Book Review: Camaraderie Evades All the Crooked Saints

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order and summary.

I’ve begun rereading Blue Lily, Lily Blue, and I think I’m finally ready to talk about Maggie Stiefvater’s latest, All the Crooked Saints, which I finished back in early December.

If you’ve been with me a while, you’ll know that I fell and fell hard for The Raven Cycle, that I adored The Scorpio Races. I can’t say the same for All the Crooked Saints—the only other of Stiefvater’s novels that I’ve read, and as a later novel, one that I thought would build on the best elements of the other books that I’d read.

This was a different novel for Stiefvater. This was one of those deeply personal novels that she needed to write. (She has written a lovely, insightful piece on her Tumblr about this novel).

Stiefvater’s unique command and beautiful use of language was still on full display here as was her grasp of magical realism, that sense that, yes, this is real, but there is fantasy too, and the two don’t make either one any less true. This is the first of her novels that I’ve read (that she’s written?) with a predominantly non-white (in this case Mexican-American) cast. This is the first that I’ve read (that she’s written?) that can qualify as historical fiction, set in 1962 Colorado with talk of German POWs who work the farms during the previous generation’s childhood, and the music and pop icons of the day. There was lots that I thought that I would love—and I did love—but it lacked one crucial thing:

What I think kept me on the outskirts of All the Crooked Saints was the characters themselves. I fell for the “blinding, deafening, maddening, quickening” friendship of the boys and Blue, and like Blue “now that she’d had this kind, she didn’t want the other.” The protagonist of All the Crooked Saints, Beatriz, claims to be a girl without feelings. She has a difficult time relating to anyone and is forbidden to even talk to the people in her community who are not family. That kind of easy, “all-encompassing” friendship cannot exist for Beatriz (BLLB 103).

Beatriz is a lonesome in the way the Stiefvater defines lonesome herself in Blue Lily, Lily Blue: “a state of being apart. Of being other,” a philosopher, a genius thinker, a rationalist, scientist (28). In her case, this lonesomeness seems mostly self-imposed, a prison built of her belief in others’ cruel words about her having no feelings. I enjoyed her insights, but I missed others. She learns. The whole book is about achieving the miracle of overcoming one’s own worst faults, and Beatriz learns that she does have a heart and that faults can only be overcome in an accepting relationship, with love. But she learns slowly, and it’s not till near the end of the book that she has learnt this truth.

Beatriz’s otherness and lonesomeness were sort of the point, but it also kept me from feeling close to this novel and the characters in it—even Beatriz herself.

As an exploration of overcoming, of exploring and confronting the deepest, ugliest parts of ourselves, this book is important, this book means a lot to me. But I just didn’t enjoy it in the way that I wanted to enjoy it. I’m so glad that there are others who did. A second reading later may alter my perception of it some.

I did enjoy the languages. I enjoyed the scant scenes of the camaraderie—especially between the petitioners stuck with one miracle but not the second.

***1/2

Steifvater, Maggie. All the Crooked Saints. New York: Scholastic, 2017.

This review is not endorsed by Maggie Stiefvater or Scholastic, Inc.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

 

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Book Review: A Christmastime Rebellion in the Enderverse

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Click to visit the publisher's site for links to order, summary, audio excerpt, reviews, and author's bio.

This is my third book in the Enderverse. I found the rereleased hardcover at Barnes & Noble and got so excited. It was nearing Christmas when I did, and I am a sucker for Christmas fanfictions, so a canon Christmas novella in a world that I’m just falling in love with was near irresistible. So I ran to the library.

This happens mid-Ender’s Game/Ender’s Shadow, when Ender is newly transferred to Rat Army, but the majority of the novel does not revolve around Ender.

Zeck Morgan is rescued from his ultra-religious father, a Puritan minister who whips Zeck to make him more pure. Zeck has a perfect memory, which his mother believes is from God, though she warns Zeck to hide that memory from his father, whom she thinks will believe it from the devil. The IF sees that memory as a useful asset in a soldier—and it seems implied that the soldier who comes for him believes that he is rescuing Zeck from his abusive household, though Zeck resents being drafted.

In Battle School, Zeck maintains his father’s preached pacifism and won’t fire his weapon, though he enters the Battle Room and does the school work for Battle School. He is disliked by the students.

A homesick Battle School student, Flip Rietvald, sets his shoes out on Sinterklaas Eve, and Dink Meeker, noticing the childlike gesture, gives him Sinterklaas gifts, a silly poem and a pancake shaped into a F.

Religious observation is banned in Battle School and Zeck’s father has preached that Santa Claus is a manifestation of Satan, so Zeck complains to Commander Graff about the Dutch boys’ observation of the holiday. The punishment that Flip and Dink receive spurs Dink to begin an underground celebration—not in the name of Christmas, but in the name of Santa Claus (in all his forms), whom he argues is not a religious figure but a cultural icon, his day celebrated even by the atheists of countries where he exists, and nationality impossible to ban. Children begin to give one another gifts with a sock attached so that the gift is known to be in Santa’s name.

The battle brews. Zeck stirs up trouble by convincing one Pakistani soldier that prayer is a national observation as much as is the celebration of Santa because Pakistan was formed as a Muslim nation, and so Muslim identity is national identity. When this results in several Muslims being led away in handcuffs for religious observation, the Santa Claus celebration stops; the fight becomes too serious, the consequences too dire; it ceases to be fun, and the celebration ceases to be in the spirit of Santa Claus, “compassion and generosity […] the irresistible urge to make people happy […] the humility to realize that you aren’t any better than the rest of us in the eyes of God” (78).

Because this series is Ender’s story more than any of the others’, it is Ender who gets to give the last Santa Claus gift of the book and demonstrate the team-building prowess that makes him such an astounding leader. He corners Zeck and convinces him of the error of his father’s protestations, battling Zeck Bible verse for verse and sharing secrets about his home-life and his abusive brother.

This story mostly provides an interesting platform to discuss national observations versus religious observations, particularly around the Christmas holiday but around all religions—though only Christianity and Islam are discussed—the intersection and dissonance of nationality and religion, religious tolerance, and the fake religious proclamations of those whose words are not reflected in their actions.

It ends on a happy note, which I almost require of my Christmas fanfiction but has even more substance than I’m used to expecting from a good Christmas ficlet—for which I was not ungrateful. I like more of a Christmas meal than Christmas fluff.

Ultimately, this was a good diversion while I prepped and then survived the Christmas holiday.  It was good food for thought.  It was not the cleanest and tightest of Card’s writings, but it was interesting to spend more time with Dink and more time with some of the previously nameless Battle School students.

***

Card, Orson Scott. A War of Gifts. New York: Tor-Tom Doherty-Macmillan, 2007.

This review is not endorsed by Orson Scott Card, Tor, or Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

My 2017 in Books

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I really enjoy the infographics that Goodreads provides at the end of (and I found out this year at any point in) the year.  And since this is Goodreads‘ second year of providing such graphics, we can compare my stat’s to last year’s!

2017pic1

There are at least two 10-page books that I read this year, Salina Yoon‘s A Pirate’s Life came up another time that I visited this site. Is 10 the required number of pages for a book?  Last year’s shortest book, Perfect Pets, was the same length.

I read more–just more–this year.  The longest book that I read is 273 pages longer than last year’s, The House of Hades.  I read 69 more books.  I read 6,819 more pages.  Those books were on average 5 pages longer.

I read a lot of picture books both years.

Other observations?  More people should read A Letter to Daddy.  I gave it a solid 4 stars.  How have more people read the 7th Harry Potter book than have read books 5 or 6?  Have that many people really decided that they can skip to the end, or is it merely that more people have marked it as read on Goodreads?  P.S.–DON’T skip to the last book.  The last book isn’t even the best book, contrary to what the average ratings suggest.

2017pic2

My average rating remained steady over these past two years.

This year, I read 13 books by Gene Yuen Lang, all of them Avatar: The Last Airbender graphic novels, which are written in sets of three slim paperbacks for each storyline.  I read 9 picture books from Mo Willems.  I read 8 novels from Rick Riordan.  I read 5 of Maggie Stiefvater‘s novels.  I read 4 books from J. K. Rowling (if we include The Cursed Child), and 4 picture books from Ryan T. Higgins.  I read 3 Dr. Seuss books, and 3 picture books each from Dan Santat, Marcus Pfister, Norman Bridwell, and Sherri Duskey Rinker.  I listened to 2 audiobooks from Orson Scott Card.  I read 2 books too of Neil Gaiman‘s; one was a picture book, but another was an audio book of one of his adult novels.  I read two picture books each from 19 different authors.  I started listing them, but the list became too expansive, and it didn’t account anyway for illustrators, which I know would make the list longer.  When I want to create a theme for a story time, I often choose multiple books by a single author or a single illustrator.

If you’re interested in seeing all of the books that I read this year, check out the Goodreads infographics page for yourself.

Book Reviews: Best of the Best of 2017

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Time for the end-of-the-year reflection: If you’ve been with me for more than a year, you’ll know this has become something of a tradition. I believe that the books that receive from me that coveted 5-star rating deserve some extra recognition. And it’s always fun to get in on the act of guessing who might win which awards. 

TODDLERS-KIDS (AGES 0-8)

Qualified for This Year’s Awards

Several of these picture books could deserve a Caldecott, but none so much as Sarvinder Naberhaus and Kadir Nelson’s. Nelson has deserved the Caldecott several times over. He is like the Leonardo DiCaprio of the Caldecott. He has two honorees but no winners. This was a timely book with beautiful, touching, imaginative, realistic, and diversely populated illustrations. Both Not Quite Narwhal and Trains Don’t Sleep I think the Caldecott committee might decide are too much fluff, especially given the winners of the last two years. This Beautiful Day by Jackson and Lee might be in the running, but I feel like it didn’t generate hardly any chatter when it was released; I just enjoyed it a lot, and pushed it at our store. Ditto to Trains Don’t Sleep. That being said, the Caldecott winner last year, Radiant Child, was a book that escaped almost everyone’s notice and was out of print before it was awarded the medal; it’s since been rereleased. It still doesn’t sell, maybe because it’s a biography and not a fiction book, so it is not shelved where people often look for Caldecott winners, but Barnes & Noble Corporate has learned to display Finding Winnie, a history book and 2016’s winner, among fiction books, and it does sell from those displays. 

I reread a few classics that I didn’t feel capable of fairly rating, and a few books by authors towards whom I know I’m largely blind in favor of their stories.  Not rated this year were How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Goodnight Moon, The Story of Ferdinand, then the Elephant and Piggie books, Watch Me Throw the Ball! and I Broke My Trunk!.  It’s possible all of those deserve a 5-star rating, but I feel unqualified to say.  None of them, anyway, can win any awards this year.

MIDDLE GRADE (AGES 8-12) 

Neither of these are really Newbery material, and only The Ship of the Dead would be eligible for any awards this year. The Hammer of Thor did pull off that surprise Stonewall award win last year. Could The Ship of the Dead do the same? I don’t think the committee is likely to choose a second book from the same series a second year in a row.

I reread a whole bunch of middle grade fiction this year that I didn’t feel able to rate objectively: books 5-7 of Harry Potter, two older books of Riordan’s, and C. S. Lewis’ first in the Chronicles of Narnia (fight me), The Magician’s Nephew. All of those subjectively might receive a 5-star rating from me, but I can’t separate the stories themselves from my nostalgia and author blindness.

TEEN (AGES 13-19)

The Hate U Give has already won a bunch of well-deserved awards: a National Book Award nomination, a Boston Globe Horn Book Award, a nomination for the Kirkus Prize, two Goodreads Choice Awards…. Who knows what else is in store for it? A Coretta Scott King Award perhaps? It’s more teen than middle grade or elementary, so I think it’s disqualified from the Newbery, but I would have thought that picture books were disqualified too, and the committee proved me wrong there. (I half-hope they don’t do so again; it causes quite a bit of confusing when shelving.)

I also finished reading but didn’t rate every available issue of the Avatar: The Last Airbender comics, which are more teen than middle grade simply because these kids past the end of the series have grown definitely into teenagers and arguably into adults, ruling countries, forming governments, or becoming business partners.  I love these characters, and I love this world, but the comics don’t have the same continuity or comedic timing of the television show.

ADULT (AGES 20+)

I really read hardly any books for adults this year, and none of them received a 5-star rating from me.  The only books for strictly adult audiences that I read were:

Arguably, Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game Alive (2013, Ender’s Game first published 1985) and Shadow of the Hegemon (first published 2000) could be adult fiction, particularly Shadow of the Hegemon, which I think I would hesitate to recommend to younger teenagers particularly, but mostly because I’m not sure they’d be interested in the subject matter than because it’s inappropriate for younger teens.

These all received from me 4 stars, except for A Place at the Table, which I gave only 3, and Wodehouse’s which I didn’t review or rate; too much time had passed after I had finished it and I no longer felt confident in my recollection of the books (it was enjoyable in the way that all Wodehouse’s satires are, with loud, large characters and ridiculous situations probably caused by the rich having too much leisure time). None of the adult books that I read this year are qualified for any of this year’s awards.

Book Reviews: November & December 2017 Picture Book Roundup: Gift-Giving

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Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

River Rose and the Magical Lullaby by Kelly Clarkson and illustrated by Laura Hughes. HarperCollins, 2016.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

River Rose is so excited to be going to the zoo the next day. Her mother tucks her in and sings her a lullaby. That night, magic balloons show up outside her bedroom window and transport her to the zoo, where she has a party with the animals, none of whom are confined to their compounds. I like that at some point in the night she asks her friend, Joplin the dog, what he wants to do. At the end of the night, when the polar bears tell her that they need sleep, she snuggles up with the bears and sings the lullaby that her mother sang to her to the bears. She ends up back in her bed, glad for her adventure, but glad too to be home.  Was it a dream?  Was it real?  Does she go again to the zoo the next day and is she disappointed when she sees the reality of the zoo in the daylight?  The book doesn’t say.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, awards list, reviews, and author's and illustrator's bios.

Everything Is Mama by Jimmy Fallon and illustrated by Miguel Ordóñez. Feiwel & Friends-Macmillan, 2017.  Intended audience: Ages 1-3.

Like with Fallon’s first book, there’s not a lot here. In this, presumably mostly maternal animals try to teach their children new words, only to have them reply “mama,” with a reversal at the end with the trite ending “but you are everything to mama” (expect to fit the rhyme, the sentiment is phrased more awkwardly than that). I think very little of it, but I caught a mother reading it to a young child at the store, and the child giggled at every page, so there is an audience for this, and maybe neither my story time toddlers nor I are not it. My audience lately has comprised of children 4 and older.

**

Lessons in Sharing

Click to visit Goodreads for summary and reviews.

Clifford Shares by Norman Bridwell. Cartwheel-Scholastic, 2012.

There’s not much to this little board book either, just a few pages and a few sentences in total, but Clifford is a familiar friend. Clifford shares his water. He shares a bench. And then everyone shares with Clifford at a picnic. There’s just not much here to rate. There’s nothing remarkable about this book, really, good or bad. There’s a vague idea of reciprocity: Clifford shares so others share with Clifford, but the book’s real draw is Clifford.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

The Berenstain Bears Give Thanks by Jan Berenstain and Mike Berenstain. Zonderkidz-Zondervan, 2009.

This was a long story time book, but one of my regulars showed up early, and I promised to read one book—whatever book she picked out. The prose in this book is prettier, more descriptive, the story more fleshed out with detail than what I usually read for story time, which was a nice change.

But this is a problematic book, relying too heavily on whitewashed history and doing little if anything to correct or clarify the narrative.  Papa trades some furniture for a turkey from Farmer Ben—a living turkey. Ben’s named the turkey Squanto after “a Native Bear who helped the Pilgrims plant their corn when they settled in their new home.” I mean, I guess, Ben. Sister Bear doesn’t like the idea of meeting her Thanksgiving dinner while he’s alive. She wants to keep Squanto as a pet. She visits him at the farm as the weather grows colder. To distract Sister from the idea of eating Squanto, Mama Bear proposes a costumed show of the legend of Thanksgiving. “We’ll need feathers for the Native Bears’ headdresses.” No you won’t, Mama Bear. Honey Bear represents Squanto the Native Bear with a full headdress of turkey feathers and speaking broken English: “Me, Squanto!” her only line. Admittedly, Honey Bear is not portrayed as speaking good English, and I suppose the cast is limited to the preexisting characters, but…. “He speaks English! What a miracle!” Miracle it is not, Cousin Fred, though maybe there is some miracle in Squanto finding his way back to his own land if not his own village after all his trials. The whole legend of Thanksgiving as told in this story is the whitewashed imagining that we hear “in school over and over again every November” (or we did when I was in public school; I hope today’s tellings are a little more nuanced, a little more accurate) with no discussion of the horrors visited on Native Americans by the European invaders.

That doesn’t even begin in on the problems of reminding children that our Thanksgiving feast features a once-living bird, and that it might be possible to persuade their parents to skip the bird and to keep the bird as a pet instead because Squanto the Turkey survives, is given a new pen in the Bears’ backyard. Parents should be prepared to answer questions that Sister Bear’s feeling for Squanto might stir.

It’s difficult to avoid religion when discussing the First Thanksgiving, and this book does not, the Bears’ prayer even included in the text.

**

Click to visit Goodreads for reviews.

Plush by Louise Myers. Tiny Tales-Whitman, 1949.

A friend bought me this pocket-sized paperback because the pony Plush looks a quite a bit like my own pony. The animals of the farm (all anthropomorphized, though Plush less so than the others) take a pony cart, pulled by Plush, to the Fair to sell their goods and spend the money that they make. There’s an element of an animal sounds primer in the text, with the pony’s hooves clippety-clopping, the hen cackling, the duck quacking, the lamb baaing, and the pig oinking. The friends all buy gifts for Plush with their money. It’s a sweet story of gift-giving, expressing thanks, and retail.

****

Christmas and Wintertime

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, sample, and author's and illustrator's bios.

River Rose and the Magical Christmas by Kelly Clarkson and illustrated by Lucy Fleming. HarperCollins, 2017. Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

Of the two River Rose books, this one my audience unanimously liked better. Now admittedly, we read this story December 16, just 9 days from Christmas morning, so I’m sure that timing and the already swelling excitement for the holiday tinged their reactions to the story. I’m going to be recommending the other more frequently because it is far less seasonal and far more universal. Not every child is excited for Christmas (not all of them celebrating the holiday), but I think that most children are excited to visit a zoo—particularly a zoo without enclosures and with no supervision but a polar bear mama as is the one in the first River Rose book. In this River Rose sneaks down the stairs to hand-deliver her letter to Santa, but she’s missed him. Instead the magical balloons from the previous book are waiting in her living room. She and Joplin take the balloons to the North Pole where they are greeted by the elves and Mrs. Claus, who plies River Rose with a wealth of sweets, the book becoming a numbers primer. She is near sleep when Santa returns. Santa makes one last trip to bring River Rose home, and she hand-delivers her letter to him—which is not a list of requested gifts, but a simple thank you, which touches Santa. This new illustrator does a good job continuing in the tradition of the previous. I didn’t notice the difference, and don’t think I’d have noted it expect that I write these reviews and am always sure to credit the illustrator too. Fleming’s palette is maybe a little more muted and her lines a little crisper than Hughes’.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, reviews, and author's bio.

Outside by Deirdre Gill. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014.

Deirde Gill illustrated Trains Don’t Sleep, which I read and loved in October. I went exploring to see what else she had done, and found this story, written and illustrated by Gill. A bored boy leaves the house and explores the snowy outside. His brother won’t join him outside, so he makes himself a friend—an enormous snowman, who comes to life to help him build a castle. And what do castles attract? Dragons of course! This one is thankfully friendly. His brother finally does come out to play, after the boy’s adventure in the snow is done, and together they make one last snowman. Because the brother stays inside staring at screens, he misses his younger brother’s adventures. There’s as much a lesson about leaving screens to play outside as there is a lesson about the wonders of the imagination and the outdoors and free play. These illustrations are everything I hoped for. The colors, the landscapes, the characters are amazing! There’s not a great deal of text, most pages comprising of only a sentence or two. Some have only a sentence fragment, and some have no words at all.

****

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order, summary, preview, trailer, reviews, and author's bio.

A Loud Winter’s Nap by Katy Hudson. Picture Window-Capstone, 2017.  Intended audience: Grades PreK-1.

The friends from Too Many Carrots are back, this time with Turtle as the protagonist. I feel this turtle on a personal level. He doesn’t like winter. He just wants to hibernate through it. But his friends are having fun in the snow and being noisy nearby no matter where he makes his nest and despite his sign. Eventually he accidentally stumbles into some winter fun of his own, not realizing his newest napping spot is a sled primed at the top of the hill. He enjoys racing downhill, and in the end joins his friends on the iced-over pond where his sled stops, skating and drinking hot cocoa and generally enjoying the winter with his friends.

****

Click to visit the author's page for links to order, summary, and sample pages.

Santa’s Magic Key by Eric James. Jabberwocky-Sourcebooks, 2017.

I don’t think that I ever truly believed in Santa Claus, but I did grow up in a house without a chimney, and I wasn’t unaware of the myths surrounding the man. I think I questioned less how Santa would get into our house when we had no fireplace and more how we would communicate in J. K. Rowling’s wizarding world without a fireplace to connect to the Floo Network. How Santa did all that he was supposed to do were more for me questions of filling in gaps in the story than worries about whether or not I would receive any gifts.

The tagline for this book suggests starting a new family tradition—which makes it sound as though Eric James is hoping to appeal to the same audience as participate in the Elf on the Shelf tradition. As far as new holiday traditions go, I’d be far more willing to go along with James’. A) It requires action only one night out the year. B) It does not require me to suggest that an inanimate doll is 1) animate, 2) always watching and judging my child’s behavior and 3) reporting that behavior to a boss who will reward or punish a child based on that behavior. James’ story is less preparation for a police state and more assurance that your house can be visited by Santa despite your house lacking an element seemingly present in every Santa myth.

James’ book is long, but better written, and his illustrations are beautiful, hazily but realistically rendered full-page spreads rather than the cartoonish characters lacking much setting that accompany the Elf on the Shelf.

Despite all this, James is not likely to create the empire that Aebersold, Bell, and Steinwart have because he doesn’t self-publish and he didn’t create a character who can be dressed in different outfits, have pets, and have accessories, and whose pets can have accessories.

***

Click to visit the publisher's page for links to order and summary.

Olaf’s Night Before Christmas by Jessica Julius and illustrated by Olga T. Mosqueda. Disney, 2015.  Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

Frozen’s Olaf becomes the protagonist of Clement Moore’s The Night Before Christmas, and Julius rewrites Moore’s text for Olaf. Familiar lines of Moore’s are echoed in the new text. Anna and Elsa make guest appearances, Olaf mistakes the “eight tiny reindeer” for “eight little Svens,” and at first he thinks that Santa might be Kristoff. There’s a lot more humor in this new version, the language is more modern and simpler than Moore’s (“His boots were all black and his pants were all red. But where was the rest of him? Where was his head?”). Olaf, a simple snowman not familiar with Christmas traditions, makes a delightful new narrator for this twist on the classic tale. The illustrations are bright with nods to the film in the style and in the details, but plenty of familiar, traditional Christmas details in them to almost erase the fact that this is a Disney product. There’s tradition, there’s extra sweetness, there’s the familiarity of Disney characters.

*****

These reviews are not endorsed by any of the authors or publishers or anyone else involved in the making of these books. They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: Zombpocalypse Book Tag

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I just really like using the word zombpocalypse.  But officially, this is known as:

The Zombie Outbreak Survival Team Book Tag:

Step 1: Choose six books from your shelves: two with titles that contain your first initial, two with titles that contain your second initial, and two with titles that contain your last initial.

I cheated a bit. I had a really hard time finding any books that even included a word in the title that began with J that I remembered well enough to know who these characters were. I guess I have some rereading to do. I did have three books I could I knew really well with titles beginning with K, so… 3 Ks, 1 J, and 2 Es. I mean. I didn’t cheat a lot. And these are much more fun when you remember the characters.

Step 2: Draw the names of those six books out of a hat in random order then answer the following questions:

Open your first book to a random page. The character whose name you see first just dragged you out from whatever hiding place you’ve holed up in (let’s just face it – we’d all start out under the bed). This character probably just saved your life, and is destined to become your best friend before all this is over. Also, s/he is the leader of the EZFBKs. (Don’t get jealous. You thought you would be invisible so long as your head was covered by your lucky ducky blanket.)

1777211Book 1: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

And Vetch is the first name I see. I love Vetch. Yeah, he could lead EZFBK, and I’d love to be his bestie. He’s an excellent bestie.

Open your second book to a random page. The character whose name you see first is your weapons supplier. What sort of weapons does s/he have stashed in the basement?

Book 2: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee mockinbird

All of these fantasy books, and I get the one realistic, historical fiction. Jem’s gonna be supplying our weapons. So… guns, knives, slingshots, rope. All very practical. Probably less likely than the magical or sci-fi weapons to backfire on us or die because there’s no more electricity available due to the plague. I guess. But I was kind of hoping for some magical or at least high-tech weapons.

Open your third book to a random page. The character whose name you see first just died in front of you. This apocalypse just got getting serious.

9780756404741MBook 3: The Kingkiller Chronicles, Book 1: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Fela. Fela just died. Not sweet, loyal, intelligent Fela, who knows the Name of Stone.  She was probably doing something idiotically heroic.  She’s probably one of the last people who should have died of this group.

Open your fourth book to a random page. The character whose name you see first is your vehicle specialist. I hope s/he has a fast ride…

Book 4: The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kiplingjungle

There’s a lot of irony in this book tag…. “By the broken lock that freed me, I am sure, Little Brother.” Little Brother here is Mowgli. I think we’ll be riding whatever wild animals Mowgli can convince to let us ride on their backs. I mean… could be worse?

Open your fifth book to a random page. The character whose name you see first is your medic.

enderBook 5: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Bonzo. This team gets worse and worse…. I’d rather avoid Bonzo entirely.

Open your sixth book to a random page. The character whose name you see first is… well, you’re honestly not sure how this person ended up on your team, or how s/he is still alive. But every team you’ve ever seen has one of these Resident Idiots, so maybe they’re good luck.

Book 6: The Kane Chronicles, Book 1: The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordanpyramid

Ha! Carter and Sadie’s British Gran, Catherine Faust, is… why is she here?

 

All right… recap….

Vetch saved me, pulling me out from under the bed and taking me with him and his team on the run. Time to smash some zombie heads! Vetch I’m excited to see. He has magic. He’s a good friend. He’ll get me through this somehow. EXCEPT the only weapons that Jem can find are those available in the early 1930s in rural Alabama. So, you know, at least they’re not likely to run on electricity, which might be scarce. Mowgli has convinced several of his animal friends to help us, but they get tired too, and we’re heavy loads for most of them. At least we won’t run out of fuel, though they will have to stop to hunt or graze. Sweet Fela dies in front of me, and that breaks all our hearts. Bonzo is not the person I’d most trust to be our medic. Vetch would be better, but Vetch is too busy leading to also be medic. At least Bonzo’s trained for war. I just don’t like him. Gran’s here too. I hope she’s not our cook, or we’ll be eating a lot of burnt biscuits. She’s tougher than she looks though, and maybe a zombpocalypse will convince her to unleash some Egyptian magic—though that’s not likely.

You know, actually, we just might make it, our low-tech team, led by a kind-hearted wizard, with our battle-trained medic who you know will try to wrest power, and with our Gran who might just cave to the magic in her veins too.  Yeah, I might read that novel.

I think this book tag originated with Gwen over at Apprentice, Never Master. Anyway, that’s where I found it. Thanks, Gwen, for a fun, relaxing blog post for my fuzzy, sickly brain. I really enjoyed that way of choosing books—very unique—even if it was a little hard. (It’d’ve been easier if my memory was better.)

Book Review: Everything I Love is in The Dark Prophecy–But So is Apollo

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That title seems harsh, but it is nonetheless true.

Some spoilers!

This is a story of overbearing fathers or fathers who overshadow their children—Marcus Aurelius, Nero, Zeus, Midas, Apollo himself, maybe even Ssssarah’s father should be included in the list (is that Tartarus?)—the weight that they put on their children, and the right and wrong ways to react to that weight.

Apollo seemed to me less annoying in The Dark Prophecy, whether because this is a god much humbled or because the supporting characters are larger, helping to balance him better. Here is Leo, already well-developed and greatly loved, and Calypso with him. Their relationship, one in which I was fairly invested prior to the beginning of this series, serves as a good breaker of a subplot to Apollo’s narcissism. Jo and Emmie, new characters, are large characters too (and if you want to give us the continued or previous adventures of Emmie and Jo, Uncle Rick, I won’t complain). They loved each other so much that they left the Hunters of Artemis and its accompanying immortality. They are also not just lesbians, but an older, married and settled lesbian couple, particularly underrepresented in children’s literature maybe partially because adults are so rarely the heroes in children’s literature. I’d love to see more teen and child heroes raised by two women in love—or two men in love.

Riordan has introduced another new character that I want to keep an eye on: Olujime (Jaime). Olujime is descended from the Yoruba people of Western Africa. He is a graduate student in accounting, working as a gladiator to support himself. He fights using Gidigbo and Dambe, both West African fighting styles, and lightning, which I and Apollo in this writer’s world take to suggest godly parentage or patronage. I am both excited and scared that the appearance of Jaime suggests that Rick is researching for another series. I’m not sure that it’s his place to explore Yoruba myth and tradition, but I’d be interested to read such a series–and I already know that I’d love the style if Riordan wrote such a series. Moreover, I love the idea of a adult hero from Riordan, suffering the horrors of graduate school while also having to battle monsters and gods–probably with a good sense of humor and a passel of friends.

Apollo is really attracted to Jaime but backs off when Jaime lets slip that he has a serious girlfriend. We get to see Apollo’s bisexuality not as a long-ago myth as with his labeling last book Hyacinthus as one of his greatest loves (the other being Daphne)—not just through his attraction to Jaime but also through his broken relationship with Commodus, a relationship we visit in its prime in flashbacks that Apollo experiences. This book more than in the previous one Apollo’s past comes back to haunt him.

I’ve said a lot about Leo and Calypso in this review. For all that, their relationship was a bit of a letdown. Given that Leo quite literally died to rescue her and that Calypso has been waiting eons to leave her island, I expected and wanted a glorious ship. But their relationship was built on a few weeks when Leo was stuck on her island and spent most of that time devising a way off for himself and, a good bit of that time, the pair spent sniping at one another, neither wanting to be stuck with the other’s company. Calypso softened to Leo during that time and Leo to her, and he left, vowing as most heroes seem to do, to come back and rescue her. They had not seen each other again until Leo landed, having narrowly escaped death, to rescue her. They’re relationship now is tense. They are discovering that they don’t really know one another, and Calypso particularly is discovering that she doesn’t really know herself. I hope soon that Rick will leave them alone to discover life outside of monsters and quests and new foster homes. Maybe I expected too much of them. Still, I was glad to have them here. I was especially glad to have Leo here. He made a good balance for Apollo.

This novel still for me though does not hold up to the sort of love that I have for the rest of Riordan’s series, though this far more than The Hidden Oracle, climbed near them. In fact, I think if that first book had been as good as this, I would be completely on-board with this series, but The Hidden Oracle drags this down because this one cannot stand well without it.

Here again are more human villains, a more relatable foe for the reader than the gods and Titans and giants of previous series. Leo and Calypso are here. Grover will be here!  Apollo was one of the gods I was most excited to see whenever he showed up in Percy Jackson in the Olympians, though more because he made me laugh with his horrible, egotistic haikus than because he was a solid character.  There’s so much potential here.  I just struggle so much with Apollo himself and his narration.

****

Riordan, Rick. The Trials of Apollo, Book 2: The Dark Prophecy. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2017.

This review is not endorsed by Rick Riordan, Hyperion Books, or Disney Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: Shadow of the Hegemon: Political Thriller in a Sci-Fi Enderverse

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The sequel to Ender’s Game, Speaker for the Dead, follows Ender and the colonists that he heads decades in the future on a distant planet, encountering a new alien race. That’s all well and good (I assume), but following Ender’s Game Alive, I wanted to know what happened to all of the Battle School students, not merely to Ender, so I sought out something a little closer to Ender’s Game in time and space. I skipped over Ender’s Shadow, which happens simultaneously with Ender’s Game, and jumped to the second in that sequel series, The Shadow of the Hegemon. This book deals with the immediate aftermath of Ender’s Game (and Ender’s Shadow), specifically what happens to the jeesh once they arrive back on earth, though it focuses pretty solely on Bean and Petra, and on Peter Wiggin’s quest to attain the title of Hegemon.

I want to start by saying that I don’t read many political thrillers—or not books that would be primarily classified as political thrillers (I suppose Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire could be classified as such). I’ve never read Vince Flynn, David Baldacci, Brad Thor, or any of those other household names in the genre. But I was sucked into this one, which disguises itself as a science-fiction book by virtue of association with the other books in its series. I won’t pretend to judge this book against others in its genre, but I do qualify it as more of a political thriller than a science-fiction book. Card describes this as being inspired by the board game Risk, a game of global domination through alliances and wars (I think; I’ve also never played Risk).

I say this is more political thriller than science-fiction because all of this book happens on Earth and its drama is in the geopolitics and the child geniuses who are pulling at the strings, toying with world leaders and directing the militaries of various countries.

Shortly after arriving back in their own countries, the entire jeesh is kidnapped—except for Bean, who is meant to be killed with his family in an explosion, which he escapes using a superior “Spidey” sense for danger. For a while, the book becomes an Earth-wide whodunit with every major country and political group as a suspect. I enjoyed this part of the book a lot. I enjoyed the mystery, and I enjoyed the insights into each country’s desires and assets. I enjoyed (and was horrified to find) that I could recognize the seeds of Card’s future-Earth geopolitics in my mediocre understanding of the political aspirations of today’s superpowers, that I found myself nodding along as the characters laid out the clues.

Petra having gotten a message to Bean, and Bean having gotten a message to Peter Wiggin, the three reveal that the architect of the jeesh’s capture is Achilles, a character from Bean’s past (I have not read Ender’s Shadow or I’m sure I’d know more about Achilles, but I picked up enough through Shadow of the Hegemon to know that he’s a dangerously smart, savvy, charismatic psychopath who has killed in the past and will kill in the future). Only Petra remains captive after that, Achilles interfering directly with her rescue and whisking her away to India, where she is forced to take part in the planning of a war for Indian expansion into Burma (Myanmar) and Thailand, though her intelligent plan for guerilla warfare is ignored for reasons that only become clear as the novel and Achilles’ complicated plan to sew chaos unfolds.

Bean meanwhile goes to Thailand and earns the trust of Suriyawong, another Battle School graduate and a member of Ender’s Dragon Army and now the nominal head of the Thai military’s planning division. With his knowledge of Achilles and Petra and military strategy in general, Bean helps to predict and to thwart what can be thwarted of Achilles’ plan, though Bean’s larger goal is always to save Petra.

Achilles is playing the nations against one another, but he is also pitting himself against Bean, working to destroy Bean.

This is Bean’s story (spoiler in white) and ultimately Bean’s victory to paraphrase the novel.

I loved to hate Achilles. I loved his dialogue, his speeches. And that’s of course how charismatic dictators rise to power, but—thank God—this kid is fictional. He’s at his best when he is convincing the Pakistani president to join a ceasefire with India and move Pakistani troops away from the border.

I loved the back and forth, the squabbles of Peter and Bean, two kids too bright for their own good.

I loved that Petra had so much more agency in this novel, so much more of a role, that the women (not only Petra, but Carlotta, Mrs. Wiggin, and Virlomi), who were largely absent in Ender’s Game even with the insertion of Major Jayadi in the audioplay that I listened to were here and were bigger parts of the plot.

I have some reservations about this audiobook, however. Some of the cast of the audioplay that I listened to for Ender’s Game reunited (I say reunites because I listened to this book second, but this book was actually produced first, so really they reunited for Ender’s Game Alive) for this audiobook, but not all of them, and this was a full audiobook, narration included. The voice actors took different parts and read different sections. But they could not decide how to pronounce Achilles. Though Peter had to hide that he knew that it should be pronounced A-SHEEL to avoid sounding more knowledgeable about current events than his parents. By the end of the text, even Bean’s voice actor had caved to the anglicized Greek pronunciation, ə-KIL-eez. That could be intentional. Perhaps Achilles remade himself into the Greek Achilles, adopting the more prominently used pronunciation as he became not the leader of a street gang but a puppet master on the global stage. I had thought that the voiceover of the word Hegemon was some weird conspiracy, something done to give the name importance and prominence, and it actually didn’t occur to me till reading a review on Goodreads that this was a poorly dubbed voiceover of a mispronounced word—which makes me wonder more about the conflicting pronunciations of Achilles. In the last few bits, when most of the primary characters were again sharing the scenes, the voice actors returned to more of an audioplay format, with everyone voicing the dialogue of their primary characters; I like that format better, and I liked to see its return, but it makes me question: why not do that sooner? Achilles and Petra share most of the book, yet lines of dialogue where they shared a scene were voiced by one or the other of the narrating voice actors.

Retrospectively, maybe this is one to read and not to listen to on audio. Maybe.

But this was a story I wanted and a story that I liked a lot with compelling characters.

****

Card, Orson Scott. Shadow of the Hegemon. Narr. David Birney, Scott Brick, & Gabrielle de Cuir. Prod. Stefan Rudnicki. Audio Renaissance-Tor-Holtzbrinck, Sound Library-BBC Audiobooks America, 2006. Audiobook, 11 CDs. Shadow of the Hegemon first published 2000.

This review is not endorsed by Orson Scott Card, Audio Renaissance, Tor Books, Holtzbrinck Publishers, LLC, Sound Library, BBC Audiobooks America, or anyone involved in the production of the book or audiobook.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.