Review of A War of Gifts, by Orson Scott Card


A War of Gifts,

An Ender Story,

by Orson Scott Card

Tor, Tom Doherty Associates, New York, 2007.  126 pages.

Here’s a Christmas story that takes you into Ender’s world.  We follow the story of Zeck, who’s been brought up to believe that Santa is a form of Satan.  When Zeck is sent to Battle School, he refuses to participate or ever fire a weapon, because he also believes that War is not a valid field of study.

Then a Dutch boy puts out his shoe for Sinterklaas, and gets a Sinterklaas poem.  This starts a trend of the students, where religion is forbidden, finding subversive ways to celebrate Christmas, claiming it’s a national observance, not a religious one.

As the “war of gifts” escalates, Zeck’s life is touched in a way that he doesn’t expect.

A nice Christmas story, quite different from typical ones.  Ender fans will especially enjoy it.

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Review of Among the Hidden, by Margaret Peterson Haddix


Among the Hidden

by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Book #1 of the Shadow Children series

Aladdin Paperbacks, 2000.  153 pages.

I finally read the first book in this series, having completely forgotten that I read the second book already, Among the Imposters ( ).

This book sets the stage for the series.  Luke lives on a farm.  He’s never gone off the farm or seen anyone outside his family, but he was able to help with chores — until the woods got cut down and a housing development was built behind their house.

Now Luke must not even go in a room with an open window, for fear someone might see him.  Luke is the third child in his family, and in this future society, third children are illegal.

However, Luke finds a way to look outside and watch his new, rich neighbors.  When one family — mother, father, and two children — have all left the house, he notices someone else still moving around.  Could there be another third child living in hiding.

I read this book with our Homeschoolers’ Book Group at the library.  The kids’ reaction was mixed.  Most didn’t like the ending, which sets up the rest of the series.  Still, Margaret Peterson Haddix does a good job of quickly setting the stage and helping us understand this alternate world.  The suspense is high as we worry with Luke that he will get caught — or else never get to go out of the house again.

This book was read by one of the teachers in the local middle school, and then many kids came to the library looking for more in the series.  It won’t hook every kid, but those who get hooked want to find out what happens next.

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Review of The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart


The Mysterious Benedict Society

by Trenton Lee Stewart

read by Del Roy

Listening Library (Random House), 2007.  13 hours, 17 minutes.  11 compact discs.

I had not one but two parents tell me that their kids loved this book.  When I saw it on audiobook, I thought I’d give it a try.  Audiobooks are working well for me for light-hearted fiction that I can enjoy in small doses.

Renny Muldoon is a brilliant orphan who knows he is completely different from other children.  When he sees an ad offering a test for gifted children looking for special opportunities, he goes to the test and begins the adventure of a lifetime.

Renny ends up on a team with other exceptional children who are offered a dangerous mission with the fate of the world at stake.  The mysterious Mr. Benedict explains why only children can save the world now.

The adventure yarn that follows is a lot of fun.  Sure, there are several coincidences and several places where believability is strained.  However, it’s definitely an entertaining and exciting story.

Del Roy’s voice sounds like a kindly grandfather telling you a story, and I quickly thought of his voice as coming from Mr. Benedict himself.

This book is excellent for upper elementary age children who will enjoy some good, clean, and clever fun.

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Review of The Host, by Stephenie Meyer


The Host

by Stephenie Meyer

Little, Brown, and Company, 2008.  619 pages.

Starred Review.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Host, liking it even better than Stephenie Meyer’s more famous Twilight series.  This one was written for adults, so that may be some of why I liked it.  But I also thought it was well-written.  She didn’t have the whole traditional spectrum of vampire stories to contend with.

Of course, she did have the noble tradition of body-snatcher stories up against her!  But I haven’t read or watched very many of those at all.  Her description of what it would be like if mind-stealing aliens tried to take over earth seemed right.  Of course!  That is what would happen.

Wanderer is an alien who has lived on seven different planets.  But when she is put into the body of a human on earth, it doesn’t go as smoothly as with any other host.  The host begins by hiding things from Wanderer.  Names of people she loves, and where they might be hiding.  She doesn’t want Wanderer to tell a Seeker.  However, this host, named Melanie, should not still be there at all.

Melanie’s voice gets stronger.  Wanderer is ready to give up, to find a new host and let a Seeker be put into Melanie’s body.  But somehow, she can’t bring herself to give up Jared and Jamie.  Instead, she goes to find them.

Can Wanderer, nicknamed Wanda, keep from betraying the humans she now loves as much as Melanie does?  Will those humans even give her a chance, since they think of her as the monstrous mind-thief alien who stole Melanie’s body?

I found myself believing that indeed humans would not just disappear if powerful aliens invaded our planet.  Indeed, the aliens might find more than they bargained for.

The Host is a wonderful exploration of life and love and what it means to be human.

I knew the human exaggeration for sorrow — a broken heart.  Melanie remembered speaking the phrase herself.  But I’d always thought of it as hyperbole, a traditional description for something that had no real physiological link, like a green thumb.  So I wasn’t expecting the pain in my chest.  The nausea, yes, the swelling in my throat, yes, and, yes, the tears burning in my eyes.  But what was the ripping sensation just under my rib cage?  It made no logical sense.

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Review of Lionboy: The Truth, by Zizou Corder


Lionboy:  The Truth

Book Three of the Lionboy Trilogy

by Zizou Corder

read by Simon Jones

Highbridge Audio, 2005.  6 hours on 5 compact discs.

The Truth brings the Lionboy trilogy to a most satisfying conclusion.  In the earlier books, Charlie’s parents were kidnapped, and Charlie went after them.  In the third book, Charlie is the one kidnapped.  His parents and the friends he has made along the way come to his rescue, but in the end Charlie’s own ingenuity, courage, and loyalty save the day for far more people and animals than just himself.

There are a few outrageous coincidences in this book, as there were in the earlier books.  However, it’s all in good fun.  This is a rather wild adventure tale set in the near future.  The action takes Charlie across the globe to the very seat of the sinister Corporacy.

Charlie can still talk to cats, and in this book he becomes better acquainted with Ninu, a chameleon who can not only take on the colors around him, but also the languages.  With Ninu’s help, Charlie can talk to any person and any thing.

Like the rest, this makes good listening material, and would be great for a family car trip.  There is plenty of action to keep you diverted, and once again the narrator has a delightful voice (and accent) to listen to.

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Review of Lionboy: The Chase, by Zizou Corder


Lionboy:  The Chase

Book Two in the LionBoy Trilogy

by Zizou Corder

Read by Simon Jones

HighBridge, Minneapolis, 2004.  7.5 hours on 6 compact discs.

This time, instead of stopping in the middle of Charlie Ashanti’s story, as I did the first time I read Lionboy, I made sure I continued on.

I’m finding that when I listen to books on CD, I enjoy very different books than the ones I like to read.  Although I enjoyed the first book of the trilogy the first time I read it, I didn’t find it gripping, the sort of book that keeps me up all night reading.  So I never found myself compelled to pick up the second book in the trilogy.

Listening to the audio version of the book is a different situation.  Because I only live ten minutes from my workplace, I enjoy a diverting, entertaining story.  One that pulls me in, but that I don’t mind stopping after ten minutes.  The audio books I’m enjoying, this one among them, are an entirely different category of books than my usual choices.  Although I loved listening to some print favorites, such as Enna Burning and Fairest, I almost found it annoying that I couldn’t gobble up the story quickly, I liked it so much.  With a lighter book, like Lionboy, or comedies like those by P. G. Wodehouse, the way listening takes so much longer than reading is part of the fun.  I’m finding that listening to the audiobook is the perfect way to get around to reading a book that I couldn’t quite get myself to pick up and read with my eyes.  After all, I’m just entertaining myself while driving!

Most of Lionboy: The Chase took place in Venice — a future Venice where much of the city has finally fallen into the sea.  Still, the parts still standing are the same as they have been for hundreds of years, the same Venice I fell in love with myself, so I enjoyed vicariously spending time there while reading this book.

Charlie has gotten the circus lions away from the circus and away from Paris.  In this book, he needs to get them away from what he thought was their safe haven, a palazzo in Venice.  He still doesn’t know where his parents have been taken, and now there’s a reward offered for finding him and the lions.

The plot in this story did include some unbelievable coincidences, but mostly it was an entertaining adventure yarn to listen to.  How will Charlie, who can talk to cats and lions, save his friends the lions, and himself?  How will he find his parents?  How will he escape Raffi, who continues to go after him?

Charlie grows in this book, faces tough challenges, and overcomes.

I appreciated that this book did not end in the middle of things.  In fact, if they didn’t tell us in the epilogue that things are about to get much worse, I would have thought it was a nice, happy ending.  I like trilogies better when they consist of self-contained books, and this one at least finished the saga of the first two books.

The narrator is excellent, maintaining a nice variety of voices, including distinct voices for lions and cats.  Of course, I’m always a sucker for a British accent, and can listen to such a speaker all day long!

I intend to listen to Book Three while I am still thinking about the story.

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Review of Lion Boy Audiobook



by Zizou Corder

read by Simon Jones

Audio Adventures.  8 1/4 hours on 7 compact discs.

I reviewed the print version of Lion Boy years ago at

Unfortunately, I did not go straight on to read the next two volumes of the story — so I completely lost the thread of what was happening.  When Lion Boy was a selection for the Fairfax County summer reading program, it seemed like the perfect time to refresh my memory, so I listened to the book on CDs.  (And I’m happy to report that I have already begun the second book, so I am not going to let it go this time.)

How to say this without sounding derogatory?  I’m finding audiobooks perfect for the sort of light-hearted book that doesn’t absorb me quite enough to keep me reading late into the night.  Yes, the book is very interesting, but since I generally only get to listen in fifteen-minute stretches, audiobooks work well with a book that keeps me mildly interested over a long period of time.  I’m not sure I defined it exactly right, but I never did get around to reading the Lion Boy sequels, but I found myself eager to listen to them.  I’m finding there’s a certain type of reading that I enjoy more as listening.

And again (as with all the audiobooks I’m reviewing lately), the narration was marvellous.  The book had songs with music inserted in the text, and of course the audio version included these.

This is another good family story that would make great listening for a family vacation.  The hero is a kid, but he gets into some tight places, and the whole family will find themselves hoping Charlie finds a way to save his parents, and his friends the lions.

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Review of Larklight, by Philip Reeve



Or:  The Revenge of the White Spiders!

Or:  To Saturn’s Rings and Back!  A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space!

by Philip Reeve

Performed by Greg Steinbruner

Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2006. 400 pages.

Audiobook:  Recorded Books, 2007. 8 CDs, 8.75 hours.

Starred Review.

Imagine for a moment that outer space is not a black emptiness, but really the “aether,” and full of living things.  Imagine that there’s life on Mars, life on Venus, life on Saturn, and even “ichthyomorphs” floating in the middle of space.

Now imagine that instead of just discovering gravity, Isaac Newton used alchemy to figure out how to make spaceships.  Imagine that in the 1800s, the British Empire wasn’t just an earthly empire ruling the seas, but ruled the solar system.

Art and Myrtle Mumby grew up on Larklight, a large old house that orbited the moon.

At the start of the book, their house is attacked by space spiders the size of elephants.  Their father is captured by the spiders, but they manage to escape and land on the moon.  On the moon, their life is in danger from giant moths, but they are rescued by space pirates.  The captain of the pirates is a teenage boy, but the crew are all aliens.

The pirates don’t want to obey Myrtle’s demands and take them to a British Embassy, and the children’s adventures are only beginning.  The book presents narrow escape after narrow escape as Art and Myrtle travel the solar system and end up saving the world.

This story is indeed a “rousing tale of dauntless pluck.”  I was put off at the beginning because I hate the thought of giant spiders, but before long I was lingering in my car to listen.  Even though I knew Art would surely escape, several times I found myself wondering how on earth he would get out of the latest tight spot.

Once again, I was enchanted by the delightful accents of the British narrator.  This audiobook would be a fabulous adventure to listen to for a family traveling on summer vacation.  Although there are some fearsome situations, Art and Myrtle emerge unscathed from them all.  Great fun!

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Review of The Sky Inside, by Clare B. Dunkle


The Sky Inside, by Clare B. Dunkle

Ginee Seo Books (Atheneum Books for Young Readers), New York, 2008.  229 pages.

Martin gets a dog for his birthday, but this is no ordinary dog.  In fact, he gets an Alldog — “Large or small, sleek or fuzzy — all the dogs you ever wanted rolled into one.”  Martin’s “dog” is programmed to please Martin, in doglike ways.  Later, when Martin discovers his dog’s abilities go beyond the “normal” simulated dog, he finds some intriguing things the dog can do for him.

Meanwhile, Martin has to stick up for his little sister Cassie and their friends.  Cassie is a “Wonder Baby:”

“Never had the arrival of the stork brought such excitement.  Overflowing with charm, brimming with intelligence, Wonder Babies were like nothing the suburb had seen before.  But that didn’t turn out to be a good thing.

“Wonder Babies didn’t wait around to be raised.  They got involved in their upbringing, wanted to know about their feeding schedules, and read voraciously before the age of two.  Worst of all, Wonder Babies — or the Exponential Generation, as they preferred to be called — wouldn’t stop asking embarrassing questions.  No amount of time-outs, missed snacks, or spankings could break them of this awful habit.”

Martin’s suburb, under a big dome, is a place where kids dream of getting mediocre test scores so they can get a factory job and hire a robot to do the work.  This community gets tired of the Wonder Babies quickly.  Martin doesn’t fit in too well himself, always trying to find things out.

When a man comes to take away the Wonder Babies to a “special school,” Martin thinks he may have found out too much about their real destination.

One of the things I love about Clare Dunkle’s other books, The Hollow Kingdom Trilogy and By These Ten Bones, is how real the settings seem.  She builds worlds that feel like true history, with all the details twining together and making sense.

Oddly, that was exactly what bothered me about this novel — it was hard to get a grasp on the world Martin was living in.  There are lots of ideas, maybe too many:

What would it be like to live in a domed community, afraid of the world outside, which is reported to be only blowing sand?

What would it be like when robots can do most of the work?

How would genetic engineering affect communities? 

What if game shows were used as punishment?  (That’s not at all far-fetched.  After all, isn’t that what Rome did with the arenas?)

What if only a select population were allowed to live in perfect, planned communities?

What if robots could be programmed to change their appearance as well as their behavior?

In one place, Martin asks what fire is, then calmly watches someone prepare food over a fire.  I didn’t quite feel I really understood where Martin was coming from….

However, I still recommend this book.  It takes the story of a boy and his dog to an entirely new level.  A lot of fun, and with some intriguing ideas.  Like all good science fiction, this book could spark some interesting discussion, with plenty of food for thought.  What would such a world be like?

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Review of Flight, Volume Four


Flight, Volume 4 

Villard, New York, 2007. 344 pages.

Like comics? Here’s a book sophisticated and strange, silly and freaky all at once.

In the book Flight, Volume 4, you’ll find a magic window maker, a girl preserved for years in a box in the basement, a roomie-pal to order when you’re traveling, a baby born with shining eyes, and the silly story of Igloo-Head and Tree-Head. (Find out what happens when they meet Public Library-Head!)

All the stories are done graphically, each with a totally different style than the story before. These stories will make you think, they will make you laugh, and they’ll make you scratch your head and say, “Huh?”

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