Tag Archives: series

[V] The Vile Village by Lemony Snicket

25 Apr

I’ve read a few books in The Series of Unfortunate Events, and while I don’t dislike them, I’m not a huge fan of them. This particular book I actually checked out once to read for last year’s challenge, but I ended up using The View from Saturday instead (RIP E.L. Konigsburg :(). I ended up with the ebook this year in a bundle of three Unfortunate Events books because that was the only thing immediately available from the library.

The Vile Village is the seventh book in the series and follows the three Baudelaire orphans to a village full of crows in an attempt to find a place for them to live. The evil Count Olaf is still after them, and they need to save their friends, the two surviving Quagmire triplets.

All of the kids I know who have read this series really enjoy it, and if I had first read these books as a child, I think I would have liked them a lot more. Daniel Handler (the man behind Lemony Snicket) does a good job of introducing hard words and writing about what they mean, teaching vocabulary in context while being entertaining at the same time.

However, for an adult who already knows what the words mean, all the explanations make you feel like you’re reading twice as many words for the same amount of content, and it slows down the pacing of the story. Also, I’ve only read a few of the books, but they all seem to be pretty similar, and because they are “unfortunate events,” they pretty much all have bad endings, which doesn’t make it a very satisfying read (and according to a student who has read all the books, the series itself also has a bad ending).

It’s all right if you like that kind of thing, but I got kind of tired of the “author” telling me to stay as far away from the book as possible every time I picked up one of the books in the series. I can ignore it if the book captivates my attention enough, but in this case, I think I might just listen to him.

Great for kids who like to learn big words, but maybe not for cynical adults like me. 😉

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter V.

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[R] The Ruins of Gorlan (Ranger’s Apprentice Book 1) by John Flanagan

20 Apr

(#69 on School Library Journal‘s Top 100 Chapter Book Poll Results from 2012.)

I had to check this book out twice before I managed to actually read it (since it’s so near the end of the alphabet, I had other priorities), and then I almost didn’t because I wanted to find a non-series book for “R” (I was afraid I would want to read the other books once I read the first one). I was right… I just finished reading the 6th book…

The first book is about Will, an orphan who desperately wants to be in the Battleschool but is too small to be chosen for it. Based on the title of the series, it’s pretty obvious that he will be chosen to be a Ranger’s apprentice, but common people (like Will) are afraid of Rangers. They are mysterious people who are believed to dabble in magic because of their ability to move silently and blend into the background, making them seem like they appear out of nowhere. From what I’ve read so far, their work is part spying, part law enforcement, part military strategy. They’re strong, cunning, and have a strong sense of justice. Kind of like a modern-day superhero with the backing of the government.

The books were fun adventure books with a lot of action and enough character development to keep me interested in how they would work out. The plot twists were pretty predictable, though, and most of the hints were a little too obvious for me. The world-building was also a little obvious (Scotti = Scottish, Celtic = Celtic, “fake foreign language” = French, as far as I can tell, although I don’t know French). Also, while I appreciate the fact that this series was written for the author’s son, I couldn’t decide how I felt about the portrayal of girls in the series.

On the one hand, there are plenty of strong girl characters who are not annoying or helpless, but on the other hand, they were all beautiful and attracted to the main character. There didn’t seem to be a place for unattractive women in this universe unless they were old and motherly (at least not in the books that I’ve read). The other side to this, though, is the fact that the books are basically being told from the point of view of the main character, an adolescent boy (and later young adult). In his eyes, and in the eyes of most of the male characters in the book, women seem to be attractive even if they are not perfectly shaped, which could also be taken to mean that women don’t have to be perfect to be beautiful.

I might be reading too much into it, but it was the first fantasy series I had read by a male author in a long time, and I think the only series I’ve read by a male author published recently that didn’t take place in some semblance of the modern world (like Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series or The Alchemyst by Michael Scott). So it was interesting to read a book that was built completely out of the imagination of a man (albeit there were many references to European nations and cultures, and I’m assuming Nihon in the title of the 10th book refers to Japan).

Despite its faults, I enjoyed reading the series and liked the characters enough to want to keep following their adventures. I think the difference between this series and the Warriors series is that I can actually tell the characters apart (I’m getting too old to try to keep all the cats with similar names separate in my head). I also appreciated that the author used some words that I hadn’t heard before, so I even got to learn some new words (like “tonsorial” for things relating to a barber).

A great book for boys and girls who don’t mind a little romance to go with a lot of fighting. The main character starts off around 15 and is 20 by the sixth book, so it may be hard for younger readers to relate to him, but there’s nothing inappropriate (just a little kissing and hand-holding).

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter R.

[D] Dawn (Warriors: The New Prophecy Book 3) by Erin Hunter

4 Apr

(This was first written for my History of Youth Literature class.)

If you’ve ever seen the books with pictures of cats in the middle of the covers, you’ve probably seen the Warriors series. My cousin’s husband (who introduced me to the Percy Jackson series) has been trying to get me to read this series for a long time, so I thought I’d give it a try for the series reading assignment. I downloaded the first volume I saw available on L.A. public library’s OverDrive site starting with the letter “D” for my A-to-Z blogging challenge, trusting that I would be able to pick up the series from any book and be able to follow what was going on. I ended up with Dawn (2005), the third book of the second set of books in the series. I had a hard time getting into the story at first, but by the end of the book, I was starting to be able to tell the cats apart (although some of the names are confusing because they’re so similar). I was also able to figure out which parts of the story were probably referring to previous books and storylines.

I will admit that I skimmed the first chapter of the first book in the series (although I doubt I will go back and read it now), so I knew a little bit about how far the story had come with the third book. The first book starts with a prophecy that gathers a group of warriors from the four Clans of the forest, sending them off on a journey to save the Clans. This book picks up after they return from their journey with instructions to relocate the Clans in order to ensure their survival. The newly-returned warriors realize that “Twolegs” have been taking over, cutting down trees and trapping cats that get in their way, and their Clans are starving because of the human interference. By the end of this book, the Clans make it to their new home, which they don’t get to settle into until the next book.

I was surprised to find that the books were set in a universe with humans because I’d expected the cats to be off in their own world where they acted human but just happened to be cats. It seemed a little preachy about environmental issues, but it was interesting to think about the human world from the cats’ point of view. The story itself also focused more on the power struggles and fights between the different clans and less on the humans except in how they impacted the story.

The book reminded me a lot of the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series, except with cats instead of owls. And both series reminded me of a modern take on the Redwall series (a childhood favorite), written for kids with shorter attention spans…  The one thing all these books have in common (other than the fact that they’re all about animals) is that I would read the next book if it was available, but it wouldn’t stress me out too much not to be able to continue with the story. For me, that’s what separates it from the more “literary” series books—even though I care about the characters and I enjoy reading them, none of the stories themselves really “stick” (as in, the plots all feel very similar, and I don’t really remember what happened in any of them).

I don’t know why I was surprised to learn that the Warriors series was actually written by a number of different authors, given what we’ve been learning in the class, but for some reason, the Warriors series seemed more like the type to be churned out by one author rather than four or five. I guess because I’m used to fantasy authors being extremely prolific, and all the other series I know like it were written by a single author (as far as I know, but I haven’t looked too carefully into it…). But the name “Erin Hunter” just seemed to fit too well with the theme of the series for it to be real, so I looked it up, and sure enough, it was a pen name. It was interesting to learn that the authors actually chose “Hunter” as a last name not just because it fit with the cat theme but also because it would place them near the Redwall series, written by Brian Jacques.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter D.

[Q] The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whelan Turner

19 Apr

I can’t believe I didn’t discover Megan Whelan Turner until last year! I mean, she was even in Disney Adventure! And I had a subscription to that for years, although I was already in high school by the time her story came out in it and had stopped subscribing.

The Queen of Attolia is the second book in her The Queen’s Thief series (which, according to Wiki, is a fan-coined name). I try to introduce the first book of a series as much as possible, but I’m making an exception since I need a book for “Q” (I suppose I could have used the name of the series like I did for The Immortals Quartet by Tamora Pierce, but I’m trying to keep it to book titles as much as possible this month). I loved this series so much that I bought all four books after reading the ebooks from the library.

The world Turner writes has elements of Greek myths, but it is really about political maneuverings with a little intervention by the gods. It does remind me a bit of Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books, which have some of the same feel to them. Turner and Pierce both do a great job with characterization, and Gen reminds me of George Cooper from the Tortall books. The politics is as engaging as Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games, and there’s a bit of Percy Jackson thrown in with the mythologies. And there are more unexpected twists than any of those series, I think. (Just writing this makes me want to go back and re-read them!)

Some profanity in The Queen of Attolia makes me not want to use it with my fifth graders, who can still be somewhat immature when it comes to things like that. I would definitely use the first book, The Thief, though. It’s a great book, written in first person, even though the rest of the series is written in third person. It has the added bonus of being a Newbery Honor book in 1997, which is always nice to tell the parents.

This series has strong male and female characters with enough action for the boys and a little romance for the girls. Great for fans of any of the series I mentioned above, although the series does get a little darker after the first book.

This post is my Blogging from A to Z entry for the letter Q.