Monday, November 9, 2009

Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey

I started reading this series of books in Middle School. The author calls them science fiction, but really I think they have a lot more in common with fantasy - it takes place on a world colonized by earth, but that lost contact thousands of years before. Without modern technology, an agrarian society with the apprentice system is set up. Dragons are basically indigenous creatures that people team with to protect from a sort of deadly rain that comes around every 200 years... Sounds strange huh? They're fun books though. Anne McCaffery was the first woman to win the Hugo award because of this series of books, the Dragonriders of Pern. I enjoy the theme of rediscovering as the characters unearth more history and background - something that always makes books more interesting to me. The characters are fun and well written, and the dragons are dang cool. You can't help but want your own. I think part of my fascination with dragons comes from these books, and they're the standard against which I hold dragons in most other fiction. Christopher Paolini appears to have been highly influenced by the dragons in these books, for example.

The audiobook is good - Average production quality, no silly special effects or anything. As far as rating where children are concerned, again, probably PG-13, though not as much as Treason, the last book I reviewed.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Treason, by Orson Scott Card

"A Plantet Called Treason" was one of the first books by Orson Scott Card, and he later went back and edited it and published it again under the title, "Treason." I read this book as a teenager, before I knew who Orson Scott Card was. Every now and then as an adult I would try and remember the title of the this weird book about a planet where scientists were abandoned to pursue their area of expertise with their families, all of whom separated into clans, and bred/developed their knowledge till the genetecist could heal like Wolverine, the geologist could mold and shape stone, the demagogue could create the illusion of themselves as other people, the physicist could control the rate of travel through time around themselves. This is the background to the book. A few months ago it came back to mind, and I rediscovered the name and author of the book, so I decided to get it.

It's been a long time. Unlike most of Card's work, this book is more adventure and action and a plot that is physically interesting, instead of the psychological drama of the Ender quartet, or the political and intellectual intrigue of the Bean quartet. This one moves along and is fun. It's also quite interesting as far as a thought study on these powers people could develop if...

There is some sensuality in the book, though not explicitly sexual - more than I would like my 11-year old son to be exposed to, so I would suggest a strong PG-13 rating as a book.

The audio production is fine - one of the people who reads the Ender and Bean saga reads the whole book, as it's told from first-person perspective. All in all, a pleasant, intersting book. I'll give it 7 out of 10.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Redwall, by Brian Jaques

I've listened to this a couple of times, and read one of the other books in the series. Honestly, it's not my favorite. It's set in a world where animals act like humans, like Wind in the Willows, though unlike most fantasy books, it doesn't really have magic of any sort in it, or mythical creatures or anything. But that's not a plus or a minus. For me, it's just not that engaging to read it. The characters aren't that interesting. The plot, though fun, is not very interwoven like the Harry Potter books, but is more a series of adventures and action scenes. Basically, despite the adult-sized text and thickness of the book, the story is geared toward younger readers - 5-7 grade or so. My son in 5th grade LOVES the series. For him, it's a lot of fun. He's not so interested in things like round characters, character development, allegory, or thought provoking storyline, which you can find in books like the Harry Potter series or Chronicles of Narnia, for example, which, though written for younger readers, are engaging for adult readers as well.

The audio production is great - Brian Jaques himself does much of the narration, and there are actors and voices that make it a lot of fun as far as that is concerned, but it doesn't quite make up, in my opinion, for the plain and simple storyline. It's basically a kids book that doesn't cross over into adult levels of interest, and I find myself feeling like it's a chore to listen to it in-between more favored titles to avoid over-listening to them. Sorry, Brian Jaques.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Mistborn 3 - The Hero of Ages, by Brandon Sanderson

Brandon Sanderson did it again - not a disappointing end to the Mistborn Trilogy at all, and it's been the most exciting fantasy series I've come across since Harry Potter and Twilight. I'm usually pretty good at anticipating things, enough that a lot of stories seem predictable to me. I had lots of theories and predictions about this book, how it would wrap up the series, and they were, without exception, wrong! Which I think was awesome. The only author I've discovered who compares in his/her ability to interlink plot details, have unexpected twists, etc. is J.K.Rowling, and I can't give Sanderson much higher praise than that. Some of the things that happened gave me big AHA moments that were lots of fun.

As with the other books, the action is awesome. Allomancy is cool, and the battle sequences are awesome. You learn too about more about Ferrochemists and also about Hemalurgy, which is all unique to these books. Some of the details get a little macabre, so probably still PG-13.

I also love the characters in these books. They seem so real to me, with well developed personalities, and also with personal struggles and developments. This book especially shows Sazed and Elend as they deal with things that test their metal (haha - metal - ok so not funny unless you've read the books). As with the other books, the setting, subject matter, and way things are handled is original and amazing. Pretty much the only other thing I can think to say without spoiling anything is that you won't be left with much of anything unresolved in this one - only enough for Sanderson to someday write sequels, but they aren't needed to wrap up the series.

Top marks again for this one. Way to go, Brandon Sanderson, and thanks to Paul and Danny for recommending this series to me!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

The Well of Ascension - Mistborn 2

Whoah! Yeah. Whoah. Not at all what I was expecting in The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson. At all. If the first book of the Mistborn Trilogy, The Final Empire, hung on to fantasy genre stereotypes by a thread with an older mentor and an orphan hero with magical powers, that thread was cut completely as this book got going. Awesome story. As is often the case with trilogies, this is a darker story than the first, but full of unexpected twists and quite different from anything else I've ever read. The themes of betrayal, trust, love, belief, and friendship that were so important in the first book are back, the characters get more interesting (as if they weren't already so dynamic in the first book) and the things that happen, well, not at all what I was expecting.

One thing I have enjoyed a lot is the relationship/romance at the middle of this story. The romance doesn't take over the story like it kind of does in Stephenie Meyer books, or be simplified and silly like in Eragon and Eldest of the Inheritance trilogy, but is still critical to the plot, and the difficulties they have to overcome are, to me, very easy to identify with - thoughts about whether they deserve each other, each one trying to make self sacraficing decisions because of what they think is best for the other, etc. And it meshes seamlessly into the overall plot for a combined effect of me not being able to wait to find out what happens next.

As far as a production goes, I'm used to the reader now, though he's still no Jim Dale. I give it 5 out of 5 for story and 4 out of 5 for audio production for a 9 out of 10 total. The first book had some gore and violence that made me say early teen for age appropriateness. This book has a little more mature content including a libidinous bad guy so still probably PG13 or so.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson

I had heard good things about "Mistborn: The Final Empire and its sequels from my brothers, so I went into the experience with fairly high expectations. I think I got what I was expecting. It's not so cookie-cutter like a lot of fantasy is. Brandon Sanderson starts off with the question "what if the epic hero who was to overthrow the evil before it took over the world failed in his quest?" A thousand years later the world is not so pretty a place, and people are enslaved to the ruling class, and THEN a hero arises. That in itself wasn't enough to make a totally unique story line - it ended up kind of like Star Wars episode IV in some respects - you have an orphan hero who is awaken to latent powers the average person doesn't have, who rises from obscurity with a more experienced mentor who has suffered great personal loss to the evil ruler. So the basic framework is similar, but I was still pleasantly surprised with how it all came together. I think what made it more unique is the kind of powers this centers around - rather than your typical magic or dragons or the force or other such run-into-the-ground powers, this book centers on Allomancy - certain people can ingest metals and use powers the derive from them - some can have great strength, others hightened senses. Some can influence emotions, some can push or pull metals, and some can do all of it. That's just not something I've seen before, so it made it cool.

The audiobook production is not bad. I wasn't a huge fan of the reader at first - his tone seemed like he was trying to sound dry and witty all the time, but I got used to it pretty quickly and settled in to enjoy the story. He doesn't detract from the story like some do, but doesn't really add to it either. Still, all in all, an enjoyable book - probably 8 out of 10.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Host, by Stephenie Meyer

This book totally took me by surprise - one of the most entertaining audiobooks I've come across, period. I knew from reading the Twilight series what kind of an author Stephenie Meyer was, and how the romantic storyline was central to the plot of those books, and kind of expected a science fiction book that was more romance than science fiction, but still entertaining. Instead what I got was an entertaining and gripping science fiction story that had me riveted and anxious right up until the end of the book. I kept wishing I was reading the book instead of listening to the audiobook, not because the performance was lacking (it was top quality) but because I wanted to be able to get through it faster. Many times I realized I had been holding my breath when it was tense, or laughing, or gasping.

I thought Orson Scott Card had the prize for a wacked out romance that I could enjoy when, in Children of the Mind, Miro was in love with a bodiless soul that lived in the computers, and at the same time, with a soul-less body that was animated from afar by his stepdad. Weird, right? Well, in this book you have an alien parasite not able to entirely subdue the consciousness of its host human body who is in love with a member of the resistance and has a brother there too who she also loves and misses terribly, and then they get involved with others and it gets messier. Don't worry though, it's also got giant clawbeasts, underwater dragonfly dolphins, alien vivisections, mutilated bodies and brains, and all the gooey stuff you expect from science fiction, and yet somehow Stephenie Meyer managed to make it not seem gooey. It was awesome.

I give this one a ten all around - the story is awesome and the audio production is flawless. The characters are believable, sympathetic, and realistic, and the story is intriguing and enthralling. It's clean too - little if any swearing, sex, or other material I'd have to shelter my children from. Way to go Stephenie Meyer!

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Children of the Mind - by Orson Scott Card

Other than Ender's Game, this is my favorite of the Orson Scott Card books that I've read. Of course, that would be like saying that Return of the King is the best of Tolkien's books - neither book stands alone and is only great because of the earlier books in the series that build up for it. This book is a lot of fun though. It neatly wraps up the Ender story, it deals mostly with the death or survival of one of my favorite characters (Jane), and keeps going with the nature of the soul and faster than light travel and all that that is developed in Xenocide. Still, remember the frog in hot water analogy - in Ender's game it all seems pretty normal - not a far stretch. By the time you get done with this book, you'll have swallowed a romantic storyline involving a guy who is simultanesouly in love with a disembodied genderless soul existing in the computer network and a soul-less woman body operated from a distance by a man's soul--yeah, it's wacko, but somehow it seems not so wacko in the storyline. Makes me laugh, but somehow Card pulls it off and makes it quite interesting and entertaining.

The audio production is great - adds to the story nicely, making this a great audiobook.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Xenocide, by Orson Scott Card

For me, Xenocide is a fun book. It's like the parable of the frog in cold water that will stay in while it heats up - the science fiction starts out pretty easy to swallow in Ender's game, and gets deeper and deeper through Speaker for the Dead and now Xenocide. It's off the charts in the next book. The thing is, I like where Orson Scott Card took it. He talks about philotic physics in Ender's Game, and again in Speaker For The Dead, but only as a way of communication. In this book, he delves deaper into it, including discussion on the nature of life, faster-than-light travel, the nature of the soul, unity or one-ness, and other things like that. The thing that I find secretly entertaining about it, though, is that what he's actually done is use some obscure Mormon scripture references about the nature of truth and intelligence and matter and make them a basis for the science fiction in the book. He says he wasn't serious about it, that it was just having fun, and that's what it is. I read criticism that he makes some logical leaps that remove it from real physics and put it into metaphysics, but honestly, it's fiction, people, and the grasp on physics as we know it was thrown away for Ender's game, let alone any sequels. What he has done, in my opinion, is make a universe where instant communication and travel are possible within the logic and rules of science in that universe, and where there's a scientific basis to believe in the soul.

There is a storyline in the book - a few characters on a parallel world with Chineese culture - that bogs down for me a little, but fortunately, that is dropped after this book and the next one focuses on the root of the story, except for one character who comes from that world who is central to the next plot.

SO I enjoy it, and it sets the stage for the next book which is also very fun, and wraps up the whole rebellion of Lusitania, and impending death of Jane storyline quite well.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Speaker for the Dead - by Orson Scott Card

I really like the audiobook production of Orson Scott Card's books. They have probably 6 or 8 different readers, and it alternates between them depending on whose perspective the story is being told from at the time, and it has the effect of giving real voices in my mind to the different characters. No cheesy sound effects, and unabridged, and read very appropriately without overexcitement, and yet without monotone.

As far as the story, this is heavier science fiction than Ender's Game - I like to tell my kids that the aliens in it are called buggars and piggies. They think that's pretty funny. Though it is a sequel, it is a completely different story, more removed than, for example, the Lord of the Rings is removed from the Hobbit. Still, no laser guns, no sex with aliens, no green goo, none of the things that science fiction is made fun of for, it's more like historical fiction set in the future, and involving aliens. What I like about the book is that it is about discovery - the discovery of a family's secrets that have been causing pain until they get exposed and dealt with, and the discovery of the thought and culture of an alien species that was not understood at all, not because the information wasn't there, but because viewed through our human perspective and forced to fit into our way of thinking, it made no sense at all. If you want gun battles and explosions, this book is not for you. But I find it intrigueing and interesting, and it sets the stage for the books that come afterwards, which I find even more so.

10 points for the audiobook production, 8 points for story, for 9 overall.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Diamond of Darkhold, by Jeanne DuPrau

I have to give Jeanne DuPrau credit for finishing off the series nicely with the Diamond of Darkhold. I was a little concerned with what direction she might take things - after finishing the Prophet of Yonwood, I looked up the wikipedia article about it and corrected a bit of it, and saw there a spoiler about this book that had me quite concerned. Turns out it was more a spoiler about the afterword, and it didn't affect the story as much as I thought it might. I hate spoilers. Anyway, I was very interested in the book, the question that kept me going the whole time was this: If you were going to leave one thing to help a post-apocalyptic population recover from the nearly complete decimation of the world's population, what would it be? Or another way of putting it, what one invention of modern society has made the biggest difference in the advance of technology? Hmm...
In this book, Doon and Lina go back underground looking for they don't know what. The adventure that they have is gripping, making it hard to stop reading (or listening) which is to me critical for a good book. In the end, things are wrapped up nicely, questions answered, and a feeling of comfort about the future of the characters is given that was missing from the first books, since they weren't intended to be the end of the series. I do hope, though, that Jeanne DuPrau is not done writing about this world she's created, because I like how things ended up and thing that there's a potential for some really cool futuristic stuff. I'd also like to see a novel that depicts the events of the great disaster, around the time that the people of Ember go under ground in the first place, since that's what I was expecting from the Prophet of Yonwood, but didn't get.
The reader, Katherine Kellgren, does a fine job. No complaints there. I'd give it a 6 or 7 out of ten then considering story and narrator.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card

Ender's Game is probably my favorite science fiction book. Set a few hundred years from now, in the aftermath of an alien invasion that was repulsed, but only just barely, it follows the childhood schooling of a boy who was allowed to be born in the first place, despite the laws limiting population, in hopes that he would have what it took to lead the military space fleet to victory when the aliens return. Though it sounds pretty out there, the book is not so much into the physics of space travel or the biology of the aliens - there's no spaceship captain sleeping with exotic aliens or anything. Instead, it's about the development and personal struggles of a genius boy taken from his parents in early elementary school and thrown into a school for prepubescent military geniuses whose education is centered around a zero-G laser tag game.

I'm not really sure what makes this so good. I think it's because I identify with Ender. And I don't think it's because I'm a genius, so much as the way the book is written it makes you feel like you are a genius like Ender, and that you are living through it with him. And there's a lot of tension and fear in the book - can Ender save humanity from destruction? Can he save himself from murderous jealous fellow students? stuff like that. I really like it. Call me crazy.

The audiobook is read by several people, depending on whose perspective the story is being told from at the time. All the readers do just fine. It's a good production. No need for cheesy sound effects to embellish it.

This is not a book, though, that I would let my pre-teen kids read, as ambitious as they are about reading. There's a lot of bad language in it, and a lot of locker-room type situations, what with a fight in the showers, and prepubescent machismo in the dorms and stuff. I don't feel like it necessarily detracts from the story, but I want my kids to have a little more maturity before they can swallow it and enjoy the story. Call it PG-13 I guess.

Overall, 10 out of 10. Excellent read, excellent audiobook.

Monday, March 23, 2009

The People of Sparks - by Jeanne DuPrau

This book was interesting, though a little bit disappointing after City of Ember. It's about a post-apocalyptic society trying to survive with pre-industrial revolution level of technology, but with pieces of stuff that still works from before the disaster - towing trucks with oxen, for example. The story is really about what happens when the people from Ember try to mix with those who survived the disaster, and the conflict that arises. The story is plausible, but to me the dialog and the emotions and interaction between characters seem simplified, as if written for a very young audience - maybe third grade level or so. I think that part of that, though, is due to the reading style of Wendy Dillon. Her voices are too diminuitive, and her intonations make it sound like she's reading to children. I haven't actually read this one - I was waiting to post a review until I had read the paper version to see if I got the same impression, but I gave up - haven't had much reading time lately.

I'm hopeful that the next book, the Diamond of Darkhold, will pull the series out of the slump I feel right now. Otherwise, I'll recommend that you stop after City of Ember and read the wikipedia synopsis of the others if you want to know what happens to Dune and Lina and the Ember crowd.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Prophet of Yonwood, by Jeanne DuPrau

This book is a prequel to the City of Ember and the People of Sparks, though written afterwards. Honestly, I found the story to be a disappointment. It starts out looking as if it were to deal directly with the events that led the people to take refuge underground. Clues are given, things happen that seem important, and then they're dropped. Then it spends the rest of the book focusing on the events of a little town called Yonwod where a girl had a vision of the destruction of the world and the religious zealots in the town take advantage of it to promote their agenda. The story was OK, not great. Then in the afterword it deals more with the process of getting people to Ember and getting the world destroyed - the clues are picked up, explained, and resolved and it's all over. It left me feeling like the book that should have been written was missed and instead we have this less interesting story about a religions zealot and the town she opresses, and the girl who saves the town.
I don't see an anti-religion message so much as a use-your-brain-about-it message, which I think is great and all, but the story just wasn't worth the trouble in my opinion.
Thankfully this one is read by a different woman from the City of Ember and the People of Sparks. The reader does a fine job and doesn't detract from the story like the reader of the first two books. No objections there. I'd give the story 3 out of 10, the reading 7 out of ten, for a generally lackluster audiobook.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Fire of the Covenant, by Gerald N. Lund

Just warning you before you get started: this book is not easy to read. If you've read the Work and the Glory series, also by Gerald Lund, then you know his style of historical fiction - to create a small number of fictional characters and then to place them in the middle of all the historical events that happen, and to do so with detail and realism that makes you feel like your best friends were there going through it while you looked on. That is true of this book as well, only the events that unfold are not pleasant, not pretty. The story has been described as the worst tragedy of the settling of the west, which I guess is up for debate, but as you go through the book and get to know these people, and then walk with them as they die of exposure to the cold, the whole time having faith that they're doing the will of the Lord, it's really tough.

I listened to this about a year ago, and didn't have the heart to listen to it again, though it was very very good, till just recently. I think the second time is harder than the first, since you know going into it which characters don't make it through. The parts that shake me up the most are two - one where the company has to continue on despite the fact that a 7-year old boy is missing, and the dad stays back to search the plains for his son while the wife and the rest of the family moves on with the handcart company, and two - as a six year old boy freezes to death while riding piggy back on a man's back as they hike through the cold. I can't help but picture my boys' faces who are the same age as these people. I had hoped that these were the fictional characters, but they weren't. And they seem so real. It drives home the lessons that the Prophet, Joseph Smith Jr. taught about trials and sacrafice:

"You will have all kinds of trials to pass through. And it is quite as necessary for you to be tried as it was for Abraham and other men of God, and (said he) God will feel after you, and He will take hold of you and wrench your very heart strings, and if you cannot stand it you will not be fit for an inheritance in the Celestial Kingdom of God", and " a religion that does not require the sacrifice of all things never has power sufficient to produce the faith necessary unto life and salvation."
It makes me think - could I do it? Can I do it? What will my tests be? and do I have what it takes to pass? It's very, very humbling to me. I guess that's the point Gerald Lund wanted to drive home.
So, not that it has to be said, but excellent book, and the audiobook production of it is very good. It's hard to rate it up there with the fantasy books and scifi books that I read for entertainment only becasue it runs so much deeper, but if you're up for it, it's an excellent story that reaches into your heart in very personal ways if you let it. I think I need some more light-hearted fantasy now though.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia - by C. S. Lewis

I never read The Chronicles of Narnia as a kid. I'd heard of them, but honestly, my big sister liked them, and she also liked Little House on the Prarie, and so I wrote them off, being a cool boy and all. This meant that I was starting into them with no idea what to expect when I started reading them to my son a few years ago. I was blindsided by the religious allegory, and in a very nice way. I was very impressed with the book. The language and reading difficulty is targeted to late elementary school or early middle school reading level, but the story appeals to all ages. The books move quickly and can be read in 3-4 hours each if you read as fast as I do anyway. They're light and pleasant, engaging and fun. The audiobooks are read by professional actors and very nicely done, including consistent voices and appropriate intonation. I'd give the story 8 out of 10 only because it's not as complex and interwoven as books I rate higher, and the audiobooks 9 out of 10 for quality.

The Magician's Nephew is the first in the set chronologically and probably my least favorite in the series. It really is the back-story to the other books, most of which were written earlier. It deals mostly with characters not in the other books, which is probably why it doesn't seem as interesting to me, though it is still worth the read. One fun thing about this one - it's read by the same guy who plays Professor Lockhart in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the most widely known in the series, and for good reason. Great story, and they did a good job with the movie. The atonement allegory is all but impossible to miss, and there's plenty of peril, adventure, and fun. My son cried and cried when I read the chapter, the Triumph of the Witch, which blindsided me since I didn't know it was coming, but I did understand the allegory and it made a powerful teaching moment.

The Horse and His Boy is my favorite of the books. It occurs after the main events of the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but before the end of the book, and involves in a minor way the major characters from the story, focusing instead on a storyline and characters independent of the other books. It has a very powerful scene, in which the hand of Aslan (who represents Jesus) in the life of the main character that gives me the chills. It also has two of my favorite quotes: "He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another harder and better one," and "Years later, when they were grown up, they were so used to quarrelling and making it up again that they got married so as to go on doing it more conveniently."

Prince Caspian is another popular one, the second made into a movie (although they took some big liberties in how they cut and pasted the plot together for the screen play), it has the same kids as the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, and makes a great story.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is another personal favorite - close runner to the Horse and His Boy. Lucy and Edmund are back from the last two books, as is Caspian and Reepicheep, one of my favorite characters. This book will make an odd movie since it's more like a series of adventures along the voyage rather than a single building plot. Makes a great book though. My favorite thing about this is Eustace's experience with Aslan, and its allegory in the christian world of losing yourself to find yourself, and of putting to death the natural man and being born again. And the dark island where dreams come true - that part of the story to me is bone chillingly frightening, which of course makes it another favorite part of the books.

The Silver Chair kind of gets lost in the middle in my mind, but I find when I read it (or listen to it) I love the story. I love how it shows that the daily hum drum can distract us from remembering what's really important, sometimes with disastrous consequences. Puddleglum is another of my favorite characters too.

The Last Battle is an interesting story. In this book, the religious allegory is impossible to miss. I wonder how they'll make it a movie without it being highly religious. Read by Patrick Stewart, otherwise known to me as Captain Picard of the Starship Enterprise.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Fablehaven III - The Grip of the Shadow Plague

Way to Go Brandon Mull! This one is my favorite in the series so far, and has me chomping at the bit (no reference to the centaur on the cover) to read book 4 due out in a couple of months. In this book, it becomes apparent just how involved and interwoven the plot is. Back story is introduced and interwoven in the plot in a way that I think is very original, and is actually my favorite thing about this book. I want a prequel that goes way back before the Sorensens were caretakers now!! More Patton! Of course, with how the backstory has become significant, I'm sure we'll be hearing a lot more about it in the upcoming books. Maybe when he's done with the series he can go back and write some prequels? Also In this book we get a look at other organizations, preserves, etc, with more mythical creatures that are appropriate to the culture where the preserves are, which I thought was great - Jackalopes, Kachinas, etc. Awesome. Plus the characters really seem to have come in to their personalities in this one - in the first book, Seth seemed flat and shallow, for example. You see other sides to his personality in this book and he becomes a real person to me, and this is true across the board. Really this book leaves me with no complaints.
As far as the audiobook is concerned, the reader also seems to have come in to his element in this one. Maybe it's because by now I'm so used to him that I don't notice him at all, or maybe he's doing a better job. There are numerous character voices and accents introduced in this book and he's believable and consistent. So all around I'd give this one a 10 - giving Harry Potter a serious run for his money (or Jim Dale and JKR since Harry doesn't actually get paid)
Nice job Brandon Mull!

Monday, January 19, 2009

Fablehaven II - The Rise of the Evening Star, by Brandon Mull

I figured this would be the book that would make or break the series for me - the first book was fun, and original, but either Brandon Mull would get stuck in a rut and run out of new ideas, and become trite and run-of-the-mill, or he would pull another great story out of his mind with new ideas and more excitement. Turns out that not only did he pull it off, he did it with splendor. His original fantasy world is more believable, more rich, more complex and interconnected than I had hoped, with rich characters, interwoven plot threads, and a greater story than just the plot of each book, and yet each book stands alone as a great story too. I especially liked the inverted tower part of the book - I've had a recurring dream that I wanted to make into a story where I had to go up against evil creatures to overthrow the big bad guy at the end of several challenges, each more life threatening, and each deeper under ground in an inverted tower, and thought to myself that it would make a great story. Thanks, Brandon Mull, for writing the story for me!
As far as the audiobook is concerned, the reader's performance leaves less to be desired than the first book - more voices, more characters, more accents, and less overblown enthusiasm. If you're not hooked on the series after the first book, you should be after this one. I think it's great. 9 out of 10 all around!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fablehaven, by Brandon Mull

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. It was published through Deseret Book-affiliated companies, so I figured it wasn't good enough to get picked up by a larger, national publisher. My son read the series, as far as it has been released, and was nuts about it, so to be honest, I kind of wrote it off as a kids' story. Then Liz read it and said it was good so I gave it a go. It was much better than I was expecting. I was expecting characters with no depth and a contrived plot that just follows archetypes of fantasy literature, and what I got instead was a unique fantasy world that, thought it has your normal mythical creatures in it, does it in a fresh, new way, and with characters who are pleasant, believable, and interesting. I give the story a 9 out of 10.

The audiobook is not quite up to what I would like. The narrator puts a little too much enthusiasm into his inflection, making it feel every now and then like he's reading to young children. His voices, though, are good, and for the most part, doesn't detract from the story. I'd give his narration a 7 out of 10, for a combined score of 8 out of 10 for this audiobook. It's worth the money.