Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ever by Gail Carson Levine

I recommend this book for: middle and high school

Another winner from Gail Carson Levine! Like Fairest, this book has echoes of old stories put into a new fantasy world, and the results are brilliant.

Kezi loves to dance and knot rugs, but she does not realize how much she loves life until a vow made by her father threatens to take it away from her. He promised a sacrifice to Admat, the god of their land, not realizing that his daughter would be the one to meet the criteria. She has thirty days to live.

Olus is the god of the winds, worshipped in a neighboring land. However, he is lonely among the gods (his closest brother is 412 years older than he is) and poses as a mortal shepherd, renting land from Kezi's father. Watching the family, he falls in love with the girl and determines to save her.

More than a simple love at first sight story, this book explores some really interesting questions about religion and what it takes to be a hero. I really appreciated that Kezi made her own decisions about faith and rescued herself when she got into trouble. Fans of fantasy and good clean love stories should eat this one up!

Tell me more!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

White Sands, Red Menace by Ellen Klages

I recommend this book for: middle school and up

I was very excited to see a sequel to The Green Glass Sea, and it doesn't disappoint! Although a little slow in the beginning, things quickly pick up. Which is strange, because not much actually happens - it covers the time after the end of WWII, with America settling down and figuring out what "normal" is again.

Dewey is still living with the Gordons, in a small town in New Mexico. She is worried about fitting in at her new school - not easy for a girl who would rather take shop than the required home ec course - but it turns out that Suze has more problems when she echoes her mother's anti-bomb philosophies. Mrs. Gordon is running an awareness campaign about the effects of the atomic bomb and trying to prevent it from being used ever again. There is tension at home as well, since her husband is still working on rockets for national defense and to try to beat the Russians into space.

This is a relatively quiet book, but there is a lot happening on the personal level - Suze's jealousy over Dewey's relationship with her mother, the tension between the adult Gordons, new friendships for both girls, a fantastic piece of art/machinery, and a little romance. As in the last book, the characters feel real and the writing is lovely. Klages gives a feeling for what it was like to live in this period, and it's a must-read for fans of historical fiction. Just make sure you start with The Green Glass Sea first!

Tell me more! But don't be fooled by the product description - Rita's appearance is nowhere near the focus of this book.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

I recommend this book for: grade 7 and up

I don't read a lot of science fiction, but this is my husband's new favorite book, so I made a deal with him to read it. (I can't say what he's reading in return, but it's one of my favorites that he'd never have picked up on his own.) And I enjoyed it!

Ender Wiggin is 6 years old when he becomes humanity's last hope. Twice, a race of insect-like aliens has tried to invade Earth and wipe out the human race. Earth needs a brilliant military leader to prevent them from coming a third time, and Ender looks like the best bet. He leaves his family and enters Battle School, where in addition to lessons and military strategy, he spends the next years of his life fighting mock battles in zero gravity against other armies of students. He is different from the others, he is a target for bullies, and he is absolutely brilliant.

There were some things I really liked about the book - the major plot twist was beautifully written, in that I completely didn't see it coming, but as soon as it had happened I realized all the foreshadowing that came earlier and that I should have seen it coming. Card has a talent for making you want to read just one more chapter, and the reader gets to see several sides of the more complex characters. All of this was really good.

However, I had trouble relating to Ender - it was difficult to remember that most of the characters were under the age of 12 for most of the book because of the way they spoke and interacted, but Ender was so brilliant it was almost like he wasn't human. No matter what he was up against, he was able to find the answer quickly, and he won far more than he lost. He had some major character flaws as well, so it wasn't that he was perfect - just scarily smart.

Anyway, this was a pretty enjoyable read. The vocabulary and concepts are a bit higher level (I had to look up Hegemon to see what it meant), and parts of the book are political. There are also a few pretty gross/violent moments, which may be a turn-off for some readers, but it's a great choice for anyone even mildly interested in science fiction, and the beginning of a still-growing series.

Other thoughts, plus the first chapter.

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by J.K. Rowling

I recommend this book for: middle school and up

The book that Harry Potter fans have been eagerly awaiting, ironically, makes almost no mention of Harry at all. Not that it's a bad thing. These 5 stories from the wizarding world are entertaining and magical, and not just because they're about wizards. Interestingly, the wizard you do learn a lot more about is Dumbledore, through his written commentary following each story, supposedly discovered among his papers after his death. He reveals tidbits of wizarding history as well as anecdotes from his personal life (who knew that Nearly Headless Nick was a victim of witch hunts?) This is a quick read (my 13 year old brother-in-law and I read the same copy on the same night), but enjoyable.

A word to the squeamish - story #3, "The Warlock's Hairy Heart" is a bit gruesome, and the reason for the middle school and up recommendation. The other stories would be fine for younger readers, although the last one, "The Tale of the Three Brothers" as featured in Deathly Hallows is also rather dark.

Amazon page.