Tuesday, November 2, 2010

What I've Been Reading: October Edition

The Mortal Engines Quartet (aka "The Hungry Cities Chronicles") by Philip Reeve

The Mortal Engines Quartet is made up of four books: Mortal EnginesPredator's Gold, Infernal Engines, and A Darkling Plain.

Mortal Engines is an imaginative look at the future, where cities are mobile and, with resources limited, larger cities attack and devour smaller, weaker cities to survive.  (i.e. Municipal Darwinism)  It's a fast-paced story of a very junior level historian (male) and the would-be assassin (female) who tries to kill the junior-level historian's hero.  After being dumped off of the moving city of London, the pair have to survive by their wits, while the would-be assassin is being tracked by a resurrected killing machine.

With it's mix of wild imaginings, interesting and complex characters and the continual action that builds to one heckuva climax, Mortal Engines was a great book.  Despite the surprisingly high body count (or maybe because of it) I had very high expectations for the sequel, Predator's Gold.

Instead, Predator's Gold slowed the pace way down.  Making matters worse, an awful lot of the book seemed to want to concern itself with relationships and, particularly, jealousy.  This tainted so much of the story for me that I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue the series.

With Infernal Engines, Reeve made a very strange decision.  The two teenaged main characters of his first two books are now parents with a teenaged daughter who can't stand her parents.  She strikes off, impulsively, for an adventure of her own that then puts her parents and everyone in her home city in danger.  I ended up not liking her character much (how can you like a character who is, essentially, a spoiled brat and who doesn't understand nor appreciates the two people we've already spent two books getting to know and rooting for?) and being so annoyed with her and the almost soap opera-like direction of the book that by I finished Infernal Engines I wasn't sure if I really wanted to read A Darkling Plain.

In the end, I decided to read the Wikipedia entry on A Darkling Plain and decide if it sounded worth the time to read.  It didn't, so I moved on.
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Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space

So, from one Philip Reeve series to another.  Where Mortal Engines was a gritty, hardscrabble series, Larklight was, well "a Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space"!  I mean, honestly, how can you go wrong with a subtitle like that?  It's  Steampunk meets Alternate Physics meets Space Pirates meets Alien Invaders and was a whole lot of fun to read.  It was one of those books I wish I had written.

The book is written in first-person by young boy who is full of Victorian nationalism (Huzzah!) and adventure who also steals sections of his very prim and proper older sister's diary to fill in parts of the story.  It's fun, funny and filled with David Wyatt's wonderful illustrations.  

All of which gave me high expectations for the sequel, Starcross: A Stirring Adventure of Spies, Time Travel and Curious Hats.

After the bracing storytelling behind Larklight, I was somewhat disappointed by the slower aspects of the story in Starcross.  Add to that, it seemed that far too much attention was spent on relationships and, particularly, jealousy.  Hmmmm.

For me, the slower pace of Starcross gave me more time to think about the plot--a species of time-traveling creatures come back to Victorian times and are able to control people by taking the shape of top hats.  Yes, there was plenty of activity in the story and yes our heroes were called upon to Save the Universe again, but this book didn't make such a favorable impression on me.

That isn't to say the overall writing and illustrations weren't up to snuff.  There were aspects of the book that were quite funny.  (The prim and proper Victorian era sister spends the majority of the story dressed in an inflatable bathing suit, for instance)  It's just that Starcross wasn't exactly the book I was hoping it would be.

Mothstorm: The Horror from Beyond Uranus Georgium Sidus!, however, was exactly the book I was hoping it would be.  Space pirates (being space pirates again), an alien invasion, epic space battles, a long-standing mystery solved, courageous acts of daring-do and even more fun.

Saving the universe is rarely this much fun.  But it should be.

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After liking the Leviathan so much last month I was a bit worried about the sequel, Behemoth.  Could it live up to the first book?  Could Westerfeld keep the pacing up?  Would the story move forward in a way that felt natural and logical?

I needn't have worried.  Behemoth was a great book.  Even more alternate history and bizarre steampunkery goodness made this a fun read and eager for the third book in the series.

One of the things I liked about Behemoth was how Westerfeld upped the stakes for his main characters without being predictable.  The power struggle Alek and Deryn get involved in is not of their making, but plays into their separate goals nicely.  The unexpected twist at the end of the story, one that throws so much anticipated action for the third book, was very well played and caught me completely off guard.

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SPHDZ (or Spaceheadz) by Jon Scieszka and

I'm a big Jon Scieszka fan.  I've read the first four of his Time Warp Trio books to over 600 students and have wanted to write something that comes even barely close to the brilliance of those books for years.  If Scieszka writes it, I'll read it.

Which is part of what makes not liking Spaceheadz so difficult.

Spaceheadz felt underdeveloped, as if it was the germ of an idea that was tossed off quickly.  The characters are either wooden or predictable, the situations not all that funny and the story just left me wanting more.  Not more in terms of a sequel, but something more to happen.  The entirety of this book could have been edited down to half its length, allowing for a real conflict and resolution to be developed.

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A neat concept: Olive and her two math nerd parents move into an old Victorian house filled with paintings that are stuck to the walls.  After finding an old pair of glasses Olive is able to see movement within the paintings and even climb into them.

Between a missing boy she finds in one of the paintings, a trio of cats who are guarding... something, a mysterious and hidden attic, a necklace retrieved from the lake in one of the photos and the dark figure everyone seems afraid of, the book has a lot going for it.  As well, Olive is a gutsy girl, not willing to let herself be stopped by things that scare her.

While I liked the imagination behind The Shadows, there still seemed to be something missing here for me.  I've thought about it and I'm just not sure what it is.  (Aside from an ending that seemed a bit of a let-down)  I enjoyed this one, but I'm not sure I'll continue following the series.

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Theo has been kept a helpless, sheltered boy from his earliest days, seeing only three people for most of his life: his guardian, the guardian's assistant and a maid.  The reason for the isolation turns out to be a secret power Theo has inherited from his ancestors: when he touches a criminal, the criminal melts.

Rescued by a small group bent on restoring Theo to his rightful place as a crime fighter, Theo finds himself with friends, responsibilities and as the only person who can stop his former guardian from unleashing a host of evil creatures on the world.

Despite uneven pacing and lingering questions I had about how Theo would really approach a world he had been completely sheltered from for his entire life, this was still a fun and interesting read.

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So, what are you reading?  What have you liked lately?  What have you given up on trying to finish?  And what books would you recommend me adding to my TBR stack?

-- Tom


  1. I'm just finishing Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card which has been on my TBR pile forever! I'd imagine most people have read this already, but if not, I'd highly recommend it for sci-fi fans.

  2. Hi Kristi,

    I really liked Enders Game. In fact, I picked up a used copy so I could re-read it a while back. Sadly, though, it keeps getting shelved as my TBR pile keeps growing thanks to recommendations and my access to several good libraries.

    Orson Scott Card has also written on the subject of writing. He's equally good in that regard.

    -- Tom

  3. I'll have to look for the book on writing. Thanks for the tip!

  4. Kristi:

    Elements of Fiction Writing - Characters & Viewpoint


    How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy

    -- Tom