Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Next Book to be Reviewed: "Starclimber" by Kenneth Oppel

What you need to know before reading this book:
Skybreaker is the final book in the Airborn trilogy and features the adventures of Matt Cruse, a seventeen year-old air academy student, and Kate de Vries, a wealthy passenger of an airship Matt worked on in the past and now his love interest.  Although this book is rated ages 12 and up, the writing is vivid and engaging, and I believe adult readers will enjoy this work as well.  Although there is violence in this text, there is no profanity and very limited romantic expression, which makes this text ideal for young readers and classroom libraries.

From Goodreads:

An exhilarating journey to the stars—or a heartbreaking battle for survival?

Pilot-in-training Matt Cruse and his love interest, Kate de Vries, an expert on high-altitude life-forms, are invited aboard the Starclimber, a vessel that literally climbs its way into the cosmos. Matt secretly plans on asking Kate to marry him, but before they even set foot aboard the ship, Kate announces her engagement—to someone else.

Despite this bombshell, and Matt's anguish, they embark on their journey into space, but soon the ship is surrounded by strange and unsettling life-forms, and the crew is forced to combat devastating mechanical failure. For Matt, Kate, and the entire crew of the Starclimber, what began as an exciting race to the stars has now turned into a battle to save their lives.

Monday, April 11, 2011

"Skybreaker" by Kenneth Oppel [Review].

One of the biggest issues with a trilogy is that the middle book tends to be a bridge for the first and last book, and it feels like you’re just marking time until the author produces the conclusion.  Luckily, Kenneth Oppel has avoided these pitfalls with Skybreaker, and the end result is a quest narrative that is action-packed and rich with tropes that are meaningful and relevant to young adult audiences.  But perhaps the best thing about this book is that it reminded me of why I love to read and write about literature:  The book reads like an action movie with vivid imagery and beautifully written adventure that kept me scrambling to see what was going to happen next.   In other words, this literature major was able to sit back and enjoy the ride, which is a rare pleasure in my world!

Next Book to be Reviewed: "Skybreaker" by Kenneth Oppel

Oppel, Kenneth.  Skybreaker.  New York: Eos. 2007.  $6.99 Massmarket Paperback.

What you need to know before reading this book:

Skybreaker is the second book in the Airborn trilogy and features the adventures of Matt Cruse, a fifteen year-old cabin boy on an airship, and Kate de Vries, a wealthy former passenger and now love interest.  Although this book is rated ages 12 and up, the writing is vivid and engaging, and I believe adult readers will enjoy this work as well.  Although there is violence in this text, there is no profanity and very limited romantic expression, which makes this text ideal for young readers and classroom libraries.

Skybreaker (Matt Cruse, #2)

From Goodreads:

  A legendary ghost ship. An incredible treasure. A death-defying adventure.
Forty years ago, the airship Hyperion vanished with untold riches in its hold. Now, accompanied by heiress Kate de Vries and a mysterious gypsy, Matt Cruse is determined to recover the ship and its treasures. But 20,000 feet above the Earth's surface, pursued by those who have hunted the Hyperion since its disappearance, and surrounded by deadly high-altitude life forms, Matt and his companions soon find themselves fighting not only for the Hyperion—but for their very lives.

"Airborn" by Kenneth Oppel [Review].

This book of young adult fiction begins with a mystery:  The airship Aurora and young cabin boy Matthew Cruse come across the hot air balloon Endurance, seemingly abandoned to the sky.  A closer inspection reveals her fatally wounded captain, Benjamin Malloy, an old man circumnavigating the world.  Benjamin has fallen afoul of air pirates, and they are the cause of the damage to the air balloon, but there is a greater mystery to be solved:  Benjamin has seen a strange animal that looks like a blend between a bat and a large cat flying in the skies, and believes he has discovered a new species.  Although Matt is young, only fourteen, he has spent years in the sky as a cabin boy, and never seen anything like what Benjamin describes, and the old man dies shortly after, his descriptions of the ‘cloud cat’ seen as the final ravings of a dying man.

Next Book to be Reviewed: "Airborn" by Kenneth Oppel

Oppel, Kenneth.  Airborn.  New York:  Harper Collins.  2005.  $8.99 Massmarket Paperback.

What you should know before reading this book:

Airborn is the first book in the Airborn trilogy and feature the adventures of Matt Cruse, a fifteen year-old cabin boy on an airship, and Kate de Vries, a wealthy teenage passenger and eventual friend.  Although this book is rated ages 12 and up, the writing is vivid and engaging, and I believe adult readers will enjoy this work as well.  Although there is violence in this text, there is no profanity and very limited romantic expression, which makes this text ideal for young readers and classroom libraries.


From Goodreads:

Sailing toward dawn, and I was perched atop the crow's nest, being the ship's eyes. We were two nights out of Sydney, and there'd been no weather to speak of so far. I was keeping watch on a dark stack of nimbus clouds off to the northwest, but we were leaving it far behind, and it looked to be smooth going all the way back to Lionsgate City. Like riding a cloud. . . .

Matt Cruse is a cabin boy on the Aurora, a huge airship that sails hundreds of feet above the ocean, ferrying wealthy passengers from city to city. It is the life Matt's always wanted; convinced he's lighter than air, he imagines himself as buoyant as the hydrium gas that powers his ship. One night he meets a dying balloonist who speaks of beautiful creatures drifting through the skies. It is only after Matt meets the balloonist's granddaughter that he realizes that the man's ravings may, in fact, have been true, and that the creatures are completely real and utterly mysterious.

In a swashbuckling adventure reminiscent of Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson, Kenneth Oppel, author of the best-selling Silverwing trilogy, creates an imagined world in which the air is populated by transcontinental voyagers, pirates, and beings never before dreamed of by the humans who sail the skies.

"Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest [Review]

[Originally posted to my Livejournal blog on Sep. 25th, 2010].

Boneshaker was the first novel I read that could be considered "Steampunk." This is a genre that has captured my imagination and caused me to get more excited about reading than I have been in a long time. Every week my "to be read" pile grows by two or three books, and I can honestly say that I make trips to the bookstore about every other day as the result of my new Steampunk obsession! After having read a dozen books in this genre I now also know how lucky I am that this was where I started, with a gem I am convinced will become a defining text for those who will follow.

Next Book to be Reviewed: "Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest

Priest, Cherie. Boneshaker.  New York: Tor. 2009.  $15.99 (Mass Market).

What you need to know before reading this book:

Although there are zombie-like humans in this story and a significant amount of suspense, this book is age appropriate for children 12 and up.  There is also violence as well, but it is limited to a small number of skirmishes; the greatest emphasis is on Briar Wilkes' rescue of her son Ezekiel and the mystery of the Boneshaker machine. 

From the back cover:

In the early days of the Civil War, rumors of gold in the frozen Klondike brought hordes of newcomers to the Pacific Northwest.  Anxious to compete, Russian prospectors commissioned inventor Leviticus Blue to create a great machine that could mine through Alaska's ice.  Thus was Dr. Blue's Incredible Bone-Shaking Drill Engine Born.

But on its first test run the Boneshaker went terribly awry, destroying several blocks of downtown Seattle and unearthing a subterranean vein of blight gas that turned anyone who breathed it into the living dead.

Now it is sixteen years later, and a wall has been built to enclose the devastated and toxic city.  Just beyond it lives Blue's widow, Briar Wilkes.  Life is hard with a ruined reputation and a teenage boy support, but she and Ezekiel are managing.  Until Ezekiel undertakes a secret crusade to rewrite history.

His quest will take him under the wall and into a city teeming with ravenous undead, air pirates, criminal overlords, and heavily armed refugees. And only Briar can bring him out alive.

"Thomas Riley" by Nick Valentino [Review]

[Originally posted on Livejournal Sep. 26th, 2010].

I’m worried that this review is going to sound negative and over critical because I enjoyed this story, and I adore its Steampunk characteristics, but I have many concerns with how it was written and subsequently edited. It has been said that the devil is in the details, and this story, which is interesting and action packed, suffers because of the many little problems that plague it. I am well aware that this is a work of young adult fiction meant for the 13+ crowd, but I find this group to be intelligent and capable, and they are worth a text written with the same degree of polish and sophistication as those written for adults. That being said, I also get the impression that this author is early in his career and developing his writing style, and I am anxiously awaiting any future works he may write because I feel he has great potential to produce fantastic Steampunk stories. If he should ever read my humble review I would encourage him to engage a group of teen and adult beta readers to help him refine plot elements and spot the grammatical errors we all make when we write--I know I would volunteer for this task, and there are many others who would gladly do so as well!

Next Book to be Reviewed: "Thomas Riley" by Nick Valentino

Valentino, Nick. Thomas Riley.  Laurel, MD: Quake. 2010. $13.99.

What you need to know before reading this book:
This book is clearly marketed for young adults and is marked ages 13 and up.  Although there is some violence and characters die, the violence and language is kept at a level appropriate for middle school.

From the back cover:

For more than twenty years West Canvia and Lemuria have battled one another in a constant war.
From the safety of his laboratory, weapons designer Thomas Riley has cleverly and proudly empowered the West Canvian forces with his brilliant designs. But when a risky alchemy experiment goes horribly wrong, Thomas and his wily assistant, Cynthia Bassett, are thrust onto the front lines of battle.
Forced into shaky alliances with murderous sky pirates in a deadly race to kidnap the only man who can undo the damage--the mad genius behind Lemuria's cunning armaments--Thomas' own genius is put to the ultimate test.

"Worldshaker" by Richard Harland [Review]

The first time I read this story I liked it, but was a little underwhelmed by what I thought was too simple a story.  This book is rated for 10-13 year-olds, and the vocabulary and chapter length has been modified to accommodate this young audience. As a result, Col seems a little too na├»ve, and in places the text feels ideologically heavy handed to me; if I had written my review after my first reading, I would likely not had much positive to say.  By the time I read Harland’s text I had already read Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan (a work of YA literature that has been very well received by adults) and Cherie Priest’s Boneshaker (an adult work that could easily be read by teens), and I felt that Worldshaker suffered in comparison.  A second reading, however, caused me to pause and reconsider my original criticism about this work; while I still believe it to be somewhat lacking the maturity level of other YA authors in this genre, I think adults will enjoy this book if they understand the concerns I have pointed out and read the text with a little patience.  Steampunk literature is well-known for exploring concerns about class, the mass-produced and non-unique nature of modern technology, and the environment, and Richard Harland’s book wastes no time establishing itself within the genre in an approachable manner that should be enjoyable for both children and adults.

Next book to be Reviewed: "Worldshaker" by Richard Harland

Harland, Richard.  Worldshaker.  New York: Simon and Schuster. 2009.  $16.99 Hardback.

What you need to know before you read:
This book is a work of young adult fiction and is rated grade 6-10 by The School Library Journal.  Based on my previous experiences with YA fiction, I would rate this text as appropriate for children as young 10.  This book features parental expectationn, prejudice and the division of social classes as central themes, and parents should be prepared to  answer questions about these issues.  There is also some romantic overtones, but they are kept well within the range of what is acceptable for a work rated 10 and up.

From the dust jacket:
Col Porpentine understands how society works:  the elite families enjoy a comfortable life on the Upper Decks of the great juggernaut Worldshaker, while the Filthies toil Below.  And Col himself is being groomed by his grandfather, the supreme commander of the Worldshaker, to be his successor.  He has never questioned his place in the world, nor his illustrious future.

When Col meets Riff, a Filthy girl on the run, his world is turned on its head.  All his life he has been taught that Filthies are like animals, without the ability to understand language or think for themselves.  He has always known that all they are good for is serving in the Below, keeping Worldshaker running.  But Riff is nothing like he ever expected.  She is clever and quick, and despite the danger, Col is drawn to her.  Can all Filthies be like her?  If Riff is telling the truth, then everything Col has always believed is a lie.  And Col may be the only person with the power to do something about it--even if it means risking his whole future.

Richard Harland's sweeping steampunk saga of romance, privilege, and social conscience will take readers on the ride of a lifetime to an enormous moving city that is at once strange and familiar.

"Steamed" by Katie MacAlister [Review]

I’m going to preface my review by saying that I read a lot of romances. I would even venture to say that I’ve read thousands since I was a teen in every genre: Historical, contemporary, paranormal, suspense, you name it. Over the years I’ve learned that my expectations necessarily need to be adjusted according to the tone and style of the text, but to say that I was disappointed by this book is an understatement, and what follows is a bit of a rant. I fully acknowledge that I am possibly being too hard on a novel that is meant to be playful and not taken too seriously, but I also believe that even the most playful literature needs to be plausible with regards to the behavior of the characters. I read because I love to take journeys in my imagination, and I don’t like it when I feel myself jarred back to reality, especially because the characters have chosen a line of action that feels inconsistent. Unfortunately, I would strongly suggest that those new to the genre avoid this one until they have read enough to be able to develop some understanding of context.  I would never suggest that a book shouldn’t be read, but I will offer my honest opinion and hope that it will be accepted in the spirit it is being offered.

Next Book to be Reviewed: "Steamed" by Katie MacAlister

MacAlister, Katie.  Steamed: A Steampunk Romance.  New York: Signet. 2010. $7.99 Mass Market Paper Back.

What you should know before you read this book:

This book is a romance with mature themes and is not appropriate for teenage readers due to frequency of detailed sexual situations.  Although this book is clearly labeled as a Steampunk romance, readers who have already read Gail Carriger's Parasol Protectorate series should be forewarned that this book is not of the same caliber and reviews have been extremely mixed.

From Goodreads:
Computer technician Jack Fletcher is no hero, despite his unwelcome reputation as one. In fact, he's just been the victim of bizarre circumstances. Like now. His sister happens to disturb one of his nanoelectromechanical system experiments, and now they aren't where they're supposed to be. In fact, they're not sure where they are when…

…they wake up to see a woman with the reddest hair Jack has ever seen-and a gun. Octavia Pye is an Aerocorps captain with a whole lot of secrets, and she's not about to see her maiden voyage ruined by stowaways. But the sparks flying between her and Jack just may cause her airship to combust and ignite a passion that will forever change the world as she knows it…

I used to blog on Livejournal, now I'm on Blogspot

It's nothing personal, really.  I originally joined Livejournal because a friend swore up and down that she was going to be my blogging partner and we would comment back and forth on the Steampunk books we read and...well...that just didn't work out as promised.  I'm a graduate student in English, though, and reading and writing about literature comes as naturally to me as breathing; so while my friend has become increasingly busy with other projects in her life, I've continued with my commitment to be an avid student of all things Steampunk! 

This is my mission statement and purpose for being here, really; I plan to use this space to add my voice to the ever-evolving and complex discussion that surrounds this genre and the multiplicity of arts it has given rise to.  Lloyd Alexander wrote, "In some cases...we learn more by looking for the answer to a question and not finding it than we do from learning the answer itself."  I feel this is the best way to approach my work here:

"Writing and reading are such private acts that we forget how fundamentally social they are: We hear stories read by others and we like to tell others about the stories we read; we learn to write from others and we write for others to read us." (Mike Rose, Lives on the Boundary, 1989.) 

I will primarily be discussing books, but don't be surprised if I venture into film and music, which I consider additional forms of literature.  With all of this in mind, moving my blog over to Blogspot makes sense:  I already use google for so many other things in my life and 'follow' other bloggers on this site, and this seems like a fun place to continue with my ramblings in an area I still have so much to learn about.   

So what is "Atmology," you ask?  It is the study of aqueous vapour (also known as steam).  Aren't I clever?  Well, not really...all my other witty blog titles were already taken, so I became desperate.  After an hour of playing around with every possible idea I could come up with I finally decided to look up the 'ology' for steam and presto!  I forsee many, many conversations in which I have to explain this title, but here I am, and I hope my ramblings will be read and enjoyed by others.  Watch this space because in the coming days I will be moving over my previously published entries and--hopefully--adding new entries to the collection.