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!

Book Review: Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones

mr-pipWhat a creative novel! Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones is set on a tiny, tropical island called Bougainville, down near New Zealand. The story takes place during Bougainville’s civil war in 1991, while the island is blockaded. All of the Bougainvillians are black, except for one eccentric white man, Mr. Watts. Our narrator is thirteen-year-old Matilda, who lives with her mother. Her father has gone away to work in the “white world,” and has not returned or been heard from in years.

There are about twenty children on the island, and because of the civil war, all of their teachers have fled. As such, the children have not been to school in a long time, and the old schoolhouse is deserted. Here’s where the strange Mr. Watts comes into the picture. Since he’s white, the natives assume he’s educated. In truth, he isn’t. However, he takes it upon himself to reopen the old schoolhouse and attempt to educate the children with only one book, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens.

But Matilda’s mother feels like she’s losing her daughter to her education. She begins to resent Mr. Watts, and finds reasons to disapprove of the content Matilda shares with her from Great Expectations. Soon, the book causes major problems between the natives and the soldiers on the island. I really enjoyed this highly original novel.

Book Review: Dear America: Early Sunday Morning, The Pearl Harbor Diary of Amber Billows (Hawaii, 1941) by Barry Denenberg

earlysundayIt is 1941, and just as Amber Billows and her family are beginning to adjust to their new life in Washington, D.C. (after having moved between multiple other cities), Amber’s father, a quirky Harvard-educated reporter, announces that they are moving yet again, this time to the virtually unheard of U.S. territory of Hawaii. Amber is quick to be upset, but is also quick to adjust to her new life in fair-weathered, lovely Hawaii, especially as she makes friends with pretty and popular Kame, a Japanese-American girl from school. Life is quite ordinary, until the fateful morning when Amber is awoken by a deafening, high-pitched droning sound and her panicked mother calling her out of bed. From that moment on, everything changes in Hawaii, from citizens having to build bomb shelters and carry around gas masks, to waiting in hours-long lines for groceries, medical treatment, and gasoline. Worse, however, are the tragic deaths and wounded sufferings of the soldiers who were stationed at Pearl Harbor, as Amber learns while assisting her mother, a nurse, in treating these men at the hospital.

This is a very short book, and like all of Barry Denenberg’s books in this series, seems to end right in the middle of the story, and even the epilogue doesn’t tie up many of the loose ends. However, this is the best book by Denenberg that I have read so far. I enjoyed Amber’s uniquely flawed personality, the original personalities and relationship of her parents, and even the brief interactions between Amber, Kame, and Kame’s aunt. I did find it odd that Amber was so notoriously bad at writing and responding to her friends’ letters and found all sorts of ways to avoid it, yet wrote extremely detailed and long-winded diary entries. (Though perhaps this was Denenberg’s way of demonstrating Amber’s reluctance of closeness with others, as was frequently demonstrated in this narrative.) A surprisingly enjoyable book, and the December 7 entry is powerful and terrifying. The Historical Note is also extremely well-put and I actually learned more about why Japan attacked Pearl Harbor than I previously understood.

Book Review: Dear America: A Light in the Storm, The Civil War Diary of Amelia Martin (Fenwick Island, Delaware 1861) by Karen Hesse

lightstormTaking place during the onset of the Civl War in Delaware, a border state where both Union and Confederate sympathizers dwell among one another, this story follows sixteen-year-old Amelia (“Wickie”) Martin, assistant to her father, an Assistant Light Keeper. Amelia is content with her life and her many chores and duties among family, school, and the lighthouse, but the strong cultural and political differences between her abolitionist father and Southern belle mother begin to drive a devastating, irreconcilable rift between them, casting her father into darkness and her mother to severe illness and misery, eventually leading to their divorce.

On top of being depressing, virtually two thirds is about weather (literally), which became a bit tedious (unless one is interested in the temperature, amount of precipitation, and direction of the wind on Fenwick Island in 1861, information which this book does provide quite liberally). Amelia kindles a potential romance with a young soldier; however, their relationship ends up  being unfruitful.

The author attempts to draw parallels between the two plot lines of light keeping and the Civil War, but they never truly intersect. While we read some of Amelia’s fears and discomfort regarding the civil disagreements and pending war, the war never affects her light-keeping duties and ambitions, which is what her personal story is really centered around. I would recommend this book to lighthouse enthusiasts.

Book Review: Dear America: Standing in the Light, The Captive Diary of Catharine Carey Logan (Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania 1763) by Mary Pope Osborne

standing“Standing in the Light” is a beautiful story that stands (no pun intended) on its own, even outside of the DA series. In this diary, thirteen-year-old farmgirl Caty is just like any other Quaker girl in her Delaware Valley, Pennsylvania society, until she and her seven-year-old brother Thomas are abducted by Lenape Indians. At first, she detests the “savages” who stole her from her home and altered her entire life as she knew it, and she dreaded the worst for her and her brother– torture or death. But as the Lenape treat them kindly and incorporate them into their families and village, Caty and her brother learn the Lenape’s ways, become part of them, and begin to love them.

(*SPOILER WARNING*) Caty’s affection for the Indians grows to the point where she falls in love with a fellow English-captive-turned-Native, and is subsequently miserable upon her eventual “rescue” and return home to her family. Because of her transformation among and love for the Indians, no one in her society can relate to her, nor even wants to associate with her any longer.

This book ends sadly. Being one of the few white people in her village with compassion for Natives, she is unfortunately destined for a lonely and misunderstood life. Also evident throughout this novel are undertones of religious and spiritual unity, as this devout Quaker girl comes to understand her Christian God as the same being as the Indians’ Great Spirit, only called by a different name. A hauntingly touching and tragic story, and one which I enthusiastically recommend.