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Review: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

in a sentence or so: Ender is the best, brightest, youngest, and only hope for victory against the impending war against the inter-galactic foe, the buggers.

Andrew Wiggin is 6 years old when he is invited to join battle school.  he is asked to leave his parents, his loving and devoted sister Valentine, and his down-right scary and hurtful brother, Peter. Andrew, who goes by Ender, knew the government expected big things from him because he is a Third. in a world where two children are the maximum, the government asked Ender's parents to have another child to fulfill the grand expectations of the Wiggin family.  Ender accepts the invitation to go to battle school and says farewell to his family, probably forever.

once at battle school, Ender is manipulated by the teachers and is socially isolated from other students.  most importantly, Ender discovers he is the best. despite the fact he is 6 years old and on the younger side of entering battle school, he sees things in the battle room with formations and strategy that the oldest boys overlook.  Ender is clearly meant to do be a military leader and that scares him. the expectation weighs heavy on his shoulders.  even when Ender succeeds - as people expect him to - the challenges just become harder. more complicated. more isolating. more disheartening.

meanwhile back on earth, Valentine and Peter are staging their own run for success by writing politically insightful and inflammatory statements on the net. Valentine misses her brother Ender deeply. but that doesn't stop her from getting sucked in (part willingly and part unwillingly) to a master manipulation plot devised by Peter.  it is clear that all three Wiggin children are gifted in manipulation - Valentine with manipulating emotions, Peter with manipulating fear, and Ender with manipulating battle scenarios.

i had a hard time telling where this story was going.  we spend a lot of time with Ender in battle school where he struggles, succeeds, learns, grows, and develops into the leader he is expected to be.  we see bits and pieces of what Valentine and Peter are up to back on earth with their political writing and influencing domestic and worldwide policies as 11 and 14 year olds.  clearly the Wiggin children are inordinately bright, but why they are so intelligent is not addressed.  their parents are seemingly standard, so why should all three of them be extraordinary?  i appreciate social commentary and character development, but i just need a plot to propel forward in addition to those elements to hold my interest.

if i could let myself drop the "where are we going?" and "what is the point?" questions, i did enjoy the read.  the conclusion of Ender's Game was a jaw-dropper, and i was pleasantly surprised by the plot twist.  there were training exercises and free-play activities that Ender participated in while at battle school that gave insight into his motivations that were creative and thoughtful.  the whole social aspect of battle school was interesting as well - a taste of Lord of the Flies set in a futuristic space-fantasy backdrop.

fave quote: "I was afraid that I'd still love you." "I hoped that you would." "My fear, your wish - both granted."  "Ender, it really is true. We may be young, but we're not powerless.  We play by their rules long enough, and it becomes our game." (exchange between Valentine and Ender, 237)

fix er up: i became disillusioned when i felt like the plot stalemated, or when i couldn't see direction of where we were going. i imagine this is something along the lines of what Ender was probably feeling, but it was challenging to me as a reader.

title: Ender's Game
author: Orson Scott Card
genre: Dystopian, Sci-Fi

(i read this as a part of the 451 Challenge, Ember level book 1 of 3)

Frozen Fire (an almost review) by Tim Bowler

in a sentence or so: it begins with a phone call. in the middle of the night, a boy who sounds like her long lost  brother, knows too much about her, and even though her instincts scream against her, draws Dusty to protect this mystery boy.

Dusty should be smarter than to follow a boy out into the wild unknown in the middle of the night. especially one who is trying to kill himself and doesn't want her help.  but ever since her brother Josh left a few years ago, this is the closest thing she's had to a lead on his whereabouts, and she is not ready to give that up.  the thing is, this boy isn't the easiest to follow.  once she's narrowed down his location, she notices his footsteps disappear in the snow every so often. and then she notices that she's being followed...

Dusty's life is just starting to come back together.  after Josh left, her mum went crazy and left her and her dad behind.  Dusty's dad is dipping his toes in the dating pool and starting to find a bit of luck.  she wants to be happy for her dad and his emergence into a normal and happy life, but she just can't shake the feeling that she is being watched. she needs to find this boy, but has no idea how to contact him. she just knows that he is somehow connected with Josh and can't let it go.

well, there is a reason this is an almost review - i didn't finish this book.  before you judge too harshly, let me explain why.  the tension was established pretty immediately with the mystery phone call and the men chasing her and the mystery, but the tension waned and eventually lulled into boring for me about 50-75 pages in.  the repetition of details was bordering on obnoxious, and the plot is sluggish in regards to the mystery of the boy - which is the center of the story. i think the breaking point for me was when i read the details of 'what the boy did' three separate times in the same chapter. someone telling Dusty, Dusty's dad telling her, and then the both of them talking about it with other characters.  it was just too much.

in an effort to show some compassion for this read, i found the instability in familiar relationships to be intriguing. especially in that Dusty seemed to find a complacency with the unhealthy instability with her Dad, her mum, her one friend and the newcomer friend.

ultimately, i was over halfway through the book and had no REAL new information than i had from page 30, and had to call it quits.

if anybody else had a different experience with this book, i'd be happy to hear it.  the author has previously won the Carnegie Medal in 1997, the cover and title drew me in, and even the little blurb on the dust cover sounded haunting and exciting. even writing this almost review makes it sound like it should be better than what it was...unfortunately, i just did not like Frozen Fire due to the lag in plot, repetition of events, and total loss of tension in this paranormal mystery.

Review: If I Stay by Gayle Forman

in a sentence or so: Mia is the sole survivor of a car accident that killed the rest of her family.  we journey with her as she makes a decision from the world in-between to stay with those left behind, or to just let go.

after the accident, Mia finds herself inexplicably standing removed from the scene and able to watch everything that happens.  she's not quite a ghost or apparition, but she's not quite real either.  no one can see her or feel her, and she can't feel things either.  well, perhaps that's not exactly true.  Mia feels disgusted to see the brain chunks of her father splattered over the highway.  Mia feels scared when she sees her little brother pinned in the backseat of the car. but Mia cannot feel the pain from the flesh that has ripped away from her leg and exposes the bone, or her collapsed lung, or her brain swelling.

after Mia is taken to the hospital, we start to learn more about her family and background through flash-back memories. we learn about her punk rocker turned mr. cleaver dad, about her sailor-mouthed mom, about her curly headed adorable little brother Teddy, about her best friend Kim and her up-and-coming rock god (but still totally sensitive and perfect) boyfriend Adam.  we learn about what an amazing cellist Mia is and what a beautiful future in music she has ahead of her.

while Mia is stuck in the in-between, she begins to realize it is her decision to stay in this new life of uncertainty, pain, and loss or to let go and join the rest of her family in the unknown and be at peace.  Mia also hears and sees those loved ones who are waiting for her in the ICU and talking with her and communicating their wishes for her - either begging her to stay, or letting her know that it is okay to let go.

this has been described to me as beautiful, tragic, and tear-jerking. those adjectives are certainly representative of Mia's story as a whole.  however, i am most impressed by the way in which these adjectives come across - the reflections on a life lived combined with her life in limbo was a fresh and sincere writing style that accurately reflects the tone and message of the book.

fave quote: "If I stay. If I live. It's up to me." (120 of 314 [nook version])

fix er up: i was so drawn in to Mia's story that i would have liked to see it go a little bit further...but i think i would read her story forever if i could.

title: If I Stay
author: Gayle Forman
genre: Problem Novel, Death, Family

Review: Someday this Pain will be Useful to You by Peter Cameron

in a sentence or so: James is an 18 year old who hates people his own age, doesn't want to go to college
in the fall, and finds communicating with anyone an absolute frustrating and revolting challenge.

we enter the story as James's mom's most recent marriage doesn't last through the honeymoon.  James is spending the summer after high school working in his mom's art gallery in NYC, but he wasn't exactly the most loyal employee while she was away.  however, he finds working with John, his older and well educated coworker, to be a tolerable person to interact with and so mildly enjoys his time there.

James has been thinking more and more lately that he just doesn't want to go to college. he doesn't want to spend the next four years of his life bombarded with people he hates and doesn't care to associate with in the least. feeling like he can just reach himself all he wants to learn through books, James begins to foster the idea of buying a house with his college money and living his life that way.  needless to say, his parents are none to keen to the idea, and his sister is doing her best to set him straight.

it's hard to say what the plot is, exactly.  essentially we're along for the ride of James last summer between high school and college beginning in the fall, should he decide to go.  we see what his relationship with his mom is like, what his relationship with his dad is like, sit with James through therapy sessions, are right beside him in an awkward attempt to prove his worth with his co-worker John, and his nurturing relationship with his grandma (called Nanette).  James is pretentious, snooty, and broken. it feels as if he is on the autism spectrum (never mentioned in the book) with how he relies on and focuses on controlling speech - his own internal monologue, conversation with others, and even the words and phrases of others.  James also prefers a very solitary lifestyle, finding even prolonged interactions with his family leaving him feeling restless for alone time and often zoning out for half hour segments, withdrawn in his head.

this read was very sterile, and fits the character perfectly.  James feels like an adult voice reflecting on his past, not a young adult living through his present.  the ending was totally abrupt and unsatisfying.  James processes things in such a way that made this book a challenge for me. and i realize that it wasn't me who couldn't relate to James, but James who can't relate to me. so ultimately i felt like i was reading about issues, about broken relationships, about trying to discover who you are...all without a main character. a creative literary device, but personally an enjoyment challenge.

fave quote: "The main problem was I don't like people in general and people my age in particular, and people my age are the ones who go to college...I'm not a sociopath or a freak (although I don't suppose people who are sociopaths or freaks self-identify as such); I just don't enjoy being with people." (39)

fix er up: this was sterile and unsatisfying when it was all said and done. but i can't stop thinking about it...so it's not all bad.

title: Someday This Pain Will Be Useful To You
author: Peter Cameron
genre: Coming of Age

Review: Close Kin (The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy, Book Two) by Clare B Dunkle

(this is the second book in the hollow kingdom trilogy, so spoilers for the first book - the hollow kingdom - are unavoidable really...)

in a sentence or so: Seylin finally bucks up the courage to awkwardly propose to Emily, only to be inadvertently turned down which triggers the heartbroken Seylin to head out and find his elvish ancestors. when Emily realizes what's happened, she too sets on a quest to find Seylin, and set things right...whatever that may be.

Emily and Seylin's tale begins in the hollow kingdom about five years after the conclusion of the previous book.  Emily continues to spend time with the goblin children, while nearing the end of her education and nearing the inevitable marriage age.  her long time friend Seylin has been acting weird lately, and it doesn't even dawn on her that his awkward behavior and even more awkward conversation about marriage are because of and for her.  heartbroken at his rejection, Seylin requests permission to leave the kingdom and find out if there really are elves out in the world, and hopes he will find acceptance with them where he didn't find it with his true love.

the writing alternates between Seylin's search for the elves, Emily's search of Seylin, and life back in the goblin kingdom.  the whole book takes place over a few days, which is exciting and holds the reader's interest.  the author also sprinkles in some additional folklore of the elves intermittently, which helps the reader explore the past while discovering the future.

i knew to expect good things from "close kin", as i really liked the "hollow kingdom".  what i didn't expect, however, were the issues of domestic abuse, prejudice, use of gifts and talents, healthy and unhealthy relationships, change, disappointment, and growing up.  the outer shell of the story is Seylin and Emily's love story...but we discover so much more about goblins, elves, and human nature in the process.

i adore the folklore created by Dunkle, the creativity in plot and the rooted characters.  i will certainly be finishing off the trilogy by reading "in the coils of the snake" sometime in the not too distant future.

fave quote: "Emily stood up from behind a rock.  She was pale and grubby, and she had circles under her eyes.  Seylin had never seen a sight more beautiful." (141)

fix er up: maybe it's because i was already familiar with the folklore and mythology, but "close kin" just didn't hold the same excitement as "hollow kingdom".

title: Close Kin (Book II -- The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy)
author: Clare B. Dunkle
genre: Fantasy