really started moving.  I can tell it is building up to more than just this book, but there was almost too much building, and not enough happening.  While interesting, it took me a while to get really involved in the characters.

Those issues aside, I liked many other aspects of the book.  The setting is great: New York during Prohibition!  Hidden clubs, jazz music, and flappers!  Glamor and bright lights!  A great setting for a ghost story and the world being in danger.  The setting was very vivid, and I liked the glimpses of so many different points of view.  Everything from the show girl, the activist, the poet, the scholar and the flapper.  The characters are all great studies of life at the time.

Overall, while the scenery was great, I felt like to much time was spent building up the story and not enough on the story itself.  This does build up to another book, and I will probably read it when it comes out, but probably won't try to reread this before.  Good story, great setting, alright characters, but I would have liked it a little more condensed.  I rated this for high school mostly because of the grisly details at murder scenes and scary stuff like that.  I'm not a big fan of scary movies or books, and even as an adult, I tried not to read it right before bedtime!  Good creepy book, if that is your thing!