Thursday, February 28, 2013

Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars

by Nick James

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story summary: I don't feel like writing a story summary (because I basically did as much as I wanted of that below), so I'm going to be boring and redirect you to the Goodreads description.

Thoughts: I read this book and the sequel in quick succession. This always makes it much harder to remember what I thought about the first book. And (as has been the case for too long now), I am still way too far behind on my reviews, so these earlier books have left my mind in favour of the more recent books. I really have to fix that... Anyhow, this book didn't have anything spectacular that I could rave or rant about. Great fun, though. Rivalry between two boys on opposite sides of two central factions. I really liked the interaction between these two, especially at the end after something was revealed (which I actually guessed pretty early--but I still liked it a lot). A manipulative and clever villain. Otherwise, just aliens, politics, mysterious powers, and a post-apocalyptic world. Definitely worth it if you’re a SciFi fan.

Also, Cassius can explode into flame. How cool is that?? I really need to make the Top Ten (Or So): Characters with the Power of Fire list.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Angels (and Demons)

by Peter Kreeft

Grade: 3 1/2 stars

Thoughts: Good. Short. Understandably, I guess. It's not like there's a whole lot of factual information out there about angels, even if you are someone who believes in them. And, as someone who believes in them (due to my Catholic faith), this book was not so much good for gathering information as it was for getting me excited about angels again. I mean, they're pretty cool. Probably the most exciting parts were the quotes from Lewis and Tolkien--which I'd already read, but they are always worth re-reading. Man, those guys were awesome...

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Shadow Puppets

by Orson Scott Card

Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Story summary: Two people get married, one person succumbs to his teenage angst issues, one person unites the Muslim world and is actually semi-successful at world affairs, and one person tries to steal a whole bunch of babies.
See previous books: Ender's Shadow and Shadow of the Hegemon, and the next book: Shadow of the Giant.

Thoughts: Ok, so I love babies. They are the best. And I love it when people in books are open to having babies, and don't decide that the world is too nasty a place to have children (I'm looking at you Graceling and Inside Out and numerous other YA books). But it seemed like all Petra and Bean thought about in this book was babies. Especially Petra. That was it. The babies. No international politics, no scheming and battles of wits, no grand plans to save the world. At least Bean thought a bit about his impending death and how to get rid of Achilles.

Also, Peter was supposed to be as smart as Ender, wasn't he? It's just that he was too aggressive in personality to suit their purposes? But in this book he was--well, not that smart. It's not that smart people couldn't make dumb mistakes like he did. But generally it just seemed that all the main characters in this book were lacking their original spark. I miss the Battle Games and psychological insights of Ender's Shadow and the world politics of Shadow of the Hegemon (there was some here, just not as much). Sniff.

(Though I must admit, as annoying as Peter's seeming lack of intelligence was, it was pretty amusing. As was his parents' reaction to all that.)

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Shadow of the Hegemon

by Orson Scott Card

Grade: 4 stars
Story summary: Politics. Wars. More politics. The world is a mess, and Peter Wiggin just needs to rule it (to paraphrase Dr. Horrible).
See previous book: Ender's Shadow, and next books: Shadow Puppets and Shadow of the Giant.

Thoughts: There's nothing more fun than multiple young geniuses vying for world domination. The scope of this book is the whole world, as opposed the more personal views in Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow, and I love it. (Not more than Ender's Game, but a lot.)

I loved the use of the secondary characters too, which also gave it a broader scope. Suriyawong and Virlomi were cool (I loved the one scene with the two of them by the bridge). Sister Carlotta was amazing (a bit more on her below). Peter got to be slightly more sympathetic and interesting, which I was rather excited about. In fact, I think he might be my favourite character. I was disappointed that for slight spoiler: a book named after him (he becomes the Hegemon), he wasn't really in it that much. And Achilles is a suitable antagonist for them all: crazy, demented, and unpredictable.

I was going to talk about how there are a fair amount of people who complain that the sequels to Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow are not good at all compared to those two, and the fact that I disagreed because this one was awesome. And I was going to talk more about why it was awesome (basically just more on world politics and characters). But a)I read the next one (Shadow Puppets) right after and didn't like it as much, so my points don't apply as much anymore, and b)I'm waaaay behind on reviews. So let's just go to a rant about one particular page, and then be done.

Ok, so Sister Carlotta is awesome. She is a Catholic nun who is actually orthodox, and has an awesome relationship with Bean. Then on page 88, she begins a discussion with Bean that goes on for several pages, and is mostly about morality. She brings up some very good points from Catholic doctrine, but then goes on to say that she believes this "no matter what the popes have said". Bean says she's a heretic, and "[n]one of those doctrine would pass muster with any priest". And she AGREES with him. I mean...come on! That was good stuff she was saying there! And then to be labelled a heretic because she's stating things the CHURCH TEACHES. Grrrrrr. Ignorance annoys me.
But it only came up that one time. So it's not too bad. It didn't spoil the book or anything drastic like that.

Saturday, February 9, 2013


by Adrienne Stoltz and Ron Bass

Grade: 2 stars
Story summary: Two girls with completely different lives, with one common factor. At night, they don't have dreams, but live the other girl's life. But one life is real, and one is just a dream.

Thoughts: I expected this to be quite a different sort of book. A dream reality and the real one, all mixed up due to mental instability or weird machines or something. Kind of like Inception, where the focus was on the dream world, and it affected all the characters development and plot lines. But this wasn't really like that. It was basically just two different girls living two different lives and falling in love a bunch, with sporadic references to their awful secret. Until right near the end. That's where it all went wonky and the dream reality was revealed for what it really was. I wanted more weirdness, darn it all! The stuff at the end was cool, but by that time, I didn't really care anymore.

Yet... I don't know if that really could be my main issue with this book, because I absolutely loved the sadly-cancelled Awake TV series (with Jason Isaacs!), and it was in a very similar format. And this book has been loved by a lot of people, and compared to Inception quite a bit. So...maybe it was solely that I wasn't terribly interested in the girls themselves, or the romantic drama that pervaded their lives. I mean, seriously, there were about fifty dozen love interests. Ok, well only four (two for each girl). But it was enough for me. I am actually quite proud of myself that I kept reading, as I have had serious issues in the past continuing books if there are really obvious, rather boring, very hot love interests.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Reflections on the Psalms

by C. S. Lewis

Grade: 5 stars

Thoughts: C. S. Lewis is faaaabulous. He starts out right off the bat with tackling the difficult stuff: the curses and and the death and the law and the judgement. One of Lewis's strongest points is making analogies to help understand difficult concepts like this, so of course this part was great. But my favourite chapter by far was "Nature". Here he discussed my current theological pet peeve:
"[T]he difference between believing  in God and in many gods is not one of arithmetic. As someone has said 'gods' is not really the plural of God; God has no plural." (pg. 82)
And this is not because Christianity believes that there is only one god or something--it's because the type of God Christianity believes in cannot by nature exist more than once. In fact, if there is more than one of that type of God, it is the same God. Thus the trinity. One God. Three persons.
Anyway, I'm rubbish at explaining exactly what I mean, and in cases like this, one kind of needs to be exact. But to sum up: the non-transcendence of God (as in capital-G God) in so much modern entertainment really bugs me, so it was interesting to see a similar idea discussed so many years ago.

There are so many other ideas he is excellent at explaining--I especially liked the chapter on non-literal meanings of scripture, and his discussion of The Song of Songs on page 128. (His shout-out to Ecclesiastes on pg. 115 was great too--Ecclesiastes is one of my very favourite books of the Bible.)

And here I'd like to quote the whole part about Akhenaten (one of my all-time favourite historical personages) from about pages 84-9, but that's obviously too long and I way behind on reviews. So read it yourself. Akhenaten is awesome, and C. S. Lewis is nicely balanced in his approach to him.

Monday, February 4, 2013


by Catherine Fisher

Grade: 4 stars
Story summary: Sarah Trevelyan has a horrible job with a horrible lady, and constantly has to deal with her crabby, unpleasant father. Her family has lost their wealth and status, and now lives in squalor within walking distance of their old, majestic house. Sarah is proud and stubborn, so when the strange Lord Azrael, who has now taken possession of their old house and property, shows up and offers her terrible bargain, she is very strongly tempted.
Then flash-forward a hundred years to the twins Tom and Simon, a miserable life of being bullied, and a strange teacher with a terrible bargain...

Thoughts: About a third of the way through this, I thought it was one of the more creepy and unpleasant books I've read. But of course, I should trust Catherine Fisher. She is probably one of my top five living YA authors. One of her best traits, like Diana Wynne Jones and Megan Whalen Turner and my other favourite YA authors, is the ability to turn a plot on its head, where nothing was quite like you thought it was.

So this was one of the books where I finished quickly, and then pretty much turned the book over and started from the beginning again. So yeah, pretty cool. And I loved the way Azrael was portrayed (both before and after I knew what was going on, but more so after), and Sarah's moral ambiguity (which caused her to be tempted by the bargain in the first place) and subsequent character growth was great.

I will say that this book is a little short, though. Not just because it was good and I wanted more, but because it was perhaps missing a bit of depth. Especially considering that there are two main characters (Sarah and Tom) and each only really gets half of the book devoted to them.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Princess Curse

by Merrie Haskell

Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Story summary: Half "The Twelve Dancing Princesses" and half "Beauty and the Beast", with a dash of the story of Hades and Persephone thrown in for good measure.

Thoughts: I am four reviews behind, so point form it is:

--Nice complexity for some of the characters, especially the Princess whose name I've forgotten and the really handsome boy whose name I've also forgotten. (Yeah...I have a bad memory, and I don't have book on hand right now.) The "Beast" or Hades character was not as blameless as he tends to be, either, though still on the side of Good.

--I seem to have read quite a few books with feisty 12-year-old fantasy heroines recently, the best being Kat, IncorrigibleOrdinary Magic, and this one. Reveka is a great addition, with her interest in herblore so passionate that she was willing to give up marriage and a family to become a nun and study it for the rest of her life.

--Speaking of which, it was immensely refreshing to have a recently-written character who actually wanted to be a nun (though nuns weren't exactly portrayed well...). Many people seem to completely misunderstand the place the religious had in the middle ages--being a religious was actually rather freeing for women. Like the awesome Hildegard of Bingen, who was mentioned several times in this book, and was recently canonized (yay!).

--It was good and worth reading, and the take on Beauty and the Beast was rather unusual. And I have nothing else to say because, as I mentioned, I'm four reviews behind.

P.S. My favourite cover illustrator Jason Chan again! Sooo pretty.