Guest Blog: Vince’s “As I Read It” – The Leviathan by Scott Westerfield

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I have asked my 16 year-old son, Vincent, to write some book reviews. He is very well-read for his age, and can always be found with at least one book in hand. He has been known to walk into inanimate objects because he had his nose in a book. He prefers fantasy books, but has read a lot of other styles. What follows are his words. Enjoy!

My reviews will be divided into four sections, besides the rating, which itself will be how many stars out of five the series deserves. The first is Basic Protagonist. This one gives a few glimpses at the hero’s basic characteristics, to help determine whether the book would appeal to you. The second is Basic story, to acquaint my readers even to just the setting of the book. The third section is Possible Problem Areas. As the name suggests, this section covers any possible problems with the books. The final section is Good Areas. This area lists all the things concerning style and skill that the author excels at. As I am an avid lover of books, trying to list every positive portion of a book would require several pages of writing, so I have summarized my opinion of the book’s level of readability and enjoyability in the rating. You will never see a rating of 0 stars, since if a book is bad enough to merit that rating, I won’t be making a review of it. The lowest rankings you will ever see in this review are 3 or maybe 2 stars.

 

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The Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfeld

Basic Protagonist – This story has dual protagonists. The first is Alex, who is intelligent and faithful, and timid in all matters except when it counts, when he steps up to the plate quite bravely and does what needs to be done. The second is Devyn, who is brave, daring, impetuous, and loving. The classical gender roles are flipped in this series, with the girl always being the first to do something brave and the boy tending to hang back.

Basic Story – This series is about an altered version of World War I, in which the main characters are the fictional son of the assassinated duke who started the whole thing, and a British girl masquerading as a boy so she can serve in the army. The War is mainly fought between the Clankers, who use metallic walkers and war machines, and the Darwinists, who use genetically modified animals as weapons, such as a giant whale-hybrid filled with helium that’s used as an air machine.

Possible Problem Areas – First of all, the heroes’ side of the war is based off an extended version of the theory of evolution. The concept is that Darwin discovered DNA and figured out how to manipulate the genetic strands to make new creatures. Secondly, one of the main characters for most of the book disguises herself as a boy so she can join the army. This results in a couple of awkward moments. For instance, when a doctor accidentally brushes her chest when she’s disguised as a boy, he has to feel her chest to make sure she isn’t concealing a bomb, but it’s done very clinically with no detail whatsoever. Also, in the books’ first installment, her brother tells her she shouldn’t have any trouble hiding her chest because her breasts are so small, but it’s done in a very light, joking way, specifically designed not to be serious or troublesome. There is some violence, with battle being viewed from a distance and airplanes using machine guns. Only a couple of known characters die throughout the series, although an insane unknown soldiers die nongraphically. Animals sustain most of the injuries in the series, although the most important animal, the airship whale, doesn’t die. Various minor animals die in battle, though. There are a few kisses throughout the series, and some romantic attraction between the two main characters.

Good Areas – The story basically rewrites history, and it’s very interesting to see how it does so. Several characters from real life can be recognized, but in such strange contexts that you really can’t think of them as the historical person. So even though you could call it a historical story, it really is not, but is in an alternate universe. It’s amazing to think all the different kinds of animals that the author can imagine up, and with the occasional drawing, to see what they would look like. The story is captivating, and the intensity of emotion the characters feel is energizing. I don’t normally reread series, but this one I have read several times, so captivating are the story and characters. So with all this in mind, I give the series 5 stars for being an amazing series.

0 Stinks

1 Barely doesn’t totally stink

2 Boring

3 Bearable with a few redeemable qualities

4 Good

4 ½ Very good

5 Astronomically good


Guest Blog: Vince’s “As I Read It” – The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas

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I have asked my 16 year-old son, Vincent, to write some book reviews. He is very well-read for his age, and can always be found with at least one book in hand. He has been known to walk into inanimate objects because he had his nose in a book. He prefers fantasy books, but has read a lot of other styles. What follows are his words. Enjoy!

My reviews will be divided into four sections, besides the rating, which itself will be how many stars out of five the series deserves. The first is Basic Protagonist. This one gives a few glimpses at the hero’s basic characteristics, to help determine whether the book would appeal to you. The second is Basic story, to acquaint my readers even to just the setting of the book. The third section is Possible Problem Areas. As the name suggests, this section covers any possible problems with the books. The final section is Good Areas. This area lists all the things concerning style and skill that the author excels at. As I am an avid lover of books, trying to list every positive portion of a book would require several pages of writing, so I have summarized my opinion of the book’s level of readability and enjoyability in the rating. You will never see a rating of 0 stars, since if a book is bad enough to merit that rating, I won’t be making a review of it. The lowest rankings you will ever see in this review are 3 or maybe 2 stars.

The Magic Thief by Sarah Prineas

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4½ stars

Basic Protagonist – The hero is a spunky pickpocket who, because of his circumstances, has had to learn how to steal and hedge the truth. He does have morals, though, hating to lie and being faithful to his teacher and friends. While a rascal and a scamp, he is for the most part an all around good person.

Basic Story – A street pickpocket steals a magician’s magical stone from his pocket, and the magician takes him on as his apprentice while he tries to figure out what is wrong with the city’s magic. The rest of the series deals with the boy trying to solve the magic’s problem and his relationship with magic developing.

Possible Problem Areas – Not much violence. The hero gets into a fight, but come out alive; a boy is beaten by bad guys, but doesn’t die; and a man who eventually becomes the hero’s friend at first smacks him whenever he does something stupid, but it’s not half as bad as it sounds, and is played for comic rather than serious effect. There is a lot of magic in the book, but it isn’t dark, and in fact is a rather original take on the theory of magicians. An evil magic lives distraught, and it is eventually revealed that the reason it is evil is actually grief that it received as an animate creature, and the dark magic is reconciled in the end. No romance.

Good Areas – The author has a humorous style of writing, and somehow manages to expertly conceal things from the reader that the main character knows, and yet she keeps you well in touch with the main character, feeling what he feels. The book is humorous and light, designed for preteens or maybe even younger. I can’t find anything else tangible to compliment the author for, but it does have something, and that something makes it a very good book, and easily deserving of its 4 ½ star rating.

0 Stinks

1 Barely doesn’t totally stink

2 Boring

3 Bearable with a few redeemable qualities

4 Good

4 ½ Very good

5 Astronomically good


Guest Blog: Vince’s “As I Read It” – The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins

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I have asked my 15 year-old son, Vincent, to write some book reviews. He is very well-read for his age, and can always be found with at least one book in hand. He has been known to walk into inanimate objects because he had his nose in a book. He prefers fantasy books, but has read a lot if other styles. What follows are his words. Enjoy!

My reviews will be divided into four sections, besides the rating, which itself will be how many stars out of five the series deserves. The first is Basic Protagonist. This one gives a few glimpses at the hero’s basic characteristics, to help determine whether the book would appeal to you. The second is Basic story, to acquaint my readers even to just the setting of the book. The third section is Possible Problem Areas. As the name suggests, this section covers any possible problems with the books. The final section is Good Areas. This area lists all the things concerning style and skill that the author excels at. As I am an avid lover of books, trying to list every positive portion of a book would require several pages of writing, so I have summarized my opinion of the book’s level of readability and enjoyability in the rating. You will never see a rating of 0 stars, since if a book is bad enough to merit that rating, I won’t be making a review of it. The lowest rankings you will ever see in this review are 3 or maybe 2 stars.

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The Underland Chronicles by Suzanne Collins
4½ stars
Basic protagonist – The hero is a down-to-earth, sensitive, and kind boy, who gets frustrated with racism, inequality, and hatred, even going against his friends when he believes that he has found inequality of any kind. He is highly respectful in almost all circumstances, the only exception being when he loses his temper over some injustice, and even then he is never aggressive just to attack the object of his anger. He doesn’t like politics at all, struggling with the bureaucracy and red tape around him. He hates violence, but is forced by circumstances to fight in a bloody and horrible war, portrayed as such by the author.

Basic Story – A New York boy who is bored because he has to stay home from summer camp falls through a grate with his little toddler sister, and they wind up in a dark world miles beneath New York City, populated by various giant night creatures, like rats, roaches, spiders, and bats, as well as a race of humans that went down there centuries before. Upon arriving, he is almost immediately identified as the foretold warrior, and the rest of the series describes his undertakings in that calling.

Possible problem areas – The series shows a completely original version of racism, racism between different species of animals, with humans the proudest and most arrogant of all, but it is still unmistakably racism to the eyes of a mature reader. Romance doesn’t even make an appearance until the fourth book, and then the worst it gets is a kiss between two characters who expect to die soon. The series is about medieval-level war, so there is a lot of fighting with swords. The main character participates in many battles, and causes many injuries and deaths himself. He discovers that he has great talent as a warrior, and is capable of killing instinctively, without training. He struggles with this, as he hates killing, but he still uses his skill in war and kills many hundreds in combat. At the end of the series he is haunted by dreams, a result of the danger he has been in and the horrors he has seen. His family is there to support him, but he still finds himself trying to survive with their help. He suffers many wounds, and by the end of the series can’t wear shorts or even short sleeves because people would see his scars and wounds from the many, many conflicts he has taken part in. The book shows the horrors of war, but it does offer a hope for better things.

Good Areas – The author is a master of emotions, and with practice can summon any feeling she wants from her readers. She constructs events well, in every book building up to a tipping point and then holding that tipping point for some time before letting the reader back down from the peak of emotions. She constructs good, three-dimensional characters, several of them with complex and painful backstories that help explain their motives and actions. The only really bad thing I can say about the writing style is that the series has a horrible ending, with an important side character’s death. The main character begins the healing process necessary to cope with losing someone that close, but it is still a soul-rending ending, one of the most crushing I have ever read.

(Note: The first book in the series, which is also the author’s first book, is not even close to good writing. Keep reading. It gets much, much better.)


Guest Blog: Vince’s “As I Read It” – Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

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I have asked my 15 year-old son, Vincent, to write some book reviews. He is very well-read for his age, and can always be found with at least one book in hand. He has been known to walk into inanimate objects because he had his nose in a book. He prefers fantasy books, but has read a lot of other styles. What follows are his words. Enjoy!

My reviews will be divided into three sections, besides the rating, which itself will be how many stars out of five the series deserves. The first is Basic Portagonist. This one gives a few glimpses at the hero’s basic characteristics, to help determine whether the book would appeal to you. The second is Basic story, to acquaint my readers even to just the setting of the book. The third section is Possible Problem Areas. As the name suggests, this section covers any possible problems with the books. The final section is Good Areas. This area lists all the things concerning style and skill that the author excels at. As I am an avid lover of books, trying to list every positive portion of a book would require several pages of writing, so I have summarized my opinion of the book’s level of readability and enjoyability in the rating. You will never see a rating of 0 stars, since if a book is bad enough to merit that rating, I won’t be making a review of it. The lowest rankings you will ever see in this review are 3 or maybe 2 stars.

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Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

5 stars
Basic Protagonist – The narrator in that series is a first-person, rather down-to-earth New Yorker, and he speaks with a complete disrespect to any authority that doesn’t deserve his respect. He always treats his mom with honor and respect, of course, but those who just want to control him for their own purposes he treats with total disrespect and dismissiveness. He always fights for his friends, and he will never leave them to face problems on their own, no matter the danger.

Basic Story – A dyslexia and ADHD diagnosed New York boy has led a life going from school to school and getting expelled from each one because of his problems, occasionally seeing strange things and events that no one except his mom believes. Then, after one final incident, he discovers that he isn’t just another troubled kid, but is in fact the son of one of the ancient Greek gods, who are now in America, the new heart of western civilization. And not only that, but there are dozens of others just like him. He soon is chosen to go on a quest, and it is just the first of many in this five-book series, during which he tries to battle the rise of an ancient evil and still stay alive.

Possible problem areas – There are several trips to the afterlife, and a boy raises the dead, being a child of Hades, the god of death. There is some romance, but nothing more than kissing. The series centers for the most part about a showdown between good and evil, so there is some fantasy violence. Characters, including the protagonist, are injured, several others are killed non-graphically, and monsters dissolve upon being wounded. The only other problem related to violence is that the main character realizes that his stepfather has hit his mother. It doesn’t describe the action more than that; it just says that it happened. There are only two other things that may put some people off of the series. For one, its founding core premise is that Greek mythology is real, so that may be a problem for some. The other issue is that the way the heroes of the series are born is by affairs between gods and humans. The author doesn’t dwell on this topic, or touch on whether or not it’s moral. It is necessary for the story to move, though, so he leaves it.

Good Areas – The story has a great storyline and gripping plot. The author’s blunt, choppy mode of writing appeals perfectly to preteens, and his imaginative twists on Greek mythology will interest anyone who has had any exposure to or knowledge of it. The main character has an acerbic wit, perfect timing, and a wonderful sense of humor, resulting in several very humorous exchanges between characters. But it isn’t all humor. The hero is very serious about his duties, helping tie in slightly more serious readers and giving the reader have an immense desire to have the hero succeed.

(Note: This review does not apply to the sequel series, The Heroes of Olympus, which I may review at a later date. Don’t be surprised if you try to read that one and don’t find it to be the same as the original series.)