Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Giver Trilogy

The Giver

The way Lois Lowry’s The Giver is continually singled out as a stand-alone novel will never cease to amaze me. On page size alone, it certainly qualifies as a novel, but the funny thing is that the content simply isn’t enough. When you read a story, you expect an introduction, maybe a little interesting stuff on the side, a beginning rising action early on, a climax toward the middle-end-ish area, and a finish. The Giver moves at a leisurely pace and easily gives you the first two requirements; and it continues on that stroll until it tosses a climax at you from nowhere and ends so abruptly that you’re not even sure what just happened. It doesn’t feel like you finished a book; it feels like you just finished a few chapters.

However, if it’s treated as if it really is only a few chapters, then the problem disappears. The best way to look at it as a novel, and frankly, the only way to bestow upon The Giver the justice that it deserves, would be to combine it with its two sequels, Gathering Blue and Messenger. By doing that, you get the rest of the picture that is so jarringly cut off in The Giver, and the three together easily fit as one volume when put together.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Good Thief

The Good ThiefEver since Hannah Tinti’s The Good Thief was published three years ago, the reader reactions toward the book have been mixed, usually in opposite extremes: either it’s the best thing since Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson (isn’t everything?), or it is the most grotesque, pointless narrative that the reader has ever read. As always, the truth is somewhere in-between those two extremes.

There is actually something to be said for a Dickens/Stevenson comparison. Unlike ninety-five percent of the cases where this comparison is used, here it makes sense because The Good Thief very obviously mimics both authors. Stevenson was an action/adventure novelist, and his name is probably the first thing to pop into your head when you read the summary on the book’s back cover. The real story, though, isn’t so much an adventure novel like Treasure Island as it is a wandering drama, and in that respect it is much more a Dickensian novel.

The Caves of Steel


I’ve been a fan of science fiction for a couple of years, and when and how that came about I couldn’t say; but the fantasy aspect combined with that bit of reality has always appealed to me.

When it comes to science fiction, those two things are really the only way to pinpoint what is science fiction and what’s not. Most people would consider any story with a spaceship in it science fiction, but according to science fiction writers like Ray Bradbury, even that’s not enough.

Isaac Asimov is a name that anyone familiar with science fiction would probably know; the chances are slim that a science fiction story written now, be it book or movie, could cover an idea Asimov left unexplored in his literally hundreds of books.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

When You Reach Me

When You Reach MeHere's the review I wrote for the April issue of Homeschooling Teen:

Genres can be misleading. Their sole purpose in life is to categorize stories into particular little slots, so that their labels can glisten from a utilitarian shelf. Of course, that’s not to say that they are useless, but most people tend to take them far more seriously than they should, especially writers. More often than not, recent books read like they were written simply to be organized. Every once in a while, though, you can still find the story that is such a hodgepodge of genres that you remember just how pointless the labeling exercise can sometimes be.

Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me could be considered a story like that. Most of its plotline is very similar to the typical children’s novel genre as it follows twelve Miranda in her day-to-day life. It is so similar, in fact, that it could be easily compared to other books of that genre, like Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia, which is even set in the same time period as When You Reach Me, the mid 1970’s.

What sets When You Reach Me apart, though, is that as Miranda tells the story in her own words, she’s unsure if there’s anything to actually tell. Writing this book was not her idea in the least. Rather, she was ordered to write it by a mysterious correspondent.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Queen’s Thief series

This is my next review for Homeschooling Teen:

Gen can steal anything, or so he says. Of all the claims made by self-confident fools, in this case a common thief off the streets of Sounis, this one seems the most empty-handed; until the day Gen decides to prove it. He was quite serious when said anything, and he aims for nothing less than the king’s seal, which he steals right out from under the nose of the king’s right-hand man, the Magus.

Naturally, the first thing Gen does is gloat about his achievement in every wine-shop in the city, and it’s only a matter of hours before the Royal Guard apprehends him and locks him away in the dungeons. Luck is still on Gen’s side, though. Months after Gen’s capture, the Magus finds the survival of his career hanging on whether or not he can “steal” a stone known as Hamiathes’s Gift from a temple of the gods. The Magus is a scholar, he does not steal things; but, fortunately, he knows someone in prison who does.

While the Magus finally believes that he has everything under control, though, the arrangement makes his young apprentice, Sophos, uneasy; because Sophos insists upon asking the one question the Magus thinks is ridiculous. If Gen was really clever enough to steal the king’s seal unseen and unaided, then wouldn’t he at least have the common sense to keep quiet afterword?

Tuesday, November 9, 2010


When asked about his book, Airborn, Kenneth Oppel replied:

“I’ve long been fascinated by airships. To me, they seem almost miraculous. A luxurious passenger vessel bigger than the Titanic, yet lighter than air. They were the biggest objects ever to fly. What if airplanes hadn’t been invented? In the world of AIRBORN, airships rule the skies.”

Airships are one of those few things in the world that are self-explanatory: they’re ships in the air.  Instead of sea, they ride on wind, air currents and, in Oppel’s world, a lighter-than-helium gas called “hydrium”.  Just like ships, they  have crews, with all the usual ranks, such as cabin boy, officer, captain, etc.; even the men who repair the canvas covering the airship are called “sailmakers”. 

In Airborn, the airships are the best of the sea and air worlds; carrying cargo and people both, they serve any purpose that the mind can think of.  Naturally, of course, the more popular use for them is cruise liner-variety passenger-ships such as the Aurora; sure, their travel-time can be seven times slower than the rate of a modern airplane, but they do it with such style and convenience that nobody would care. 

I may not fly often enough to be earning Skymiles, but I’ve flown enough to know that planes are cramped, uncomfortable, and a pain in more places than one.  In fact, the talk of airships actually begins to make you wonder not “what if”, but “why”.  The answer is painfully simple: the USS Akron and the Hindenburg.   Their tragedies forever decided the fate of airships, reducing them to what we know today as blimps and zeppelins; and revealing the note of accuracy behind Oppel’s ironic comparison of airships and the Titanic.  In hat tip to this, Airborn is haunted from beginning to end by the death of a sailmaker who was blown away in a storm.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ender's Game

Third, they called him. In a world where it was illegal to have more than two children, the term was as equally embarrassing as it was derogatory. Maybe Ender Wiggin was a special exception but, exception or not, his peers were not about to let him forget what he was.

Ender, however, was unconcerned.  As long as that monitor remained nestled in the back of his neck, he had nothing to fear from them.

Inserting monitors into children had become a common practice since the second “Bugger” invasion. When the insect-like aliens invaded the first time, humanity had just barely won; the second time, it was literally won by a happy accident, a brilliant general being in the right place at the right time.

Happy accidents do not happen twice, so the International Fleet started the Battle School. The more promising children of the monitor trials would go on to the school as young as six years old to be trained as future captains and generals.

Ender does have nothing to fear, until they remove the monitor and inform him that he’s been accepted at the School. To the officials at the School, he is more than promising; one could have as many well trained captains and generals as they liked, but in order to win a war against a higher-intelligence alien species, one would need an Alexander the Great. That’s just what Ender has the potential to be.

There’s only one problem: Ender may have the intelligence to keep the most well-educated adults on their toes, but when all’s said and done, he's still just a small child, and a very sensitive one at that.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Hattie Big Sky

Here's a quick review I did of Hattie Big Sky recently. A slightly edited version will be appearing in I&F on December 1st.

Orphanages, adoption, and unsavory situations; stories about orphans are practically the stuff literature is made of. Or, at least, they own a decent portion of it, so that even the average non-reader knows a few. From Grimm to Dickens, we have the pattern laid out and our expectations ready for how the plot will work; the drama should start about the time the orphan’s adopted by someone abusive or a heartless relative and resolved by either escape of the victim or conversion of the perpetrators. Sixteen year-old Hattie Inez Brooks, however, is already beyond all that, leaving her unpleasant relative behind when a previously unknown uncle bequeaths her a 320-acre claim in Montana.

That is to say, he bequeaths her an unproven 320-acre claim in Montana.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Chronicles of Prydain

So, to start this off, here's a review of Lloyd Alexander's The Chronicles of Prydain that I wrote for I&F a little over a year ago:

A boy with no heritage who dreams of being a hero and goes on adventures; it’s a storyline that’s used, particularly in the fantasy genre, ad nauseam. Throw in a loquacious princess, a tactless bard whose harp strings snap every time he “colors” the truth, and an ape-like creature who refers to himself in the third-person, and there will be, perhaps, a little more interest. Unfortunately for the Chronicles of Prydain, there is truly very little from its exterior alone that would attract readers in this day and age when children/teen fantasy is an industry all its own.
The Chronicles, for the most part, lack a central plotline that connect all five of the books together other than the hero Taran’s journey from boyhood to manhood. Indeed, the tale of how the pig-keeper became the hero is a simple one at heart. Unlike other, more recent fantasy,

First Post!

As the Curt Jester once said, "And I said let there be blog, and there was blog and it was good."

Welcome to And a Sweet Sound it Made.

Let me state right off the bat that this is not an online journal, and that the purpose of this blog is for me to have a place to put all those book, movie, and music reviews and commentary that I've been wanting to write but never had the excuse to. That said, I hope you enjoy what you find here and come back as often as I post. Ideally, that would be once a week, but there's a big difference between ideals and actual practice, so we'll see what happens.

Once again, I hope you like what you find; and if you do, remember, I consider comments to be the best compliments you can give me!