End of Days by Eric Walters
I picked End of Days up at a Scholastic Book Fair late this fall and tucked it away as a Christmas gift for my girls. My daughter in Grade 7 told me that many of her friends had read it and raved about it. That was enough to pique my curiosity, so I put on my warm jammies last night as the temperature plunged to -17 Celsius and curled up in bed to read it. If not for the grumbles of my husband, I might have stayed up to finish the book because it was VERY hard to put it down.
Imagine that one of the space probes sent from Earth to explore the galaxy suddenly appears to be returning to earth. Scientists deduce that it has been captured by the gravitational force of something very, VERY large that is now heading towards Earth on a collision course that will impact with our planet 24 years in the future. Suddenly, important scientists appear to be dying, but in reality they are being whisked away to a secret location to work on a plan to stop the asteroid. Throw in other groups with different agendas, a brilliant narrative where some chapters begin with T-Minus 17 years, T-Minus 1 year etc. and it is easy to see why I had to finish the book this morning. Getting other work out of the way so that I could write this review actually took longer.
Canadian author Eric Walters knows how to tell a story from many points of view without every having the narrative feel choppy or disjointed. The combination of apocalypse and conspiracy theory themes makes this book a perfect one to recommend for the Cannonball Read IV challenge and a great addition to any library. Classified as YA fiction, this book has enough action and intrigue to satisfy any adult reader who “borrows” it from their teenagers bookcase. If you live outside Canada, I highly recommend buying this book from Amazon if you can’t find it at your local bookstore!
Paperback format, 316 pages, 2011 by Doubleday Canada
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
Wonderstruck is indeed, as the title page announces, a novel in words and pictures. It is a double narrative set fifty years apart that brilliantly tells one of those stories with drawings alone. Some readers may have already heard of this Caldecott Medal Winner and creator of The Invention of Hugo Cabret (the movie HUGO is nominated for 11 Academy Awards). This story was inspired by many things from museums to Deaf Culture and the demise of the Silent Movie. Selznick’s beautiful and captivating crosshatched drawings, done with pencil on watercolour paper, convey such a wide range of emotions and nuances, you almost forget parts of the story are told with so few words.
The book is lovingly dedicated to Maurice Sendak, whose innovative book Where The WIld Things Are forever changed how we look at picture books. It is easy to see the influence and inspiration that Sendak provided to Selznick, but the magic and energy in these drawings is uniquely his own. Part storyboard, part silent movie, all masterful storytelling at its finest, Wonderstruck sweeps the reader along until at last the two threads of narrative intermingle and combine to form a touching and supremely satisfying ending.
If I had one complaint about this book, it would be that the hardcover format and higher price ($29.00 in both Canada and the US) for a “shorter read” story may keep some readers from adding this amazing book to their library. Hopefully, it will be released as a thick paperback with a slightly lower price point at a later date. Wonderstruck was loaned to me by a friend who knew that as an illustrator and an author, I would be fascinated by the combination of text and story. Despite the high page count, the book is a quick evening’s read for most people… or just over an hour’s gulp for my fast reading pace. Regardless of how fast or how slowly you devour this delectable, artistic creation, I have no doubt that you will be, like me, completely Wonderstruck.
Hardcover format, 637 pages, 2011 by Scholastic Press
Telempath by Spider Robinson
After reading Night of Power by Spider Robinson as my 8th book of the Cannonball Read #4 challenge, I decided to foray into another of his Apocalyptic adventures written 2 years earlier in 1983. Telempath is a story of vengeance, empathy and the search for humanity that so often appears in Spider’s stories. We humans have an odd habit of judging our books and other people by their covers instead of their contents.
Imagine what might happen to the human race if a biological weapon suddenly enhanced our human sense of smell to approximately a hundred times more efficient that that of a wolf… the stench of pollution and city life would drive most of the world mad in a matter of days and the survivors would flee as far away from urban centers as possible. Now imagine that this newfound sense of smell also identified a new enemy inhabitant on the planet Earth that had, until then, always been dismissed as a ghosts, aliens or other paranormal phenomenon. Intrigued yet?
This story was well-written and captivating, but the fragmented narrative between the main character and journal entries or transcripts, made the story far less engaging than Night of Power. The way Spider Robinson wrestles with the basic issues of defining humanity and searching for enlightenment are thought-provoking, but having read these two books back to back, I can’t help but find Night of Power the stronger of these two apocalyptic glimpses into our future.
Paperback format, 313 pages, published in 1983 by TOR Books
Night of Power by Spider Robinson
Spider Robinson is best known for his Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon or Stardance novels, but he has also written some truly captivating, apocalyptic stories. Written in the mid 1980s, Night of Power is the tale of a Canadian biracial couple and a white daughter from a first marriage heading to New York during the summer of 1996 just as a race war erupts. It is full of action and suspense as well as some truly deep philosophical questions about our human nature and prejudice. To read the novel now, in 2012, is to marvel at how well Robinson was able to predict some technological and societal changes, and yet acknowledging that many of the issues dealt with in this story have yet to be resolved as well as in his tale.
This story contains some very graphic and mature content, so it is not suitable for sheltered readers or a teen audience. The characters, however, are grippingly real, brilliantly portrayed and heroic in their dedication to one another in a time of great crisis. Sometimes, pivotal moments in history are able to bring out the hero inside each and every one of us. Though Night of Power is a work of fiction, the triumph of the human spirit that this novel champions makes you wish we could infuse our own era with some of that spunk!
Paperback format, 287 pages, published in 1985 by Baen Books and 1986 by Berkley Publishing.
The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
Twenty years ago, Marion Zimmer Bradley released her innovative and ground breaking novel, The Mists of Avalon, forever changing the way readers experience the legend of King Arthur. Unlike Sir Thomas Malory, Mark Twain, T.H. White and other male authors, Bradley weaves an epic tale from the point of view of the women in the story. The novel includes most well-loved characters from the saga, all the while giving things a fresh perspective and unique twist thanks to the central narrative by Arthur’s sister Morgaine, otherwise known as Morgan le Fay or Morgaine, Queen of the Fairies.
The movie adaptation, created in 2001, barely skims the surface of this lush and detailed novel. Bradley had an intuitive sense of how to weave facts about life in the middle ages, Celtic mythology and the tension between Druids and the early church around believable characters with very human weaknesses. In an era when women had little say in their lives and destinies, often treated more like property that partners by their spouses, The Mists of Avalon portrays a group of empowered and powerful women who push the boundaries of what is acceptable and proper. Though the story spans more than Arthur’s full lifetime, the book never seems to drag. It flows like a wonderful river of words; sometimes quickly and sometimes meanderingly. The pathos and ending of the tale are never in question and yet the reader is swept along, marveling at the new vistas offered by Bradley’s imagination. While the reader may wish there could be another ending to the legend, when the cover closes on the book, it is very hard not to sign in contentment and satisfaction at a tale so well told.
The Mists of Avalon should be on the Bucket List of every fantasy enthusiast. If you haven’t read it in a few years, make time this challenge to pull it out and fall in love with reading all over again.
Large Paperback format, 876 pages, published in 1982 by Del Rey
Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit by Mercedes Lackey
Mercedes Lackey has been one of my favourite authors since her debut short story appeared in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s third Swords & Sorceress anthology back in 1986. I own all of the Valdemar books and most of the other novels that she wrote or co-wrote. I had avoided picking up a copy of Gwenhwyfar: The White Spirit until my husband found a copy on sale at our local bookstore.
Mercedes Lackey’s interpretation of the classic Arthurian legend is an intriguing one, based on the Welsh Triad theory that there may have actually been three women named Gwenwyfar (Guinevere) as wives to the High King of Britain. The central character of her novel is actually a warrior daughter of King Lleudd Ogrfan Gawr (Ogrfan the Giant). As a tall woman named Jennifer, I was looking forward to a tale of someone who didn’t fit into the traditional female role. Called at an early age to serve the Goddess Epona, protector of horses, and the path of Iron, Gwenwyfar grows as a warrior and a scout who strikes terror into the hearts of raiding Saxons as the White Spirit. When duty demands that she become Arthur’s 3rd wife, only to become entangled with the plottings of his bastard son, Medraut (Mordred) and her feelings for Lancelin (Lancelot) the book races towards a surprising new twist to the familiar tale.
Mercedes Lackey has always been one of those writers who creates vivid, believable characters that draw you deeply into her stories. While I enjoyed this book, I found that it sometimes stumbled as Lackey tried to cram in all the necessary historical details and celtic mythology to flesh out the perspective she’d chosen to take. It lacked the rich flow that permeates the novels set in worlds of her own creation such as Valdemar or the Dragon Jousters. Her talent for believable detail still shines in this novel, but it somehow lacks the smoothness of the Elemental Masters series set in the early 20th century. Perhaps the need to weave in so many key figures from the legends hampered her imagination somewhat. This tale is certainly not as innovative as the Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley which I must now go pluck of my bookshelf to read next.
Hardcover format, 401 pages, published in 209 by Daw Books
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
Jay Asher’s novel Thirteen Reasons Why was a pivotal story for our family that helped one of my daughters get through a very difficult time. I continue to recommend it to teachers and parents alike when the issue of bullying comes up. I purchased this newest book for my girls as a Christmas gift and stole it from the bookshelf as soon as one of them was done reading it.
The Future of Us is a double narrative set in the mid 1990s as the Internet was just coming into being and things like Facebook were far in the future… or at least they were supposed to be. The two main characters, Emma and Josh, are neighbours and childhood friends who have had a falling out… until the free AOL disk installed on Emma’s new computer accidentally gives her access to their Facebook profiles 15 years in the future.
The premise of this story was intriguing and the two points of view, set over a week in the characters lives, created two very different points of view and sense of voice. I found myself wondering if they had started this collaboration as a variation of the old “letters” exercise between authors where each one has a chance to alter the story slightly as they send their pieces back and forth to each other. Midway through the book, I found myself disliking the female character so much that I actually took a break for a few hours. I’m not sure if Asher’s character Josh is just more likable than Emma or whether his writing and slightly more descriptive style is just stronger. My daughter, who’d had a similar reaction when reading the story, urged me to soldier on and I am glad that I picked the book up again. It had a very nice message in the end and an ending which allows a reader to imagine their own possibilities. As someone well beyond the angst-ridden teenage years, I felt sorry for Emma’s desperate search for the “perfect future”. Instead of looking for that one Happily Ever After, maybe we need to remind others that every day of our lives is a chance to make changes, grow and reach for dreams. There is never just one perfect path to find, but a wealth of possibilities too infinite to imagine.
Hardcover format, 356 pages, published in 2011 by Razorbill, an imprint of Penguin Group
The Kings of Clonmel by John Flanagan
Despite only posting these reviews now, I spent the last week of our Christmas break devouring 4 books in the Ranger’s Apprentice series by John Flanagan. As someone who played the first version of Dungeons & Dragons, adores Tolkein and still draws fantasy, I truly appreciate the crisp prose, engaging characters and the vivid, believable world that this author has created. One of my daughters got tired of wondering why I was chortling at a funny passage or sighing when something wonderful happened and has begun reading the series for herself. She is now hooked as well.
The Kings of Clonmel jumps us a year or so ahead of where the events of The Siege of Macindaw ended. Instead of remaining at his assigned fief, Will Treaty is given the chance to return to where he grew up, and first apprenticed under the famous Ranger, Halt, as part of a small, elite team that will help protect the kingdom of Araluen in case of emergency. As with the rest of the saga, adventure lurks just around the corner. Will’s former mentor returns with tales of a strange cult known as the Outsiders in the neighbouring kingdom of Clonmel… a group that had been eradicated from Araluen several years ago. This novel not only reunites favourite characters, it gives us a deeper insight into Halt’s mysterious past before he became the most famous Ranger in the kingdom. Will, Halt and Horace return to Clonmel to gather information, but what they discover could put both kingdoms in jeopardy as well as their own lives!
The next book in the Ranger’s Apprentice set, Halt’s Peril does not come out in paperback until March. I like the look of the new paperback format on my bookshelf and as much as I enjoy these stories, I’m not ready to buy the last 2 in hardcover format and mess up the look of my library. I will move on to lots of other books on my list for now but eagerly anticipate the next installment in this well crafted collection of fine fantasy tales.
Paperback format, 355 pages, published by Puffin Books
Erak’s Ransom by John Flanagan
After the wonderful conclusion to book 6 in the Ranger’s Apprentice series, I found myself wondering what author John Flanagan was going to do for Erak’s Ransom, the next installment in his epic and captivating fantasy series. The Author’s Note at the beginning of the book explains to readers that this story actually takes place chronologically BEFORE the events in books 5 and 6. Flanagan explains that it covers a period in both Will and his mentor Halt’s lives that came just before Will finished his Ranger training. Like anyone who is in the last few months of schooling before a major graduation (to or from high school or even from University), Will is full of self-doubt about his ability to face the world on his own.
This seventh book not only brings back some familiar characters from previous parts of the series, it also gives readers a much wider glimpse into the incredibly rich world that Flanagan has created. Filled with desert tribesmen, peril and intrigue, this adventure also tests the limits of Will’s endurance and skill as he learns to make his own decisions and alliances. The debate would then be whether or not to have someone read the books in chronological or sequential order. While Erak’s Ransom does fill in some blanks and take place before the events that occur in books 5 & 6, I would still recommend reading them in their published order. Some of the satisfying details provided by the author in this tale are all the richer for knowing what will unfold next when the characters themselves do not.
Paperback format, 373 pages, published by Puffin Books
DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #2 The Siege of Macindaw by John Flanagan
This 6th book in Australian writer John Flanagan’s engaging Ranger’s Apprentice series picks up where the cliffhanger ending of book #5, The Sorcerer of the North, left off. I dove right into the tale, eager to find out how the hero, Will Treaty, would find the proper balance between the duty to his king and the safety of his friend that had been left as a hostage in book 5. Flanagan’s characters are very believable with distinct personalities, unique quirks and endearing qualities that had me holding my breath as I began the first few chapters.
The Siege of Macindaw was delightful because it allowed the main characters to really come into their own. Both seem a far cry from the young orphans they were in the first novel when they each had to declare a profession. Will, who began as a lowly and unexpected apprentice to the famous Ranger, Halt, learns to trust his own instincts and ideas even if they seem unconventional. Horace, the burly swordsman has not only grown in size and strength but in skill and bravery as well. As I closed the last pages of the book, with its very satisfying conclusion, I found myself wondering how the rest of the series could possibly get any better than this 6th book.
Paperback format, 293 pages, published by Puffin Books