March 31, 2011

March 2011

I've read 13 books in March.  My page count for the month is 6039.

1. Tanequil by Terry Brooks (4/5)
2. Straken by Terry Brooks (4/5)
3. Armageddon's Children by Terry Brooks (5/5)
4. The Elves of Cintra by Terry Brooks (4.5/5)
5. The Gypsy Morph by Terry Brooks (5/5)
6. The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly (4.5/5)
7. Door Number Three by Patrick O'Leary (3.5/5)
8. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling (4/5)
9. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling (4.5/5)
10. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling (4.5/5)
11. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling (5/5)
12. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling (4/5)
13. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling (5/5)

12 of these were Fantasy.  1 was Science Fiction.  I finished all the books I started.  My least favorite was Door Number Three by Patrick O'Leary.

Again, I'm pleased overall with the book choices I made.  I read more pages this month than in January or February.  One or two of the books were finished in 48 hours or less.  I finished the Floor to Ceiling Books Speculative Fiction Challenge 2011 on March 18th, but I plan to keep posting more towards that challenge throughout the year.

My To Be Read Pile is now at 640, which is only 6 down from last month.  Once again, I had quite a few books come to me from Paperbackswap, so that hurt my overall total.

Favorite book for the month:  Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

Title:  Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Author:  J. K. Rowling
Format:  HC
Pages:  651
Genre:  Teen Fantasy
Publisher:  Scholastic, 2005
ISBN-13:  978-0439784542
Series:  Harry Potter, Book 6

Favorite Quote:  "I am not worried, Harry, " said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water.  "I am with you."

Synopsis (Amazon):  The war against Voldemort is not going well; even the Muggles have been affected. Dumbledore is absent from Hogwarts for long stretches of time, and the Order of the Phoenix has already suffered losses. And yet . . . As with all wars, life goes on. Sixth-year students learn to Apparate. Teenagers flirt and fight and fall in love. Harry receives some extraordinary help in Potions from the mysterious Half-Blood Prince. And with Dumbledore's guidance, he seeks out the full, complex story of the boy who became Lord Voldemort -- and thus finds what may be his only vulnerability.

Review:  This is my favorite of this series, by far.  The past of Voldemort is revealed.  A character who seemed trustworthy turns out to be working for the enemy.  It turns out that Draco is to be pitied, at least a little bit.  Hogwarts might be closing.  And, Harry's future destiny looks grim.

There were many happy moments, too.  Harry falls in love with Ron's younger sister, Ginny.  Ron gets his first kiss.  Dumbledore becomes a more approachable, lovable character than he already was.

And then, Dumbledore dies.  I was shocked.  I didn't see it coming.  I kept waiting for someone to wave their wand and make it all change.  I found myself teary-eyed.  Now Harry is on his own in his efforts to find the remaining pieces of Voldemort's soul and defeat his enemies.  I've already begun the next (and last) book because I must know what happens next.

I'd give this book a 6, but a 5 will have to do.

Rating:  5 / 5

March 30, 2011

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling

Title:  Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Author:  J. K. Rowling
Format:  PB
Pages:  870
Genre:  Teen Fantasy
Publisher:  Scholastic, 2004
ISBN-13:  978-0439358071
Series:  Harry Potter, Book 5

Favorite Quote:  "I cared about you too much," said Dumbledore simply.  "I cared more for your happiness than your knowing the truth, more for your peace of mind than my plan, more for your life than the lives that might be lost if the plan failed.  In other words, I acted exactly as Voldemort expects we fools who love to act."

Synopsis (Amazon):  There is a door at the end of a silent corridor. And it's haunting Harry Potter's dreams. Why else would he be waking in the middle of the night, screaming in terror?

Here are just a few things on Harry's mind:  A Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher with a personality like poisoned honey, A venomous, disgruntled house-elf, Ron as keeper of the Gryffindor Quidditch team, The looming terror of the end-of-term Ordinary Wizarding Level exams.

. . . and of course, the growing threat of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. In the richest installment yet of J. K. Rowling's seven-part story, Harry Potter is faced with the unreliability of the very government of the magical world and the impotence of the authorities at Hogwarts.

Despite this (or perhaps because of it), he finds depth and strength in his friends, beyond what even he knew, boundless loyalty; and unbearable sacrifice.

Review:  This was a really long book.  It was a good story, full of suspense and excitement, but it was really just a little long.  I'm enjoying this series and am glad I finally have met these characters I've heard so much about.  

There were a few deaths in this book, one of which was completely unexpected.  I'm pleased to say that Ron and Dobby continue to make me laugh.  I really liked reading about the prophecy and Harry's destiny as laid out by it.  It explains so much about Harry's life.  I do wish that poor Harry Potter didn't have such a rough time of it, but it wouldn't be much of a story if he didn't, so there's not much sense in wishing he could have a more tranquil life.  While this one is not quite as good as the last novel, I still am enjoying these books.

Rating:  4 / 5

March 27, 2011

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J. K. Rowling

Title:  Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Author:  J. K. Rowling
Format:  PB
Pages:  733
Genre:  Teen Fantasy
Publisher:  Scholastic, 2002
ISBN-13:  978-0439139601
Series:  Harry Potter, Book 4

Favorite Quotes:  "Sir is very kind!" he squeaked, his eyes brimming with tears again, bowing deeply to Ron.  "Dobby knew sir must be a great wizard, for he is Harry Potter's greatest friend, but Dobby did not know that he was also as generous of spirit, as noble, as selfless---"

"There you go, Harry!" Ron shouted over the noise.  "You weren't being thick after all --- you were showing moral fiber!"

Synopsis (Amazon):  Harry Potter is midway through his training as a wizard and his coming of age. Harry wants to get away from the pernicious Dursleys and go to the International Quidditch Cup. He wants to find out about the mysterious event that's supposed to take place at Hogwarts this year, an event involving two other rival schools of magic, and a competition that hasn't happened for a hundred years. He wants to be a normal, fourteen-year-old wizard. But unfortunately for Harry Potter, he's not normal - even by wizarding standards. And in his case, different can be deadly.

Review:  This book was much longer and more violent than the first three.  I've switched the genre to Teen Fantasy because of this.  As I suspected, the books are growing up with the characters. which makes sense, but which also makes it difficult for the younger readers who want to complete the series.

I've found another character I adore.  Dobby, the house elf, is so cute and funny.  I hope he continues to be a character in the rest of the books.  Ron is still a lot of fun, although he wasn't in this story as much as the last ones.  I really liked Moody, the new Dark Arts teacher, but since he turned out to be a really bad guy, I must admit he had me fooled until the very end.

I couldn't put this story down.  I think this is a record.  I read all 733 pages in around 48 hours, possibly less.  I'll be happy if the rest of the novels are this good.  I was hesitant to give this book a 5, but really it's just so darn good that I have to.

Rating:  5 / 5

March 25, 2011

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling

Title:  Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban
Author:  J. K. Rowling
Format:  PB
Pages:  434
Genre:  Juvenile Fantasy
Publisher:  Scholastic, 2001
ISBN-13:  978-0439136365
Series:  Harry Potter, Book 3

Favorite Quote:  "You think the dead we loved ever truly leave us?  You think that we don't recall them more clearly than ever in times of great trouble?  Your father is alive in you, Harry, and shows himself most plainly when you have need of him.  How else could you produce that particular Patronus?  Prongs rode again last night."

Synopsis (Amazon):  For twelve long years, the dread fortress of Azkaban held an infamous prisoner named Sirius Black. Convicted of killing thirteen people with a single curse, he was said to be the heir apparent to the Dark Lord, Voldemort.

Now he has escaped, leaving only two clues as to where he might be headed: Harry Potter's defeat of You-Know-Who was Black's downfall as well. And the Azkban guards heard Black muttering in his sleep, "He's at Hogwarts...he's at Hogwarts."

Harry Potter isn't safe, not even within the walls of his magical school, surrounded by his friends. Because on top of it all, there may well be a traitor in their midst.

Review:  This book is as good as, if not better than, the last.  It is far better than the first book.  Even though I have seen this movie, the plot was so engaging that it didn't matter.  I really liked the characters Sirius Black and Professor Lupin.  Ron was still my favorite though.

What I really like is seeing Harry, learning that he does have worth and value, that he doesn't have to allow people (including his aunt and uncle) to walk all over him.  It's good to see him growing and changing.  This story was a little scarier and bloodier than the last.  I have a feeling the books are 'growing up' with the characters and that soon they won't be Juvenile any more, but more likely Teen.  In fact, this one was really borderline.

Rating:  4.5 / 5

March 24, 2011

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

Title:  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
Author:  J. K. Rowling
Format:  PB
Pages:  341
Genre:  Juvenile Fantasy
Publisher:  Scholastic, 2000
ISBN-13:  978-0848710682
Series:  Harry Potter, Book 2

Favorite Quote:  "Got a sock," said Dobby in disbelief.  "Master threw it, and Dobby caught it, and Dobby --- Dobby is free."

Synopsis (Amazon):  The Dursleys were so mean and hideous that summer that all Harry Potter wanted was to get back to the Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry. But just as he's packing his bags, Harry receives a warning from a strange, impish creature named Dobby who says that if Harry Potter returns to Hogwarts, disaster will strike.

And strike is does. For in Harry's second year at Hogwarts, fresh torments and horrors arise, including an outrageous stuck-up new professor, Gilderoy Lockheart, a spirit named Moaning Myrtle who haunts the girls' bathroom, and the unwanted attentions of Ron Weasley's younger sister, Ginny.

But each of these seem minor annoyances when the real trouble begins, and someone--or something--starts turning Hogwarts students to stone. Could it be Draco Malfoy, a more poisonous rival than ever? Could it possibly be Hagrid, whose mysterious past is finally told? Or could it be the one everyone at Hogwarts most suspects...Harry Potter himself?

Review:  I liked this book much better than the first one.  It was exciting and had plenty of scary creatures to worry about.  I didn't know who the real bad guy was until it was revealed.  The secret of the Chamber of Secrets was kept until the very end.  It may also have helped that I don't remember ever seeing this movie.  I think the last book was possibly ruined since I already knew what happened.

Once again, I love Harry's best friend, Ron.  All the main characters are well-written and likable, but Ron just is funny.  He always makes me laugh.

I will certainly be watching this movie soon, now that I've read the book.  I'm curious if they stuck to the storyline as closely as they did in the first one.  Maybe I'll review it if I get a chance.

Rating:  4.5 / 5

March 23, 2011

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling

Title:  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
Author:  J. K. Rowling
Format:  PB
Pages:  308
Genre:  Juvenile Fantasy
Publisher:  Scholastic, 1999
ISBN-13:  978-0590353427
Series:  Harry Potter, Book 1

Favorite Quote:  "Me!" said Hermoine.  "Books!  And cleverness!  There are more important things -- friendship and bravery and -- oh Harry -- be careful!"

Synopsis (Amazon):  Harry Potter has no idea how famous he is. That's because he's being raised by his miserable aunt and uncle who are terrified Harry will learn that he's really a wizard, just as his parents were. But everything changes when Harry is summoned to attend an infamous school for wizards, and he begins to discover some clues about his illustrious birthright. From the surprising way he is greeted by a lovable giant, to the unique curriculum and colorful faculty at his unusual school, Harry finds himself drawn deep inside a mystical world he never knew existed and closer to his own noble destiny.

Review:  It's hard, after hearing so many rave reviews of this series, not to be just a little disappointed with this first novel.  It's good enough children's fantasy.  It's just not as good as the critics and fans would have you believe.  As a huge fan of SFF, I've been told numerous times that I simply must read these books, usually in a tone of voice that showed complete disbelief that I hadn't done so already.

I have already seen the movie based on this book.  I think that took away from my enjoyment of the novel, since I already knew what was going to happen.  But, it was nice to know that the story had been changed very little in the movie's making.  

However, I did enjoy the book.  The characters are lovable.  My favorite, the red-headed Ron, best friend to Harry Potter, is warm and humorous.  It was a fast read and had plenty of humor and action.  And, considering it was written for ages 9-12, it's really a very endearing, well-told tale.  Any parent with a child in the appropriate age group should certainly look to this series for reading material.  I'm already reading the next book.   

Rating:  4 / 5

March 20, 2011

Door Number Three by Patrick O'Leary

Title:  Door Number Three
Author:  Patrick O'Leary
Format:  PB
Pages:  383
Genre:  Science Fiction
Publisher:  Tor, 1996
ISBN-13:  978-0312862879
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  I live in the future.  I remember the present.  I anticipate the past.

Synopsis (Amazon):  John Donelly's life is changed forever the day Laura, a young therapy patient, tells him that she has been left for a year on Earth by the Holock, an alien race. If she can convince one person - and she has chosen him - that she is telling the truth, she can stay when they come back for her. And she exposes her breasts as evidence, revealing square nipples. His least profound response is to drop his cigarette into the crease in his chair.

So begins the wildest SF novel since the passing of Philip K. Dick. Patrick O'Leary's Door Number Three is a constant wellspring of surprise and wonder, a novel about a young man of today and a woman from somewhere else who is out to love or kill him - or both. The whole, apparently real, world and everything in it can never be the same again.

Review:  Alternate futures, time travel, an alien race.  This sounds like a combination sure to be a winner.  In some ways, it is.  The first part of the novel is excellent.  Somewhere after the first half, it starts to lose the luster though.  After the discovery of what the half-alien Laura is really up to, the book starts to founder.  It becomes a mishmash of family secrets and self-awareness mixed in with an effort to change the future and past, none of which meshed as well as it could have.

Some of the science was above my head, but not terribly so, especially since the main character was not a scientist and therefore had to have the concepts explained to him in simple terms and small words.  I still got a little lost at times and had to go back and reread some of the explanations to try to make sense of the later portions.

The entire goal of the book's human protagonists -- to end humanity's constant hatred and warring with itself -- is a little well-used and is too easily reached just by one act by one man.  Certainly, it took some pain and effort along the way, but in the end seemed quite easy for him to accomplish.  The idea that all our troubles are caused by aliens stealing our dreams (and thus making our memories faulty) seems a little simplistic.  The idea that Hail Marys; rosaries; and plastic, hollow statues of Mary filled with holy water keep the aliens out of our memories and dreams is absurd.

I really did enjoy the first part of the book, but I was glad to be done, which is never a good sign.

Rating:  3.5 / 5

March 19, 2011

The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly

Title:  The Book of Lost Things
Author:  John Connolly
Format:  PB
Pages:  338
Genre:  YA Fantasy
Publisher:  Atria, 2006
ISBN-13:  978-0739482865
Series:  Stand Alone

Favorite Quote:  Instead, he would talk to them of stories and books, and explain to them how stories wanted to be told and books wanted to be read, and how everything that they ever needed to know about life and the land of which he wrote, or about any land or realm that they could imagine, was contained in books.

Synopsis (Amazon):  High in his attic bedroom, twelve-year-old David mourns the death of his mother, with only the books on his shelf for company. But those books have begun to whisper to him in the darkness. Angry and alone, he takes refuge in his imagination and soon finds that reality and fantasy have begun to meld. While his family falls apart around him, David is violently propelled into a world that is a strange reflection of his own -- populated by heroes and monsters and ruled by a faded king who keeps his secrets in a mysterious book, The Book of Lost Things.

Review:  Another new author that I am so glad I found.  I understand that John Connolly does not usually write in this genre.  However, his grasp of storytelling and his ability to draw the reader in are both evident in this book.  While I don't actually need any more new books, I've added his other YA series and a stand alone novel to my reminder list.  I probably would add his longer thriller series to my list, but I really do not need another long series to keep track of.

This book was dark, wicked, and disturbing.  It was scary and nightmarishly believable.  It was grimmer than Grimm.  It was so dark and disturbing that I almost hesitated to put it under the YA sub-genre, but it is about a young boy discovering truths that will make him into the man he will become, so it feels like that's where it belongs.  Like all good fairy tales (and fables), it had a moral or two.  The three I found to be most obvious were:  Be careful what you wish for or you might just get it; Nothing you want is without a price so be sure you're willing to pay; and Life is never exactly as you expect, but it's well worth the trip.

I wanted to visit the world behind the stones of the sunken garden.  I found the idea of a world being run (and changed) by our fears to be irresistible.  I revisited many well-known and well-loved fairy tales and fairy tale characters, albeit changed and twisted, but recognizable all the same.  The Crooked Man was deliciously evil.  There were Roland, the homosexual knight; the strong, quiet Woodsman; and the obese and nagging Snow White to round out my favorite characters.  David, the main character in the story, was a normal eleven-year-old boy, with a bit of dark and light and in-between all mixed together and vying for control.

This book is easily finished in one sitting, catching hold of your imagination and not letting go until the very end.

Rating:  4.5 / 5

March 18, 2011

The Gypsy Morph by Terry Brooks

Title:  The Gypsy Morph
Author:  Terry Brooks
Format:  HC
Pages:  401
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Del Rey, 2008
ISBN-13:  978-0345484147
Series:  Shannara, Book 20

Favorite Quote:  He must become like them -- hardened to the future, focused on survival, willing to put aside childish pursuits in favor of mature commitments.  He is eleven years old.

Synopsis (Amazon):  Eighty years into the future, the United States is a no-man’s-land: its landscape blighted by chemical warfare, pollution, and plague; its government collapsed; its citizens adrift, desperate, fighting to stay alive. In fortified compounds, survivors hold the line against wandering predators, rogue militias, and hideous mutations spawned from the toxic environment, while against them all stands an enemy neither mortal nor merciful: demons and their minions bent on slaughtering and subjugating the last of humankind.

But from around the country, allies of good unite to challenge the rampaging evil. Logan Tom, wielding the magic staff of a Knight of the Word, has a promise to keep–protecting the world’s only hope of salvation–and a score to settle with the demon that massacred his family. Angel Perez, Logan’s fellow Knight, has risked her life to aid the elvish race, whose peaceful, hidden realm is marked for extermination by the forces of the Void. Kirisin Belloruus, a young elf entrusted with an ancient magic, must deliver his entire civilization from a monstrous army. And Hawk, the rootless boy who is nothing less than destiny’s instrument, must lead the last of humanity to a latter-day promised land before the final darkness falls.

Review:  This is the final book I have to read in this series.  There is another trilogy in the works but it will probably be a few years before I have the books to read.  As much as I wanted to stop reading this series a few times and as disappointed in some of the books as I was, I am sorry to be done.  This book was wonderful.

The Four Lands, it seems, might be a large valley in the mountains of the northwest US.  They are protected by Hawk's gypsy morph magic.  I'm not sure I understand how this is possible, since in the books set far in the future of this one, there is a coastline and ocean and islands around the Four Lands.  Did the nuclear destruction that followed tear the entire continent to shreds except this valley?  I suppose it's possible and maybe I'll find out for sure in the next set of books.  But, if so, what happens to Panther and Cat, who go north to try to find a life for themselves?

Either way, this book was as good as, if not better than, any of the others preceding it.  I can't wait for the next 3 to become available.  It took me the better part of two months to finish this set of 20 books.  Looking back, it was time very well spent.

Rating:  5 / 5

March 10, 2011

The Elves of Cintra by Terry Brooks

Title:  The Elves of Cintra
Author:  Terry Brooks
Format:  HC
Pages:  373
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Orbit, 2007
ISBN-13:  978-1841495743
Series:  Shannara, Book 19

Favorite Quote:  -You are indeed Chosen.  You are the one.  You have the magic inside you, your past and your future.  You have the gift.-

Synopsis (Amazon):  Across the ruined landscape that is America–hopelessly poisoned, plague-ridden, burned, and besieged by demon armies bent on exterminating all mortal life–two pilgrims have been summoned to serve the embattled cause of good. Logan Tom has journeyed to desolate Seattle to protect a ragged band of street urchins and the being known as “the gypsy morph,” who is both mortal and magical, and destined to save mankind unless he is destroyed. Likewise, Angel Perez has her own quest, one that will take her from the wreckage of Los Angeles to a distant, secret place untouched by the horrors of the nationwide blight–a place where the race of Elves has dwelled since before man existed. But close behind these lone Knights of the Word swarm the ravening forces of the Void.

As the menacing thunder of war drums heralds the arrival of the demons and their brutal minions in Seattle, the young survivors who call themselves the Ghosts are forced to brave the dangerous world of gangs, mutants, and worse to escape the invasion. And Logan Tom must infiltrate a refugee compound to rescue Hawk, the leader of the street urchins, who has yet to learn the truth about who and what he is. Meanwhile, Angel Perez has joined an equally urgent mission: to find the Ellcrys, a fabled talisman crucial to protecting the Elven realm against an influx of unspeakable evil from the dread dimension known as the Forbidding. But Angel and her Elf allies must beware–for a demon spy, with a monstrous creature at its command, walks among them.

As the legions of darkness draw the noose tighter, and the time of confrontation draws near, those chosen to defend the soul of the world must draw their battle lines and prepare to fight with, and for, their lives. If they fail, humanity falls.

Review:  Give me a good story and I'm happy.  Better yet, give me a good story with Elves in it.  I have a true love of Elves.  This book is great, part of it telling of the Elves before the world of the Four Lands, the rest recounting the trials of the Ghosts, the children from the last novel.

There are two Knights of the Word, Angel Perez and Logan Tom, both different and yet keeping the same faith with the Word.  Actually, there are three, if you count the Knight who has completely lost his way, Krilka Koos.  The demons are fierce, strong and terrifying.  The people are almost without hope.

But, the children, the ones I was so fond of in the last book, are taking on a quest for new hope, for the Promised Land.  One of the children, Squirrel, is lost along the way, but the rest persevere.  Hawk has discovered his destiny.  The Elf boy, Kirisin, has discovered his as well.  Somehow, these two young men must find each other so that the Four Lands can come to be.  This book was *almost* as good as the last one.  I'm going to start using .5's because it really is better than just a 4.  I've already started the final book of this trilogy.  I can't wait to see what happens next.

Rating:  4.5 / 5

March 7, 2011

Armageddon's Children by Terry Brooks

Title:  Armageddon's Children
Author:  Terry Brooks
Format:  PB
Pages:  403
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Del Rey, 2007
ISBN-13:  978-0345484109
Series:  Shannara, Book 18

Favorite Quotes:  Even after the plagues had killed half a billion people, no one had believed.  Even after the air was so polluted and the water was so badly fouled that it was dangerous either to breathe or drink, no one had believed.  They had started to believe after the first nuclear weapons were launched and whole cities vanished in the blink of an eye.

Reading wasn't necessary for staying alive, they would argue.

Hawk had taken Cheney's name from one of Owl's history books.  The name had belonged to some long-dead politician who'd been around when the seeds for the Great Wars had been planted.  Owl's book described him as a bulldog spoiling for a fight.  Hawk had liked the image.

Synopsis (Amazon):  Logan Tom is doomed to remember the past and determined to rescue the future. Far behind him lies a boyhood cut violently short by his family’s slaughter, when the forces of madness and hate swept our world after decadent excesses led to civilization’s downfall. Somewhere ahead of him rests the only chance to beat back the minions of evil that are systematically killing and enslaving the last remnants of humanity. Navigating the scarred and poisoned landscape that once was America and guided by a powerful talisman, Logan has sworn an oath to seek out a remarkable being born of magic, possessed of untold abilities, and destined to lead the final fight against darkness.

Across the country, Angel Perez, herself a survivor of the malevolent, death-dealing forces combing the land, has also been chosen for an uncanny mission in the name of her ruined world’s salvation. From the devastated streets of Los Angeles, she will journey to find a place–and a people–shrouded in mystery, celebrated in legend, and vital to the cause of humankind . . . even as a relentless foe follows close behind, bent on her extermination. While in the nearly forsaken city of Seattle, a makeshift family of refugees has carved out a tenuous existence among the street gangs, mutants, and marauders fighting to stay alive against mounting odds–and something unspeakable that has come from the shadows in search of prey.

In time, all their paths will cross. Their common purpose will draw them together. Their courage and convictions will be tested and their fates will be decided, as their singular crusade begins: to take back, or lose forever, the only world they have.

Review:  The stark, dark place that used to be the United States of America is painted with a believability that promises nightmares.  Very little time (80 years, give or take) has passed since Nest Freemark and John Ross found the secret of the Gypsy Morph.  And yet, civilization has dwindled to almost nothing, with small groups fighting to survive, usually against one another.  I hate that John Ross, after all his suffering, failed to stop the future he dreamed of nightly in the 'Word & Void' trilogy.

The children are the main characters in this book.  The orphans, the street kids, the Ghost, the Cats, whatever they call themselves, and they are unforgettably brave and strong, sad and scared.  They are surrounded by a poisoned world inhabited by monsters, most of which are or used to be human.  Owl, Hawk, Panther, Candle, Bear, Sparrow.....the names stay with me.  I want them all to find the Promised Land.  I do not want any of them to ever be hurt again.  It's impossible to describe how much this story affected me.

Since I cannot begin to describe this book's impact, I will simply say:  this was an incredible read.  I've already started the next one since this one ended in a cliff-hanger again.

Rating:  5 / 5

March 5, 2011

Straken by Terry Brooks

Title:  Straken
Author:  Terry Brooks
Format:  PB
Pages:  409
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Del Rey, 2007
ISBN-13:  978-0345499400
Series:  Shannara, Book 17

Favorite Quote:  She had found freedom.

Synopsis (Amazon):  For reasons known only to himself, the King of the Silver River has charged young Penderrin Ohmsford, barely more than a boy, with the daunting task of rescuing his aunt, Grianne, Ard Rhys of the Druid order, from her forced exile in the terrifying dimension of all things damned: the Forbidding. With the noble dwarf Tagwen and the prodigal elven princess Khyber Elessedil by his side–and with the outcome of the bloody war between the Federation and the Free-born at stake–Pen has accepted his mission without question. But not without risk . . . or sacrifice.

Because Shadea a’Ru, the ruthless Druid responsible for imprisoning the true Ard Rhys and usurping leadership at Paranor, has sent her agents and assassins in relentless pursuit of Pen and his comrades. And in securing the talisman he needs to breach the Forbidding, Pen has paid a devastating price. Now if the Free-born forces–already decimated by the Federation’s death-dealing new weapon–should fall, Shadea’s domination of the Four Lands will be assured. Nothing short of Pen’s success can turn the tide.

But Pen’s challenge grows greater when he learns that his parents, Bek Ohmsford and Rue Meridian, have fallen into Shadea’s hands. He must try to help them–but once within the walls of Druid’s Keep, where Shadea’s minions and dark magic lurk at every turn, Pen’s survival is far from assured. Yet it will all pale in comparison to the horrors that wait inside the Forbidding–horrors poised to break free upon the Four Lands when the time is right. . . .

Review:  This was a very satisfying book.  In this, the final story in the 'High Druid' trilogy, the quest is complete and the danger averted.  There was no really great 'bad guy', although there were certainly plenty of evil beings, but the story was not weakened by this fact.  As the story closes, Grianne, the Ard Rhys and Ilse Witch, has found peace in an unexpected way.  All is looking hopeful for the Four Lands.  I only wish I knew what happened to the demon Weka Dart after Grianne was saved from the Forbidding.  I became quite attached to him, but am left with no information on whether he will ever find his place in his world.

I'm sad because I will not be reading about the Four Lands again for a while.  The next trilogy returns to the past, to closer to 'our time'.  After that, there are no more books to read until the author finishes the next duology, which also seems to be set in the past.  I wonder, will he return to the Four Lands some day, to give his readers a true finale?  Or was the quietly hopeful ending in this book meant to satisfy that?

Upon checking his website, I see he will start a trilogy which is set in the time after these.  Promised completion is sometime in 2014.  I'll be keeping an eye out for them.

Rating:  4 / 5

March 3, 2011

Tanequil by Terry Brooks

Title:  Tanequil
Author:  Terry Brooks
Format:  PB
Pages:  395
Genre:  Fantasy
Publisher:  Del Rey, 2005
ISBN-13:  978-0345499110
Series:  Shannara, Book 16

Favorite Quote:  -Fear for yourself has no place in what you would do.  Your fear must be for your aunt if you are to save her.  A darkwand is born of fear for another's safety.  A darkwand responds to selfless need.  Do you wish to save your aunt?-

Synopsis (Amazon):  Dark magic has opened a gateway to the Forbidding and trapped within it Grianne Ohmsford, rightful High Druid of Shannara. Rescuing Grianne will be merely the beginning of the effort to return the Four Lands to some semblance of peace. Only her young nephew, Penderrin, has any hope of returning her to power. But to breach the Forbidding and bring Grianne back to the natural world, Pen must find the fabled Tanequil . . . and the talisman it alone can provide. That means journeying into the Inkrim–a dreaded region thick with shadows and haunted by harrowing legends. And there, Pen will strike a bargain more dire than he could ever imagine.

Review:  The Tanequil, the ancient, sentient tree that Pen must retrieve a darkwand from, is absolutely a great addition to this story.  Neither dark nor light, but something transcending and encompassing both, the Tanequil is scary, amazing and magical.

Weka Dart, the demon keeping company with Grianne within the Forbidding, is the most likable demon I've had the pleasure of meeting.  He's wily and cunning, dishonest and disgusting....and completely fun.  I enjoyed reading more about the Rock Trolls, especially their leader Kermadec.  Finding out more about the Forbidding and its strange darkened-mirror image of the Four Lands was captivating.

Some great characters were lost along the way, but I've come to expect that in this series.  No character, no matter how seemingly important to the story, is safe, which really is a lot like real life.  Taken as a whole, this story was fast paced and kept my interest....and it left me in a cliffhanger.  So, of course, I've already begun the next book to see how it all turns out.

Rating:  4 / 5
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