Tuesday, January 31, 2012


by Matthew J. Kirby

Grade: 4 stars (maybe 3 1/2?)
Story: Solveig, her crown-prince brother and beautiful sister, a bunch of berserkers and warriors, and a skald (equivalent of a bard) are trapped in a fortress, awaiting the end of winter and her father's return from war. But they are running out of food, there is a traitor in their midst, and Solveig is having disturbing and prophetic dreams.

Review: Beautifully written and crafted. My story description doesn't really do it justice.
And the cover is lovely. (Unfortunately, that really does actually count for something when it comes to books.)

I am always slightly wary of stories that talk about the nature of stories. They always seem to tread perilously close to idea about relative truth. (I'm thinking particularly of Neil Gaiman here, but he isn't the best example. There are others, I just can't think of them right now.) And yet I do think there is much to these philosophical discussions which that kind of book gets into. Someday, I must have a vigorous discussion with someone orthodox and much more intelligent than me, concerning relative truth, parables, the first book of Genesis, and the Word. But for the present, I must be content with a general feeling of unease with certain books.
But not this book. At first I thought it was like the others, but it turns out it was far better than all of them due to the way the ideas about storytelling developed. I'm not going to go into too much detail because of spoilers, but Alric's "story" at the end, and what he says there is a good example of this.

And I half guess the identity of the traitor! It reminded me of a particular Agatha Christie story which I'm not going to name, due again to spoilers.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


by Susan Jane Bigelow

Grade: 3 stars
Story: Michael has the power to see future possibilities. Prewarned of the likelihood of a horrible future for the whole human race, he sets out to find the "broken" superhero who could save the child who could save them all.

Review: This is one of those books which I finish quickly, and like a lot, but have no particular attachment to or lasting memory of. There's lots that's excellent about it, especially the world-building. And the plot development and characters are really good too. But there was nothing that particularly grabbed me with this book. I'm not sure why, and I'm too tired and busy to figure it out right now.

P.S. See also my reviews for the sequels, Fly Into Fire and The Spark.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Aliens on Vacation

by Clete Barrett Smith

Grade: 2 stars
Story: David, aka "Scrub", is banished to his grandmother's home for the summer vacation, where things are much stranger than he could have imagined.

Review: This one came hugely recommended by a certain book review blog, but unfortunately I didn't like it quite as much as they did. I'm having a hard time figuring out what makes a book "too young" for me. I often really love children's books, usually even better than adult books and sometimes better than young adult books. I'm thinking of books like Ellen Potter's The Kneebone Boy or Diana Wynne Jones's books for younger kids. But then there are books like this which are good enough, I suppose, but hold no particular interest for me. I don't know the difference yet. I'll figure it out one day I guess.

On the other hand, this book did have this description, which I've never heard described before, in books or real life. But it suits me exactly (substituting "no smile" with "small smile").
"I never know where to look when passing someone on the street. Seems weird to look straight ahead and avoid eye contact. But then again, you don't want to stare at someone and weird them out, either. I sort of looked down, and when they got close I lifted my head and tried the head-nod-with-raised-eyebrows combo, no smile, with some quick eye contact. I've seen other guys do that."

Wednesday, January 18, 2012


by Michael Grant

Grade: 4 stars
Story: Now in addition to hunger and coyotes and all the other nasty things, the poor kids of FAYZ have to deal with extreme thirst, man-eating bugs, the most disgustingly horrible flu ever, and the release of evil evil EVIL Drake from his prison, plus their own despair and loss of faith.
See the first three books: Gone, Hunger, and Lies, and the sequels: Fear and Light.

Review: As with the past three books, this one gets very intense--almost too intense for me sometimes, which is unusual. This one almost seemed worse than usual too, I'm not sure why. Maybe it was my present mood, or maybe it was the disappointment of a couple characters not turning out the way I'd hoped (more on that below in the spoilers section), or maybe it's simply the culmination of all the horrible things over all four books.

But it was still completely absorbing and captivating, and Sanjit and Edilio are still awesome! Woot!


--Astrid's loss of her Faith. I hated it. Ok, I know that happens sometimes when people go through horrible things, but part of it was the manner in which she lost it. It mentions that "She knew all the right answers. But the will was gone." Right, that's fine. Faith is a matter of will, and you can know the truth and logic of it, but still refuse it. But then she starts this argument against Brittney:

"'God decides right and wrong.' [Brittney speaking.]
'No,' Astrid said. And now, despite everything, despite her own exhaustion, despite her fear, despite her self-loathing and contempt, she realized she was going to say something she had never accepted before. 'Brittney, it was wrong to murder even before Moses brought down the commandments. Right and wrong doesn't come from God. It's inside us. And we know it. And even if God appears right in front of us, and tells us to our faces to murder, it's still wrong.'
It was that simple in the end, Astrid realized. That simple. She didn't need the voice of God to tell her not to kill Little Pete. Just her Own voice."

So the problem here is that Astrid is presented as someone who "knew all the right answers" and was obviously well-versed in Catholic theology. And yet from this quote above, she clearly has no clue. Right and wrong is inside us, but comes from God. The Catholic teaching of Natural Law means that even people who have never heard of God are accountable for their actions, because it IS inside of us. This annoys me so much because it's the soooo common mistake of thinking of God as some sort of powerful creature as opposed to Existence and Goodness itself. It's why so many people somehow think Evolution disproves a creator. Or that aliens creating life on Earth could be a possible substitute for God. Or that a Flying Spaghetti Monster is as probable as God. Or a multitude of other silly things.

--Caine. I was disappointed. Not exactly surprised, but I do so like redemption in characters, especially when it's so close to going either way. I still have a faint hope for him, especially with Diana's situation.

Speaking of Diana:
What??? What can that possibly mean? Something's gotta happen with that.

--Sanjit and Lana! Woot, wooooot! They are awesome and perfect together, and I sincerely hope they don't die. It would be just like Grant to kill off Lana when she's the only one keeping the kids sane, or to kill off Sanjit, who's the only one keeping Lana sane.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Warm Bodies

by Isaac Marion

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story: R is a zombie. But then one day, he eats a boy and saves a girl, and strange things begin to happen in his post-Zombie Apocalypse world.

Review: I had decided that zombie novels weren't for me, especially after reading Zombies vs. Unicorns. I had read a description and thought, "Love story with a zombie? Boring, kinda gross, definitely not for me." Even when I started reading it, I was sure it was going to be one of those books that I put down and never picked up again.

But somehow...I didn't. I read till late last night, and continued reading it this morning till I finished, even when my computer and new Kindle were both luring me away. It was addictive, strange, and rather beautiful.

I kept thinking about all of R's philosophical musings from a Catholic perspective. And though at first I was skeptical--I thought it would be one of those attempts to create meaning in the universe that are really mostly sentimental and don't make any logical sense--I think in the end it was dealt with as well as it could be from a natural point of view.

(Here's a short parenthetical example. At one point, there was mentioned a "morbidly pregnant woman" (I hate that phrase--pregnancy is NOT morbid) and then a typical comment about not wanting to bring children into such a horrible world. In some other books (such as Graceling and Inside Out) this is left at that. But here it was actually discussed by the two girl--true, in a way I don't entirely agree with, but it seemed part of their character and what they really would say.)

And yeah, I understand the hype now. Did you know it has "Soon to be a major motion picture" written on the first edition cover? It was picked up immediately.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Top Ten (Or So): Conmen

There's something about conmen and liars in fiction. Maybe because somehow, despite their numerous faults, they seem to have a kind of innocence about them.
So therefore, not necessarily in order, we have:

--Benjamin Linus, from the TV show LOST. One of my favourite TV characters below the Doctor. He's practically the definition of "pathological liar". He's old and has the weirdest buggy eyes, but he's one of the cleverest, strangest, best acted characters around, so I love him. He also has a really cool name.

--Eugenides, from The Queen's Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner. Thief, liar, husband, king. Also short and whiney and one-handed. The Awesomest.

--The Doctor, from the TV show Doctor Who. Now this might seem somewhat controversial, but remember this: Rule #1--The Doctor Lies. Especially recently, and I love it. Even when he had a personality that wasn't quite so into lying, he still kept a darned lot to himself, which can seem a lot like lying sometimes. Plus he's constantly pretending to be other than what he is (e.g. John Smith).

--Ronald Eustace Psmith (the "P" is silent as in phthisis, psychic, ptarmigan) from the series by P. G. Wodehouse. He pretends to be a Canadian poet. He throws flowerpots at efficient secretaries. He will do anything not to do with fish (even though there is money in fish). He will assassinate your aunt. He tells lies constantly, not to obtain anything, but simply on the off chance they might produce something interesting. He is awesome.

--Alan Ryves, from The Demon's Lexicon series by Sarah Rees Brennan. He manages to be simultaneously a pathological liar AND one of the sweetest fictional guys ever (below Rory Williams, the Last Centurion, though).

--Moist von Lipwig, from the Discworld books Going Postal and Making Money by Terry Pratchett. He flies about on the wings of his lies, barely evading hanging, death, assassination, and pies in the face, while somehow remaining .... perfectly average looking. In every respect.
I think out of all these amazing conmen, he may be arguably the cleverest in the actual conman type of cleverness.

--Cassel, from Holly Black's White Cat. In this case, it's not him that I love so much as his family and the whole atmosphere of the books. And because of the use of memory in these books, he often lies unintentionally, which is interesting.

--Eponymous Clent and Mosca Mye, from Frances Hardinge's Fly By Night and Twilight Robbery. These two need to go together. With their strange, mostly selfish, affection for each other and their mutual love of words, they dash about their fictional country narrowly avoiding the consequences.

--Robin and Prudence Tremain, from Georgette Heyer's The Masqueraders. This pair of adventuring siblings infiltrates society through crossdressing, and manages to fool practically everyone. They are lots of fun, and I happen to love siblings in fiction, especially when they are actually fond of each other.

--Montmorency, from Eleanor Updale's series. Just look at the title of the first book: Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman? I love him almost more for the title of his book than for anything else, but he is an interesting character outside of his book title as well.

Runners up:
--Carys, from the Relic Master series by Catherine Fisher. She didn't last long enough as a conman to be officially part of the list, but she was pretty cool at first.
--Jeff Winger from the TV show Community. He's only a runner up because I'm not enamoured of his actual character. But I love his brilliant speeches which make him a conman (especially in "Paradigms of Human Memory", and the one where he tries to get Chang into the study group). And I love his interactions with the study group. He makes soapy sentiment bearable for me, because you know (and the study group knows) that he's only saying all those sickly sweet, cliched things to get something he wants. But there's still enough of something there to make it the teensy, tinsiest bit heartwarming.

(18th Century conmen (and women)! Even better than the present day!)