Category: Fantasy

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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Sep 17

Airplane Reading: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Coming of Age, Fantasy, Mystery, Young Adult Fiction 3

Hello bookworms! I’m back! I was on vacation, but you’re not supposed to say things like that on the internet, because 20/20 says that’s an invitation to burglars to, um, burgle your home. As we did not want to be burgled, I claimed to be an international super spy instead. Smoke in mirrors. (Mark it off the bucket list- I used three forms of “burgle” in two sentences.)

Jim and I went on our first “real” vacation. We went to Florida this past January, but it didn’t count because Jim had to work while we were there. THIS counted. 10 days at Walt Disney World! Don’t you dare go judging, we are simply young at heart.

I went to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party as the Cheshire Cat. The Queen of Hearts was suspicious…

The first of my three meetings with Alice. What can I say? I’m a fan!

This is one of Mary Poppins’ penguins! All time favorite movie. All time favorite animal. Mr. Penguin is preparing to give me beak kisses here.

I learned several important things on this trip. First- the concept of personal space is one that is not shared by all cultures. Second- no matter how much zumba SHOULD prepare you for walking all day, it does NOT. Bring Advil and blister bandages (I was actually prepared for this, but still. Ouch.) Third- I am still not quite ready to have my own children. The vast majority of kids were adorable, but there were enough jerky little punks to make my womb shut tight for a while still.

What does this have to do with reading? Other than my obvious obsession with Alice in Wonderland, nothing. So…Let’s talk about what I read on the plane!

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs was my choice for travel reading. I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from this book, but whatever my expectations were, it certainly wasn’t what I got. Miss Peregrine combines aspects of A Wrinkle in Time, Harry Potter, and the TV show Heroes. Our protagonist Jacob is a teenage boy traumatized by witnessing the tragic death of his grandfather. He sets out to learn about his grandfather’s childhood in the orphanage he inhabited during WWII. What Jacob doesn’t realize is that his grandfather was more than just a Jewish refugee from Poland given asylum on a remote Welsh island. He was “peculiar.”

“Peculiar” people basically have super powers. Some are invisible, some can fly, some can light fires, some can resurrect the dead, and some can make things grow into elaborate tree sculptures (if teleportation is not an option for my personal super power, I wouldn’t mind having the ability to grow hedges into amusing shapes. Runner up super power acquired ). It is said that the peculiars often hid out in plain sight- as sideshow acts in circuses. That’s kind of brilliant, because as I mentioned in my post on The Night Circuseverybody expects crazy fakery in circuses.

Another trait amongst the peculiars? Some of them can see the invisible monsters that are trying to exterminate the peculiars by devouring them. Yes, the MONSTERS that want to EAT peculiar people. Are you still with me? Good.

In order to keep the peculiar  children safe, they live within time loops that allow them to hide from the monsters. A time loop is essentially the same day played over and over again- so the children never age and are hidden from the monsters. The time loops are overseen by… how do I describe this without it sounding stupid? There is no good way. The time loops and the peculiar children within them are overseen by shape shifting bird-woman nannies.

Jacob stumbles across the time loop and discovers that his grandfather was devoured by a monster, not a pack of wild dogs (a pack of wild dogs in Florida. Really? Gators are so much more glamorous.) Jacob and the peculiar children work at solving some mysteries, chaos ensues, the day is saved by a team effort of super powers. You know the drill.

It sounds a little ridiculous, but it’s actually a pretty good book. The only gripe I have is that it was left sooooo open ended. I’m a little concerned that this story won’t hold up as a series, but hey what do I know? I certainly liked it enough to check out book 2.

Also! I was apparently nominated for THREE blog awards while I was away! Thank you, thank you, thank you to Pocketful of Joules, Quirky Chrissy, and The Life of a Thinker for nominating me! The rules for accepting the award include some extra odds and ends, so it may be a while before I get around to all of it. But thank you from the bottom of my wormy little heart! 🙂

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Sep 04

I Want To Join The Night Circus

Fantasy 13

Good Morning, Bookworms! I hope you all had a fantastic holiday weekend! In case anyone reads this who is not in the USA, this weekend was Labor Day, where Americans celebrate ye olde working stiffs. Once a year we all pay tribute to the laws that keep children out of factories and give us weekends. Huzzah! Now, as much as we may honor those who work for a living, there isn’t a single one of us who hasn’t thought at some point, “dang it all, I want to run away and join the circus!” (Maybe it’s not the circus for everyone, but if people are willing to applaud looking cool in a tutu and doing poorly executed cartwheels, I’m a shoe-in for the acrobat job…)

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern takes you on a magical journey through an enchanted circus. This book falls into the magical realism category, but don’t be discouraged if fantasy isn’t your thing. This book has plenty to offer.

The Night Circus begins with two mysterious old magicians. They each choose a young pupil to begin training for an epic battle of magical wits to prove with of the two old men is the better magician. Why not just battle each other one on one? I don’t know, I supposed they have  a penchant for ruining young lives. Besides, when you’re ageless (which these two appear to be) you have to find ways to amuse yourselves, and hand-to-hand combat gets old after a couple hundred years.

It is determined that the “arena” for this magical battle will be a circus. What better way to disguise from the world that you’re having a magical war than to invite the public in to watch. Seriously. You expect to see the unbelievable at a circus, but if you’re just walking down the street, you’d be pretty suspicious of the elaborate display of bouncing clouds. This isn’t just any circus though. It’s a circus that arrives in towns without notice and is only open at night. It’s all spooky and mystical and delightful that way.

Anyhow, eventually the two magic pupils realize who they are competing against, which sucks for them,  because they’ve fallen in love. The only way the “battle” ends is for one of the magicians to die. As you can imagine, years or putting together spells and holding up elaborate illusions wears one  out, so the couple faces a real dilemma. They can’t keep up the competition indefinitely. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but it’s a bit of Romeo and Juliet with a dash of Tuck Everlasting and a pinch of Harry Potter.

What I liked best about this book was Morgenstern’s imagery. I could see the black and white striped tents appearing unannounced in a field. I could visualize the exquisite clock that was the circus’s centerpiece. I could smell the food, taste the caramels, appreciate the wonder that the circus provided its patrons. This book is great escapist literature- I recommend it if you want to take a hiatus from real life.

So Bookworms, if you were to run away from reality, where would you go? Anybody joining me in the mediocre circus?

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