Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Eoin Colfer - "Artemis Fowl The Eternity Code"

The Eternity Code (Artemis Fowl, Book 3)
      Well, ol' Artemis is at it again.  This thirteen-year-old criminal mastermind is once again looking for a grand scheme to increase the holdings of the Fowl family coffers.  This time though, he's less motivated by money and world domination and much more motivated to save the life of his long-time bodyguard, Butler. 

     The book opens with Artemis negotiating a deal with a greedy businessman, and it goes very very wrong!  Artemis has created a C-cube, that uses fairy technology (gleaned from previous encounters with the fairy folk) to basically scan all kinds of electronic devices and allows the user to basically commandeer them.  During this scene Artemis realizes that the cube is capable of "tracking" the underground fairy technology and is therefore very dangerous to the magical creatures below.  The deal goes poorly, and ends in a shooting match.  Butler ends up saving Artemis' life (again) by literally taking a bullet to the chest.  Artemis is then highly motivated to retrieve the stolen cube so as to protect his friends, but he also needs them to help save his beloved Butler's life.  In exchange for using fairy technology to save Butler and get the cube back, Artemis agrees to succumb to a mind wipe which will eliminate all memories and knowledge of The People. 

     With Butler on ice (literally), Juliet Butler, Mulch Diggums, Holly Short, and Foaly all work together to not only to get the cube back, but to get the greedy, tricky businessman put behind bars.  As always, our favorite juvenile criminal mastermind has concocted a genius plan that covers all bases, and accomplishes all that he sets out to do.

     I have to give Mr. Colfer props for being so imaginative in his books.  He does a good job of marrying the real and fantastical worlds into an interesting and fun read.  I love how Artemis is this amazing genius mastermind, yet he still isn't old enough to drive; he has so much knowledge, but he still has to experience "growing up."  Another theme that runs throughout the book is that Artemis Fowl Sr. has regained consciousness and is healing nicely, and as he's returning to health, he vows that the Fowl family will be putting their life if crime behind them.  He introduces the idea to his son that there are more important things in the world than money.  This idea is brought to the forefront for young Artemis as he experiences the possible loss of Butler, his friend. 

     As in all Fowl books, there is a unique code along the bottom that adds another level to the story.  I had to buy a book from New Zealand (thank you Abebooks.com!) to get the edition with the "non-Gnomish" code.  Apparently the American versions are all in Gnomish, so I had to do some research to get the unique code.  Thank you for not commenting on how ridiculous I can be sometimes ;)

Happy summer reading!

Sunday, June 26, 2011

J.K. Rowling - "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows"


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)
     Ahhhh, I love that feeling you get when you can check something off of your to do list.  I can finally do that for all 4,100 pages of the 7 Harry Potter novels.  (Yes, it's an EXACT page count; please withhold all comments regarding my nerdiness, I already know.)  It was a thrilling ride, and I have to say that I was missing out on something great whilst I was refusing to read them simply because they are popular.  (Again, refrain yourself from making the dweeb comments.)

      This book picks up right where the last left off, with Harry newly returned to number 4 Privet Drive days before his 17th birthday.  He is grieving the loss of Dumbledore and is also trying to figure out how to accomplish the mission of destroying the remaining 5 horcruxes Voldemort has created in order to attempt to achieve immortality.  The action in this last book starts right from the get-go when 6 members of the Order of the Phoenix ingest Polyjuice Potion to make themselves identical to Harry so as to hopefully confuse the Death Eaters as to which Harry is the real one while they attempting to move him to one of the Orders' safe houses.  There is a massive airborne battle between the 2 groups, and the ever-growing list of casualties continues to grow.  

     The majority of the book is spent following Harry, Hermione, and Ron as they try to figure out what and where the horcruxes are, as well as how to go about destroying the one they already posses.  Throughout their travels, this little group also learns (by means of the items that Dumbledore bequeathed the trio in his will) of the possible existence of the "deathly hallows" - a trio of objects that allow the beholder to overcome death itself.  Now their search is expanded to include those items as well.  This little band of friends accomplishes a few pretty amazing feats, not the least of which is ***spoiler alert*** breaking into Gringott's bank, rescuing a dragon, and attempting to steal a valuable item right out of the ministry of magic.  *** 

     One of the ideas that runs throughout this novel is that there is a shadow cast upon the reputation of Dumbledore.  Harry genuinely questions the character of his greatest mentor, and it's a struggle that Harry must deal with throughout almost the entire story.  Also, the idea that either Harry of Voldemort will have to die in the end is brought to the forefront of the story as the end draws neigh.  There are also seeds of discord sown into the tight little group of the three friends as tensions run high.  It's interesting to see how all of these intricately woven ideas exhibits themselves through the story to provide the reader with a fantastic piece of literature to enjoy as we watch the tensions build and the ensuing war finally take shape.         
     As expected, this is the most "adult-oriented" book in the series, and it tackles some really intricate ideas..  It was really really exciting to see all of the loose ends get neatly tied up as the book (and series) drew to a close.  Ms. Rowling did an extraordinary thing with this entire series by being so intricately detailed.  i could really see that she had the whole storyline drawn out before she even wrote the first book.  It is evident that she knew what she was trying to accomplish from the very inception of the books.  It's hard to accept that the series has come to a close, and that there is no more for me to enjoy, but it was a great ride while it lasted, and I hope this isn't the last we hear from such an amazing writer.

Cheers to you Ms. Rowling!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Loraine Despres ' "The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell"

    The spirit of Sissy LeBlanc lives on!  In a more technical sense, it BEGINS with Belle Cantrell and her bad behavior, actually.  Loraine Despres has created another literary gem in the same vein as Ms. Sissy's story.  This is the story of Belle Cantrell, Sissy's feisty grandmother, and it serves as an entertaining prequel to "The Scandalous Summer of Sissy LeBlanc."  It's set again in the small town of Gentry, Louisiana in the 1920 during the age of jazz, prohibition, the rise of the KKK, and woman's suffrage.  Just as in Mrs. Despres' previously published work, the reader will find themselves pouring through this book that is full of strong women, romance, murder, young love, and controversial issues of the day, not to mention a healthy dose of adventure and sharp wit.

     At the tender age of 16 Belle is passionately in love with Claude Cantrell, and very soon afterwords comes to find herself a young mother and bride.  Claude is called off to war leaving his wife and daughter to live on the family farm with his mother, Miss Effie.  Upon his return home, he is murdered, and Belle feels herself responsible.  Talk about a bad day!

     After a few years of recovery from Claude's death, Belle starts to set her sights on advancing the rights and roles of women.  As with all great new periods in our lives as women, it begins with a fabulous new hair cut.  She begins this journey of promoting the "fairer sex" by getting her hair bobbed, buying a cloche, and attending suffragette meetings.  I think from the get-go Belle knew the rules of society as she was practically raised by the well-bred and proper Miss Effie; however, I feel that she finds the execution of said rules a bit harder to carry out and somewhat unsavory to her free spirit.
The Bad Behavior of Belle Cantrell: A Novel

     The bob is just the beginning of Belle beginning to live her life as a liberated and unfettered woman.  She and her unsinkable spirit woos the eligible bachelor Rafe Berlin (who just so happens to be her best friends' brother).  He is down in Gentry from Chicago to help the Rubenstien family get their business streamlined and in tip-top shape.  Part of this involves collecting old debts from some of Gentry's oldest families.  This, in addition to an unwillingness to accept the fact that times were changing, irks the ire of the newly re-established Gentry chapter of the KKK.  One of the other ways in which Belle outwardly bucks society (other than kissing a man in public and wearing her form-fitting riding breeches right into the middle of town) is to takeover the position of "foreman" and to work the fields of her very large family farm once the infamous Bouree LeBlanc is dismissed from that position.  Some of the controversial issues of the time that are addressed in Mrs. Despres' second novel include her characters dealing with racism, birth control, prohibition, adultery, woman's suffrage, even the mention of free love.

     Throughout this delightfully twisting tale of friendship, love, determination, and  the idea of standing up for what one thinks is right we see our heroine not only endeavor to take on the world and to pass the benefits on to future generations, but also we see her inspire others to stand up for themselves and for what's right.  Another thing that I love about this book is Belle's ongoing references to the "Primer of Propriety" and the "Southern Girls' Guide to Men and Other Perils of Modern Life."  They are the "literary"version of the "good angel / bad angel" that reside on each of our shoulders.  They also exhibit the contrast between the small town old guard and the new, brash generation that came behind them almost as dramatically as the characters of Miss Effie (who refers to automobiles as "a good time house on wheels") and Belle (who was caught making out  in a closet at a party by her daughter), and I found them quite entertaining and even practical for many situations.              
     All in all, I'd say it was a good read!  Loraine does a great job of making her characters easy to relate to and describing her settings well.  I felt myself grow frustrated with some of the things Belle felt encumbering her and found myself thinking Rafe was a hottie.  I even felt a sense of pride when the girls got the final count from the senate and gained the right to vote.  I think in some ways this book is "tamer" than Sissy's Scandalous Summer, and I enjoyed it from cover to cover!  I think you should do the same.

     Summer is upon us, stay cool!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

J.K. Rowling - "Harry Potter and the Half - Blood Prince"

     Welcome once again to the wonderfully weird wizarding world of young Mr. Harry Potter.  Of the six books that I've read so far, this one is quite different.  I think it may even be my favorite one so far too.  This book opens with a description of how there seems to be a cloud of misery over everything and everyone as well as a very mysterious meeting between Severus Snape, Malfoy's Mother, and Aunt Belliatrix.  From that droll scene, the reader is transported to Harry's bedroom at the Dursley's.  He's grieving his lost Godfather when a letter from Dumbledore arrives telling him to be ready to take a little trip with him then head to the Burrow to spend the rest of the summer with the Weasley family. 

     Pretty much from that point on, it's a non-stop magical ride.  Harry and Dumbledore make a stop on their way to the Burrow for the purpose of visiting Horace Slughorn in order to persuade him to resume his post as the Potions Professor at Hogwarts.  Once again the post of Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher is empty after another year, and Snape finally gets his dream job!  In the last book, Dumbledore assigns Snape to take Harry on for private lessons, and it did not bode well.  So this time Harry begins private lessons with Dumbledore himself in which Harry learns a lot about Voldemort's personal history.  At the end of the last episode there is a prophecy revealed that basically states that there will be a great fight between Harry and Voldemort and one will end up killing the other.  This is one of the reasons that it is so very important that Harry learn as much about Voldemort as he can; he must know what he's up against as well as the weaknesses of his greatest enemy.  One of the most interesting things that our hero discovers is the reason for Voldemort's "immortality."
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)
      Not only is this whole novel a wild ride for Harry, but also for those reading along!  Young Mr. Potter yet again finds himself in situations that far exceed his level of education, yet he still manages to overcome them, even if it does require a little help from time to time.  But then again, don't we all?

     I do have to say that even though this was one of my favorite Potter books so far, I did have quite a few unsettled questions at the end.  It left me hungering for more, craving the satisfaction that only answered questions can provide it's readers.  ***Spoiler Alert*** It was also downright heart-rending when Harry has to literally force a questionable potion down Dumbledore's throat in order to complete their mission, even as Dumbledore begs him to stop.***  This book was not as riddled with teenage angst as the previous, but there is a lot of attention placed upon the growing love interests of our main characters.  Harry Potter is growing up, right before my very eyes....  Yes, I am FULLY aware of how terribly nerdy I am, thank you very much! ;)

     I really have enjoyed this series so far, despite the fact that I really didn't want to read it in the first place.  This book is no exception; it's a great read from start to finish.  Check it out, and let me know what you think.

     Summer is here, what better time to delve into a stack of amazing literature!?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ted Dekker - "The Martyr's Song"

The Martyr's Song (The Martyr's Song Series, Book 1)
      There may only be 144 pages between the two covers of this book, but they are a powerful 144 pages!  This novella is the first book in "The Martyr's Song" series, and is a beautiful melding of two stories in one.  One story is set in modern day (Atlanta, 1960's), and involves an elderly lady who works as a florist and takes an interest in a young "outcast" girl named Marci.  Eve, the older lady, notices Marci and the troubles she's having at school and invites her to her house and offers to change her life.  To say the least, Marci is skeptical, but shows up on Eve's doorstep anyway. 

     Eve proceeds to tell Marci that the story she is about to hear will change her life and make her beautiful.  Marci is instructed to listen and to figure out which of the characters in the story she relates to most, in essence, which character she is and what part she plays in the story.  The worn red book that Eve begins to read from transports both the reader and the listener to a small Bosnian village back in WWII.

     The villagers, composed only of women, children, and an old priest are celebrating a birthday for one of the little girls in town when five soldiers arrive on the scene.  The commander of the small group is incenced that this small village church is still standing and that the town seems to have been unaffected by the war.  Karadzic, the leader, proceeds to wreak havoc upon the villagers and their beloved priest.

     Although the things that the soldiers did were atrocious, to say the least, there was a silver lining to it.  Throughout the terrible and torturous things the priest had to endure, he kept finding himself awakening in a beautiful field of white flowers that is filled with laughter and singing.  He finds that as he endures extreme physical pain for the sake of his Lord, he sees that the world in which his body occupies is not the true reality, and he longs to relinquish his hold on his life in order to enter into the world that he knows he was destined for. 

     Marci finds herself not only enraptured by the story she is told, but finds that she can be made beautiful by it, as are all who hear it, and seek out their place in the story. 

     As in some of the other books that I've read by Mr. Dekker, I found myself completely immersed in the story.  He is an amazing storyteller with a way of pulling his readers into the pages in a very vivid way.  Just like Marci, I wondered where I fit in.  I found myself longing to have the kind of strength of faith that the priest and his flock of women and children exhibited.  I want to know that should I find myself in the situation where I am to deny Christ and live or to stand by Him and die, that I would have the fortitude to make my stand.  Like I said, it's a powerful story...

Monday, May 16, 2011

J.K. Rowling - "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix"

     What has young Mr. Potter gotten himself into this time?   It is now Harry's 5th year at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry, and so far it's one of the most stressful yet as his O.W.L. exams are fast approaching.  The story begins as usual with him trying to survive life with his miserable muggle family, the Dursleys.  Summer is coming to a close and all the while his two best friends, Hermione and Ron are totally incommunicado, and there has been no word whatsoever about the return of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named despite the fact that Harry saw Voldemort return to his own body with his very own eyes.  Just as Harry is at his lowest, a pair of dementors from the wizard prison, Azkaban, approach him and his terrible cousin, Dudley, right there on bland ole' Privet Drive!  Harry casts a charm to defend himself and Dudley, and comes to find out from his crazy neighbor, Mrs. Figg (a person from a wizarding family that isn't able to do magic), that the man assigned to protect him had fallen down on the job and Dumbledore would not be pleased to hear about it. 

Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix
     It's at this point that Harry finds himself being rescued from his locked bedroom at the Dursley's house by a motley crew of witches and wizards who scuttle him off to the headquarters of the order of the phoenix.  This "order of the phoenix" Harry discovers is a secret society of magical folk dedicated to raising up an army against the newly arisen Voldemort.  This group includes the Weasley family, Mad-Eye Moody, Sirius Black (Harry's godfather), Professor Snape, Dumbledore, and a number of other characters.  Just as the Order is beginning to from a resistance to the Dark Lord, the Ministy of Magic is taking it's own strides to deal with the recent turn of events.  One of these ways is to discredit Harry and those who believe his talk of Voldemort's return, as well as to attempt to meddle in the education of the Hogwart's students.  This is where Hogwart's newest Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Deloris Umbridge comes into the picture. 

     We have seen in previous books that Harry has a fairly active dream life, but it is even more so in this episode.  Harry has a reoccurring dream throughout this book that involves a long dark hallway with many doors, and usually some kind of strong emotion.  It's very interesting to see how this function plays a significant role in the telling of this tale.  One other prominent storyline involves the beautiful Cho Chang.  In the last book she had caught Harry's eye, but at the time she was dating the now deceased  Cedric Diggory.  Just as in the last story, Harry finds himself attracted to her, but he actually begins to find himself wanting to impress her and to get closer to her, but is at a loss of how to go about doing so.

     This is almost a 900 page book so there are NUMEROUS different threads of storyline wafting throughout it's copious pages, and this is a poor attempt to sum up quite so many pages.  As usual, I recommend reading the book to get a  taste of what's going on in Mr. Potter's life.  Also, as I've said in previous blogs that the overarching story matures with it's readership, and this is especially true in this novel as Harry begins to explore the world of girls, and is having to begin to think about his future after his education is finished at Hogwarts.  I would say these are characteristics that most 15-year old's deal with; I would also say that in this book, Harry is especially "angsty" and anxious just as most kids are at that age.  It makes me think that Ms. Rowling has had some pretty in-depth experience with teenagers.  Of all of the book in this series that I've read so far, this one is probably my favorite because it really feels like there were a lot of questions answered, and there were MANY events that take place that make the story feel like it's really starting to progress quickly.  This book, more so than it's predecessors, begins to paint a picture of what is to come as the series draws to a close.  ("The Goblet of Fire" (book 4), in my mind, gives this one a run for it's money for the title of "favorite so far" just because that one was so imaginative and generally fun to read.)  It was a little tough to read this one as poor Harry was pretty "riled up" most of the time, but I think that is just something that goes with the territory of being a teenager...

     What does the future hold for Harry James Potter?  I guess we'll find out soon...

Monday, May 2, 2011

Baroness Emmuska Orczy - "The Scarlet Pimpernel"

     If you're in the market for a good historical fiction, filled with lords and ladies, crafty disguises, sneaky spies, dire situations, and ingenious escapes, then I recommend you check out this much beloved classic!  This tale has been retold in various movies, and stage productions, but in my humble opinion, the book is always better ;) 

     Our tale opens in 1792, "the year of grace" with a captain in the army of the republic bragging about how none of the sneaky members of the League of the Scarlet Pimpernel have gotten any royal refugees past his barricade because of his keen eyes!  Shortly after, a loathsome, haggard old woman takes her vegetable cart through that very same barricade to visit her grandson with smallpox.  Lo and behold, that very same "woman" was in actuality the man, the myth, the legendary Scarlet Pimpernel himself! 

     According to Baroness Orczy, during the French Revolution, there was a band of English spies who risked life and limb to smuggle those who were headed to Mme. Guillotine out of the country to their neighboring refuge, England.  This group consisted of about 20 young, gallant, and even wealthy English gentlemen who were lead by one resourceful and daring genius who called himself The Scarlet Pimpernel (named after a small red English flower).   

The Scarlet Pimpernel
     Some of the main characters are Sir Percy Blankney, Marguerite (his wife), Armand St. Just (her brother), Chauvelin (a malicious French spy), Andrew Ffoulkes, and a hoard of other minor characters.   Marguerite is a young French woman who is hailed as the wittiest woman in Europe, and everyone is surprised when she marries Sir Percy as he is said to be somewhat dimwitted and foppish (a lovely English term used to describe vain man who is mostly concerned about their appearance and dress).  With Sir Percy's vast fortune and lovely wife, he is touted as one of the luckiest men around, as well as one of the most popular and fashionable as he is always impeccably dressed for every occasion.  Marguerite and Percy have been married about a year at this point in the story and their love has grown cold, she feels trapped in a marriage that began wonderfully, but due to an earlier indiscretion on her part, they grew apart.  She tries throughout the story to re-ignite that love.

     One of the biggest plot lines that comprises this story is that of the rescue of The Comte de Tournay.  At the beginning of the story, Sir Andrew delivers The Comtesse de Tournay and her two children to the Fisherman's Rest, a little inn near the coast of Dover, England.  As this plot is unfolding, Chauvelin makes his way to England in an attempt to solicit information regarding The Scarlet Pimpernel so that the next time our hero sets foot upon French soil, he can be arrested and escorted to the Guillotine.  As fate would have it, Chauvelin discovers information about Armand St. Just and uses it as leverage against Marguerite.  He offers her a deal: She finds out what she can about The Scarlet Pimpernel and his identity, and Chauvelin will personally see to it that Armand gets out of France safely.

     What happens????? You'll just have to read it to find out!  This is certainly an action packed story that boasts some pretty tense moments throughout.  There is a fair amount of mystery and suspense within these pages as well.  I do have to say, that it took a chapter or two to really grab my attention, but from that point on, it was a page-turner, through and through!!!!