Title: In Dark Streets Shineth
Author: David McCullough
Verdict: An excellent Christmas book
This one's a quickie. I met David McCullough at a book signing last May, and he's got a great manner with crowds, a dignified sense of humor and a wonderful presence. This is a man who has accomplished great things, a historian in whom I can find no fault. I hope to do at least one thing as great as he has with every book he's penned.
IN DARK STREETS SHINETH is about Christmas Eve in 1941, a few short weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor. It's a message of optimism and hope, praise to God, and the strength of family and country through wartime. There's a brief snippet of history regarding the hymn "O Little Town of Bethlehem" and some other poetry, and how it mattered in that time period.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill are the main "characters," as they spent the holiday together in the U.S. and addressed the American people with this message. (Their individual addresses are included in the back of the book.)
The book comes with a DVD of McCullough narrating the story with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir inside the LDS Conference Center last December. I watched it this morning--it's not super long, but again, very uplifting. I can see it becoming a part of my family tradition in years to come.
Read it and enjoy.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
Title: Brian's Winter (Hatchet #3)
Author: Gary Paulsen
Genre: Young adult survivalist fiction
Verdict: A flagship among books for young boys.
It feels like I might have Chopped this book before. There's a good chance I don't care, because I'm lazy and I just finished reading it to my fiancee this evening. I loved Paulsen's Hatchet books--they are so simple and yet so amazing. If there's another series like it out there for young readers, I am not aware of it and anticipate being unimpressed.
The first book in the series, HATCHET, is about 13 year-old Brian Robeson, who is traveling on a small plane to visit his father in Canada. The pilot of the single-prop Cessna has a heart attack mid-flight, and crashes the jet into a lake in the middle of nowhere. Brian has to rely on his wits and just one tool: a hatchet, given to him as a parting gift from his mother. He has a really cool adventure and learns lots of great survival tricks, and is eventually rescued at the end of the summer.
The sequel, THE RIVER, is about how a government agency wants to take Brian back out in the wilderness to learn what he knew. To keep it realistic, Brian insists on no survival gear and only one agent to accompany him. A storm comes through and the agent gets struck by lightning and falls into a coma. Brian must then build a raft and navigate it down a river for a hundred miles.
BRIAN'S WINTER is an alternate ending to HATCHET, wherein Brian wasn't saved during the summer and had to keep going into winter. What do I love about it? Well, for one thing it's a great classic adventure. It's positive and uplifting, while being realistic and also showing us city folks what nature is really like. There's the "romantic view" of roughing it with the "true view" of the dangers one faces in the wild.
Paulsen is a great writer, too--he mentions in the foreword that he researched the topic prior to writing the book, but he didn't just plug Brian's character into his survival notes. Brian's still a real character, and the little insights into his mind help to pull you into the story, especially at the end when he's rescued, and he's come to actually love living in the woods. He even considers it "play" in a sense, and he's become a part of nature that way. It makes me long for that romantic side of it, but not so much that I'd want to tolerate the cold and suffering the way Brian did.
There are more books in the series, that I definitely want to read. I'll post the reviews as I get them. Highly recommended.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Title: The Lost Hero (Heroes of Olympus, #1)
Author: Rick Riordan
Genre: MG/YA Fantasy
I really liked Riordan's Percy Jackson books. Read the Chops here and here. I picked up THE RED PYRAMID a few months ago and was about bored to tears with it, so that made me skeptical about his new HEROES OF OLYMPUS series--a new Camp Half-Blood adventure.
It's okay though. The series was good. It had everything enjoyable about the first series in it, including new and unexplored tales in Greek (and Roman) mythology. He changed it up a little though, by following three characters in third person narrative so as to explore many new facets of the world.
The three characters are Jason, Leo and Piper--children of Zeus/Jupiter, Hephaestus and Aphrodite respectively. They're among the most powerful of their kind though, and they've been chosen for a quest (naturally.) But unlike previous quests involving the recovery of artifacts or objects, they have to save Hera from being devoured by a giant...and Olympus has cut off their children from having contact. Despite the bridge-building efforts at the end of the Percy Jackson books, the young 'uns are on their own again.
Some parts lagged a little, but overall the pacing was good and it reminded me what I loved about the original series so much. It set up the rest of the series really well, so I'll keep up with it. Definitely worth a read.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
Title: The Girl Who Could Fly
Author: Victoria Forester
Genre: Middle-Grade sci-fi
Verdict: Well, wow. What a neat little book.
Last year I saw this book when I was working for Deseret, it came in with a regular shipment. The hardcover artwork totally didn't capture my attention. It looked kind of lame, and I wasn't going to read it just because Stephenie Meyer plugged it. (She did give props to THE HUNGER GAMES, one of my favorite books, but that's not a measuring stick.)
Well, the above image is on the paperback, and when I pulled it out of a box this year I did a double-take. It looks really cool, doesn't it? Kind of comic-booky, like a graphic novel. It took me a minute to realize I'd seen it before, and actually wanted to look at the inside this time. They still gave prime placement to the Meyer quote on the front cover, which let's be honest, is a smart move. You put Meyer's name on something, and millions of chicks will buy it even if it sucks.
Anyway, I bought the book based on the premise: a little girl discovers she has the ability to fly, and gets taken away to a facility for kids with special abilities. I figured there'd be a lesson included, and not just a good story. I'm glad I got that impression.
The main character, Piper McCloud, starts out in a "Little House on the Prairie" setting. The narrative and character voices fit that setting very well, and it's a lot of fun to read. Forester did a good job with that. That kind of changes when she goes to the Facility, where she meets other kids with powers (speed, intelligence, X-ray vision, etc.) Not many of these powers are super original, and that's fine. It works for the story.
The second half of the story is part X-Men, part Incredibles. The focus of the facility is to remove special abilities from people that have them. In fact, it kind of smacks of Lois Lowry's THE GIVER. And that's a good thing. Piper and her new friends have to find a way to save the facility's occupants from Dr. Hellion, the lady in charge of the place.
I liked the varying tones of the characters. Piper was religious by way of upbringing, very proper and very polite. Science got the stage as well through other characters, so it showed intellectual diversity (although the phrase "reverse global warming" showed up in a really contrived context, which was a little much.)
The story had a very good moral by the end, one that came across easily without being heavy-handed. Instead of tearing excellent people down to a standard of "normalcy," it celebrates the things we all exceed in, the things that make us different by way of talent and accomplishment.
My only complaint has to do with perspective: at times (and at random), it would switch from one character's point of view to another character, with no break, no indication, no proper structure. It pulled me out of the story a few times, as overall it was written in third-person limited. Not a bad book, but I didn't like that aspect of it. I think an editor should've caught it, but oh well.
A good book, and worth the 7 or 8 bucks in paperback. I'll be reading it again.
Title: Dreadnought (Clockwork Century #3)
Author: Cherie Priest
Verdict: Enjoyable, liked it better than the first one.
If you read the Chop of BONESHAKER, you know what that's all about. DREADNOUGHT is set in the same world, same time, but none of the first book's characters make an appearance until the final chapters.
Brief recap of the world: 1880, North America, the Civil War is still going on (alternate history, remember this.) Mexico, Texas, Washington (west coast), Confederacy and USA are all different countries at this time.
Our main character is Mercy Swakhammer Lynch (dang I love that name. SWAK. HAMMER.) She's a nurse in a Confederate hospital, and her husband is a soldier fighting for the Yankees, so they've got some marital problems to work out. I mean most people keep it in the family.
Mercy gets word that her husband died (spoiler alert! j/k, first chapter) so the only family she has left is her father, Jeremiah SWAKHAMMER!!! who lives out in Seattle. She's not even sure if he's still alive, but she got a telegram that he was sick and wanted to see her a while back. She packs up her gear and gets on a dirigible (it's a zeppelin, basically) and heads out west.
But surprise! There's still a big gnarly war out there. Her zeppelin accidentally gets shot down by an anti-aircraft gun operated on the Yankee side of the line. She survives with a few other people and crash-lands in a war zone, between two fighting walkers: a steam-powered Yankee contraption, and a diesel-powered Confederate monstrosity called the Hellbender.
***Side note: I complained about not seeing enough fighting in book 1, even though Jeremiah SWAAAAK!!!!HAMMAAAAAA!!!! had the toys for it. Well, in this book she gave us quite the tease, showing us two 'mechs that didn't end up duking it out Rock 'Em Sock 'Em style. I am disappoint.
Back to the story: the war has shut down the train lines. The only train going anywhere is the Yankee train called the Dreadnought, a machine that makes a very good case for these books having illustrations (again, disappoint.) It's a big beefy bad-ace train that is armed and armored for the next four apocalypses. Mercy, a Southern girl, hides her identity and boards the train, having no desire to do anything but get to Seattle.
Think it's that easy? Of course you do. Sap. There are other conflicting parties on the train, including a Texas Ranger (with six guns) who's out looking for a band of missing Mexican expatriates; a pair of Mexican inspectors, who are looking for the same band of people but for different reasons; a scientist escorting an unseen cargo in the back of the train; and a few other really well-rounded characters.
If you've read BONESHAKER, you know what happened to the Mexicans that the people are looking for: they fell victim to exposure to the Blight gas, effectively making them zombies. This news has implications for everyone on the train as it heads west.
That's just the setup for the adventure, and it's plenty interesting on its own. I had problems with BONESHAKER (it was worth 3 stars) but I think DREADNOUGHT redeemed it well enough. Overall it was a better book than the first one, and you don't need to read the first one to understand what happens in the second one. It's just a little cooler if you do.
The series name is THE CLOCKWORK CENTURY. The two books discussed here are #1 and #3. Book #2 is called CLEMENTINE, and was only released on a limited run in hardcover this year. According to Cherie Priest's website, it'll be re-released by Tor in paperback next year, and is currently available on the Kindle for three bucks. I guess it was just some crazy contract thing that made the book go out of print in the first month, but once it comes out in paperback I'll give it a read.
For now I'll be keeping up with this series.