Sunday, November 28, 2010

Arty -- Song of the Sparrow

The Lady of Shalott, known also as Elaine of Ascalot. Her story, most famously told in Alfred, Lord Tennyson's poem, is a mysterious classic. Anyone who's read the poem or anything else relating to the Lady knows that a retelling/spin-off/whatever would be ripe with promise.

In Song of the Sparrow, Elaine is a fiery-haired eighteen-year-old girl, the only girl in the military camp where she lives with her father and two brothers (predictably, her mother is dead). There, she rubs shoulders with other names of legend - Arthur, not yet king; Lancelot, her secret love; Tristan, one of her best friends; and Morgan, Arthur's sister, who comes to the camp at times to advise Arthur.

Elaine's peaceful existence is broken when Lancelot, previously gone off to persuade more nobles to Arthur's cause, comes back with one lord... and his daughter. Though Elaine is at first delighted to have another female in the camp, Guinevere turns out to be 'cold and cruel.' Worse yet, despite Guinevere's betrothal to Arthur, Guinevere has her sights set on Lancelot, and Lancelot doesn't seem to mind this.

But guess what? Elaine, because of her snoopiness and unwillingness to follow simple orders, is suddenly thrust into a situation where she has to save Arthur's men from a horrible mistake Arthur has made in attacking their enemies. With Guinevere. Cue dramatic music and teary eyes.

If you caught my rather blatant sarcasm, which I hope you did, you'll probably guess that I didn't enjoy Song of the Sparrow. Sadly, I didn't. I really wanted to. It's written in free verse poetry, a bit like old epics. And the Lady of Shalott - how could it get better?

The answer? Easily. Very easily.

Elaine is your typical 'strong, spirited heroine' - which is to say, as I mentioned, she can't stand to abide by rules if someone of the male persuasion presents them. She dislikes having only men for company, but hates almost all work that falls under the category of housework. She cries, runs away, and breaks rules, and is rewarded and called brave for it. And, of course, she's gorgeously red-haired. There is nothing original about Elaine - or any of the characters. Tristan is likable, but even he has his moments.

Technically speaking, Sandell hasn't quite mastered the art of free verse. She breaks off in random, illogical places, impeding the natural cadence of poetry. Her emphases don't quite work, either. In some places, you can tell Sandell had a burst of genius; usually, though, I read it as oddly formatted paragraph form, which was quicker than agonizing over the lack of... of flow.

There's really not much going for Song of the Sparrow. The plot was predictable, and, honestly, a little slow. Add to that cardboard characters and a complete slaughter of an ending, and I really cannot urge you enough to avoid this book. Though I haven't read anything else of the Lady of Shalott, Tennyson's poem is a must-read. Also, if you're a music fan, folk singer Loreena McKennitt put the poem to music - it's gorgeous. You can find that here, among other places.


Monday, November 22, 2010

Persy -- A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson

Ballerinas sailing down the amazon in the year 1912. Do I have your attention?

Meet Harriet Morton, daughter of a strict an intolerant professor who is strongly against female students. And that wouldn't be that bad for Harriet, since she isn't greatly interested in school, but when she is invited to go on a ballet tour of South America, her father bans her from her ballet lessons. Harriet has never fought her father for anything, but she does for this. If she stays, she will most likely be forced to marry the very uninteresting Edward Finch-Dutton.

Harriet is sure that she will never be able to go on the tour, but her mind changes when she meets young Henry St. John Verney-Brandon, who tells her all about "The Boy" who left many years ago and went to travel the Amazon. The strange coincidence makes Harriet even more determined to go on the tour, especially after promising young Henry that she will try and find "The Boy".

So Harriet cooks up a little scheme and runs away from home, leaving her guardians thinking she is off visiting a respectable friend. She joins the the ballet company, and off they go to Manaus, South America.

Through various happenstances, Harriet meets Rom Verney, a wealthy Englishman living in Manaus. She soon confirms that he is "The Boy". They also soon fall in love. But alas, things are not so simple. In fact, things get so complicated that I'm not going to put it all down here, because I really don't know where to start. Suffice to say that Edward Finch-Dutton comes after Harriet while other people come after Rom. There are misunderstandings and wrong assumptions, and everything goes to pieces in the end (or does it?).

Now, you all know I'm a dancer (or, you do now), so perhaps this book appeals to me more than the average reader. But despite any prejudices I might have, this book is AWESOME. It's much more of a romance than I was expecting (never judge a book by its back summary), but I wouldn't classify it as a romance novel. Besides, Rom is awesome and Harriet isn't all that bad. Generally, I strongly dislike at least one of the main characters in most books (especially romance novels), but these characters were great.

The story also was quite well down, full of plot twists and even a few surprises I didn't see coming. Like I said before though, some of it gets a little complicated and you have to be paying attention in order to fully understand everything.

So if you're a dancer, a romance-reader, a historical-reader, or a character-reader, go find this book. I breathe a happy little sigh every time I think about it, and it's on my "Buy ASAP" list. I mean really, how can you go wrong with ballerinas in South America during 1912?


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Persy -- Wednesday Scrolls

Everyone loves a good classic (or... everyone should). Those that have a mild liking for it have probably read Shakespeare, Jane Austen, maybe some Charles Dickens. If you love classics, you probably shouldn't even read this post because you'll know more about it than me.

And no, this isn't a post analyizing various works of literature. I'm not quite that studious when it comes to reading. I'll just be bringing several good classic books to your attention. Some of them might be widely known, but not actually widely read.

For instance, everyone knows about The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo, but have you actually read the (unabridged, obviously) book? All 500+ pages?

Please do. Victor Hugo's writing is amazing (though it depends on your translation, I'm sure). He'll spend numerous pages just describing the whereabouts of the story, which is indeed sometimes tedious, but often interesting.

And the, story, well... don't expect the Disney version. Several differences: Quasimodo is deaf in the book, but not the movie; there are no magical gargoyles in the book; Esmeralda ain't that bright in the book. Seriously, she is not the cleanest sock in the laundry. Most of the time she's just exclaiming about her wonderful Phoebus, no matter who else is eloquently proclaiming their love for her, or saving her life, or just treating her much nicer than Phoebus.

I love Quasimodo, but it's hard to feel anything but pity for the poor man. Both he and Don Claude Frollo were unfortunate enough to fall in love with the gypsy girl Esmeralda, and Esmeralda never, throughout the entire book, gives a straw about either of them. Frollo goes a bit overboard in his efforts to win her affections, but Quasimodo just saves her life and treats her with kindness and respect. Frollo, on the other hand, quite literally goes insane. I admit, I really liked him too, but... He's not much of a charmer.

I really loved how Victor Hugo led up the end. He built the stories of all the characters, described the time and setting, and then got deep into the story. It was very nicely done. While I might not read The Hunchback of Notre Dame over and over again (mostly just because of its length), it's definitely a favorite.

Robert Louis Stevenson is known for Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, but I'm currently reading his little known The Black Arrow, set in the time of the War of the Roses.

Young Richard Shelton (which is how he always seems to be introduced) is a ward of Sir Daniel Brackley, ever since his father was killed many years ago. But when Sir Daniel is targeted by the outlaws known as the fellowship of the Black Arrow, many things start coming to light that divide Dick's loyalty.

While all this happens, he meets Joanna Sedley. During his first encounter with her, she's disguised herself as a boy and is trying to run away from Sir Daniel and her arranged marriage to Dick himself. Dick, poor guy, doesn't realize she's actually Joanna for a long time. But after that, they both realize they're in love with each other and promise that if they ever both escape from the clutches of Sir Daniel, they will get married.

About halfway through the book is when Dick joins the Black Arrow (sorry if this is considered a spoiler), and fights to get Joanna back from Sir Daniel and avenge his father. His first attempts usually fail miserably, but he gets better every time.

I haven't finished this book yet, but I'm confident that it will end well. The story and writing are both wonderful, as are the characters. Dick, while he might be a bit thick (poor thick Dick) at times, is actually pretty cool, and the same goes for Joanna. Lawless (ex-sailor, ex-friar, and now thief) is also awesome. This is my first Robert Louis Stevenson book, and he has definitely piqued my interest.

The last book is Shakespeare. Now, everyone's heard of Shakespeare, and Hamlet, and Romeo and Juliet, but have you heard of The Comedy of Errors? If yes, then have you read it?

There were once twin boys, who had twin servants. When these two pairs of twins were just babies, they were separated and grew up in separate countries. Many years later, one of these brothers, with his servant, goes in search of his lost family. When he gets to the foreign country, he is taken to be the brother that already lives there. But, neither the brothers nor the two servants ever actually meet in person.

As a result, things get very mixed up. One brother will vehemently say that he did not buy a necklace, while everyone around him is insisting that he did. When more and more of these strange occurrences add up, it is decided that the man and his servant have both been possessed.

I've heard that people don't consider Shakespeare's comedies to actually be funny, and I don't understand what those people think humor is. 'Cause Shakespeare is freakin' hilarious. I was grinning throughout the entire story, and if I had actually seen the play, it would've been even funnier. I strongly recommend this under-rated play to Shakespeare lovers (and pretty much everyone else, actually).

These are just a few of the many classics I enjoy, but maybe these are some you never really knew or thought about. If you're a lover of classics, or if you just dabble a bit, these are some you should definitely check out.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Arty -- The Wish List by Eoin Colfer

Yes, I know just about everyone knows Eoin Colfer, but I've been reading mostly series for a while - this is the only stand-alone I feel like reviewing.

Meg Finn is too bad for Heaven and too good for Hell. That pretty much sums up The Wish List. During an attempted heist on an elderly man's house, Meg and her partner-in-crime Belch blow up a gas tank, which kills them both. Because of a random act of goodness, though, Meg finds herself perfectly balanced between Heaven and Hell. So, to tip the scales, Meg is sent back to Earth as a ghost, to assist the man she and Belch assaulted before they were killed.

If you've read any of the Artemis Fowl series, you know what you'll get from Eoin Colfer - witty dialogue, sharp action, and lots of twists and turns. One of the characters instantly reminded me of Foaly, with his technological doublespeak. All fairy references aside, however, Wish List stands on its own.

Meg isn't overly endearing unless she's bantering with Lowrie, the old gentleman she has to help. Lowrie is more likable, even if a little cliché, as a crusty old guy with lost dreams he wants to fulfill before he too kicks the can. The supporting cast, of course, is typical of Colfer's style.

Also predictable is his loose regard to morals and lawbreaking. To fulfill one of Lowrie's wishlist items, they have to break into a football stadium. The next item has to do with getting revenge on a childhood bully; though he doesn't actually follow through, Meg herself gets her revenge on her stepfather through Lowrie. It annoyed me a little; but if you don't mind that kind of thing, you'll be fine.

Lawless antics aside, The Wish List was a fun, short read for people who have exhausted Artemis Fowl. Colfer's fairies are better, but his ghosts aren't half bad either.


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Persy -- The Declaration by Gemma Malley

It's the year 2140, and everyone lives forever.

Well, that's not strictly true. In fact, I'm not even sure if you call what they do living.

A while back, a new drug called 'Longevity' was created, which had the power to extend one's life, theoretically allowing anyone to live forever. But pretty soon, a problem was revealed. People kept having children, and everyone kept on living forever. The world was becoming overpopulated. So The Declaration was created, allowing each family to have only one child and no more. But pretty soon, they decided that was too much too, and so no one can have any children at all.

Of course, some people still dare to defy the law, and those people are hunted down and arrested while any children (called 'Surpluses') are sent to special facilities where they are trained to hate their parents, think of themselves as trash, and to serve Legals.

Surplus Anna is what they call Useful. She Knows Her Place, and is bound to end up a Valuable Asset. That is, until Peter shows up at Grange Hall. Peter is full of strange thoughts and ideas, and insists on calling Anna 'Anna Covey' (even though everyone knows Surpluses only have one name, not two). Peter turns Anna's carefully organized world upside down, and soon she's confused and lost.

I'm really not sure what else to say about this book. From there it goes on as you might expect: Peter finally convinces Anna that her world is screwed up (though it takes incredibly long to convince the poor dense girl), and they run off into the night, etc. etc. There's a dramatic plot twist about Peter's ancestry, and there's various betrayals all throughout the book. So this story isn't exactly overflowing with originality.

Despite that, it actually isn't a bad novel. It's surprisingly disturbing at times, like all dystopian novels should be, but it just didn't pull me all the way in. Peter and Anna were cute, but Anna isn't all that bright and Peter's a tad on the reckless/aggravating side. When I really think about it, there isn't actually anything redeemable about this book except for the thought, "it wasn't bad."

Bottom line: it was good, but not anywhere near great. It doesn't leave a lasting impression, and I'm not going to bother reading the rest of the books in the trilogy. If you want a really good, really disturbing, really thoughtful futuristic/dystopian novel, check out Neal Shusterman's Unwind.


Monday, November 1, 2010

Arty -- Incarceron by Catherine Fisher

Finn has lived in Incarceron for as long as he can remember... almost. He's one of the tremendous prison's many, many cellmates - one the others think was actually born from the ever-recycling Incarceron. But Finn and Gildas, one of the prison's Sapienti Wise, don't think so. His dreams and seizures can only point to a life Outside Incarceron.

Claudia Arlexa is the daughter of the Warden of Incarceron. Trapped in the sterile Era of their world, Claudia is doomed to an arranged marriage, planned her entire life. But, of course, Claudia is having none of that. What she wants to do is find Incarceron - even if her father is the Warden.

Cliché novel? It sounds like it. But rest assured, it is not. Both worlds - that of Incarceron and of the Era-world - are original and exciting. While more description could have been used at times to describe these fresh settings, what Fisher gives gets the reader by.

The book's pinnacle and downfall are its characters. Yes, they're both. Finn and Claudia seem like stereotypes at first, especially Claudia. But they show different, deeper sides I rarely see in other novels. Also, Gildas, Keiro, Attia, and Jared (my personal favorite) are all flawed, all too human, all too likable characters. Gildas is obsessed with the legend of Sapphique (supposedly the only man to escape Incarceron), but he really does care about Finn, even though it seems at times he uses him. Jared, a Sapienti on the Outside, is intelligent and wise, and daring to a degree, but he's a self-admitted coward. And yet you love just about every single person.

And yet... they feel cardboard. You're not really feeling what they're feeling; you're seeing it narrated. So perhaps Incarceron's downfall isn't it's characters, really. It's the writing. Crisp and to-the-point, it's amazing for the action; for character development, not so much. It's not that we don't get character development. It's just... hard to feel it. If you didn't already like the characters from reading about them, then I doubt many people would really care.

The ending is... different. The revelation of Incarceron's secret isn't a smack-your-forehead, I-should-have-gotten-that kind of revelation. It's more a wow-that's-a-really-interesting-idea kind of revelation. In short, there's not much real foreshadowing involved. Unless you're an in-depth scientist, I doubt you'll guess. This could be a good thing, or a bad thing, depending on your taste.

All in all, Incarceron wins. There's also a sequel, called Sapphique, coming out December 28, which I will be getting my hands on as soon as possible.