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.