Thursday, March 29, 2012


by Jackie Morse Kessler

Grade: 4 stars
Story: Billy has a miserable life. His dad left, he's bullied horribly every day at school, his grandfather has Alzheimer's, and he is haunted by dreams of a nasty white man who terrified him as a child. Then one day, Death himself rings the doorbell, and Billy is off to save the world and wield the bow of Pestilence.
(See the first two in the series: Hunger and Rage, and the fourth one: Breath.)

Thoughts: So now it's Pestilence's turn! Finally. And I was perfectly satisfied with how his character turned out. It had kind of bugged me in the first two books that Pestilence was the only one who was not cool. But this one turned him into an actual character, not just a gross, slimy guy who was supposed to get along with Famine but didn't.

My feelings about this book are somewhat different than the last two in a couple ways. I think mostly because this book is written from a male perspective. So, for instance, my criticism for the last two books about Death being described as "sexy" too much was not present for this one. This, in my opinion, allowed him to be much more realistic as an Anthropomorphic Personification of Death. In fact, I was very pleased indeed with Death this time. It delved into his nature a lot more, which is always intriguing.

But perhaps because the viewpoint was changed to a male perspective in this one, I didn't find the Issue (bullying) quite as shockingly horrible. But again, I have no experience to draw on whatsoever. Quite the contrary. I, thank God, have not had to deal with any of the Issues presented in these books.

So, still looking forward to the next one. This'll be Death's book. I have no idea what she's going to do for this one, as Death is not human like the rest of them. We shall see, eh?

P.S. Death as a character is pretty darn cool. Thus, see: Top Ten (Or So): Anthropomorphic Personifications of Death.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Posse of Princesses

by Sherwood Smith

Grade: 5 stars
Story: Rhis, a princess of a small, mountainous country, dreams of adventure and romance. So when she is invited to the grand, multi-day homecoming party of Prince Lios (of a neighbouring country), to which all the young princes and princesses of the area are invited also, she is obviously quite excited.

Thoughts: Well that was warm and fun and lovely and I loved it. It reminded me of Year of the Griffin by Diana Wynne Jones, with lots of different characters from all sorts of fictional cultures, not exactly any villains, and lots of matching up of people in the end. Plus lots of fun and adventure.

P.S. Apparently the ebook version, which I read, has an extra chapter or something? And there are less typos? I'm not sure, but just to warn anybody who might read it.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Tomorrow Code

by Brian Falkner

Grade: 2 stars
Story: Tane (the creative one) and Rebecca (the smart one) come up with this idea about sending messages back in time, and before you know it, they're on a mad adventure to save the entire human race

Thoughts: Ok, so I had this awesome post written out (if I do say so myself), and then a I did a stupid thing and lost it all. So here's my attempt to recreate it.

I actually started reading this one quite a while ago and couldn't finish. I think it was just general busyness and not the book itself, because it starts out quite awesomely. It's full of cool (although highly improbably and probably wrong) science, a new and unusual form of time travel, and lots of binary code.

However, about 2/3s or 3/4s of the way through, it begins to get all Environmental. Note the capital. In other words, there's not just the idea that humanity should stop wrecking the planet, which I agree with, but the idea that humanity is a pathogen and should be destroyed because it's wrecking the planet. This I do not agree with at all. I mean, this is 7 BILLION PEOPLE'S LIVES we're talking about. Now I know this was partly just Rebecca's opinion, which is fine, but the book seemed to show some sympathy with the idea as well. Which is not fine. At least, it's highly annoying to myself.
Also, killing chimps is not murder. It's not good, but it's not murder.

Finally, I know this shouldn't matter, but the phrase "Deus ex Machina" is LATIN. It's NOT GREEK. (See page 286.) Perhaps part of the reason why it annoys me so much is that there's a fair amount of explaining in this book (now that I think of it, probably too much for my taste). Mostly Rebecca explaining lots of science, but also lots of explanations about Maori traditions, and a bunch of other stuff as well. So if he got that wrong, what other among those many explanations might he have got wrong? Again, it probably shouldn't bother me as much as it does. But I don't like factual errors. They bug me.

So we'll see how the rest of my reading of Brian Falkner goes. I really loved Brain Jack, but mostly it was because there was lots of computery stuff. I had been thinking of making a Top Ten (Or So) list of Kiwi authors, and adding him to the list. But I think I'll wait a while now.

P.S. Ok, so now that I've re-written it out again, I'm afraid it's definitely not as good as the original post. I HATE THAT. And it always seems to happen when I'm particularly fond of the original post. But really, it was my own fault. Ah well.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Humming Room

by Ellen Potter

Grade: 3 stars
Story: A retelling of The Secret Garden. Roo's parents were murdered, and she goes to live with her rich uncle--who is obviously hiding some big secret--in his huge, strange house on a remote island.

Thoughts: Ellen Potter is one of my favourite children's authors, and one of the few authors whose books I will buy immediately upon finding them, even if I haven't read them yet. Partly it's because her book covers are often illustrated by Jason Chan, who is my favourite cover artist ever. But all her books also have this sweet succinct style to them. And they are always original, even when they are retellings of familiar stories, like The Secret Garden in this case.

However, I do think this was one of my least favourite Ellen Potters--perhaps due to the fact that I love The Secret Garden so much that I was constantly comparing the two. But still, Roo is one of the best heroines I've read in a while. She's comparable to Mary from TSG in her stubbornness and unfriendliness, but she's definitely completely herself and no one else. She was one of the only parts that I didn't even really think to compare with the original. The "Dickon" and "Colin" characters were well done too, although I would have liked more of Philip, because I always liked Colin in TSG.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Winter Prince

by Elizabeth E. Wein

Grade: 4 1/2 stars
Story: A re-telling, of sorts, of the later King Arthur stories. Medraut is the illegitimate son of the Artos, the high king of Britain. Conflicted and damaged by evil done to him in his past, he struggles with his hatred and envy of his younger--but legitimate--brother.

Thoughts: A dark and tragic story, with a small ray of sunshine at the end which is blotted out almost completely by the preview for the next book at the end. (Why did they have to stick that in??) It reminded me a lot of The Once and Future King, by T. H. White. They were both about the world of King Arthur, for one thing. But also they both had this almost stifling mood of sadness and inevitability pervading them. (Well, the later books in The Once and Future King, at least.)

This was one of the harder books to grade, as well. As compelling as it was, it was not a book I'm likely to want to re-read--unlike The Once and Future King--which makes me want to put it in the "All right" category. Plus it could be very creepy and disturbing. But on the other hand, to own it and TOaFK at the same time, and to have the ability to pick up both and compare them when the mood takes me--that would be great. Plus there is something about this book that makes a deep impression on one, and I would like to have it to recommend to very select people. (To most people, I definitely wouldn't.)

By the way, all this comparison to TOaFK is not to say any one of them is the type of book you think of as merely a lesser version of the other. They are quite different in numerous ways, and each feels completely unique and separate from the other. The Winter Prince is short and piercing, and much more introspective and personal. TOaFK is a saga of darkness and predestined tragedy.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

by Ransom Riggs

Grade: 3 1/2 stars (maybe 4 stars?)
Story: Jacob has been told strange and horrible stories by his grandfather for much of his childhood. Then when a strange accident befalls his grandfather, he sees something which sends him into therapy sessions, and eventually to a quest into his grandfather's past which will change his life forever.
Featuring remote Welsh islands, pipe-smoking birds, and many very peculiar children.

Thoughts: The old black and white photographs worked perfectly with the story. I do not think I could stress this enough. I loved them. They contributed to much of the atmosphere of weirdness, and reminded me of my favourite aspects of Lemony Snicket.

The story itself was strange and twisty, filled with many fantastical elements which I always enjoy, but will not mention here due to spoilers. Although I did guess some of the main plot twists, this did not in any way detract from my enjoyment of watching them unfold.

In the words of John Green (the author, vlogger, and nerdfighter himself), written on the back jacket cover:
"A tense, moving, and wondrously strange first novel."

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

by Philip K. Dick

Grade: 4 stars
Story: This is the story that Blade Runner was based off of. A bounty hunter who "retires" androids is sent on a mission to destroy six escaped androids, of the newest and most human-like variety. Then follows much introspection, depression, and worry about the affordability of animals. Also some gun-shooting and tracking and fights to the death, but it's still not as action-oriented as Blade Runner.

Thoughts: Recently I watched about half of Blade Runner, but, due to not having enough time, I wasn't able to finish it (I will soon, I assure you!). Unfortunately, this highly coloured my reading experience for the first half of this book. And as the book and the movie have quite a different flavour and atmosphere, I felt strangely disconnected to the book. At least at first. Once I got past the place where I stopped in the movie, I settled much more firmly into the book, and began to enjoy it quite a lot more. But the end effect is that it seems almost disjointed and incomplete in my mind, although I know it isn't. However, I did greatly enjoy it despite this unfortunate circumstance.

Like many science fiction stories, a kind of hopelessness and melancholy pervades it, along with a plethora of intriguing ideas. Especially, as should be obvious by now, about the nature of humanity and artificial intelligence. They are ideas which fascinate me, and were I in a situation in which I was surrounded by intellectual Catholics, I would dearly love to have a rousing discussion on the matter. Some day, perhaps. As is, I'll have to let this book settle down in my mind, and try to hash it out on my own for a while.

It's amusing to read a book like this, which was written so long ago (1968), but meant to take place so far in the future (2021, actually--not so far anymore). There is so much unimaginably sophisticated technology present in this book--not only the androids, but machines which can give you any emotion you wish or meld your mind with thousands of others, and of course the flying cars. And yet at the same time, it mentions that movie special effects use painted backgrounds and ketchup for blood! I suppose we're going to have that strange juxtaposition for as long as people write futuristic sci fi stories.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Girl of Fire and Thorns

by Rae Carson

Grade: Unfinished
Read: To page 318.

Thoughts: I'm really disappointed about not finishing this one. It started out really awesome, with a heroine who was actually really overweight, and some fascinating relationships: mostly between Elisa and her sister, and Elisa and her husband. There was some weird stuff, but it wasn't quite enough to stop me reading. (The weirdest was the religion of this fictional land, which was almost Christianity, but not quite. Some of the prayers and quotes from their scripture were almost exactly the same. On page 85, there's a prayer that's pretty much a weird translation of the Magnificat.)

But then Elisa started falling for this other guy, Humberto. At first I thought it might be a bit like Wolf Star by Tanith Lee, where the heroine is away from her husband for a long time, and so starts to notice this other guy. But then she does the right thing, and everything is all right in the end. But in this book, Elisa kept on getting more and more interested in Humberto until they actually kissed. And that didn't even stop her from hanging around him all the time. So finally I checked the end to see if everything was all right in the end, but it wasn't really. So I stopped.

Saturday, March 3, 2012


ed. by Holly Black and Cecil Castellucci

Grade: 2 1/2 stars

Thoughts: All in all this was rather depressing. It started out mostly quite fun, with awesome references to things I love like Buffy and Doctor Who and The Lord of the Rings and Stargate and a myriad of other awesome things. And of course, tons of references to things I wish I knew about, but have not found the opportunity yet, like D&D and Farscape. But it seemed as though as the book went on, the stories got progressively more and more unpleasant. I'm supposing most geeks had a pretty awful  time in school, which I got to miss as I was homeschooled. But that doesn't give you an excuse for being downright cruel, as the girl in "The Truth About Dino Girl" by Barry Lyga, who completely destroyed another girl's life, or the boy in "Quiz Bowl Anitchrist" by David Levithan, who was constantly taunting another boy with nasty sarcastic comments. And many of of the stories contained, if not main characters that were cruel, at least situations that were highly unpleasant and disturbing, like "The King of the Pelinesse" by M. T. Anderson or "Secret Identity" by Kelly Link.
And somehow, I found these had a different feel than the more disturbing books that I sometimes like. You see, I like gritty stuff. I like realistic stories where bad stuff happens, and even stories with cruel people who destroy other people's lives--like "Evil Genius" by Catherine Jinks (although I'm not sure that book is exactly realistic...). But these stories were different. They seemed to be trying so hard to lift the geeks out of social disgrace, that they ended up embracing, along with the geek passion and uniqueness, the tendency towards revenge on people who were unkind to them and also many alternative lifestyles. While the stories I like, even if unpleasant or tragic or terrible, have some sort of view of the world as a Good place. I'm not sure how to describe it exactly. So there it is.

But among this there were a couple stories I actually liked. "One of Us" by Tracy Lynn was rather fun. "Definitional Chaos" by Scott Westerfeld wasn't awesome, but all the discussion about alignments was really interesting. (Although I definitely disagreed with the basic premise, which is that Neutral Good is boring and tepid. But I won't discuss that further as I could go on for quite a while about that.) I was somewhat disappointed in Garth Nix's story solely because I almost always adore him, and in this case, "The Quiet Knight" was really good, but not quite as memorable as I usually find him.

Anyway. Let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up: I had hugely high expectations for this book, considering it was all about geeky stuff, and featured authors such as John Green and Garth Nix. But the good stories were not nearly frequent enough to make up for the stories I disliked, of which there were many. And some of them were downright disturbing.
Thus: disappointment.

P.S. WHY did they keep calling Doctor Who "Dr. Who"??? Seriously? They're supposed to be geeks! They should know better!!!