Prince Caspian, by C. S. Lewis: A Review

Part of my “rainbow” list for the Year of the Series, Prince Caspian is also #1 on my 2017 Reading Challenge list, a book from my childhood. I remember starting to read the first book in the Chronicles of Narnia series as a child, but I’m certain I never read the rest of the books. So this was a new experience for me.

Prince Caspian is the second book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, at least by publication date. More recent editions of the series put this book as number four. There is apparently much debate over what order they should be read, whether by publication date or chronologically. Personally, I made the decision to read the books in their original order.

This is the story of Prince Caspian during a time that follows the time of the reign of the four Pevensie siblings in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. In the realm of Narnia, many years have passed, and the world is much changed. Humans from another land have taken over Narnia and talking animals have become things of legend. Caspian is the rightful heir, but the kingdom has been usurped by his uncle. The story follows his attempt to reclaim the throne with the help of some “old world” Narnians.

Peter, Susan, Edward and Lucy end up getting recalled to Narnia, but without any of their old trappings of rulership. The Pevensies must first rediscover Narnia. Then, with the guidance of Aslan, they go to assist Prince Caspian.

Like the first book, this is the story of the struggles of faith and the triumph of what is right. Even though this series was written many years ago, it is still a fun read. It has remained popular with children for decades, and I’m glad I now get to share this piece of my childhood with my own children.

I started reading these books last year with my boys. Though it isn’t one of their favorites, they will usually go along with it when I pull it off the shelf. I get it. Compared to their usual choices (we’re still in the picture book stage), the Narnia books have a lot of words, and very few pictures. The edition I have does have some black and white simple drawings on some pages.

To be honest, from a child’s perspective (mine are 4, 6 and 7 currently), Lewis’s books aren’t quite as fun as a full color picture book. Still, I keep reading it with them. My oldest seems to enjoy it, and will even sometimes choose the book himself, so I have hope that we will be able to continue to read books together even when they have a lot of words, and not a lot of pictures.

I will continue to read through the rest of this series as my children allow. I hope as they grow they will come to choose these and others like it for us to read together again and again. I am always looking for more such books to challenge myself and my children. What are your favorite read aloud children’s books?

The Tempest, by Shakespeare: a Review

This play joined my 2017 Reading Challenge on a whim. I’d been wanting to read some more Shakespeare again, but I didn’t know where I should start. I found an audio version of The Tempest as part of a collection with six other plays by other notable playwrights.

I listened to The Tempest and had a hard time following the story. I couldn’t tell who was who. I couldn’t keep track of the entrances and exits. Even with the voices of different actors, I simply could not follow the story at all.

I thought maybe this was due to the fact I was listening to a play without the benefits of seeing the action. A play, after all, is meant to be seen. I wanted to like it. Or at the very least, to appreciate it. So I found a print version, and I read it. However, I still had difficulties following along.

I’ve enjoyed other works of Shakespeare. But somehow this one escapes me. I just couldn’t get into it.

The audio book I chose to listen to is Seven Classic Plays, narrated by a full cast and published by Blackstone Audio. Several of the other plays I did enjoy, leaving me to conclude it wasn’t simply a lack of visuals that kept me from enjoying The Tempest.

The other plays include:

  • Medea, by Euripides
  • The Imaginary Invalid, by Moliere
  • The Lady of the Camilias, by Alexandre Dumas
  • An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen
  • Arms and the Man, George Bernard Shaw
  • Uncle Vanya, Anton Chekov

I loved Arms and the Man, it was by far my favorite of the seven. The Imaginary Invalid was hilarious. The Lady of the Camilias was beautifully tragic. An Enemy of the People and Medea were at least interesting, but not especially memorable for me personally. And Uncle Vanya was, like Shakespeare’s play, difficult to follow.

The cast that performed these plays for this audio book did a fantastic job. But I do think there is something lost in simply listening to a play rather than witnessing it. A play is a visual thing. It is intended to be seen, and preferably live in a theatre. In this way, the audience becomes part of the play itself, not simply an outside observer.

In the end, I’m still looking for a Shakespeare play to read, and hopefully enjoy. What is your favorite piece by Shakespeare? Is there another playwright you particularly like?

Protector of the Small quartet, by Tamora Pierce: A Review

I recently veered wildly off track from my 2017 Reading Challenge and took up an entire series of books from the teen fiction section at my local library. I picked up the Protector of the Small quartet by Tamora Pierce and read the entire series. Though not on my list, it still fits within the “Year of the Series” theme, so I’m not entirely off base.

I’ve read some of Tamora Pierce’s books before and enjoyed them very much. Going in, I thought this was the series I’d read before, and that it was the first of Pierce’s Tortall quartets. I was wrong on both counts, but I don’t regret picking this one up.

If you haven’t read anything by Tamora Pierce, you may want to start with the Song of the Lioness quartet. While it isn’t necessary, this series can be enjoyed without it, there is some history in the first set of books that might prove useful.

I try to avoid spoilery commentary when I write reviews, so I apologize if this one reveals too much. Let this be fair warning, I suppose, if you don’t want to read the spoilery bits, you might want to skip to the end of the review.

This series follows the adventures of Keladry, the third daughter of a noble family of Mindelan, a province of the Tortall kingdom. It opens with book one, Keladry, or Kel as she prefers to be called, is trying to become the first girl to enter training to become a knight.

Kel’s story follows the Tortallan history in the Song of the Lioness quartet where girls have traditionally not been permitted to become knights. This previous series follows the rise of Alanna the Lioness as she becomes the realm’s first lady knight after disguising herself as a boy. A subsequent law now allows girls to try, and Kel is the first to take advantage of it.

At the beginning of the first book, First Test, a ten year old Kel learns that in order to enter training, she will be required to go through a probationary period of one year. Believing it unfair to require this of her when none of the boys are required to do this, Kel nearly withdraws before she ever begins.

Instead, Kel endures and goes on to even make a few friends in her first year of page training. There is no shortage of enemies either, and she is faced with hazing, bullying and open hostility by many of the other pages. She passes her probationary year despite the many people who would have preferred to see her drop out, and Kel is allowed to return for the next year of page training.

Book two, Page, chronicles the next three years of Kel’s page training. Here the series bogs down, as it is three years of identical activities. Training, Midwinter festival, more hazing, more bullying, more training. And it goes on. Until the final part of the book when Kel is forced to choose between her commitment to becoming a knight and her obligations as a noble, a decision forced on her by those who want nothing more than to see her fail. Again, overcoming overwhelming odds, Kel makes her choice and is prepared to live with the consequences.

In book three, Squire, Kel moves on in her training, eventually being chosen to serve as squire to a knight who commands an elite group of the king’s own guard. Over the course of the next four years she trains with her knight master, learning combat skills, jousting and how to command, among other things. Still, she has to work just as hard, if not harder to prove herself to a new set of doubters.

Events during this book take the kingdom of Tortall through a summer-long parade around the realm to announce the betrothal of the young prince complete with feasting, celebrations and jousting tournaments. Before the end of the summer, however, this tour is interrupted by rumblings of war from their northern neighbor, and Kel is reassigned along with her companions to help hold the border.

During her final test for knighthood, Kel is presented with a mysterious task that leads right into the events of book four, Lady Knight. As war rages along the northern border, Kel is placed in command of a refugee camp. Feeling frustrated that she has been placed in a “safe” assignment because she’s a girl, Kel nonetheless takes her responsibilities seriously.

Once more, Kel is put into a position where she is forced to choose between her duty to her commanding officer and by extension, the realm, and her responsibility to protect the people under her command. She is finally thrust into the role she’s been training for throughout the entire series, the Protector of the Small.

Overall, the Protector of the Small series is fantastic. It’s the coming of age story of a girl pursing a non-traditional life in a society that doesn’t necessarily appreciate such behavior. Keladry of Mindelan is a strong character who knows what she believes in and isn’t afraid to stand up for it. The series opens with her attempting to save a bag of kittens from being drowned by bullies, demonstrating her willingness to go above and beyond to protect those who are weaker.

The series continues along this same path with Kel demonstrating again and again this need to protect others. She takes on a shy maid, a flock of sparrows, an abused gelding, even an ungrateful griffin baby, all on her journey to her ultimate task.

Though Pierce writes for a younger audience, these books can be enjoyed by adults as well. She writes the story of Kel, never “talking down” to her audience, and never apologizing for what goes on in her stories. Pierce doesn’t shy away from the tough subjects, and it gives her stories a deeper realism, even within the fantasy realm she’s created.

Necromancer Falling, by Nat Russo: A Review

Necromancer Falling, by Nat Russo joined my 2017 Reading Challenge list as #24, a self-published book. It also falls very neatly into my “Year of the Series” theme as book two of the Mukhtaar Chronicles.

Reading this book is a direct result of well done social media advertising. I don’t remember precisely how I first encountered Nat Russo on Twitter, but I found his tweets interesting and began following him. He also has a blog that I have enjoyed reading.

I’d seen ads for his book Necromancer Awakening (book one of the Mukhtaar Chronicles) for some time, but I didn’t pick it up right away. And in all honesty, I picked it up during a free promotion when book two, Necromancer Falling, was released. I don’t regret acquiring the first book, and I enjoyed it so much that I bought the second book.

Necromancer Falling picks up where the first book left off. More or less. (There’s some spoilery type things involved here, I won’t ruin for you should you decide to read the book!) The scope of the story has broadened to include more characters that weren’t in the first book. More is revealed about what is really going on. And Russo takes the reader on a wild ride across his imagined world.

It opens with the main character, Nicolas Murray, returning to the world of Erindor, this time with his girlfriend, Kaitlyn. I was a little annoyed at first that Nicolas regressed to his former state of completely freaked out by circumstances. Freaked out to the point of refusing to listen to anything those around him are trying to say. Thankfully, this phase doesn’t last terribly long.

Russo’s style is engaging, and his ideas on magic are unique and interesting. The story moves at a great pace, drawing the reader on through the perspectives of not only Nicolas, but of Mujahid (Nicolas’s first teacher in necromancy) and Aelron, a character new to this book. A huge army is poised to invade, and it is up to Nicolas to find a solution.

The invasion may not be all that is threatening the realm, as there is a deeper malevolence at work. But will Nicolas and the others find this out in time?

I’m not sure I like the way this book ended. I knew going in, it is book two of a trilogy, and that it wasn’t the end of the story. Even still, it ended with nothing resolved, with everything still in question. Necromancer Falling includes some twists and turns I wasn’t expecting, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the story is resolved in the next book.

Nat Russo is among the first authors I’ve picked up since venturing into the realm of ebooks and indie authors. I can honestly say I’ve not been disappointed.

Windwitch, by Susan Dennard: A Review

This book is #23 from my 2017 Reading Challenge, a “book with an appealing cover.” I was first drawn to this series last year when the first book, Truthwitch, joined my reading list. It was the book’s beautiful cover that first captured my attention, and book two is just as lovely.

SDennardBooks

Jacket art on both books is by Scott Grimando.

In Windwitch, Susan Dennard continues the story she started with Truthwitch. A deeper threat emerges as the four main characters, Safiya, Iseult, Aeduan and Prince Merik each struggle to survive in a world devolving rapidly into massive war. Where we got only a glimpse of the darker forces at work in book one, more is revealed in this book.

While Windwitch follows the ongoing adventures of Safi, Iseult, and Aeduan, the focus is on Prince Merik, a Windwitch. Throughout this book Merik is presumed dead after the ship he commanded was destroyed. His crew, his family, and his entire nation believes him dead. Disfigured from the fires that destroyed his ship, Merik becomes a creature of the shadows as he tries to uncover who is responsible for the attack.

The story broadens out in this book, as it should as the series progresses. We are introduced to more characters such as Vivia, Merik’s sister. Merik is convinced that Vivia is the one behind the attack, and he sets about trying to prove this is true.

Dennard writes with a breathtaking intensity. Each chapter comes to an end in such a way as to compel the reader forward. This book is very difficult to put down.

And so, while the cover may have initially attracted me to this series, the beautiful characters and the outstanding action and suspense are what keep me coming back for more. I am now eagerly awaiting book three and the rest of the series, which according to Ms Dennard’s website, will ultimately have five books. The next book, Bloodwitch, is due out in the fall of 2018. (Can I do a little fangirling here? Aeduan is my favorite!)

Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin: A Review

Of all the books on my 2017 Reading Challenge list, Game of Thrones, by George R. R. Martin was, to be honest, the one I was looking forward to the least. I don’t think there was any particular reason for this, except maybe the massive popularity the series has gained since the HBO series was launched. Though, oddly enough, it was this popularity that drew me to the book in the first place.

Curiosity ultimately won out, and I picked up the book. I opened the book and was consumed by it. The story and characters sucked me in almost immediately.

Game of Thrones is a vast, sweeping saga of human conflict. Martin conveys with brutal honesty what man (or woman!) is capable of doing to others in pursuit of personal gain and power. On the surface, this book tells of the conflict between two great families in the world which Martin has created, the Starks and the Lannisters. There are a lot of other families, of course, all with their own agendas, connections and loyalties. Loyalties that change and are never quite what you expect.

Martin writes each chapter from the viewpoint of a different character, allowing the reader to be a part of the story from a variety of angles. The characters are vibrant and real, and I couldn’t help but be drawn in to each of their stories. Before I was very far into the book, I was deeply invested in the individuals telling the story, to the point that I felt angry when they did, betrayed when someone betrayed them, and afraid of the same things they feared.

Underneath all the plotting and intrigue, there is a hint of something sinister waiting in the shadows. Martin sets it up in the prologue and barely mentions it again except in little hints until the end of the book. Leaving me intrigued, but not frustrated.

Perhaps the biggest reason I’ve avoided picking up this series, is that I feared being pulled into another massive fantasy series that as of now, remains unfinished. I recently spent an entire year reading through Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, having started it years ago before it was complete. Just last year I finally started the Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. It too, remains incomplete. It is so HARD to wait for the next book!

It is too late for me now. I’ve read book one of the Song of Ice and Fire, and I’m hooked. I now have books two and three waiting for me on my bookshelf. I will continue reading the series. My hope is that by the time I get through the five books currently published, the next book will be complete. There are seven books planned in the series, and with five or six years between books, it could be a long wait!

If you love epic fantasy and you’ve been wondering at all about reading this series, I highly recommend it. I think it will even be worth the wait.

Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein: A Review

I haven’t read a whole lot of poetry. In truth, most of what I have read, I don’t always get or enjoy. But I am trying to broaden my experiences, and when my boys picked out a book of poetry by Nick Cannon last year, I discovered some poetry, at least, could be a great deal of fun to read out loud.

When I found Where the Sidewalk Ends last Christmas, I picked it up for my children, and it has since joined my 2017 Reading Challenge list. I have enjoyed reading this book aloud with my boys, though it has been a mixed experience for them. My oldest, at seven, has enjoyed the poems more than the younger two, but even they enjoyed at least some of them.

The book opens with this beautiful “Invitation” …

If you are a dreamer, come in,
If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar,
A hope-er, a pray-er, a magic bean buyer…
If you’re a pretender, come sit by my fire
For we have some flax-golden tales to spin,
Come in!
Come in!

The boys’ favorite poems include “The Loser” and “The Planet of Mars.” I think this is mostly because of the illustrations, also by Shel Silverstein. The first of these is about someone who has lost his head, and the picture shows him sitting on it as he rests from his exertions in trying to find it. The second includes an illustration of one of the poet’s imagined Martians whose faces aren’t “in the very same places” as humans. The place for his face is on his butt, which, of course, made my boys laugh hysterically.

Silverstein’s poems are full of absurd and ridiculous images. Some of them are downright tragic. The rhymes and rhythms are wonderful and funny. And the simple illustrations brilliantly compliment the poetry throughout the book. The title poem, “Where the Sidewalk Ends,” is among my favorites in the book, full of wonder and imagination.

Overall, this was a very fun read. One that should definitely be read aloud. And now that is is finished, I hope my boys will let me read it to them again. And again.

The book ends just as beautifully as it began, with the last line of the last poem, “The Search.” The book has been read, the pot of gold has been found…

What do I search for now?

I guess it’s now time for this “dreamer, wisher, liar, hope-er, pray-er, magic bean buyer” to go and spin some tales of my own.