H is for The Hobbit

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien
Bilbo Baggins was a hobbit who wanted to be left alone in quiet comfort. But the wizard Gandalf came along with a band of homeless dwarves. Soon Bilbo was drawn into their quest facing evil orcs, savage wolves, giant spiders, and worse unknown dangers. Finally, it was Bilbo--alone and unaided--who had to confront the great dragon Smaug, the terror of an entire countryside!

I've known the story of Bilbo for years. Even before I picked up the novel, I had the picture book and read along cassette of his meeting with the goblins and Gollum, not to mention my dad playing the record album (yes, that nearly forgotten disc of black vinyl) featuring the section dealing with Smaug. I can still vaguely remember the sound of the dragon's voice and Bilbo doing his best to be brave.

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien is such a classic. I think I would have still been a fan of fantasy without it, but it has enriched me in so many ways. Even the smallest of persons can make a difference in the world. It doesn't matter if others believe in you. It doesn't even matter if you believe in you at first. When you step out your door and do something you've never done, you'll learn so much more about what you're capable of than you would have ever thought. Bilbo was completely unprepared for anything; he even forgot his handkerchief. But along the way, he proves his worth to the dwarves and himself.

I also finally watched part one of the new movie (since it hit DVD). And while there are some changes, it was still well done. I was worried that there was going to be a bunch of padding just to draw things out in order to justify breaking the story into 3 parts. LotR was three books, three movies. The Hobbit as 1 book, three movies? Really? But considering how much of the tone of The Hobbit (and LotR) is the travel aspect, the scenery and so forth, that I didn't mind any of the sweeping camera views that technically weren't needed for plot. They helped carry the feel of the book.

I didn't even mind the dwarves being made a little more sympathetic than they were in the book. (Ahhh, Thorin *swoon*) They still didn't think Bilbo was going to be much use. So when my husband and I got to the part when they flee into the trees to escape the orcs and wargs, I was on the edge of my seat. And what Thorin said to Bilbo after they'd been rescued by the eagles made me cry. All the changes I might have muttered about in mild annoyance paid off right there. I didn't care anymore at that point. So now I'm really looking forward to part 2 in a way I hadn't had for part 1 after so long a wait since LotR.

I'm dropping the A-to-Z challenge with this post. Too many things going on, and this one has to go before I get overly stressed. I'll try to keep up with reading other people's posts, though. After all, with not having to read and then write about quite so many books all at once, that will be easier. I'll still be posting this month, but only 2-3 times a week. Best wishes to those of you still doing the challenge. I'll see you around.

G is for Goblin Secrets

Monday, April 8, 2013

Goblin Secrets by William Alexander

Rownie is the youngest in a hodgepodge household of stray children collected by Graba the witch. His older brother, Rowan, has vanished after performing in a secret play, and Rownie feels lost without him. Acting is illegal in the city of Zombay. No one may wear a mask and pretend to be someone else. Only goblins may legally perform, for they are the Changed--neither human nor other, belonging nowhere.

Rownie meets a traveling troupe of goblins who promise to teach him the secrets of mask-craft and entice him with the hope of finding Rowan. But Graba does not give up her own easily and hunts for them both. As Rownie searches for his brother, the true power of the masks--and those who wear them--is revealed. Are the goblins what they seem to be? What fateful magic lies hidden in the heart of Zombay?

Mystery and adventure are woven through with charm and humor in this beguiling exploration of family, love, identity, and the power of words to shape what is real.

Oh my. This book is now on my to-buy list. It's not a high intensity action book, but there's something very endearing about Rownie's search for his brother and finding his place. There's danger from Graba as she tries very hard to get him back in her control, especially to keep him away from the goblin acting troupe. There's also the danger to him if the Guard catches him, an unChanged boy performing with masks, highly illegal. But the goblins are not what everyone has said about them.

I can't really say any more than that about the story, but I give it 5 stars. I should also mention that as far as Zombay itself goes, think gears and mechanicals in a medieval fantasy with witchcraft. That is all; carry on and find yourself a copy of the book. Well worth reading with kids you know. Words are very important.

F is for Floors

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Floors by Patrick Carman

There's no other place on Earth quite like the Whippet Hotel. Each and every floor has its own wacky design -- and its own wacky secrets. The guests are either mad or mysterious. And ducks are everywhere.

Leo Fillmore should know everything there is to know about the Whippet Hotel -- he is the janitor's son, after all. But a whole lot more mystery gets thrown his way when four cryptic boxes are left for him...boxes that lead him to hidden floors, strange puzzles, and an unexpected friend or two.

Join Leo as he takes the ride of his life, without ever having to step outside. As the hotel starts falling apart and the mystery thickens, there's only one thing Leo can know for sure: The future of the Whippet Hotel depends on him.

It's hard to think of how to describe this book. It was delightfully zany. The Whippet Hotel has room such as the Robot Room, the Pinball Room, and the Cake Room. Leo's adventure started on the hundredth day after Mr. Merganzer W. Whippet had gone missing. During the regular task of duck herding Leo found a purple box in the duck elevator addressed to him. Upon opening it, he found that he was given a mission to find 3 more boxes in just two days with the help of a duck and a friend in order to save the hotel and all it stands for. A pretty big mission to lay on a ten year old, but Leo had been friends with Merganzer and would do anything for the hotel he loved.

If you combine Wonka's factory with Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium with the mystery of The Westing Game (by Ellen Raskin), you might come close to the fun that is Floors. It's wacky and zany and trying to solve the puzzle left behind by the inventive and mysterious Mr. Whippet will take you all over and through the hotel to figure out what is going on.

E is for Erratum

Friday, April 5, 2013

Erratum by Walter Sorrells

Erratum. n. a writer's or publisher's error in a publication; pl. such errors or a list of them with corrections.

Jessica Sternhagen is not like other kids. She's taller, faster, and...well, weirder. Turns out, Jessica has a destiny, with a capital D. When she walks into an antiquarian bookstore and finds a strange book entitled Her Lif waiting for her, she thinks it's some kind of joke. Who left the book for her? And shouldn't the title be Her Life? What seems like a small printer's error, or erratum, turns out to be the first in a series of bizarre happenings. Her Lif tells the story of Jessica's life, ending with her murder only seconds after she finishes reading the book. Jessica narrowly escapes the predicted murder only to find that the book itself has now changed. The new ending? Jessica has to save the universe. What she discovers is that Her Lif is a word machine, a powerful device which can be used to change reality--only this book happens to have some minor printer's errors in it. And if the book falls into the wrong hands, it could be used to destroy the universe.

This book stuck with me for a couple days after I finished it. The story itself is well written and involves parallel time streams, though only one is supposedly the true and correct universe. In all the twists and turns of the story, people telling her she has to save the world or to leave it be. In the end, it will come down to a single choice she makes. And it's just as they told her, too, though neither she nor I paid those hints much attention.

Jessica is a fun girl. I would've loved to have had her as a friend when I was 11. She loves books, possibly even more than me. And she doesn't like bullies. Her friendship with Dale started when he was being tormented because his dad had lost a hand during an accident at the nearby sausage factory. Even though his home life is rough and Jessica has such loving (if boring) parents, they stick together.

If you enjoy parallel time stream stories, bizarre happenings, and/or stories revolving around books that can change the world, this might be right for you. And I'll have to track down his other books. Sorrells is far cleverer than I thought in the beginning with the parallel between what I was reading with what Jessica read when she first opened Her Lif. Well done.

D is for Dragon's Keep and Dragonswood

Thursday, April 4, 2013

So I took a walk down the aisles on dragons here in the dragon's library. (Not surprisingly, Azuranna has the ultimate collection of dragon books.) I strolled around not really looking for anything specific, but just to see what sparked my interest. These two books caught my attention: Dragon's Keep and Dragonswood by Janet Lee Carey. She's a new-to-me author, and now that I've read the books, I'm keeping her on my fairy wand's spot list.

Dragon's Keep
Far away on Wilde Island lives a princess born with a dragon claw.

No one, save her mother, knows her terrible secret. And the queen has forced her to wear gloves at all times until a cure can be found. Rosalind is a princess, so she must be perfect--how else can she fulfill Merlin's six-hundred-year-old prophesy that will restore her banished royal family to its rightful throne?

But Rosalind's flaw cannot be separated from her fate. And soon the bloodthirsty dragon that plagues Wilde Island carries her off. The dragon sees beauty where her mother sees only shame. And on Dragon's Keep, Rosalind comes to understand the truth behind the prophesy that has haunted her since birth.

Is Rosie a princess? Or the spawn of a dragon? Which part of her blood holds the secret to who she really is?
So I have a little thing for stories with a reference to Merlin. It was my first hint of the setting, that it is our world. Dragon's Keep begins in the year 1145 when Stephen and Maud are fighting for control over England. Rosalind only knows what her mother hopes, that she will be the 21st queen of Wilde Island who will "redeem the name Pendragon. End war with a wave of her hand. And restore the glory of Wilde Island."

Merlin's 600 year old prophesy seems to have little to do with her though. Rosie doesn't feel like she could possibly have the power to do this. She just has this ugly lizard claw where her left ring finger should be, her wedding finger. What man would want a bride with such a deformation? Her mother is determined to make it happen though and pins her hopes on Prince Henry from over the sea marrying Rosie, because then she'd be in a position to end the civil war in England. After all, they are the long-banished line of Pendragons, waiting to return. Who better to end the conflict, right?

Obviously things get more complicated than that, but I enjoyed the story Janet Lee Carey spun out. Despite the tropes, it was a fun story, one I'd read again. I especially enjoyed the dragons, first the she-dragon, then Lord Faul, the dragon who carried her off, and also the dragon hatchlings Lord Faul makes her tend. The story was a bit slow going at first, but it picks up speed and builds to a rewarding end. Readers who prefer fast paced stories may not appreciate the slower tempo of this one. But it's well worth the time. The atmosphere and characters illustrate a different time period as Rosalind discovers who she really is inside. Her determination to keep going even when she's overwhelmed, her loyalty to those she cares for, and her adherence to her sworn word make her someone worth knowing. And those qualities are ultimately what gives her the ability to make both Merlin's and the dragons' prophesies come true.

Wilde Island is in an uproar over the recent death of its king. The uneasy pact between dragons, fairies, and humans is fraying and the royal witch hunter begins a vengeful quest to hunt down girls with fire in their hearts and sparks in their soul.
Strong-willed Tess, a blacksmith's daughter from a tiny hamlet near the mysterious Dragonswood, wants more for herself than a husband and a house to keep. But in times like these, wanting more can be dangerous.
Accused of witchcraft, Tess and her two friends are forced to flee the violent witch hunter. The journey is bleaker than they ever imagined and they have no choice but to accept when an enigmatic huntsman offers them shelter in the dangerous Dragonswood. Staying with him poses risks of its own: Tess has no idea how to handle the attraction she feels for him--or the elusive call she hears from the heart of the Dragonswood.

This story begins in 1192, two generations after Dragon's Keep. I admit to being mildly disoriented at first. The year clue helped to determine when this book happened, but I was still expecting something more immediately after as a sequel, not this longer time span. It didn't help that Tess was used as a character name in the prior book. However, it didn't take long before I was absorbed in the story. In some ways I enjoyed this one more than Dragon's Keep. It doesn't take as long for the driving action to kick off, and even though this is still Tess's story, she has more characters for her personality to play off of. Rosalind was isolated in many ways even from the people around her. Tess, on the other hand, has two best friends, so we see her interacting more on a familiar level with people her age. And she is also close to her mother, a significant difference from Rosalind's relationship with hers.

More people are involved in this story with their various motivations, and the stakes are bigger. Another prophesy is involved, but like in the first book, it isn't answered in the obvious way. I was kept guessing, and even when I correctly guessed parts of things, some twist would still surprise me as to the rest. The right thing to do isn't always clear, nor is is easy, but Tess does her best to make up for the danger she put her friends and their families into, which puts them in the path of making quite a few things right she hadn't been responsible for. Tess's precogs also give just enough to tantalize but not adequately predict what was actually going to happen.

I recommend checking out both of these stories and exploring their historical period charm and satisfying stories. They won't appeal to everyone, but they are worth reading at least once for the style. So I hope you'll find a cozy nook and check these out. I'll send the fairies around with refreshments. Tea? Coffee?

C is for Crystal Singer

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

I was going to try to stick with new books for the A-to-Z, but I decided that Clockwork Angel was going to take too long to both read and review with all the blog reading I want to do, plus working on my story and making more crochet samples. (One of these week I will finally have some signups and be able to teach my first crochet class. Not part of the challenge specifically, but not something that can be neglected either.)

So, instead of a new book, here is one that's a bit of a classic, or is to me anyway: Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey.

Her name was Killashandra Ree; and after ten grueling years of musical training she was young, beautiful--and still without prospects. Then she heard of the mysterious Heptite Guild on the Planet Ballybran, where the fabled Black Crystal was found. For those qualified, the Guild was said to provide careers, security and the chance for wealth beyond imagining. The problem was, few people who landed on Ballybran ever left. To Killashandra the risks were acceptable.

I read this book years ago. Perhaps it first interested me because I studied music in high school: marching band, concert band, pep band, jazz band, and music theory. (Though I didn't go on and study it in college beyond a semester of private singing lessons.) But I also enjoyed Killashandra's desire to excel and not let anyone make her settle for less than her capacities.

Several times during the application process, Killa is warned that she should not continue with her plan to become a crystal singer. Her singing mentor calls Ballybran a "den of addled mentalities and shattered nerves." Crystal singing "isn't sensible," says the captain who brings her to the moon base over the planet. Even the FSP makes sure that she receives full disclosure of the dangers that await her if she chooses to go to the planet, for even if she successfully integrates with the spore symbiont, she still has the risk of char, catastrophic accident, sonic storms, and memory loss. (Some Singers consider the last to be a benefit, even if it sometimes interferes with being able to find old claims.) Incomplete integration means some sort of physical impairment and placement as one of the support staff on the planet. She is determined that she will succeed and become one of the fabled Crystal Singers, not matter the hazards. But it is not an easy road.

Not only is Killa herself fascinating, McCaffrey does a wonderful job creating Ballybran and the universe in general. From the society at large to the tiered level of careers on the planet, she has developed and integrated the various people Killa meets. They have their own motivations and reactions, some helpful, some concerned, and some haughty. And Ballybran's geography is remarkably detailed. I've always been able to picture it from the inverse mountain ranges to the base to the living quarters. The famous Ballybran crystal is also remarkably well done. There are different shades, each with their own special qualities. However, black is considered the best, necessary for instantaneous communication between linked crystals regardless of distance. You can imagine how important that can be when taking about interstellar distances.

Crystal Singer is followed by Killashandra with Crystal Line wrapping up her story and the research into how to mitigate the hazards, particularly the reasons for the memory loss. I love all three books and come back to them probably once a year, which means I've read them close to 20 times, give or take a few.

ROW 80 goals:
1: Keep up with the A-to-Z daily challenge. - Yep, A, B, and C now done.
2: Write 2 paragraphs on Meridia every day. - Mon: 3 paragraphs, Tuesday: lots of paragraphs (woo!)
3: Read at least 5 blogs very day. -They weren't all ones not from my blogroll, but I did check out some new ones. At least 5 both Mon and Tues.

B is for Beyond the Dragon Portal

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Beyond the Dragon Portal by Melissa Glenn Haber

Sadie is alone in an alien land of Dragons and fierce winged warriors. All she knows is that her little sister, Phoebe, has been taken as a pawn in a terrible, age-old conflict. She has only her own determination to find Phoebe and take her home, back through the Dragon Portal to Earth.

Beyond the Dragon Portal, nothing is as Sadie expects. The Dragons are at war with the fierce Barbazion, who have kidnapped her sister So is the tribe of brave desert nomads she meets. Sadie is burning to join them. But as the battle rages, Sadie slowly realizes that she cannot take sides. And most unexpected of all, she will have to save Phoebe on her own.

Since this was a MG book, it was a quick read for me. However, the story stuck with me when I finished. Like the Healing Wars trilogy by Janice Hardy, this story take on a serious theme and works with it on an age appropriate manner. War is not as clear cut as propaganda would have you believe. Both sides see validity in their perspective. Both sides can be both right and wrong at the same time.

Sadie may only be 11, but she is determined to save her sister. Dragonland looks so much different from the stories Phoebe had told, back when Sadie had thought they were only stories, not actual memories. There's lots of desolate grounds, devastated cities, and the ever-present fear of Barbazion attack. What she finally realizes makes her more heart-sick than any of that. And that war is more terrible than she thought, and she might be the only one who can prevent the massive battle that's about to happen.

I really felt for Sadie. She is like most kids her age, ordinary, interested in enjoying time with her friends, especially Picker. They'd planned to build a robot together. She's not a hero. She often felt inadequate to the task of finding and then saving her sister. Even when she came up with a plan, she knew it was full of holes, winging it so to speak. But love is a better motivation than hate and fear in determining who has the best claim, and Sadie does her best, even though she doesn't feel smart enough to succeed. Her best quality is that she is determined, indefatigable as her father once called her. I give this story 4 stars, and I plan to read this to my son after I get through the other books already on our list. Very good book.

A is for Aurelie: A Faerie Tale

Monday, April 1, 2013

Aurelie: A Faerie Tale by Heather Tomlinson
Once a upon a time, three children and a little river dragon were the best of friends--until a promise was broken. Now they are almost grown up and barely speaking to one another. With her country in turmoil, Aurelie is sent on a peacekeeping mission. But how can she prevent a war when she can't even make her friends get along?

Heartsick at losing her dearest companions, especially the handsome Garin, Aurelie finds comfort in her secret, late-night trips to fairyland. But a princess can't hide from her duties forever. Her country needs her, and so do her friends--whether they know it or not.

Now I didn't interpret what happened to split them apart as a broken promise so much as an unfortunate incident when Netta slipped up and recognized Loic's father as a fae. He took her sight, because he couldn't abide a mortal being able to see him, but she'd managed to not give away Garin or Aurelie who could also see fae thanks to Loic who'd given the three of them the magic ointment.

However, since they hadn't wanted to make Loic feel bad, they never told him what happened to Netta and stopped visiting, making him feel as though they'd abandoned him. Then Netta went back to her home, refusing to come back to Lumielle, the capital. And Garin went back to Skoe, completely cutting off all contact. Aurelie was left without any of her friends when her mother died.

The threat of war picked up, so in order to try to negotiate with Skoe and the neighboring country of Alhinsa, Aurelie and Count Sicard travel to Skoe. However, it looks like one particular house in Skoe is working to manipulate their way into total power and seeks to bind Jocondagne, Aurelie's country, in marriage to Captain Inglis's son Hue.

Most chapters are following Aurelie's thoughts, but here and there are chapters following the other three. Eventually, they will have to come together to save Jocondagne and Skoe both. It's not a particularly complicated story, but it is sweet. Not everyone goes for sweet, so I'll say it now. It's a charming YA romantic fantasy. If you don't go for that, that's fine. But I enjoyed the story, and that is part of why. This is the sort of book I can curl up with before bedtime and wind down with its cozy feel-good ending.

Quick edit: I almost forgot my ROW 80 goals.
1: Keep up with daily posts for the A-to-Z challenge. (Today's = met. Yay!)
2: Write 2 paragraphs each day on Meridia.
3: Visit and comment on at least 5 blogs. Starting off on the low end considering there's 2 challenges and I have a bunch I follow normally, but looking for something I can succeed at. Will increase as I get into the groove. (I've already done 3 or 4.)