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-


Warriors by Erin Hunter (Kate Cary, Cherith Baldry, Victoria Holmes, and Tui Sutherland)
HarperCollins - January 21, 2003 to present
Around 300 pages for regular, around 500 for Super Edition and 175 for field guide

Fire alone can save our Clan...
For generations, four Clans of wild cats have shared the forest according to the laws laid down by the powerful ancestors. But the warrior code is threatened, and the ThunderClan cats are in grave danger. The sinister ShadowClan grows stronger every day. Noble warriors are dying -- and some deaths are more mysterious than others.
In the midst of this turmoil appears an ordinary housecat named Rusty . . . Who may yet turn out to be the bravest warrior of them all.

I have calculated it, and there are a cumulative fifty-two books in the Warriors series to date (18 April 2013, as of the update), with seven more expected for release by 2014. I have not even read all of them. As a result of this, I am reviewing the series as a whole. The excerpt above is from the first novel of the first arc, Into the Wild.

The idea of having feral cats in the wild that act like cats with the exception of the use of language was rather original at the time, with the only comparative novels being Tailchaser's Song (which I have reviewed) and The Wild Road (which I am currently reading). Warriors is often compared to Redwall, but the Redwall series is much more anthropomorphic.

The authors who make up the pseudonym Erin Hunter have clearly studied cats, and it's evident in their writing. As someone who has a rather active cat who was feral for her first year of life, I know that she acts rather like a ThunderClan warrior. There are also a wide variety of characters with a wide variety of names, and I applaud the Erin Hunters on their creation of so many original names. Some fans boo straying from the original suffixes like -heart, -tail, and -fur in the later books, where -light, -frost, and -flight are used, but I think it allows for a wider amount of Warriors personalities.

Every time I think that the authors of Warriors are going to suffer from reversion to an overdone plot, they find something creative to do. The first arc is much about Fireheart of ThunderClan's struggle against the power of Tigerclaw, a power-hungry tabby with a penchant for revenge. The second arc is about the Clan's journey to a new home after humans attack. The third arc is about an ancient prophecy given to Fireheart about his grandchildren, and the fourth is more religious in a sense, as it deals with Warriors heaven and hell (StarClan and the Place of No Stars). The Super Editions deal with a forgotten Clan, half-warriors, and the older leaders.

Many characters, especially those in ThunderClan, can be highly developed by the authors' allowance to have a minor character take the lead, even if only for a few chapters at a time. The original arc may be devoted to Fireheart, but Cinderpaw is the real star of Fire and Ice, and Brightpaw and Swiftpaw of A Dangerous Path. There is no real star of the later arcs, as it is divided between cats, and Flametail, a formerly minor character, gets a starring role in Night Whispers.

Sometimes the authors may suffer from a bit of a relapse, especially with characters (Heavystep, a ShadowClan warrior, died three times). However, with so many books and characters, they're doing the best that they can.

Cumulative Grade: A-

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story

Animal Farm: A Fairy Story by George Orwell
Secker and Warburg - August 17, 1945
112 pages

This is a classic tale of humanity awash in totalitarianism. A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. First published during the epoch of Stalinist Russia, today it is clear that wherever and whenever freedom is attacked, and under whatever banner, the cutting clarity and savage comedy of Orwell's masterpiece is a message still ferociously fresh.

(Spoiler level: Minor/nonexistent)

I have read this book more times than I can count. It is my favorite novel. I have done all kinds of projects about this novel. I converted excerpts of this novel into different fonts to see which ones were more readable. I have an Animal Farm t-shirt from Out of Print Clothing (look it up, it's awesome). I quote it frequently. I sing "Beasts of England" when I'm bored. Some people I know think that this obsession is unhealthy, but I don't care.

The first time that I read this book was at a very young age when I thought that it was just a story about animals. The second time I was a few years older and knew that it was supposed to be about Stalinist Russia, but I was still pretty young and ended up overthinking it and searching for a greater meaning that I couldn't find when I was younger. Then I saw the 1959 cartoon animated movie and thought that I really couldn't remember that much about it, so I went back and enjoyed it again, this time being able to make the connections. A time after that I read it to enjoy it as a story, just like when I was six. Now every time I have insomnia I read at least half of it, which really isn't too much when you think about it.

That's what's so great about Animal Farm. You can read it as an animal story and as a metaphor. Not to mention, you can find multiple metaphors in it, as books about the novel show. Yes, it's about Stalinist Russia, but think of the treatment of the female animals on the farm compared to the male animals! You can appreciate Orwell's fiction writing as well as his satire.

As I said, it is truly my favorite novel.

Grade: A+

Saturday, May 5, 2012

City of Bones

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare.
Margaret K. McElderry Books - March 27, 2007
496 pages

When fifteen-year-old Clary Fray heads out to the Pandemonium Club in New York City, she hardly expects to witness a murder—much less a murder committed by three teenagers covered with strange tattoos and brandishing bizarre weapons. Then the body disappears into thin air. It’s hard to call the police when the murderers are invisible to everyone else and when there is nothing—not even a smear of blood—to show that a boy has died. Or was he a boy?

This is Clary’s first meeting with the Shadowhunters, warriors dedicated to ridding the earth of demons. It’s also her first encounter with Jace, a Shadowhunter who looks a little like an angel and acts a lot like a jerk. Within twenty-four hours Clary is pulled into Jace’s world with a vengeance, when her mother disappears and Clary herself is attacked by a demon. But why would demons be interested in ordinary mundanes like Clary and her mother? And how did Clary suddenly get the Sight? The Shadowhunters would like to know. . . .

(Spoiler level: Major)

So this is how the story goes. Clary Fray is a normal teenage girl who sees a man getting killed and decides to go and stop it herself, because a wimpy teenage girl can totally solve that on her own without the help of the police. It turns out that these people, called "Shadowhunters", technically don't exist and nobody can see them but other Shadowhunters. The shadows that they hunt are monsters that are now urbanfied to. Meanwhile, there's a former Shadowhunter who turned evil that's on the rise and wants to destroy all goodness. And then there's Jace, who acts horrible, but Clary is in love with.

Sound familiar? That's because it's virtually like every other contemporary fantasy YA book out there with one main difference: the writing is much whinier in this book than in many others. Capitals are used for shouting instead of italics, an amateur move that is very distracting. Every character is a stale archetype. "Twists" are obvious, such as that Clary's father is Valentine and her mother was a Shadowhunter, so she's totally Shadowhunter and related to him, and her older brother is Jace, who she's in love with.

Part of the reason that this is so much taken from the basic mold is because before Clare got a book deal for "her" work, she was a fan fiction writer for Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. Clare knows how to make her books just like any other: a Mary-Sue who doesn't know she's beautiful even though all the guys are drooling over her that aren't gay, a horrible amount of purple prose, a city of magical creatures hidden in plain view, and some unhealthy female rivalry.

That being said, Bones isn't all horrible. There's enough drive to it that you aren't going to give up halfway and see if Keeping Up With the Kardashians is new, and since it's so familiar it can't be that horrible. Sometimes experimental novels are the worst of all. In fact, this book is kind of like the Kardashians shows: they're not good, but there's something about them that keeps you watching after a few episodes.

Grade: C