Eye of the Storm

I received a copy of this book from Ravenswood Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

This is my first one ever! It’s exciting! The book grabbed my attention because it has been compared to Edgar Rice Burroughs. The concept of the story is much like his Land that Time Forgot Trilogy which I loved. So I had high hopes for this story.

Eye of the Storm
by Fran Cavallo

eye-of-the-storm-by-frank-cavalloDr. Anna Fayne, an anthropologist, Eric Slade, a former Navy SEAL, along with nineteen others embark on a research mission to learn more about a mysterious plane accident. The odd thing was that one of the bodies found was a recently deceased Neanderthal.

When they arrive on site, they are caught in a strange storm with black flames and pulled through a rift in time and space to a planet populated with Neanderthals, a reptilian species, and undead. It is a fantastic world with dinosaurs, magic, wizards, and ritual sacrifice.

Slade and Fayne  lose their team to the brutal life in this new land. They are enslaved by the reptilian race and sold for a Mayan type ritual sacrifice. The difference is that instead of throwing the heartless bodies to a pit, they throw it to a dragon. YES this book has a dragon! I love dragons!   They become entangled in a war over the succession to the throne of a kingdom. Fayne learns that a magical object called The Eye of the Storm, holds key to returning them home. Thus begins the quest to get home.

The Writing

There was so much happening in this book: dinosaurs, battle for the throne, Neanderthals, an undead army, a reptilian race, dragons, pterodactyls, priests, wizards, plus some I don’t want to mention and spoil the story. It skimmed the surface of all these. I felt overwhelmed by all that was going on. I think this author has tons of great ideas, but didn’t pare them down and keep only the ones critical to the story.

I feel like there were missed opportunities to add depth to the characters by putting in their thoughts. The main characters wanted to get home of course, but other than for modern conveniences, I don’t know why.  They felt very one dimensional to me.

Who will like this book?

If you like The Land that Time forgot, you may enjoy this book. If you like tons of action, tons of fantastic world building, and  political maneuvering, you might like it.

I usually like character stories, which is why I want to know more about what’s going on in their head. This is not a character story though. This is a Milieu story; it is all about this amazing world. The setting, the groups of people, the plot are what this story is about. (For more information about the MICE Quotient see this post.)

I would not classify this as YA since the protagonists are 37 and 43 years old. This story has strong language. The vocabulary is moderately sophisticated. There is a lot of world building and political things to juggle. There are also frequent POV shifts. Because it is written in 3rd person omniscient, there is even head hopping within a scene, which can be confusing for younger readers.   I think someone in 11th grade could comfortably read this.

Foul Language: Yes
Violence: Yes
Sexual Content: some
Substance Abuse: No
Over all rating: PG 15

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The Name of the Wind

name-of-the-wind-image

Reading this book felt like coming home and putting on my warmest, comfiest fuzzy slippers. I love epic fantasy above all else when it comes to books. This book is classic epic fantasy in the same family as Robert Jordan, Brandon Sanderson, Raymond Fiest, and so many other amazing writers. Every time I read this kind of book, I’m swept back to my high school days when I read as I walked down the halls, while teachers lectured, during lunch, after school, and far into the night. *sigh* I miss the days when I could read so much.

 

The Name of the Wind
by Patrick Rothfuss

name-of-the-wind-book-for-reviewKvothe is a legend, an innkeeper, a swordsman, an arcane mage, a musician, a kingkiller. Let’s just say he is many things. The story begins with Kvothe the Innkeeper, a tired man seeking a simple life– to live in peace and quiet, but trouble follows him. It looms on the horizon.

While he waits for this looming danger, he tells his story to Chronicler– a man who seeks the truth in stories. Kvothe was born to parents who led a well respected traveling theatrical troupe.  One day Kvothe sees the wind answer when an old man calls its name. From then on, Kvothe wants to learn how to make the wind obey his command. He is too clever for his own good, but the old man begins his training. He learns much from the old man, but not how to call the wind.

Wonderful things and terrible things happen to Kvothe. I don’t want to spoil it for you but I’ll say this. The University is his dream because the Archive contains tens of thousand of books and his thirst for knowledge is unquenchable. He makes it to the University when he is younger than most.  His impatience gets him into much trouble. At times the whole world seems to be against him, yet his cleverness and quick wit saves him numerous on countless occasions and helps to form the beginnings of his reputation. He is called Six Strings, Kvothe the Bloodless, Kvothe the Arcane, Kingkiller, Lightfinger, and Shadicar. He earned each name and more. In this book you learn how he earned some of those names. I look forward to reading the other two books and learning how he earns the rest.

A Wise Man’s Fear was released in 2013 (five years after the first book). The Slow Regard of Silent Things was released in 2014.  Many fear we have a long wait until the third book in the trilogy is out, however there is a rumor that draft one is done and Rothfuss is in the revision stages. I don’t know Rothfuss’s writing process but I’d guess we’ll see the next book out in early 2018. I hope.

 

The Writing

Patrick Rothfuss writes extremely well in my opinion. I am not one who fawns over pages of eloquent description, in fact, I usually skim those parts. His description is brief and beautiful. Here is an example of a  couple sentences that I love:

“The man had true-red hair, red as flame. His eyes were dark and distant, and he moved with the subtle certainty that comes from knowing many things.”  (Prologue pg 2)

The book is delightfully long– 722 pages long. He weaves a gripping tale that doesn’t let you go, not even once. You keep reading because you want to know if he survives, if he gets the girl, if he finds even a hint of an answer to the burning question he must know about the Chandrian, if he slays the dragon or studies it, if he saves the village, and so much more. He sets up so many questions and always gives the reader an answer, though you might not like the answer he gives you. I did put down the book for a day or two because I was afraid of what was going to happen next. (He is ruthless to his characters like George RR Martain at times, though not as bloodbathish.)  I couldn’t stay away though and Kvothes fate was not as bad as I feared. Whew!

Chapter one is titled “A Silence of Three Parts” and the final chapter of this book is titled “A Silence of Three Parts” which makes the English teacher in me giddy at the symmetry of this. It also makes the artist in me delighted. Y’all just have to read this book!  

Who will like this book?

It is long, so not for the feint of heart. The vocabulary is sophisticated because Kvothe is a genius and uses big words at times. The story of young Kvothe is told by middle age Kvothe so the story jumps back and forth between those two times. The “present day” is written in 3rd person while the “past” is written in first person, which helps make those jumps in time more clear.  The story follows one character through the entire story rather than a million story lines like so many other epic fantasy stories, so that makes it easier for younger readers. Two or three of my 75 sixth grade students could handle a book like this. I think the average 9th grader could handle a book like this.

If you love epic fantasy, then you will most certainly love this. If you love these authors:  Brandon Sanderson, Raymond E. Feist, and Robin Hobb, then you will love this author.

The Rating

Foul Language: Yes, a little. (avg. one in every 20 pages or so)
Violence: No
Sexual Content: No
Substance Abuse: Yes. It does NOT glorify drugs. It speaks of the horrors of drug addiction when Kvothe is living on the streets and how horrible and deadly the drug can be. So this is actually a good thing in this case.
Over all rating: PG 13

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Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens LOST STARS

I’m still reeling from the death of Carrie Fisher and now her mother, Debbie Reynolds. My heart aches for Carrie’s daughter, Billie Lourd and the rest of the family.

I’ve been thinking about Star Wars a lot the last couple days. I read Lost Stars about a year ago when it was released. Since it is a YA novel, I bought it for my classroom. Being the greedy reader that I am, I decided to read it first. I’m glad I did because I was in for a surprise.

lost-stars-journey-to-star-wars-a-force-awakens-book-review

Ciena and Thane live on the Outer Rim Planet, Jelucan. The Galactic Empire took control of the planet when they were young and impressionable. Thane and Ciena were awestruck by the power of the Empire and its ships.

Ciena is from one culture on the planet. Her people live poor, simple lives. Thane is from a different culture on that planet, one who has used their mining business to create a wealthy lifestyle. Ciena has a close, loving family. Thane has difficulties with his family. But they both discover a love for flying.

By chance, they met Governor Tarkin who promised they could fly those amazing ships, if they worked hard to get into the Academy.

They develop a strong bond regardless of their differences in status and culture. (think Montagues and Capulets kind of relationship) They work through the difficulties and spend years studying and preparing for the Academy.

Together they attend the academy. However Thane begins to see the Empire for what it is, brutal and callous. Ciena sees only the the order that the Empire brings to the worlds it conquers.

Read the book to learn if their friendship survives this world view chasm. (Galaxy view?)

The Writing

Claudia Gray is a great writer. Of all the Star Wars book authors, she is my favorite writer. I prefer character based stories and this is one of the few Star Wars books that is character driven. (For more about what I mean by this see MICE Quotient) To a lesser degree it seems like an idea story too. The idea being, How much stain can a friendship handle? Technically speaking I don’t know if that counts as an idea but that is certainly one of the major themes running though the book.

Gray does an excellent job of showing the two different viewpoints and the plausible logic behind each one. You can empathize with both viewpoints, which makes it heart wrenching either way you look at it. I love this aspect of her writing.

theyll-remember

“They may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Carl W. Buehner  I forget many details of the book, but I remember how it made me feel. Even after a year, I still have fond feelings for this story. I remember how engaging the story was throughout the whole thing.

The Rating

This is one of those books that made me want to start this blog. I love Star Wars. I’ve read many Star Wars books. All have been very clean. This is one of my favorite SW stories, but I decided to not put it on my bookshelf in my classroom. I was shocked to find three blatant sex scenes in this book. I’ve never had that problem in any SW novels, so I didn’t expect to find it in this YA novel. I find it ironic that the adult novels are perfectly clean, yet the one for children contains sex scenes. I fought with myself. I wanted my kids to enjoy this story, but I did not want to expose my eleven year old children to these three scenes. I was devastated.

Foul Language: None.
Violence: Nothing graphic
Sexual Content: YES, three scenes
Substance Abuse: None
Over all rating: PG 13

Who will like this story?

People who like character driven stories will like this book. This has a focus on relationship that some who like stories like Red Queen might like. On the flip side, I spoke to a eighth grade boy two weeks ago who loved this story. It has the action and excitement that both boys and girls will love. It is not exclusively about the relationship. You get to see several scenes from Episode IV, V, and VI from different points of view. It is a must read for Star Wars fans!

 

 

 

 

 

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Star Wars: Catalyst Book Review 

catalyst_-_a_rogue_one_novel-book-review

I’m a huge Star Wars geek so of course I had to read this book before going to see Rogue One. I wasn’t able to finish it before the movie but that’s okay. There wasn’t anything spoiled by seeing the movie that I couldn’t have predicted from reading half the book. 

Catalyst
by Jame Luceno

This story is set before the Rogue One movie. It begins after Star Wars III (which I prefer to pretend does not exist). Count Dooku is leading a separatist group in a war against the Republic which is led by Palpatine.

The story follows the life Galen Erso and his role in developing the weapon for the Death Star. Galen is a pacifist to the core and wants no part in taking sides. He wants nothing more than to be left alone to research his obsession- Kyber Crystals. Rumor is that these crystals are what power the Jedi and Sith Lightsabers. Much about them is unknown, and Galen means to learn everything he can about them.

catalyst_-_a_rogue_one_novelLyra Erso is Galen’s wife. She is a perfect balance for him. While he is hyper-focused on his work to the point of obliviousness, she is understanding, smart, and world-savvy. I love her inner-strength and  competence. She is utterly devoted to Galen. The way this character is written bothers me. She is in my opinion what writers call a Mary Sue, which is a character that is too perfect. Lyra is the perfect counterbalance to Galen’s character and nothing more. The only flaw I can find in her character is that she runs off at the mouth to the wrong people at times, but to little effect.

Jyn Erso is Galen and Lyra’s daughter. She does not play a major role in this story since she is young at this time. I saw Rogue one this week and I love her in the movie! The movie was brilliantly done. I highly recommend seeing it.

Orson Krennic is an outrageously  ambitious man. He is in charge of building the Death Star. He is a brilliant strategist when it comes to political maneuvering. Unfortunately for him, he is surrounded by several other experts at political maneuvering, such as Governor Tarkin.  If you love political intrigue, you will love this book. Luceno is an expert at writing this kind of story!

The Writing

First let me explain some writers terms. I will most likely refer to this occasionally, so it is worth explaining at least briefly.

The MICE Quotient

Most all stories fit into something called the MICE Quotient. Orson Scott Card created this categorization of stories.
M=Milieu, the story is all about an amazing place. ex. Ringworld by Larry Niven or The Hobbit by Tolkien
I= Idea, the story is all about an idea and explores various aspects of this idea. ex. The DaVinci Code
C= Character, the story is about the evolution of some aspect of a character. The vast majority of YA novels are coming of age stories which are character stories. These are the stories which I personally adore. One of my favorite examples is the Harry Potter series.
E= Event, these are centered around an event. ex. Independence Day (movie)
Most stories are primarily one of these types, but contain elements of the others to greater or lesser degrees. If you want to know more, or read a better explanation please hop over here or here.

Like many Star Wars novels, Catalyst is part Milieu. It describes alien races and worlds. To me, it felt like a mini info-dump every time a new character was introduced. Yes, it is important to know that the alien is insectoid in nature and his legs are backward hinged. You meet a ton of aliens and that means a ton of description for characters that are often only in one scene. I know several students who delight in this kind of thing.  I don’t.

This story has elements of an Event story. The event being the creation of the Death Star and how it came to be.

I love the ideas about the Force and Kyber crystals presented in this book. I don’t want to go into details and spoil the book, but the Star Wars Geek in me loved learning more about all things Jedi. Galen being a man of science looked at it with a scientist mind, rather than a mystic perspective that we usually see from the Jedi.

simple-words

George Orwell said, “Never use a long word when a short word will do.” This author does not abide by this rule.  I can appreciate a person with a large, sophisticated vocabulary. I, being a geek, have many friends who love to use delightfully large words. In writing though, I appreciate clarity and simplicity above fancy words. In science fiction, fancy words are sometimes necessary. In this book however, I found myself talking back to the book saying, “You could have just said ‘big’.”  This is a minor nitpick of mine. One does not read Star Wars books for their literariness; we read it to be entertained. Bottom line, I was entertained.

Who will like this?

Anyone that loves political intrigue, science, and all things Star Wars. Younger readers might struggle with the vocabulary, techno babble, the political maneuvering, and complex, multi-thread plot. I have a couple of high level readers in my 6th grade class that might tackle it. They won’t get all the nuance, but that is okay. I think a 14 year old would be able to read it comfortably.  People who love Milieu and Event stories will like this one.

The Rating

Foul Language: None.
Violence: Nothing graphic
Sexual Content: None
Substance Abuse: None
Over all rating: G

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Golem and the Jinni

golem-and-the-jinni-for-pintrest-stampedI love this book! I usually love action packed stories. This one is not what I’d call action packed but I loved it none the less. This is a story to savor and delight in the beauty of the prose. This is unbelievably Kelene Wecker’s debut novel.

In the US we typically say Jinni (Jee-nee) but the Arabic pronunciation of this word is how Americans pronounce “Gin” or so I learned from this narrator and from my Arabic speaking students.

The Golem and the Jinni

by Helene Wecker

This book is set in turn-of-the-century New York. The Golem, Chava (ha-vah), is created by unethical man who delves into dark magic. The magician creates her to be the wife of a

man named Rochester. Chava’s master dies on their voyage to America and she arrives in New York alone only a few days old. She, a creature built to serve a master, must find a way to survive in the city with no master or purpose. The most difficult part is keeping her true nature a secret from everyone.

The Jinni is released from a copper oil lamp by a tinsmith, Arbeely, who was trying to repair the dented flask. The Jinni, called Ahmad, has no recollection of how he came to be trapped in the lamp. One day he was free, flying above a Syrian desert, in the next moment a thousand years had passed and he was on the other side of the world in the Little Syria part of New York City wearing an iron bracer which kept him trapped in human form.

golem-and-the-jinni-book-stamped

This oil pitcher is from Turkey rather than Syria and doesn’t contain a Jinni.

Arbeely helps him try to make the best of this life, but it is difficult adjusting to the immense limitations of a human life when you’ve had the freedom of being Jinni.

Chance brings Chava and Ahmad together. Chava’s nature is very grounded. She was created to serve others. Ahmad’s personality is fiery, cavalier,  and passionate. His concern for how others are affected by his action is nearly nonexistent. Chava lives in the Lower East Side immersed in the Jewish culture. Ahmad lives in Little Syria, steeped in Arab culture. As you can imagine, the friendship Chava and Ahmad is not an easy one.

I highly recommend you journey with them as they navigate the risk of discovery, the dangers of evil magic, and explore relationships.

The Writing

The prose in this story is artfully done. It is written in third person and does some head hopping, even within chapters but it is done perfectly. When I head hop it is often an accident and not at all well done. I am going to go back and study how she does this. Her prose in general is done in such a way that it kept me engaged the whole time.

Helene Wecker does lots of research for her novels and it shows. The reader feels like they are there in New York without drowning in excessive description. It is in the details, the way the characters speak, the feel of the cafe, the mannerisms of the character. All of this was done flawlessly.

I listened to the audio book narrated by George Guidall. I can’t rave enough about the narration he did on this book. His accent for the different characters was flawless! I will definitely be looking to see what other books Mr. Guidall has narrated.

The Rating

The only thing that makes me sad is that this book does have a few somewhat graphic sex scene. It describes things that happen behind the bedroom door. I would not recommend this for young readers.

Foul Language: None
Violence: Nothing graphic
Sexual Content: yes, several small scenes
Substance Abuse: yes, one scene with opium
Overall Rating: PG 13

 

I look forward to reading Helene Wecker’s next book The Iron Season. (2018)

 

 

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NaNoWriMo: Wall Week

For the first five days I wrote beyond my goal of 500 words per day. These were scenes I’d thought of for quite some time, and I was feeling so optimistic. I thought maybe I need to up my goal to 20,000 words.

I hit week two like a brick wall at 100 mph. I came to a scene I hadn’t thought much about yet. I stared at it for a bit and had nothing. I wrote and rewrote a couple sentences a few times. I stared some more.  I have been here before. My eyes bore holes in the screen, to no avail.

I suspected that it was a scene that is not necessary or needed to be woven into another scene somehow. My subconscious was telling me this scene idea was bad. I reached a moment in my writing where I question (again) why I write. No one wants to read this drivel. How could I possibly think even with years of practice, I’d ever be like Sanderson, Rothfuss, MZ Bradley, or any of my many writing heroes. Doubt consumed me.  From what I hear this is normal for all writers. Stephen King says there is one cure: the butt in chair method. You sit until words come to you.

I tried a new scene. I continued to write… or at least try to write. Mostly I stared at the screen and thought. I wrote hundreds of sentences in my head while my fingers lay lightly on the keys, waiting with bated breath for that electrical pulse from the brain. My husband asked if I’m okay because I’ve been staring at the screen motionlessly for so long.

I didn’t sit for one hour, one day. I sat for one, two, three hours night after night until I was literally falling asleep.

I tried another scene. Then something happened and the words start to trickle and flow. An idea came to me, and I wrote more quickly.  Just like this quote:

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ~Louis L’Amour

The words began to flow again. I wouldn’t exactly call it a flood, but the faucet was on at a more normal rate than the drip that it was earlier this week.  I wrote over 1,000 words yesterday and 1,000 today. If I can write 6-700 words each day this week I should get caught up from Wall Week and get a little ahead for next week. We are hosting Thanksgiving at our house this year, so I have lots of cleaning to do.

I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

 

 

 

 

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NaNoWriMo Interlude: Words Written are Never Wasted

Last year was my first year to participate in NaNoWriMo. For those who haven’t heard of this, it is National Novel Writing Month. The idea is to write a whole rough draft of a novel (50,000 words) in one month. Then you spend the next few months or a year revising the novel and submit for publication. Many novels have come out of this. Published and previously unpublished authors participate.  Erin Morgenstern was an undiscovered writer who wrote Night Circus during NaNo. It contains phenomenal prose! She weaves an amazing tale with mysterious magic. A friend loaned me the book. I read for awhile but school got super busy and I had to give the book back before I forgot who it belonged to and it got buried under piles of work. I’m sad to say I’ve never gone back to finish it. I recommend it because she writes so skillfully.

If you are curious, here is a link to those books:
http://nanowrimo.org/published-wrimos

Brandon Sanderson usually participates. I follow him on twitter and see his posts saying he wrote 5,000 words that day. Then I look at the measly 500 I wrote, which until that moment, I had been proud of. Then I am happy, because that means he is 5,000 words closer to publishing his next Stormlight series books! I also remind myself that he is a professional author while I am a working mom and wife who is lucky to eke out an hour of writing time each day. He has a family and responsibilities, but also many hours dedicated to writing. With that in consideration, I don’t feel so bad.

One of the many reasons I participate in NaNoWriMo is the goal setting. As I said, I don’t have much time to write so this is a month to make a concerted effort to eek out a little extra time to write. My sweet husband makes an effort to enable me to do this to because he knows this is a finite time to focus on my writing. He helps distract my son as I work on my writing and does a million other tiny and large acts to help me eek out this time.

Another reason I participate is the comradery. Last year I met so many delightful people not only on the NaNoWriMo website forums but also on Twitter through the #NaNoWriMo hashtag. It motivates me to see others writing their stories and hear about them going through experiences similar to my own. My twitter handle is @marykherrera which is my real name since I didn’t have my pen name, Kathryn Fletcher, picked out yet. One day I’ll create a twitter account for my KF name. Since last year, I’ve joined Instagram under Fletchers.quill and I hope to meet many more NaNo friend on there this year.

What is my novel project? I’m glad you asked!

It is about elemental magic users I’ve named the Faer. The 4 types are called Terrafaer (earth), Aquafaer (water), Aerifaer (air), and Ignisfaer (fire).  At the command of their goddess, they are pacifists. An accident happens and the Faer are blamed. This causes distrust and they are persecuted relentlessly. Lilliana and Vera, a mother daughter team, are seamstresses for the nobility. They must keep their Aerifaer abilities hidden or risk persecution themselves.

King Garrett is new to the throne and young. He wants to be a good king but is led astray by his best and perhaps only true friend. Together they delve into trouble they might not be able to get out of alive. King Garrett spirals out of control into darkness.

Something dark and dangerous begins killing the Faer. Lilliana and Vera with the other Faer must find a way to escape this new devilry or face extinction. Can they do this while keeping to their faith or will they abandon their faith to survive? 

That story is what I’ve spent the last year writing! As of this moment I have 66,500 words of it written. I estimate it will be about 90,000 words long. During revision I will cut quite a bit of the beginning part (10k) that I wrote during NaNo last year. I don’t feel it was a waste of time because I needed to write it to firm up in my own mind what this world looks like, the rules of the magic systems, the character needed to tell me who they were, all of it was vital, that I know. Words written are never wasted. They are part of the learning experience. Some of it might even get cannibalized to be woven into a later part of the story. I say I want to finish the draft this month but if you do the math, I’ve got a long way to go yet, so I may not make it but at least I’ll be 15k words closer!

I don’t know that I will have time to write another book review in November but I may. I began reading Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss and The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. Both are delightful so far! I should be finishing those two soon, as well as The Red Queen. I’ll post a little something about my progress on NaNoWriMo if you are interested in hearing about it. Let me know!

My friends, I look forward to this month of achieving lots of goals, frantic writing, discovering new friendships, and of taking this journey with my fellow NaNoWriMo friends. May the words be ever in your mind and on your fingertips!

 

 

 

 

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Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management

Howard Taylor has written the Schlock Mercenary web comic for the last 16 years. He never ceases to amaze me at his ability to write a comic each day and not write himself into a corner. This book is a compilation of part of his web comic. I could have read his comic daily for a few months and read the same story, but I am not organized enough to remember to go back each day to look at it. Plus I think the comic looks pretty amazing on the glossy pages. You can admire the  art on the page better than on the screen, I think.  I’m happy with my purchase of the book.

img_9364Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management
By Howard Taylor
Genre: Web Comic

The comic is witty and brilliant. I mean literally brilliant. This is not for the light science geek, well it could be but you’d miss a lot of the jokes. When I read this I dredged up memories of science that I haven’t thought about for a while, like red shift and blue shift from 8th grade science class. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if Taylor was making stuff up, or if I wasn’t knowledgeable enough about certain science terms. If you are a science geek, you will go nuts over this. If you like things blowing up on the page, you will like this too. There is plenty of that. I laughed out loud numerous times. As I think about it, this book really has every kind of humor possible. There is a little innuendo at the beginning but it is fairly subtle, so young readers will miss it completely. There is some potty humor, irony, self-depricating humor, sarcasm, slap-stick, deadpan humor, seriously all kinds of humor.

The writing/ science level is higher than an average 11 year old is able to read. However, I’ve known some 11 year old kids with more science knowledge than I will ever have. I am a geek, in case you don’t know, therefore I love science. I supported some of my ESL students in their science class in a couple years ago. So I have a fair amount of middle grade science knowledge in my head, though I am by no means an expert. Although this is a comic, it may not appeal to kids who are reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid because of the science. It does contain just about every kind of humor there is though so you never know, some might and may pick up a little science along the way.

Reading this was a new experience for me. The rhythm of the writing was halting because it is a daily comic. It feels different from a graphic novel, because of that. It was nice that I could put it down and pick it up easily because of all the natural breaks in it. This pacing would align with the short attention span that some kids have today.

Foul Language: None
Violence: Nothing graphic
Sexual Content: Only subtle inuendo
Substance Abuse: None
Overall Rating: G
Humor: All sorts of wonderful geeky humor!

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Secret of the Unicorn Queen

Prior to 5th grade, I hated reading. By the time I entered 6th grade, I loved it. What happened? Mrs. Madigan happened. She read books to us after recess and that was the highlight of my day. She read the Indian in the Cupboard, The Fourth Grade Nothing, and many other books. There was no comprehension quiz after, no vocabulary lists attached, and no pressure. I lay on the carpet at her feet, listened to her read, realized some reading could be purely for pleasure, and fell hopelessly in love with books.

secret-of-the-unicorn-queen-qbSomehow I stumbled onto a series of books called The Secret of the Unicorn Queen. I loved this series. I desperately wanted to go to this world of unicorns. At this time in my life I already had a long standing obsessions for all things horse. I read this series over and over. I didn’t often reread books back then. I do now because I’m forgetful.

In seventh grade I had a 30 minute study hall period each day. I was real shy and didn’t have any friends in that class that I can recall. I wanted to enter that world, so I decided that since the books were written by several different authors, perhaps I could become the author of the next book in the series. Each day I wrote in my notebook. I still have the notebook with 40 something handwritten pages of my story. That year I asked my mom for an electronic typewriter. (Computers were impossibly expensive back in the late 80’s.) I typed several pages of my story that summer, but eventually the swimming pool beckoned, among other fun summer activities, and I abandoned the story. That was the beginning of my dreams of becoming a writer.

The Secret of the Unicorn Queen is about a girl, named Sheila, who had an absent minded scientist type neighbor. She accidentally falls through a portal in his house which transports her to a world of unicorns, warrior women, and evil magicians. She must survive this hostile world until her scientist friend can bring her back home. In the meantime, she gets involved in a rescue mission to save the unicorns from being slaughtered in an evil ritual. There is a rather handsome young man in the story to keep her distracted, survival training to learn, and a grueling pace to keep as they travel to save the unicorns.

These books are not high literature. They are books that young people can connect to and be entertained by.

This series is written by:
Josephina Sherman
Gwen Hansen
Dory Perlman
Suzanne Weyn

I just realized that I have several books on my classroom shelf by Weyn that I recommend to my kids all the time. Also, Sherman is the author of several Star Trek novels that I’ve read.

Language: none
Violence: none
Sexual Content: none
Substance Abuse: none
Overall rating: G

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An Ember in the Ashes

Sabaa Tahir is one of my new favorite authors! Ember in the Ashes is Sabaa Tahir’s first book. She is an experienced writer though; she worked for the Washington Post right after University, and it shows. Her writing is tight, as in no wasted words. This book is a YA book and yet won a People’s Choice award for the Fantasy category. It is also a New York Times Best Seller.

An Ember in the Ashes
by Sabaa Tahir

The Martial Empire is a massive country that conquered the Scholar lands and many others long ago, enslaving many of the conquered people. Their rule is absolute and brutal.

Laia’s parents were the leaders of the most successful scholar rebellion group in ages, until they were betrayed by one of their own. Years later Laia has grown up with her brother and her grandparents. Her grandparents are killed and her brother taken to be tortured for information by the Martial Empire. Her brother is now her only living family, and she must save him. She seeks out the rebellion group for help. They ask her to work for and spy on the most dangerous woman in the Martial Empire. The woman with a particular gift for ferreting out and killing spies.

Elias is one of the best soldiers in the Martial Empire. He hates everything the empire represents. He hates the violence, the murder, the sabotage, the cruelty, the injustice, and the brutality. He longs to be free. He is contemplating and has planned to run away. He hasn’t even told his best friend, Helene, that he plans to escape. She is too loyal. He knows escape and freedom is not simple, but he doesn’t know how hard it actually is to find true freedom. Elias and Helene face trials and horrors they could not imagine. They face danger from friends, from long-time enemies, and from sources thought gone long ago. Worst of all they face impossible choices.

The description of the Roman-like setting is stunning! You can almost feel the desert sand when she describes it. The writing of this novel is unique. The main character, Laia, is beautifully written with internal and external conflict right from the start. This is not a read for the faint of heart. My heart nearly stopped at the choices these characters had to make, at the dangerous situations they were put in, and at the possibility of betrayal around every corner. Tahir is merciless to her characters. This is not a fairytale in which everything is black and white, good vs. evil. There is moral grayness everywhere. So in other words: I LOVE IT!! One of many themes in this story is that there are things worse than death. Another theme is in this trailer for the book.

I was shocked to find that this is actually a HL680 Lexile book! Pleasantly surprised. HL means that it is written to be of high interest but is written with simple vocabulary for easy understandablity. The writing didn’t feel like a HL book, which makes me respect Tahir’s writing ability. Usually HL books feel simple. They sometimes talk down to kids, but not this one. Usually I read books with a kind of ‘teacher filter’ on, knowing that something that is cliche to me as an avid reader for 30+ years is not going to seem cliche to an 11 year old student. I can read this book as an adult, no filter, and still enjoy this story. I don’t believe it would have won an award in an adult category if that were not the case.

The audio version of this is well done. The story is told from two different POVs, Laia and Elias. The audio version is narrated by Fiona Hardingham (Laia) and Steve West (Elias).

Language: no actual cuss words
Violence: yes, torture
Sexual Content: yes, mild
Substance Abuse: no
Overall rating: PG

If You Like…

If you like Hunger Games, there are some similar elements in this novel that you will love. This story is not quite as gritty as what Stephen King writes but it is more gritty than the average YA book, something like what R.A. Salvatore writes in the Legend of Drizzit series.

 

 

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