Monday, June 28, 2010

His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

Did you like the movie Master and Commander?
Do you enjoy the Napoleonic War?
Do you like dragons?

If you answer yes to any of these, read this book. The dragons are endearing and the relationship that they form with their riders is wonderous and often heartbreaking in its sincerity.

This is the story of a British Naval Captain, Laurence who takes a French ship as a prize and finds there is a dragon egg on board. Dragon protocol is well known in this world, so they realize the egg will hatch soon and someone will need to harness the dragon or else England will lose a valuable war comodity.

A lower ranked shimpan draws the unlucky straw to harness the dragon, but the hatchling has none of him, and chooses Laurence instead. Because of this, Laurence is forced to give up his position as Captain and become an aviator. The book chronicles the start of his dragon riding career, and the beginning of an amazing friendship, and the birth of an unique and amazing dragon. (The dragon is named Temeraire, and you will fall in love with him!)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

An Apocalyptic Trilogy by Susan Pfeffer

(clicking on the book images will take you to their Amazon sales page...
in case you want to buy em)

Let me begin by saying I'm a fan of the cheesy apocalypse movies. You meet some average guy who just happens to have all these crazy connections to the people who know what's actually going on, and through luck and circumstance, he ends up saving his entire family thanks to those connections.

Cheesy. Always Cheesy. But I love them... yet at the same time, other than the question of which characters are most expendible, you know the main guy will most likely make it through, and things will be fine in the end.

These books are NOT like that. Perhaps somewhat shockingly, these are young adult books... although the issues they deal with are very adult. Unlike the goofy movies about the end of the world, these books follow the lives of two different teenagers who *don't* have those magical connections that save their lives.

As I describe the plots of these books to friends and family, I keep getting the same reaction, "Wait... these books are meant for kids?"
This series deals heavily in the issues of Life, Death, Religion, Guilt, Sin, Pride, and on and on... and they do it well.

The books are meant to be read in the order of:
Life As We Knew It
The Dead And The Gone
This World We Live In

However, I read them in this order (at a friend's suggestion):
The Dead And The Gone
Life As We Knew It
This World We Live In

I think I kind of preferred them in the order I read them...

First off, the cataclysmic event that causes the Apocalypse is an asteroid crashing into the moon... it turns out that the object was more dense than scientists thought, and ends up pushing the moon closer to Earth. This sets off a chain reaction of tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, volcano erruptions, and on and on.

The main character in The Dead And The Gone, 17 year old Alex Morales, a Puerto Rican youth living in NYC with his family, really has no clue what's going on... he goes through the book and hears things by word of mouth... for me, his experience felt a little more realistic. He experiences true, heart-breaking loss and is forced to be a man much sooner than he expected. He is the one keeping his family alive, shouldering the responsibility, making what future he can.

In Life As We Knew It, the main character, Miranda (who is about Alex's age) is really a typical teenaged girl. She whines, fights with her mother, is greedy and thinks mostly of herself for quite a bit of the book. Miranda, unlike Alex, does not survive on her own skills, she lives because her Mother has an amazing survival instinct and does all of the right things the minute she *thinks* she might know what's happening. If Miranda had been in Alex's situation, she would have been dead... but that isn't to say Miranda is unlikable. She is an honest representation of a typical teenager, so for a reader such as myself, I could easily understand her motivations and the difficulty she had in grasping the seriousness of things... when "Mommy" was still there to take care of everything.

In the final book, the two characters and their families come together through random circumstance... and more apocalyptic revelries ensue... the author left it so that another book, if she wanted, could be written... but honestly, if she stays true to this premise, I'm ok with this being the last book, and I'm not sure I could bear to see what happens to these characters in another book.

These are not sugar coated apocalypse books. There is no magical ending where they find they know one of America's top climatologists, or the President of the United States or anything... these are people like you or I, regular people, and what happens to them when the world falls apart.

They are touching, heart breaking, heart warming, amazing books. I recommend them.