Book Review: Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl #1) by Eoin Colfer

Artemis Fowl (Viking Press, 2001) by Eoin Colfer is the first in an eight-book children’s science fiction series. Born in Ireland, Artemis Fowl is a twelve-year-old boy genius. With the muscle of his manservant, a trained killer called Butler, young Artemis is the criminal mastermind behind innumerable schemes to regain the Fowl family fortune.

When Artemis embarks upon an elaborate scheme to take an elf captain hostage in exchange for a ransom of fairy gold, Fowl Manor is soon under siege by LEPrecon, the reconnaissance division of the “Lower Elements Police.” While the smugly brilliant Artemis is by far the most interesting and entertaining person in the book, the titular character definitely seems to take a backseat in the story and – in my opinion, unfortunately – the book focuses far more on Captain Holly Short, Commander Root, and the colorful, mythical cast of the LEPrecon unit than I would’ve preferred.

All the same, this was a fairly entertaining YA fantasy heist. There were some rather low-brow plot mechanisms that I didn’t think were altogether necessary; then again, I’m a 30-year-old woman, not the book’s intended audience of a 12-year-old boy. From a writing perspective, I was confused that the author wrote in omniscient voice; generally speaking, this practice is avoided. The narrative frequently head-hops between characters, often from sentence to sentence.

The bulk of my enjoyment of this novel stemmed mostly from the lively delivery and delightful array of accents performed by the audio book’s narrator, Nathaniel Parker. I’m looking forward to continuing listening to Mr. Parker’s performance of the series on audio.

Book Review: Annihilation (Southern Reach Trilogy #1) by Jeff VanderMeer

annihilation

I’m so glad I came upon the Southern Reach Trilogy by Jeff VanderMeer. Annihilation (FSG, 2014) is exactly the book I needed on this lazy, cold spring weekend. I read the whole thing in a day, and immediately purchased book #2 on my Kindle the instant I was finished. I plan to devour this series.

If I have one word to describe Annihilation, it is ineffable. Perhaps I don’t read a lot of sci-fi horror, but I’ve never read anything like this book. It captures the deep and dreadful mystery of what it means to be alive. It plays with your mind. The reader can’t be sure whether to trust the narrator, and the indescribable mystery of what the hell is going on in Area X keeps the pages turning and turning.

Our narrator is a nameless biologist who volunteers for a government mission to explore an otherworldly, uncharted wilderness, simply called Area X. Rational thought begins to leave her as she examines the strange new organisms in the land that can’t be defined or classified under any science she knows. As we follow her harrowing story of survival through Area X, her own developing madness and the madness and manipulation of her comrades, more of her melancholy backstory and the horrific expeditions that came before hers float to the forefront.

“Back [in the world], I had always felt as if my work amounted to a futile attempt to save us from who we are.”

– 15%

“’You saw something that wasn’t there.’ She wasn’t going to let me off the hook. You can’t see what is there, I thought.”

– 21%

I won’t spoil anything other than to warn that all the answers aren’t clear by the end of book #1. I kept reading on in hopes for all the puzzle pieces to finally fit together in my brain, but we don’t get anything solid apart from theories. Which, in a way, is a poignant metaphor for life. Luckily, there are two more books in the series that will hopefully unravel the mystery of Area X.

“…some questions will ruin you if you are denied the answer long enough.”

– 84%

Overall, this is a skillfully written, fast-paced yet introspective, almost philosophical adventure/horror of sorts. I would highly recommend this dystopia to readers interested in preternatural science fiction, survival stories, and even monster stories – and to adult fans of The Hunger Games.

Book Review: Brave New Girl by Rachel Vincent

‘…you’re not a mistake. In fact, you’re kind of a miracle. … The girl who shouldn’t exist.’

Trigger 17, p. 152

Brave New Girl (Delacorte Press, 2017) is a YA dystopian novel by Rachel Vincent. The story is about Dahlia 16, a clone who was engineered to become a hydroponic gardener. Dahlia is one of 5,000 identical girls with the same DNA, all designed for the efficiency and productivity of their city, Lakeview.

‘You are just one pixel out of the thousands required to form a clear image, so you need to focus on that image as a whole.’

Cady 34, p. 14

Among the rules of this stringent society are no ego, no individualization, and no fraternizing with people outside their divisions – especially not people of the opposite sex. But when a freak incident traps Dahlia in a broken elevator with a young Special Forces cadet named Trigger 17, Dahlia finds herself facing forbidden feelings she doesn’t even know how to define: fascination, curiosity, and infatuation.

I can hardly imagine how different his classes must be from mine. I learn how to nurture life, and he learns how to take it.

p. 23

‘He’s…beautiful.’ I can’t figure out how else to explain. ‘And he’s dangerous.’

p.33

There’s something different about Dahlia, because her identical sisters don’t understand her feelings for the cadet. But if she wants to be with Trigger, then she must risk everything – including the lives of those very sisters. For, if Dahlia acts on her feelings, her genome will be recalled, meaning every friend she’s ever had will be euthanized.

“‘Faith in the system is ultimately of far more importance than any individual within it.’
What about five thousand individuals?”

p. 126

“I have to know what’s wrong with me. Why my defects will mean doom for thousands of perfectly perfect girls.”

p. 126

With such a steep price to pay – not just for herself, but for so many others – I would’ve hoped for a stronger romance between Dahlia and Trigger. The weakest point of this otherwise imaginative and gripping little novel was that Dahlia and Trigger’s romance fell flat. I had trouble feeling what they felt for each other or understanding why they’d make such tremendous sacrifices for someone they barely knew. The elevator scene that catalyzed everything wasn’t long or impactful enough; Dahlia hardly speaks to Trigger. Their relationship was insta-love, more of a plot device for a sci-fi thriller than the heart of a romance. So, I would’ve liked them to have shared more air-time and chemistry together before turning their worlds upside down for each other.

With that in mind, what makes this book worth reading is the capable dystopian world-building, the twisted revelation at the end, and the writing itself. Vincent’s style of writing in this book shares the same superb, concise simplicity as other YA dystopias, such as The Selection series, Soundless by Richelle Mead (which I know is more of a folktale, but carried dystopian vibes at times), and Atlantia by Ally Condie. This story held some of the best qualities of those books, but mostly reminded me of Delirium by Lauren Oliver – in how the characters aren’t allowed to fall in love, and what it costs them to do so – and Matched by Ally Condie. There were also some elements of The Giver, in terms of the city in which everyone is assigned their distinct roles, and from which escape is near-impossible.

WARNING: Brave New Girl *does* end on a major cliffhanger, so the story is definitely not over when you reach the last sentence! Much of this book does feel like it’s setting up for, or leading up to, the sequel. The sample I read of the sequel actually seems even more interesting (I love Prince & the Pauper-type stories about a working girl colliding with royalty/socialites). All things considered, I had an overall good time with this book and will be reading the sequel, Strange New World, as soon as it comes out in May 2018.

Memorable Quotes

Soldiers are all different from their identicals. They fit in because they’re different. That’s so absurd it almost makes sense.

p. 27

‘The toy soldier who woke up Sleeping Beauty. Too bad the world will never hear that story.’

Wexler 42, p. 178

None of the others were caught kissing a  boy they had no business speaking to. None of the others are running for their lives. None of the others have condemned thousands of their sisters to a hopefully peaceful but very permanent death.

p. 184

Netflix Review: Stranger Things Seasons 1 & 2

StrangerThis is my first TV series review on this book blog. I read far more than I watch TV, this is true. In fact, I don’t watch television at all, unless it’s late night political satire (think Colbert, Bill Maher, John Oliver), and I watch those via YouTube, so my TV is mainly for films. (I’ll admit to being a film junkie –  I’ve watched waaay more movies than I could ever review here.) When several friends and relatives of mine began recommending Netflix’s Stranger Things series to me, I decided to go for a free trial of Netflix and give the first 2 seasons a shot.

I have since watched both seasons twice and, in the last few weeks, have become an all-out obsessed fangirl. My friends say I need an intervention. So, what makes Stranger Things, in my opinion, so flippin’ amazing?

Once upon a time, the Duffer Brothers apparently had the brilliant idea to mash elements of a Steven Spielberg eighties film with child actors, the X-Men, David Lynch’s Twin Peaks, Alien, Dungeons & Dragons, quantum mechanics, and a frightening government conspiracy all together to create an original series that is every bit as creepy, fascinating, funny, suspenseful, disturbing, and endearing as it is entertaining. The story follows a band of lovably geeky eleven-year-old boys in the small town of Hawkins, Indiana in 1983. When one of their party, the sweet Will Byers, suddenly goes missing on the same night we, as the audience, see some kind of mysterious emergency breaking out at a nearby lab, Will’s friends and closest family will stop at nothing to find him. Will’s struggling but devoted mom, Joyce – portrayed by Winona Ryder, who completely embodies the role – solicits the help of the gruff and grieving but (IMO) smokin’ hot sheriff Chief Hopper (played by David Harbour…drool…) to find Will. Meanwhile, his friends sneak out of their homes to search the woods for him at night.

At the same time Will goes missing, a strange girl of the same age with a shaved head appears in the woods, wearing nothing but a hospital gown. Eventually, Will’s friends – Mike, the leader-type; Lucas, the skeptic and voice of reason; and Dustin, the hilariously adorable comic relief – intercept the girl, who barely speaks and whose only identifying factor is a tattoo on her wrist that says “011”. Mike decides to hide Eleven, or “El” for short, in his basement to take care of her. They soon learn El possesses incredible psychic powers. El’s appearance and Will’s disappearance are linked…the kids just have to find out how.

The characters branch out from the kids’ siblings and parents and their relationships and connections to the case, to the villainous government scientists and spies. Don’t let the ages fool you; this show definitely features some R-rated gore, violence, and horror – or at the very least, PG-13. I think it would’ve been way too scary/intense for me at age eleven; then again, every kid is different. Also, there is just as much focus, if not more at times, on the older cast members, making this a fantastic watch for older teens and adults alike.

Both seasons are equally haunting and addictive, featuring terrifying monsters, major eighties nostalgia, characters you really become attached to, super powers, a wickedly epic eighties soundtrack, a somewhat dysfunctional yet charming small Midwestern town, a creepy Twin Peaks vibe, and the perfect blend of humor, drama, horror, romance, adventure, mystery, and sci-fi to keep me utterly invested in every scene. It’s even better the second time around, because I could really appreciate and savor the writing and foreshadowing even more. The only thing that depresses me is that it’ll likely be an entire year before Season 3. Season 2 has a happy pseudo-ending, but the very last shot is a major cliffhanger, so I can’t wait to see what the Duffer Brothers have in store for us next year. Until then, I guess I’m stuck waiting in the Upside Down… Five stars from an alternate dimension to Stranger Things!

Book Review: Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card

speakerThe sequel to Ender’s GameSpeaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card was quite dissimilar from its predecessor. This was likely because the novel takes a more traditional approach to storytelling and features adult characters, instead of children.

To control Earth’s population and spread life around the galaxies, the Starways Congress has colonized one hundred habitable planets with people of different nations. Taking place 3,000 years after Ender’s escapades in Battle School, Ender– now called Andrew (still alive, due to all of the space travel he’s done), is called to a Catholic Portuguese colony on the planet Lusitania. There, the indigenous alien species (called “piggies”) are befriending human inhabitants, then murdering them. Andrew grapples with this mystery, and also becomes entwined with the dysfunctional families living on Lusitania.

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

enderThe only novel I’ve ever loved better than a Harry Potter book, Ender’s Game is my number-one favorite novel. Author Orson Scott Card thrusts us into a future in which humanity is threatened by an alien society, known as “the Buggers” (they resemble giant insects). The Buggers have attacked the earth twice already, so the government is preparing for the Third Invasion by recruiting high-potential children, and training them to become soldiers in an outer space Battle School. Cheated of their childhoods, these children are a generation of warriors, thinking and speaking only of strategy and warcraft on sophisticated adult levels, while they must fight one another in an endless series of simulated battle games in zero gravity.

After six-year-old child genius Andrew “Ender” Wiggin consents to leave the earth and his family to attend Battle School, he realizes that his instructors are deliberately putting him into situations that cause the other recruits to hate him. Detested and out-casted, Ender utilizes his extraordinary talent, intelligence, and skill to win battles, earn respect, and eventually gain a small but loyal following of friends. Young Ender learns that he’s expected to become the greatest soldier of all, and that the fate of humanity – and the earth itself – rests on his shoulders.

Ender’s Game is an epic, intelligent, and masterful work of science fiction, with unforgettable characters and thought-provoking psychological, philosophical, and political concepts. One of the few books I’ve read more than once, and one I strongly recommend!

Author Spotlight: H.G. Wells

timemachineinvisibleI read this Barnes & Noble H.G. Wells omnibus one summer, back when I was in high school. The Time Machine is the story of a time traveler who voyages into the future and meets bizarre human-like species – and almost doesn’t get back to his own time. I could imagine this was the original Star Trek when it first was published. I believe Wells was one of, if not the, first science fiction writers.

The Invisible Man  is another old-school sci-fi,chronicling a fellow who discovers how to make himself invisible. However, he doesn’t use this phenomenon for good, but for bad, and becomes miserable by his predicament.