Saturday, September 20, 2014

Waiting for Sequels - The Agony and, Well, the Agony

YA authors just love to write series'. Most of the realistic fiction manages to resolve itself in one book, but all of the adventures and fantasies seem to require at least three books to wrap everything up. It's clever marketing; write a fabulous book, and end it at a logical point that resolves much, but leaves enough questions unanswered that fans will just be stumbling over themselves to buy the next book. Yes, that was me last Tuesday, high-tailing it to Barnes and Noble to buy Rick Yancey's "The Infinite Sea." Give me some credit; I did attempt to buy it at a local bookstore (they need me as their buyer!), but they didn't have it yet, so I bowed at the corporate alter and gave them my $18.99.

I had read the first book, "The 5th Wave," when it first came out. Which means that I have been waiting for some kind of resolution for months and months. When I got "The Infinite Sea," I read past page 100 in the first 24 hours, but since I have a husband, five kids, and a full-time job, I don't have the luxury of just sitting and reading as much as I want.

This is me!
There were also two other books I was actively reading at the time, and two more I was dabbling in, so I am not going to finish it as quickly as I'd like. Here I am at the weekend and you would think I would have the time. But no. There are the potatoes and carrots to pull before the ground freezes, a house that has been neglected all week, and always, always, there is wood to split. Not complaining, mind you; Jack just got me a new splitting maul and it splits wood like it's going through butter. Good clean fun!

Suffice to say, I won't have time to finish and review "The Infinite Sea" just yet, so to tantalize you, I am going to share my review of "The 5th Wave" that I wrote just after reading it for the first time. Yes, I've read it more than once. I liked it so much, and knew my husband would like it too, so I read it out loud to him. The whole thing. But not in one sitting. He loved it! I think you, my loyal readers, would love it too. So, without further ado, here is my initial review of "The 5th Wave," by Rick Yancey.

Aliens have invaded earth in four different waves, obliterating 97% of the earth's population in six short months. Cassie Sullivan is one of the few desperate survivors. She has been separated from her five year old brother, Sam, and her only aim is to get him back. She knows that a 5th wave is probably coming, and that they are all as good as dead, but she promised her brother she would find him, and she wants to fulfill that promise or die in the attempt. When she meets Evan Walker on his isolated farm, she is unsure if he is the answer to her prayers or an enemy in disguise. Meanwhile, we are following another character named Zombie, as he is trained by the ragtag remnants of the U.S. military in a sort of children's army. Questions arise . . . Is Evan for real? Will she find Sam? What is the connection between Cassie and Zombie? And what, exactly, is the 5th Wave?

"The 5th Wave" was painful, heart-wrenching and bleak, yet because of the great development of the characters, it is not a despairing book. Cassie is so sarcastic and self-deprecating, I found myself laughing at her miseries. The occasional flashbacks to her former life show her to be just an ordinary, average teenage girl. She is not as traumatized by events as she could be, because she still has Sam to live for. Zombie, by comparison, has more emotional baggage. His story is darker and more fatalistic. He goes by the name Zombie because he knows he is the walking dead. He only wants to exact as much revenge as possible before he dies for real. The big question becomes, on whom should he be seeking revenge? There are snippets of viewpoints from Sam, and from another character named Silencer as well, which help to flesh out the story.

The scenes involving the children's army, and Sam's experiences at Camp Haven, are the most affecting to me. As a mom, my heart was aching for these children who would never have a childhood. As in most YA books, there is an element of young love and romance, but given the circumstances, that storyline remains very secondary compared with the problem of survival. Most YA books have me all taken in by the romantic angle, but with "The 5th Wave", my main concern was, will Cassie ever find Sam? She must find Sam!!!

Does she find him? I'll never tell. I may be a lot of things, but I am not someone who gives spoilers! Read it yourself. You won't regret it. And if you live in my town, I've got a copy I can loan you!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

So Many Books . . . So Little Time

I love my job. Really, I do. But once the students come back, every spare minute of my day is suddenly sucked into an abyss. Combine this with my own five children who have to be shuttled about, and I suddenly have zero time to read or blog! I'm sure I could improve my time management skills somewhat, but unless I forego sleep, there's just not much wiggle room.

My workouts are also suffering, since it's too freaking dark to run at 5:30 a.m. anymore. The logical thing would be to run in the late afternoon, but by the time kids have been shuttled to their various things, and I get dinner on the table, it's just too late. Homework needs to be done, lunches made, and bedtime enforced!

So, here it is, nearly midnight on a Saturday, and I'm finally able to sit down and do a little blogging. This time I am reviewing the second and third Newbery books I read this summer. They were, "The Cat Who Went to Heaven" by Elizabeth Coatsworth, and "Crispin and the Cross of Lead," by Avi.

"The Cat Who Went to Heaven" is the second of my Newbery books . . . . loved this little story. I'm not sure if Coatsworth invented the story entirely, or if it's based on a Japanese folktale, but it has that dreamy, timeless quality of folklore. The main character in the story, a nameless Japanese artist, muses on the life and death of Buddha, thereby relating many traditional Buddhist stories. Many animals came to pay respects to Buddha as he lay dying, but the cat was not welcome, because the cat, alone of all animals, refused Buddha's teachings. This saddens the artist, who believes his beloved cat has brought him good fortune in life. The cat has even been named Good Fortune.

Compassion is the main theme of this book, and it takes many forms. The old housekeeper has compassion for her master, and he for her. He has compassion for his pet, and finally, Buddha exhibits compassion to Good Fortune, and to all cats.

This book is something more than a picture book, though it has lovely ink illustrations, and something less than a chapter book. It would be a quick read for most kids, though again, as with the last Newbery book I reviewed, it has a limited appeal to modern children.

As of yesterday, the final puzzle piece of my quest to read three Newbery books over the summer is in place! It took me a while to finish "Crispin and the Cross
of Lead," mostly because of a lack of reading time.

It wasn't a slow read because I didn't like it. On the contrary, this was a rich and wonderful adventure, with complex characterizations, and an engaging plot. Historical fiction isn't a big seller with kids nowadays. I think they see it as boring, old-fashioned, and lacking in action. Granted, the language and style is a bit different than in contemporary realistic fiction, but there is plenty of action and intrigue available if you find the right book.

Crispin had been brought up by his mother as a peasant in the small 14th century village of Stromford. He was called only "Asta's Son," and didn't discover his true name until his mother's untimely death. When she dies, mysteries concerning Crispin are suddenly brought to light. He is falsely accused of a crime and is forced to flee for his life. He escapes with only his mother's lead cross, upon which something is written. Like most peasants, he is illiterate, and doesn't know what it says, but he knows that it's important. Soon after hitting the road, Crispin becomes apprentice and surrogate son to Bear, a traveling entertainer. But even Bear's protection is not enough as Crispin's past comes back to haunt him.

I enjoyed Crispin's growth from shy, stuttering outcast to confident and courageous young man. The setting of the story was at a time when the lands were owned by lords, and the majority of the people worked for them, barely scraping by. People were wretchedly unhappy, and Crispin's new master, Bear, is involved in the struggle for change. He encourages Crispin to think for himself and speak truthfully. I also liked the spiritual element of the book; Crispin has a deep and profound faith, but learns from Bear that you can love and trust God without trusting the church, which was horribly corrupt at the time. When Crispin makes a vow, he considers it holy, and that to break such a vow would be mortal sin. That kind of conviction and integrity are in short supply these days!

This story continues in two more books. Though I have heard they aren't as good as the first, I've found the story intriguing enough to want to know what happens next.

I'm really enjoying the old Newbery books, and I'm going to continue trying to read one a month during the school year.