In A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, Mark Twain chronicles the experience of an engineer from the nineteenth century who goes back in time to King Arthur’s era in the sixth century. Hank Morgan, the protagonist, is bewildered at first to find himself in a strange land after taking a blow to the head. He is captured by a knight and taken to Camelot, where he makes the acquaintance of a page and learns that he is in the past. A series of events ensues, in which Morgan convinces everyone that he is a magician and secures a spot in the King’s administration for himself. Since he’s from the nineteenth century, he tries to modernize the sixth century to reflect his time period (which is probably easier for him than another person because he’s an engineer).
I found the beginning of the book to be a bit slow, but it started picking up near the middle. There are funny parts to it and other parts that made me mad at some of the characters. There are also sections that were excerpted from Le Morte D’Arthur, some of which I found difficult to read (the ones describing battles), and at times, Twain seems to be criticizing some aspects of the world he himself was living in, in the nineteenth century, like slavery. The ending was a bit ambiguous, but considering the nature of the story, I felt that it was appropriate.
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.
Jane Austen’s first novel follows Catherine Morland and her innocent and trustful nature. A satire on the Gothic novels popular at the time, Austen accurately and amusingly generalizes heroines, plots, and books in her narration. She also defends fiction (since at that time, reading novels could lead to negative judgment on a character reading them) quite eloquently and sensibly.
One of ten children and living in the country, Catherine has not seen much of the world. However, when her friends, Mr. and Mrs. Allen, head for Bath for Mr. Allen’s health, they invite her along. Upon reaching Bath, however, Catherine soon finds that she has no acquaintances there—which means, of course, that she’ll have to make some. Austen’s “heroine” lives through some scrapes during Bath and her visit to Northanger Abbey, some of which are the result of her newfound friends, others because Catherine, an avid fan of these Gothic novels, misinterprets some of her experiences at the Abbey.
Northanger Abbey is one of my favorite Austen books (along with Pride and Prejudice). Her friendship and conversations with the Tilneys provides very amusing reading, and her innocence in the face of almost (to me) obviously bad intentions on the part of some of the characters made her seem younger than seventeen (though her unearned trust of everyone can perhaps be explained away due to her never really been out in society before). In the end, though, Catherine does mature, as she is exposed to the truth about the behaviors of some people.
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.
King’s Cage picks up where Glass Sword left off. Mare is now Maven’s prisoner, and will be for six long, torturous months. Although Maven wasn’t born a monster, and his mother is dead, he continues on his path while at the same time being completely aware of it–and in some ways, even choosing it. Although Elara is gone, Maven still makes his own barbaric decisions in order to keep his power. He alienates his court, and most of the Silvers at court can see that he’s unstable and his reign is weak.
During her imprisonment, Mare learns that Maven harbors feelings for her, but in a twisted way–he’s more or less obsessed with her, continually demonstrating how his mind is still affected by Elara’s manipulation.
The first part of the book was slow–it was basically just Mare’s imprisonment, but it makes the second half of the book make more sense, because it sets up the characters’ growth. We also learn more of Maven’s background and the reason for the Lakelander war (which I thought was kind of obvious, but it was interesting watching the characters’ reactions to the knowledge).
There were also two new points of view: Evangeline and Cam. Regarding Cam, I felt like she was put in to give a contrast to Mare in certain ways, but it was kind of obvious. Evangeline shows a surprising side of her that we haven’t seen before, as we were never able to read from her point of view. I thought it was interesting, and it gave some background into her house and why her parents make the decisions they do.
King’s Cage by Victoria Aveyard is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library. It can also be downloaded from Overdrive.
Privacy? Or Security? Which would you prefer? Little Brother takes place a few years into the future, in a San Francisco that’s already well-monitored. After a terrorist attack, the surveillance tightens to catch the terrorists, but also monitors everyone else without their permission. The Department of Homeland Security has decided that the Bill of Rights can be ignored in the name of “freedom”—a freedom that allows the DHS to monitor everyone without their consent.
Marcus Yallow skips school with his friends, but then his world forever changes after the terrorist attack—and getting picked up by the DHS. He determines to take revenge on them, and in doing so, raises questions about rights: the right to privacy, the right to liberty, the right to justice, the right to stand up for ourselves. Marcus’s technological prowess is admirable, but perhaps isn’t completely surprising considering that almost everything is under surveillance. However, his abilities with technology allow him to do what he does, and he does it well, eventually bringing others—many others—into his fold.
Although I didn’t always agree with everything Marcus did (mostly regarding his personal life), the book was a really good discussion about freedom and privacy and the lengths the government and citizens can go to—from trusting the government unconditionally, to taking issue with it when they’re doing wrong.
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow is available to download from Overdrive.
Pretty much all his life, Call’s dad has warned him away from magic. Every child who has the slightest chance of being able to practice magic is summoned to the Iron Trial when they’re twelve, but often under different guises—like auditions for dancing, etc.—so most people who don’t have a background in magic don’t know that magic is real. Call has to go, otherwise (and this is implied) the mages will force him to go through the trial anyways.
During the trial to enter the Magisterium, a magic school, Call is supposed to mess up—and he does—sometimes without even meaning to—but the results are unexpected. Instead of failing (which he technically did), Call is chosen to train under the most prestigious mage at the Magisterium. Taken away from his dad, Call learns about things his father never wanted him to know, making friends along the way and learning dangerous secrets about himself.
The Magisterium series is a fantasy written in a collaboration between Cassandra Clare and Holly Black. I really like both authors, so I was stoked when I found out they wrote a book together, and I wasn’t disappointed. Each character has their own personality, interesting backstory, and the plot is intriguing. There is great world building, and the history narrated by some of the characters also reflects their respective personalities in how they deal with the knowledge of their pasts. There are parallels to Harry Potter, but I didn’t think it took away from the book—it was enjoyable as its own read.
The Iron Trial by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.
Pretty much all his life, Call’s dad has warned him away from magic. During the trial to enter the Magisterium (administered to all those who may have the ability to do magic when they’re twelve), Call is supposed to mess up—and he does, but doesn’t expect the result. Instead of failing, Call is chosen to train under the most prestigious mage at the Magisterium. Taken away from his dad, Call learns about things his father never wanted him to know, making friends along the way and learning dangerous secrets about himself.
I really liked this book. The characters are each their own person with their own personalities, and the plot is intriguing. The book has really good world building, and the history narrated by some of the characters also reflects some of the characters’ personalities in how they deal with the knowledge of their pasts. There are parallels to Harry Potter, but I didn’t think it took away from the book—it was enjoyable as its own read.
The Iron Trial by Cassandra Clare and Holly Black is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.
The second book in the Magisterium series picks up where the first left off. Summer vacation is almost finished, and Call is looking forward to going back to school, although his dad is dead set against it. About a couple of weeks before school starts, Call learns that Alistair knows something about him that he is prepared to take desperate measures to correct (the same secret that was revealed at the end of The Iron Trial).
Once he gets to school, Call realizes that his dad is up to something when it’s rumored that someone is trying to steal the Alkahest, a powerful copper gauntlet. Everyone thinks that the perpetrator is intending to harm the Makar and destroy the Magisterium. Call, though, knows better. He sets out to save his dad with Aaron, Tamara, Jasper, and Havoc, which turns out to have pretty unexpected results as they uncover secrets kept from even the mages.
There is quite a bit of character development, especially regarding Call. He has changed since the first book, although he still retains his characteristic personality. Call struggles with himself now more than he had in The Iron Trial, especially now that he can detect all the signs about who he really is, while at the same time kind of being in denial about it. However, he does carry himself differently and becomes more confident than the first book, and is more open than he used to be, although he doesn’t always go to his friends for help when he needs it.
The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is available for checkout from the Mission Viejo Library.
Across the Great Barrier, by Patricia C. Wrede, is the second book in the Frontier Magic series. The novel is set in an alternate universe—the American frontier is being settled and explored, but there’s magic. Eff, a thirteenth child, has always considered herself unlucky, and therefore has never really tried learning her spells, but helps out at the menagerie where she takes care of magical and non-magical animals. Eventually, she crosses the Great Barrier, where the Professor finds something extremely interesting. This is a pretty dry run of it, but the book was more interesting, I promise.
When I picked this book up I didn’t realize that it was the second book in a series. Oops. Still, it was really good, and the author gave enough information about the main events from the first book that I could make sense of things. The book is told from Eff’s point of view, so it doesn’t go into too much detail about things that she doesn’t consider important, and spends more time on things that she’s interested in or that are important to her. I like this book because it has a good plot line and gives a new way of looking at the American frontier when it was still being settled. There were no Native Americans in the book, so I’m not sure if I missed something in the first book or if they just aren’t there. The end of the novel doesn’t give complete closure and pretty obviously sets it up for the next book because not everything gets resolved.
Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman is a historical fiction novel that tells the story of the Scottsboro boys, mainly through the eyes of a fictional reporter. The Scottsboro boys were accused of raping two white girls in 1931, towards the beginning of the Great Depression. There was hardly any evidence against them, and it was fairly obvious that the girls had accused the boys of rape because they were afraid of going to jail for illegally being on the train that they had been found on. Despite the lack of evidence, the state of Alabama was convinced of their guilt, and the boys were sentenced to the electric chair. Their deaths were put on hold because of more than one trial, as the Communist Party and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons tried to help them get free.
The book, as mentioned earlier, is mainly told through the eyes of a reporter, so although it is about the trials, it also includes a lot of her personal life. It also includes the point of view of one of the two girls who accused the boys of raping her.
I thought the book was very well written, and I especially liked the fact that the author mainly centers on the reporter. This parallels the protagonist’s thoughts that often, people forgot about the boys and focused more on the witnesses or the trial. Yes, there were many who thought (especially outside the South) that their sentences were evidence of racism, but no one really remembered the victims – they were more symbols than people, in a way. I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in historical or realistic fiction.
Steal Across the Sky, by Nancy Kress, is a sci-fi book about the effect an alien race, the Atoners, have upon humanity. Showing up in the not-very-distant future, they state that they have committed a crime against humanity, and ask people from all over the world to submit applications for the opportunity to go to space in order to witness their crime. A few dozen people are chosen, and of them, only about six come back to Earth having actually witnessed the crime. The story focuses mainly on four characters and how they deal with the revelation. When they had returned from space, those who had witnessed the crime inform their governments and people of what they had witnessed, and this although leads to radical and terrorist groups springing up, for the most part, it does not greatly affect the society that the characters are living in or how it runs. Interspersed throughout the book are ads and, at some point, an email, that take the scope of the story away from just the characters and show the Atoners’ impact on (mainly) the U.S..
Personally, I found that the book started off strongly, and at first I was going to stop reading, but I wanted to find out what crime the Atoners had committed. Then, after I found out, I kept reading because the author didn’t reveal what remedial action the Atoners had promised to take for their crime until the very end of the book. The one thing that really bothered me about the book was that the author never revealed why the Atoners had come to Earth and committed their crime, but otherwise, I thought the plot was unique and well-written.