Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Dawn by Erin Hunter

This is the third book in the Warriors: The New Prophecy series, about the cat clans that live in the forest. In this book, the cats who were chosen to follow the prophecy have returned, but they return to clans that are sick and dying from lack of prey. The humans (called "Two-Legs" here) are encroaching on the forest, destroying all in their path to build new roads ("Thunderpaths"). The clans have no choice but to move, but they must go together, or risk losing their guiding ancestors, Star Clan.
In this part of the story, the main themes are teamwork and friendship, regardless of hardship and differences. The clans have to learn to work together to survive. They must leave the forest together, and travel together to find a new home. On the way, they learn to believe in the strength within themselves, and with each other.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Although I have always loved fantasy and sci-fi books, I have never really gotten into vampire stories. Of course I love Buffy, but other than that I was never really interested. Twilight is a ridiculously popular teen vampire book, and while vampires may be classified as horror much of the time, I think that this one falls more appropriately in the fantasy genre. It is more romantic than truly scary.
The main character is Bella, who moves to Forks, WA to live with her father. She is not entirely happy about the move, but it was her choice, so she makes the best of it. She makes friends more easily than she thought she would, except for her strange lab partner. He is a member of the Cullen family, who seem to be incredibly insular. Bella can't stop thinking about Edward Cullen, however, and soon they get to know each other better. Of course, Edward is the vampire love interest of the book, though Bella is not as frightened as she should be by that realization. They are in love, and that's all that matters. Edward's family likes her, but they all seem to understand that it can't last forever.
The story is exciting and romantic, and it is obvious why it is so tremendously popular with teens. The Cullen family seems just a tad too over the top, but otherwise it is entirely seamless. There are page-turning suspenseful scary bits, and it leaves enough of a cliffhanger to have the reader waiting impatiently for the next in the series, New Moon. Of course, the reader could just buy it, but this reader is waiting for her hold on the book at the library. So that review won't be coming for another month or so . . .

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The Terror by Dan Simmons

I have never read one of Dan Simmons horror novels, although I have read most of his science fiction. As you may be able to tell from the title, The Terror is a horror novel. The name itself refers to one of the ships in the story, the HMS Terror, whose crew makes up the main characters. The novel is the story of the true quest of the HMS Terror and the HMS Erebus, led by Sir John Franklin, to find the fabled Northwest Passage. It is true that the ships were lost and the crews never heard from again. Simmons gives life to them here, spelling out the crew members final days in the arctic. Only in his version, it is not simply cold and lack of resources that kills them. There is also a monster stalking them on the ice.
The book is a page turner at times, definitely scary at times, and very graphic in the various perils that befall the poor crew. The graphic descriptions are not reserved only for those who are killed by the monsters, but also those who are killed by the various diseases that afflict the crew members. So much of the book is taken up with these descriptions, it seems that he should just kill them all off and be done with it. Reading it, you basically decide that that would be better than continuing to read about their deaths in the innumerable permutations that Simmons comes up with.
When crew member, the captain of the Terror, Francis Crozier, experiences a different fate. But it takes so long to get there, that Simmons leaves only a few chapters to tell about it. It would have been preferable to hear less about the drama and despair and death experienced, and learn more of Crozier's experience. It gives the book life and hope, but maybe in a book titled The Terror, life and hope are less important than death.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier is one of those books that you want to read, but at the same time, you know that the story is not going to be a happy one. The story takes place in Sierra Leone, during the civil wars of the 1990's. Ishmael tells his story, beginning with a glimpse of what his life was like before the war came to his small village. Much of the narration centers on his life after the war separates him from his village and family, but before he is made a boy soldier. For two years he wanders the jungles with some friends, going from village to village, but they all know that they can never truly escape the war. He sees terrible things as he flees from one place to the next.
Ishmael is brought into the nation's army as a boy soldier at the age of 13, after final hope of reuniting with his family is lost. The officers play off of his desire for revenge. They give him food, drugs, and a place to sleep. He is given a gun, and responsibility far beyond that which should be given to any 13 year old. All of this makes him feel necessary to the group. Ishmael's narration does not dwell on his time in the army. After he is taken to a rehabilitation center at 15, he tells a little bit of the story, but mostly he seems to understand that his readers will realize the horrors of being in such a war without his descriptions.
Ishmael was lucky to be singled out as being special at his rehabilitation center. He is sent to America, where he speaks on behalf of children affected by war. Later, when war once again comes to his home to destroy his family, he uses the connections he made in America to help him leave his war-torn home. His individual story shows what a person can do when they have hope for the future and a desire for peace. But the overall story is one of a country torn apart, families destroyed, cities ravaged. Many of the children that humanitarians try to rehabilitate end up back with the army because they have no where else to go. This book opens the reader's eyes to the destruction of war, and offers hope for those children trapped in it.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Run by Ann Patchett

This book begins with the history of a family heirloom and ends with a graduation, but the majority of the story takes place over only 24 hours. That story begins on a snowy winter night a few weeks after Christmas, when a former Boston mayor, Bernard Doyle, and his adopted sons Teddy and Tip, attend a lecture together. When an accident brings Tennessee and Kenya Moser, mother and daughter, into their lives, they discover connections between them that they never imagined.
The story is suspenseful, and continues to move between the characters, showing us hidden truths about their lives, and how deeply they are all connected to each other. Over the 24 hours, Kenya becomes more a part of the family, while Tennessee is fighting for her life through surgery. Both Tip and Teddy more clearly define who they are, and who they see themselves as, rather than what anybody else wants them to be. Bernard begins to understand his family, and he begins the process of broadening that understanding. Other Doyle family members are there as well, bringing connection and coherency to the family.
Run is a very satisfying book, ending in the way that you expect it to, but not disappointingly so. It is a rich and filling story, creating a depth of character and history that brings the reader close to the family.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Moonrise by Erin Hunter

The second book of the Warriors: The New Prophecy series begins with the six cats from the first book beginning their journey home. In Midnight, six cats had been chosen to make a journey that would help them save all of their tribes. Now they have received the message, and are ready to bring the message back to their leaders. But first they have a perilous journey home.
Some new characters are introduced in this book, and new challenges test the travelers. They continue to work together, despite their differences, and they learn more about the similarities that everyone shares. This second book deals with such themes as courage, loyalty, acceptance, and loss, in ways that will help the children who read these books learn to deal with trials and joys alike.

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Canon by Natalie Angier

The full title of this book is The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science. Angier is a science reporter who wrote this book as a way of explaining all of those parts of science that every person should know. Covered in the book are statistics, scales, physics, chemistry, evolutionary biology, molecular biology, geology, and astronomy. We should know these things because they are integral to our understanding of the world, and they act as a base on which to build, when we read of new scientific discoveries or theories. As Angier puts it: "What should nonspecialist nonchildren know about science, and how should they know it, and what is this thing called fun?"
I was surprised by the inclusion of statistics and scales, as well as by the fact that Angier begins her discussion of science with these topics. But both statistics and a notion of the scope of science are very necessary for every other topic. And they are the most commonly misunderstood. Angier's discussion of the other sciences is well rounded and thorough, and at the same time easy to grasp. She connects them all in a way that makes full understanding possible.
The first chapter of the book, before we even jump into statistics, is about thinking like a scientist. This is the most necessary piece of the puzzle, because too often people think of science as something to believe in, or something to agree with. Science is about evidence, it is not a matter of opinion.
What I loved the most about this book was the way that Angier loves to talk about science. It is obvious that she adores both scientific learning and writing. She seems to take great pleasure in creating clever sentences and fun alliterations. And the reader takes tremendous pleasure in following her train of thought. This book is a fantastic way to introduce anyone to "the beautiful basics of science" and is fun to read on top of everything else.
"Science is not a body of facts. Science is a state of mind. It is a way of viewing the world, of facing reality square on but taking nothing on its face. It is about attacking a problem with the most manicured of claws and tearing it down into sensible, edible pieces. Even more than the testimonials to the fun of science, I heard the earnest affidavit that science is not a body of facts, it is a way of thinking."

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Bridge of Sighs by Richard Russo

Bridge of Sighs begins as a story told by one man, Lou "Lucy" Lynch. As he reaches the age of 60, Lou feels the need to tell his story, and hence the story of his town and his family, as they are all entwined. The reader follows the history that he is writing, as well as events happening in the present time. As you get further into the book, you begin hearing from Robert Noonan (or, as he is known in Lou's part of the story, Bobby Marconi). His part of the story is at first all happening in the present, where his is in Paris. But he eventually begins recounting his history as well, which juxtaposes itself against Lou's history of the town they both grew up in.
Both stories describe life in the town of Thomaston, New York, where Bobby and Lou grew up. Bobby leaves at the age of 18, never to return, while Lou lives his entire life there, never setting foot outside of the county. It is the story of high school bullies and institutionalized racism. Of the American Dream as well as the tragedy that strikes every family. It is a story about sacrifice and love and family. It is beautiful and complete in its scope, and leaves the reader feeling completely satisfied at the end.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Midnight by Erin Hunter

This book is the first book in the Warriors:The New Prophecy series. The first six-book series was simply called Warriors, and I made the mistake of requesting the first book of this series instead, and not realizing it. But Hunter does a good job of filling the reader in on the history that takes place in the first series, so I'll just go back to that one when I'm done with this one.
The Warriors books are written for kids, they are cataloged with the junior fiction in the library. They are exactly what I would have read as an 11 or 12 year old, and they are written well, so they make a very enjoyable, easy read. The characters are cats, wild cats that live in a forest that surrounds what seems to be a rural (but slowly becoming suburban) area where humans live. The cats live in Tribes, and follow the Warrior Code. They are fiercely territorial, and brave, strong hunters and fighters.
The New Prophecy series follows Brambleclaw, who receives a vision from the cats warrior ancestors telling him that he and three other cats have been chosen (one from each tribe) to receive a message that will save all of the tribes from great danger. He manages to contact the other "chosen" cats, and convince them that they will need to travel farther than any cat they know has ever been in order to receive this message. There is inter-tribal rivalry that causes difficulties along their way, but the cats grow stronger in their determination to work together to save their tribes.
These books are easy to read, fun, suspenseful, and not at all dumbed down, in the way that some children's books can be. The cats are very much like real cats, but at the same time they are like people that you know. I am looking forward to continuing this series, and then reading the history of it in the first series.