Monday, January 31, 2011

Contemporary Fantasy for All Ages

I've spent the last several days exploring the worlds of contemporary fantasy. Magic Kingdom for Sale-Sold! by Terry Brooks and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins both begin right here in our very own world, which makes the adventures that follow are all the more exciting because they started so close to home.

Magic Kingdom for Sale-Sold! is written by Terry Brooks, author of Shannara books, which are actually the books that first made me love fantasy. I bought Magic Kingdom for Sale-Sold! way back in middle school when I was reading Shannara, but never read it. I decided give it another try when a friend suggested it (thanks Cory!). I was a little nervous, partly because when I recently reread some of the Shannara books, I was surprised to find them boring and hard to read. Also because the main character is mid-life crisis-ing lawyer, and I just thought it might be too hard to relate. But, I didn't need to worry because Magic Kingdom for Sale-Sold! was a fun, exciting, and overall enjoyable book.

The story begins in Chicago with Ben Holiday, a lawyer who is searching for something more to life. He sees a magazine ad for a magic kingdom for sale, complete with dragons and wizards and knights in shining armor, and decides to go for it. His purchase makes him the king of Landover, but when he arrives he realizes that the kingdom isn't actually doing very well, and there are a lot of challenges that the king must overcome if he wants to save his kingdom. I liked this book, which is a relief because just maybe it means that perhaps the Shannara books weren't so bad the first time around, and my taste in books way back then wasn't so bad after all. And I just have one last thing to say on this topic - Mr. Brooks, what is the deal with the whole women-who-turn-into-trees thing? I mean, seriously?? There's a tree-woman in Landover too? Okay, whatever. Still a good book.

Gregor the Overlander is for an entirely different audience- kids in grades 4-8. This book is the
first in a series by Suzanne Collins, that's right, author of The Hunger Games. I was a little apprehensive about reading this one too- although this time because it's about an 11 year boy
and I wasn't sure if I could relate. Also, because it's about spiders and cockroaches and bats and rats... Not my favorite subjects!! But, Collins did not disappoint. This book was fun and hard to put down, even for my 22-year-old self.

Gregor the Overlander tells about 11-year-old Gregor who falls through a hole in his laundry room, along with his 2-year-old sister. They find themselves on a world filled with talking cockroaches, evil rats, and strange, translucent Underland humans. Gregor just wants to get back home, but he gets caught in the middle of Underland events. Gregor is a brave character, and I really enjoyed reading about him, his cute little sister, and the surprisingly likeable cockroaches. I would recommend this book to people of all ages, not just 4th-8th graders.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Who wants some more dystopian young adult?!

As it turns out, keeping my pledge to finish one book before watching any more Grey's Anatomy wasn't actually that hard. I started reading The Maze Runner, couldn't put it down, and about 6ish hours later I was finished.

The Maze Runner by James Dashner is another dystopian young adult novel, and the first in a series of three. I also read The Scorch Trials, which is the second book in the series. The third book won't be out until October.

The first book opens when our narrator, Thomas, wakes up to find himself in the middle of a giant maze. He can't remember who he is or how he got there.
There are other boys there too, all with similar memory loss, and some have been there as long as 2 years, trying to find a way out of the maze. But soon after Thomas arrives, everything begins to change. And that's about all I want to tell you about the book, because part of what makes this book so good is the mystery. We readers are as clueless as Thomas, and his mind-blowing situation is so intriguing that I was absolutely dying for answers.

We do get some answers along the way, but those answers are almost annoyingly unexpected and ultimately just lead to more questions, which got frustrating about halfway through the second book. Things got to the point where they weren't really believable anymore, and nothing made any sense. So, I will hold my final judgement of these books until after I have read the third one. If Dashner can wrap everything up in a way that makes sense and just isn't stupid, which I think he is capable of, then he will have succeeded in writing one freaking awesome trilogy.

These books seem to be written on a low reading level, and I think they are probably aimed more at boys than girls. That being said, I still really enjoyed them. So if you are looking for an easy, exciting, suspenseful novel with a new and interesting plot, then look no further! However, I might suggest you wait until October. The Scorch Trials ends with a lot of unanswered questions, and it's going to be hard to wait!

Thursday, January 20, 2011


This is going to be harder than I thought.

I have to admit, I was a little arrogant when I started this project. I thought, "I read fast, and I read a lot. This won't be any trouble at all for me. I'll probably end up reading more than 111 books!" Wrong! wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

You might be thinking.. Wait. She's already read 7 books. She's ahead of schedule. What's the big deal??

Well, the big deal is this: I am currently unemployed (although very actively job searching, dang it!) and since I'm obviously hoping this unemployment thing won't last all year, I was thinking I should get way ahead while I can. And, since I don't really have much to do all day except read, well then I should be able to get through some of these books in a day or two tops. And they have been taking me longer, and longer... 4 days 5 days... Now if I can't read one book every three days when I'm unemployed, how am I going to be able to do it when I have a job?? Not to mention, so far I've stuck mostly to shorter, quicker young adult books.. what's going to happen when I start getting into some deeper stuff?

And now, it's confession time. Do you want to know why it's been taking me longer and longer to finish a book? Well, I am very ashamed to admit this, but I have been taken in... by a television show. Yes, a TV show has been trumping books. And that show would be... Grey's Anatomy. There, it's out! I admitted it!! The reason it took me 5 days to read The Blue Sword was because during those 5 days I also might have watched the entire first two seasons of Grey's Anatomy. Don't judge me too harshly! For some reason, books just can't always distract me from real life as well as TV. And when real life is jobless and seemingly purposeless.. Well I want a good distraction.

Now that that's out, I feel better. You guys might not know it, but you are my reading accountability partners. You keep me on top of this 111 books thing. So, thank you. And now, accountability partners, I'm making a pledge. I will not watch any more Grey's Anatomy until I have finished one entire book. Hold me to it!!

In other news, I really enjoyed The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley. Thanks to Allison for lending it to me.. two years ago.. I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading it! It was a really fun read, classic young adult fantasy with a great heroine and a little romance, and I recommend it!

So that is all from me today, it's time to get back to reading!!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A hate story

Last night I finished Wuthering Heights and I can't say that I actually enjoyed it. Is that allowed? Can I not like a classic? The main thing that I did not like was that it was so dark, and so full of hate. Was I supposed to be drawn in by the love story? The love story that subsequently destroyed everyone around them? Well, I wasn't. Now I know not all books have to be happy, and I'm sure it was full of literary value and all that. I personally just didn't enjoy it very much.

But, at least I learned why this is Bella Swan's favorite book! I have to say that it fits her well.

Now for something funny- I stumbled across this review, from Graham's Lady's Magazine in 1848

"How a human being could have attempted such a book as the present without committing suicide before he had finished a dozen chapters, is a mystery. It is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors..."

Now I didn't think it was quite that bad!! That review is a little extreme. But, it made me laugh.

Anyway, I am very ashamed to admit that this little book took me four days to finish! So now, I am behind and I must get back to reading!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fire Rage!

I have just finished books four and five of the year: Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore. These books are young adult fantasy/romance stories. In short, I will just say that I didn't them, I don't recommend them, and they are inappropriate for a young adult audience.

Now... Get ready! I am about to begin a very long-winded, angry rant about these books, so if you don't want to hear about it, stop reading. This rant will probably also include significant parts of the plot, so if you plan to read these books someday (which, by the way, I do not recommend. Did I mention that yet?), stop reading.

Okay, you're still here? Well, you can't say you weren't warned! Here we go.

Graceling is about a girl named Katsa, who is graced with a special power. What's her special power? Killing. Causing pain. Katsa, who tortures and kills people for the king, also runs The Alliance on the side, where she saves people from the brutality of the kings. That's not contradictory or anything. Then she meets Prince Po (which, by the way, can you think of a worse name for our brave handsome prince? Po? Really? Okay, so maybe it's not that bad, but it did always make me think of the Pillsbury doughboy..) and of course she falls in love the the handsome prince, but there is a problem. Oh no! What is it?? Well, it's just that Katsa is so independent. She just can't let a man control her! What will happen?? Don't worry, they have come up with the perfect solution. They will just be lovers, instead of getting married. And describe it all with a little too much detail for a young adult book.

And that is just the first half of the book. The second half tells of Katsa and Po's attempts to save their unrealistic, underdeveloped, unbelievable world from an evil villain. But really, it tells about strong Katsa, and how she can wrestle mountain lions and hike Mount Everest. Then the story just ends, and it is surprisingly anticlimactic. But don't worry, even though the book kind of sucked, at least we all managed to grasp the important themes of the story. Marriage is bad! Woman are strong! Don't let men control you!

The second book, Fire, is not really any better. I really didn't want to read it. But I paid $5 for it! So I started reading. It was quite a challenge! I was so confused at first that I felt like I started reading in the middle of the book instead of the beginning! I almost stopped after 20 pages. But I decided not to let that book win! I kept reading..

This book taught me the following lessons:
Friends with benefits is good, even if that FWB is actually madly in love with you.
It's funny when your FWB sleeps around with lots of other girls.
Until your FWB sleeps with your friends, and they get pregnant. Then it's not funny. He is such an awful man. You must end your sexual relationship.
However, when your FWB goes off and dies, it's okay to grieve so much for him that you just can't live life anymore.
Also, birth control is good, so that you can have lots of love affairs with many different people.
Oh yeah, and I think this was the main moral of the story, because it was clearly stated on the last page: Some people are just plain bad people, and you should kill them. Even though it will make you a bad person if you do. Kill them anyway. And, oh yeah! Don't get married!

Okay, so although my main problem was with the content of these books, they also weren't written very well. The fantasy world was too simple, and so not believable. The villains were too easily vanquished. They exciting parts occurred in the wrong places, or they just didn't occur at all.

But, the thing that makes the whole thing so frustrating is that the author is actually very talented. The stories are very enthralling..sometimes, when you get past your confusion and disbelief. I actually found myself really caught up in the books at times. So I'm frustrated that someone so talented would waste it like this! Take the time to plan your books out a little better. Make your world more believable. Be more creative with your villains. And for goodness sake, come up with some better names! Oh yes, and get off your feminist soap box. And write something with a little bit better morals, especially if your audience is malleable young adult minds.

Okay, THE END of my rant. I apologize for my anger. But, one last thing. Did I mention that these books have been bestsellers, won lots of awards, and teens love them?? I mean, I guess they weren't the worst books I've ever read or anything. I just think our standards could be a little higher. We could do so much better.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Who is your perfect Match?

Just finished book number three- Matched by Ally Condie. This book was so hyped up that I was sort of afraid it wouldn't live up to my high expectations. I mean, a movie deal was signed even before the book was released! But, I didn't need to worry. Matched was exactly what I expected.

This novel is a dystopian love story (my two favorite things to read, by the way) about a seventeen year old girl named Cassia. The story opens with Cassia on her way to her Match Banquet, where she will find out the name of her Match- the statistically compatible boy that she will ultimately spend the rest of her life with. Cassia is perfectly happy with her Match results, The Society, and her life, until things began to happen that make her question all that she thought she knew and believed.

Matched is beautifully written, interlaced with powerful imagery, inspiring poetry, and thought-provoking themes. It was so easy to get caught up in the story, and very hard to leave Cassia and her world!

I have no doubt that this book, its sequels (Matched is the first in a trilogy), and the forthcoming movies will be a huge success. It is already being called the next Twilight, although thankfully it is much better written, and it is noticeably similar to The Hunger Games. Which actually brings me to my one complaint about the book: lack of originality. Not so much in the world and plot and themes, but in the love story. The tried and true, lovable love triangle. A great way to get teen girls to read your books! Jut put in two wonderful guys, both vying for the heroine's attention, and you've got a bestseller right there! It seems that this love triangle has permeated every young adult series that I have read recently: Twilight, The Uglies, The Hunger Games, The Mortal Instruments... and now this too. Now, I'm not going to become a hater over this or anything. The book is just too good! And, the series isn't over yet, so maybe it's too soon to make judgments. But, for me personally, I'm over the overdone love triangle.

So, do I recommend this book? Most definitely. What are you waiting for? Go read it!

And finally, for those of you who are wondering who your Match would be, wonder no more! The official Matched website,, can tell you! (Using facebook, of course.) I won't tell you all who my Match is... I think that's going to stay a secret. But I encourage you to give it a try! Don't worry, it doesn't post your results on facebook without your permission. Or at least, I don't think it does...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tetralogy time!

I have just finished my second book of the year, Shadowheart by Tad Williams. Shadowheart is the final volume in a four-part series,which, by the way is apparently called a tetralogy. Who knew? This tetralogy is a lengthy epic fantasy story that follows many different characters and their attempts to save their world from complete destruction by an evil villain. Oh wait, I just described every fantasy series, didn't I?

Despite it's slightly overused theme, I really enjoyed this series. The more I think about it, the more I am amazed at Tad Williams' ability to create such a detailed world with so many rich, fully developed characters and countless intriguing plot lines that all tie in together so perfectly at the end. It was easy for me to become completely immersed in the story and to feel like I was there, in this completely different world, taking part in these world changing events. And that, my friends, is why I read fantasy. So, overall, the Shadowmarch series has my two thumbs up!

More specifically, here is what I liked:
The characters: All the characters were well developed and realistic. I loved seeing how the characters changed and grew, especially Briony, who started out as a whiny teenager and ended as an admirable queen. Quite a transformation!
The ending: The end wasn't too happy and everything didn't work out perfectly (cough Twilight cough) but the author also didn't go on a meaningless killing spree of minor characters (cough Harry Potter..). Also, although there was a lot resolution (over a hundred pages of wrapping up!), I think it was needed. I really enjoyed the details that I received at the end, especially since I had to get through so many details to get there! I would have felt ripped off if the book had ended any sooner. Plus, I found myself really sad about leaving my dear characters; turns out we got pretty close in those 2500 pages!

What I didn't like:
The details/length: Sometimes, and only sometimes, these books seemed to drag a little. Too many details. Also, often the story would go to the point of view of some pointless and boring character, and then nothing would happen. Sure, maybe these characters added a little to the story, but really I think that sometimes they were only there to drag the story out a little longer. I can't categorize these books as "can't put downs" because honestly, due to these annoying characters, there were several times when I really wanted to stop reading.

So, would I recommend this series? Well..
Epic fantasy lovers: Yes! Most definitely read this. Some of the best stuff in the out there I think!
Epic fantasy haters: No, probably not for you. It's not quite good enough to bridge the gap between genres.
Epic fantasy dabblers: This is a great series for you! It's only four volumes and it's a really good story. Go for it!

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011 Begins with a Package!

And we're off! Today I received a much anticipated package, full of books purchased with my Christmas money. I had hoped the books would be in before the start of 2011. Unfortunately, they didn't arrive until today.
So, three days late already, I have begun my journey with the book Shadowrise by Tad Williams. This book is the third in a series of four. (I reread the first two while waiting!) The fourth book, Shadowheart is next on my list. These massive volumes run at about 600-700 pages
each, so it may be a little while before I finish them! In hindsight, it might
not have been a good idea to start with two never-ending stories, but hey, I've got 362 days left.
Plenty of time, right?

<- These are all the books that came in my package, and therefore and preview of some of the books I will be reading in the next few months. I am especially excited about Matched, because I have heard so many wonderful things about it!

Keep checking back to see what I think of these books, and how my challenge is coming along!