Posts tagged 50 books 2009

Fablehaven: Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary by Brandon Mull


Finally had a chance to sit down and finish this fantastic book this morning.  The fourth in Brandon Mull’s Fablehaven series, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary follows route in being bigger and better than its predecessors.  I really cannot rave about this series enough.  Once again, Seth and Kendra Sorens0n have serious challenges and adventures and manage to prove themselves in the process.

I really can’t say all that I want to about this book because it would spoil the pants off of anyone who hasn’t read the series!  But I can say that these books are ridiculously inventive, completely understanding of kids’ intelligence—and completely appealing to the kid inside each one of us.  There’s really nothing I can compare this series to.  It’s not a Harry-Potteresque allegory, it deals with real-life ch0ices and consequences, and real-life challenges… it just does it with a cast that includes dragons and satyrs and giants and trolls.  That said, it is also something completely fantastical.  It’s something akin to mythology, where the heroes are just normal people, standing up against enormous (sometimes literally!) odds.  And through it all there is a sense of humor, danger, intrigue… even the smallest shades of romance.

As always, there’s also masterfully subtle lessons built in to the stories about teamwork, taking chances, being honest, and accepting responsibility for your actions.  Meanwhile, Mull has gotten better and better at conveying emotion and (admittedly) whopping the reader over the head with unexpected twists and turns.

I’m already ready for the next one – or maybe I’m not, since it’s the last one planned for the series.  The last one!  What am I supposed to do to get my fantasy kick after this?  Why must I be so series-prone, and love characters so much?  While I’m the first to admit that a story that last forever is a story that lasts too long, I hate to say goodbye to them, too.  Then again, I could certainly do with a re-read… once I get the books back from my brother, that is!

Fablehaven is also published by Shadow Mountain, the very publisher I’m eyeing myself.  I would love to see my books up alongside the likes of the Fablehaven series.  Someday, they just might be.

Anyhow, go grab these books!  The first three are already in paperback, and so, so very worthy of being added to your personal library, and once you pick the first one up, you’ll just want to keep on reading.

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Book #10 – finally.

I did something today that I haven’t done in quite a while now—I finished a book.  Not even a book, book, really.  One of those little positivity self-help-like books.  But I’m going to count it, because I’m too far behind not to!

I’ve never read anything by Anna Quindlen before, and this is a scant fifty pages – not even that, because the type is big, the margins are big, and more than half the pictures are pages.  But I’m still counting it. 😛

Actually reading it was quite nice.  It reminded me of what my professor said reading an original copy of Pride and Prejudice felt like.  You know how Austen’s books are divided up into volumes?  Well when they were first published, those volumes were actually seperate books, and from his description, were a breeze to read through because of their big font and wide margins.   This was a quick flip through and a rather nice one, too.  While not all of this is immediately acknowledgeable today (this was published in 2000) as there is not really “an embarrassment of riches” at the moment for some of us—many of us—just the unfortunate consequence of such, there was a lot of good things to ponder in this little book, mainly enjoying the journey, rather than looking forward to the destination, etc.  Nothing you haven’t heard before… but we can all do to hear it once in a while, hm?

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Thursday Next: First Among Sequels

How do I love Mr. Fforde’s work?  Let me count the ways.  1) Bibliophilia geekery at it’s very, very best.  You know that this man loves books, and not only loves them, but knows them, inside and out!   2) A fantastic knowledge of his own canon – which repeats and doubles over on itself and is full of time-traveling characters, so that’s quite an accomplishment!  3) Equal aptitude at dealing with the fast-paced action sequences as he is at writing the sweet, quieter home moments.  4) Long and patient build-up to obvious and yet well-deserved jokes. 5) Long and patient build-up to brilliant and not-so-obvious plot twists!  6) The ability to believably mimic the voices of dozens and dozens of well-loved literature characters.  7)  An ever-expanding mythology explaining how books are made.  Not on this side of the page – but inside the books themselves!  8) A main character that never gets tiring or facetious.  9) The gumption to stretch the limits on what can be considered story just about any which way he likes – Jasper Fforde can do anything he wants to do in fiction – and he probably will.

This is maybe not my favorite in the Thursday Next series—I’d say Jasper will have trouble topping Hamlet walking around in England in Something Rotten, in my book, but I’m not about to limit him to anything.  Parts of this are slow so far as plot goes, but we continue to see how very in-depth Fforde’s layout of the Book World is in his mind.  He’s mechanically minded enough to make things like Imaginotransference devices sound like they really do work – and silly enough to admit that Textual Sieves are universally useful simply because they’re never fully explained, and thus can be used for anything.

What I really enjoyed about this one, though, was Thursday’s family environment, especially any interraction we got to see with her children—it’s one of my favorite aspects of Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, also, he simply has a fantastic knack for capturing family dynamics.

This ends with a fantastic cliffhanger, also, one that leads back to things that began even in the second novel.  Fforde has this way of looking back at his own stories and twisting the innuendos of small details to bring them into a new and current problem for Thursday, which I think is utterly brilliant.

While this may not be my very favorite of his canon, it continues to prove to me that anything Fforde writes is worth reading.  The reader always feels a bit like they’re part of an inside joke reading his novels, and a brilliantly convoluted one, at that.  Reading Fforde’s work is like reading a friend’s writing, it’s that much better because you know just how much they enjoyed writing it, too.

So highly recommend this one, and if you haven’t read the Thursday Next series yet, shame on you!  Go on and start at the beginning, with The Eyre Affair, where Thursday has to save Jane Eyre from being kidnapped right out of her own book.  Meanwhile, I’ll be sitting waiting impatiently for Fforde’s next novel – and the start of a brand new series, Shades of Grey.

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The City of Ember

Book #3 of 2009 was an odd little tale called The City of Ember, by Jeanne DuPrau.  This was a Christmas gift from a friend of mine, and I admit, this was a book I judged entirely by its cover.  I thought it was pretty, and I wanted it.  Maybe not the best criteria for wanting a book, but it didn’t really stop me.

I can’t say this was the best book I’ve ever read.  There are a few things about it that I just frankly didn’t understand, but to tell them to you would spoil some things, so I won’t.  But maybe that’s only because I’ve only read this one?  There are at least, I believe, four novels in the series.  I didn’t even realize, really, that it was also made into a film just last year—somehow I missed that entirely.

That said… this book has some very interesting concepts in it, and a couple of fantastic characters, to boot.  I especially liked the main character’s baby sister, Poppy.  One of my literature professors once pointed out (in a William Carlos Williams class—see White Mule) that writing about babies and small animals is both very difficult and very rare to find well done, and I thought Poppy was just a wonderful portrayal of a toddler.  She was almost the most believable character in the whole novel.  Not that her sister Lina and Lina’s friend Doon weren’t believable, but occasionally there was a bit of a cartoonish feel to the novel.  As I read, I was actually constantly going back and forth between imagining these characters as real people and as some sort of animated movie, which I don’t think has ever happened to me before, as a reader.  It was actually very interesting, and I don’t know quite what caused it.  Some of the background characters—especially the not-so-nice ones—are a bit Roald Dahl-ish, though, so maybe that’s a good part of it.

I’m kind of interested in how this book has had so much buzz and non-buzz about it.  Everyone seems to have heard of it, or at least seen it, but almost no one really knows what it’s really about, or maybe that’s just my experience with it.  I really do think that this has a lot to do with it’s lovely cover.  The whole series has really lovely covers, actually.  Maybe you’re not supposed to judge a book by how it’s packaged… but it sure does have some draw over us, doesn’t it?

P.S.  Wren & Marnie updated – I know they blog late at night… but hey, they’re in college, that’s just how it works.

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The Westing Game

Book #2 of 2009 – The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin

I read this book first when I was in elementary school, and then again in middle school, both thanks to school libraries at their various times.  A couple years back I decided I really wanted a copy of my own, and another read through it, but it took me until late last year to actually get it into my hot little hands.

The basic set-up is that sixteen people are gathered together together and told that they are heirs of paper-product mogul Sam Westing.  But not only heirs, they’re also suspects!  One of them has taken Westing’s life, and the one who wins the game, wins the inheritance.

If you’ve never read this book, you really must.  It’s generally labeled as a mystery, but really the story is one big puzzle, reading like a fantastic game of chess complete with fascinating characters and a lot of humor and heart.  It’s a children’s novel, but every bit as entertaining to me now as it was when I first read it at the age of ten.

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Mansfield Park

Book #1 of 2009 – Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen

I went into this book expecting not to care for it much.  I’d read half of it before for a college course, but I’d entered the class late and was behind on the reading, so I never finished it, and what I had read had all been done in a very overview kind of way.  All I really gleaned from it was how unhappy Fanny was as a child, and how selflessly she loved Edmund, who may or may not have deserved it.

Now that I’ve finished it “for real,” as it feels, I don’t know how much extra wisdom I can add, but since I’ve already made my case for Henry Crawford, I thought it only fair I let Edmund Bertram have his moment.

As much as I have a soft spot for him (thanks in large to Jonny Lee Miller) I found it hard to believe that the end of the book would convince me that Edmund really loved Fanny in the way she would have liked him to love her, when even through the penultimate chapter he is talking and sighing over the sparkling eyes of Mary Crawford, who he so fully loved, or at the very least believed himself to love.  Anything else could only be settling, right?

But I’m not so sure.  Once his eyes are opened to her true nature, he realizes that he’s been in love with something built out of his own imagination, not Miss Crawford herself, and as much as I was expecting to, I can’t fault him for that.  After all, Edmund has lived a fairly sheltered life, both thanks to his father’s severities and also thanks to his own nature.  His brother Tom, in comparison, who has lived a bit more loosely (to understate it), is never particularly struck with Mary.  Edmund, on the other hand, has very little experience with such worldly women, and he can’t help but be blindsided.  If we take Edmund at his word, and believe that he didn’t really love Mary Crawford as much as the Mary Crawford he imagined, it’s not too much of a stretch for him to then realize the woman who has always stood by him, counseled with him, and done her best to make him happy.

Still, I don’t know that if the Crawfords hadn’t come into their lives, if Edmund and Fanny ever would have found each other, romantically.  It took Mary to make Edmund want to love, and Henry’s attention to make Fanny believe that she could be loved.  If the Crawfords had never broken up the tranquility of Mansfield Park, it might never have changed.  Edmund and Fanny each in their own way are so good that they had to have been taken by force to move them to action, and ultimately to each other.

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