The Creative Fire

The Creative Fire: Book One of Ruby’s Song By Brenda Cooper

Ruby grew up gray. She will service the ship. Without the grays, nothing would happen. There would be no clean water. There would be no fruit. Without the grays, the Creative Fire, the great generational ship, will never find home.

They’ve been gone for hundreds of years. No one remembers what the stars look like. None of them know what a bird looks like. They all long for home.

And one more thing: They long for freedom.

The reds control the grays. They beat them. They rape them. Whatever the reds want, they take. Sure, there are a few kind reds, but they are the exception to the rules. And Ruby’s heard rumors that there is another color. There are people who are allowed to wear blue, people who command even the red.

Ruby has one talent: She can sing. And when she sings of freedom, she may spark a rebellion. But any rebellion that happens in a spaceship must be very careful; damage the ship, and they all die.

The more Ruby sings, the more attention she gets. But will that attention lead to freedom… or everyone’s death? Continue reading

A Bandit’s Tale

A Bandit’s Tale: The Muddled Misadventures of a Pickpocket
by Deborah Hopkinson

Rocoo Zaccaro might be a scoundrel. He was denounced by the leading man of his Southern Italian town. His father disowned him and sold him to go to America with a padrone. Once there, he ended up as a pickpocket. Then he targeted women. And then he ended up in the House of Refuge. So, you’d be excused if you thought him a low-life nothing.

But then again, maybe there’s more going on here. What’s Rocco’s connection with Meddlin’ Mary, the girl determined to help the horses of New York City? What’s his connection to Jacob Riis, the newspaperman with the new invention: a flash camera?

And what does he have to do with the Battle of Bandit’s Roost?

All Rocco asks is that you keep a mind as he tells his story. You might be surprised. Or maybe you’ll be disappointed. Either way, you might learn a thing or two about how a pickpocket gets by, and how New York City was changed forever by just one photograph. Continue reading

Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape

Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape: Attack of the Alien Horde
by Robert Venditti
Illustrated by Dusty Higgins

All over the world, parents tell their scared children, “Don’t worry. Gilded will protect us.” For fifty years Gilded has been the only superhero on the planet, centered in Atlanta, Georgia. The golden one has protected innocents from natural disasters, crime waves, and cats caught in trees.

Miles really doesn’t care. He and his dad just moved. He’s starting seventh grade in a new school, and of course he’s the smallest seventh-grader there. And of course on the first day the bully zeroes in on him. And of course he gets detention. And, yes, his dad picks him up from school and has to drive Miles out to his worksite to finish work. And as his dad works on the electrical in a parking garage, an alien attacks Atlanta.

An alien! There are aliens?!

And of course Gilded is there to defend. And as they battle, they crash into the parking garage. Both lie dying as Miles rushes to the scene of the destruction. Gilded’s cape falls off… and suddenly Gilded is an old man. “Take the cape. Figure it out. I did.”

Miles must learn to become Gilded, because the world needs its hero – now more than ever. Continue reading

Airborn

Airborn
by Kenneth Oppel

Matt Cruse is lighter than air. His father fell to his death working on an airship, and Matt is only ever at home where he can feel his father with him: in the sky. He serves as cabin boy on the Aurora, the finest passenger airship to fly the skies. On the ground he can’t sleep; he’s too confined. But in the sky!

One night they rescue an old man adrift in a hot air balloon. He raves of creatures that belong in the sky and never touch the ground. A year later, his granddaughter rides the Aurora as a passenger, and she’s determined to find what her grandfather raved about. When pirates attack, Matt’s only hope might be that the raving old man was right.

In this novel, Kenneth Oppel writes a romance to the sky. This adventure story will leave you in love with the winds and longing to leave the ground. I wish that airships – gigantic blimps the size of the Titanic – were around. Oppel through thorough research and vivid imagination, has constructed a marvelous empire of airships. I love his nods to maritime and nautical adventures, but keeping things up in the air instead. If you’re a fan of Master and Commander and its ilk, but still love fantastic elements in stories, you’ll want to check this novel out for the setting by itself!

The setting does not shine alone. His characters feel real and attractive. Matt Cruse serves as an instantly likable protagonist. Through his eyes we fall in love with the heavens. He is clever, kind, and hates the earth with a passion. Kate De Vries, the second lead character, grates – but by design. Her headstrong ways annoyed me quite a bit, but again, they were well within the character Oppel designed for her. Her character arc seems far more dramatic than Matt’s. The other crew and characters all shine. The pirates have the right balance of menace and dashing adventure.

And the plot. Oppel has written a book I don’t think I ever could. He surprised me over and again with new plot twists, but didn’t pay as much attention to what I thought would be the star attraction of the book. It’s to his credit that I don’t feel disappointed! His pacing worked well. I never found myself bored.

The book feels like a swashbuckling adventure in the sky. If you remember Talespin with fondness, do yourself a favor and check this out. It’s aimed at 7-8th grade boys, so it is a fast read, but a fun one and worth your time.

Orphan’s Song – A Review

Orphan’s Song

Imagine there is a song that embodies the power of the world. Imagine that to sing that song is to touch the power of creation and change the nature of things around you – to heal the broken, to prevent harm to others, to affect the actions of others and sense when people are near. Imagine that you alone can hear the song, and your voice alone can sing it.

This is the life of the orphan Birdie, the main character of Orphan’s Song by Gillian Bronte Adams, first book in the Songkeeper Chronicles. Birdie has lived her twelve years with the mystery of the song that only she can hear, the ward of a less-than-kind innkeeper. Her only friend is an itinerant peddler, who holds his own secrets, who becomes her protector when soldiers of the evil ruler, the Takhran, come seeking Birdie.

If this sounds like your classic coming of age fantasy story aimed at adolescents, I can’t argue with you. The recipe is adapted a little, but it’s still the same cake we’ve eaten before. There’s a gryphon (or is it a hippogryph?), a magic sword, a streetwise urchin, and a stirring rebellion; in short, many of the classic elements of a good ol’ fantasy adventure story.

Continue reading

A Sort of Semi-Review of The Storm by Frederick Buechner

Until recently, I had never read anything by Frederick Buechner. Because some of his most ardent admirers are people who I highly respect, I decided I should give him a try. My local library only has one book by him – The Storm – and so I tore through the first half riding across Montana returning from a long road trip. I finished up the second half over several days, slowed down a little by a quick rerun of The Tempest to catch the parallels.

I’m sure there have been plenty of reviews detailing all the ways Buechner masterfully draws from Shakespeare’s play, so I won’t go into that here. But in case you haven’t read The Storm, let me give you a two sentence summation: Kenzie, a writer and a ragamuffin, is well into old age, living off his wife’s money in his wife’s home on an island off the Florida coast. His past catches up with him in the form of his estranged brother, his illegitimate daughter, and a massive Atlantic storm, which all converge on the night of his birthday party.

The most striking thing about the book, as I found it, was the reality of the characters – they felt genuine, alive, human. Buechner applies Shakespeare’s method of giving each character a certain standout quality – Kenzie with his hair and mustache and too large face and brooding nature, Dalton with his hyper-organization and perfect dress sense – while at the same time filling out their personalities and histories. Each becomes a very real person with flaws and gifts and unresolved struggles.

This is where the story shines. It is a story about redemption and reconciliation, but isn’t contrived. There is no climactic moment in which two characters finally speak their peace and issue forgiveness to each other in eloquently scripted words, a la the thirty minute sitcom approach. It is simply authentic and mirrors our own experience. Sometimes the things we’ve held on to for so long simply fade in significance when we are confronted with the deeper realities of life on the fallen earth. In the end, this makes Kenzie’s statement about a happy ending in a world not famous for them all the more moving.

The Storm is a beautifully messy book. The story is well crafted, and there are many passages where Buechner shows his mastery of language. Yet, he breaks all the “writing rules” with abandon (“Show don’t tell! How do you get away with whole chapters without dialogue?”). There is no clear resolution to the story, it just sort of ends. And though it has clear religious overtones throughout, it ends with ambiguity in the message, at least as far as spiritual matters are concerned.

Yet, that beautiful messiness itself conveys the message at the heart of the book – that life is not often neat and tidy. It does not often follow straight roads, and those roads are seldom smooth. It is full of trials we don’t expect, graces we don’t deserve, and moments where the mundane is shattered by the imposition of the miraculous. It is not famous for happy endings, but once in a while the pattern is broken, to remind us who is guiding all things to the incredible ending he has in store. It is like a book that doesn’t follow the rules. It isn’t always pretty, and sometimes it is painful, but at the end there is peace.

Parasite

Parasite
by Mira Grant

Everyone has a tapeworm.

Symbogen has genetically engineered the tapeworm that will bring you true health and happiness. It secretes whatever meds you need – never worry about missing a pill! Birth control? Insulin? Antacids? Steroids? Whatever your medical needs, the Symbogen Intestinal Bodyguard is there for you!

In fact, it even brings people back from the dead. Just ask Sally Mitchell! She was braindead. Doctors were convincing her family to pull the plug, when Sally sat up and tried to detach herself from the machines.

(Rumors of her having no memory before that time are unsubstantiated. Pay no attention to such conspiracy theorists.)

Sally lives a normal life with her parents and sister in a normal home. She has a boyfriend and works at a pet shelter! Just imagine, if the Intestinal Bodyguard can give her a normal life after death, what could the Intestinal Bodyguard do for you? Continue reading