Monday, December 31, 2012

Inkheart trilogy

Inkheart trilogy (Inkheart, Inkspell, and Inkdeath) by Cornelia Funke
Chicken House Publishing - September 23, 2003 to September 28 2008
534, 635, and 683 pages, respectively

Mortimer Folchart's nickname is Silvertongue, and rightfully so. Whatever he reads out loud comes out of the world of the book and into our world. When his daughter Meggie was three, Mo read a book titled Inkheart, pulling his wife Resa and his two cats into the land, known as the Inkworld, and pulling out three men: Dustfinger, a man with control over fire and a horned marten; Capricorn, a relentless murderer; and Basta, Capricorn's superstitious and OCD servant. After nine years these men have come back into the lives of the Folcharts, and Mo, Meggie, and Meggie's great-aunt Elinor are tasked with getting them back into the book and bringing Resa back into our world.

I read Inkheart immediately after finding out that there was going to be a cool-looking movie (that had nothing in common with the book except for the name and characters; it was quite possibly the worst book-to-movie adaptation I've ever seen) and Inkspell as soon as possible after that. And then Inkdeath. Inkdeath was when I stalled. I stalled and then gave up on it for three years before finally returned to it, determined to finish it. Now that I have finally finished this great behemoth, which totals out to 1,852 pages, I can review it properly. Inkheart was an adventure, but Inkspell was the high point with its quick pace and character development, while Inkdeath was the low point, with nothing happening for the first half of the book. When things finally did happen, they happened predictably and boringly. In addition, the formerly spunky and quick-witted heroine of Meggie was relegated in Inkdeath to nothing more than a love triangle between two undesirable boys. Really now?

Inkheart: B
Inkspell: B+
Inkdeath: D

The Dragonet Prophecy

Wings of Fire #1: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui Sutherland
Scholastic Press - July 1, 2012
336 pages

After the death of Queen Oasis, her three daughters Blaze, Blister, and Burn have been competing for the SandWing throne. They turned it into a world-wide war, dragging in the various other tribes of Pyrrhia. However, there is a prophecy that five dragons: a MudWing, a SandWing, a SeaWing, a SkyWing, and a NightWing, will save Pyrrhia and determine the new queen. However, the SkyWing egg was dropped and hastily replaced with a RainWing. No one knows if the prophecy will still work, but the enthusiastic Tsunami leads the other dragons out of the cave two years early and into the clutches of danger.

Tui Sutherland was one of the later authors of the Warriors series, which is reviewed elsewhere. I had high hopes for this. Fortunately, the majority of them were met. The characters were developed, although most of their behavior seemed to revolve around either a singular or dual character trait, and their little quirks did not shine as they could have. The pacing was quick, however, and secrets were unveiled to reveal the truth in a quickening beat. The amount of characters that died, however, was a little too many for my tastes too soon after introduction. Maybe prologues in the next books will tell us more about them?

Grade: B+

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Watership Down

Watership Down by Richard Adams
Rex Collings - November 1972
413 pages plus maps

In the Sandleford Warren, things are peaceful for all the rabbits but Fiver. He has received a horrible vision and tells his brother Hazel immediately. They go to the Chief Rabbit, The Threarah, but he dismisses this and they get chased out by Captain Holly. However, others come with them to find Fiver's high ground, such as the powerful Thlayli (or Bigwig), the clever Blackberry, the quick storyteller Dandelion, the timid Pipkin, the strong Silver, the slow Hawkbit, and the outskirters Speedwell and Acorn. Along the way they encounter other warrens such as Cowslip's Warren and Efrafa, as well as some interesting individuals such as Kehaar the black-headed gull, and search for peace.

I had some reservations going into Watership Down. I knew people that couldn't get past chapter one. However, my doubts quickly vanished as I plunged into the world of the Sandleford Warren. The plot moved at a rapid pace and was filled with suspenseful moments. I truly felt for the characters in one way or another, from loathing Hawkbit, Speedwell, and Acorn, to an instant attachment to Blackberry and the doe Hyzenthlay. While the two main characters Hazel and Fiver weren't particularly outstanding, it was the supporting characters that were wonderful. My personal favorite moments of the stories were the breaks when Dandelion would tell a story of the rabbit trickster El-ahrairah, which were richly crafted, especially The Story of the Trial of El-ahrairah. There were some moments, particularly the very end, where (spoiler alert!)Hazel is invited, upon death, to be part of El-ahrairah's Owsla (or council of high-ranking rabbits) as opposed to the more clever Blackberry, who would be much more fitting for the job of working with the trickster(spoiler end), that I thought could have been handled differently, but it was still a great, engaging read.

Grade: A-

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Survivors: The Empty City

Survivors: The Empty City by Erin Hunter
HarperCollins - August 21, 2012
288 pages

Lucky is a golden-haired mutt that's always had a nose for survival and a preference to stay a Lone Dog. No packs or humans could hold him back. Then the Big Growl strikes, splitting a hole in the ground, causing humans to flee, and resulting in utter chaos among the dogs. Lucky attempts to survive on his own again, but when he sees a pitiful "pack" made of former Leashed Dogs hoping that their owners will come back and including his sister Bella, he sees that he has to help them.

Warriors was so excellent that I tore through the books. Seekers was so horrible I couldn't get through the first book. So I eagerly dove into the first book in the Survivors series hoping for the best but anticipating the worst, especially since it was by a new Erin Hunter. I was surprised but not, I should mention, disappointed with the result. I was expecting something hardboiled and realistic, considering how close dogs are to humans. Instead I got a more mythological book, with dogs being the true sky, sun, lightning, river, forest, and earth and with different roles (Forest-Dog is the trickster). The wide variety of dogs with their personalities highlighted make it interesting. The only major problem I had with this was the vocabulary. I find it hard to believe that a cat who spends its life avoiding humans knows more terms than a dog who lived with them all its life. (spoiler alert!)I did a little investigative work, and if you get confused when Daisy passes out in her backyard, there was a gas leak in her humans' house.(spoiler end). With enough deduction, you can figure it out, but it shouldn't pull you away from the novel too much.

Grade: A-

The Owl Keeper

The Owl Keeper by Christine Brodien-Jones
Delacorte Books for Young Readers - April 13, 2010
320 pages

Maxwell Unger has always loved three things: the night, silver owls, and his gran. Well, the night will always be there, but his gran is gone now, and silver owls are hunted down by the High Echelon, who claims that they carry disease. Maxwell knows better, though. His silver owl, the one he keeps in the tree nearby, has no disease. She just has a couple injuries from a rough flight. His gran used to tell him the story of the Owl Keeper, who would bring back the silver owls and sages and unite them to fight the power of the dark. When a mysterious girl comes along and Max has nightmares about killing his silver owl, he knows that things aren't going to stay normal for long.

This concludes my cycle of six book read for an event that began with Mockingbird and also included Chasing Lincoln's Killer, The Maze Runner, Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer, and The Grimm Legacy. I'm pleased to say that this is my favorite fictional read (Chasing Lincoln's Killer is still the best altogether), considering I started off so poorly with Mockingbird. The characters, setting, and mythology are well-crafted, and information is delicately placed where it is required the most, as opposed to a page-one info-dump. The slow reveal of the mystery behind Maxwell's world kept you guessing until the end. I don't know if there'll be a sequel or not, but The Owl Keeper was one of those rare books where you would be pleased either way.

Grade: A-

Friday, November 23, 2012

Silent Spring

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
Houghton Mifflin - September 27, 1962
367 pages (approx.)

I apologize for the "approximate" page numbers. I could not get a specific number for the first edition, so I relied on the number that was in the copy I got from the library. I'm also going to apologize for the picture, another issue I had with first editions. This is what happens when I review an older book. Anyway, let's get right to the plot. Carson believes that uncontrolled and unexamined pesticide use is killing and harming much more than the intended targets of weeds and insects, going so far as to damage whole ecosystems. The title is suggesting a spring when so many birds have died that there is no singing.

Let me get straight to the point: this book was absolutely wonderful. Even when we are coming into the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Silent Spring and the pesticides mentioned have long been stopped in the United States, the book is filled with insight and information. Carson does not simply wag her finger at those who use DDT, dieldrin, aldrin, endrin, toxaphene, and heptachlor. She instead suggests better methods that I found extremely interesting, from introducing natural predators of invasive species to the sterilization of pests. Stories of birds, cats, and small children dying as a result of these chemicals the government brushed off as "harmless" are like a car crash: horrifying and yet terribly intoxifying. Rachel Carson is not a hysterical woman; she set out to make the world a better place.

Grade: A

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Grimm Legacy

The Grimm Legacy by Polly Shulman
Putnam Juvenile - July 8, 2010
325 pages

After writing a paper about the Brothers Grimm for her social studies teacher, Elizabeth is offered a job at the New York Circulating Materials Repository, which is sort of like a library for objects. Inside the repository there is a section known as the Grimm Collection, which is home to objects straight from the fairy tales. The magical objects soon begin to disappear, and so Elizabeth and her newfound friends must go on a quest to find the thief before they become the accused.

Let me begin with the obvious; yes, there is romance in this between the characters. The author intended it to be a twist with which characters ended up with the others, but I saw it a million miles away. In fact, as soon as the main four characters were introduced I knew what was going to happen in terms of love. I had a major issue with Shulman telling as opposed to showing things such as magic and the characters. The ending was thoroughly anticlimactic, and the romance that I was referring to earlier takes up the majority of the last two chapters for no other reason than to go deeper into a relationship that I simply did not care about. The protagonist's voice was that of a whiny teenage girl. She refuses to believe that she's in love because it's not with the guy she expected, and she says that dreams she has where she's with this boy are "nightmares". With a stronger, more independent protagonist at the reins and less "mystery" about the romance, The Grimm Legacy could have been good.

Grade: C

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Maze Runner

The Maze Runner by James Dashner
Delacorte Press - October 6, 2009
384 pages

Thomas wakes up in an elevator, remembering nothing but his own name. When the elevator opens, he finds out that there are others where he has woken up. These boys (yes, they are all boys) call themselves the Gladers as a reference to where they live, a place called the Glade. Thomas feels a connection to the Maze that is attached to the Glade and thinks that he is born to become a Runner, who travel the Maze every day trying to solve it. The next day, the first girl comes to the maze, and she comes bearing a mysterious note.

Here is one thing I am going to tell you right away; there were 72 maximum boys sent there, one every month, and yet they've only been there two years. This drove me crazy through the majority of the book, and so I'm going to tell you this, because though it's revealed at the end it isn't too much of a spoiler; a large group were sent at first. This is the first book in a planned series, so I was pleasently surprised to see how much of an ending there was. Of course, it wasn't a real ending, but more was resolved than other first books in a series. The book moved a little slowly in the beginning, so it felt rushed towards the end. The characters were not too well-developed, and Thomas would get out of a pinch too easily. Another thing I'm tiring of in fiction is when somebody's arrival changes it all, e.g. The Hunger Games. Give me a protagonist who's totally ordinary and who is just trying to figure out things like everybody else, without any special powers.

Grade: B-

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer by John Grisham
Hodder and Stoughton - May 25, 2010
263 pages

Theodore Boone is only thirteen years old, but he's a lawyer. Well, he thinks that he is. He knows every policeman, judge, lawyer, and court clerk in the city. When a murder shakes the town of Strattenburg, where Theo lives, the defendant is about to walk free. A witness has seen the crime in action and has enough evidence to convict the defendant, but as an illegal immigrant, he is petrified of the police coming to arrest him. Theodore Boone now must decide what he should do to make sure that justice is served.

This novel is riddled with inconsistencies, sexism, and false suspicions about eighth graders. Theodore Boone can name off all of the intricacies of Animal and Bankruptcy Courts, but yet has no clue of certain criminal court terms despite all the time he claims to have spent there. Theodore's school is segregated between boys and girls, and only the boy's Government class is allowed to watch the trial. The eighth grade girls don't seem to have any idea of what to do and rely on Theo to help them with their lives. Grisham thinks that no eighth graders would be interested in having boyfriends or girlfriends and that "they were assured they'd think differently later". What's later? Senior year of college? However, later, when the popular girl needs help in Animal Court, it's revealed that she has a new boyfriend every month. I now point to the beginning, where it says this book was published in 2010. In close to present-day Strattenburg, only half of eighth graders have phones, and they're all flip phones. With all of these things, there's little time to reveal an issue many readers had with this; there is no ending. In fact, almost nothing happens through the course of the book. So little happens that to fill pages the Animal Court and Bankruptcy Court subplots are thrown in. The second book is an entirely different plot. So apparently "no ending" is the ending.

Grade: D-

Chasing Lincoln's Killer

Chasing Lincoln's Killer by James L. Swanson
Scholastic Press - February 1, 2009
208 pages

The young adult version of Swanson's 2006 work Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, this book starts out with the following notice: "This story is true. All the characters are real and were alive during the great manhunt of April 1865. Their words are authentic and come from original sources: letters, manuscripts, trial transcripts, newspapers, government reports, pamphlets, books and other documents. What happened in Washington, D.C., that spring, and in the swamps and rivers, forests and fields of Maryland and Virginia during the next five days, is far too incredible to be made up."

Chasing Lincoln's Killer may be a book for young adults adapted from a book for adults, but it succeeds in possibly one of the greatest challenges of this feat; not talking down to the younger audience that it is now for. Another successful endeavor in Chasing Lincoln's Killer is the way that it is presented; instead of being bogged down with minute details and various alternate ideas, it is presented in the same manner as a fictional thriller. As this is nonfiction, I cannot say anything on "plot", "characters", or "setting", but the subject choice is excellent matter, as many more books are devoted to the time leading up to Lincoln's assassination than books devoted to the aftermath of Lincoln's assassination.

Grade: A-

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine
Philomel Books - April 15, 2010
224 pages

I'm not going to try to attempt to make this a good synopsis, so I'll just copy from what the inside cover tells you. I repeat, this is what they actually marketed to people.

In Caitlin's world, everything is black and white. Anything in between is confusing. That's the stuff her brother, Devon, always explained. But now Devon is dead, and her father cries a lot. She wants to help her dad--and herself!--but as a ten-year-old girl with Asperger's syndrome, she doesn't know how.
     She turns to textbooks and dictionaries, easy for Caitlin because they're full of facts in black and white. After reading the definition of Closure, Caitlin knows this is just what she and her father need. And she is determined to find it. In her search, she discovers that not everything is really black and white--the world is full of colors, messy and beautiful. Caitlin and her father can have Closure and Empathy, too.
     A warm and loving book that gives young readers a rare glimpse of a very special world and a brave and very special girl.

The synopsis should have been enough to deter you from the start. If you can tell by the cover, this book actually won an award. Several comments have been raised, and I'll bring to light two of them. First, the book is attempting too much at once. This is beyond true; it's trying to be how a community deals with a school shooting, how a girl copes with Asperger's, and how a family copes with loss of a family member all at once. Now, this would have been perfectly fine if it weren't for the fact that for the first one hundred and fifty pages or so, Caitlin does nothing important. She spends all of her time refusing to talk to people, crying about her dead brother, and crawling in a "hidey-hole" that her dead brother made for her. Also, the book's language appears cutesy and inauthentic. The author tries to make the voice sound like a child, but talks down to them instead. In addition, the narrator claims to have an adult reading level at age ten and is the best artist in the state of Virginia; nobody can compete with this, and youth especially are going to be deterred from how far above the protagonist is. One especially annoying thing I found about this was the fact that the language characters used were not in quotation marks, but rather in italics. Another irritating thing about the writing was the fact that words Caitlin was interested in were capitalized (Heart, Closure, and Empathy I remember right off the bat). All in all, there is little good in this book.

Grade: F

Saturday, October 13, 2012


Misery by Stephen King
Viking - June 8, 1987
320 pages

Paul Sheldon has finished his last historical romance novel featuring the heroine Misery Chastain, and he is finally freed from her forever, having killed her in the last novel. Now he has finished his new manuscript, Fast Cars, and feels that he can truly begin his writing life. When his car crashes and he is rescued by Annie Wilkes, she tells him that he will not be released from her home until she writes her back to life in a new novel just for her.
Meanwhile, Paul realizes that he has become addicted to a drug she gave him called Novril. He needs to shake his addiction and free himself from her oppression.

A friend gave me the book The Stephen King Story while I was reading this, and while it was horribly out-of-date, it had interesting insight into this novel. Apparently fans did not like The Eyes of the Dragon (those fans are crazy) because it was not horror. Therefore, the fact that Paul feels chained to the character of Misery Chastain by his fans, who hate any other book he tries to create, is a metaphor for King feeling chained to horror. That being said, I was thoroughly pleased with this novel. It moves much faster than most other Stephen King books, which is a major complaint that I have. The characters are fully developed even in the limited space, and the plot is strong. This is one of King's stronger works.

Grade: A

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Eyes of the Dragon

The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King
Viking - February 2, 1987
326 pages
In the realm of Delain, King Roland has two sons: Peter the firstborn and his younger brother Thomas. His wife Sasha died in childbirth when delivering Thomas. King Roland also has an advisor, named Flagg (yes, people, this is the same Flagg as from The Stand.) Flagg was responsible for the death of Sasha and he plans to kill King Roland, framing Peter, so that Thomas can be the new king of Delain instead. You see, Flagg has come back many times and has destroyed the kingdom each time. He cannot wait for the reign of Peter to be over before going to work.
I actually had to stop myself from reading too much at a time on this one. Between the fact that it is so short and the fact that there are 142 chapters means that I suffered from "Just One More" syndrome while reading this. The syndrome in question is where you decide to stop reading, but the next chapter is short, so you decide to read that, and you've already read another twenty chapters before you realize that all the chapters are short. That being said, I rejoice in this deviation from horror fiction by Stephen King; the world of Delain is richly imagined, and each of the characters are great foils to each other. King was looking for an archetypal land when he wrote this, but he did not get it. Not to say that's a bad thing.
Grade: A

Saturday, September 15, 2012


It by Stephen King
Viking - September 15, 1986
1138 pages
When Bill Denbrough's little brother George decides to float a paper boat for Bill, who is sick with the flu, things begin to happen. George falls and the boat is carried into the sewers, which are still flowing water from a large storm the night before. George looks in the sewers to see if he can see the boat, but he finds a clown named Pennywise instead. Pennywise offers him the boat back and a balloon, and when he reaches down to get them, the clown is filled with malice and attacks. So begin the 1958 killings of It.
This novel was... interesting, to say the least. It was told in a flip-flopping style that occasionally had me want to slow down just so I could keep track of what was happening in both 1958 and 1985 at the time that I was reading. In addition, for the last 100 pages or so I had no idea how they (spoiler alert!)kill It(spoiler end), as it was told at least three different ways, despite the fact that there should only be two maximum. I did, however, appreciate the references to Christine and The Shining.
Grade: C


Thinner by Stephen King as Richard Bachman
New American Library - November 19, 1984
309 pages
An arrogant and obese lawyer named Billy Halleck was driving across town when he ran over an old Gypsy woman. Someone who he believes to be the woman's husband only utters one word: "Thinner". Soon Billy starts to lose weight frighteningly quickly, and there are consequences for others as well. The judge who gave an unfair verdict to Billy begins to grow scales all over his body, and the town cop who helped to soft-pedal the charges against Billy is cursed with a horrifying case of acne.
Thinner was the horror novel of all horror novels that I have ever read. This was no dark fantasy, my favored genre that is rarely terrifying, but rather a truly gruesome, horrifying novel. Thinner is, as well, filled with surprises, such as what the Gypsy man's relation to the dead woman really is, and the signature Stephen King twist of the ending.
Grade: A-

The Talisman

The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub
Viking - November 8, 1984
646 pages

Jack Sawyer is a twelve-year-old boy whose mother is the famous Lily Sawyer (previously Lily Carvanaugh), known as Queen of the Bs back when she was acting. A man named Speedy Parker tells Jack that the reason his mother brought him to New Hampshire was because she was dying of cancer. Speedy then goes on to explain that there is another world called the Territories, and Jack's mother has a "twinner" (someone exactly like you under another name in the Territories) that is the queen. If Jack's mother dies, then Jack's evil uncle gets to be king of the Territories. He must top this by getting a talisman in California, flipping back and forth to save him from evils in the other world.

This, I believe, was one of Stephen King's best. It may be Peter Straub's helping, I'm not sure, but this was truly a wonderful work of fantasy. The Territories are a well-crafted land that is perfectly balanced between the modern and the medieval. My favorite character was Wolf, part of a group of "wolfs" (never wolves). These wolfs are werewolves that serve the Queen. Wolf's transformation was rooted in a strong, but not overpowering backstory. The story was fast-paced and actually picked up much earlier than other Stephen King books.

Grade: A

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd
Quality Comics - March 1982 to May 1989
10 issues

In "futuristic" (futuristic at the time, though the event is now in the past) London, the fascist government of Norsefire has control over everyone and has killed all those who were not white, conservative, and straight. London is controlled, until an anarchist named V in a Guy Fawkes mask ignites a revolution when he detonates a bomb in Parliament, setting off fireworks in the shape of a V. A woman named Evey Hammond, who he had saved earlier in the night, watches and comes to help him destroy Norsefire.

How is it that I am reading so many sexist books? Evey Hammond is an extraordinarily passive character, doing next to nothing throughout the course of the graphic novel. The most she does to help V is sit there and gasp when he sets off another one of his bombs. You think that she's becoming a stronger character when she's imprisoned, but it turns out (spoiler alert!)that it was all a trick by V in the first place. She "enjoys" her freedom by becoming the girlfriend of a Scottish gangster and only comes back when V dies. Finally, when V dies, she decides to become the next V, although by now London is already an anarchy, so there's not much she CAN do.(spoiler end) This was ridiculous.

Grade: D

The Call of the Wild

The Call of the Wild by Jack London
Macmillan - 1903
231 pages

Buck is a mix of a Saint Bernard and Scotch-Shepherd that has known nothing else than the comforting life of Judge's backyard. That is, until Miguel, a worker, has a debt to pay in gambling and can think of nothing else to give than his master's dog. Buck is shipped off to Seattle and is beaten by a man in a red sweater, giving him his first lesson in The Law of Club and Fang. Buck is bought by the French-Canadians Francois and Perrault, who make him part of a sled dog team. This begins Buck's adventure of changing masters and experiencing different levels of care.

Those that read The Call of the Wild told me this was going to be horrible, but I knew White Fang was excellent, so I decided that I should give it a shot. I was pleasantly surprised to see that this was a great adventure novel. While Buck may be all-dog, unlike White Fang, I definitely think that the two of them could be lead dogs together. At the same time, The Call of the Wild is not exactly the same as White Fang. The former is shorter and about a dog uprooted from his comfortable life, whereas the latter is longer and about a wolf-dog that lived in the wild before joining the sled team. Once again, though, there is racism in the "Yeehats", an American Indian tribe that behaves stereotypically. They are also much more violent than the Indians in White Fang.

Grade: A-

Cycle of the Werewolf

Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King
Land of Enchantment - November 1983
127 pages

Reverend Lester Lowe has always been revered in the Maine town of Tarker's Hills. However, that was before the beast attacked him and changed him into a monster that terrorized Tarker's Hills. Every month he changes into an anthropomorphic wolf with extreme strength that kills one person. However, nobody would suspect that the kind Reverend Lowe would be behind the murders until later, when Marty Coslaw notices that the Reverend has an eyepatch after Coslaw shot out one of the werewolf's eyes with firecrackers.

I don't really know if I can give this one a review being as it was so short (a Stephen King first; he has three in the thousand-plus club). That being said, the shortness gives Cycle of the Werewolf some serious faults. Each of the victims you rarely get a page or more of background knowledge about before they are finally offed by the werewolf. I would care more about their deaths if I had really gotten the chance to know them before. However, the fact that it is only around 125 pages means that it is a quick read and the action has to pick up quickly, unlike in Pet Sematary.

Grade: B

Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary by Stephen King
Doubleday - November 14, 1983
416 pages

Louis Creed and his family are moving from Chicago to the small town of Ludlow, Maine. He has a wife named Rachel, a kindergartener named Ellie, a two-year-old named Gage, and a cat named Winston Churchill (Church for short). Their neighbor is an elderly man named Jud Crandall. Jud and Louis become fast friends, and Jud warns the couple about the highway that passes by their house and shows them the pet cemetery (misspelled pet sematary). This causes Ellie distress, thinking about what would happen if Church died, and causes a fight between Louis and Rachel. A short while later, a college student named Victor Pascow leads Louis to believe strange things are happening.

If you don't like the last sentence because it's so mysterious, I apologize. I read this a while ago and didn't have the time to review it until now. One thing I found very distracting about Pet Sematary was the fact that Jud Crandall has a Yankee accent, one of the most annoying accents ever to be spoken (see Christine review). Another thing that I didn't particularly care for was the fact that nothing really seemed to happen that was suspenseful until the last fifty pages or so. When (spoiler alert!)Church gets run over on the highway but comes back to life(spoiler end), you assume that things are going to get strange, but yet they don't. They really don't get strange until the end, and by then you wonder why this couldn't have been accomplished in fewer than 416 pages.

Grade: C


Christine by Stephen King
Viking - April 29, 1983
526 pages

Arnie Cunningham noticed the 1958 Plymouth Fury when his best friend Dennis Guilder was driving him home from a day of high school, and he immediately wanted it. Roland LeBay, an elderly man with a back brace, sells Arnie the car for $250, though it will take much more to repair it. LeBay refers to the car as "Christine". Soon after, Roland LeBay dies suddenly and Dennis begins to notice a transformation in Arnie Cunningham. He and Arnie's girlfriend Leigh must work together to stop Arnie and Christine.

I appreciate the Philadelphia setting of this novel, a change from King's usual small-town Maine (which is occasionally filled with an annoying Yankee accent). However, what I do not appreciate is the overwhelming sexism in the novel. The one true female character (I'm not counting Christine here) is a teen-queen object of every man's affection, and she ends up doing little to stop Christine in the end of the novel.

Grade: B-

Monday, August 6, 2012


Fablehaven by Brandon Mull
Shadow Mountain - July 30, 2006
359 pages

Kendra and Seth Sorenson's grandparents (on their mom's side) died and left their parents with an adults-only cruise. That means that Kendra and Seth are supposed to stay with their grandparents on their father's side for seventeen days. The only problem is that they have pretty much no idea about Grandma and Grandpa Sorenson's lives. It turns out that their grandparents own a sanctuary for magical creatures called Fablehaven, and the majority of these creatures are dark and can destroy if they are let out. And when rules get broken, these things come out to play.

What book does this sound like to you? It could really be any children's fantasy novel. This is the same old plot that you know; kids go to a distant relative's house and learn that they have some strange connection with legendary creatures that were always believed to be false. The kids break rules and some mythical destroyer attacks. This was the most ridiculous, cliched children's book that I've ever read, though there aren't a lot of original plots in children's fantasy. There's actually a short series of comics about that at featuring Michael, a children's author. Still, they could have at least made an effort.

Grade: D

Thursday, August 2, 2012

No Animals Were Harmed: The Controversial Line Between Entertainment and Abuse

No Animals Were Harmed: The Controversial Line Between Entertainment and Abuse by Peter Laufer, Ph.D.
Lyons Press - October 18, 2011
272 pages

Animals have been used and abused for centuries, even millenia. Everyone has their own opinion: circus ringleaders insist that no animals are abused in their work, while animal rights advocates plead to stop it. So the question is, what is use and what is abuse? Is it black and white, or a gray line? Is there any kind of use that isn't abuse? If there is some use that isn't abusive, then what is it? What's okay and what's not? Homing pigeons? Sled dogs? Dancing bears? Elephant polo? Circuses? Cockfights and dogfights? Slaughterhouses? Horseback riding? Keeping a pet?

This is the first nonfiction book that I have gotten to review, and I am glad that it is a good one. I've always had opinions about the difference between use and abuse for animals, and so I wanted to see what they would have to think. One of the best things about the book, in my opinion, is that it doesn't say, like any other book, magazine, newspaper, or website about this topic, what is right and what is wrong. Instead, it asks you to think of what's right and what's wrong. Peter Laufer goes around the United States and Puerto Rico asking people who work with animals what they think. Obviously, cockfighters think that cockfighting isn't abuse and slaughterhouse owners think that eating meat isn't abuse. But they also pose questions for you. The one thing I wholly disagree with is a militant vegan who envisioned a world without any human interaction with animals. If an emaciated, dehydrated animal with a broken bone came to your door, would you turn it away because humans shouldn't interact with animals?

Grade: A

The Running Man

The Running Man by Stephen King as Richard Bachman
Signet Books - May 1982
219 pages

It is the year 2025, and citizens of Co-Op City are in for a spectacle; a competition known as "The Running Man", where contestants are officially declared to be "enemies of the state" and are hunted down by people known as Hunters, an elite team of hitmen hired by the Games Network. For each hour they survive, the contestant earns $100, and for each Hunter they kill they get another one hundred. If they stay alive for thirty days, they get one million New Dollars, or three million Old Dollars. Ben Richards has a sick daughter and needs money badly. His solution is to go to The Running Man.

Okay, it sounds sort of like The Hunger Games without that silly love triangle, right? Well, that's where you're wrong. It sounds sort of like The Hunger Games without that silly love triangle for about the first half. Then (spoiler alert!)Ben Richards gets into a huge police standoff---must be some kind of Richard Bachman trademark, having a police standoff---in which trades are negotiated, bluffs are made, and ultimately everyone dies. Not joking. This is the end of the book.(spoiler end!) I'm not saying that it was not necessarily a bad book, just not what I was expecting.

Grade: B-

Saturday, July 28, 2012


Cujo by Stephen King
Viking Press - September 8, 1981
319 pages

Cujo was always the friendliest St. Bernard in Castle Rock, Maine. He was always friendly towards the children, the only danger he posed to them would be crushing them in his friendliness. That was until he went off chasing rabbits. When Cujo gets stuck in a hole after running after a hare, a colony of bats comes flying from the trees, and one scratches Cujo on the nose. The St. Bernard has never had a rabies shot in his life, and he immediately becomes infected. The town of Castle Rock has a new terror.

I am glad that the car was replaced before I read this book. The main part of Cujo takes place with a standoff between Cujo and two people, a woman named Donna and her son Tad. The whole thing takes place in Donna's Pinto because the car breaks down, which was what the old car was about to do before it was replaced. The book itself was one of the better King novels I've read so far; the occasional lapses into the mind of Cujo while he was affected were something that I did not see coming. I saw the end of the movie, and the end of the novel itself is much darker. However, in my point of view, darker is better.

Grade: A-

Saturday, July 21, 2012


Roadwork by Stephen King as Richard Bachman
Signet Books - March 1981
274 pages

Barton George Dawes has a problem. Well, actually, he has a few problems. He lost his job. His wife left him. His son died of a brain tumor. Oh yeah, and they're going to build a highway through his house. That's also the reason he lost his job; caught in the path of the wrecking ball. Well, fine, he says. You can take my son, you can take my wife, and you can take my job. But you aren't going to take my house as long as I'm still standing here. So he goes right ahead and buys $900 worth of guns and some gasoline for Molotovs and decides that he's just going to destroy the superhighway. And along the way he becomes friends with a Mob boss and a hitchhiker.

I apologize for the poor description of the book, but that's pretty much how it was in my point of view. Yeah, they've taken everything but my house, so instead of look for a new house like a sensible person I'm going to blow up everything, get into a (spoiler alert!)stand-off with police(spoiler end), and if everything goes my way I'll have an empty house that I can't pay for. If nothing goes my way I'll end up in jail and they'll still destroy my house. A rock and a hard place. Except, he was the one that shaped the rock and molded the hard place. Sure, a brain tumor isn't your fault, but you could have saved your marriage, and the real reason he lost his job was because he refused to sign a paper to relocate it. Yup, the place was moving instead of closing. So I have a hard time encouraging someone who creates a bad situation. Stephen King originally said that this was horrible, but then later changed his mind and said it was the best of the Bachman Books. I agree with 1985-Steve.

Grade: D


Firestarter by Stephen King
Viking Press - September 29, 1980
426 pages

Charlie McGee has a power; she can start fires with her mind. This wasn't supposed to happen, of course, but it was a result of her parents. When they were in college, they took part in an experiment for a drug known as "Lot Six" by a goverment agency known as The Shop. When Andy McGee and Victoria Tomlinson participated in this experiment, they retained minor psychic effects. However, that laboratory was where they fell in love. They ended up getting married and had Charlie. Because they both retained minor abilities, Charlie was born with major abilities. The Shop wants Charlie, and they killed Victoria for information. Now Charlie and Andy are on the run.

One problem I had with this book was the fact that a horse named Necromancer was given major significance and then has no end. (Spoiler alert!)Charlie and Andy get captured by The Shop, and they realize that if they don't want Charlie to burn the whole place down, they have to be nice to her. She likes horses, so they show her Necromancer and she learns to ride. When Andy and an officer named Cap plan to escape with Charlie, they decide that she can say she's going to ride Necromancer and then escape. When Charlie burns down the barn, Necromancer escapes and is never seen again. Seems like a waste of forty or so pages about a horse that eventually just runs wild.(Spoiler end) The description could be overpowering at times, but it was okay. Not his greatest, but okay.

Grade: B

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Dead Zone

The Dead Zone by Stephen King
Viking Press - August 1979
428 pages

After winning big at the Wheel of Fortune at the county fair, Johnny Smith takes his sick girlfriend Sarah home and then jumps in a cab, planning to go straight to his home. Today is not Johnny Smith's lucky day, however. The taxicab gets caught in an accident that kills the driver and puts Johnny into a coma for five years. When he wakes up, he needs extreme surgery on his legs, arms, and neck, but that's not all. When Johnny wakes up, he realizes that he's psychic.

Okay, that doesn't even begin to describe the plot of the book, but I couldn't reveal any more without giving it away. That alone is about the first 75 or so pages of the book. The reason that it doesn't even begin to describe the plot is because there isn't just one plot. And yet, it's all (for the most part) in Johnny's viewpoint. The problem is that this would do better as a book series or a television show (it actually was a TV show from 2002-2007). It cannot follow one storyline. Storylines are finished at various intervals, and a new one begins. Very few loose ends were tied up at the end, and the ending seemed like an easy way out of the book. I'll allow you this one bomb, Steve. But next time you'll be getting a letter and a copy of the review.

Grade: D

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Long Walk

The Long Walk by Stephen King as Richard Bachman
Signet Books - July 1979
384 pages

In future America, the ultimate sports competition is an annual walking contest known as "The Long Walk". All boys over the age of twelve take a physical and mental exam. One in fifty passes. Those who pass, up to the age of eighteen, are put in a drawing to get selected for The Long Walk. Two hundred are chosen; the first one hundred are Prime, meaning that they walk immediately. The other hundred are back-up, in case Prime walkers decide that they're terrified of The Long Walk and refuse to do it. Garraty is a Prime walker who will not back out.

I am dismayed by the sexism in this book to start. I understand that in most totalitarian dystopian societies men would be given more opportunities than women for any number of reasons, but this is a new level. Since walkers are allowed to have contact with anyone in the crowd as long as they stay on the road, walkers who have girlfriends will kiss and grab at girls in skimpy clothing in the crowd. They also talk about their women as objects that they can use to their will. Sexism aside, I found this novel interesting. (I also find it hard to believe that the original edition was 384 pages. I read it as part of the Bachman Books). While most of the walkers succumbed to physical tests, such as being shot after slowing down too much, some of them took a mental turn for the worse when the threat of death was continually being used. Sometimes a walker would be so beaten and bloody that they believe death would be better than continuing to walk. Another interesting novel from King's dystopian-favoring pseudonym.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Stand: Complete & Uncut Edition

The Stand: Complete & Uncut Edition by Stephen King
Doubleday - May 1990
1153 pages

The goverment has messed up, and a deadly superflu virus was released. As planned in the case of this event, the building of contamination was put on lockdown. And yet, Charles Campion managed to evade this and became patient zero of a disease that would be responsible. Nineteen days later, and the superflu virus, known as "Captain Trips", has killed 99.4% of the population. The survivors receive dreams of two figures: ultimate good comes in the form of a 108-year-old woman named Abagail Freemantle, where evil is embodied in the man who calls himself Randall Flagg.

Do not read this book if you are not up for some heavy reading. As I said, it is 1153 pages. There are a few full-page pictures, but the picture does not count as a page in King's world. I also will start by saying that I had high expectations for this novel. It was dystopian and contained one of the staples of high fantasy: the ultimate battle of good versus evil. However, what I did not care for was the attribution of certain animals to evil. The "good" animals died in the plague, and those are dogs and horses, which I am fine with, but apparently my favorite animals survived. I liked this until it was revealed that they were not killed because they are "evil": wolves, crows, and cats. These animals have all had bad reputations, but it is unfair, in today's age, to say that they are servants of the devil, or even the devil's imp. As for the characters, some had their flaws, but others were archetypes. Unfortunately, the archetypes were the ones that survived.

Grade: B

Sunday, June 24, 2012


Rage by Stephen King as Richard Bachman
Signet Books - September 13, 1977
211 pages

Charlie Decker is called to meet with his principal after attacking his chemistry teacher with a wrench. His anger with the principal causes him to let out a string of insulting remarks, resulting in his expulsion. Once he's expelled, he goes to his locker, burns all of the things he no longer needs, destroys his health book, and takes a pistol from his locker, as well as a few bullets. He walks back into class, and a single gunshot kills his algebra teacher and turns his senior class into hostages.

This novel is extremely hard to come by today in bookstores; it fell out of print in the United States and was taken out of recent editions of The Bachman Books after it was attributed to multiple high school shootings. I got a copy from the library as part of an old copy of The Bachman BooksRage was an incredibly fast read, and not just becaus it was short. I read the whole book in an hour and a half. I didn't sympathize with Charlie, so I wasn't inspired to shoot up my school, but instead I feel like he was falling into the dark chasm of psychological disorder. The characters, while they had extremely similar names that I often confused, developed personalities on their own in the four-hour standoff that Charlie keeps them. Rage is not your average story of a kid who's pushed too far and opens fire; instead it's the story of all twenty-five high school seniors who had algebra second period that day.

Grade: A-

The Shining

The Shining by Stephen King
Doubleday - January 1977
447 pages

After ex-alcoholic and writer Jack Torrance gets fired from his job on the debate team at a New England prep school for injuring a student, he'll take any job he can to get the money. The job in mind for him is to be the caretaker of the Overlook for the winter, a mysterious Colorado hotel that the cook says is home to some horrible things. His son Danny has what is known as "the shine", telepathic abilities that make him sensitive to supernatural forces. The cook warns him to stay out of room 217, and that if there's any trouble he can just call using his powers.

The Shining, like other Stephen King novels I've red, started off incredibly slowly, but then picked up the pace much later. The topiary animals were extremely frightening to me, as well as the transformation of Jack Torrance. I thought that some parts were unneccessary when they were happening, such as the repeated mentioning of the boiler, but it turned out to be neccessary in the end. The scene where (spoiler alert!)Wendy stabs Jack with a butcher knife, but he turns out to be alive and comes at her again with the roque mallet(spoiler end) was one of the most frightening things I have read. This was a truly great example of horror fiction, and it made me scared to go to a hotel in Colorado.

Grade: B+

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

'Salem's Lot

'Salem's Lot by Stephen King
Doubleday - October 17, 1975
439 pages

Ben Mears, a popular writer, lived in Jerusalem's Lot when he was young, and left as soon as he could. But now, twenty-five years later, he feels a strange, compelling urge that pulls him back to the Lot. He decides to make his new book about the Marsten House, a house that was owned by a couple whose marriage was ruined in the Depression when Hubert Marsten killed his wife and then himself. Now, after all this time, the house has been purchased by two men named Barlow and Straker, who are not what they seem.

This novel began extremely slowly. I knew that something was going to happen when Ben came back as well as when the house was found to be purchased, but the vampire plot didn't surface until much later in the story, when (spoiler alert!)Danny Glick, who died following his little brother Ralphie being taken in the woods, rose from the grave and killed the gravedigger(spoiler end) that the real action began. Afterwards, it moved quickly. Sometimes, though, it seemed like King was looking for an easy way out, like when a vampire who was invited in was repelled by the invitation being revoked, something that seems too easy to do. Some of the many viewpoints got confusing or I did not care about. There were also many "crash test dummies", as mentioned in my Mockingjay review. As for characterization, some characters felt like archetypes while others were developed. I would be interested in seeing how Ben Mears would have written this story.

Grade: B

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Fahrenheit 451

R.I.P. Ray Bradbury (1920-2012)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Ballantine Books - 1953
179 pages

Guy Montag was a fireman, but not the kind of fireman that you'd expect. He doesn't put out fires---he starts them. But only when it comes to books. Books are outlawed in Bradbury's futuristic America, and anyone who reads them is put in prison while their books burn. Montag has never questioned his line of work, until a 17-year-old girl named Clarisse McClellan makes him rethink everything he's been told.

I read this book twice. The first time, I read it simply for leisure purposes and I feel like I missed the point a little. Then, a month later, I had to read it again. The second time I was made to analyze it closer, and I feel like I got more out of it. The only problem is how slow it is. The three parts to it are called "The Hearth and the Salamander," "The Sieve and the Sand", and "Burning Bright", but I think that they should be more like "A Day in the Life of Montag", "Montag Keeps Books But No One Notices Yet", and "Something Happens but the Book is Almost Over". I was also very frightened with the fact that when Guy Montag meets Clarisse, he falls out of love with his wife and in love with her. That didn't seem necessary and was rather creepy.

Grade: B-

The Time Machine

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
William Heinemann - 1895
216 pages

The Time Traveller hosts a dinner party one night to tell his guests that he has made a miniature version of a time machine, but he is laughed off. A week later, he invites them back for another dinner party, where he says that he has been to the future and begins to recount his tales in the year 802,701 A.D., where mankind has shifted itself into two forms: pale, naïve creatures called the Eloi, and apelike, light-fearing beasts called the Morlocks, who feed on the Eloi.

I was forced to read this book. If I weren't, I would probably have read it sometime later in life, when I felt like I wasn't really living until I read such classics as this and Dracula (which I still have not read). If I had read it later in life, I probably would have been more disappointed with The Time Machine than I already am. I did not feel one bit of emotion for the Time Traveller during his journeys because the fact that he was recounting them to us means that he could not have been in too much peril, otherwise he would not be telling them to us. If it were happening in the moment, while he were getting attacked by Morlocks and more, then it would have been better. The startling lack of characterization did not help the story either. The Time Traveller seemed nothing more than any old scientist who has an extravagant idea that he feels he simply must do, otherwise he will be mocked forever. The book moved along quite slowly, to the point where I felt like I needed Sparknotes to find out what just happened. I feel sorry for the person who had to write Sparknotes for it, because they must have had to pick through for some sort of meaning.

Grade: D-


Carrie by Stephen King
Doubleday - April 5, 1974
199 pages

Carietta White was never the popular girl. Far from it. She was the girl who got picked on. Since first grade, she's been the victim of attacks from her peers because of her religious beliefs, her outdated clothing, and her bovine appearance. At home, her mother abuses her emotionally and physically. What nobody knows about Carrie, though, is that she is possessed of an extraordinary power, and when people take it too far, they are going to pay.

This novel was the first Stephen King book I have ever read, the first of over fifty in my summer quest to read all of his full-length novels in chronological order. I had high hopes for Carrie, and it somewhat disappointed. It went much slower than I anticipated, and it was hard for me to put it down not because I was so invested in Carrie's life, but because there were few good places to stop in the story. Unlike the next book (which I am currently reading), 'Salem's Lot, there are no real chapters, or chapters-within-chapters, which King later becomes quite fond of, like in The Gunslinger. I finally accepted the obvious: I was going to have to almost always stop right before one of the fictional documents to avoid reading 120 pages at a time. Personally, my lack of interest in the book I don't believe was King's fault. It was just that I knew what was going to happen because of popular culture. If I had no idea that Carrie was going to (spoiler alert?)burn down the school(spoiler end?), the book probably would have been much better.

Grade: B

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
Scholastic Publishing/Amulet Books - April 1, 2007-present
217 pages (Cabin Fever 223)

Greg Heffley is a middle school boy whose mother gets him a journal that accidentally says "Diary" on it. That's how it starts, and Greg chronicles his progress through middle school (and I assume high school, though there was no graduation) in the diary all while hoping nobody finds out about what it says on the cover.

Let me just say that I got on this trend before it was really popular. I know a lot of people say that, but it's true. It was right after the first book came out that I sat down in a bookstore and started reading, and I thought to myself, "Hey, this is pretty funny!" It took a little while for everyone else to get on the trend. I don't read a lot of humor books, and so this was something different to me. Also, most humor on the market is just pictures, like Cake Wrecks or Passive-Aggressive Notes. This was humor with a plot. I have some problems with the series, as Kinney tries to make sure that any kids reading this don't have their hopes and dreams crushed, but what eighth grader really believes in Santa anymore? The plot sometimes feels a little thin at times, but these books zip right along. It's almost a waste of money with how fast you finish them, but then you read them again...and again...and again.

Cumulative Grade: B+

Bambi, A Life in the Woods

Bambi, A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten
Paul Zsolnay Verlag - 1923 (English in 1928)
192 pages (1988 Aladdin edition)

Bambi, a roe deer buck, is born in a thicket in a forest, where he doesn't know it yet, but he is the son of the old Prince, a stag who rules over the forest. Salten follows the young prince through is life, where death abounds, but there is also beauty and grace.

Let me begin by saying that this is not a novel for the faint of heart. I am sure that many have seen the Disney animated movie Bambi on which this was based, but his is a much, much darker book. Bambi's mother (spoiler alert?) dies in the book as well as the movie (spoiler end?) but many other characters face a grim end, including but not limited to (spoiler alert!) Gobo, Bambi's cousin, a pheasant, the old Prince, and a fox. (spoiler end) This is a quick-paced book that was greatly enjoyable to read. Unlike other classics, because it uses animal allegory, it never becomes old. Men still use guns and like to go out hunting; that's the only thing that may have changed in almost 90 years. Some deaths I thought were unnecessary, but Salten seemed to have really liked going out of his way to explain the gruesomeness of humans when they destroy nature. If he were still alive, I would tell him Brava!

Grade: A-

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

To The King a Daughter

To The King a Daughter by Andre Norton and Sasha Miller
Tor Fantasy - June 18, 2001
320 pages

There are four Houses: Oak, Yew, Ash, and Rowan. They have lived in harmony for centuries, but things are changing. The current king of the kingdom of Rendel, Boroth, is a drunkard Oak, and the queen, Ysa, is a scheming magician and Yew. Oak is slowly beginning its descent, and Ash and Rowan are almost dead. Yew, on the other hand, thrives. All that may change, however. After a prophecy predicting Ash overthrowing the queen, Ysa has seen to it that no Ash survives, but in the mysterious Boglands, a magician woman takes care of the last surviving Ash daughter after the mother dies.

This book moved rather slowly for my tastes. There are twenty-three chapters in Norton and Miller's novel, and it is only well into the teens that the characters begin to come together from their separate storylines. On the bright side, this should have allowed for ample time for characterization, which it did for Ashen, the protagonist and forementioned Ash daughter. On the other hand, I never felt for Queen Ysa's pain, even though chapters were written trying to feel sorry for her. Why Norton would have done this when we are supposed to be cheering against her, I do not know. There is a map in the beginning of the book that shows the Boglands as south of Rendel, yet there are multiple references to them being north or west, the latter being impossible since Rendel borders the ocean. I do not understand the Sea Rovers' importance in all of this and never really felt for them. This was the first Andre Norton book I've read, and I have heard good things about all the others, so I hope they are better. Will I read Knight or Knave, the second book? It depends on what else I'm doing.

Grade: B

The Lost Hero

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
Disney-Hyperion - October 12, 2010
553 pages

Jason wakes up on a school bus without remembering anything from his past. Others tell him that the girl next to him, Piper McLean, is his girlfriend, and the guy by him is his best friend, Leo Valdez. He goes to a school for troubled children that has a teacher named Gleeson Hedge, and the class is going on a field trip to the Grand Canyon. While there, some extraordinary things happen that make Jason, Piper, and Leo question their heritage and start on a quest to save the world in the extremely popular short timespan.

Do not read this book. I am not telling you because this book is bad, but rather because if you try to read this book you will be inclined, no matter what I say, to read the second book, The Son of Neptune, which I was not able to get through. Save yourself the temptation and just do not read The Lost Hero. If you feel that you must, I'll tell you what you need to know about it. The characterization is pretty sloppy. There are stock characters here: Jason is the amnesiac hero, Piper is the poor girl who just never gets Daddy's attention, and Leo is the wild child. The thrown-in subplot about how Percy is missing seems like an excuse to get a couple extra pages in, which Riordan did not need. The second book could possibly have been saved if it were given a different plot instead of expanding on the Percy subplot. Percy, Grover, Annabeth, and other important Percy Jackson people should have been teachers. Still, it's an escape, and I will give it that. Percy Jackson and the Olympians was a good series, however, and it should have been left at that.

Grade: C+

Saturday, May 12, 2012

White Fang

White Fang by Jack London
Macmillan - May 1906
298 pages (2001 Scholastic paperback)

In the Yukon Territory, a canid is born. He is the son of a wild canid and a tamed one. He is three-quarters wolf, one-quarter dog. His name is White Fang. This cub is born in a cave with his mother and siblings, but he soon goes on a series of adventures throughout North America, featuring owners good and bad, owners lax and strict, and places cold and warm. Throughout the course of the story, he grows up and learns more about himself.

To be truthful, I didn't have the highest hopes for this novel. I know people who have read another Jack London novel, specifically The Call of the Wild, and they said that it as horribly boring. Fortunately, White Fang is another story. It took me a while to get into London's writing, but when I did I didn't want to put my Kindle down. I felt true sympathy for this dog when (spoiler alert!)he was forced to fight, and when he was stolen away from an owner.(spoiler end) There was a bit of racism about the Native American characters, but it was to be expected for an early-1900s Caucasian man. Plus, the characters are around for such a brief period of time that it couldn't bother me too much. Overall, the novel was an intriguing look into a long-suffering canine, one that will be followed by such tales as A Dog's Life or Doglands.

Grade: A

Friday, May 11, 2012


Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic - August 24, 2010
390 pages

While heroine Katniss Everdeen was participating in the 75th annual Hunger Games, her home District, 12, was firebombed by the Capitol as a sign of revenge for revolutionary Katniss. The few survivors are hiding out in District 13, long believed to be wiped out but truthfully living underground, out of sight. Katniss is their "Mockingjay", their mascot, if you will. She accepts her position to lead the Districts to victory, but must first save her love, Peeta.

Okay, let me just say that the love triangle was much less of a problem for me this time because there was the constant threat of death. Yes, death. People were dying all over the place in Mockingjay. Rebels were being introduced in one chapter and were dying in the next. Some of the death seemed like it was thrown in just to make you cry, such as (spoiler alert!)the totally unnecessary and depressing death of Prim, Katniss's sister.(spoiler end) I was somewhat to moderately pleased with the ending, but there were some tangents that weren't tied up in the end. Characterization was, like before, fine with the main characters, but with the "crash test dummies" of characters made just to die, they served their soulless purpose without a shred of information on personality.

Grade: B

Sunday, May 6, 2012

I Take Requests!

If you have a book that you've always wanted to read but you want to know what it's like to avoid wasting money, just leave a comment on any one of my pages saying the title and the name of the author. I love reviewing, really. Plus I've got a giant stack of "to read" books in my home and I'm burning through them frighteningly quick. I'll need something soon.

Much thanks!
- Night Puma

Catching Fire

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic - September 1, 2009
391 pages

It is the 75th annual Hunger Games, which means it's time for the Quarter Quell. This is done every number divisible by twenty-five and means that something special is being done. In this case, the past winners will have to go back into the arena and fight to the death again. Katniss is the only female victor from District 12, which means that no matter what, she's going back.

The useless love story from the first book is back, only it's even worse than before. The story has been transfigured unsettlingly from a "fight for your life" kind of book to a fake diary kept by the author of what she hopes out of her love life. I am not suggesting anything about Suzanne Collins, who by the way is married, but rather saying that the original premise of the series was a girl archer forced to kill in an arena to avoid death, but this second book has warped it into the kind of nasty romance story that a middle-aged fat woman would write to make up for her failed love life. The ending, however, is powerful. Not to mention I like Johanna from District 7.

Grade: C+

Zach's Lie

Zach's Lie by Roland Smith
Hyperion Book CH - April 28, 2003
224 pages

Jack Osbourne has a problem. His father, who left commercial airlines a few years back to fly privately, has been shipping illegal drug cartel for gang lord Alonzo Aznar. But now his dad got caught, and the police are going to let him off if he can tell them about Alonzo. The drug lord isn't going to let that happen, though, so he attacks Jack and his family at home. The police have assigned them to the Witness Protection Program, and Jack, now Zach, and his family have been relocated to the small town of Elko, Nevada, and one false step could have Alonzo back on their heels.

Zach is not the brightest character I have ever seen. He makes a lot of ridiculous mistakes that make it hard to sympathize with him when (not so much of a spoiler alert!)Alonzo finally finds them and wants to kill them. (not so much of a spoiler end) I like the supporting characters though, the custodian Sam and his crush Catalin, who both get him out of the worthless trouble he creates. Captain IF, Zach's imaginary friend, was a pointless attempt at humanity/a recollection of childhood, especially since the little astronaut guy gets broken and shipped off more times than I can count. Smith could have easily cut down on the amount of pages in the book if he had gotten rid of Captain IF as well as flashbacks to when Zach broke both of his legs jumping out of a window. Part of me wants to see how things would have shaken out if Zach had been extremely careful, but Alonzo had still found them through spies, battering people until they give up what they know, et cetera. The other part of me wants to see how my life would be affected if this book didn't exist. At least it's short.

Grade: D

The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Scholastic - September 14, 2008
374 pages

In the futuristic world of Panem, there are twelve Districts ruled by the Capitol. Seventy-four years ago, the Districts rebelled, but they were easily crushed. As penance for their crimes, the Districts are to send two "tributes", one boy and one girl, into the arena of the Hunger Games, a televised event where they are to fight to the death. The last one standing gets much glory. District 12, the home of Katniss Everdeen, has had two winners. When Katniss' sister Rue, only twelve years old, gets chosen, Katniss volunteers and is thrown into the fray.

As far as characterization, one of my most checked qualities, Games gets a mixed review. The main characters are sufficiently developed, but secondary characters such as Effie Trinket, the Capitol ambassador to District 12, and some of the unnamed tributes, seem to have only one personality trait that their entire essence is conceived around. When it comes to the tributes, that personality trait is shared with the entire rest of the district. The plot is intricate, and the writing is extremely fast-paced, providing a nice escape from the real world for a few hours. However, the Gale-Katniss-Peeta love triangle seems like a monkey wrench thrown into a dystopian escape as a clever plot to lure more female readers in. Heads up, Suzanne Collins! We girls don't need a girl fretting over who she really loves to get us to read! Just give us a well-characterized girl with strengths and weaknesses, and it wouldn't hurt to give her a bit of wit. Oh yeah, and develop your characters. Otherwise, you're doing everything right.

Grade: B+

Found (The Missing, Book 1)

Found (The Missing, Book 1) by Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers - April 22, 2008
314 pages

Thirteen years ago, a plane filled with nothing but thirty-six screaming babies arrives mysteriously (one second it's not there, the next it is) on the runway of Sky Trails Airlines. Angela DuPre inspects, and the name of the airline the plane is from is called Tachyon Travel. A tachyon is a particle that travels faster than the speed of light. Thirteen years later Jonah, who is adopted, begins getting strange letters in the mail starting with one that says "You are one of the missing." This starts a large-scale investigation into who is sending this, who the other missing are, and what the sender wants with them.

I find Jonah to be very plain. This is simply my opinion, but he is. He has no distinguishing characteristics about him, a bad thing, but he doesn't mope about how he isn't special, which is good. If he were real and if he were not one of the missing, who if you haven't guessed by now are the babies on the plane, I probably would not have cared about him at all. He probably would have gone on his merry little way, and when he moves away or I do I'd forget about him, and when we all come back for a reunion and he introduces himself, I would not have the foggiest idea of who he was. Because I do not care, I do not feel sympathy with him. His best friend Chip's life is sheltered, his sister Katherine is obnoxious, Angela is whiny at the beginning and boring at the end, et cetera et cetera. I either loathe them or am indifferent to them. As for the science fictional aspects of the story, Haddix spends too much time explaining what they are and too little time showing what happens. She does that with descriptons of everything as well. Rooms, people, furniture, anything that Haddix sees in her mind she has to copy every detail about it, especially if it's right in the middle of an action scene. This book is ridiculous, and I definitely will not be reading Sent.

Grade: F

The Contender

The Contender by Robert Lipsyte
Harper Teen - October 11, 1967
192 pages

Alfred Brooks is a high school dropout who works at Lou Epstein's grocery store in Harlem to make a living but spends his nights with a street gang. One night information slips about how this night the Epsteins leave money in the cash register, and the gang is out there in a flash. Too bad Alfred forgot about the silent alarm. Now gang member James is in jail, and the others--Sonny, Hollis, and Major--are out to get him for this. Alfred is scared, and he knows that the only way he'll be able to protect himself is if he knows how to fight back. So he joins Donatelli's Gym to learn how to be a boxer. Donatelli tells him that everyone jumps in wanting to be a champion, but you have to start by being a contender.

There was an original premise to this book. There was. In 1967, when it was published, this was relatively original. Now it has been copied over and over, and there is no way to claim that this was the original. The plot may be original and creative, yes, but what about the rest? When it comes to characters, Lipsyte spends an exceedingly long amount of time developing them from archetypes into some semblance of an actual human being, with deep levels of psyche. Of course this can never be truly accomplished in a book, but the first time I thought of Alfred as something more than an archetype was in chapter 18, and there are only twenty chapters in the entire book. As for the setting, since I wasn't alive in 1967 I wouldn't know how popular certain locations were in settings, but Harlem seems a bit overdone and stock-y. When it comes to the dialogue, it seems more or less wooden, as if there were automatons instead of humans. If that's the case, it explains the lack of character development.

The plot is good, though, and that's the second most important thing in a novel. The first being character, of course. (The total order is character, plot, dialogue, writing, setting).

WARNING: This book contains violence, language, and drug use, among other things. Please know what you are reading before you read it.

Grade: C+

The Master Puppeteer

The Master Puppeteer by Katherine Paterson
Thomas Crowell - 1975
179 pages

Jiro is a thirteen-year-old boy in eighteenth-century Osaka, Japan and extremely poor. His family is always telling him that he's messing up and he's tired of it. So he joins the Hanaza, a puppet theater, where he is mentored by Yoshida Kinshi, the puppet master's son. Meanwhile, a thief by the name of Saburo is acting like a Japanese Robin Hood, gagging merchants and policemen and giving back to the night rovers, a group of sometimes violent beggars.

Let me start off by saying that I always choose the picture of the first edition cover, and this is probably not the cover that you will be seeing if you get the book. The cover you will be seeing is to the left, of the mass market paperback 1989 edition. And that cover is possibly one of the most frightening things you will ever see. So don't read this late at night or some other time when you might fall asleep lest you wake up and see it.

Now we can actually get down to business. The novel is extremely bad. I felt sympathy for Jiro when he was poor, but later he gets some money from the Hanaza that he doesn't need because they provide everything for him. At this time (spoiler alert!) his mother is a night rover. Meanwhile Kinshi is going out late and giving his money to some of the night rovers, but he doesn't know who Jiro's mom is. So Jiro asks if he can come with and give money to his mother, but Kinshi says that it's too dangerous. So instead of saying "What do you know?" and going anyway like any other hero would, Jiro just mopes and stays back at the Hanaza.(spoiler end) That's right, Jiro is the kind of person who gives up after being told no, just like every interesting hero. Some of the so-called "surprises" aren't very surprising, and some was just thrown in for a little pizzaz, for example when (spoiler alert!) the night rovers set fire to the Hanaza after the puppet master refuses to give them food by throwing lanterns at the straw. Where do beggars get expensive oil lanterns anyway?(spoiler end) Also, I have no idea where the climax was supposed to be, because all the action Jiro just seemed to wriggle his way out of in a few paragraphs with little description.

Katherine Paterson's fingers should have beeen controlled by Yoshida so she knew what to write. The only redeeming quality of the book was how short it was.

Grade: D-