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Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones Patrick Carman

13 Sep

 

 

I have just enjoyed a totally awesome weekend and this is due entirely in part to Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones by Patrick Carman. It’s the third novel in his Skeleton Creek series of books.

The first two novels in the series, Skeleton Creek and Ghost in the Machine respectively, changed the way that a story could be told. Indeed, it was a story that went beyond the printed pages of a book.

With a story that encompassed both the written (you get to read Ryan’s journal) and the visual (you get to watch Sarah’s video’s online at www.sarahfincher.com) Carman has created a story and a world that does more than live in our imaginations.

It is the rare cross breed of a novel with multi-media elements that actually works. Both the novel and the multi-media content are top notch. You’ve got your thrilling, mysterious and truly, truly creepy storyline mixed with some incredibly produced videos that only add to the fright.

The same is true of the third novel in the series, Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones. I was a little worried and anxious to see how Carman would change it up a little bit.

The formula for the first two novels was pretty simple: twenty five pages of Ryan’s journal and then a password that would reveal a video at www.sarahfincher.com where you could watch videos that would reveal more of the story.

The same is true…and not so true here. But you know what? It still works. And it pays off in a big way.

For Skeleton Creek and Ghost in the Machine, I was left wanting more video to watch, more to interact with. In terms of looking at the Skeleton Creek Series, as an ARG (or Alternate Reality Game) it was kind of lacking.

Unlike another series (such as the Cathy Series by by Sean Stewart, Jordan Weisman illustrated by Cathy Brigg-which, on a side note, totally rocked) the multi-media portion of Skeleton Creek was pretty lacking.

There is a fan site which is kind of fun, but I always found that I wanted more videos to flesh out the story. Thankfully Carman has heeded my call (and probably lots of others too. I can’t be the only 32 year old that’s reading this series right?) and now there is tons to feast the eyes on.

Inside Ryan’s journal, you get tons of illustrations that highlight the parts of the story and its clues that Ryan and Sarah are working on. And the videos are top notch. More often then not, you get three videos at a time, which is totally cool.

The videos are expertly done. Not only do the ones made to look older genuinely creep you out, the other story central video is very much like the beautifully done Blair Witch Project, which means it’s awesome. The documentary portions actually give you quite a bit of a history lesson, which is actually a very neat angle to the novel.

Thankfully, the real power of Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones is found in the words of the novel themselves. The story rocks along at an incredible pace and you’ll finish it in no time. I myself finished it less than two days.

Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones is expertly done and wonderfully executed in every way. It leaves me thirsting for more. Thankfully I won’t have to be thirsty for very long. The forth (and final?) book in the Skeleton Creek series, titled The Raven, comes out in the spring of 2011 according to Patrick Carman’s website (which has lots of other neat videos to watch too, that give you a look behind the series itself). You can find it at www.patrickcarman.com

You’ll notice that, if you read through this review, that I haven’t actually told you anything of the story of Skeleton Creek: The Crossbones. In fact, I haven’t revealed the plot points of the previous two books either. So what does that tell you?

You’ll have to go read the books and watch the videos to uncover the mystery.

Fang: A Maximum Ride Novel by James Patterson

26 Apr

 

Max is special. She is able to fly.

Part of a flock of children who have been genetically altered so that they are part human and part avian, she and her flock have wings and can fly like birds. They have faced many challenges in the past, but this new challenge will cost them dearly.

While working to promote the plight of the people in Africa, Max is approached by doctor who specializes in gene alteration. He needs Max’s help. And he has a surprise for Max.

Another bird kid named Dylan. The doctor insists that he has been created as Max’s other half.

But Max loves Fang. Their love has grown by leaps and bounds. But Max is conflicted; how can she love Fang when he is like a brother to her? Max is further conflicted when Angel makes a startling prediction:

Fang will be the first to die.

As if all this weren’t bad enough, there is someone else besides the doctor who wants to use the bird kids to their advantage. Someone who will stop at nothing until they are his. Even more bizarre, Jeb, their traitor from the past, returns with startling news of his own.

Max will have to use all of her smart, all of her cunning, so that her entire flock will survive…

I was hesitant to pick up this new adventure by James Patterson. There are a few reasons for this but first among them is the fourth book in the series The Final Warning.

Patterson had written three amazing book in the Maximum Ride Series and then, with the fourth book, switched tactics. Instead of a thrilling plot, monsters and battles, the winged kids are asked to help with environmental problems and ecological issues.

I had serious issues with that book. I don’t mind if an author has an agenda. I do mind if he or she puts that agenda into their books, especially books meant for children. After the dismal fourth book, I wondered if I was going to keep reading.

When Max, the fifth book in the series, came out, I decided to give it a shot. Half the size of the first three novels, it was way better than The Final Warning, but nowhere near as good as the first three books. And it still had that environmental message tacked on through out the novel.

With Fang, the go green message is toned down a little, but not by much. The story is better than The Final Warning and more emotional than Max, but in three hundred pages…not a heck of a lot happens.

This book felt like character development filler for the series. Sure, it was an alright read and took me only a day and a bit to devour, but it lacks the spark of the earlier novels in the series.

I normally make it a practise not to compare books to one another, but in this case I feel justified to do so. Patterson had hit gold with the first three books and has pretty much ruined a great series by filling it with a message. I also feel as if he’s just pumping them out now, putting out another book to get the money.

It’s like he doesn’t care about the characters anymore and is just moving them around the page until he’s gotten to his word or page limit. There is no life to the characters anymore, no oomph, no spark that was so evident in The Angel Experiment, Schools Out Forever and Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. It’s as if The Final Warning, Max and Fang are poor copies of their originals.

I think, in the end, I picked up this book because I had the first five in the series and wanted the set to be complete. I wanted to find out if Patterson could make the series great again.

He hasn’t. When the next book in the series comes out (and there will be a next book I’m sure), I probably won’t be the only one who won’t buy it.

Instead, I’ll remember the series as it used to be.

The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff

2 Sep

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I have just finished an amazing book.

It is part fairy tale, part love story. It is a cross between Charles Dickens and Lemony Snicket. It is part Brothers Grimm and part historical melodrama.

In other words, it is unclassifiable.

I am speaking of The Bride’s Farewell, the new novel by the New York Bestselling, Carnigie Award Winning author Meg Rosoff. This is her fourth novel for young adults, but even there I would say that genre does not suit her.

Meg’s novels are for young adults in that they feature a younger cast of characters. But the themes her books deal with are much more adult; incredibly darker and moodier than most juvenile fiction published today.

Her first novel, How I Live Now, featured a young girl and her cousin that have survived a bombing in a future not unlike ours; and fell in love. Her second novel, Just In Case, concerns a boy who, to escape Fate, reinvents himself; he even imagines an invisible dog for himself that other people can see. Her third novel, What I Was, can be described as a boarding house love story between two boys.

Quite obviously, Meg Rosoff never writes the same book twice.

I was eagerly awaiting to see what Meg Rosoff would give us with The Bride’s Farewell. I wondered what the setting would be. In Rosoff’s novels, the characters and the place around them play equally important roles.

She is a beautiful storyteller. For me, she seems to have written each of her books carefully, choosing each word so that it feels right. Though her books may be short in length (each of her four novels are around the 200 something page count), the emotion and the power in her novels makes the books feel stronger, somehow; more vibrant.

I’m always a little nervous when I begin a Meg Rosoff novel. Since no two stories are the same, I wonder where she is going to take me; what story she is going to tell. Her novels remind me of the novel in verse books written by Ellen Hopkins. Though Rosoff writes in prose, her books mirror Hopkins’ in that they always present us with stories that are engaging, beautifully written and emotionally charged. And each time you open one of their novels you wonder where you are going to end up.

When I read a Meg Rosoff novel, I treat the book as if I am pursuing a gem. So clearly I had high expectations for The Bride’s Farewell. Meg Rosoff’s new novel has been one of my most anticipated reads of 2009.

I am delighted to say that I was not disappointed in the least. 

Quite the contrary, in fact. I think that The Bride’s Farewell is Rosoff’s best book to date. It concerns sixteen year old Pell Ridley who runs away from her home on her wedding day in the year of eighteen hundred and fifty something.

She leaves home with only her horse Jack and her brother Bean, a boy who does not speak. What she returns with is so much more.

I won’t say any more of the plot then that, only to say that you should experience the story as I did. Meg Rosoff writes novels that are not just merely read; they are explored. Each page brings you deeper into the story of Pell and what happens to her that, by the end, you will never want to leave her world. 

Ultimately, The Brides Farewell is really about three things: It is about family and courage. And the incredible power of love.

Through stunning words, vivid imagery, Meg Rosoff has given us a delightful historical novel that reminds us of something important.

She reminds us that we cannot get where we are going, if we do not remember where we came from.

Though the book may seem grim at times, The Bride’s Farewell is ultimately a joyous novel about the search for who we are and the happiness we find at discovering our place in the world.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling

19 Jul

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By now, everyone knows the story of Harry Potter, the orphaned boy sent to live with his horrible aunt and uncle. When he finds out that he is a wizard on his eleventh birthday, his world changes forever, and not necessarily for the better.

While at first Harry is able to get away from the horrible existence he has with the Dursleys, the wizarding world has its own dark secrets underneath the surface that soon come to light.

Each book in the series has grown in size and in darkness, depth of story and character detail. Harry’s sixth year at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is no exception. In fact, this may be his darkest year yet.

At the end of Harry’s fourth year, detailed in “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire,” Lord Voldemort had returned to life, regaining power and strength once more. At the end of “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” the second war had begun and no Witch or Wizard was safe.

At the beginning of “Half-Blood Prince,” two weeks after the ending of “Order of the Phoenix,” Harry is waiting for Albus Dumbledore to collect him at the Dursleys. While Harry is keen to leave, there is something inside him that doesn’t believe he will be able to escape the prison of the Dursleys after only two weeks. Harry is wrong, however, and is soon leaving number four Privet Drive after his shortest stay yet.

After helping Dumbledore bring a new teacher on staff, Horace Slughorn, Dumbledore takes Harry to the Burrow where he is to live out the rest of his summer with the Weasleys. Before entering the Burrow, however, Dumbledore informs Harry that he would like to have private lessons with him this year. When Harry presses Dumbledore on what he is going to be learning this year, Dumbledore is vague, but Harry suspects it has to do with the prophecy he heard the year before: “Neither can live while the other survives…”

With Dumbledore’s private lessons on the horizon, two new staff appointments and Lord Voldemort alive and wreaking havoc on the Muggle and Wizarding world alike, it looks as if Harry’s sixth year will be his most exciting – and dangerous – yet…

Of course, I’ve barely scratched the surface of the plot of this book. To go into further detail would ruin the book for the one or two people in the world who still haven’t read “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” For those people, I say only this: What are you waiting for?

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” actually topped my previous favorite book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” and that’s saying something. While I found “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” to lag in places and a bit too long, I found “The Half-Blood Prince” to zoom along at lightning quick pace. I was finished the book before I knew it and wondered, vaguely, where the rest of it was. Surely, the book couldn’t just end like that, could it?

“Half-Blood Prince” is the best book in the series so far. It’s got action, danger, laughs, love, a painful death; all the things that make fiction great. As well, character development is at an all time high. Gone is surly, angry Harry. The Harry we know and love is back. All the characters are growing up; they are now sixteen years of age.

Though some reviewers didn’t care for the kissing scenes, I felt that they lent a realism to the character development. Rowling is letting her characters grow up along with the readers, instead of having them remain static. This should be heralded instead of looked down upon.

I read the book three times in a row before I felt sated enough to put it down. I figured I had waited two years for this book and I was going to read it as many times as I wanted, thank you very much. Now, with another two year wait for the conclusion to what are the best books I have ever read, I can only wonder this: What will happen next? Only time will tell…

The Tales of Beedle the Bard by JK Rowling

23 Dec

beedle

 

Everyone who has read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows knows about The Tales of Beedle the Bard. A story from the book, The Tale of the Three Brothers, was a pivotal plot point in the novel and a very important clue for Harry as he tried to defeat Lord Voldemort.

Last year, as a way to thank those personally involved with the success of the Harry Potter books, JK Rowling gave out six hand printed leather bound books of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The seventh was auctioned off to Amazon.

Amazon posted in depth reviews of each of the stories and posted pictures of the gorgeous book bound in brown leather and decorated with semiprecious stones. That was the closest that most of us came to The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Fans despaired about not having their own copy of the newest book in the Harry Potter canon.

Then, earlier this year, JK Rowling gave announced that The Tales of the Beedle Bard would be published for the public. Not only would fans be able to now have the much sought after book but all proceeds would go to The Children’s High Level Group, a charity which Rowling founded and helps children in need of a voice.

To say that I, along with millions of other fans, were ecstatic would be putting it mildly. A new Harry Potter book when we all thought it was over. A new Harry Potter book a year after the series had ended, leaving fans what they were going to read now.

Finally, this month, the wait was over. On December 4th, Harry Potter fans were able to buy the book that they had been lusting after for so long: The Tales of Beedle the Bard. I know that I could think of nothing else all day at work except getting my hands on a copy. After work I rushed to the bookstore and bought a copy, hardly believing that I held it in my hands.

Right off, I knew that I was in for something special. The gorgeous blue cover with JK Rowling’s illustrations just cries out to be read. However, it wasn’t until I arrived home that I allowed myself to read The Tales of Beedle the Bard; and what incredible tales they are.

In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, there are five stories:

The Wizard and the Hopping Pot: A wizard learns a lesson about helping others.

The Fountain of Fair Fortune: Three Witches and a Knight learn that we are responsible for our own fortune.

The Warlocks Hairy Heart: A warlock learns that disaster looms when you close your heart to others.

Babbity Rabbity and Her Cackling Stump: A foolish man learns that even magic can not bring the dead back to life.

The Tale of the Three Brothers:  Three brothers learn that it is not wise to tease death.

Each story is truly a wonder of storytelling. Indeed, I enjoyed the stories in The Tales of Beedle the Bard far more than I enjoy the Brothers Grimm. There are several reasons for this but chief among them is the fact that The Tales of Beedle the Bard are far less dark and, though sometimes violent and startling, the stories never fail to charm and captivate.

What is perhaps most incredible about The Tales of Beedle the Bard are the notes made by Professor Dumbledore on each story.

Written eighteen months before his death, the notes are included in The Tales of Beedle the Bard and are incredibly insightful and wonderfully humorous. The notes also give you more insight into some characters from the series and some pivotal plot points.

Insightful, humorous, captivating and charming, The Tales of Beedle the Bard are at once an incredible addition to the Harry Potter canon and the world of literature. As I read The Tales of Beedle the Bard for a sixth time, I am reminded of something I had forgotten.

Magic does exist. All you have to do is open a copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard and fall under its spell.

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

20 Jun

 

Everyone knows the story of Anne of Green Gables: A plucky orphan girl who comes to Prince Edward Island after being adopted by the stern but loving Marilla and her brother Mathew Cuthbert.

Anne is eleven when she comes to Prince Edward Island to be adopted. Mathew Cuthbert, having driven most of the day to the train station to pick up a boy they wanted to adopt, is shocked to find a red haired, freckled girl waiting for him instead.

Not wanting to crush the girl’s tender spirit by telling her she is not wanted, Mathew takes her home and hopes that Marilla will tell her instead. But, things do not go according to plan. Despite plans to send Anne back and get the boy they wanted to replace her, they decide to let Anne stay if she is willing to prove herself.

Thus begins one of the most beloved novels of all time. It is indeed beloved the world over and has been translated into several languages and has never once been out of print since its initial publication in January of 1908.

Having been a long time fan of the movies starring Megan Follows, I had never had the pleasure of reading the actual book. I thought I knew all there was to know about Anne Shirley and her story. Thankfully, I was very wrong indeed.

While looking for something to read in a local bookstore, I saw a display that intrigued me. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Anne of Green Gables, the display held copies of two books: Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson, an authorized prequel and a collector’s edition of Anne of Green Gables. I bought the two books immediately.

In them, I knew I would find a piece of the childhood that I hadn’t been able to have, that I hadn’t experienced. I knew that inside those pages, I would be able to discover something wonderful.

I read Anne of Green Gables first and I wasn’t disappointed. The collector’s edition is a facsimile of the book from when it was first published in 1908 complete with original spelling mistakes and punctuation errors. However, I never saw the errors.

All I was able to do was lose myself in the wonderful, amazing story of Anne of Green Gables. What makes the story so magical I think is it’s wonder, it’s abundant joy. Anne is a remarkable protagonist and from the moment we meet her, we feel for her, ache for her. She is real.

I think that Anne is the child within all of us. As I read Anne of Green Gables (and Before Green Gables) I fell more deeply in love with Anne. She is the embodiment of joy and is just as lovable today as she was one hundred years ago.

When Lucy Maud Montgomery penned Anne of Green Gables, I don’t think even she knew how well the book would do, how much people would grow to love it. I doubt she knew that it would be read by generation after generation for a hundred years.

For me, Anne of Green Gables was sheer delight and pure magic. As I read her story I was transported to another time, another place.

As fresh today as it was a hundred years ago, Anne of Green Gables is a literary treat and perhaps the most enjoyable book I have read in years. I know that I will be reading Anne’s story again and again in the years to come.

For every time I open the book, Anne’s spirit comes alive.

 

 

Maximum Ride: The Final Warning by James Patterson

20 Jun

Maximum Ride is a very special girl.

For one thing, she can fly. Her and five other children (Fang, Angel, Nudge, Iggy and Gazzy) have been genetically altered so that two percent of their DNA is avian. What does this mean? It means that they are able to fly.

In their newest adventure, the flock face their most harrowing nemesis yet. The evil Uber Director, part man and part machine, wants to capture the flock and sell them to the highest bidder.

Unaware of the Uber Directors plans, the flock have problems of their own. The U.S. Government has stepped in and wants to protect them but study them at the same time. The flock wants no part in this; they want freedom and the chance to be like any other kid in the world.

Max’s mother, Dr. Martinez, has a plan. She sends them to work with a group of doctors and scientists in Antarctica. They are studying the effects of Global Warming and feel that the flock could be a great asset to their fight for the planet.

There are also other problems to deal with, however. Max is struggling with her growing feelings for Fang. She loves him but won’t admit it to herself. She also doesn’t know if Fang feels the same way. Added to that, each member of the flock has developed a new ability. The flock seems to be mutating on its own. They are unsure how this is happening or what it means for the flock.

Tragedy strikes when one of the researchers is revealed to be a spy. Max realizes that they are no longer safe and that they will have to prepare to fight for their lives….

The Final Warning is the fourth in the best selling young adult Maximum Ride series by James Patterson. It follows the first three books: The Angel Experiment, Schools Out-Forever and Saving the World and Other Extreme Sports. I love these books and have read them countless times.

Though written for young adults, the Maximum Ride series are for kids of all ages. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of the fourth, and I assumed, final chapter in the Maximum Ride saga. I figure that with a title like The Final Warning, the book would be an incredible cap off to an amazing series.

I was wrong. Though the book is amazing and runs along at a break neck pace, it seems there is no end in sight for Maximum Ride and her flock. I was expecting a concrete ending and what I got was a lose ending that leaves everything open for another book. That’s not a bad thing, though. Personally I can’t wait for another Maximum Ride adventure.

I have only two minor complaints about the book. First, it’s far too short. The three previous books clock in at well over four hundred pages. The Final Warning only clocks in at a little over two hundred pages and all the books are the same price. I figure if I’m getting half the book, it should be half the price.

The second major complaint has to do with the Global Warming sub plot. While I applaud Patterson for putting a very sound environmental message in the book, the message doesn’t go anywhere. The flock don’t do anything to help stop Global Warming and instead are reduced to mouthpieces, sprouting off enough info on Global Warming to fill an environmental dissertation.

I would love to have seen the plot go beyond what has already been established: We meet the Villain, we meet the Hero/Heroine, the Villain and Hero/Heroine meet, and the Hero/Heroine wins. There was so much potential for a mind-blowing book that I don’t think was achieved here.
That’s not to say that The Final Warning is a bad book; far from it. It’s a fantastic read and you’ll be able to finish it off in a day or two of fast paced reading. It’s great candy for the mind and will leave you wanting more. It’s a great book for a rainy weekend where all you want to do is fly off and have an adventure of your own.

Not Patterson’s best effort, but still great nonetheless. I know that I’ll be waiting for the next Maximum Ride novel to come out. In the meantime, I’ll just have to read the first three all over again.