Monday, December 31, 2012

A Fortnight of Tolkien

  Welcome stragglers and adventurers from all corners of the vast expanse known as the internet. You couldn’t have arrived at a more opportune moment. For this New Year the word smiths of The Raven’s Quill are celebrating the commencement of our new, cozy little corner of the interweb with a giveaway that’s sure to entice dragons, elves, wizards, dwarves, and even the most respectable of hobbits. Intrigued? Read on virtual stragglers for all of the details.

      Starting January 1st, The Raven’s Quill will be hosting an event dubbed, "A Fortnight of Tolkien". During these fantastical two weeks, we’ll be honoring Tolkien’s legacy with posts and reviews dedicated to The Hobbit and most of its adaptations, including Peter Jackson’s recent film, An Unexpected Journey. For everyday of this extravaganza extraordinaire, you’ll have the chance to throw your names into our wizard hat for the opportunity to win one of two prizes. The event runs fifteen days in total, representing the number of traveler’s in Thorin’s Company. To clarify, this magical giveaway will end on the 15th of this month and the winners will be drawn the following day. For information on the prizes and for the Rafflecopter entry forum, trek over to the giveaway tab. The details and conditions of the giveaway will be spelt out clearly in bold, as we know it’s very hard to find someone fluent in moon runes in this day and age.
        So, what are you waiting for? The birds have returned to The Raven’s Quill, beckoning forth a new era. Below is a list of some of the reviews and posts that will be featured as a part of this event, and they will be updated and linked when completed. If at any time you find yourself lost, refer back to this post and you’ll be set right again. After all, in the words of Bilbo Baggins, "It’s dangerous business, going out of your door. You step into the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."

                                                  The Hobbit by J.R.R.Tolkien review

Tolkien Appreciation Post
The Hobbit(PS2) by Vivendi review
The 1977 Hobbit Film review
The Illustrated Hobbit by Dixon review
The 2012 film review(complete with an analysis of added
materials and deviations from original book content)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Mad Giveaway!

I know that I've been a little lax in the reviews lately(life can be so demanding), so I thought that I would use Bird Talk to announce spiffing awesome giveaways as I see them while i'm inbetween reviews. Here is one such giveaway:


Jodi offers loads of giveaways and there are lots of ways to enter so pretty much everyone has a chance to throw their name into the tophat. I'm personally really hoping to win Whisper on the Wind because it would make a fantastic gift for someone I know.


Hurry up and enter today! You have nothing to loose and awesome books to gain!

Talk Supe: Reader Tribute 2 International Giveaway

Talk Supe: Reader Tribute 2 International Giveaway: Hello Supies! Because we're recently reached another milestone in our blog, we have 1,049 followers now with over 230,000+ hits, ...

There are some fantastic books available in this giveaway!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Magic Warble Giveaway

    After winning a copy of The Magic Warble in a giveaway, I was contacted by the author Victoria Simcox and asked if I would be interested in holding a giveaway of my own. I, being a fledling reviewer who has yet to hold any giveaways, immediately jumped on the opportunity. I've already reviewed The Magic Warble and have given it a 3/5. My final conclusion that it is, despite technical issues throughout the book, a cute little book and one that I think will be fairly popular amongst children in the lower range of the targeted age groups(kids 8-10). To read the full reviews, click here.
    Now, onto the things generally expected in a giveaway: author information and details. Never having hosted one of these before I was rather lucky in that Miss.Simcox seems to know what she's doing. She promptly sent be both her bio and an interview, both of which can be read below. The details regarding the giveaway are quite simple. Merely fill sign into the Rafflecopter forum at the very end of this post with the e-mail adress of your choice and choose one or all of the options to enter. I don't like giveaways that run forever, so i've decided to make this one last a week(06/21--06/28). There are three international copies(electronic books, not print) available in this giveaway. Good luck!


Author Bio~

   Victoria was born in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada, to an Austrian immigrant mother, and a Dutch immigrant father. She now lives in Western Washington with her husband, Russ and their three children, Toby, Kristina, and William. Her other family members are a Chihuahua, named Pipsy and two cats, named Frodo and Fritz. Besides being an author, Victoria is a home-schooling mother of twelve years and an elementary school art teacher of eleven years. In her spare time, Victoria enjoys managing her two older children's Celtic band. She also loves writing, reading, painting watercolors, hiking, good movies, and just simply hanging out with her family and friends.

Q: Who reads your manuscripts before you submit them?
A: A few close friends and my daughter. I trust and admire their opinions.
Q:Do you have a day job? Do you hope that writing will be your full time career in the future?
A:I teach elementary school art during the week and I also home-school my youngest son. Even if writing was my full time career, I think I could still handle these other two tasks, which I love doing.
Q:What are you working on now?
A:The third book in The Magic Warble series.
Q:What’s your favorite way to procrastinate?
A: I can push the easy button on this question—youtube and facebook, lol.
Q: Where do you do your best writing? Do you like to have certain surroundings?
A: At my computer, in my bedroom. It's where I always write, unless I'm on the road. I know … I'm a creature of habit.
Q:If you could live in one book for a day, what would it be?

A: Love this question! Hogwarts School in Harry Potter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Magic Warble by Victoria Simcox

    The Magic Warble by Victoria Simcox is a juvey fiction novel geared towards children ages 9-13. After having read it, I would personally shift the age category a tad to exclude thirteen-year-olds and include eight-year-olds. While the book holds its charms I believe that it is a little too simplistic for someone entering their teens and more appropriate for a kid in their first years of middleschool. I don’t mean for this to sound like a snub but rather insight gathered from children I know and the books they’re most inclined to read. Now, let me amaze you with my awesome summarizing abilities(because three years of college has to have taught me something…right?). The Magic Warble chronicles the journey of twelve-year old Kristina—a shy, intelligent girl who is often the brunt of jokes and ridicule. Upon receiving a very unusual Christmas gift, Kristina is hurled into the land of Bernovem. All at once, Kristina is charged with using her gift—knowm as the Magic Warble—to restore peace to an ailing land and she enters into a long journey of intrigue, whimsy, and danger.
    The Magic Warble is a cute book, though I did find myself constantly nitpicking technical issues. One of the first oddities I came across was the way that the dialogue is written. Kristina’s words go from being very sophisticated—perhaps too sophisticated for a girl of her age—to very age appropriate. Now, while preteen girls with great manners and decent vocabularies are far and few between, I wouldn’t have been opposed to Kristina’s sophisticated dialogue and well-groomed manners if they had been at least partially explained. For instance, I was a very loquacious little girl. One of my favorite past-times was to read whatever dictionary happened to be lying around and to underline pretty words to be used in conversation. I liked to scour thesauruses and bedazzle my speech with what I felt were grown-up sounding words in order to project an air of maturity. I was born eccentric, so my speech habits—while unusual—made sense to those who knew me. Readers get to know very little of Kristina before her journey begins and I wish that Simcox would have given us a better sense of why she speaks so articulately for a girl her age(perhaps by establishing that like me she loved to speak as though she were much older). Now, I do have to keep in mind that this is a juvy fiction book. For those unfamiliar with the differences between juvy fiction and young adult fiction I would ask that you indulge my inner know-it-all and allow me to give a brief explanation(if you want to skip my little tangent feel free to do so. I promise I won’t be too offended). Juvy fiction is simply an age category that means that people of certain ages will be most drawn to these books because a) the protagonists are usually of a similar age to the readers and b) the story is written in a way that is easy enough for that age group to understand but complicated enough to hold their interests. In the case of juvy fiction, the ages targeted are usually 8-12. Naturally, some books target the upper or lower range of this age group(for example, some books are more appropriate for a kid of 12 than a kid of 8). Young Adult fiction usually targets readers ages 12-19. A brief perusal of this blog will reveal that I mostly review classics or young adult fiction(specifically science fiction and fantasy). As a reviewer, I have to be cognizant of the fact that I can’t judge a book geared towards a seventeen-year old in the same way as a book geared towards a ten-year old. I had to continuously remind myself while reading The Magic Warble of this fact. For instance, the pacing in this book is perfectly appropriate for a middle schooler but would be a big no-no in a book for a highschooler. But I digress.
   Aside from Kristina’s strange speech habits I ran across a few sentence structure issues(which I only feel the need to mention because I believe that a middle-schooler might notice them as well), the biggest of which was the need for comma splicing. I love commas. Who doesn’t love a good comma? When I first learned how to properly(or what I thought was properly) use commas I felt the need to use one every other sentence. Commas were like condiments for me; they were my pepper and my salt. However, as anyone who has ever taken a creative writing class will tell you, sometimes enough is enough. As a general rule commas are used to separate thoughts contained within a sentence. They are used to indicate a pause or an aside and are wonderful tools when used correctly. There are several instances in The Magic Warble where the use of commas are not only incorrect but also create a very choppy effect. For example:

"The pile of laundry had been replaced by a pile of leaves, and instead of the basement floor, it seemed to be grass beneath her."

Read this setnence aloud, making sure to take a breath whenever a comma appears. It isn’t very coherent, is it? Aside from the improper placement of commas, the latter half of the sentence doesn’t make a lot of sense. This entire sentence can be re-written by simply changing the placement of a comma and reworking some muddled wording and be all the better for it. Observe:

"The pile of laundry had been replaced by a pile of leaves and, instead of the basement floor, there was grass beneath her."

It isn’t the best sentence in the world but it makes more sense written this way than it did previously. Yes, I know I sound like a highschool grammar teacher. No, I’m not trying to claim that I’m some sort of super-awesome-special-spifftastic writer. Little snafus like this happen to every writer no matter their skill. However, the aforementioned example is not an isolated occurrence. There are dozens of sentences that feature either ill-placed commas or irrelevant commas and I believe that it is important that Simcox be made aware of these snafus so that she can be mindful of not making the same mistakes in the future. One final nitpick I has is the repetition of two words: suddenly and then. The fact that the narrative is fast-paced doesn’t bother me because it’s perfectly appropriate for this genre(juvy fiction fantasy). Younger children tend to have short attention spends—ESPECIALLY where reading is concerned—so the pacing of books aimed at them has to be quick enough to keep their interests. What I did have a problem with was the way that sudden occurrences or plot progressions were introduced. Almost every event is prefaced with a "suddenly" or "then". I’m sure that Simcox did not realize just how often she uses these words but they are none the less used a lot and quickly become repetitious. By the time I was halfway through the book I literally cringed every time suddenly popped into a sentence.
   All nitpickery aside, this is a cute book. I like the story and the characters as well as imaginative little details such as the Magic Warble itself and entirely made-up creatures like the zelbocks. I loved how the stereotypical bully characters were not just used and ditched but rather incorporated into the adventure. I think the fact that Kristina has a pet rat instead of something much more girly and feminine is awesome. The illustrations throughout the story were very pleasant and they reminded me of the illustrations in The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald. Most of us older kids will be able to appreciate the charm of this book, even if we nitpick it to death, but I would recommend this story be read by a younger audience. It would be a nice gift for a niece or nephew(as the story boasts a female and a male lead) or a good book for a teacher to read to a young class. My advice to anyone who reads this book is to just take it for what it is: a cute story aimed at children. I might have poked and prodded it quite a bit during my review, but eventually I did manage to comfortably ignore certain technical issues and just enjoy adventuring through Bernovem with Kristina. So if you’re looking for something to read to your kid or a gift for a child’s birthday you should give The Magic Warble a try.

Rating: 3/5

Victoria Simcox
Magic Warble Giveaway

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Sora's Quest by T.L.Shreffler

"Death, despite what the bards had to say, was not beautiful or dramatic. It was a cold body laying in the grass"

Sora's Quest by T.L.Shreffler chronicles the journey of a noblewoman named Sora who dreams of adventure but has always lacked the ambition and opportunity to pursue her desires. Having been sheltered for the vast majority of her life, Sora knows very little of the world outside of heroic tales such as the epics of Kaelyn the Wanderer. Fate—both a cruel and gentle messenger—intercedes on the eve of Sora’s arranged marriage with the unscrupulous Lord Garret. Moments before the ceremony commences, Sora’s father—a man who she barely knows—is struck down by a shadowy assassin, leaving the wedding procession in utter chaos. Taking advantage of the clamor and commotion, Sora slips away from the panicked masses and begins her plan of escape. All seems to be going fairly well until she runs into the very man who murdered her father. In a blur, Sora is swept away by the dark figure and threatened at knife point. After years of longing, Sora finally gets her shot at adventure. Now the only obstacle remaining is to survive to tell the tale.
   This is a great book. It is a great book for many reasons, all of which I will try to cover without chirping on and on about why said reasons make this book so good(you must forgive this bird, as it has been almost a month since she’s read such a good book). Let us start with the characters, chiefly Sora. Sora(a great name for a heroine in Sora’s predicament, as the name means sky and is also the name of a bird. This is pleasantly apt, as Sora’s drive is for freedom) is a surprisingly relatable character. I didn’t know if I’d like her at first as I was worried that she, like so many heroines of this genre, would suffer from insufficient writing. Too many a female leads are made out to be "strong", though in truth they generally possess only one trait that might be deemed as such and are often used as a tool to further romantic subplots. Sora is not one of those characters, though for a while I genuinely feared that she would be. For you see, Shreffler thrusts her lead into a situation that many others would have used to formulate a really odd and non-sensible brooding romance. The noblewoman and her kidnapping assassin—can’t you just smell the hordes of Paranormal YA Romance’s that would take this idea down the Twilight route?
<blatant sarcasm>Because cool, indifferent, and sometimes verbally abusive men are totally attractive</blatant sarcasm>.

But I digress.
   The thing I appreciate the most about Sora’s character is the perfect balance between naïve dreamer, spoiled noblewoman, and novice adventurer. Realistically, as Sora has only known the life of a noblewoman and her only familiarity with adventure comes from romanticized myths, life on the road does not come easily to her. Putting aside the fact that she is a captive, Sora has never had to go a morning without breakfast, never had to sleep on the cold hard ground—heck, she probably never had to suffer without a bath for days on end. While Sora does manage these situations, they are not without discomfort. She acts very much like a person in her situation should act which is frazzled yet determined to survive. She is strong in some ways(she is fairly intelligent and possess admirable will power for a girl her age), but she also has moments of weakness. Basically, she’s balanced and written in a sympathetic enough way for readers to identify with her but she’s not over exaggerated with a tragic backstory like many modern heroines. She’s simply human, which is something I admire, as many authors seem to struggle with making realistic characters. Moving on from Sora, we have the ragtag duo of thieves(plus one assassin) that fate has stuck her with. These characters aren’t overly sympathetic. Sora, like readers, has to come to terms with the fact that one of them kills for a living and the other two are involved with theft. As readers, we’re allowed to empathize with these characters but we’re also allowed to disapprove of them. They aren’t forced down our throats as loveable ruffians. We know that they’ve done wrong and will probably continue to do wrong in the future. The romantic aspect of this book is also very ambiguous. In fact, the only possible hint at romantic feelings doesn’t come into play until the very end of the book, and even then neither of the parties involved actually admit to any romantic feelings. They simply admit to feeling something, and readers are left to ponder what that something might be. Even when Sora begins to warm up to her companions we are still privy to her conflicting emotions on the matter. On one hand, she knows that she’s still a captive (though here captive status gradually weakens over the course of the story). She knows that the people that she’s coming to like had a hand in killing her father and are involved in dubious activities. However, she’s still human. She still longs to make a connection to the people around her, even if the company isn’t always preferable. In this way, Shreffler craftily avoids giving her character stockholm syndrome. Sora doesn’t make excuses for her captors, but she also cannot deny that the trials they’ve shared together have forged an unexpected bond of camaraderie. It’s an interesting dynamic, one that could have gone horribly array under a less adept pen.
      In a nutshell, this is a great book. I know that I’m being terribly repetitive, but it really is a great read. The only factors that kept this book from being a five had to do with some strange unexplained motivations in the book. For instance, I never really understood why exactly Crash—also known as the assassin—took Sora captive in the first place. He obviously had not qualms about killing so why he just didn’t kill his only witness is very odd. Additionally, it was never explained why he assassinated her father. Was he hired? We know that he’s running from a man whose brother he murdered so why would he stop his flight to do a hit. Was he hired? These facts are never really made clear, though there are a few moments in the story where I was sure they’d be introduced. There’s also a reunion towards the end of the book that just kind of jumps out at you. Granted, there’s an explanation for it, but it still seemed a little too convenient. Then again, sometimes magic allows for some very convenient scenes to happen. Finally, in the closing chapters of the book, there’s a scene where our gruff assassin relaxes a bit(in a really hilarious way). I liked his growth of character, but at the same time he almost felt out of character for a bit of it. I know, I know—how can an author write his or her own creation out of character? There was just a slightly off feel to it, but at the same time I did really like the scene. I think I’m just nitpicking now. It’s a great read. You should read it. Go do so now.
Rating: 4.5/5

Friday, June 15, 2012

The Pack-Retribution by L.M.Preston

"Let the bodies hit the floor. One down and many more"

The Pack-Retribution by L.M.Preston is a young adult science-fiction novel that centers around a team of cadets who—after loosing their leader to an unknown assassin—race to find the killer before more loved ones die. The story takes place on Mars which was been transformed into a rehabilitation center for former convicts. These criminals have been given a vaccine that combats and eliminates whatever genetic predisposition lead them to crime in the first place. With their desire to perpetrate crime removed, scientists believe that these former convicts can lead renewed lives. Of course, not all that glitters is gold. Along with beat cops, Mars and it’s rehabilitated convicts are watched over by an Elite force who are outfitted with a specially designed nano skin that render them nearly impervious to harm and gives them enhanced strength. There are many really novel ideas in this story and it’s refreshing to see imagination in a genre that I feel has been suffering from an egregious lack of creativity in recent years. Unfortunately, Preston’s panoply of creative ideas and gadgets are lost in a very confusing narrative.
   I haven’t struggled this much with a book in quite some time. It was even a struggle to decide a proper rating. In some areas, the book is very good. However, the good—no matter how present—is quickly overshadowed by what I can only call sloppy execution. My chief problem with this book was that it felt a little discombobulated. The clues that lead to the real killer are too convenient and the large cast of characters can be difficult to distinguish, especially in scenes with a lot of dialogue. Now initially I had no idea that this book was actually a sequel to another(The Pack), so some of my initial confusion really can’t be blamed on Preston. Instead, I blame the way it’s marketed. Nothing in the summary claims that this book is in fact a sequel, so naturally would-be readers who are interested by the story’s premise would not think twice about purchasing/borrowing it. Once again, this really isn’t Preston’s fault and, while I was a little confused at first, the narrative is kind enough to inform any late comers to the series of the events of the previous book. Because I have not read this book’s predecessor, I cannot comment regarding its superiority or inferiority in comparison, so keep in mind while reading this review that I’m viewing this story as an independent body rather than a continuation.
  A few small issues that hindered my enjoyment of this book had to do with typographical errors and formatting. In fact, The Pack-Retribution is one of three e-books I’ve read to be plagued by two of the same mishaps: unnecessary hyphens and random insertions of the author’s name or story title in the middle of a paragraph. For example, words like smashing and swallowing are turned into swallow-ing and smash-ing. The page breaks, which were frustratingly frequent, read like this:

Too bad 98

The Pack-Retribution

That didn’t work out

As I’ve seen both of these errors in two other e-books, I assume that something must be going array with whatever software the authors(or their publishers) are using to transform their books into an e-book format. None the less, these errors are distracting and serve to sever the connection the reader has with the world within the story. There were also a few typos here and there, but nothing too terrible. Aside from format errors, The Pack-Retribution has a rather irritating habit of telling readers what characters feel instead of showing us through interactions. So and so loves so and so, so and so feels mad etc…The story also repeats certain statements over and over again, almost as if assuming that the readers will be too daft to remember them. For instance, I counted four separate moments in which readers are reminded that the main character Shamira has excellent hearing because she used to be blind, and even though she is no longer blind she still has excellent hearing. And readers are constantly informed about Shamira’s struggle at letting people get close—even though she seems to let quite a few people close—and how intense affection frightens her. Yes, Preseton I get it. She can hear well and has a fear of intimacy. Rather than telling readers all of these things(over and over), I’m confidant that Preston’s story would have been aided by showing readers examples of these facts instead of telling us, as well as trusting readers to remember the facts as given.
   None the less, I still did enjoy parts of the story. The basic premise of a drug that can help cure criminals of their impulse to commit crime is really fascinating. Additionally, the strange power that Shamira possesses which was born out of a brush with death was very intriguing and begged for more explanation(though, never have read the first book, I have no idea if better explanation was given). The nano skins that protect elite officers is something I haven’t seen in science fiction before. Can you imagine a comic book series based around people with that technology? It sounds like it would be pretty awesome to me. I suppose part of reason why this book confused me so much might have to do with the way the story is told—which is kind of like an action comic. I’ve nothing against comics, believe me—but the writing needed to tell a story in both mediums is different. I mean, would you want to read a comic written like a book? But really I am crossing into the realm of nitpickery here, so I’ll end this review by saying that the writing could have been better but the story and the environment in which the story takes place is really interesting. I imagine that fans of the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson will probably really enjoy this book, as both stories feature strong female leads and the writing style is reminiscent of an action comic.

Rating: 3/5

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The World of Ryyah by H.L.Watson

"She knew that if she ever made it back to her people she would be forced into an arranged marriage. A ransom of a different kind, she thought wryly"

     The World of Ryahh: Birth of the Half Elves by H.L.Watson is a story that chronicles the intersecting fates of two seemingly different individuals—both different in character and in Race. When Donovan was twelve-years old he witnessed the horrific slaughter of his fellow villagers—infants and children alike—and was forced into slavery by the Barbarians behind the massacre. He, along with dozens of other young boys, were forced to march into the forests and towards their impending enslavement to the very men who murdered their families. By a stroke of fate, the weak and frightened youths are saved by the Rangers—a sect of the Wood Elf kingdom allotted the task of defending their forests against intrusion. Against much protest, the leader of the Rangers decides to spare the children’s lives and raise them as her own, transforming them into an elite and loyal faction of her Ranger Corp. Little could Donovan have known that his life would be turned upside down upon the death of his surrogate mother and the kidnapping of the youngest princess of the Wood Elf kingdom, Brandela. In an attempt to avenge the death of his loved one, Donovan and Brandela’s fates become intertwined as they struggle to survive their long journey home—and to cope with their growing feelings towards one another. The basic plot of this story is very appealing. It promises adventure, romance, action, and even the demolition of social prejudices.
    Unfortunately, the story did not live up to it’s potential. Two of the most conspicuous problems that plague this book are poor formatting and technical errors. Aside from the occasional typographical error here and there, words that required no hyphens were suddenly split into two(vegetable becoming veg-etable, victim becoming vic-tim). While the latter errors were a bit baffling, ultimately they were forgivable. The occasional glitch, while amusing and at times annoying, is not enough to keep a good story down. Rather, it’s the combination of different errors in both writing technique and format that really kept an otherwise intriguing premise from reaching it’s full potential. Regarding formatting, the chief problem this book suffered from was the random insertion of either the book title or the chapter name in the middle of a paragraph. For example, a sentence would read like this:

"I have no intention of getting captured, but if I do, you’ve got a deal. Be safe, 61

Birth of the Half Elves

And may the blessings of the Elders shine down upon you."

   Similar awkward insertions and sentence breaks occur frequently throughout the story, resulting in atleast one infraction each chapter. These errors were distracting to say the least. All noticeable errors aside, I felt that the story also suffered from confusing transitions and pace problems. As there is nothing signaling a change of perspective, readers are suddenly jerked from one character’s view to another. Additionally, the whole story felt rushed. It almost seemed as though the author was too anxious to get to key points in the plot and as a result the narrative quickly jumps from one issue to another, while strangely taking ample time to play-out actions scenes. The romance came on a little too quick for my tastes as well. I understand that Donovan and Brandela had a spiritual bond but I feel as though this bond was used too much as an excuse to progress the romance while the story would have been better served by gradually allowing each character to come to a conclusion regarding their feelings towards another. Criticisms aside I think the premise of the book is a good one. If the technical issues were resolved and the pace of the story improved the plot and characters would have flourished more. Despite the issues I had with this book I think that I’d be open to giving the next book in the series a chance. I don’t know that I would buy it, but I also don’t think that I’d hesitate to borrow it from a fellow nerd.

Rating: 2.5/5

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Impending Reviews

"I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." -Groucho Marx

For the first half of June I’ll be reviewing the following books:


The Pack-Retribution by L.M.Preston
The World of Ryyah by H.L.Watson
Sora's Quest by T.L.Shreffler
Nette by Barbara Rayne
The Magic Warble by Victoria Simcox
Wreck of the Nebula Dream by Veronica Scott

For the latter half of June my hope is to delve into two weeks of Tamora Pierce, one of my favorite female authors. If I don’t manage to finish in the last leg of June then the Pierce exploration will continue into the first week of July. Regardless, the reviews will culminate in a book giveaway, though of which Pierce title I have not decided. I'll update with the details when I have them figured out.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Dreamwalker by James Oswald


"So that’s what death means, Benfro thought. It’s not about bodies lying motionless, or dragons giving up the will to live, it’s about the fire going out and there being no more stories."

Dreamwalker is a fantasy novel that chronicles the lives of three different people who share not only a birthday but also intertwining destinies. One is a power hungry princess who will stop at nothing to gain the throne going so far as to even kill family members. One is a royal son born in secret and hidden away in a remote village on the edge of the forest. Finally, one is a young dragon—the first male dragon to be born in one thousand years. Using these three characters, Oswald concocts an impressive tale of magic, suspense, and intrigue.
    Those who know me know that I’m apt to read any book dealing with dragons. Ever since I discovered Tolkien’s The Hobbit in my youth I’ve been infatuated with them. The ways in which dragons have been portrayed in both fantasy and science fiction are too numerous to count. Some are menacing and animalistic, others are cunning and intelligent, and some authors even combine these two traits in order to make both ferocious and lovable characters. Initially, I was a little disappointed by the dragons in Dreamwalker. They aren’t cunning like Smaug, nor are they incredibly magical nor large in size. However, clues throughout the story hint at a reason for the dragon’s diminished stature and the dragons themselves are interesting characters. The story begins with a prophecy and while I’m personally a little tired of prophecies in books, I found the main plot of Dreamwalker to be rather interesting. True, many aspects of the plot are not uncommon in the fantasy genre. In fact, some have become a little tired over the years. Prophecies, lost heirs to the throne, power hungry person who will stop at nothing to keep that heir from achieving the throne etc. Frankly, the basic plot of this book held no surprised for me. This may or may not be a bad thing, depending upon the reader. Some readers like to see familiar formulas reused over and over again, while others are always looking for something new to pique their interests. I would categorize myself as being somewhere in the middle of these two preferences. While I like to see familiar plots reinvigorated, I also like to read stories that take me place I’ve never gone before. So while I feel like I’ve been told stories with plots very similar to Dreamwalker, I appreciated Oswald’s attempt at making what could be a very boring repeat of dozens of Epic Fantasy novels’ plots into something a little bit more inspired. But I’m rambling.
    Specifically, I really liked the way this story was handled. I always enjoy reading both the antagonists’ and protagonists’ perspectives. This type of narrative prevents readers from growing bored with just one person’s view and it’s the type of storytelling I generally prefer. The characters of this story were fairly well written, though some of them read like stock characters (especially the antagonists). Being the first book in a series, the author still has plenty of time with which to further develop his characters past their stereotypical roles. I also found Oswald’s take on magic to be very intriguing. In fact, it was probably the most interesting aspect of this story. Like many ardent fans of the fantasy genre I’ve always been fond of magic in stories. I love to see how authors handle magic because I feel as though this—more than anything else—reveals the author’s mentality regarding the mechanisms of the world world. I have a few minor issues with the book, including a confusing editing error. One of the characters, Beulah, is supposed to come into power by her upcoming birthday. However, the book actually gives conflicting accounts regarding the age she’s turning. Sometimes it’s twenty-one while other times it’s twenty-five. I assume this error probably came from a last minute change in which the writer decided to alter the characters age but neglected to re-edit certain areas of the book. In addition to this minor yet annoying error I felt as though the story needed more exposition. The world Oswald has dreamt up is fairly complex and includes it’s own histories, legends, and famous figures. Having been reared on Tolkien I'm fairly fond of complex worlds. However, there were times during the story where I felt as if I had missed some vital piece of information only to discover upon backtracking that said information was never provided.
   None the less this was an enjoyable book. It was a tad formulaic and some of the characters seemed a little cliché but overall it’s a promising start to a series and I fully expect the next book to improve upon the first. If I had to classify this book I would say that it is a High Fantasy story which stradles the line of adult fiction and young adult fiction (though the upper edge of YA as this story does deal with some mature and delicate issues). It’s enjoyable, it’s free, it has DRAGONS—what more motivation do you need?

Rating: 3.5

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Emperor's Edge by Lindsay Buroker

     The Emperor’s Edge is the first in what is presently a quartet written by author Lindsay Buroker. I stumbled across this book on ereaderIQ, a website that lists—among other things—free ebooks. Recently I set out to scour the web for the best free ebooks currently on the market and I am proud to say that—after reading many poorly edited yet promising attempts—I’ve finally found a genuine gem. The story is both engaging and simple. Amaranthe Lockdon is one of the select few female enforces employed by the Turgonian Empire—the most successful empire in the world. Due to the scarcity of women in her profession as well as her personal drive to be precise in all of her tasks, Amaranthe can be described as a very focused individual. She’s so focused on proving her worth and serving the Empire that she agrees to undertake a mission that would exploit her feminine wiles and compromise her moral principles. Nothing is what it seems in Turgonia however, and what initially promises to be a simple tasks reveals a plot to kill the young and naïve Emperor, Sepsian, and possibly lead Turgonia into a civil war. All at once, Amaranthe is a fugitive on the run, working with the country’s most notorious criminal as well as a band of unlikely comrades in order to stop the plot against the Emperor before his nineteenth birthday, which takes place in just two weeks!
     I really enjoyed this book and I’m still shocked that I got this gem for free. The pace of the story is very well done, with the action scenes being just fast enough to engage the reader yet not so fast that the story looses detail or depth. Amaranthe serves as a very good example of what a well-developed and strong female character can be. When I was growing up there was nowhere near the abundance of YA fiction that there is today. While I loved to read I often struggled to find girl characters that did not drive me crazy! Most were stock characters and utterly predictable and it was especially difficult to find worthwhile female leads in action stories. While I did eventually discover writers like Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley whose heroines are usually rich and full of depth, my youth left me with a physical intolerance to poorly written characters of either gender. I’ve abandoned more books because of poor characterization than I have of any other story failing. Therefor, The Emperor’s Edge was a welcome addition to my slowly growing list of stories that feature ladies who are anything but stereotypical. What makes Amaranthe well written is not merely the fact that she’s a woman occupying a position of strength. Infact, the "strong woman" motif has become just as much a stock character as the "princess" motif. More often than not, writers tend to give a female character a sword, add some water and presto! They now think they’ve written a strong female lead. Amaranthe escapes this sloppy characterization by being more than just her rank. Not only is she a strong female character who can take care of herself, she’s also very human and still a girl. She’s very intelligent and willing to admit when a problem is too big to handle alone. More often than not, Amaranthe chooses cunning and logic in order to succeed in her quest, though she doesn’t shy away from fights she knows she can win. She isn't beyond feeling physical attraction towards certain members of her group but she wisely puts those feelings aside and focuses on the task at hand.

     In addition to Amaranthe, her motley crew of criminals in the making are also thoroughly enjoyable. While some of them could admittingly be classified as stock characters, it is perfectly acceptable—in this nerd’s opinion—to have your secondary characters fit into preset categories. You have the charming fop, the mouthy street rat, the wise old man, and the stoic assassin. The fact that these character types are common in adventure stories really didn’t bother me, and each character is given as much depth as the fast-paced narrative will allow. Some readers might feel like this book falls short in certain areas. While there are many dark underlying themes in this book(medical experiments on prisoners, mauled bodies turning up on the street, rape etc.), the story only ever scratches the surface of these themes, providing enough description to shape the atmosphere of the book while never going into a full gorefest. Ultimately, this just comes down to reader preference. If you’re looking for a dark steam-punk thriller and expecting loads of juicy details then this book might not be for you. Personally, I would classify this story as a mystery with mild steam punk tones and enough action to keep most readers satisfied. Granted, the plot at times can be very predictable, as it follows traditional formulas seen in most action and mystery novels. There is one surprise revealed towards the end of the book that I honestly never suspected and I even—dare I admit it—gasped aloud.

    The bottomline is that this book, which is currently free, is too good to pass up. Even if you do read it and find that you didn’t quite enjoy it as much as I did, I can’t see anyone disliking this book so long as they know to expect a story that is more fun that it is surprising, and more focused on characterization than it is on exploring every dark tone or subject matter with graphic descriptions. This is a fun and engaging read, which boasts both original characters and characters that fit into familiar motifs. It’s fun, it’s free—what excuse do you have for not downloading it?

Rating: 4/5



Saturday, May 19, 2012

Hexes and Tooth Decay by Nancy Fulda

When you were a child and still naïve enough to suspect anyone other than your parents took your freshly shed baby teeth in exchange for some monetary reward, did you lay awake at night and hope to catch a glimmer of the mystical tooth fairy? Like most children, did you picture a beautiful woman? Or,like me, did you picture some sort of shadowy figure that made necklaces out of said teeth? Well, Nancy Fulda provides a delightfully entertaining alternative to either imaginings. "Hexes and Tooth Decay" is a short story, which is a type of story I seldom review. After all, many of the grading criteria for short stories differ dramatically from full length novels. In fact, I’ve always been under the impression (based on my personal trouble in writing them) that short stories are much more difficult to write. I’ve always been a deceptively quiet person when it comes to human interactions. Contrariwise, when I write I tend to positively verbose (sometimes to the detriment of what I’m writing). Therefor, short stories have often proven to be very difficult things to accomplish. Unlike a regular novel, words can’t be wasted(though one would hope that no author would actually write scenes just to fill up space it does—unfortunately—happen). Short stories must use their limited words to contribute 100% to telling the story at hand. And the story—while not as long and epic as a novel length tale—must be intriguing enough to fill a set number of pages while at the same time be written well enough to leave readers with a sense of finality. "Hexes and Tooth Decay" is a fun example of this. This isn’t a serious story, nor does it provoke any strong emotions. It is simply a fun tale and an interesting twist on a popular fable. This story is perfect for a quick read before bed or for a palate cleanser between heavier stories. There isn’t much more to say, as it is only six pages. But it is a whimsical six pages and there is no reason why anyone with a kindle or a phone that supports the kindle app shouldn’t spend a minute or two on this cute little tale--because it's free!

Rating: 3/5

Download Link

The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen

    The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen is a book authored by a former cop named Lance Manley. The story centers around the journey of an eleven-year-old boy named Jared who is forced into the magical land of Algeria after his life is jeopardized by an otherworldly assassin. Like most characters who feature in "boy/girl is spirited away to a magical world" plots, Jared is just a regular kid. The bland normality of his run of the mill life is interrupted when visiting a hospital to celebrate the birth of a baby cousin. While there, Jared notices a strange presence in the room of a comatose girl named Sophie. Fearing that it might be someone who shouldn’t be there, Jared decides to investigate. Little does he know that Sophie—who was apparently injured in a car accident months prior—is actually the gateway to a magical world, in which she is queen!
        I must admit, the premise of this story is very interesting. As I stated in my review of S.M.Boyce’s Lichgates, the "boy/girl is spirited away to a magical world" trope never really gets old. It can be used as a basis for an endless amount of plots and can take place in an endless variety of settings and locations. So naturally, this specific aspect of Manley’s story is immediately appealing. In addition to this well loved plot device, this story also explores the mysterious process of the mind of a comatose person—a really novel idea(ho, ho—punny!). However, I feel as though there were a lot opportunities missed with this book. My final impression of this story is that it was cute, but ultimately read like an un-edited first draft of a story that desperately needed a good editor’s touch. For starters, the story is plagued by typographical errors. These include misspellings, lack of proper punctuation (like periods and apostrophes), and reversed word order. In addition to these minor glitches, I also stumbled across quite a few awkward sentences. Some were in need of comma splices, while others were in need of commas. The words "but" and "again" were overused in a way that was almost irritating. Additionally, this story lacked quite a bit of exposition. In fact, there were times when the writing seemed to be leading into an exposition, only to veer into an entirely different direction. I don’t mind mystery in a book. In fact, half the fun is in the mystery. Presentation is everything however. Readers need to be given enough information to read on comfortably but they also need to be intrigued enough to want to continue. Another really sloppy and distracting mistake in this book’s format was the lack of transitioning devices. Many authors utilize symbols, lines, and even numbers in order to signify a transition. In The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen, no such devices exist. In one paragraph you’ll be in one scenario and in the following paragraph you’ll suddenly be somewhere else. I understand that Melany was attempting to cover scenes—especially action scenes—from as many perspectives as possible in order to create a complete picture. However, the lack of transitioning devices as well as the use of small, stand-alone paragraphs produced the opposite effect. Where the picture should have been completed, instead it was fractured into a confusing mess.
      Aside from the portions of the book’s story and format that frustrated me the core of story has a lot of potential. The world of Algeria is colourful and full of interesting creatures and the magic doesn’t feel like the run of the mill sort of magic that authors tend to throw into a story in order to make a fantasy. There was some thought behind it, though I did feel as though at times Melany was struggling to describe what he was envisioning. Personally, I feel as though the focus of this story should have been shifted more towards the character of Sophie than Jared—or at least split between them. As a character, Jared doesn’t really captivate the reader’s attention. The story isn’t told from his point of view, so readers don’t get the charming, snarky narrative that can be found in the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan or the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. He was just entirely uninteresting, which is a shame because I think he could have been built up into a better character. Sophie, on the other hand, is interesting even though she is seldom seen doing anything in the story(naturally due to her coma). Perhaps if Melany had peppered his story with present narrative involving Jared and flashbacks involving Sophie the story would have taken on a new dimension and have been more interesting as a result. I’m aware that this isn’t a glowing review, but if you feel so inclined please download the free copy of this book. While it may have it’s flaws, the story glimmers of potential. Every author needs reviews as well—even if those reviews are to tell him or her where they might improve (watch me take this back if I’m ever published and receive a negative review).

Rating: 2.5/5

Download link(edit: Somewhere during the time that I downloaded this book and read it, the story was returned to it’s original price for everyone but Amazon Prime members)

Did you say free? As in, FREE?

   For the last fortnight of May(well, I’m approximating. There are actually thirteen days left in May. But who is counting? Oh right, I am…) I’ll be reviewing a selection of free ebooks, found courtesy of eReaderIQ. On one hand, the mere fact that these books are free earns them some brownie points. I won’t lie—I tend to judge free books a little more leniently than books I’ve purchased. Why? Well, other than the fact that I am a very frugal college student who demands what she pays for, free ebooks are usually either self-published or published by small, independent online industries. The fact of the matter is that I expect more from professionally handled books in terms of editing and marketing that I do of most free ebooks. When I come across a typo in an independent publication, I’m only mildly miffed. When I come across a typo in a book published by a big name…well, let’s just say I get a little crazy.

   Most writers who are either published independently or published through one of the numerous small, no name online publishing corporations are in desperate need of a proper editor. While I’m sure there are some more reputable online publishers, my general experience with products of such companies leaves much to be desired. However, there are some rough gems amongst the myriad of poorly edited slop. So I set out on a noble quest to find said gems. The following is a list of titles that will be reviewed in the coming somewhat-a-fortnight. When the reviews are completed, each title will then be linked to the associated review, and each review will include a download link for those interested:

-The Catastrophe of the Emerald Queen by Lance Manley

-The Emperor’s Edge by Lindsay Buroker

-Hexes and Tooth Decay: A Short Story by Nancy Fulda

-Dreamwalker(The Ballad of Sir Benfro) by James Oswald

Happy somewhat-a-fortnight!

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Grimoire: Lichgates by S.M.Boyce

   A few weeks ago, I was given a Kindle as a belated birthday gift. Initially, this present was anything but wanted. I’ve always been stubbornly against getting an E-reader as I always felt that they were awkward and impersonal. Mind you, all these opinions were formed without ever having tried an E-read. However, though part of me itched to return the present, I knew that I could not without causing offense. So I settled, and decided to use the Kindle as an expensive dictionary(which was a blessing, as my former electronic dictionary broke from over use). Eventually however curiosity got the best of me and I decided to actually try and read something on it. Project Gutenberg is my new best friend. After a difficult adjustment period, I realized that E-readers aren’t quite the devils I thought they were. They are definitely more environmentally friendly than printed books, though they lack some of the comfort. And I’m all about the environment(I want to be safe from any future Ent uprisings). And it is a good thing I have an E-reader too, since it would seem there are oodles of E-book giveaways for willing readers. One such giveaway(entered via Goodreads) gifted me with a book called "The Grimoire: Lichgates" by S.M.Boyce. Now, I love free things, so naturally I set out to savor my free prize as soon as my schedule would allow me.
    The basic premise of the "Lichgates" is a very common one, and it’s a type of story I happen to really enjoy: girl/boy enters a strange magical world and has to somehow survive. There are many variations of this basic plot point, and it’s been retold a variety of ways for the simple fact that we fantasy readers always dream of being thrust into similar circumstances. In the case of "Lichgates", it is a girl named Kara Magari that is taken from modern America into a magical world called Ourea, which seems to exist alongside of our own but hosts a variety of different magical creatures and races. Ourea is entered through a lichgate—a magical portal that connects our world to Ourea, and connects the different worlds of Ourea to eachother. Readers get very little chance to know Kara before a rush of events finds her in an underground library and the new Vagabond. From the library she is pulled into a fast paced adventure that is full of twist and turns, deceit, bustling love, and creatures from her worst nightmares. If I had to compare "Lichgates" to any other stories, I would call it a cross between some of L.J.Smith’s Night World books("Black Dawn" specifically comes to mind) and the television series Avatar: The Last Airbender. If you’re not familiar with A:TLA(mind you, I’m not referring to the shoddy, disgraceful live-action adaptation), the basic premise is that an Avatar is born into a world of people with the ability to control the elements in order to help maintain piece in the four lands. The Vagabond’s role is not too dissimilar, though there is no reincarnation involved.
      Overall, I really liked "Lichgates" and had very few complaints or irritations with the story. The story is an interesting variation of a well known premise(girl/boy finds themselves in strange magical world) with a believably human main character. One of my first complaints with the books was the initial pacing. The beginning of the story had very little set-up before readers were suddenly taken to a very confusing situation. Now, this sort of face-paced narrative isn’t always a bad thing. Infact, it makes sense from a certain perspective. If you want readers to understand how chaotic the events were for the character, naturally it stands to reason that you would write in a fast and somewhat chaotic ways. I used to hate this in books, having grown up on long epics and classics that took their time to get to the point. I have come to appreciate it in first person narrative like the Percy Jackson books, but it just felt a little out of place in this story. This is really more of a personal nitpicking though, and it didn’t really detract from the story. My second minor complaint involved certain objects that Kara has to find in the story. These objects are supposed to be secret and are meant to lead her to a place that only she as a Vagabond should know how. So, if these objects were so important you’d expect them to be a bear to find, right? Erm, no. Infact, some of the objects are even gifted to her, and the ones that she has to find on her own she finds with little difficulty. It makes you wonder how it was that only one person had ever found one of these "well hidden" objects before. I kept waiting for Boyce to give an explanation for why Kara was able to find these artifacts so easily, perhaps linking it to her unique powers as a Vagabond. But no explanation came. Once again, this doesn’t really detract from the intrigue of the story too much. It was just a little amusing and mildly eye-brow raising. As a whole however, this is a really engaging story. True, I felt that it moved too quickly in certain places(especially during moments of conflict in the story), but the tale itself was still very engrossing and I found myself trying to guess what plot twist would happen next. The romance in the story is mild and developed and a steady pace as well, which is very refreshing.
     Basically, if you like some of the darkness of Night World but the curiosities of Alice in Wonderland, you’ll probably love this book. Did I mention that the main female character isn’t a twat? Because if you’re anything like me, having a strong female lead is a must in a book. This book is available in both print and E-book format, though the print is a tad pricey, on and Barnes and Noble. Still not convinced if you want to give this book a try? Visit S.M.Boyce’s website for a much more engaging description.

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Two Old Women by Velma Harris

    Two Old Women by Alaskan native Velma Wallis is a prime example of orature(which is the blending of oral stories and literature). The story is compelling as well as refreshing. Most readers will be able to attest to the fact that the average book features a lead character in their youth or the prime of their lives. Books overflow the exploits of the young, with some notable exceptions like Migeul de Cervantes’s Don Quixote. However, even in Don Quixote there is a sense of warning regarding older heroes and heroines. Not only does Alonso Quixano(the lead of Don Quixote) suffer many humiliating defeats due to his romantic notions of chivalry and knighthood, but he eventually dies a depressed and defeated man because of it. When I was younger and first read Don Quixote, I was left with the impression that the book was a cautionary tale to anyone who took romantic ideas too seriously, especially people past their prime. Admittingly, it has been a while since I read Cervante’s infamous work so I cannot write from the benefit of a new perspective. What I can write with utmost certainty however, is that Wallis’s book left me an antonym feeling than what I felt with Don Quixote. That is to say, Two Old Women led me to believe that anything is possible, despite society’s preconceptions regarding your age and despite the value others place on your life.
    The tale is one passed down to Wallis from her mother, and presumably passed down to her mother from her grandmother. It chronicles the journey of two elderly women—Sa’ and Ch’idzigyaak—who are left behind by their tribe in the dead of winter. The tribe—or The People, as they are known—are going through a time of great suffering, with food scare and the winter harsh. Traditionally, elders are taken care of by the younger members of the People. Infact, Ch’idzigyaak and Sa’are known to be complainers and whiners, yet still they are taken care off. However, when the people are starved and their minds are filled with fear and anxiety for the future, a drastic decision is made—the chief elects to leave the women behind, so as not to burden the already suffering people with having to look after them. Wallis writes, "In those days, leaving the old behind in times of starvation was an unknown act", though she also adds that it is the first time for this particular group. The horror of what starvation has driven them to is made even greater when it is revealed that Ch’idzigyaak has a daughter and grandson in the tribe.
   What happens then is a story of inspiration and perseverance. Against all odds, the two old women manage to survive the harsh winter, deciding that they’d rather die trying than waiting for death to catch up with them. They prove their usefulness and work youth into their bones once more, using skills that they never thought they would use again in their old age. This book really is a lovely read, though it is a very short one. It really is more like a long short story or a novella, though the font is big and the pages small. My edition, which is the Tenth Anniversary Edition, has 140 pages. It took me a little over an hour to finish, though I felt that it was an appropriate length for such a story. As all orature originates as an oral story, it is fair to expect that a tale that might seem long when spoken will be much shorter when transcribed. It is like a children’s story in this sense, though the story itself is relatable to people of all ages. If you’re looking for an example of heroism and perseverance at it’s finest or are just searching for a quick book to take on a short trip or to read while waiting in line, you might want to consider Two Old Women by Velma Harris. I had to read this particular story for a class, though it in no way felt like an assignment but rather a pleasant reprieve from stuffier, academic books.

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games

      Most readers have probably heard of this wildly popular trilogy by now and, with the film adaptation of the first book in the series fast approaching, I thought that I’d finally find some time to see what all the fuss is about. In terms of story, The Hunger Games is comparable to a rather famous Japanese novel called Battle Royale, which was written by Koushun Takami(or Takami Koushun, whichever you prefer) in 1999. Both books feature a government orchestrated scenario in which young adults(all teenagers in the case of Battle Royale) are made to fight to the death. The fighting only ceases when one remains, and the only way to survive is to kill. In terms of basic plot, the similarities between these two stories was initially very striking. However, it became clear from the first chapter that The Hunger Games was a book less focused on violence and more on the struggles of one resilient girl named Katniss, whose character is likeable and endearing and a far cry away from the female stereotypes that tend to surface in literature. While the story itself was nothing new(atleast, not to those of use familiar with Battle Royale), the characters in the story were what really made this an overall good read.
       Sixteen year-old Katniss Everdeen is the sole caretaker of her family, which consists of an emotionally unstable mother and a younger sister named Primrose. She inhabits one of the twelve districts of Panem, a country that is the remains of the North American continent in the distant future after it has been ravaged by war. The districts each have a specialty, with District 12’s(Katniss’s district) specialty being coal. As the story begins, readers are shown that this particular district is poverty stricken, leaving providers like Katniss and her friend Gale no choice but to hunt illegally in order to survive. The story opens on one such hunting trip, and the sense of foreboding that lingers between the pages leads readers to believe that it may well be the last hunting trip for quite some time as rampant poverty is not the only enemy of the people. There is the Hunger Games.
        The Hunger Games were established by the Capitol, which is the totalitarian government that rules over all of the twelve districts. They were made to serve as an example of the Capitol’s power as well as to dissuade rebellion. The rules are quite simple. Every year, boys and girls ages twelve through eighteen are entered into a lottery. The prize? A free ticket to the Capitol, a lavish make-over, and a one in twenty-four chance of never seeing home again. One boy and one girl are chosen at random from each district to participate in a staged war that is passed off as some sort of glorious game. Only one participant can survive, and the rewards benefit both the winner and their home district. The imprint of what they did to survive however is not so easily erased. Overall, The Hunger Games is a good read, and it is the characters that make it so. Katniss’s selfless sacrifice to save her sister from the horrors from the tournament, as well as the bizarre and budding relationships between her and her competitor Peeta, their mentor Haymitch, and the fashion consultant Cinna are really interesting to observe. The story holds no surprises for me, as once again I had seen a similar plot before which held a similar outcome. At some points, I was disappointed with the lack of attention shown at the true horror of what these games are. I understand that Young Adult books have an audience to keep in mind, but it wasn’t the lack of gore I was missing. Personally, I’ve never much cared for an excess of violence in any form of literature or media. Rather, it was the lack of narrative in regards to the subject that I found a little disappointing. Fortunately, this is but one in three books and I hold hope that Collins will pay more attention to the politics behinds the games, the history of Panem, and the emotional impact of the games on the districts and the main characters.

Final verdict: It’s a good book, and I see it making a fantastic movie. The paperback can be purchased at most stores for $8.99, so if you have some extra money or know a friend who owns this title pick it up and give it a try.

Rating: 3/5

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Elizabeth Goudge's The Little White Horse

I first came to "The Little White Horse" through its movie adaptation, The Secret of Moonacre. While the film was charming and boasted some fantastic costume design, overall I found that it lacked significant character and plot development. Interested by the aspects that I did like, I ordered "The Little White Horse" from Barnes and Noble and set out to see if it held qualities that the film lacked. I can happily say that many of the issues I—as well as other viewers—found with the film were non-existent in this charming story. Published in 1946 by author Elizabeth Goudge, this story has been cited as a childhood favorite by authors like J.K.Rowling.
         I will warn would be readers however that the story does progress slowly, unusually so for a book aimed at children and young adults. It isn’t the bad sort of slow, but rather the tedious type of slow. Most of the first two chapters is spent acquainting readers to the Merryweather estate known as Moonacre, as well as all the personalities that live there. Unlike the recent adaptation, the characters are fleshed out rather thoroughly, and readers are made aware of their strengths and faults. While I appreciate this to an extent, it did become a tad tiring. There’s only so much a reader wants to be "told" something about a character. Preferably, we are "shown" the traits of the characters through their actions and words. As this book was written for a younger audience, it is understandable that there would be a great deal more "telling" than "showing". This is not an all-together unusual format for children’s stories, though as an older reader it is easy to find it wearisome. However, despite these minor flaws the story as a whole is very charming. Readers who are fond of "The Secret Garden" might find this book to be particularly interesting, as they share many traits. Both of the heroine—Marry Lennox and Maria Merryweather—are orphans, and both must relocate to live with a relative they have not met. Both find themselves living at a rather large estate, both uncover family secrets, and both befriend a boy who is fond of animals and nature. Mary and Maria also share some personality traits, though Mary is clearly the more immediately disagreeable of the two. While the plots ultimately differ, fans will be able to appreciate the core similarities between the two works. I think that readers who enjoy the Enchanted Forest series by Patricia.C.Wrede will also find "The Little White Horse" right up their ally.
        Overall, I think this is a charming book. I know some people who absolutely adore it, and I have yet to meet anyone who dislikes this book. It is imaginative, interesting, and manages to surpass most of it’s minor faults. If you’re near your local library, pop in and see if they have a copy. This would be a great bed-time story for kids or an assignment for a class, and for us older kids it will be thoroughly entertaining, if not a little slow.

Rating: 3/5

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden

      The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett is the book that sparked my love of literature. I’ll never forget the day in third grade, when I was eight-years of age, when my teacher announced that she would be reading this book to the class, and afterwards showing the movie(specifically the 1993 adaptation). The moment she began to read the entire class of rambunctious(and at times, ill-behaved) children became entranced by the narrative. Afterwards, I read any title that bared any similarity to The Secret Garden, from Stewart Little to James and the Giant Peach, from The Princess and the Goblin to The Velveteen Rabbit. Essentially, anything that was available in the juvy fiction section of the library I read with earnest. Still, no childhood book holds a greater place in my heart than The Secret Garden.
         The story begins in India. Mary Lennox is the spoiled daughter of parents who do not love her. As she has known little love, she shows little in return. Early in the book, she is cited as the most "disagreeable-looking child ever seen". Though it is of little wonder why she is so disagreeable, as readers are told the full story of her life in India before tragic circumstances sent her to live with a relative in the moors of Northern England. For you see, while in India, Mary’s parents and the entire house of staff and servants became inflicted by one of the most deadly maladies in history—cholera. Forgotten as she hides away in the manor nursery, Mary is discovered the next day by officers who come to inspect the decimated household. It is then that she learns the fate of her parents, though Mary is hardly sad. How can be expected to miss those who barely occupied a fraction of her life, and who she only saw from distances and doorways? So begins Mary’s long journey back to England and to Misselthwaite Manor where her guardian, Archibald Craven, resides. Then begins her new life, and it is filled with mystery, hidden relatives, strange boys, and the ever evolving character of the moors around her.
        This story is delightfully complex for one aimed at children. Mary, who is an all-together unlikable (yet understandable) sort undergoes great growth of character while the story progresses. She learns what it is to have friends and how to love something and feel loved by it in return. She never looses her fire however and puts up with absolutely no nonsense. And it isn’t just Mary who changes. The bleak and dull moors around the manor, which Mary hates at first, change with the seasons and in turn mark moments of growth in Mary’s character. The writing is delightful, though older readers who are being introduced to this book for the first time will have to keep in mind that it was written for a younger audience and as such is paced fairly quickly. Despite being aimed at children however, this book achieves many of the desirable elements that one would look for in a book aimed at adults. The writing is consistently good and easy to follow and the characters(even Mrs. Medlock) manage to achieve more than two-dimensions and come off as thoroughly human. The ending is also very fulfilling, and the only thing that readers will want for is for more story. Because of childhood nostalgia, it is difficult to give this story anything less than a perfect score. So naturally, I won’t bother trying. The Secret Garden is a part of the public domain, do readers who own e-readers or who don’t mind staring at their computer screens can download this gem for free at Project Gutenberg. For us traditionalists who enjoy a physical book, this title isn’t too expensive (the Puffin Classics edition pictured above sells for $4.99 U.S.D.) and it can also be found at most libraries.
     So, are you looking for a light read to help reawaken the child in yourself? Or perhaps you have a young relative who is either fond of reading or one that you would like to see take up the rewarding life-style of a book nerd. Look no further than The Secret Garden.
Rating: 5