Category: Fantasy

Feb 18

Gold! Always Believe In Your Soul: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Coming of Age, Fantasy, Mythology, Supernatural 40

Bonjour Bookworms!

I like getting my reading material for free when I can, so I’m constantly checking up on my library’s digital selections. Though they’re not as extensive as I would like, sometimes I’ll get the chance try something out that I’m too “on the fence” about to purchase. In my most recent foray, I sampled The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The Alchemist tells the tale of a young shepherd from Spain who dreams of traveling the world. The entire book is written in parable form, and it focuses on finding the truth in life and discovering one’s own personal legend. The meaning of life and whatnot. Deep stuff.

Our hero decides to take his chances in the wide world and sells his flock of sheep on the advice of a gypsy and a “king” (I have doubts of his actual monarchical pedigree.) The little shepherd is advised to seek his own personal legend and find his treasure near the pyramids of Egypt. Along the way, he gathers lessons from a crystal merchant, a British man obsessed with alchemy, a really cool camel, and a lovely lady from a desert tribe. All seem to be pointing him toward his purpose in life.

the_alchemist2 (1)

Y’all, this book was just not my thing. I’m not great at getting into this kind of head space. Like… I take yoga, right? I find it relaxing, I appreciate the stretching and the way it makes my body feel. However… At the beginning of each class we’re taken through a sort of mini meditation. We’re instructed to clear our minds and concentrate on the present and our sense of being.

You know what I concentrate on? The fact that we’re trying to meditate in the basement of a recreational center that has a basketball game going on directly overhead and a Zumba class across the hall. I think about the old dude and his shiny blue pants. Are they pants? Are they tights? Were they made for cycling? Does this dude shop at a fancy yoga store I know nothing about? Perhaps my cheap Target yoga pants are laughable to this master of yoga. Wait. Did somebody just fart?!

I'm seriously concerned about the man tights.

I’m seriously concerned about the man tights.

I have no doubt that this book really resonated with a lot of people. I mean, it must have, because it’s a best seller. I am NOT a risk taker, so I have a hard time with encouraging people to, um, metaphorically sell all their sheep and go treasure hunting at the pyramids of Egypt. I don’t want to sound like a big grouch who lives to crush dreams. By all means, have dreams! Pursue them… But, you know. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. Or something. And thus, I leave you with this random song my eccentric dance instructor once choreographed and has thus become an earworm in my brain for all of time. Gold = Alchemy + “Always Believe In Your Soul” Lyric = Appropriate. (The beauty of fake math is that it need not make sense.)

Bottom line? I’m glad I got this from the library and didn’t pay for it.

Anybody else read this book? What did you think? Anybody else take yoga? Are the blue man tights a thing?

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Feb 08

Little Red Riding Hood meets Beauty and the Beast meets the Thriller Video: Scarlet Moon by Debbie Viguie

Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Humor, Young Adult Fiction 28

Happy Friday, Bookworms!

What’s that? You want to hear me ramble about Little Red Riding Hood again? You’re in luck because more Project Fairy Tale is coming your way! Scarlet Moon by Debbie Viguie is a young adult novel that takes Little Red Riding Hood and molds into something completely different… Not unlike the way I can model some sweet, sweet play-doh into tiny ropes of spaghetti. (Work with me here, it’s been a long week.)

scarlet moon

The book starts out with a young Little Red Riding Hood and her brother racing through the woods, a wolf in hot pursuit. The wolf gnaws on Little Red’s legs (her name is Ruth in this novel) and then her brother rescues her by stabbing the wolf. Once Ruth gets home and all stitched up, her brother Stephen decides he needs to go fight the Crusades.

Yes, the Crusades! So. Ruth is left at home for the 9 year gap in the story during which she ages enough to become a viable love interest. She works in her father’s blacksmith shop- in pants (GASP!) Eventually, her cousin Peter returns from the Crusades with grim news about Stephen (he’s killed in battle) and a SERIOUS case of PTSD.

Ruth and Peter’s grandmother was run out of town on suspicion of witchcraft once upon a time, but Ruth always assumes she’s just an eccentric healer/early scientist type. Perhaps just a bit of a hippie who likes to experiment with the mushrooms she finds in the woods. Whatever. Peter is convinced that she really knows magic so he takes to spending inordinate amounts of time with her to “train.” Much to his dismay, he learns little more than herbal remedies.

In the meantime, Hottie McHotstuff nobleman shows up in front of Ruth’s blacksmith shop after his horse throws a shoe. I know what you’re thinking. The Crusades were FOREVER ago, and horseshoes seem a wee bit on the industrial side. DO THESE DATES COINCIDE APPROPRIATELY? Have no fear, my bookworms, you sticklers for accuracy. They DO in fact work out. I googled it, baby. I now feel a little bit ignorant on the history of farriers, but I’m working on that. Horseshoes are like super ancient, believe it or not. Anyhow…

Hottie McHotstuff’s name is William. He’s got it bad for our lady in pants. Who can resist chicks who wield molten weaponry? But William also has… Dun dun dun! A SECRET! This is a young adult novel. With a supernatural twist. And a wolf. I’ll give you three guesses where the author went with this… But you’ll only need one.

WEREWOLF!

WEREWOLF! (This one wears a shirt. Most of the time. More’s the pity.)

William and Ruth are all attracted to eachother and stuff, but William can’t allow himself to marry Ruth without revealing his secret. Way back in the first Crusade (there were a bunch of them. Anybody else totally rolling their eyes at humanity’s incessant warring over religion?) William’s ancestor kills a farmer by accident and is cursed by the farmer’s witchy wife to become a werewolf. The curse becomes his legacy. Remember that wolf that tried to eat Ruth? IT WAS WILLIAM! (Seriously, I need a soap opera soundtrack in here. It would be so much more entertaining!)

So now we have Little Red Riding Hood meets Beauty and the Beast, with a dash of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video on the side. Can Ruth look past the fact that William might eat her by accident in a fit of passion? (Bella in Twilight seemed to have gotten over it effectively, but Ruth’s got more self respect. I mean, the girl rocks PANTS, y’all.)

I know I know. SPOILERS. This book was actually a really fast read. Despite being a little cheesy and predictable, it wasn’t awful. If you like paranormal YA romances, this is right up your alley. If you’re a snarky pain in the ass like myself, you might want to read it anyway. How often do you get to make play-doh spaghetti out of two fairy tales and a pop culture icon?! (I take metaphors way too far, and then I just keep on going…)

So Bookworms, I’ve got to know. Does anybody else out there fact check their historical fiction? I’m not so brilliant at history that I’ll hold authors to extreme specifics, but if something sounds wonky, I look it up. Is it just me?!

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Feb 05

Little Red Riding Hood: Where Fairy Tales meet Soylent Green

Children's Fiction, Fairy Tales, Family, Fantasy, Frightening 40

projectfairytalebutton2

Happy Tuesday, Bookworms!

Once upon a time, I committed to Project Fairy Tale. The brain child of Alison at The Cheap Reader, a bunch of bloggers got together and decided to check out some fairy tale goodness. This month I’m going to be diving head first into all things Little Red Riding Hood… Within reason. I mean, I watched that movie with Amanda Seyfried in it the other day, and despite the fact that she’s gorgeous, that was one giant crap fest. (Seriously. There was a sexy folk dance. Let that sink in. Sexy. Folk. Dance.) I’m a book blogger, not a movie blogger, so I’m going to be reading a bunch of Little Red Riding Hood re-tellings and such. Good times shall be had on the way to grandmother’s house!

To start things off, I pulled out my big old collection of Grimm’s Fairy Tales so I could get a baseline story in place for my comparisons. According to the Brothers Grimm, LRRH meets up with the big bad wolf in the forest. He thinks she looks delicious, but knowing she’s on her way to Granny’s, he decides to devour them both. He distracts Lil’ Red by suggesting she pick some flowers (a girl after my own heart. Seriously.) Then he heads off to Granny’s, gobbles her up, and dresses up in her nightgown to lie in wait for Lil’ Red.

Because little girls totally can't tell the difference between their grandmothers and wolves.

Because little girls totally can’t tell the difference between their grandmothers and wolves.

Once Lil’ Red arrives, the wolf gobbles her up too. Jerk. Luckily, a woodsman happens to be walking by and sees the wolf looking bloated. He figures that by chopping him open, he may be able to save whatever he’d just eaten. Because, you know… Much like a snake, wolves unhinge their jaws and swallow their prey whole, right? Whatever, it’s a fairy tale. Anyhow, the woodsman saves the day, Granny and Lil’ Red come out in one piece, and everyone learns their lesson.

I’ve since lost track of this, but when I was in college, I wrote a kickass essay comparing an old (like way pre-Grimm) version of Little Red Riding Hood to the Grimm’s version. You know what happens in the old one? Lil’ Red arrives at Granny’s where she’d greeted by the Wolf-in-Granny’s-Clothing and invited to have a snack. Do you know what the snack is?!?!?! It’s GRANNY! After Lil’ Red eats some Soylent Grandma, the wolf gobbles her up. Only, he eats her properly this time, like a wolf does with the teeth and the chewing. So. Yeah. Not a happy ending.

How much do you love the bathrobe and towel in the background?

Freshman year of college I got my fairy tale on for Halloween.

In case that little anecdote didn’t make it abundantly clear, the fairy tales of yore are a heck of a lot different than the Disney-fied ones most of us are familiar with. I suppose when plague and famine are forever at your doorstep, you don’t have a lot of patience for misbehavior. You tell your kids the most terrifying cautionary tales you can come up with to scare them straight.

So Bookworms, what are your favorite fairy tales?

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Jan 28

Cinder (ella, ella, ella, ay, ay, ay) by Marissa Meyer

Coming of Age, Dystopian, Fairy Tales, Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction 35

Hey Bookworms!

So you all remember that I’m doing the whole Project Fairy Tale thing in February right? Well. While I was out trolling the interwebs, I noticed that there’s a brand spanking new version of Little Red Riding Hood due on the scene February 5th. The only issue I had was that it was the second in a series… OBVIOUSLY, I needed to read the first book in the series, especially since I’ve seen a bunch of YA book bloggers fawning all over it. The first book in the series is a fractured version of Cinderella- Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

On her way to the ball, she really could have used Rhianna's Umbrella-ella-ella-ay-ay-ay.... Just saying.

On her way to the ball, Cinder really could have used Rhianna’s Umbrella-ella-ella-ay-ay-ay…. Just saying.

Meyer takes the traditional Cinderella story and short circuits it. Instead of being set long ago in a land far, far away, Cinder is set in the distant future. 126 years after the end of the 4th World War, to be precise. Funnily enough, aside from the technological advances, it’s not so different from medieval times. There’s a big fat ugly plague that looks and sounds awfully close to the Bubonic plague. Only this one wasn’t perpetuated by fleas on rats. (Also, in case you were curious, I’ve heard that Bubonic plague, at least the version that decimated a quarter of Europe’s population was caused by a bacterium that would easily lose in a battle against penicillin. Don’t be hating on mold, y’all.)

There’s also, um, robots. Lots of robots. Our heroine is bionic. She was in a terrible accident as a child and instead of spending her life in a wheelchair, surgeons made her part robot. Unfortunately, cyborgs are treated as second class citizens. I had a couple of issues with this bit. Like… The whole cyborg thing basically evolved from making really fancy prosthetic limbs and stuff. I can’t believe a culture that evolved from ours would have too big a bone to pick with advanced prostheses. The prejudice against cyborgs is universal, even if the person’s only got a robot foot. Cinder’s case is a little more complicated though. She’s nearly 40% manufactured and she’s got a computer all up in her brain. It wouldn’t be fair to, say, have her play chess against a normal human, but otherwise I have a hard time believing cyborgs would be so poorly treated. She still has FEELINGS!

Full on androids have no rights at all.

Full on androids have no rights at all. Their feelings are manufactured on personality chips.

Anyway. Cinder is a badass lady mechanic. She gets all greasy and fixes robots and hover cars (sweet right?) and the iPad’s great great great grandbaby. She’s super good at it because A. she’s got a computer in her brain and B. because she learned how to tweak her own mechanical bits and pieces. One day, the Chinese equivalent of Prince Harry shows up and is all “hey Cinder, wanna fix my robot?” And she’s all “ooooh hottie hot hot.” Here’s my other big objection to the book. Monarchy. Seriously? You’re telling me that a peaceful society was able to form based on a monarchy with no apparent checks and balances for 126 years? No uprisings from the unwashed masses? No spoiled royal black sheep in the family tree made a mess of things? I just don’t see it. But it IS Cinderella. I suppose we need a prince.

So anyway. Cinder’s got a pretty rotten stepmother, one mean stepsister, and one nice stepsister (kind of like in Drew Barrymore’s Ever After.) Cinder’s got to fix this robot, deal with plague, and find out all about her mysterious past because there are these evil moon people who want to cause trouble. Yes. You read that right. EVIL MOON PEOPLE. They’re called Lunars, but I can’t hear “Lunar” without hearing Christy Carlson Romano singing “We went to the moon in 1969, that’s when we made a landing that was luuuuuunar!” (Any Even Stevens fans out there? Anyone? Bueller? Yeah. I hear the crickets. I’ll shut up now.) The theory behind the Lunars is that they’ve evolved from a human colony that settled the moon hundreds of years before our story begins. Somehow, they’ve evolved an ability to manipulate people into doing their bidding. It’s sort of like a vampire’s glamour brainwashing. Only they’re from the moon. They’re another monarchy led by the most evil queen who has ever existed. The Lunars keep threatening to go to war with Earth (and despite the fact that the moon is way smaller than the earth, somehow the Lunars have superior technology and would probably decimate mankind.) Also, it’s suggested that the plague was advanced biological warfare sent to earth by the Lunars. Naturally, humans aren’t the biggest fans of the evil moon people.

Now I'm VERY suspicious of you, MOON!

Now I’m VERY suspicious of you, MOON!

When I write it all down with a wee bit of snark, it sounds like the most ridiculous premise ever. I won’t go so far as to say that this was my FAVORITE BOOK EVER ZOMG,  but I was totally drawn in. I embraced the sci fi and found myself hating the evil moon people. I really wanted Cinder and the prince to hook up and live happily ever after! Unfortunately, this is the first book in a series, so I was stuck with a cliffhanger. Luckily, Scarlet comes out in less than a week, so I don’t have long to wait!

Science Fiction at this level of robot-itude is a little out of my reading comfort zone. Do you bookworms like to dabble in different genres, or do you prefer to stick to reading what you’re sure to like?

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Jan 24

11/22/63 by Stephen King: Time Travel Without a DeLorean

Crime, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Time Travel 46

Hey Bookworms, what did YOU do last weekend? January is pretty bleak in the Midwest. It’s cold. Sometimes it snows. It gets dark early. Not fun. The only good part about cold weather is that you’re not expected to leave the house to be productive. It is perfectly acceptable to spend the weekend READING while lounging in front of the fire… Under a blanket… In your penguin slippers.

This photo isn't brand new.. I mean, I've already taken down the Christmas trappings. The spirit remains the same.

This photo isn’t brand new.. I mean, I’ve already taken down the Christmas trappings, but the spirit remains the same.

I spent the entirety of my weekend snuggled up under blankets, reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King. I’m pretty careful when it comes to Stephen King… I tread lightly because I don’t like having nightmares. I’m not a fan of scary clowns. The dead? Let them rest in peace. Don’t go raising them just to scare me. I absolutely REFUSE to go into “haunted houses” at Halloween. Just no. I’m anxious enough, thankyouverymuch. However, I decided to give King another shot because I really enjoyed The Stand.

11/22/63 isn’t a ghost story, it’s a time travel story! I feel like I repeat myself a lot on this blog, but… I LOVE TIME TRAVEL! An average guy in Maine (and obviously it’s Maine, because it’s Stephen King and he always writes about Maine) stumbles upon a bubble in the time space continuum that takes him back to 1958. Well, he doesn’t exactly stumble upon it. He’s introduced to it and given a mission. He’s to go back in time and make sure Kennedy does NOT get assassinated. The theory behind his mission is that the Kennedy assassination put any number of rotten scenarios into motion: the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, the Vietnam War, global warming…

king

So our average guy, Jake, decides to make this happen, for the good of mankind and all. Can you imagine the kind of power you’d have in the past? Haven’t we all had the same fantasy while watching Back To The Future? By going back in time, you’d have the advantage of knowing the next big stock, the winner of the next big game. You could make a fortune. How would what you changed affect the future?! Would your changes cause you to disappear a la Marty McFly? Would your changes result in hideous wars and pestilence? Or would your changes result in… wait for it… WORLD PEACE?!

Delorean5

“Wait a minute, Doc. Ah… Are you telling me that you built a time machine… out of a DeLorean?” (Image from Wikipedia)

Jake’s journey through his the 50s isn’t an easy one. Every time he tries to make a significant change to the past, he’s met with ridiculous and endless obstacles. Turns out, the past isn’t fond of being meddled with. Several times throughout the book, Jake refers to the past as an angry machine with teeth. I’m about to admit something terrible for a book snob. I never finished reading The Langoliers… I watched the miniseries instead. All I could picture when I read “angry machine with teeth” in reference to time travel were those badly animated cannonballs with teeth that devoured the stale past in The Langoliers. I’m not THAT familiar with King, but I know that he combined a lot of elements of his different novels into The Dark Tower Series. I’m not sure if King was intentionally pulling a Dark Tower here or if he was just out of ideas, but, dude. I noticed.

I’m not going to be Spoilerella today, so I won’t tell you if Jake’s mission succeeds, or if he breaks the future, or if he gets everything he ever wanted. You can read it for yourself if you’re curious. All in all? I liked this book. It was long, as King novels tend to be, but it was entertaining. The best part? It’s unlikely to give you nightmares. You time travel aficionados will likely find this as amusing as I did.

So Bookworms, if you could go back in time, what major event would you change? Do you think there would be unintended nasty consequences to your changes?

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Dec 21

Don't They Know It's The End of the World?

Dystopian, Fantasy, Humor, Personal 21

Hi Bookworms! Today is “Doomsday.” People who have misinterpreted the Mayan calendar have decided that the world is supposed to end today. I’d really prefer the world not end. I have things planned for next week. Beyond that though, I’d do very very poorly in a post-apocalyptic world. I looooove dystopian novels, so I figured I’d explore how I’d perish early on in some of my favorites. Ready?

1. The Stand by Stephen King. It’s easy to assume that I’d die in the plague that kills 99% of the population, but I have a really impressive immune system. I may be jinxing myself here, but I haven’t needed an antibiotic since I was 16 and had my wisdom teeth removed. I get sick very infrequently. So. I think I’d survive Captain Tripps. One of my favorite parts of The Stand though was that King discussed the casualties that occurred AFTER the flu had run its course. I’d probably survive the flu only to succumb to something really stupid… Like getting a paper cut from a book and contracting a flesh eating bacteria. It would be my cosmic punishment for bragging about my immune system and how I don’t need antibiotics. I’d survive the virus to be taken out by a self important bacterium.

Good vs. Evil. Super Flu. Apocalypse.

Katie’s battle with the paper cut didn’t make the final draft.

2. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. If I were in Katniss’s shoes, I wouldn’t make it very far. I lack aim, archery skills, and knowledge of edible forest plants. The good news is, I probably wouldn’t need those skills. You know how at the very beginning of The Hunger Games the contestants stand on pedestals until the countdown is over and the games begin? If anyone has a “false start” their pedestal explodes. That would be me. Considering the alternatives in the arena, that’s probably not a bad way to go.

Ka-Pow!

Ka-Pow!

3. World War Z by Max Brooks. I shy away from physical violence, and I’m not especially strong. To be frank? I’m a weenie. I can’t even arm wrestle effectively. I’d be bitten very early on. But then? Then I’d be a zombie! Only, I’d make a terrible zombie! I’d be really really slow and unobservant. I’d be the zombie that they use in demonstrations to teach small children how to defend themselves. At least I’d be useful to humanity in some capacity. As the loser-iest zombie.

Zombie Katie!

Katie: The Loser-iest Zombie

4. Gone With The Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Yes, I know this isn’t an “end of the world” scenario, but I being in the middle of a war zone is definitely an “end of the world as we know it” scenario. Scarlett was really annoying during peace time, but she kind of kicked butt during an emergency. She delivered babies and farmed cotton and still managed to keep up her unhealthy fixation on Ashley. If I were a character in Gone With The Wind, I would not be Scarlett. I’d be like her first husband, Charles Hamilton. He got sick and died before he even saw combat. That’d be me. I was always the one dying of dysentery in Oregon Trail. I know I have a great immune system, but I’ve never had to contend with dysentery, okay?

That's me.

That’s me.

5. I Am Legend by Richard Matheson. Technically, the villains in this book were vampires, not zombies. Why wouldn’t I make it? I am DELICIOUS. No, seriously. Blood sucking insects seek me out. If there is a mosquito within a mile radius, it will find me and feast. Once, I lived in an apartment and my upstairs neighbor managed to infest my apartment with fleas. Do you know what fleas like to eat when there aren’t animals readily available? KATIES! It was beyond miserable. This contributes to my pervasive and borderline obsessive fear of bed bugs. In case you were ever curious about the existence of vampires in the real world, the fact that I’ve yet to be eaten is definitive proof that they do not exist. I’d be vampire catnip. For reals.

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It’s a good thing vamps aren’t real. They’d be seriously offended by this clip art.

There we have it. Five very specific reasons I would not survive any number of apocalypse scenarios. Like I said, it’s a good thing the world isn’t ending. I am going to celebrate by enjoying some of my favorite things: pizza, electricity, the internet, and my husband. Who will continue to have zero chance with Taylor Swift. Happy days, Bookworms. Happy days.

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Dec 10

I Finally Read The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

Children's Fiction, Fantasy 52

Hello Bookworms. I’ve missed you. While I was away, I drowned my sorrows in the pages of The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. I’m highly susceptible to peer pressure, and with Karen at BlogHer hosting a read along , I decided the time had come. I needed to get started on my Tolkien.

Okay. We’re in Middle Earth, right? Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit, which means he’s short, he likes to eat, and he has weird giant hairy feet. Also, most Hobbits don’t care to leave their homes (I think I’d do quite well in the Shire… Somebody dig me a Hobbit hole!) He’s acquainted with a Wizard (because there are Wizards and Elves and Dwarves and Goblins. Suspend your disbelief, okay?) by the name of Gandalf. Despite Gandalf’s rather dashing beard, he’s kind of rude and fond of getting the unsuspecting into pickles and showing up at the last possible moment to assist them in the battle.

Hobbit1

Gandalf manages to talk Bilbo into taking a quest with a baker’s dozen Dwarves. The Dwarves were out to battle a dragon to reclaim their kingdom and treasure. It would make for a terribly boring story if the troop had an uneventful trip, asked the dragon nicely to give them back their treasure, and won the day with no conflict, wouldn’t it?

Tolkien wouldn’t  have that! There are all sorts of challenges! There are battles with Goblins and kidnappings by Elves and excellent hospitality provided by man-bears. There are dark dreary forests and narrow escapes. There are conversations with birds and trips down rivers in barrels.

It all sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? Only… I wouldn’t call it my favorite children’s adventure story ever. I mean, the adventures were great. It’s just that the timing felt weird to me. Like… Seriously, are they still walking through the forest? And it’s STILL so dark they can’t see? Great. And oh, they’re in barrels now? Yep. Still in barrels. Rolling down the river in some barrels. And… Yeah. We’re STILL in the barrels! I guess I was just a little frustrated that the action didn’t always coincide with my timing.

I'm guessing Smaug wasn't this friendly looking... And the blue spots would be sapphires.

I’m guessing Smaug wasn’t this friendly looking… And the blue spots would be sapphires.

The only other thing that bothered me was that doggone dragon. Did anyone ask Smaug why he felt he needed all that treasure? Maybe he didn’t need to be slain, maybe he just needed a hug! Instead Bilbo goes and steals his treasure, pisses him off, and causes Smaug to have an emotional outburst wherein he lays waste to a village of men. It’s pretty bad. So eventually, you know, the dragon is slain, Bilbo gets back to the Shire. All is well. Only… The dragon was like jewel encrusted, and the men of the town refuse to harvest the jewels off the rotting dragon corpse. They think it’s bad juju or something. I think they were just pansies. Because, come on. Everyone knows that dragon jewels are worth a fortune on the black market. This is why I’d probably be eaten by Orcs at the earliest possible opportunity were I a character in a Tolkien novel.

Have any of you Bookworms tackled The Hobbit? What did you think? Would you harvest dragon jewels?

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Nov 08

Here Comes the Son: Son by Lois Lowry

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Family, Fantasy, Women's Studies, Young Adult Fiction 19

Hidey Ho, Bookworms!

We have reached the final leg of our Giver journey! Who’s excited? I can practically hear you hooting and hollering through the internet. Love the enthusiasm!

Son is the fourth and final offering in Lois Lowry’s Giver quartet. Son starts off with a bang by returning us to the scene of the crime- the original community! We’re back in the land of overscheduled, colorless, emotionless lives. But the bicycles are especially jaunty, you have to give them that.

We are introduced to a new character, Claire. Claire is a 14-year-old birthmother. Remember birthmothers? The girls in the community who weren’t fit for other occupation? Yeah. Those birthmothers. Claire is one of them. She’s 14. And pregnant! Oh, community, seriously?! You can fix the weather but you can’t figure out that young girls’ bodies, while capable of producing a healthy child, are not mature enough to do so reliably? I don’t remember what the ideal childbearing age is biologically speaking, but it sure as sugar snap peas isn’t 14!

Claire is busy chilling in the birthmother dorm hanging around the other birthmothers reflecting that it was kind of weird that she had no idea how human reproduction worked, what with the swelling of bellies and all. Then she goes into labor. She’s wheeled into a room and put into a leather mask (that sounds like nothing so much as accoutrements of Fifty Shades’ Red Room of Pain.) Unfortunately something goes wrong (I mean, it’s not like she’s a 14-year-old girl giving birth or anything!) and Claire has to have a c-section to release the “product.” Claire is given some time to recover and is then re-assigned to work in the fish hatchery. The community doesn’t like c-sections, apparently, so she’s kicked out of birthmother-ing.

The powers that be made two mistakes. First, someone mentioned to Claire that her “product” was a male and gives her his birth number. Second, the community is so dang flustered at their screw up with Claire’s assignment that they forget to give her the pills! (The PILLS! The ones that make you sterile and steal your emotions. Egads, the girl has FEELINGS now!)

It’s a party mix! Saddest thing about the pills? Even if they were fun colors, nobody in the community could see them. Sad trombone.

In case you hadn’t guessed this already, Claire’s baby is Gabe. While Gabe is spending his nights with Jonas and his family, Claire is volunteering at the nursery to spend time with her baby boy. She begins to get attached (not allowed) and is devastated to hear from Jonas’s father that Gabe isn’t bound to be assigned, but released. (Released=Euthanasia, remember?) Claire is distraught and desperate to save her baby. Later that night alarms sound, because Jonas has escaped with Gabe. Claire hops onto a supply ship hoping to track them down…And then she’s shipwrecked!

Dun dun dun! Claire washes up on the shore of yet another society. This village is hemmed in by cliffs on one side and the ocean on the other, so it’s completely isolated. It’s not entirely unpleasant though. Actually, it’s the most normal of the places we’ve seen in this series of novels. It’s pretty much what you’d expect out of an isolated town, like 150 years ago. They don’t abandon their sick and injured to die in fields… Claire starts out with amnesia but soon remembers Gabe and her quest. She meets a disabled shepherd who is willing to train her on how to scale the cliff of doom (I added the “of doom” part. Creative license. Sue me.)

After an irrationally long (sorry Ms. Lowry, it was a bit drawn out…) sequence describing Claire’s physical training regime and her highly detailed climb, Claire escapes the village. But who awaits her at the top? Her Mr. Miyagi Shepherd buddy warned her about (dun dun duuuuuuun!) the Trademaster! Yes! The wicked fellow ruining lives in Jonas’s village is waiting for Claire! He demands a trade, and Claire knows she must accept, otherwise he’ll cut off half her feet the way he did Miyagi (jerk.) So. The Trademaster tells Claire he’ll get her to Gabe… In exchange for her youth. (Are you sensing more fantasy coming on?) Claire is turned from a young woman into a hunched, old, arthritic geezer. Sad! But, she is taken into Jonas’s village and gets to watch Gabe grow up from afar.

Cliff climbing. Like so. Only without the rope thingie and all the safety precautions. I may or may not have had a mild bout of vertigo reading this section…

Sidebar- Jonas and Kira totally get married and have babies, so yay for them. Unfortunately, Gabe is being a moody teenager and wants to find his “real” family. Claire is prematurely super old and is on her deathbed before she reveals her secret to Jonas. Gabe has a little bit of superpower about him and is able to pop into people’s heads and feel their feelings and stuff. It’s kind of vague, but somehow he is able to track down the Trademaster, get inside his head and destroy him. Then Claire is magically young again and they all live happily ever after. Yay?

When I look at this series as a whole, I’ve got to admit that for me nothing really lived up to The Giver. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy each of the books in their own way, I just felt that the messages in The Giver resonated with me in a way the others didn’t. Honestly, I would have preferred to hear about how the original community evolved after Jonas’s departure than have the story branch out into so many other little societies, but alas, wasn’t in the cards. I also wasn’t thrilled with the turn the series took into full on fantasy either… I mean, fantasy is great, I just prefer it to carry it all throughout a series than to have it presented halfway through. I found Son a little bit predictable, too. But! I’m not a complete sourpuss! Overall, this series is a great example of young adult fiction. There are all sorts of good lessons to learn, and I appreciate a happy ending, no matter how it comes about. Give it a shot and decide for yourself!

Have any of you Bookworms made it all the way through the series? Are you pleased with the way Lowry wrapped up the story? Do you still have unanswered questions? Let’s talk about it!

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Nov 07

Don't Kill The Messenger! (Messenger by Lois Lowry)

Children's Fiction, Coming of Age, Dystopian, Fantasy, Young Adult Fiction 5

Happy Wednesday, Bookworms!

I know what you’re thinking! “Messenger had better link up The Giver and Gathering Blue or I’m going to be one angry bookworm!” I know that’s what I was thinking. Well it wasn’t exactly that vitriolic, but I was pleased when I started this and recognized the characters.

We start off this story with Matty. Remember Matt from Gathering Blue? In Kira and Matty’s community they earn syllables to tack onto their names as they age. So Matt became Matty. Which is funny because, in traditional English naming convention, the addition of a Y actually makes the name sound YOUNGER. Like, your full name is Matthew but when you’re a little kid you’re Matty, and when you hit 8 you refuse to answer to the baby name and insist on Matt? In this society, you’d start out as Matt, go to Matty, then Matty-Saurus-Rex. You know. The usual progression.

Messenger takes a turn for the allegorical in this novel. We depart from the sci-fi realm and move a little more into fantasy territory. Remember how Kira’s dad showed up to see her in his blue shirt? And how Matty was the one who found him? We finally find out that this mysterious village that takes in the disabled is where Jonas and Gabe ended up!!! Cliffhanger resolved! Jonas and Gabe didn’t die, the lights they sledded to in the midst of that blizzard was this village.

A dude and an evil forest. Oooooh.

At the end of Gathering Blue, Matty decides to stay in the village with Kira’s dad, but he still visits Kira from time to time. He’s got a talent for traveling back and forth through the woods without having the trees turn on him and attack him Wizard of Oz style. Now the village in which the outcasts resides is pretty serene. They don’t euthanize their misfits or leave their injured in a field to die.

Unfortunately, things are starting to get a little weird in the village. The village starts having regular “Trade Marts” which is sort of like a marketplace, with a twist. There’s a weird peddler dude (who calls himself “Trademaster”) who is coming to the village and making “trades” for his goods. The uncorrupted village population soon begins trading the best parts of their personality for gaming machines and vanity items. The villagers’ temperment begins to change and they decide to close their borders. Since things are starting to get a little dicey, Kira decides it’s time to hurry up and join her father in the village before the borders close. (As you recall, Kira opted to stay in her home society to help them change for the better. It’s implied that she manages to make progress, but Lowry doesn’t go into much detail there. )

Matty goes into the angry forest to fetch Kira and bring her to the village safely. Along the journey, Matty begins to be rejected by the forest that once favored him. He gets stung by insects, tangled by vines, and attacked by underbrush. Are you ready to embrace allegory? Okay. Kira has a gift for weaving. We’ve covered that. Jonas has a gift, which is part of what made him attractive to become the Giver. His gift manifests itself by occasional psychic episodes. Matty also has a gift , of sorts.

Yeah, like I needed ANOTHER reason to avoid the great outdoors. Forest attacks? Clearly I won’t be camping… Ever.

Matty plays the sacrificial lamb. While in the forest, he sacrifices himself to whatever evil spirits are jacking things up. He restores the forest to a normal state, and his death chases the influence of the Trademaster from the village.

Now, I appreciate that this book gave me some closure to Jonas’s story. I was downright giddy that Jonas and Kira were woven into the same plot. However. I wasn’t crazy about the turn we took from relatively realistic science fiction to full on fantasy. In The Giver everything seemed to have a scientific explanation. In order to have a peaceful society, you have to take away certain aspects of humanity. No place for passion in a place where there is no fighting, no sexual competition, no need for individualism. Gathering Blue had hints of fantasy, but mainly felt like a society that had gone back in time after a cataclysm in the world we know. The animated evil forest and the Trademaster took me on a journey I wasn’t anticipating. I won’t say it was a terrible place to go, but I would have preferred sticking to the realistic feel of the first two books.

Does it bother anyone else when a book takes an unexpected turn? I’m not talking a plot twist, I’m talking a genre shift. Am I the only person who isn’t crazy about this?

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Oct 16

Mythology vs. Technology: American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Fantasy, Mythology, Religion, Supernatural 14

Howdy Bookworms! I think you should know that I’m highly susceptible to marketing tactics. Also, highly susceptible to suggestion… From people I admire, anyway. When The Bloggess talks about how amazing an author is and I’ve never read any of said author’s work, I take action. The Bloggess is a HUGE Neil Gaiman fan, so I decided that I needed to read one of his books. If you keep up with cinema (which I do not, but I knew this anyway) you’ll recall a few years back there was a movie released called Coraline. Neil Gaiman wrote that. He apparently writes books for all ages, so I went to his website, picked one of the books targeted toward an adult audience, and promptly bought it on Amazon. (Hey marketing people, I’m your target audience! Send me free stuff, yo!)

Seeing that it’s October and Halloween is right around the corner, American Gods is a festive choice. It’s all supernatural and stuff. The premise of the story is that as immigrants came to America they brought their gods, demons, and superstitions with them. And we’re not just talking Ellis Island immigrants. We’re talking like Ice Age immigrants. All the immigrants ever. These gods, demons, fairies, and whatnot became literal manifestations as they were brought to this new land. There’s like leprechauns hanging around getting into bar brawls and pulling gold coins out of thin air. Unfortunately for the supernatural types, they feed on the belief of people… And in the modern day US, there aren’t too many people making blood sacrifices to Odin.

I googled Odin. He rocks an eye patch. Now Pirate Dog has someone to look up to.

Our protagonist is a recently paroled convict named Shadow. Shadow is released from prison after serving a three year sentence only to learn that his wife was killed in a car accident… And had been having an affair with his best friend. Harsh. When Shadow is approached by the mysterious Mr. Wednesday and offered a job as an errand boy, he’s really got nothing to lose.

Mr. Wednesday is trying to rally the old school gods to battle the new school. The new school gods include manifestations of the internet, telephone, media, etc. As people moved their faith from mythological figures to technology, the gods have lost their influence and power. They’re starved for belief.

This is Eostre, Celtic goddess of rebirth and spring and stuff. Her name and festival got all smushed together with Easter so she manages to stay fat and happy even though people don’t realize they’re celebrating her. (Don’t get riled up. Students of history must realize that in order for the world to accept Christianity, early missionaries drew an awful lot of comparisons between monotheism and pagan traditions. That’s just a fact, y’all.)

Shadow’s journey introduces us to Norse mythology, ancient Egyptian traditions, Hindu deities, African gods, Celtic folklore, Arabic demons, and Native American history- and that’s just the beginning. There are twists and turns and cons and mysteries. There’s even a good portion of Shadow’s tale where he meanders through Illinois, pointing out all the ridiculous town names. (I totally dug the shout outs to Peru, El Paso, and Cairo… Because Illinois is more than just Chicago, y’all. There’s also a bunch of farm towns that share their names with other famous places!)

The story is long and involved, and I think giving you a blow by blow account would be doing you a disservice. (That, and my brain hurts so I don’t feel like writing up a whole synopsis.) If you like Tim Burton movies, mythology, or supernatural books, I highly recommend American Gods. 

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