**spoiler alert** Years ago, I read the first book in the Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo, knowing that it was a shameless rip-off of the Harry Pot**spoiler alert** Years ago, I read the first book in the Charlie Bone series by Jenny Nimmo, knowing that it was a shameless rip-off of the Harry Potter series. I was OK with it, but at the same time, I wasn’t expecting the book to be very good, and wasn’t really disappointed, but I was also going into the book with an attitude against it simply because it was trying very hard to be Harry Potter. The book failed for me before it started, really, but such is the case with books that I see as trying to cash in on another popular trend.
Percy Jordan is very much another Harry Potter clone. Let’s look at his character for a moment: He’s a normal kid, living a life of occasional weirdness, and he lives with his doting mother and beast of a stepfather. During the course of the opening of the book, he realizes that he has a lineage that is larger than he ever realized, and over time he realizes that he’s part of a larger prophecy, as well. Over the course of this discovery, he learns that he is a Half-Blood, and travels to a summer camp where others of his kind get training and an opportunity to be among their own kind. While he’s there, he makes a couple of friends along the way, one of whom is male and a bumbling sort of sidekick, the other of whom is female and an experienced, knowledgeable friend. He also makes enemies with another Half-Blood, partly because of some bad family history between the two of them. At the camp, there is one leader who is kind to Percy, and willing to take exceptional risks to help him advance, while there is another leader who takes a dislike to Percy and works toward making his existence there as difficult as possible. Percy also sets out on a quest, where it’s discovered that there’s an ancient evil looking toward world destruction and domination, and that this evil may even be stronger than the most powerful among the good guys. Of course, that evil isn’t defeated in the first book, but it’s very clear that this is only the start of a larger, epic story that will be comprised of smaller battles that are waged against the backdrop of this larger war versus good and evil.
So, it’s a thinly veiled rip-off, but the real point of it all is this: It doesn’t matter. I may be a little slow and dense, but it didn’t occur to me until the last 40 pages of the book that this was just a re-telling of the Harry Potter book, and the story was gripping and compelling enough for me to not really care when I realized it. Sure, once I started looking further into the similarities, I found myself a little disappointed, but the author managed to pull it off well enough that I found myself not caring. Plus, he made little changes in the details along the way to prevent it from being a carbon copy of the other series.
It also got me thinking about archetypal characters and stories, and how certain stories speak to a group of people on a subconscious level. In addition, I thought about how both the Harry Potter and the Percy Jackson series (that I know of it so far, at least) are comprised of hero’s tales, which follow a rather prescribed format. Shoot, in relation to a story that’s told using Greek mythology, it makes perfect sense. So it may be less of a rip-off and more of a timeless story. Either way, though, it’s certainly worth reading. It’s definitely been a long time since I’ve been this excited about reading an entire series!...more
When I was in junior high school, I was a bit of a dork. And to be honest, I continued being a dork through high school, college, and ... well, let'sWhen I was in junior high school, I was a bit of a dork. And to be honest, I continued being a dork through high school, college, and ... well, let's just say that not a whole lot has changed over the past 20 years or so. What makes me mention junior high school is because I used to fantasize about being in a rock band. I would talk to friends about it, come up with cool names (Stainless Steel and Kevin McKinley and the Kinetics are the two I still remember), and I would even come up with logos, album covers, credits, and the like. I even came up with a pretty good name for an independent label while I was in college (nekkid rekkids). None of it ever came to fruition, but it was a lot of fun doing that sort of stuff. That it was a lot of fun sort of indicates how much of a dork I was.
Why do I mention all that? Well, King Dork has a main character in high school who does this very same thing. He's probably a little further into the "cool" part of the spectrum than I ever was (he's more rebellious, and actually noodles around enough on the guitar to be able to play one), but he and his friend don't fit in, because ... well, in high school, there doesn't need to be any specific reason why one doesn't fit in, and this book proves it, over and over and over again. The author manages to temper this causticity with a heaping helping of humor, but it's still caustic, and a lot of times it will wind up being in the "laugh so you don't cry" sort of vein. The main character and narrator drive the story with this sort of narrative, but underlying it all is a plot of the same character trying to discover who his father was. It all inter-relates well, and the author pulls it all together deftly.
The other thing about the book I liked was Tom's scathing criticism of The Catcher in the Rye, or, more specifically, his criticism of the teachers who view the book as the pinnacle of teenage rebellion. He makes the teachers out to be part of a cult who look at this one book as being the common bond between them and their students, even though the students don't seem to have any interest in the story. That the teachers view the book as a form of endorsed rebellion isn't missed by Tom, since he realizes that when a supposed form of rebellion is studied in a literature course, it's no longer a form of rebellion. But when the book itself becomes a modernized version of this much-hated, much-maligned (at least in this novel) book, it takes on a different level of symbolism that really works.
What's interesting about the book is that it's written by someone who went on to some modicum of fame as an adult: He's Dr. Frank from the Mr. T Experience. That was more or less what encouraged me to read the book, though the positive reviews I read of the book certainly didn't hurt. The man seems to be a good writer. If nothing else, he was able to capture perfectly the hell that is high school, especially for those people who never fit in with the in crowd. I saw a lot of myself in the main character (as evidenced above), and while I was never the misfit that Tom is, I recognized a lot of the angst and tension that he experiences while in high school. The author does a great job of capturing it all, down to the single least point of embarrassment.
The book falls into the "YA With Warnings" category, since it's very clearly a YA book (the main character and his trials and tribulations are all very much what a high-schooler would experience), but the content might put some parents off. If this book were a movie (and I understand that's in progress), it would be rated R for content and language. Of course, this is true for Catcher in the Rye, so I wonder if that was all together intentional, anyway. I wouldn't be surprised if it were....more
I know I've read this book before. I know that, because I have it in my records for 1998. The thing is, had I not known that I had read this book befoI know I've read this book before. I know that, because I have it in my records for 1998. The thing is, had I not known that I had read this book before, I would have told you that this was my first time reading it. I remembered absolutely nothing about it, even as I was re-reading it. I didn't remember all the details from The Golden Compass, but I remembered many of the key scenes. The Subtle Knife, though, was a brand new experience for me.
This is an interesting book, especially when you consider how The Golden Compass ended. It ended on an emotional note, sort of on a cliff-hanger moment, so I expected to be able to pick this up and see what happened next after that moment. I did reach that point, but it took me a couple of chapters to do so. Pullman started this novel in a completely different world than where the events of The Golden Compass took place, and introduced a new character who hadn't been present in that book. It was a bit jarring, as well as a little annoying. Maybe it would have been different if I hadn't read the two books back-to-back, but I was expecting a little more of an immediate transition between the books.
Lyra is still the main character of the series, but most of the characters from the first book aren't present. She's moved on to the world she discovered when she followed her father through the Northern Lights, which then takes her to our modern world. The plot continues to be one of discovery, and the themes continue to focus on spiritualism and religion, though this time Pullman is more direct in challenging the church, but having a mostly-new cast of characters in a trilogy was a little surprising. It worked well enough, but it took me by surprise.
Like The Golden Compass, the story has real emotion in it, courtesy of Lyra. More specifically, the emotion comes from the relationship Lyra has with Pantalaimon. In fact, Pullman does a great job of creating the relationships between all characters and their dæmons, as illustrated by a scene near the end of the novel with Lee and Hester. Maybe it's because the dæmons represent a person's closest companion, and are represented as a pet, that makes it such a strong relationship, but Will Parry, the new protagonist in this novel, has no dæmon, and is as easy to relate to as Lyra.
As I mentioned in my review for The Golden Compass, the themes of the series are heavy enough for me to view this more as a YA book than a juvenile book, but there are points in the story when I realize that the book is intended for a younger audience. Sometimes the story lacks subtlety, especially with character motivation and dialogue. Some characters just blurt out whatever needs to be known at the time, even when saying such things would only put those characters in a perilous situation. There's no circling around the point in these cases, which is a trait I've seen in other juvenile stories.
I'm enjoying the series well enough, and I'm eager to see how it wraps up, but I'm not having the same kind of response to it as other readers have had. I see a lot of four- and five-star ratings from other friends and readers, but it kind of lacks the cohesion that I want out of a story this epic. Maybe once I finish The Amber Spyglass it will all come together, but right now it feels a little disjointed, as it seems like a lot of the key elements of the story are being forced together. I'll definitely see it through to the end, though....more
I started reading this series in 1997 and made it through the second book before I just stopped cold. I don't know why. I remember finding the storiesI started reading this series in 1997 and made it through the second book before I just stopped cold. I don't know why. I remember finding the stories intriguing, though not as much as the critics and superfans seemed to find them, enough so that when it came time to finish off this series, I hadn't planned on re-reading the first two books. I figured I could read summaries of the two books and get started on the third without much problem. I was proven wrong within the first 15 or so pages of the third book, when I couldn't recall enough of the details from the previous two books to get a good sense of what was happening in the third. Which brings me to book one.
By now, I think most people know the premise of the series. It's set in an alternate Europe where people live their entire lives with the presence of their dæmons, animal familiars who have a physical and emotional tie to their people. The people and their dæmons are so connected that when one dies, the other one will die, as well. Pullman makes them out to be physical manifestations of people's souls (they tend to react in ways that are indicative of their person's mood), so when children start to go missing in London, you can rest assured that it has something to do with their dæmons.
The premise is a hefty one for even a young adult novel, but this series is actually aimed toward a younger audience. While I've seen them shelved in YA sections here and there, the books are usually shelved in the juvenile sections of both libraries and bookstores, which surprises me, considering the themes and content of the books. The Harry Potter books are also considered juvenile books, though, so maybe I'm splitting hairs. The overtly religious themes just seem to be more threatening to the status quo than anything Harry Potter did (and, judging by the results I found from Googling "golden compass controversy", I'm right). Because of those thematic elements, I've tagged this as a YA book, a juvenile book, and an adult book, since most of the theme, I believe, would go over the heads of younger readers.
The story took a little while to get going, as Pullman took the time to develop Lyra, the main character, before sending her off on her journey. She's obstinate, precocious, headstrong, and willful, and she's one of the stronger protagonists I've seen in books for younger readers. She's also very principled, even if she's not one to resist lying or embellishing a story when it suits her purposes. There were times when I found her to be a little tiresome (Pullman relied on her to fill in the backstory that we already knew to characters who had to know what was going on, usually in run-on sentences that sounded like a six-year-old telling a story), but through her, Pullman conveyed some real emotion. There were some truly horrifying and heartbreaking moments that wouldn't have worked without Lyra being the character she was.
It's hard to say much about the book, since it's only a prelude to a larger story, but I look forward to reading the rest of the series. I've already begun on the second book, and so far, I have no recollection of the events at the start. It feels like reading from this point forward will be like reading the books for the first time again....more
When I was in school, history was my most-dreaded subject. Now, I’ve found that there are a lot of fascinating facts to find in history, it’s just a mWhen I was in school, history was my most-dreaded subject. Now, I’ve found that there are a lot of fascinating facts to find in history, it’s just a matter of finding a way to get the information in a way that appeals to me. I think that historical fiction is one way to catch up on the history I missed, even though in cases like Leviathan, it’s a little … well, different from the way history actually told it.
In this book, the start of another trilogy by the author who brought us the Uglies series, we see the development of World War I, through the eyes of the Clankers and the Darwinists. In this history, there are two different approaches to technology: One creates mechanical beasties that can be used as weapons of warfare; the other mixes DNA from different creatures to fabricate living, breathing pieces of warfare that draw on different animals in nature. It’s definitely a steampunk novel, where it’s set in the past, yet populated with modern technologies, but it’s an appealing, interesting background against which to see a different outlook on history. Plus, making the main character one of the key players in the outbreak, even when he isn’t representative of any historical figure, makes the drama and intrigue come to life a lot more than reading something out of a history book. Of course, I don’t think novels like this one will ever replace nonfiction, but it’s nice to see a novel that draws enough on reality — and acknowledges it in the afterword — that it will encourage readers to learn more about the subject on their own.
The story itself was gripping, since it flip-flopped between two characters, one from the Darwinists’ side (England), and one from the Clankers’ side (Austria). It’s sort of a cheap tactic to build suspense by going back and forth between characters, leaving them at critical points to ensure that the reader will keep reading to see what happened, but I can’t deny that it works. It was also a little more readable than the Uglies series, for a reason I can’t identify. Maybe it was the setting, or the backdrop, or the lack of necessity in creating a new slang to identify the characters’ cultures. Deryn, the main Darwinist character, has some slang so that she can swear without actually swearing in the book (like saying “Blisters!” instead of something that the publishers may not approve of), but other than that, the narrative flowed naturally, and never pulled me out of the story. I adore the premise behind Uglies, but this novel had a better flow.
I was a little disappointed that this book turned out to be the start of a trilogy, but I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series. I just hope I don’t forget too many of the details from one book to the next....more
The premise of this book is fascinating: A young boy who has a hard time finding his place in life goes to live with his aunt and uncle, and stays inThe premise of this book is fascinating: A young boy who has a hard time finding his place in life goes to live with his aunt and uncle, and stays in a room that has 100 cupboards on the wall. With the manipulation of a couple of dials, the cupboards will take him to a variety of different worlds, some dangerous, some friendly, all fanciful. This is a perfect juvenile book, because what kid hasn’t wanted to find something like that and take advantage of it? I went through that when I was a kid, and I think that’s part of the reason why The Phantom Tollbooth was such a favorite books of mine (still is, actually).
The thing is, the premise was probably too promising. I’m not sure when it became commonplace for juvenile and YA authors to write in a telling style over a showing style. I mean, I sort of understand it: Your audience isn’t as attuned to subtlety as an adult would be, so you sometimes have to make your point more directly. Unfortunately, there are a lot of kids’ books that use subtlety to tell the story — any of the Harry Potter books and Sachar’s Holes are prime examples — so I’m not sure why some authors choose to tell instead of show. It just makes the book that much harder to read.
Aside from the narrative, the story was interesting enough to keep me reading, though it didn’t really resonate with me. I had a good idea how the book was going to end, based on the way that the author presented the main characters, so I was reading to see if I was right, if nothing else. I didn’t feel much of an emotional attachment to the characters, though I thought the relationship between the main character and his uncle was interesting. By the end, though, I was just reading to finish the book.
With 100 Cupboards, I think my expectations were too high for me to really judge the book objectively. I’m sure that kids would like it, but it’s not a juvenile book that translates well for the adult reader....more
Scat is the third in the series of juvenile novels Carl Hiaasen has written, and the craziest thing about the book (not counting the lunatics who popuScat is the third in the series of juvenile novels Carl Hiaasen has written, and the craziest thing about the book (not counting the lunatics who populate the good and bad sides of his books) is that it reads exactly like any other Carl Hiaasen book, just without the sex or the deviants, with less violence, and with less swearing. The plot, the characters, and the environmental theme are all present in Scat, just like it’s been present in Hoot and Flush, and all of Hiaasen’s other novels for adults. So even if you’re not a fan of kids’ books, you might still find something of value in this novel.
This time around, the kids in the novel are part of a scheme to protect the endangered Florida panther from the schemes of an evil oil-drilling company, who are drilling illegally in parts of the wetlands. They team up with the usual gang of oddballs, including their biology teacher (a cranky, stereotypically “evil” teacher), their classmate (a possible juvenile delinquent), and some Hayduke wannabe who traipses around in the jungles, unafraid and seemingly immune to the dangers of such a lifestyle. If that sounds a lot like a guy named Skink to you, then you’re on the right track for this book.
Moreso than the typical Hiaasen plot is a sub-plot (sub-theme, really) involving the main character and his relationship with his father, a recently returned war veteran from Iraq who has lost his right arm. Hiaasen explores the way this sort of thing affects a father-son relationship, especially in a case where both father and son participate in very physical activities as a bonding process. There was something very genuine in that relationship, and how the author presented it, that was worth reading the rest of the novel to get. I mean, I enjoy Hiaasen’s books, so it’s not like I suffered through the rest of the story to participate that relationship, but that it was there added a certain depth to the story.
Like his other works, Scat is a book with a lot of macho manliness, even though it doesn’t lack for strong female characters. I think that Hiaasen is more an author for men than women, but if you like good, gripping stories with likeable characters and genuine relationships, you wouldn’t be remiss in reading this one. His juvenile novels are definitely a great place to start (though Hoot was better, and Flush was worse)....more
If you’ve read the previous two books in the Peter Pan prequel trilogy, then you ought to take the time to read through this last book in the series.If you’ve read the previous two books in the Peter Pan prequel trilogy, then you ought to take the time to read through this last book in the series. It follows the other books pretty logically, and it maintains the same sense of whimsy, adventure, and imagination that the previous books had. Unfortunately, it’s a little dense with detail, and more than a little overlong in its presentation.
Let’s be honest for a moment: Peter and the Starcatchers was really the only book necessary as a prequel to explain why Peter became the flying, ageless boy that we all know from fairy tales. My guess is that the story was originally planned as a standalone book, and after it proved to be popular, the publisher asked the authors to write the prequel into a trilogy. Think of how Star Wars was a nice, complete film in and of itself, and how The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi seemed a little … well, not tacked on, but at least produced based on the first movie’s success. The way the story develops over the course of the novels suggests that the Peter Pan prequels were written in much the same way.
To carry the Star Wars analogy a bit further, reading Peter and the Secret of Rundoon was a little like watching Revenge of the Sith — by the end, the authors seemed to be struggling to connect everything from the first two books to everything that followed after, resulting in some plot tangents that probably wouldn’t have existed in a standard book. It’s like they were trying to cram as much as possible into the final volume, making the end result a little messy. There seemed to be three major plots going on in the book, and each one resolved itself more or less independently from the others. In that sense, it was a little like watching the end of The Return of the King, with the viewer wondering when, exactly, the movie was going to officially end. And I probably should stop comparing the book with movie trilogies, lest I lose my point entirely.
So, it’s a good read, and reminiscent of the previous two books in the series. If you can divorce yourself from the fact that the last two books in the trilogy really aren’t necessary, and don’t mind the meandering cross-wise plots, you should enjoy the book. At they very least, they’re entertaining and compelling....more
Ever have those days where you put on an old jacket from last winter, and find a $20 bill in the pocket? That’s how I felt when I first heard about MEver have those days where you put on an old jacket from last winter, and find a $20 bill in the pocket? That’s how I felt when I first heard about M Is for Magic. I didn’t know that Neil Gaiman had a new book coming out, much less that he had pulled a Ray Bradbury by picking some of his stories appropriate for younger audiences, and packaging them together under a new title. Shoot, he even acknowledges Bradbury in the introduction and in “October in the Chair,” so it’s no surprise that he even adopted Bradbury’s old title format for the collection. Bradbury had R Is for Rocket and S Is for Space, and now we’ve covered the Ms, as well.
So, the reality is that if you’re a hardcore Gaiman fanboy, then you’ve read most all of these stories. There’s only one story here that’s an “exclusive” (”The Witch’s Headstone,” a wonderful romp that’s reminiscent of Jonathan Carroll’s early stuff), but I believe it’s going to see print in a future publication, anyway. The good news is that this is a lot like a “greatest hits” for Gaiman. “Chivalry,” possibly the best short work of fiction published last century, is there, as is “Troll Bridge” (which shows the darker side of growing up) and “The Price” (an even darker look at our pets and what they do for us), along with a newer “classic,” “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” (an odd science fiction story that probably owes a small debt to Harlan Ellison).
Like any short story collection, there are a few misses here, including “The Case of Four and Twenty Blackbirds,” but the premises and ideas behind the stories make up for what they lack in punch. Even Neil Gaiman can’t be on all the time, but even when he’s just puttering along, there’s much more going on to keep your interest than just the presentation. The story itself should keep you reading. Besides, as I’ve mentioned before, mediocre Neil Gaiman is definitely better than the best of some other authors I’ve read.
So, there may not be anything new here, and it may not all represent the best stuff that Gaiman has written, but M Is for Magic is a great introduction to a wonderful author. That it’s been released just in time for you to pick the collection up for the young reader in your family for Christmas isn’t, I doubt, a coincidence. Besides, if you haven’t read “Chivalry” yet, then your life isn’t quite yet complete....more