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Books that I enjoy(...at least well enough to bother saying something about.)
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Dave at Night
Gail Carson Levine
I ran across this book at my parents' home. It came highly recommended to me by my mother and sister, whose opinions I so often agree with. And since it was written by the author of the immensely fun Cinderella retelling, "Ella Enchanted," I had to read it.
It's the story of always-in-trouble Dave, whose father dies and who is left by his step-mother at the Hebrew Home for Boys, where strict rules and a battering bully of a headmaster make life miserable. Dave, at night, escapes to Harlem (in the 1920s) where adventures ensue.
This is a must have.
The Book of Three
I don't recall how I was introduced to Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three, the first of the five books comprising the Chronicles of Prydain. I was in my teens. The magic that enthralled me then is still there every time I reread this or any of the other books in the series.
Don't let the fact that this book or the others in the series are categorized as "Young Adult" or "Juvenile Fiction" turn you away. I think too many adults make this mistake, missing out on some very delightful reading.
Each of the books in the series can stand alone as a complete adventure. This first book introduces us to the cast of characters that inhabit the magical world of Prydain.
This book and the series rates a full five stars! That means you need it in your library.
Orson Scott Card
Orson Scott Card's "Ender's Game" is a science fiction classic in my opinion, one of the great works of the genre. Perhaps that's why it is the winner of both the Hugo and Nebula awards. I give the book a full five-star rating. It is an amazing and intense read.
I met the author, Orson Scott Card, briefly just after he finished giving a writing seminar in Southern Utah several years back, where he autographed my own paperback copy. If only I'd known he would be there I might have purchased a hardcover copy for him to sign.
Beware that "Ender's Game" does contain some language and several graphically violent scenes. However, unlike many books and movies where violence is gratuitous, the scenes in this book are integral to the story and development of the characters, and presented minimally to achive this purpose. And the main character's reactions to the situations includes regret at the necessity of his own violent behavior. This, I think, is a vital element if a story honestly deals with violence and seeks not to glorify it or make it part of the adventure. My hat is off to Mr. Card in this regard, for the towering power of the story overshadows and justifies what in another story I would regard as vile and unacceptable.
One of the traits of Orson Scott Card's writing is his astounding ability to make you believe his characters are smart, intelligent, and in the case of Ender Wiggin saga, even geniuses. So often I read a novel where the author spends some time trying to tell me that such-and-such a character is smart and I then read on and find that I just can't believe that a smart person would do and behave as they do later on in the novel. Card succeeds with room to spare. He convinces me his characters are smart by what they do and think. He doesn't have to bother telling me that they are intelligent.
"Ender's Game" is the first, and probably the fastest paced of the four novels that make up the Ender Wiggin saga, but that does not necessarily make it the best.
I give "Ender's Game" a full 5 rating. This books is definitely a must-have title for any serious science fiction fan's library.
Shadow of the Hegemon
Orson Scott Card
In the aftermath of the Formics War, the child-geniuses who helped Ender win that war return to Earth, each to his or her family and homeland. Suddenly, all across the globe, every single one of Ender's jeesh is kidnapped except Bean who barely escapes with his life. Bean's enemy Achilles, the mastermind behind the kidnappings, does not give up easily. Petra, in captivity, manages to slip a brief encoded message past her captors in hopes that Bean is still alive will be able to help. Bean and his ally, Sister Carlotta, must evade Achilles widespread intelligence network and somehow free the captives while preventing Achilles from establishing himself as a psychotic dictator bent on world domination. Peter, Ender's brother, as expected, uses world events to forward his own ambitions to become Hegemon. The world is in flux as national boundaries change quickly, old national and cultural enmities are unexpectedly set aside, and armies invade. Achilles will stop at nothing. Betrayal and murder litter his path to power as the novel unfolds.
It's out, the new Orson Scott Card book, Shadow of the Hegemon. I don't want to give away any more of the plot than is already apparent in the summary above, so let me tell you about the book indirectly, about my own reactions, what I liked about it.
First of all, I must admit it. I'm a Card fan. I was introduced to his work like many other Slashdot readers as a teenager when I read Ender's Game. The intensity of that story and the believable brilliance of the main characters hooked me from the start. The sequels, Speaker for the Dead, Xenocide, and Children of the Mind continue Ender's story, but are substantially different in style and tone from the first. Card's more recent bold experiment, Ender's Shadow returns to the events in Ender's Game and retells them in parallel through the eyes of a different character, Bean. That book recaptures some of the essence and style of Ender's Game while making the story into something completely new and original.
Shadow of the Hegemon charts new territory as a sequel to Ender's Shadow telling the stories of the aftermath of the Formics War. This is not a parallel book like its predecessor. It takes place during those years mentioned only briefly in Ender's Game as Ender travels through space on the colony ship. Ender plays no part in this book.
The book definitely has action, and I love it! While Card often writes so much about the inner thought processes of his characters that sometimes his stories can slow down, there's enough action and adventure and a fast enough pace to make this book a really fun read. I might characterize it as a cross between the slower moving intellectual style in the later Ender series books and the fast paced intensity in Ender's Game. It's a blend that works.
Among the many things I enjoyed in this book is Card's excellent development of Bean's human emotional self. While Bean is intellectually brilliant, as the book opens, he seems to go through the motions of human emotional interaction without truly having felt the emotion. Card seems to have captured the shortcoming that children who suffer deprivation of human contact early in life sometimes exhibit, and included it in the character of Bean. As the story progresses, Bean slowly develops genuine emotional ties with other human beings and the emotional side of his character matures considerably.
Like any work of fiction, there must be a suspension of disbelief. The character Achilles, Bean's enemy from his earlier years growing up in Rotterdam and again at Battle School, returns as a highly connected villain worthy of any James Bond movie. In Ender's Shadow Bean exposes him as the psychopathic murderer he is. Achilles, also a genius, has escaped from an institute for the criminally insane to wreak havoc on the world in general, and on Bean and his personal enemies in particular, as he ensconces himself in positions of power. In several places, Achilles seems to have a nearly omniscient ability to monitor the actions and whereabouts of his personal enemies, stretching my suspension of disbelief a bit thin as I read.
I truly enjoyed Card's character work in this book. I appreciate his willingness to create characters with backgrounds from many different cultures and locations. Card conscientiously takes the time to study and learn enough about other cultures and peoples. As a result, his characters have a depth and background beyond those in many novels.
Card creates characters with religious beliefs that are real to those characters who hold them. Even those characters who are atheist or agnostic in their own beliefs hold tightly to those beliefs every bit as tenaciously and religiously as do those characters who espouse a particular recognizable. Card always seems to treat religion with the respect others often neglect. His characters in this book, in particular Sister Carlotta, Ender's mother, and several characters from India and Pakistan, through their words and interactions, show
how their own profound religious beliefs make up their core and affect their choices.
Another Card talent exhibited in this book, if not as strongly as it did in Ender's Game, is Card's ability to make smart characters actually act and behave intelligently. So many authors resort to devices that seem to say, "This character is smart because I'm telling you so," without any supporting evidence other than the author's word, or perhaps on the word of the author's supporting characters who may say in agreement, "Yes that character is smart." Card does sometimes tell the reader that his characters are smart, but he always backs it up with intelligent decisions, thought processes, and actions that make it believable. He's not perfect, but he is definitely among the top talents.
I was delighted and amused whenever I noticed one of the characters speaking or thinking and idea that I recognized as one of Card's own opinions or ideas. If you have read much of Card's work and are familiar with his own opinions as often expressed his non fiction and on his various web sites (you can see some examples Card's political commentary at http://www.ornery.com/) you too will catch his characters presenting some of those same ideas.
With so many intellectually gifted characters playing on the stage, sometimes they begin to sound a bit like
each other. It's almost unavoidable for any author who writes as prolifically as Card to keep each character unique, fresh, and new. Card is one of the best at avoiding this problem, but it does crop up here and there.
When you finish the story, read the Afterword. Card's inclusion of a few words of commentary about the story
writing process, how the book came to be, and about the decisions he had to make as he wrote it is fascinating.
If you like Card, you will like this book. If you like action and international power plays, you will like this book. If you appreciate good writing and character development, you will like this book.
If you haven't yet read Ender's Shadow, I suggest you read it before you read this book. Like most of Card's work, this book can stand on its own, but it works better as a sequel since the book expects you to be familiar with the several main characters and their backgrounds.
I give the book a solid rating of 4. It's good. In fact, it's excellent. Go get a copy and read it!
Originally posted on Slashdot on 26 Jan. 2001 (See http://slashdot.org/books/01/01/06/1538218.shtml)
The Stainless Steel Rat Joins the Circus
The latest Stainless Steel Rat book keeps up the spirit of the other nine. Chronologically, it follows The Stainless Stell Rat Goes to Hell and involves the entire DiGriz family, Slippery Jim and his lovely wife Angelina, and their two sons, James and Bolivar.
While no one will ever accuse this book (or any other in the series) of even pretending to approach high literature, when you're in the mood for a light, fast, action-packed sci-fi adventure where the criminal is the good guy, look no farther. Just like the other books, this one is full of fun and makes me laugh aloud.
Just as an FYI, here is the list of Stainless Steel Rat books in chronological order (not the order they were written in, but in order of the stories' chronology):
This latest in the series earns a rating of 3 1/2. It's a fun, quick read, well worth the trouble.
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