Thursday, December 18, 2008

Leadership and Self Deception: Getting Out of the Box by Arbinger Institute

Completed: December 18, 2008
Rating: 4.5

Yes, I am giving this one of the highest rating I have ever given, and it is a self-help book. The basic ideas of the book is that we all struggle with the ability to constantly view and treat others as human beings--with interests, wants and needs--rather than as objects. Basic, but deep. In my opinion, this goes on my Must Be Read By Everyone list under the topic of Human Relations, similar to how Robert Kiyosaki's book, Rich Dad Poor Dad, is a must read under the money topic. Do what you have to to get your hands on this one.

So let me just list the reasons this is a must read:
1. It is written as a narrative, making the non-fiction subject matter extremely accessible and consumable.
2. It is succinct. It gets to the point and makes the point.
3. It rings true. I use this expression frequently when I can't think of a better way to describe the feeling to the general public. The gist of this is that when you are reading it, there are certain parts that when you read them you just know there is truth at the heart of the message. You just know.
4. It is applicable.

So if I am such a huge fan, why not give it a 5.0? Well, I have one key complaint. While the material is applicable I would have liked to see more in the way of examples of how it could be applied in certain situations. The theory is explained well, and with that conceptual base it is an easy step to make basic, meaningful changes in your own life, but it would be great to see specific examples that might help you apply the information in many-to-all situations.

I have since re-read this book and have an updated review here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Over Sea Under Stone by Susan Cooper

Completed: December 9, 2008
Rating: 3.0

This is the first book in the Dark Is Rising Series by Susan Cooper, which includes a Newberry Award winner, I believe. It is another nostalgic read for me, since I read the whole series about 20 years ago, and I have been returning to the classics on-and-off all year. Unfortunately, a few of the other characteristics common to these nostalgic reads are found in this book as well.

A well-written work, the speed of the novel is a half-step behind where today's readers would expect. A good portion of that can be attributed to mannerisms that seemed normal when the book was authored, but just seem so slow and awkward by today's standards. After a chase seen where the hero narrowly escapes the bad guys, it is weird to pause the story to "put the car away." Also, the whole story hints at a mystical power found in people and objects; in fact the main goal of the protagonists is to find one such object. However, we never run into this power, either in function or form. To me that made it all a little anticlimactic.

Aside from that, it was a solidly written story, and I can appreciate that. I will be taking on the second book sometime soon, so it isn't like I would give up on the series. Instead I would label it as I have indicated with my rating: average.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Leading with the Heart: Coach K's Successful Strategies for Basketball, Business, and Life by Mike Krzyzewski and Donald T. Phillips

There are few books that are life changers. This one was an almost-life changer. If I had found this book a year ago when I had a chance to use more of Coach K's principles in every day life, it would have been a life changer. It is just that good.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski (pronounced She-shef-ski) has made a success of the Duke basketball program by a unique blend of systematic, military-style discipline and creative, instinctual gut reactions. In this book he lays it all on the table in what was a very absorbable form for me; he uses specific references to basketball. I enjoyed not only the principles he taught, but also feel that a piece of me has become a Duke basketball fan. I plan on re-reading this one again in the future.

Another feature I really liked was the end-of-chapter summations of the key points. If you read the book once, and then review those bulleted lists at the end of each chapter a couple of weeks later, I am thinking that that is as good as reading it twice. I applaud Coach K, and his co-author, for putting this piece together and filling it with the personal, honest information that he did. It really makes the book.

Date Completed:11/18/2008
Rating: 4.3

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

I will admit, I read this book purely because of the movie that is coming out. I like to read the book before seeing the movie, as it is near impossible, in my opinion, to do it the other way around.

So what did I find in this Newberry winner? For one, I sense that this story continues on levels that I didn't even perceive on the first read through. If I wanted to, I could read this book three more times in a row, and get more from it each time. The symbolism between the characters and events in this book and real life are everywhere. At deeper levels, it is more about good vs. evil, and the choice that we all have to choose between them. Read it one more time and you will get insights about those who would entice us to choose one way or the other, and how there are both good people that want us to choose evil and how there are bad people that would have us choose good. Irresistible, isn't it?

Well, I'm not going to do that. I chose to read it because it was a good story, suitable for children. And it delivered on that level as well. There is a little mouse who falls in love and has to stand up to mean rats to save her. That is just a plain good story.

My only criticism: The writing style spoke directly to the reader at times, and I am not fond of that practice. It is similar in style to the Series of Unfortunate Events series, although very dissimilar in feeling. It wasn't horrible, but I don't think that it helped the story get the job done.

Date Completed: 11/17/2008
Rating: 4.3

Ralph S. Mouse by Beverly Cleary

So I said a while ago that the next story I read to my boys for a bedtime story was going to be a more recent, more boyish story. Well, I said that but I already had Ralph S. Mouse in my library basket at home, so I somewhat postponed that statement. I say somewhat because by all accounts this classic by Beverly Cleary is more boyish. Still a little dated, but much more boyish.

The boys would agree with that as well. They all got into the story, and stuck with it pretty well. My criticism? I don't have much to say really. It wasn't fantastic, and there are a few "silly" aspects to the characterization of the main mouse, Ralph, but overall it is age appropriate for my crowd (ages 5-9). I feel that since I don't have any big issues I have to rate it higher, although I will also admit that it isn't in my target age category.

Date Completed: 11/15/08

Rating: 4.0

Friday, October 31, 2008

Storyteller by Edward Myers

So I picked up Storyteller out of fear. I have been working on a storyline that sounded eerily similar to this one for several years, and when I saw this book on the shelf my heart sank with the concern that only rookie writers have: "oh no, someone already wrote my book!"

Of course, that is ridiculous and as I got into this book its ridiculousness was confirmed. This book is nothing like my book. The characters are different, the plot is different, this one is finished, mine only has a few chapters. This one is published, mine is destined to be a rarely downloaded e-book.

So was it a good book? Umm... more or less. Was it a waste of time? Not remotely. Why? Well, only one chapter into the book I formed two opinions. First, I was convinced that this was a first-time author, and second, I was also convinced that if this book could be published, then mine had a shot as well. It wasn't a horrible story, but it lacked the polished touch of most published books. There were two timelines to deal with and very short choppy chapters that kept you from really digging into the plot. It was 2/3 of the way through the book when I finally felt involved in the story and cared about the characters and what was happening to them. If I were to compare this to one of my previous reads it would be the Book of Story Beginnings, although that one is a notch or two above Storyteller. It could also be compared to The Book of Lies.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. It turns out that Meyers has written a number of books. I was surprised, but in either case I thank him for the motivation I got from the experience. It is good to have that "I could make it" attitude.

Date Completed: 10/31/08
Rating: 3.1

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary

This might seem like an odd book for this list, I don't know. It will probably seem less odd, however, if you consider that this was the follow-up bedtime story book to Mrs. PiggleWiggle. There are some interesting parallels between the two. Both are set in a time that my boys would associate with their grandparents; a world where mothers stayed at home and the fathers worked, and every kid in town has a mother and a father to speak of. Neither contain any racy action scenes and both end up with good down-to-earth moral lessons about how children should behave and interact with the world. Weird.

There were some differences as well. Beezus, the older sister of the exasperating Ramona (it felt like the word exasperating was used at least once per page, but it describes her so well) struggles throughout the book with the guilt of realizing that she doesn't always like her sister. While the specific conflicts between the two were pretty abstract to my boys due to the decade it was written in, the message came across loud and clear: it is OK to be angry with a sibling, because there is a deeper relationship there in the end. In the last chapter Beezus even comes right out and says that sisters don't have to love each other ALL the time, and my oldest son, who is the same age as Beezus the character and with two younger brother really related to her problems, interrupted my narration to add that it should say sisters and brothers. Yes, the message sank in very well.

I give this a higher rating than Mrs. PiggleWiggle because the characters are a little more full, and the book didn't slip into a formulaic pattern so much. The boys enjoyed it more, but I think I am going to try them out on something a little more modern and with a quicker tempo and see how that goes. Not that we won't return to classics like this, but it is time for something a little different I think.

Date Completed: 10/29/08
Rating: 3.4

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Candy Shop War by Brandon Mull

It is late, so this will be short.

This is a fantastic book in every way, with only one criticism. Mull doesn't know how to write a stand-alone book. By all accounts he isn't planning more Candy Shop books. Now I don't think that will happen because I think his fans/editor/neighbors/mother will persuade him otherwise, but he thinks he has written a stand alone book.

I don't profess to be an expert on much. Sure I spread my opinion around because I can, but I know that I'm not a literary genius on any level. However, if there is one thing I know about it is juvenile fantasy fiction series. And this was the first book of one of them.

The characters are deep; you really get involved in them. The ending only leads to more questions and there is no closure to the larger story. Nate and his friends aren't going to just go away and live "happily ever after" after having a war with magic candy. No way.

If it walks like a duck, swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it's gotta be a duck.

Hey Brandon, I look forward to the next book in the series!

Date Completed: 10/26/08
Rating: 4.2

Home on the Prairie: Stories from Lake Wobegon by Garrison Keillor

So a few posts ago I blogged my first audio book, counting it among my books read. This is one more step in that direction as this too was an audio program. However, I saw no reference that it was a book as well, so my counting it as a book is somewhat tenuous, however I am supported by Amazon, which has it listed in the "book" category. In any case, it was a worthwhile listen so it definitely counts.

For those of you who haven't heard the Prairie Home Companion radio show, I suggest you look it up on your local public radio station, make yourself a tall glass of lemonade, or hot chocolate depending on the season, and then go sit on the porch (or by the fire) and enjoy a slow-paced treat. Why is it a treat? It is entertaining, consistent and free. What more do you want?

Mr. Keillor invites musical guests, holds small town contests and performs in old school radio dramas/comedies. It hearkens back to an older era in a timeless way.

System requirements: As you know all technical products have system requirements, so I want to let you know what you need to enjoy this show.
1. First and foremost, you need patience. Similar to some of the older vintage books I have written about, this show doesn't move at a 2008 pace, but rather something closer to a 1908 pace. Is it entertaining? Yes. Does it blow your socks off? No. Take your own dang socks off.
2. You need a working brain. Often I find that this show leaves me thinking. Not every time, and it isn't always serious, but to me it is a key part of the show to be able to pause and let something sink a little deeper now and then. But not all of the time. Sometimes just laugh, listen or smirk and then move on with life.

So what did I listen to to justify this post? At the end of every show, Garrison ends with the "News from Lake Wobegon" spot. It is basically a story/monologue told with a story teller's grace about the Wisconsin town of Lake Wobegon, which is the fictional home town of Keillor. His detail and speaking skills are outstanding, and after a few times you actually think of his characters as his actual neighbors. His stories leave you laughing and maybe, if you are extra tenderhearted, crying. Alas, I'm not one of those, but I do feel the sentimental side of the show.

This CD set was a collection of some of those "News" segments from over the years. It was a great listen and they selected a good cross-section of his work. Some funny, some contemplative, all entertaining. I give it one of the highest ratings I've ever given.

Date Completed: 10/23/08
Rating: 4.6

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Superior Saturday by Garth Nix

Superior Saturday (The Keys To The Kingdom)

My turn finally came to borrow this one from the library, it being a new release and all. At this point I have decided that this series is worthy of adding to my personal collection, but I am going to make an effort to get a deal on them instaed of buying them all full price one by one.

In this, the next to last book, Nix does a great job of keeping the story concise for his younger readers while still maintaining the complexity for his more advanced readers. He really walks the line on that one and he does a great job. I will warn you that he leaves you hanging like nobodys business in this one, but that is what I get for reading a series that is in production. At least I didn't start it until we are one book away from completion. My searches on the internet only lists 2009 as the release date for the final book, which would presumably be named "Lord Sunday" if the convention so far is continued. Anyway, I give this series a high rating overall, even though Nix has to walk the line between what his audience can understand and what his imagination can dream up (as I mentioned).

I did find that wikipedia has a great synopsis of this book (and the series). Read at your own risk; there could be spoilers.

Date Completed: 10/18/08
Rating: 4.0

Birnbaum's Walt Disney World For Kids By Kids 2007 edited by Wendy Lefkon

Birnbaum's Walt Disney World for Kids, by Kids 2007 (Birnbaum's Walt Disney World for Kids By Kids)

So I must be feeling adventurous these days because this represents another first for this blog. This is my first juvenile non-fiction book this year. Of course, the topic is Disney; Disneyworld to be more specific. Of course, that was a draw for me, but I also was curious to see how the juvenile non-fiction book was put together. Here is what I found.

1. It seemed to be one long graphic arts project. Text was not arranged on the page with supplementing graphics and pictures, rather the text was all inlaid in different colored shapes and each shape was a colored element in its own right. Over all I think it worked for the audience intended. The graphical grouping helped keep topics together, even for the youngest reader.

2. The topics are short and succinct, only providing the information that the target audience would be interested in. The strange thing is that as I paged through the book and saw the layout, I expected it to be a quick read: an hour or two. I spent at least that with it. I was surprised by the amount of content that was in the book.

Date Completed: 10/15/08
Rating: 3.0

A note on my posting format . . .

I am doing away with the synopsis link. When I started this blog, I first felt compelled to give my imaginary reader a brief summary of the book, and then give my opinion. This seemed like a bad idea for two reasons: 1.)it is tremendously redundant as there are a countless other Internet sites that provide that and 2.) it is a very time consuming task. I wouldn't mind spending the time, of course, if I thought it was adding value, but I don't think it does.

In any case, by second or third post I decided that I could just link to Amazon's page for the book which often included a short synopsis of the plot. That way those who wanted to know more about it could go there and get the info they were looking for. I also included one of Amazon's product banners, which is useful because it tells you how much the book would cost on Amazon used (the best way to buy books). It also added some color to my site as well without me having to scour the web for pictures of books.

Well, Amazon's link creator was broken when I was writing my last post, and it got me to thinking about this strategy. I have decided to do away with the synopsis link, because clicking on the graphic take you to the same page. I also think I am going to experiment with different graphic links. The current links look too commercial with the prices on them, and if someone was really interested in buying the book and wanted to know the price, they could tell by clicking on the picture.

So I will be experimenting for a few posts. Just an FYI. Thanks for coming and reading. Hopefully you share my love (or distaste) for some of these books, or you have found my opinions interesting or helpful.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

I Am America (And So Can You!) by Stephen Colbert

Link to Amazon synopsis:

This is my first step into the realm of audiobooks on this list. In the end I decided to include it because, after all, a book is a book. Also, I will be able to cover more ground, so to speak, by using my time driving to "read". I have already acquired my next two audiobooks after this one, so I think it is a trend that will be around a while.

For those of you who don't know Stephen Colbert, he has a mock-news show on the Comedy Channel that I find pretty humorous. As with most shows on the Comedy Channel, it is not considered a show appropriate for kids, so my expectations were similarly set for this book. Wow. Did he ever exceed my expectations on that one. Not only are parts of this book not suitable for a younger audience, VERY FEW parts of this book ARE suitable for a younger audience. Did you catch the subtle emphasis there. If you are under the age of 16, do not pick this one up, whether it is an audiobook or not. I would make that warning on the basis of sexual references, foul language, and just as dangerous: sarcasm that you might not pick up which would shape your views of what is being said.

The redeeming value in this book is Colbert's staunch conservative approach. I didn't know it before picking the book up, but he is a devout Catholic. Like, Sunday school teacher devout. He openly bashes every other religion, opinion or group that does not believe in Catholic principles. Why do I find that redeeming? Because even though I am not, have not and will not ever be a Catholic, some of the values that mainstream Catholicism espouses fit with my traditional conservative set of values. While I don't always agree with his method of discussing his beliefs, which is basically to insult every other way of thinking, it is that strong approach mixed with a heavy dose of sarcasm that got him his own show on the Comedy Channel. His really, really offensive remarks are couched in subtle mannerisms that leave you laughing and at the same time wondering if he really believes what he just said or if it was just a joke. After a few chapters you realize that he really does believe those things, but he protects himself from attack through comic absurdity. You or I could never express similar views, even though our statements would probably be much more moderate and tolerant, but he can get away with it and we can't.

So would I recommend this book? Yes, with the right caveats and only to the right people. If you can't stomach strong language, or won't follow instructions when I tell you which parts to skip (the two parts with the drunk guy at the ball game are the worst, I think), then you won't get a recommendation from me. For the rest of you, if you want to hear a mainstream media man preach conservative values in a contentious way, then this is the book for you.

Date Completed: 10/13/08

Rating: 3.5

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rage of a Demon King by Raymond E. Feist

Link to Amazon synopsis:Rage of a Demon King (Serpentwar Saga , Vol 3)

So I can't say much about this book. I can't say I would recommend this to young readers; it is an adult book. I can't say it was the best work I have read from Feist. I can't say it is the worst. I can't say it was predictable, but I can't say that it felt all that different from his other books. In a lot of ways this book met expectations, and after the last book in this series (which was dismal) it was a welcome change. However, I'm generally luke-warm about it.

I am probably being a little generous with my rating because I have grown to like his characters, and lot of the mainstays from other books were killed off in this one. Chalk it up to fictional respect for the dead.

Date Completed: 10/6/08
Rating: 3.9

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle by Betty MacDonald

Amazon page: Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle

Wow. So this is quite the jump. In some ways this was a refreshing counter-part to the Raymond Feist book I finished at about the same time, as this is probably at the lower end of the reading level I am interested in. In fact I went back and forth as to whether or not I should count it, but in the end I decided to draw the line at 100 pages, and this was over that line, so it is in. Here are some thoughts on this classic childrens book:

Pros: So I picked this up on a recent library excursion partly out of nostalgia and partly for my kids. I remember loving the book because the lady in it seemed so silly, and that was about all I remembered of it. Lately, I have been wanting to read to my kids more often, and so this was the perfect target. All in all, this book satisfied both requirements. Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle is still too silly, and my kids really enjoyed the reading time. Even though it is a classic, it still did a great job of holding their attention (ages 5,6,9).

Cons: I didn't realize how old-fashioned this book was. Similar to other older books I have read (Gom on Windy Mountain, Wizard of Oz, etc.) this book was written at a time when the pace of every day life was a few notches slower, which can make it hard to relate to the characters. The language is outdated as well, although that isn't as much of a con since I think it is good for the boys to recognize that generations of kids before them grew up and flourished without playing computer games and watching movies every waking minute.

Overall, it was an OK read, although not nearly as good as Junie B. Jones for a similar age group (almost). [I need to read some of those just so I can write about them here. I highly recommend them.]

Date Completed:9/27/08

Rise of a Merchant Prince by Raymond Feist

Amazon summary: Rise of a Merchant Prince (Serpentwar Saga)

So first let me say that this is not a kids book by any means. I don't think I have many (or any) readers, but if you have stumbled onto this blog and are under the age of 16, you can just stop reading now because Raymond Feist is an Adult author. Thanks.

OK, so now that the young'uns have left, let me say that this was the most disappointing book for me. In the past I have wondered if we were going to be stuck in repetitive plots over and over again, and I think that Feist's readers or editors must have voiced similar concerns, because in this book he drastically changes his strategy. Instead of the same action-packed fantasy/adventure story, we now get a poor attempt at a medieval Wall Street drama with a mistress around every corner. While I applaud the attempt at something different, this was not a success. More than half a dozen books by this author in this world, and I find myself having trouble staying interested. That is crazy.

What I think is even worse is that he has a REAL story going on in the background as a sub-plot, and that should have been the real story. Yes, that was a carbon copy of the 3 or 4 previous books, but repetitive or not, at least I enjoyed those books. I can't tell if he was trying to add the story line for interest, or if it was supposed to be competing for the main plot line. If it was the latter, it lost, unfortunately.

Oh, and while I am ranting, the moral depravity increased another notch in this book. Not so much that I won't read the next one, but enough that I find it sad. Thus the warning for young readers.

Date Completed: 9/25/08
Rating: 2.9

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Lady Friday by Garth Nix

Link to Amazon Description: Lady Friday (Keys to the Kingdom, Book 5)

I'm just going to skip straight to the pros and cons, or cons and pros in this case:

Cons: I have a simple criticism of this series. Nix has done a great job with the characters and the plot in general. The setting works as well. What gets me is that there is a lot of buildup to a single scene in every book where Arthur, the hero, confronts the antagonist of the book. We are expecting some sort of fireworks by that point, or at least a really good fight scene, which we were treated with in book one. In every book since the bad guys have been giving up easier and easier in each one. Lady Friday was the worst offender yet. The conflict builds and Lady Friday is about to commit unthinkable evil. Arthur and his crew show up in the nick of time, but instead of a massive struggle it is over in less than half a page. He shows up, says a few things, and Lady Friday actually says something to the affect of "Yeah, I know I am beat." What kind of resolution is that? Every other character was scared of Friday, but our hero shows up and there aren't any fireworks. It is a bit of a let-down.

Pros: While the resolution is a bit weak, the rest of the plot is not. The world that is the setting is proving to continue to grow while not contradicting itself, framing the story nicely. There are now three factions vying for power, including the good guy, and in each installation we learn more about the threats each contender poses to the protagonist. The threats grow, the stakes grow, and we progress towards the final conflict with each book. In short, the author is doing his job beautifully overall. I look forward to Superior Saturday, which I had to reserve at the local library due to the well deserved waiting list.

Date Completed: 9/12/2008
Rating: 3.9

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Shadow of a Dark Queen by Raymond E. Feist

Link to Amazon synopsis: Shadow of a Dark Queen (The Serpentwar Saga, Book 1)

Feist has started another winning series in my mind. I actually don't have much to say about it. It is another intriguing Fantasy series, born out of the setting and characters of the previous Riftwar series. My only concern is that while the plot is different, the strategy is not. Here is his formula: War happens, there is a little-known magical undertone to the battle which means that if the bad guys win it will be the end of the world, not just the war. There is the classic "quest" and at the end the questors are reduced to a few barely living heroes who get saved by a master magician who until that point in time couldn't get involved for one reason or another. This was the formula for the Riftwar series, as well as some of its individual books, and also the basis for the two intermediate books, The King's Buccaneer and Prince of the Blood. Again, he leverages his formula very well, but I hope to be a little more surprised in the next book. Obviously, Feist is talented enough that I will be reading the next book.

Date Completed: 9/5/2008
Rating: 4.0

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Should I Do What I Love?: Or Do What I Do - So I Can Do What I Love on the Side? by Katy McColl

Synopsis on Amazon: Should I Do What I Love?: Or Do What I Do - So I Can Do What I Love on the Side?

This book addresses the age old question of "what should I do with my life." OK, it's not an age-old question really. Not too many generations ago people were just hoping to have something to do to earn a living, and were not so preoccupied with their personal happiness. In fact, a conversation with my brother-in-law several years ago revealed that he had the same opinion. "I don't really enjoy what I do, but it doesn't matter. My job provides a living for my family."

Yet, I can't help but ask the question still, and I am not alone in my generation. Money is out there, and for those who don't have money there is credit (for a while anyway). We are more concerned with creating a path for life-long personal happiness, and part of that happiness involves our profession in life. Now the question is whether that profession should just earn the money with which to seek happiness, or that profession should provide happiness, contentment, etc.

I am surprised that I actually finished this book. For one, I was not in the target audience of 20-something feminine individuals who wanted to pursue careers in the arts, but were concerned about the lack of earning potential/opportunity in their field of interest. Katy McColl was in this demographic, and wrote with an artistic lack of professionalism that I generally don't enjoy. And yet the question was posed well, and from my position of personal interest I couldn't put it down.

I generally don't like to give a synopsis, and I never give away the ending, except for this time. In the end the message I got was that if your situation permits it (you can live relatively cheaply) chase your true dream. Do what will make you happy. If you can't live on peanut butter for a while, then it is OK to do what you do just for the money, as long as you put your energy after-hours into what you love so you don't lose your dream and burn out. I feel OK about putting this out there because I am guessing that this book is one of those where 10 people could read it and give 10 different opinions about the intended theme.

Date Completed: 8/26/08
Rating: 3.5

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sir Thursday by Garth Nix

Link to the Amazon synopsis: Sir Thursday (The Keys To The Kingdom, Book 4)

In previous posts on the Keys to the Kingdom series I expressed concern about these books becoming monotonous, or at the very least repetitive. Drowned Wednesday did a good job of involving new characters and new settings, but I was still a little skeptical. Well, after Sir Thursday, I think that Nix is brilliant. The story carried the same style and speed, but the setting was different while still within the context of the book. And that made all of the difference. Old characters and new interact differently, and where we were on the sea careening with pirates in the last book, here we are on the castle walls defending against invaders. The future potential is wide and varied, even if the plot demands a certain direction. As I said, this was a masterful answer to my earlier concerns, and a lesson for me in my own work.

As to the downside, at times the main character's actions seemed ahead of his development. A boy too young to shave, and young enough to be recognized as a boy, is combat trained in 6 weeks, can tromp around in armor, and in the end is given command over others. The author mentions this in the text, I think seeking to answer the objection by admitting it, but that didn't work for me. Still a great read and a high recommendation.

Date Completed: 8/23/08
Rating: 4.1

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Drowned Wednesday by Garth Nix

Link to Amazon summary: Drowned Wednesday (Keys to the Kingdom, Book 3)

So my concern after book 2 was that the series was going to get predictable. I think Nix did an excellent job of walking the line. The series didn't take a huge turn in direction, but the resolution at the end came about in some new ways and with some new people. My only criticism is that it felt a bit rushed, almost like it was time for the book to end, so everything just kind of worked out for the hero. It wasn't way obvious, rather just a hint of "I have to get it done in the chapter" kind of feeling. Still a good book, but I doubt that this book will be my favorite of the series.

Date Completed: 8/21/08
Rating: 3.9

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Grim Tuesday by Garth Nix

Link to Amazon synopsis:Grim Tuesday (Keys to the Kingdom, Book 2)

Once again, I have a strong recommendation for the work of Garth Nix. The saga continues from the first book, Mister Monday, and the pace of the story is maintained through the whole book. The reading experience was one of those "did I really just read this whole book in one sitting" type experiences. Yes, it is written for a young audience, but it draws you in such that the time flies by, both for you and for the characters.

The only danger I see in this series is the possibility that the resolution to the conflict for each book could become predictable. In the first half of the first book you could see the conflict through to the final book, even if you didn't know very many details. There are seven guys that oppose the protagonist, each named for a day of the week--thus they are the Morrow Days. You can see seven books with our hero defeating one bad guy per book. The path to the final confrontation and defeat of the first two guys (Monday and Tuesday), while different, had enough in common that I am really hoping for something original in the third book. We'll see how it goes.

As for this book, it was a great installment in a series that draws me further and further in every time I turn a page. High marks for this one.

Date Completed:8/17/2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Half Magic by Edward Eager

Link to Amazon synopsis: Half Magic

As I mentioned in the last post, I had a basket full of series-starters. This was one of them. It was a different choice for me given the shortness of the book and big print, but the name drew me in, and there was a big shelf of similarly bound books, so I thought I would give it a try. It was a little on the disappointing side.

The story idea was fine, but the characters were a little ... obvious. Even for this age group. So you get past the characters and back to the story and it was mediocre as an overall product. I do like to branch out and read stuff that I feel like I learn from as a writer, and so I decided to give the next book a try. Unfortunately it turns out the Eager wrote a lot of similar, yet independent stories about children and magic, and that this wasn't a series by my standards. What a shame. Like I said, it wasn't a knock-your-socks-off-book, but I was ready to give it a go as a series where I thought that some of the character issues could be worked out, etc. Unfortunately no such luck.

In Eager's defense (since I have been pretty hard on his work here) this was an older book, and like many older authors (C.S. Lewis, Frank Baum, etc.) he didn't pace the story as quickly as many contemporary authors (and readers) prefer to. That probably has something to do with my opinion. If you like older j. Fiction, then you might disregard some of my opinions here and give Half Magic a try.

Date Completed: 8/5/2008
Rating: 2.4

Mister Monday by Garth Nix

Link to synopsis at Amazon here: The Keys to the Kingdom, Book 1: Mister Monday

I have a history with this book. As I mention at least every other post, I like to just peruse the juvenile fiction section at our local library, looking for books with the right font on the spine and the right thickness. Basically, I have physically profiled the books I like to read. Anyway, I picked up Mister Monday late last year, along with a handful of other likely targets. As happens from time to time, err, OK it happens all the time, my book basket is bigger than the empty spaces on my calendar, I returned it 3 weeks later unread. I forgot about it, and then a few months later, after the craziness of the holidays were over, I re-discovered the book the same way and took it home. For the second time I returned it unread. So when it caught my eye yet again on my routine trip through the fiction section I paused and thought it through. I decided that I wouldn't check it out unless I was really going to read it. I already had three different first-books-in-the-series in my basket, but I checked it out anyway, and when I got my first free minutes afterwards and got to pick the book to start with, this was it.

The good news is that as long as the editors and graphic design people don't change their ways, my physical book profiling is pretty good. A little weird in the prologue and first chapter or two, I had my doubts about this book early on, but by the end I am a fan and will read the rest of the series. Since you can read the basic plot elsewhere, I will attempt to give you a feel for the book. It is something of a cross between Levan Thumps and the Septimus Heap books (Magyk, Fltye, Physik, etc.) It is an adventure, with our main character destined to save the world, but in an outlandish kind of way. The world is contemporary, yet fantastic and eccentric.

I liked it and look forward to posting about the rest of the series.

Date Completed: 8/2/2008
Rating: 4.0

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Prince of the Blood by Raymond E. Feist

Link to synopsis:Prince of the Blood, 15th Anniversary Edition

So in my posting about The King's Buccaneer I ranted about reading books out of order, and this is the one that I should have read first. Oh well. After reading both, the only thing I really missed out on was some character background. The main story is still intact, but without the background you miss out on some of the subtle tie-ins. As I said, oh well.

Other than that this was another win for Feist. In my mind he still takes a hit for excessive graphic scenes, but he definitely has a lot of a skill.

Date Completed: 7/27/08
Rating: 3.85

The King's Buccaneer by Raymond E. Feist

Link to synopsis: The King's Buccaneer

Maybe I am a little bit of an organizational freak, but if I have one hard and fast rule about reading a series, or even books connected by the same setting, I have to read them in order. I get frustrated every time an author writes a prequel, forcing me to make a judgment as to which order to follow, the order they were written, or the order of the storyline. It just interrupts the flow of the story to read it out of order. Well, for the first time that I can remember I read a series out of order. I was going on vacation, so I picked up the next two books by Feist from our local library, but when it came time to pack I realized that I would only get to read one of them, so I grabbed The King's Buccaneer thinking that it was next. I was a third into it before I realized that I was out of order. Dang.

It was still a good book in most respects. I like the way that Feist is digging into his setting and coming up with more an more plausible branches to his setting. In fantasy, setting is super important, and to carve off too small of a world up front makes writing hard, as does carving off a world too big. Back in the RiftWar series I noticed that the setting already spanned worlds, which is pretty big. By the end it had spanned many, many worlds, and the amazing thing is that he did it all without so much as sticking a big toe over the fantasy/scifi line. That is saying something. So now the story continues, and we explore the home world even more. The storyline is nicely linked to previous conflicts and the characters are either old characters being developed or resolved further, or new characters altogether. It is well done.

Now for a bit of criticism. As I have said before, I am in it for the light entertainment value, which is why I prefer juvenile fiction at the end of the day. One thing I have noticed in Adult Fiction writers is that they often start out low key, not too much violence, sex, etc., but once they get a series going that sort of stuff starts to increase. I wonder why that is. Do publishers think that that stuff is needed to sell books? I doubt that, since the first book is relatively clean and yet sold enough to justify the rest of the series. Do authors think that in order to add a dark dimension to their books they have to resort to graphic scenery? I don't get it. Anyway, I am noticing that trend in Feist's book, although it is a slow increase, which is saving the books from real disaster, still those are the parts that brought this book down from a 4+ rating in my mind.

Date Completed: 7/11/08
Rating (1 - 5): 3.85

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Book of Lies by James Moloney

Link to Synopsis: The Book of Lies

As I often do, I was wandering around in the juvenile fiction section of our local library, waiting for my 6 year old to finally pick which easy reader we would suffer over for the next week, and I happened on to this book. I will admit, I am a sucker for great cover art and a catchy font on the spine. There are some fonts that just ring true to the type of book I like to read and this was one of them. Anyway, I chucked it in the basket and after retrieving the 6 year old (just get both of them, it doesn't matter!) and the 4 year old (why did you get a science book about mars?) and the 8 year old (go look for that book again, I'm not going to find it for you) we checked out all 22 items, paid the $17.86 we owed in fines and headed home.

Overall, this is a great read. While I don't know anything about James Moloney, I would guess that this is a first book for him, and that he should keep after it. The overall story is good, the beginning was great, the ending was great, but the overall rating is drug down by a few unfortunate scenes/plot choices in the middle. To be specific, there is a point when he introduces elves into the story, and for a few chapters the plot seemed off. I don't know if corny or cheesy are accurate descriptors (or acceptable reviewing language) but lets just say it was very predictable and a bit contrived. The right people showed up at the right times, the dialogue was flat and the characterization was a bit off. I should establish myself as an expert on these matters, since I am being pretty specific: Those chapters sounded a lot like something I would have written, for those are all some of my favorite writing-sins.

Don't let that candid review discourage you from picking this book up, however. The beginning and end were pretty good, and he has set himself up for a good series. While the plot is not quite as deep as Fablehaven (which if you read my last review you know I am a huge fan of) it does have a lot of room to develop in the next book. I give this one a solid 3.75, and I look forward to the next release.

Date Completed: 7/2/2008
Rating: 3.75

Fablehaven: The Grip of the Shadow Plague by Brandon Mull

Link to synopsis: Fablehaven: Grip of the Shadow Plague (Fablehaven)

I am a huge Fablehaven fan. When I talk about how and why I like juvenile fiction, I am talking about books like this. Don't be fooled, this is not some cutsie little story meant to replace Saturday morning cartoons where no one gets hurt and the dialogue is limited to an occasional three-syllable word here and there. No, this is a great storyline, bringing action, strong characters and complex themes to the table. Yes, it was written for a younger audience, but when you have a great author putting it together, anything that would be missing from an adult version would only be a distraction in this story. The length is perfect, the story moves along at a good clip and in the end you can't wait for the next book in the series. I am rambling, yes, but this book deserves a little positive rambling.

Another thing I love about this book is that it is an all-out success story for a fairly new writer. While I have never met him, from the description on the dust jacket Brandon Mull lives relatively close to my current home. I would love to shake his hand and congratulate him on breaking into the big time. If I were to pursue my writing dreams I would be aiming to duplicate what he has done, and it is always a positive thing (to me) to see someone else succeed in that path. It more or less validates that it can be done, and it takes away any cheesy excuses I may have about why I haven't done it. I am my only barrier.

Well, this isn't a journal entry, so I will wrap it up with a big round of applause for the Fablehaven series. I look forward to the next installment.

Date Completed: 6/27/08
Rating: 4.1

EDIT: I reread this book in 2013 and wrote another review...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A Darkness at Sethanon by Raymond E Feist

Link to synopsis: A Darkness at Sethanon: Volume IV in the Riftwar Saga

Unfortunately I am behind in my reviews here. I say unfortunately because I think that this book would have gotten a much better review (which it deserves) if I had done it right away. In short, a series that I had serious reservations about after the first book came to an awesome conclusion in A Darkness at Sethanon: Volume IV in the Riftwar Saga.

The characters and conflict were all building throughout the last book, and yet I can say that I had no idea how Feist would tie it all up. The breadth of the story was manageable, so I wasn't concerned that it could be wrapped up in one volume, more I was concerned that it would be another unsatisfactory finale. Well, Feist delivered for me. He took the characters and the plot and developed them even further and still brought it down to a solid conclusion, giving us closure on where the characters were at as well as the plot. Yes, the story is still peeking open a little for later books/series to tie into. Overall a very satisfying read, earning one of my highest ratings yet.

Downside: A lot of metaphysical action that happens inside people's heads. I generally dislike this because it is a lot of action that isn't really action. Of course, that is probably one reason why I often prefer juvenile literature over adult material, which this series is.

Date Completed: 6/21/08
Rating: 4.1

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Starstone by Grace Chetwin

Link to synopsis: The Starstone

Lets see. So this is the last book in the Gom of Windy Mountain series, and I have the same criticism for this one as I do for several other series-enders. The ending is sadly insufficient. Nothing is settled, as far as the main character goes, and as for the plot, there was a flippin' war going on! How can you end the series in the middle of a war? I guess we are supposed to assume that because Gom won his battle, the war was a no-brainer. Very frustrating.

The rest of the story wasn't bad. A little quicker paced than the previous books, and with more character development. I'll always wish for the next three books that should have been written in this series . . .

Date Completed: 6/5/2008
Rating: 3.0

Gregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins

Link to synopsis:Gregor And The Code Of Claw (Underland Chronicles)

It took two different hold requests at the local library to finally get my hands on this book. The series as a whole is fantastic, a term here meant to mean both good and hard to believe. (Sorry, I had a Series of Unfortunate Events moment there.) This book was about 85% of everything I hoped it would be. I guess that is good for a solid "B" grade. Let's begin with the assumption that it is perfect, and then I will give my reasons---both of them---for deducting 15%.

Reason 1: The ending was less than satisfactory. You just didn't feel "closure" with how it wrapped up. I will admit to being a little sensitive to this since I have the same complaint about a number of other recent reads. I hope it isn't a trend, either in publishing or my tastes. Either one would be inconvenient. Anyway, I believe that there is a certain level of closure that an author owes the their audience after a series. A stand-alone book is one thing, but after 5 or 7 or 13 (don't even get me started about Robert Jordan) you owe your readers a little more than a 2 or 3 page "and they walked into the sunset" kind of ending. I am going to re-read Harry Potter just so I can continue this rant in that review. . .

Reason 2: So the whole story line is interesting, albeit a little weird, but being a fantasy reader that isn't what bothers me. Does anyone else think that Gregor is way way way too young to be in these situations? I am not saying anything about the age of the readers of this book. I am saying that I don't want to read about a 12 year old kid falling in love and being a great warrior. It is unbelievable. And that is saying something, coming from a guy who is not put off by talking rats, magic spells or humanoid aliens who wear wooden armor. Now if Gregor were 16 or so, I could begin to see it. Even 15 would be closer. But 12? No way.

Date Completed:5/31/2008
Rating: 3.3

Jason's Seven Magical Night Rides by Grace Chetwin

Link to synopsis: Jason's Seven Magical Night Rides

I will be brief. I like a lot of Chetwin's work. It is generally slower paced, but it gets it done, generally speaking. This book is not in that category. I had to force myself to finish it. It was disjointed and had very little sensible plot.

The one bright spot (worth .5): Many of the scenes used a variety of historical settings that were both interesting and informative, although I did not check up on any of the details.

A note: At the end I think I figured out what Chetwin was trying to do. Constant references to Jason's absent father were supposed to lead up to his acceptance of his situation. To me the whole thing came across as weak from a development perspective, and the finale was cheesy. Like I said, I like her other work, this one just didn't get there.

Date Completed: 5/28/08
Rating: .5

Silverthorn by Raymond E. Feist

Link to Synopsis: Silverthorn (Riftwar Saga, Volume 3)

I had taken a bit of a break from this series, having left the previous two books with mixed responses. The first ended very abruptly, while the second seemed the natural continuation of the first, and sweetened the experience quite a bit. The ending was complete from a plot perspective, while the author left you wanting to know more about the characters. I was excited to pick up Silverthorn.

One of the key questions in my mind was how Feist was going to introduce or prolong the conflict. Everything had been tied up, more or less, in Magician: Master, and it it was difficult to see exactly where the new book would go. In the end he did a great job of introducing new aspects of an old conflict introduced in the earlier works. For me the original mention of the new conflict had been supportive in nature to the main conflict in the first books, but in Silverthorn it takes center stage while the original conflict was pushed into a supporting, while still additive, role.

So that is the positive take-away here, and while it was short, I'll say now that I really enjoyed the story and look forward to the next book in the series. As for the negative, however, I can only take a moment to be critical on the Fantasy genre as a whole. Every genre has characteristics; defining features that make it appealing to some group of paying readers. I get that. For instance, I could read a hundred fantasy novels and if every one of them has some type of "elf" character in it, I'm OK with that. Elves work in the kind of stories that I like to read. However, there are a few plot lines that seem to get repeated over and over again, and I don't think it is helping the genre at all. I'm not talking about the archetypal journey here, which is a mainstay of course. That is a "feature" to me.

No, in Silverthorn the main plot line is centered around a damsel in distress. Yes, a prince sets out on a quest to save his beloved who has been poisoned by procuring the rare root that will save her. Doesn't that just sound a little too much like a dozen other fantasy plots you have read? I happen to be a fan of David Eddings, and while I don't know who wrote first, Eddings or Feist, one of them has to be copying each other. The plots are so similar and some of the characters are exact replicas. Especially Jimmy the Hand (Feist) and Talon (Eddings). Those two characters are 100% interchangeable. That kind of coincidence is hard to believe in such a creative field.

It makes me want to keep a running list of plot lines:
1. Prince quests to find the rare cure for his princess.
2. Young boy finds out about magic abilities and
A.)goes to magic school where a classic good vs. evil struggle occurs OR
B.)becomes all-powerful and saves the world, generally while being shunned by those in power.

Date Completed: 5/26/2008
Rating: 4.1

Friday, May 9, 2008

The Crystal Stair by Grace Chetwin

Link to synopsis: The Crystal Stair (Tales of Gom in the Legends of Ulm)

While the last book felt a little slow, this one seemed just a tad quicker paced. I wonder if this series was an early work for Chetwin, as you can see her improving from book to book.

A few critical points I picked out:
1. Everyone is either obviously good or bad. You know within the first paragraph of meeting someone what side of the line that character is on, and you can rely on the fact that there will be no changing sides. It makes the story feel a little flat.

2. The book especially has a number of scenes where you just can't believe the main character is stupid enough to do some of the things he does. It just lacks that human quality of common sense, even as rare as it is. Again, this flattens the story.

Date Completed: 5/7/08
Rating (1-5): 3.7

The Riddle and the Rune by Grace Chetwin

Link for synopsis: Riddle and the Rune, The

So life has been busy, but I did pick up the Gom of Windy Mountain series again. Actually, I had to request it from the library, since it seems to be a fairly rare and yet popular series. In some ways I can see why, as you get to know the characters through page after page of hearing their inner thoughts and seeing the world from their point of view. For the same reasons I can see why this book hasn't quite made the list for a reprint. Chetwin's story, although captivating in its detail, can be a bit slow at times, especially when compared with the newer competition in the juvenile section.

One thing I find interesting as I go through this series is that at the end of the book it might seem like relatively little actually happened. It reminded me of The Spiderwick Chronicles in that way, only these books are longer, yet the stories are comparable in how the progress per book. Just a random thought.

Date Completed: 5/5/08
Rating (1-5): 3.5

Magician: Master by Raymond Feist

Link for synopsis: Magician: Master (Riftwar Saga)

So where I was disappointed with the first book in this series, I am feeling a lot better after this one. The connection between these books is more solid than many others series as it reads more like one continuous story. The conflict I felt at the end of the last book with relationships--oh and the fact the main character had disappeared-- were resolved as all of the loose ends are picked up fairly early in this book. The adult fiction aspect shows up in the intense mental and political story lines, although I shouldn't overlook the fact that the more *ahem* adult aspects of relationships are a part of this story as well, but not so much that a middle-schooler would be confused. This series has turned into a good read, although not the best I've read. Respectable though. Very respectable. And yes, I am going to continue reading the series.

Date Completed: 4/30/08
Rating (1-5): 3.9

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Magician: Apprentice by Ramond E. Feist

Link for synopsis: Magician: Apprentice (Riftwar Saga)

So this book came highly recommended from a brother-in-law, so I decided to pick it up. In many ways it is a predictable fantasy read, complete with castles, princesses, political intrigue, elves, dwarfs, magicians, swordplay and aliens. Aliens? Ok, so it does have a few unique features, in fact the added twist of aliens in this classic fantasy brings the uniqueness that sets this book apart. I also really like the honesty when it comes to the time period. Nothing increases the "cheese factor" in a fantasy more than when it seems like the characters are a bunch of clean, intelligent middle class mid-west Americans who unfortunately are just stuck in this medieval world for the duration of the story. Instead Feist shows the pain of being in the dark ages; the lack of understanding the world around them, the danger involved in traveling, and the realities of starvation and warfare that made that time period so dark. We tend to romanticize what was a painful and ugly time period in a lot of ways. Certainly most books make it sound easier than it was.

So I have to add one criticism, but first I have to once again expose my opinion and therefore my bias. I read for pleasure and enjoyment. Therefore when I finish a book, even if it is part of series, I want to have some sense of closure. I also want the good guy to win. Neither of those things happened here. Yes, there was some closure, but only on one out of three plot lines. The main character doesn't even appear in the last third of the book! I know that there are other books in the series to follow, but that is just unacceptable to me. I have simply ignored the fact that the book is over, and I have the next sitting here next to me, so the story will continue. If I had been reading it back when they were originally publishing these books I would be very unhappy. Months of waiting with everything in limbo. That is no way to treat your readers.

Date Completed: 4/26/2008
Rating (1-5): 3.5

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Charlie Bone and the Beast by Jenny Nimmo

So I realized that my plot descriptions were largely redundant because Amazon provides them for everything anyway, so I am just going to provide a link to that page here: Charlie Bone and The Beast (Children Of The Red King, Book 6) and call it good.

What I really want is a chance to respond to what I read, so that is what I will do from now on.

So after reading Charlie Bone And The Hidden King (Children of the Red King Book 5)I was extremely disappointed. My main issue was that I thought that book 5 was to be the last book in the series, and the ending was not at all satisfactory. Very much like the ending in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7). Short, shallow and missing the closure that every reader should be rewarded with after reading a whole series. So I was delighted to run into CB and The Beast while looking for my wife's monthly book club book in Borders about a week ago. I snatched it yesterday and finished it last night.

Nimmo has done a great job of extending the series and the story line. Despite the abrupt ending in the last book, which resulted in a rough plot transition at the beginning of this book, the characters flow nicely into the new conflict. I am also pleased to say that the books no longer feel like a time-constrained rewrite of the Harry Potter series. The first book, Midnight For Charlie Bone (Children of the Red King) was the worst offender, introducing us to a school for magical children, where there were different divisions within the school, represented by different colored cothing. The main character was an 11-year old boy who just discovered he was magical, who immediately picked up two friends (one male and one female) as well as an arch-enemy. In some ways I am surprised that this series even got printed. I am glad it did though, because now that we are into the adventure the similarities are disolving and the concepts in The Children of the Red King series are standing on their own.

I will say that you could still find a LOT in common between Harry Potter and Charlie Bone, but I wouldn't let that keep you from enjoying this story. I should also admit that my rating on this one is biased. I have a strong appreciation for a good series, since you get more into the characters, their world and their problems. This book would not get rated so high if it were standing on its own. Luckily it isn't.

Date Completed: 4/20/08
Rating (1-5): 4.1

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald

Synopsis: J.D. (John Dennis) has a little brain. His brother Tom however has a great brain. From one chapter to the next we watch as Tom uses his great brain to save lives, help the disabled and welcome oppressed immigrants in the great state of Utah before the turn of the century. Oh, and he turns a profit every time. J.D. is thoroughly impressed as the brother he idolizes moves from one success to another, but as the list of Tom's genius ideas builds, and his profits accumulate, J.D. will learn whether or not Tom's moral limits will ever be reached.

Opinion: OK, so I like this book for one huge reason. It is the smart subtle comedy that is strewn throughout the pages that is the gem here. Yes, Tom is a pretty smart kid, but J.D., his little brother, is pretty smart himself. And yet Tom always brings him around to his way of thinking with a combination of faulty logic, undeserved guilt, and mild threats. It is cleverly done and deserves the success it has seen since its first copyright date in 1969. Mixed into the comic exchanges where Tom is jockeying for money and power is the background conflict between the dominant religion in the area at the time, Mormonism, and everything else. We see humanity on both sides of the religious line as each group makes moral errors, and the book closes that loop by demonstrating how everyone can coexist as well. I highly recommend this one for all to read, but it is a must-read for any child growing up in a religious environment without a lot of diversity. It teaches tolerance and understanding, as well as moral values, in an entertaining way.

Date Completed: April 9, 2008
Rating (1-5): 3.7

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Gom on Windy Mountain by Grace Chetwin

Years ago I ran into a number of books by Grace Chetwin, and all that I remember is that I loved every one of them. I was wandering around the library last week, waiting for my 6 year old to select which Star Wars picture book he would bring home this week when I spied this book and grabbed it immediately. I had no recollection of the plot, but as usual I didn't let that stop me for a minute.

Plot:Stig the Woodcutter lives a humble life on Windy Mountain, working out a lonely existence by trading with the town below. One day a woman shows up at his door and in short order becomes his companion for life, bearing him many children, all whom resemble their father. Finally, a boy is born resembling not Stig, but his wife, and to add to the conflict the good woman disappears overnight. The family must now figure out how to survive without the incredibly talented matriarch, and Stig must raise this baby boy, Gom, on his own, who seems to exhibit some unusual abilities. Gom searches for acceptance and meaning in his life, while Stig learns to live with the absence of his one true companion.

The plot was slow, to be honest. Like many books written at the 4-6th grade level the concepts were simple and the characters straight forward, but the velocity of the story was just plain sluggish. I will be the first to admit that new releases these days are fantastic in their action levels (just wait until I get around to the Artemis Fowl series), but it is a literary culture shock to go back to the slow, linear plot-lines of yester-year.

Having said all of that, I have to say that once again I was impressed by the author. Even with a slow plot line, a setting that is so far removed from today's youth and totally uncomplicated main characters, I found myself enjoying the entire journey. The plain conflicts throughout the story were genuine and real. The predictable characters were somehow able to interact in a way that brought them to life. Chetwin accomplished that great challenge that is before every author, and got me to care about what happened to the characters. When sad things happen, which they always do, I felt felt the melancholy that affected the actions of the characters. Even while requiring a healthy patience, it was a delightful read, and the slow plot is easy to forgive when you look at the remaining books in the series.

Date Completed: April 2, 2008
Rating (1-5): 3.5

Sunday, March 30, 2008

My "To-Be-Read" List

Back To Lists

Here is a list of books (in no apparent order) of books I want to read:

Grace Cooper - The dark is rising series
The Eyes of the Want
The Gift
Multiple Streams of Internet Income
The Millionaire Next Door
The Richest Man in Babylon
The 5 Ancestors by Jeff Stone
David Farland books
Coldfire Trilogy – C.S. Friedman
Blue Sword
Dragonlance Chronicles
The Magicians Trilogy by Jenny Nimmo
Magic Kingdom of Landover series - Terry Brooks

The first ninety days - business book
The Peacegiver by James L Ferrell - church book

Books about Disney:
The Imagineering Way: Ideas To Ignite Your Creativity by The Imagineers
The Imagineering Field Guides by The Imagineers
Walt Disney’s Imagineering Legends by Jeff Kurtti
Walt Disney: An American Original by Bob Thomas
Working With Walt: Interviews with Disney Artists by Don Peri
Project Future by Chad Denver Emerson
Christopher Finch’s The Art of Walt Disney