Friday, September 30, 2011

The Warning (K. A. Applegate)

The Warning
(The Animorphs series, Book 16)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
***** (Great)



NOTE: In honor of the re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorphs books.

DESCRIPTION: Ever since their fateful encouner with Prince Elfangor in the abandoned construction site, when they learned of the Yeerk invasion, Jake and his friends bore the terrible truth alone. Who could they turn to, when anybody might have an alien parasite wrapped around their brains? Who could they trust except each other? Who else would ever believe that the Earth was under attack?
Now, they've found something they never expected: proof that someone else knows about the Yeerks, on a website dedicated to exposing the invasion.
Jake doesn't know whether to be relieved or terrified. While he can't help suspecting a trap, part of him longs for someone else to turn to, someone else to take the reins of Earth's pitiful resistance. But first they have to find the person behind the website, and determine if they're friend or foe.

REVIEW: Never short on action, this book returns to the emotional resonance and internal conflicts that raise the series above the average sci-fi serial. Jake makes some serious mistakes, both in battle tactics and in handling his own crew, as he's forced to quash his own reluctance beneath the mantle of leadership. A new foe is introduced, and though less ultimately comes of this enemy than one might expect, it still adds a new dimension to the battle. Having read the whole series, I can see some foreshadowing of events to come here. (I also see more evidence of how fast technology's progressed; Marco's 56k dial-up modem was considered top-of-the-line when this book originally appeared in 1998.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Princess of Mars (Edgar Rice Burroughs)

A Princess of Mars
(The Barsoom/John Carter of Mars series, Book 1)
Edgar Rice Burroughs
Public Domain Books
Fiction, Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: When the Confederate States of America fell at the end of the Civil War, Captain John Carter of Virginia was one of the many soldiers left with little means and no vocation.  Unsure of what to do, he headed to Arizona to try his luck at prospecting... but instead found himself at the beginning of a journey he cannot explain. While fleeing Apache attackers, he finds himself lost in a strange cave, where he is detached from his physical body and transported to the red planet Mars.  Here, he must learn to survive amid strange beasts and hostile natives on the surface of a dying world.

REVIEW: Yes, another free-for-Kindle download, admittedly inspired by previews for the upcoming movie adaptation of the franchise. Like many older sci-fi stories (such as Jules Verne's works), it's more about the bizarre, otherworldly settings and situations than about any semblance of plot or character coherence. Also like many older stories, the white civilized hero has little to no trouble making a place for himself among the ignorant savages, generously imparting the wisdom of his superior culture upon them for good measure. Never mind that conditions on Mars are so totally unlike Earth that our ways may not be the most effective means of survival. Never mind that these are aliens, with an alien brain attuned to an alien mindset, even if the "higher" Martians are essentially egg-laying humans. (And never mind that our supposedly civilized protagonist deals out death on a dime when it suits his purposes.) John Carter's the hero, unquestionably and unequivocally, and hero status trumps all else. There is, of course, a love interest, the titular Princess of Mars, who seems to exist primarily to inspire Boris Vajello paintings: the nude, sexy girl constantly threatened by hulking monsters in a vaguely erotic fashion. (Again, why a six-limbed giant green alien would be physically attracted to a puny red-skinned woman is never questioned; human females are evidently a universally lusted-after object.) The dialog, like the action, tends to the grandiose and overblown. Once you get through the cardboard characters and stereotypes, though, Burroughs presents a highly imaginative alien world, full of intriguing mysteries and pseudoscientific marvels... enough to earn it the extra half-star in the ratings. (Well, that and I tend to cut older stories a little bit of slack; you can't really fault Burroughs for being a product of his time, after all.) I don't expect I'll read much further in the series, though; all the mind's-eye candy in the world can't entirely overcome the thin characters and generally tedious plot.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Escape (K. A. Applegate)

The Escape
(The Animorphs series, Book 15)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
**** (Good)



NOTE: In honor of the re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorphs books.

DESCRIPTION: When Erek approached the Animorphs with news of a secret underwater Yeerk project, it should've been just another mission. But Visser One has returned to Earth to oversee it - Visser One, the Yeerk infesting the brain of Marco's mother, a fact he's witheld from everyone except Jake. He insists he's fine, but inside Marco is falling apart. Part of him knows that his mother is as good as gone, that once the Yeerks enslave a host it's until death, while another part fantasizes about saving her from the prison of her own brain. If ever the Animorphs go into battle against her...
But this is just an investigation, a quick peek to figure out what the Yeerks are up to. With luck, Marco won't even see his mother. But since when has luck been on his side?

REVIEW: Another "holding pattern" book, mostly notable for introducing a new alien species (the Leeran, who will figure into at least one later book) and sending Marco through the wringer again over his mother's predicament and his own inability to help her. While little enough new ground was covered, the action kept things clicking along... and, heck, as a pseudowriter I can understand the desire to draw out a character's suffering for maximum dramatic effect (not to mention page count.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Unknown (K. A. Applegate)

The Unknown
(The Animorphs series, Book 14)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)



NOTE: In honor of the re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorphs books.

DESCRIPTION: Cassie may be part of the Animorphs, secretly fighting the hidden Yeerk invasion with the Andalite power to morph animals, but she also has other responsibilities, namely helping her father run the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center in the family barn. When Crazy Helen, an eccentric woman in the remote Dry Lands, calls about a sick horse, Cassie and her father - and Rachel, who happened to be visiting - drive out to help, finding a staggering and snake-bitten horse barely able to stand up. But, just as it collapses, the girls see something very disturbing: a large slug crawling from the horse's ear. A Yeerk.
The other Animorphs don't really believe them. Why would a Yeerk make a Controller out of a horse? It just doesn't make sense. Even the blast that destroyed the horse's body could've been old army munitions, and not the Dracon beams Cassie and Rachel swore they heard. But in the middle of the Dry Lands is the top-secret military base Zone 91, where fringe elements claim that the government's been keeping alien technology hidden for decades. Of course, only people like Crazy Helen believe the rumors; there's nothing alien about the operations at Zone 91... or is there?

REVIEW: The series has settled into a nice pattern by now, with bursts of action and humor amid incremental progress in the overall war. Not so profound or serious as some of the best books, it nevertheless entertains. As a former X-Phile, I especially enjoyed the Animorphs' thinly-veiled take on that favorite target of conspiracy theorists, Area 51. It earned an extra half-star for the real secret hidden at the base, one that would've made for an absolutely priceless "moment" for Agents Mulder and Scully.

Treasure Island (Robert Louis Stevenson)

Treasure Island
Robert Louis Stevenson
Public Domain Books
Fiction, YA Adventure
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Young Jim Hawkins never anticipated a life of adventure, content to live and work with his parents at the quiet Admiral Benbow inn... but when the surly old sea dog came to stay, trouble soon found him. When the man breathes his last, he leaves behind a sea chest, a curious map, and a dark collection of murderous enemies. Jim soon finds himself swept far away from the family inn, as part of an ill-fated expedition to Treasure Island searching for pirate treasure.

REVIEW: As I've mentioned previously, I keep meaning to expand my reading horizons beyond fantasy and the occasional sci-fi. It was also free on Kindle, so now seemed as good a time as any to catch up on yet another classic I never got around to reading in my youth. It proved reasonably interesting, full of danger and adventure... and if characterization tended to stereotype and Jim proved uncommonly lucky in his perpetual ability to win against all odds (or at least fail in beneficial ways), well, it is ultimately a sailor's tale, and nobody exaggerates a tale quite like a salty sailor. The pirate slang and sea jargon grew thick at times, and the elder-day writing style made for occasionally slow going, but overall it kept me reading. Not a bad story, and certainly worth the price. (I've read worse "classics," I can tell you that much.)

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Change (K. A Applegate)

The Change
(The Animorphs series, Book 13)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
**** (Good)



NOTE: In honor of the re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorphs books.

DESCRIPTION: Tobias has come to terms with his new life... mostly. Trapped in the body of a red-tailed hawk, he finds himself living in two worlds. In one, he is an Animorph like his friends, helping to fight the invading Yeerks, a human boy who happens to have wings and feathers and laser-sharp vision. In the other, however, he's a hunter, a bird of prey who feeds on mice and sleeps in a tree. In neither world does he feel entirely comfortable; a hawk's life is a hard one for the once-gentle boy he used to be, and he doesn't consider himself much of an Animorph anymore since he's stuck forever in an animal body. But he has no choice in the matter. It's not like he can ever be human again.
While spying on Controllers, Tobias suddenly finds himself watching the impossible: a pair of Hork-Bajir, free of Yeerk infestation, escaping into the woods. They are the only free members of their species in the galaxy, and the Yeerks are pulling out all the stops to recapture the refugees. Forces greater than he can understand seem to want Tobias to help the pair. If he succeeds, those forces might grant the wish he's been too afraid to voice, the wish that he thought had died when he passed the fateful two-hour limit in hawk morph: the wish to be human once more.

REVIEW: Another plot-pivotal episode in the series, it maintains the action-heavy pace while allowing for the occasional introspective break. Tobias has to admit that he hasn't reconciled himself to his strange new life as fully as he thought he had... just as he has to admit that, even if he regains his human form, he can never be the boy he used to be. By the end, a few new wrinkles have been added to the mytharc.
After this book, in the original release, came The Andalite Chronicles (reviewed on my website here - and, yes, I know I have the insertion point wrong... I'll fix it when I update next), the first of four extra books that delve into the backstory of the Animorphs universe. While not necessary, I'd recommend reading them in the order in which they were originally released; some elements in the Chronicles books constitute spoilers - or might not make sense - if you haven't "caught up" to where the series stood at the time of publication (or if you jump over them altogether.)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Why Cats Paint (Heather Busch and Burton Silver)

Why Cats Paint
Heather Busch and Burton Silver
Ten Speed Press
Fiction, Art/Humor
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: The notion that humans alone are capable of producing works of art has been challenged in recent years by elephants, primates... and now cats. As far back as Ancient Egypt, the ability of felines to create for creativity's sake has been recognized. Today, works by modern cat masters sell for five figures or more. The authors examine the history of cat painting and provide profiles of numerous feline artists at work today, in fields ranging from portraiture to abstraction, with numerous photographs of their works.

REVIEW: When this book, a deadpan parody of the art world, was first released, some sources actually believed it was real. Busch and Silver nail the too-serious tone of modern art, taking the smallest marks and most vague connections to ridiculously high-concept extremes. It also, unfortunately, grows just as tedious at several points, perpetually driving home the joke of the book long after the point has been made. It still prompts a few chuckles. (I also don't even want to know how long it took to clean the cats in some of the photographs...)

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Reaction (K. A. Applegate)

The Reaction
(The Animorphs series, Book 12)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)



NOTE: In honor of the recent re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorphs books.

DESCRIPTION: Rachel's never been one to hesitate when something needs doing. When she's on a class trip to The Gardens and sees the young boy fall into the crocodile exhibit, she jumps right in to save him. But when she acquires a crocodile's DNA as part of her impromptu rescue plan, something doesn't feel right. Nevertheless, she manages to make it out without being spotted, so even though Jake's angry, it's no big deal.
The Animorphs have just learned that the popular teen actor Jeremy Jason McCole is being recruited to promote The Sharing, the civic organization that's a front for the Yeerks. Rachel and Cassie, like most every girl between the ages of ten and twenty in the country, know from personal experience just how much influence he has - if he says jump, millions of potential hosts won't bother asking how high before throwing themselves into a Yeerk pool. As luck would have it, McCole's coming to town to kick off the promotion... but even as the Animorphs plan to crash the party, Rachel finds herself morphing out of control. The Andalite technology that gives her the power to morph seems to be going haywire - and the very ability that lets her fight just might get the entire group killed.

REVIEW: Applegate sure knows her target audience, the power of celebrity crushes, and fandom in general: PR tactics like this would've handed Earth to the Yeerks on a silver platter. The story itself just doesn't hold together as well as previous books, unfortunately, drifting close to goofiness at the climax. I almost wonder if this wasn't the effort of an early ghostwriter. But it's still readable.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Forgotten (K. A. Applegate)

The Forgotten
(The Animorphs series, Book 11)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)



NOTE: In honor of the recent re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorphs books.

DESCRIPTION: Since that first night, back in the abandoned construction site, Jake has been the unofficial leader of the Animorphs team. It wasn't something he ever asked for, or even wanted, but somehow everyone looked to him for answers, for decisions, for battle plans. So now he's the head of the only morph-capable humans on Earth, the only ones who know of the Yeerk invasion. Even the young Andalite warrior-cadet Ax looks to him for decisions. Why can't they see that he's not a leader, that he's just as scared and insecure as any middle-school-aged boy faced with impossible choices? It's enough to drive a boy crazy... and maybe it has.
All day, Jake has been having hallucinations. Strange, hyper-realistic hallucinations of a green world full of danger and death. Then Tobias relays a message: something's happened downtown that has the high-level Controllers in a frenzy to cover it up. Guards, machine guns... whatever's gone wrong, it's something big. Something that could really hurt the Yeerks. Do the Animorphs go in to investigate, or do they stay back? Everyone's waiting on Jake's word - but how is Jake supposed to be a leader when he can't even keep hold of his sanity?

REVIEW: Applegate flirts with trouble by bringing in the sci-fi chestnut of time travel, but manages to skirt the line... admittedly by using high-level action and the dangerous wonders of the Amazon as distractions. But I was willing to let myself be distracted. Though the serial format of the series (mostly) ensures major characters passage through a given adventure, they do so by the skins of their teeth, with enough problems and setbacks and doubts along the way to still make for an exciting read. While not quite the triumph that The Android was, The Forgotten's still a strong chapter in a remarkable series.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Android (K. A. Applegate)

The Android
(The Animorphs series, Book 10)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
***** (Great)



NOTE: In honor of the re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorphs books.

DESCRIPTION: Marco used to be the most reluctant of the Animorphs... that is, until the Yeerks gave him a very good reason to fight. His mother, supposedly drowned in a boating accident, is the host of Visser One, instigator of the invasion that is now under the command of Visser Three. He knows he may never get his mom back, but he also knows that the Yeerks will pay for what they've done to his family... even if it costs him his own life.
While in morph, Marco discovers something very strange about an old friend, Erek - a friend who is now handing out flyers for the Yeerk front organization The Sharing. As he and the Animorphs investigate, they discover a secret older than the pyramids... and face a choice that could change the course of the war.

REVIEW: Human drama, difficult choices, new morphs, new secrets, danger, plenty of action, and a nice dose of humor... The Android represents the Animorphs series at its finest. Wisecracking Marco deals with some very heavy problems, especially when the Yeerks make a play for his father. Applegate introduces the Chee, the alien android race living in hiding on Earth, who are not only an intriguing addition to the Animorphs universe but prove very useful in later installments. The whole combination just clicks here. The only real drawback is the spider morph on the cover, but I'm not (quite) arachnophobic enough to let that affect the rating.

You're Finally Here! (Mélanie Watt)

You're Finally Here!
Mélanie Watt
Hyperion
Fiction, YA Picture Book
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: A picture book bunny has been waiting and waiting for a reader to come along. Now that you've picked up his book, he just might never let you leave!

REVIEW: We had some down time at work today, and this happened to be at the top of the bin. A nice, silly little read that dares the reader to walk away. The illustrations are simple but expressive, and the story itself is fun. That's about all I asked of it at the time.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Secret (K. A. Applegate)

The Secret
(The Animorphs series, Book 9)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)



NOTE: In honor of the re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorphs books.

DESCRIPTION: The Animorphs hurt the Yeerks bad when they destroyed the Earth-based Kandrona - a vital source of nutrients for the parasitic alien slugs in their native state - but the war isn't over yet. Visser Three still thinks he's fighting Andalite bandits, and he knows Andalites need a place to feed and hide while in their native form. A place like the national forest... where Aximili, the only Andalite of the group, lives. Under the guise of a logging company, the Yeerks mean to hunt down the bandits or destroy their sanctuary trying.
As the Animorphs scramble to stop the plan, Cassie finds herself facing a crisis. For years, she's been an animal lover, a defender of the environment. Being up close and personal with the world as seen through animal eyes has given her a whole new perspective in Mother Nature, where the primary rule of survival isn't love thy neighbor. It's kill or be killed.

REVIEW: Once more, the series turns its eye on the natural world as a source of conflict, rather than just the alien invaders. Cassie has to come to terms with the harsh reality of Nature and her place as both human being and soldier. Applegate doesn't foist off easy answers on her, because there are none. In some ways, this is the tale of a girl growing up, forced to leave behind the simple ideals of childhood as she discovers just how complicated the world really is. One of the stronger books thus far, in part because it doesn't shy away from thorny morality issues.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Alien (K. A. Applegate)

The Alien
(The Animorphs series, Book 8)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)


NOTE: In honor of the re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorphs books.

DESCRIPTION: Aximili-Esgarrouth-Isthill should never have been on the Andalite Dome ship that came to Earth. As an underaged aristh, a warrior-cadet, he had no place among the full-fledged warriors and princes of his people. But with Prince Elfangor, the great hero, as his older brother, certain exceptions tended to be made. Even then, nobody expected an exceptionally fierce battle... just as nobody expected the Blade ship the Yeerks had hidden on the Earth's moon, the ship that turned the tide against the Andalites. Only when he was rescued from the wreckage on the ocean floor by four humans did he learn the full devastation of the battle... that he was the last free Andalite alive on Earth, that his brother had been killed by the foul Andalite-Controller Visser Three.
And that, in his last moments, the hero Prince Elfangor had broken the greatest law of the Andalite race by giving five human children the technology to morph.
As days turn to weeks, Aximili joins the Animorphs in thier battle against the Yeerk invasion, but he is not one of them. He can never be one of them, never be a true and full companion to these primitive aliens. To share information about his people and their technology would only further compound Elfangor's crime. Besides, as trusting as the Animorphs are now, how could they continue to be his friends if they were to learn the reason for the very law Elfangor broke - the secret shame of the Andalites that drives them to hunt the Yeerks across the galaxy?

REVIEW: Ax the alien finally gets his book-length debut, telling the story from his point of view. As with his chapters in the first Megamorphs book, his narrative leans a bit heavily on Earth-based terminology. The humor of Ax's near-complete inability to function in human morph also grows a bit stale; I understand that he's still a kid, but he's also supposed to be reasonably intelligent. Those issues aside, Ax finally has to confront his conflicting loyalties and decide which master - which world - he ultimately serves. He has an understandably difficult time with this, worsened when he discovers a means of communicating with his homeworld. Overall, while not a stellar installment in the franchise, it's still reasonably entertaining, and Applegate manages to explain some cultural and physical anomolies of the Andalite people.
I also have to say that the original artistic interpretation of the Andalite here doesn't quite match the descriptions given in the book.

Magician: Apprentice (Raymond E. Feist)

Magician: Apprentice
(The Riftwar Saga, Book 1)
Raymond E. Feist
Bantam Spectra
Fiction, Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)


DESCRIPTION: The orphan Pug and Tomas, the cook's son, have been as brothers since their earliest memories. At the rustic court of Crydee, on the western frontier fringes of the Kingdom, they fought and ran and played as boys do, each dreaming of a future filled with glory as each holds a private affection for Princess Carline, daughter of the Duke - an affection shared by most every other castle boy, including their friend Squire Roland. But now their childhood comes to an end, as they stand before the Craftmasters who will decide their futures. Tomas is taken under the wing of the castle Swordmaster, to become a soldier in the Duke's garrison. Pug finds himself with a more unusual master, the magician Kulgan. The old man has never taken an apprentice before, and Pug is determined to live up to the man's trust... but, while the book learning comes easy enough, the practice continually eludes him. The boy has talent - even Father Tully, the castle priest, can determine that - but his magic resists the usual paths of expression.
When a strange shipwreck washes onto the rocks near the castle, thoughts of elusive magic and would-be glory are swept away. The lone survivor dies days afterwards, but not before revealing a terrible truth: the ship traveled from another world, a world already gaining a foothold in Midkemia. They do not come in peace, but under a banner of war - and their strange magicks are far superior to those wielded by Kulgan and other native mages. Even as the Duke calls upon allies among the dwarves and elves, the alien Tsurani strike.
Pug, Tomas, and Roland used to dream of becoming brave heroes. Now, each is set upon a path far greater, and more dangerous, than any they dreamt of, a path that leads through foreign intrigue, intra-Kingdom political squabbles, mountain deeps, elven glades... possibly beyond the doors of Death itself.

REVIEW: I often wonder if there are other worlds intermingling with our own, if the Earth experienced by other people is perhaps an entirely different planet than the one I inhabit. This book would be a prime example. It's considered a fantasy classic, even appearing on the recent NPR list of top 100 fantasy and sci-fi novels of all time. After reading it, I can only conclude that there is another book of the same name by the same author that earned these accolades.
The story starts slow, poking and meandering through Pug's young life in the carefree wilds of Crydee. Along the way, we meet a number of fantasy chestnuts posing as characters, including the Friendly Forest Ranger, the Good Duke, the Beautiful Princess (who, despite being introduced as a kindly person with a smile for all, treats Pug worse than a dog until he saves her life from a pair of stereotypical trolls), and more. Later, we encounter elves of unearthly beauty who live in treetop homes amid uncanny magicks, steadfast dwarves of the mountain mines, primitive bands of raiding goblins, a band of dark beings who - shock of shocks - are bad-blood cousins of the elves... I think you get the idea. Not an original idea on the page, save the notion of otherworldly travel, and even the Tsurani become more of a racial stereotype than an intriguing presence. Pug himself becomes something of a cliche, the Orphan Hero who elicits unnatural behavior in those around him, in order that he might find himself at the center of attention. At one point, an elven prince arrives to consult with the Duke about the Tsurani threat - a very big deal, as elves have never left their forest fastness to treat with men in living memory. This most honored and ancient of beings, however, happily makes a side-trip to talk to Pug, not only about his unusual magic but about his girl troubles! Enemies from another world invading the land, and the elf prince smilingly listens to an orphan boy whine about a girl... a girl who, quite frankly, comes across as such a selfish, game-playing twit, gleefully pitting two friends against each other for the dubious prize of her heart, that I couldn't give a rat's tail about which way she'd cast her regal affections.
Meanwhile, the plot wends its way along, hitting stereotype after stereotype. Months and years pass in the blink of an eye, while short trips draw themselves out painfully. There's a battle here and there to keep things interesting, and a death count consisting almost entirely of "red shirts." (To borrow from the classic Star Trek, the nameless hordes of red-shirted extras were always the first to fall in any given conflict.) The story doesn't so much end as run out of pages; nothing comes to any sort of conclusion, nor does it end on a cliffhanger. It was as if Feist just decided to stop writing.
What was I missing? What, in this collection of illogical characters and stale chestnuts, made this one of the top 100 speculative fiction books of all time? This was even the author's preferred edition, wherein Feist, with fifteen years and several other successful titles under his belt, went back to revise his first published work. To be fair, the saga as a whole earned the honors, but having read this, who would pick up a second book? Why return to the bitter well hoping for sweet water? I've done that one too many times, myself, and wound up with a second choking cup too often to waste more time and money here. The only possible explanation is that which I first surmised: I must be living in a separate dimension from the rest of humankind. In your world, wherever it may be, perhaps this is a sterling example of fine fantasy fiction, but not on my side of the rift.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Andalite's Gift (K. A. Applegate)

The Andalite's Gift
(The Animorphs series, Megamorphs 1)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
****
(Good)



NOTE: In honor of the re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorphs books.

DESCRIPTION: Jake, Cassie, Rachel, and Marco - plus Tobias, the boy-turned-hawk, and Ax, the Andalite - have been fighting the invading Yeerks ever since that fateful night when they met the dying Andalite, Prince Elfangor, in the abandoned construction site. Given the alien technology to morph into animals, they've struck some serious blows to the invading parasites and caused major troubles for the leader of the invasion, the foul Visser Three. But they're also still human kids, and even superheroes need a weekend off once in a while. With Rachel on her way to a gymnastics camp and Cassie and Jake going to a pool party, they figured they'd leave off the fight for humanity's freedom for a couple days and take some time to just be normal kids.
They figured wrong.
When Rachel goes missing and a new threat appears - an unnatural whirlwind of dust that can form itself into a hideous alien killing machine - the Animorphs realize that their R-&-R will have to wait for a while. The Yeerks have just unleashed a new terror to combat the "Andalite bandits" who have been harrying their invasion efforts. But how can they fight a dustcloud that chews up houses and trees like a living woodchipper... a cloud that can follow them anywhere, through any morph?

REVIEW: The Megamorphs books are "super-edition" installments - the TV movie specials of the series run, so to speak - rotating through multiple character POVs. It works, more or less, telling a longer and somewhat more intense story than the usual Animorphs book. The amnesia storyline with Rachel felt more like a worn plot-extending chestnut than a genuine plot twist, and Ax's chapters also leaned a little heavily on Earth-based terminology for a supposedly alien character, but for the most part it's on par with the bulk of the series. Oddly enough, I had the feeling that Applegate (or more likely Scholastic) was still trying to lure in new readers with this book: multiple characters relate the "how we became Animorphs" tale, and Rachel's amnesia almost feels like an excuse to rehash their predicament yet again.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Stranger (K. A. Applegate)

The Stranger
(The Animorphs series, Book 7)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
**** (Good)



NOTE: In honor of the re-release of the series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the Animorph books.

DESCRIPTION: Rachel has always been one of the most enthusiastic of the Animorphs, ready to fight from the start. But even as she's dealing out death and destruction to the Yeerks, she's also still a kid, with little sisters and a lawyer mother and a newscaster father who have recently divorced. Now, her dad's moving halfway across the country... and he wants Rachel to come with him.
Even as she struggles with that problem, the Animorphs face another: during their latest attempt to infiltrate the underground Yeerk pool, they find themselves confronted with a brand-new alien. Known as an Ellimist, he can fold space and time like cheap origami paper - and, according to him, the fight to save Earth is already lost. A select few humans might be saved on a distant, safe world beyond the reach of the Yeerks... if the Animorphs agree. Now, everyone wants Rachel to make up her mind.
Leave the city? Leave the fight? Or leave the planet? What's a girl supposed to do... and will she live long enough to make the decision at all?

REVIEW: If this book seems a little weaker than the previous installment, it's because so much is shoehorned into the story. Some very mytharc-pivotal stuff is going on here, from the introduction of the Ellimist to the possibility of the Animorphs' first decisive victory in the war, and the plot has to do some stretching to accommodate it. Rachel, always the strong one, finds herself on the verge of crumbling under the pressure she faces from so many different fronts. Her family matters might seem laughably trivial compared to the fight to save Earth, but to a middle-school-age girl they carry similar weight; it's a credit to Applegate that I, as a reader, was able to understand that she couldn't just "get over it" and focus on the "big" stuff. It all comes together in the end, moving both mytharc and characters forward for the next book.
In rereading the series, I keep finding myself noting how quickly times change. None of the Animorphs owns a cell phone. In a previous book, Cassie talks about setting the VCR to record a TV show. Even Marco's nickname for Rachel, Xena, probably seems dated to modern middle-schoolers, though it was a prominent pop-culture reference in the late 1990's. (I'd say it makes me feel old, but I was over the target age when I first read these books anyway... and my dad always swiped them as soon as I got through with them.)
And I'll switch to a new link as soon as the reissue becomes available for pre-order... in the meantime, this one works.

September Site Update, Reviews Archived

The previous thirteen reviews have been archived at Brightdreamer Books, with cross-links to related titles. I wound up adding a new page for my Animorphs reviews; Applegate's page was already dangerously long.

I've also started going through my existing reviews, tweaking grammar and fixing spelling issues and otherwise fiddling with little things that have been bugging me. It's still a work in progress...

Enjoy!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Hero of Ages (Brandon Sanderson)

The Hero of Ages
(The Mistborn trilogy, Book 3)
Brandon Sanderson
Tor
Fiction, Fantasy
***+ (Okay/Good)


DESCRIPTION: Betrayed by her own instincts, Vin unintentionally released a powerful, malevolent force from the Well of Ascension. Ruin was one of the primordial entities that, along with its counterpart Preservation, created the world - a world that it was promised it would one day destroy. Freed, it seeks to make good on the promise that Preservation tried to prevent coming to fruition. There may be hope, left by the Lord Ruler in hidden caches throughout the Final Empire. Vin and her husband, Emperor Elend Venture, race to solve the final riddles left by the enigmatic tyrant, even as their new-fledged empire dissolves into rebellion and chaos. Even those of the inner circle, who helped Vin and Kelsier overthrow the Lord Ruler, seem to be losing faith. With ash burying the land, hordes of bloodthirsty koloss on the move, and the Steel Inquisitors under malevolent control, the whole earth seems to be in its death throes... and this time, not even Vin and her companions may be able to prevent a catastrophe that's been in the making since the world itself was born.

REVIEW: I think that, at its heart, the Mistborn trilogy was really only two books... possibly even just one and a half. The rest of it boils down to brooding. Every character spends an inordinate amount of time brooding, lodged in their own dark thoughts and picking at the same inner scabs while the plot sits quietly by the wayside gathering ash. Oh, that's not to say nothing happens. There are several intense fight sequences, pitting Mistborn Allomantic powers against various foes - enough to trigger the occasional eye glazing, as even the fighting doesn't often move the story forward. (At least one character even manages to brood during an intense fight sequence.) Betrayals and setbacks galore await Vin and her allies in their quest to save humanity from Ruin's grasp. Along the way, the many hints and puzzles of the Mistborn world slowly resolve, clicking together to form a very detailed framework behind the brooding and battles. At the end, Sanderson pulls off some startling revelations... including at least one that almost made me groan out loud. There's even a strong hint of sequel potential. While I didn't hate the trilogy, it ultimately turned into more of a plot-slogger than a page-turner.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Capture (K. A. Applegate)

The Capture
(The Animorphs series, Book 6)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
***** (Great)



NOTE: In honor of the recent re-release, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the entire Animorphs series.

DESCRIPTION: It seems like years ago, when the lives of Jake and his friends changed so drastically - and so literally. Before then, they had no idea that aliens were real, let alone visiting Earth. They'd never heard of the Andalites and their enemies, the parasitic Yeerks who, even now, were invading the planet in their endless quest for new host species. And they certainly never thought that, thanks to the technological gift of a dying Andalite warrior, they'd be able to transform into animals, their one weapon against the Yeerk invasion. But now, life as an Animorph almost seems normal.
Jake's brother, Tom, has been rising swiftly through the ranks as a Controller (as Yeerk-infested lifeforms are known.) Now, Tom's part of a new scheme to use hospitals as "recruitment" centers. As an Animorph, Jake knows he has to stop them by any means possible. As a boy, he can't reconcile himself to the cost: if Tom's plan fails, the invasion leader Visser Three won't spare the innocent host body when punishing the Yeerk. Then a scouting mission goes horribly wrong. Suddenly, it's no longer just Tom's life on the line. It's Jake's... because, now, Jake isn't just an Animorph.
He's a Controller.

REVIEW: The whole Animorphs series has the feel of episodic TV. (There was, actually, a short-lived Animorphs TV series on Nickelodeon, but the less said about that, the better...) In that context, The Capture would've been the sweeps-week special. Like the best of the books, Applegate delivers an action-packed story that's not afraid of introspection or emotional growth. Jake's experience as a Controller gives him some surprising insights into the mind of his enemy, not to mention the invasion as a whole. As the Yeerk learns, it's not just the Animorphs the invaders have to worry about on this planet - a theme that's picked up in several later installments. A great installment in a fun thrill-ride of a series.
And I know I'm getting ahead of the re-release schedule... dang it, I just can't stop myself!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Predator (K. A. Applegate)

The Predator
(The Animorphs series, Book 5)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)



NOTE: In honor of the recent re-release, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the entire Animorphs series.

DESCRIPTION: If anyone had asked Marco whether he'd wanted to be part of Earth's only resistance to parasitic alien invaders, he would've told them no. His life was already in shambles, with his mother drowned in a boating accident and his once-brilliant father a broken shell of a man who barely manages to hold on to a part-time job. But it's hard to say no when a dying alien is offering you the only chance for the survival of your species... and when your best friend, like the natural-born leader he is, has already made up his mind. (Also, Cassie and Rachel were there. How could he say no in front of two girls without looking like a total coward?)
Since then, Marco's faced down death more times than he cares to count, living a shadow life that would drive most people insane. He's felt his own body rearrange its bones and organs, growing flippers or fur or even an exoskeleton. Now, he's facing something even more dangerous than the usual Animorphs job. Aximili (Prince Elfangor's younger brother, whom the team rescued from the wreckage of the Andalite warship in their previous adventure) wants to steal a Yeerk spacecraft and go home - hopefully to help speed up reinforcements. A suicide mission, surely... and Marco's last. He knows the battle against the Yeerks is important, but so is his family, or what's left of it. How long can he play the odds and expect to win? Does he want to end up dead or, like Tobias, trapped in an animal body forever? His mother's death nearly killed his father - his own would finish the man. But even as Marco prepares to leave the fight to his friends, the Yeerks are about to make the battle personal. Very, very personal...

REVIEW: With this book, Marco, last and most reluctant of the Animorphs, takes center stage. All along, he's been the holdout, the pessimist, constantly arguing that the fight is just too big for five middle-schoolers to handle, even as he provides much-needed humor with his smart-aleck remarks - just the thing to break the tension in the face of impossible odds. His reluctance almost got to be too much. Here, at last, he finds redemption as he reveals just why he's having so much trouble committing to the battle. Ironically, the same reasons that made him reluctant to be an Animorph become the very reasons that draw him back into the fight. We readers also get to see more of Ax, rescued at the end of Book 4. The alien works surprisingly well with the team, being neither too superior nor too stupid; as an Andalite, he obviously knows more about the Yeerks, aliens, and technology in general, but he's also a kid, an untested warrior with no practical battle experience and no clue about how to survive on Earth. The action and danger continues to build as the mytharc grows in new and unexpected directions.
Incidentally, I really ought to slow down in my re-reading schedule if I want to keep in synch with Amazon. It looks like they've only re-released Books 1 - 5 so far, with Book 6 not due out until March of 2012. But, as with my first run-through of the series, I'm finding it hard to slow down; that wait each month for the latest installment always seemed twice as long as it should have...

Monday, September 12, 2011

The Message (K. A. Applegate)

The Message
(The Animorphs series, Book 4)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
**** (Good)


NOTE: In honor of the recent re-release, I'm finally posting individual reviews of the entire Animorphs series.

DESCRIPTION: Cassie never asked for the power to morph, any more than she asked to fight against parasitic alien slugs intent on taking over the human race. As an animal lover, she can't deny that the ability to become any animal - to see the world through their senses, to peer into their inhuman minds - holds a certain fascination. It's the rest of the job - the whole fight against ruthless enemies who would kill or enslave her given half a chance - that scares her. She's no leader, like Jake, nor a warrior at heart, like her friend Rachel. But she knows she wasn't given this gift simply to commune with the beasts; it would be an insult to the memory of Prince Elfangor, who died after giving her and her friends the Andalite technology to morph, to not use it as he'd intended, to defend Earth until more Andalite forces arrive. Unfortunately, nobody knows when that will be...
Lately, Cassie's been having some very strange dreams. A voice seems to be calling to her... a voice that, she realizes, isn't human. When Tobias admits to having had similar dreams, she starts to wonder if it's more than it seems. Then Jake mentions the segment on the news the night before, about a strange piece of metal that washed up on the shore: a piece of the lost Andalite warship. Maybe Cassie and her friends don't have to wait for more Andalites to come; maybe some of them survived, as Elfangor did, only to be trapped in the wreckage under the sea. If so, their time may be running out, for the Animorphs aren't the only ones who watch the news. Certainly some Controllers, Yeerk-infested humans, saw it, too. And if Cassie and Tobias are hearing the dream-messages calling for help, then Visser Three - the only Andalite-Controller in the galaxy - has no doubt heard them as well.

REVIEW: Another action-filled adventure in the life of the Animorphs. Alongside the superficial action, the characters continue to deal with the stresses of fighting an invisible enemy, not to mention the morality shifts required when one is forced into the life of a guerilla warrior. With each book rotating through a different character's point of view, Applegate establishes each member of the team as an individual, with different thoughts and feelings and motivations. Cassie's love of nature and respect for animals causes her to question the ethics of morphing; she doesn't find any easy answers, but she does find acceptance, after a fashion. Fairly fun, and it reads fast, even if it wandered a little close to New Age territory while exploring the minds of dolphins and whales.

The Amulet of Samarkand (Jonathan Stroud and Andrew Donkin)

The Amulet of Samarkand
(A Bartimaeus graphic novel)
Jonathan Stroud and Andrew Donkin
Disney Hyperion
Fiction, YA Fantasy/Graphic Novel
**** (Good)

DESCRIPTION: In a modern-day London ruled by magicians, young Nathaniel finds himself apprenticed to Mr. Underwood, a mage of modest ability, miniscule courage, and less ambition. The boy might have gone on to follow in his footsteps... but when another magician utterly humiliates him (while Underwood does nothing to defend him), a great rage awakens, driving Nathanial to go far beyond anything his master dared to teach him in search of revenge.
After five thousand years in and out of service to various magicians through the ages, the djinni Bartimaeus has pretty much seen it all. When he catches sight of the stripling apprentice who summoned him, he figured it'd be an easy job: a prank on a rival, a levitation, some other flashy but ultimately pointless display of his incredible powers. But this boy has a much more dangerous game in mind. He orders Bartimaeus to steal the Amulet of Samarkand, a powerful artifact with a bloody past, from a dangerous mage. Soon, boy and djinni find themselves caught up on a dark plot of rebellion, black magic, and betrayals that could shake the very foundations of the House of Parliament and England itself.
Based on the novel The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud.

REVIEW: A pretty good interpretation, it captures the essential humor and hidden shadows of Stroud's novel. Having the author involved in the graphic novel adaptation really does make a difference, here, as many of the fun touches that made the book so fun survived translation.  Some parts might have been a bit hard to follow without knowing the original story; it was, necessarily, condensed somewhat from the original. The artwork strikes a nice balance, not too simple to tell the story yet not too busy to clutter the pages. While some of the characters may not have matched my mental images of them, all are recognizable from the descriptions in the original book. If you enjoyed Stroud's books, you'll enjoy this graphic novel.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Encounter (K. A. Applegate)

The Encounter
(The Animorphs series, Book 3)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
****+ (Good/Great)



NOTE: In honor of the recent re-release of the Animorphs series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of all 54-plus books, to replace the en-masse series review on my book review website.
And, yes, I promise I won't post more than three in a row... I am still reading other things, after all.

DESCRIPTION: A few weeks ago, five ordinary kids took a shortcut home through an abandoned construction site. They didn't know about aliens. They'd never heard of the parasitic Yeerks, the blade-festooned Hork-Bajir, the giant scavenger-centipede Taxxons, or the deer-centaur Andalites who opposed them. They had no idea Earth was already under attack by the Yeerks, or that the popular civic organization The Sharing was the front for their recruitment forces. And they had no idea that, with a little help from Andalite technology, a person could morph into any animal they can touch: the one weapon the dying Andalite Prince Elfangor was able to give them to defend their homeworld. That gift transformed them from five children to five warriors. The Animorphs.
Now, they are only four kids: Jake, Rachel, Cassie, and Marco. And one red-tailed hawk named Tobias.
Stuck in animal form after their disastrous first mission, Tobias clings to the hope that, when the Andalites return to this sector of the galaxy, they'll have a cure for his condition. In the meantime, he acts as the ultimate spy, harnessing a hawk's vision and flight with a human brain. It was he who first spotted the peculiar ripple in the sky - a ripple caused by a cloaked Yeerk ship, traveling to and from the mountains on a regular schedule. Even as the Animorphs investigate, however, Tobias feels his humanity slipping away. To be in a morph is to share an animal mind, with animal instincts, and the longer he's trapped, the more powerful those instincts become. How long can Tobias the human survive in the brain of a wild hawk?

REVIEW: This was the one that hooked me, taking the story from a simple alien-invasion/paranoia action series to something else altogether. All along, the kids have had to struggle with their animal morphs almost as hard as they've struggled to fight the Yeerks and avoid revealing their identities; Visser Three still thinks he's fighting Andalites escaped from their doomed ship, a delusion the Animorphs happily perpetuate to spare their families the danger. This book brings the struggle with the animal mind to the forefront. Tobias wrestles with his new identity, torn between two seemingly incompatible worlds, that of the compassionate human and that of the predatory hawk. The fight nearly leads to his own death, more than once... and at his own talons. His friends, too, must come to terms with their own feelings on his condition - a fate they all could share if they, too, stay in animal form for too long. The fight against the Yeerks continues, of course, but this installment is really more about the people... and the animals whose minds they're obligated to share. I clipped it for a few forced scenes, and one continuity error that, while minor, bugged me.

The Visitor (K. A. Applegate)

The Visitor
(The Animorphs series, Book 2)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)



NOTE: In honor of the recent re-release of the Animorphs series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of all 54-plus books, to replace the en-masse series review on my book review website.

DESCRIPTION: A week ago, Rachel was no different than most of the girls at junior high. Then she and her friends met the dying alien Elfangor, and everything changed... even her. Elfangor, in his final moments, gave the kids the power to morph into animals, a weapon to use against parasitic Yeerk invaders. Now Rachel and her friends are the Animorphs, Earth's only defense in a war that nobody knows about... nobody who doesn't already have an alien slug in their brains, at least.
In hopes of finding the Kandrona, a vital component of the Yeerks' survival in their native form, the kids decide to track Assistant Principal Chapman, whom they know hosts a highly-ranked Yeerk. Rachel used to be close to Chapman's daughter Melissa, and while they've drifted apart, she still feels bad betraying a friend. What starts as an infiltration mission quickly becomes more personal - and more dangerous - than Rachel could ever have imagined.

REVIEW: Again, while The Visitor is a fast-paced, action-oriented story, I never foresaw myself reading the entire Animorphs series when I read it. The kids still struggle to accept the responsibility that's been dropped onto their shoulders, with Marco as the most vocal opponent to risking their lives against impossible odds. In this book, Rachel finds her own reason to fight, much as Jake found his in the first volume. Applegate manages to visualize the world as seen through animal eyes, a gimmick that could've easily misfired in the wrong hands. Like most serial stories, for all the struggle the characters go through and the dangers they face, little has changed by the end, with just enough advancement to crawl into the next adventure. I also thought it tried a little too hard to drive home the emotional toll of the Yeerk invasion.
When I saw that the third book would feature Tobias, the Animorph who found himself trapped in hawk form in the first book, I told myself I'd read just one more. Famous last words...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Invasion (K. A. Applegate)

The Invasion
(The Animorphs series, Book 1)
K. A. Applegate
Scholastic
Fiction, Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)


NOTE: In honor of the recent re-release of the Animorphs series, I'm finally posting individual reviews of all 54-plus books, to replace the en-masse series review on my book review website. As I'm squeezing in re-reads on top of my existing book backlog, this project could take some time...

DESCRIPTION: Jake used to be an ordinary American kid. His biggest problems were running out of quarters for the video games at the mall and not making the cut of the junior high basketball team. Then he, his best friend Marco, his cousin Rachel and her friend Cassie, and the strange new boy Tobias decided to take a shortcut home from the mall, through the old construction site. That's when they saw the UFO... and when their ordinary lives ended.
Prince Elfangor, a centaur-like Andalite, was dying when his battered ship landed. He tells the children that he is the last of his kind left in this sector of space, sole survivor after a fierce space battle with the Yeerks. Little more than an outsized slug, a Yeerk crawls into a victim's brain, taking over their bodies and memories and turning their victim into a Controller. Some entire species in the galaxy have succumbed to the parasites. It could be years before more Andalites arrive, and by then it may be too late for Earth. To fight back, Elfangor defies his race's protocols about sharing advanced technology, giving Jake and his friends the Andalite power to morph into any animal they can touch. Morphing proves as much a danger as a strength, and there's much more to it than Elfangor had time to explain before the Yeerks arrived to finish him off, but for now it's the only tool they have.
Now Jake and his friends are Earth's only defense against the Yeerk invaders, their terrifying alien host-bodies, and their foul leader: the only Andalite-Controller in the galaxy, with his own array of monstrous alien morphs... the abomination known as Visser Three.

REVIEW: This book reads like a pilot episode for a TV series, down to the sometimes-awkward setups and the details that change once the series gets picked up. It starts fairly fast, introducing the characters, establishing the "game rules" for the universe, and giving a taste of the action, paranoia, and occasional humor that form the bulk of the series. Jake finds himself unexpectedly - and unwillingly - thrust into the role of group leader, a job he almost refuses until the Yeerk invasion hits too close to home. With his friends, he has a good support team, even if - like Jake - none of them feel up to the monumental task of saving humanity. Applegate creates some nicely non-humanoid aliens, and if a few of them stretch the laws of physics and nature, well, Animorphs is ultimately an alien-blasting action series. Some fact issues bugged me (such as the "backwards knee" on dogs; as digitigrade walkers, that's the ankle, not the knee, as a quick glance at a dog skeleton amply proves), but on the whole it intrigued me just enough to keep reading... which is just as well, as I originally bought this book because I wanted to read Book 2. (It had a cat on the cover. I never pretended to be a sophisticated book buyer...)
Oh - and I must say that, while I liked the "morphing" covers of the original Animorphs run, the new ones are rather cool, in a shiny-object way. (Hey, I told you, I'm not that sophisticated...)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Found (Margaret Peterson Haddix)

Found
(The Missing series, Book 1)
Margaret Peterson Haddix
Simon & Schuster
Fiction, YA Sci-Fi
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: 13-year-old Jonah always knew he was adopted, but never thought to wonder about his birth parents until he received the letter. In a plain envelope, without a return address, it claimed he was one of the "Missing." He brushes it off as a bad prank - he is, after all, in seventh grade, and some of his classmates can be jerks - but then a second note arrives: "Beware! They're coming back to get you!" When his best friend Chip, who never knew he was adopted, receives the same letter, it suddenly isn't funny anymore.
While Chip becomes obsessed with digging for answers, joined by Jonah's younger sister Katherine (a sixth-grade pain who never lets go of whatever she's sunk her teeth into), Jonah himself nothing to do with it... not even when the trail leads them to the FBI, a government conspiracy, altered realities, and many more adopted children all living in the same area. Unlike Chip, he always had a happy home; he doesn't want to be part of what sounds more and more like a bad Hollywood thriller. But, even if Jonah won't search for the truth, that won't stop the terrible truth from finding him.

REVIEW: I found Haddix's Shadow Children books (the two I read, at least) reasonably entertaining, so when I found this book clearance-priced, I figured it'd be worth a try. Jonah started out a reasonable protagonist, but I soon tired of his willful ignorance; if the reader's window to the world deliberately keeps closing the blinds because it doesn't want to see what's outside, it doesn't make for a great reading experience. The plot advances in spite of, not because of, his actions; both Chip and Katherine make far more interesting characters, investing themselves fully in the mystery. Maybe it's because of this, but the clues to the conspiracy feel random and more than a little convenient to the plot. The last 80-odd pages compensate by moving almost too quickly, concluding by hurtling the reader off the edge of a cliffhanger. The ending, at least, pulled things together reasonably, with enough originality for the extra half-star in the ratings. Overall, Found read fast, and I've killed afternoons in far worse books.