Saturday, June 23, 2012

"Story Time" by Edward Bloor

"All I know is this," Kate told her brusquely. "I'm not going to Lincoln with you on Monday morning, I'm going to Whittaker. And I'm not going home with my mother and fatehr tonight, I'm going home with just my mother. So I guess I don't believe in wishes coming true, either. If I really want good things to happen, and bad things to stop happening, it'll take more than wishing. I have to act. And I have to act now."

Kate and her uncle, George, are regular kids. Kate is in eighth grade, Uncle George is in sixth. Kate is ready to go to Lincoln middle school and play Peter Pan in the play, and George is ready to learn things and invent things as well.
And then Uncle George passes the entrance exam to the Whittaker Magnet School.

Before they know it, both Kate and George are absorbed into the Whittaker Magnet School district 'octopus' and are attending the school with the highest scores on standardized tests. Although George is excited to be in a place where his genius is appreciated, Kate is not too happy to be in with the 'mushroom children' and personal assistant to Heidi Whittaker, the girl who dresses like a 'Swiss Milkmaid'.
But when eerie things begin in the school, neither of them know what to expect. With the help of a woman who only speaks in nursery rhymes, Kate's mother June, the staff of the White House, and a whole cast of other characters (Whether willingly or not), the two children will uncover a mystery that stretches back to the founding of the school, and nothing will be the same again.

Kate stared at the supine figure of Walter Barnes. She felt a pang of sympathy for the old librarian. but that pang was quickly replaed by another feeling, a feeling that something big had just happened. She didn't know what it was, exactly, but she did know this: It was something that the Whittaker-Austins, with all their money and all their power, could not control. It was a first chink in their armor. Perhaps it was a door to a door to a door that would lead her out of there.

I rather enjoyed this book.
As a homeschooler, it fills me with a sort of righteousness when I read about the failings of the public school system, and this book is a criticism of said system of schools. With a school that only focuses on standardized tests (much like many schools nowadays actually do), it emphasizes the positive aspects of imagination, art, fantasy, and whimsy.
This book is also written somewhat like A Series of Unfortunate Events or Pepperment in the Parlor, so if you liked any of those books, I believe you'd like this one. Sort of in that J fiction and yet... aimed for older people type of writing. It's interesting.

I have to say, however, that I did not particularly like Kate until near the end of the book where she goes through a character change. Uncle George was cool, however, and I liked some of the other characters as well.
Also, although I think the ending was okay, it wasn't spectacular or anything to be overly impressed with. I'd recommend this book, but I'd also say not to expect anything mind blowing from it.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Lessons From a Dead Girl" by Jo Knowles

I squeeze my hand shut and hold our secret in it. Any time I start to wonder why on earth Leah Greene wants to be my best friend, I tell myself not to think about it.

Leah Greene is dead.
Laine doesn't know what to think, or how to feel. Should she be sad, for losing her F.F., friend forever? Should she feel relieved, because she wished Leah would die? Should she feel freed, from her past, from the doll closet, from Leah herself?

Laine hated Leah. Hated her for everything she made Laine do, for all the times in the doll closet. She didn't understand Leah, didn't understand why she did the things she did or said the things she said. And yet, Laine wonders how different the two really are, and who Leah really were.

As Laine tries to understand Leah and the tragedy of her death, she tries to also understand the lessons that Leah taught her, find their meaning, and find out if she can forgive the unforgivable.

"It will come off," I say, scrubbing harder. But even when my hand is almost raw, I still see some of the red marker.
I go back to my room and hug George again.
"We won't be friends forever," I whisper into his fur. "We won't."
But he keeps smiling, like he knows better.

First of all, I do not recommend this book to anyone under the age of fifteen. A lot of the themes are quite mature, and I don't think that I could handle this if I were any younger than I am now.

Moving on, however, I have to say that this was a very interesting book. It had different story themes than I've ever read before, and I really liked the complicated relationship between Leah and Laine. I actually thought that all of the relationships in this book were interesting, complicated, and well developed, except for possibly the ones with Web and Jess (which were well developed, but not as interesting.)
I liked how all the characters had their own motives and personalities, and how all of them acted like real human beings.

I have to say that the writing style was also quite amazing, and it really absorbed me. I liked how it was written in sort of a hopeless way, and at the end you're sort of handed a bittersweet and hopeful ending.  It's also nice because you don't have to wait too long to get to the ending- I read this book in probably about 45 minutes.

Overall, it was an excellent book for older readers.

"I'm not afraid of you," I lie. "I just think I should get back."
And I don't want to play your games.
"I think you're afraid."
"Why do you always do this?" I ask.  I don't know why I bother. I should just step off the gazebo and disappear.
"Do what?" she asks innocently.
"Act this way. Like you're playing some game. Like you're out to get me." I pause as the familiar fear courses through me. My heart pounds so hard in my chest it hurts. But instead of running away, I take a deep breath. "Why do you hate me so much, Leah?"

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Incarceron" by Catherine Fisher

Walls have ears.
Doors have eyes.
Trees have voices.
Beasts tell lies.
Beware the rain.
Beweare the snow.
Beware the man
You think you know.
~Songs of Sapphique

Incarceron is a prison. Built to contain the undesirables of a world, it's huge. Vast enough to contain cities, mountains, oceans, valleys. Built to be a paradise, Incarceron has become a hell, and there is no escaping. Trapped until they die, most of the inmates have given up on leaving.
But not Finn.

In the Outside, time seems to have been stopped at the 17th century. Artificially preserved, Claudia's world is run by computers and protocal. She's doomed to an arranged marriage and tangled with an assassination plot she doesn't support but doesn't discourage either.

When the lives of Finn and Claudia collide, there's no telling what will happen.
Incarceron is everywhere.
Incarceron is everything.

They stared at the dark slit, waiting. She half expected a crowd of Prisoners to burst through.
But nothing happened, so she stepped forward, and opened the gate.
And looked Inside.

This book was rather rare for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's a YA book that I actually enjoyed. Second of all, there were several plot twists I didn't predict, and third of all, I only hated one of the characters.

The setting of this book is very interesting. It's a peculiar mix of Gregor the Underlander, 2001: A Space Oddyssey, Labyrinth, Alice in Wonderland, The Supernaturalist, Doctor Who, and a whole lot of imagination. It was fascinating if only for the setting, and I enjoyed it immensely. Incarceron was spooky, and reminded me a bit of HAL, which captured my interest immediately. If nothing, read for Incarceron!

The characters were interesting as well. It was difficult, but I decided that my three favorite characters were Keiro (Finn's oathbrother), Jared (Claudia's tutor), and The Warden (Claudia's father.). The single character that I truly did not like at all was Attia, who I found to be jealous, petty, stuck up, "holier than thou", and just annoying. But the others were pretty cool, I must say.

Also, the plot twists. I'm usually pretty good at predicting the way that books will go. In fact, some of the earlier twists I predicted immediately, but about three fourths of the book the author threw a twist at me that literally left me sitting and going "Wow. I did not see that coming. Wow. Wow. O.o". The plot is interesting, not very predictable, and has plenty of things going on that it moves quite quickly.

Overall, this was a really good book, and I'm definitely going to read the second one. :)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

"Geek Fantasy Novel" by E. Archer

As any aeronautical engineer will confirm, fairies do remarkably well in unicorn-drawn carriage crashes. Their strategy is simple: Keep to the center of teh carriage and fly with quivalent speed against the rapidly decreasing velocity of the vehicle.

Ralph Stevenson has been taught never to wish for anything. As anyone will tell him, wishes are dangerous and should therefore be avoided. As an extreme geek growing up being teased by his peers, he has also learned not to mingle with people.
So Ralph focuses on his video game designing.
When he is suddenly jerked out of his day to day life by an invitation to go visit his relatives in Europe, his parents immediately say no. But Ralph has other ideas, and soon sneaks off to visit his odd British relatives.
But that's not all...
Ralph is soon whisked away into magical lands where bunny rabbits explode, where narrators mess with the story line, where teddy bears work as headsets, and where you never exactly know what's going to happen next.
Not even the narrator.

Prisoners magically trapped beneath planks of flooring do moderately well. The otherwise death-hastening wood serves like the lap restraint on a roller coaster.

I really did like this book a lot. It was some random novel that my mom picked up at the Salvation Army and gave to me one day at piano lessons. The name is interesting, and the synopsis/back cover are as well. This book was original, it was witty, it was funny, it was clever, and it was geeky.
The concept in particular was fascinating, and I don't think I've ever seen a book where this has been done before... Not to mention the fact that the characters are simply brilliant. I loved them all. Even Chessie. Even the narrator.
Maybe particularly the narrator?
Either way, this was an amazing book.

Axe-wielding duchesses, however, make out substantially worse. And unfortunately, an axe-wielding duchess careening about a carriage is a problem for everyone.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

"The Agency: A Spy in the House" by Y. S. Lee

Insurance fraud.
Sunken ships.
Guilt money.
A ransacked office.
There was at least one more missing detail...

Mary Lang is a preteen girl living in the streets of Victorian era London. She picks pockets and breaks into houses to survive, until she is caught and sentenced to hang.
When she is miraculously rescued from the gallows and sent to Miss Scrimshaw's Academy for Girls, it's a new life. A life away from the crime and theivery she left behind. It's a new chance to be independent- a rare thing in Victorian era Britain.
But when Mary, now going with the last name of Quinn, finds herself yearning for more, she is hired by the headmistresses of the academy to work for The Agency- a top secret detective agency exclusively for women agents.
Mary's thrilled to be working for The Agency, and even more thrilled when she recieves her first assignment. Posing as a hired companion, she's to assist a more experienced agent in investigating missing ships containing smuggled items. But not all is as it seems in the household, and no one is who they appear to be.

Just before he caught her, she had a moment of sick premonition. It had been the same way the first time- the last time- she'd been caught. A flash of dread, of knowing. And then it happened.

I picked this book up from the library because I'm fascinated by the Victorian era. I decided that it looked interesting, took it home, and read it in what would amount to about 24 hours. It's a pretty fast read, particularly once you get more than halfway into it.

The interesting thing about this book is not just that the characters are amazing, but that it seems like an incredibly realistic portrayal of Victorian era London. The jacket says that the author completed her PhD in Victorian literature and culture, and studied London. You can definitely tell this while reading the book- she includes many details that make the backdrop of this book to be exciting and foreign- and yet utterly realistic.

The characters are also quite amazing- Particularly James and Mary (the main characters), who happen to have some of the most wonderfully witty lines that I've read for a while.
However, although I enjoy the characters, I find the plot to be a little meandering and it has a slightly confusing end in my opinion. There were several times when I had to go back and reread as section because I didn't quite catch what was going on. Several times also near the end things just seem to go a little too good for the characters, with Mary's mysterious instincts. I also didn't particularly like the end- it was a little abrupt and it made me a little sad.
Despite this, I consider it to be a good book and if I see more from this series, I will be getting them from the library.

Monday, February 20, 2012

"Immanuel's Veins" by Ted Dekker

"This story is for everyone. But not everyone is for this story."
Toma Nicolescu, a warrior, is sent by Catherine the great to protect two sisters and their mother. At first convinced that it is just a simple job- He, after all, will not cave to the sisters beauty like his friend Alec will- and all he must do is help the mother arrange a marriage for the eldest sister, Lucine.

That just goes to show how mistaken Toma can be.

When a strange group of Russians arrive, Toma senses something strange about them. They seem more attractive, more powerful, and yet far more repulsive than anyone he knows. However, he sees nothing wrong with them or their strange ways...
At first.
As his suspicion of the beautiful strangers rises, so does his love for Lucine, and soon both are entangled in a dark plot, power, and a battle between good and evil.

Looking back now, I can say the series of incredible events that forever changed my understanding of this ordered world began in earnest in that moment. Though I did not recognize or embrace it then, the axis of this planet surely shifted. The stars reversed their course and sent a spell of love and anguish, tears and laughter into the valley, and I was too thickheaded to yet see it.

Ted Dekker is a truly amazing author.
I was drawn into the book as soon as I read the first page, and it only took me a few days to finish it. The writing is beautiful, and he uses so much symbolism that sometimes it's hard to tell what's an allegory and what's not.

The characters also brought me into the story- None were perfect, and yet I never got mad at the main characters (the story is told from Toma and Lucine's points of view) for doing something so dumb that it was ridiculous. All the characters had their own distinct personalitites, and for most of the book I was kept guessing about who was going to do what.

The plot also deserves mention- I guessed a few of the plot "twists", but overall felt like I didn't quite know what was going to happen next.

Overall, this is an incredibly wonderful book, and I enjoyed it very much. However, it is also a clearly Christian book, so if that does not appeal to you, you probably won't enjoy this book so much. Also- this was a book found in the "grown up" section of my library, and as such needs treatment in that way. I would not recommend this book to anyone under fourteen, due to some of the adult themes.