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Monday, May 22, 2017

For My Country's Freedom by Alexander Kent

Genre: Nautical Fiction, Historical Fiction

Setting: In England and at sea during the War of 1812.

First Sentence: Lady Catherine Somervell reined in the big mare and patted her neck with a gloved hand.

This book is the twenty-first in the author's Richard Bolitho series which currently runs to thirty novels.

Once again Sir Richard Bolitho has been called to duty.  War with the United States is imminent.  Sir Richard, now an admiral, has been tasked with the assignment to take the war to the American Navy.

Sir Richard, his nephew, and the members of his "little crew" go off to sea to define king and country.  The little crew is the group of sailors and officers who always seem to be at hand when Bolitho goes to sea.  Not only must they leave the country they love, they must leave the people they love.

In this novel there is great love, secret love, and tragedy.

The author does a good job of providing the exposition needed to understand the story.  However, I strongly suggest that, if you are interested in this story you should read them in order.

This novel was a great addition to the Bolitho saga.


Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau

Genre: Children's Literature

Setting: Earth, two hundred years after the catastrophe.  About two years after the people of Ember came to the surface.

First Sentence: Around the middle of the twenty-first century, when it seemed that a great catastrophe was about to engulf the world, an underground city was built as a last refuge for the human race.

This novel is the fourth in the author's "Books of Ember" series.

The builders of Ember realized that after two hundred years underground the Emberites would need to have some help restarting above ground life.

So the builders decided to give the people of Ember some help.  Outside of the city they built a vault. In the value the builders placed a valuable piece of technology (the diamond) along with the instructions for using it.

Unfortunately, someone not of Ember discovered the technology first.

Meanwhile, life goes on in Spark. Spark is where the people of Ember and the People of Spark learned to live together.

Life is hard and dangerous.  Eventually our main characters, Lena and Doon, are reminded of all of the things they had in Ember.  They decide to return to Ember to see is there are any things left that might help the people of Spark.

They find that a family of roamers have taken up residence in the underground city.  The roamers are using books from the library to fuel their fires.  And they are looting the city for items they could use or sell.

Eventually, the roamers are chased off.  Lina and Doon learn how to use the diamond.  And, the people from Spark salvage what they can from the underground city.

With the items they recover from Ember, life becomes a little bit easier.

In the end the author provides a wistful happy ending, and a tie-in to the third book of the series.  It is a weak and unimportant connection.

I liked this book.  It is very much like the first two.  I suggest reading the books in order.

P.S. I keep thinking about all of the boats the Emberites used to escape from Ember.  They could have made a killing in the boat business!


Saturday, April 22, 2017

The Prophet of Yonwood by Jean DuPrau

Gender: Children's Literature

Setting: On earth, in the not to distant future.

First Sentence: On a warm July afternoon, a woman in the town of Yonwood North Carolina, a woman named Althea Tower went out to her back yard to fill the bird feeder.

This novel is the third in the author's "Books of Ember" series.

This novel is a prequel. the action takes place years before the City of Ember was sealed.

This story follows Nickie Randolph.  She is a young girl who is exploring the small town of Yonwood.  Many years in the future, she will be among the colonists who move into Ember in order to preserve a group of people from the ravages of an oncoming war.

But for now, Nickie is learning about how people get along with each other.  Yonwood is the home of Althea Towner.  She is an old woman who has been having visions of the future.

She communicates with the outside world through a woman named Brenda Beeson.  Since Althea is not very coherent, Brenda tries to interpret her utterances. This leads to a string of odd pronouncements. In the end, Nickie discovers the truth of Althea and her visions.

Throughout the book, there are a few hints about the future and inter-dimensional travel.  But these are few, and don't really affect the  story.

This book is pretty much a stand alone novel.  None of the hints about the future are vital to understanding the story.  And Ember itself is not introduced until the last pages of the book.

An OK story.  But for me, a disappointment.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau

Genre: Children's Literature

Setting: In a desolate village, years after a devastating war.

First Sentence:  Torren was out at the edge of the cabbage field that day, the day the people came.

This novel is the second in the author's "Books of Ember" series.  This series runs to four novels.

This story begins immediately after the main characters Lina and Doon learn how to leave Ember.  Ember had been founded over two hundred years ago.  The founders wanted to ensure that a group of people would survive the oncoming global catastrophe.

Living in a cave has kept them alive.  But the Emberites have no knowledge of the surface.

Fortunately, there is a small village near the entrance of the cave.  The people there are barely scraping by.  Imagine how the people of the town would react when a large group of people arrive and ask for help.  There are just so many things the Emberites don't understand.

How will the people of Sparks and the people of Ember get along?

I liked this book.  The author had an interesting story to tell about the two groups of people.

One thing kept nagging at me while I read.  Why don't they go back to the cave?  Surely there are some things in the cave that would be helpful.  Perhaps, the answer to my question will be found in one of the other books in the series.


Monday, April 10, 2017

The End By Lemony Snicket

Genre: Children's Lierature

Setting: On an island near the continental shelf.

First Sentence: If you have ever peeled an onion, then you know that the first thin, papery layer reveals another, thin papery layer, and that layer reveals another, and another and before you know it you have hundreds of layers all over the kitchen table and thousands of tears in you eyes, sorry that you ever started peeling in the first place and wishing that you had left the onion alone to wither away on the shelf of the pantry while you went on with your life, even if that meant never again enjoying the complicated and overwhelming taste of this strange and bitter vegetable.

This novel is the thirteenth in the author's thirteen novel series entitled "A Series of Unfortunate Events."

This installment was difficult for me to write because I did not want to spoil The End for you, dear reader.  Read On.

After escaping the fire at the Hotel Denouement, the Baudelaires find themselves at sea with Count Olaf.  Due the great schism, the V.F.D. has been divided into good and evil factions.  The fire was a result of the orphans escape from the hotel; the last safe place.

After surviving  a horrible storm, the Baudelaires and the Count, are washed up on the coastal self, along with a fantastic array of flotsam.

An island is nearby.  This island is inhabited by people who desire simple life in peace and safety, far away from the dangers and treachery of the outside world.

The island is ruled by a facilitator who uses peer pressure to ensure that no one "rocks the boat."

The orphans choose to live on the island.  They especially appreciate the fact that the islanders will not allow Olaf on the island.

But the safety and security of the island comes at a price.  There are secrets.  When the islanders decide to mutiny, some spores of the deadly Medusoid Mycelium fungus (From the Grim Grotto) are released every one on the island must make a life or death decision.

At The End, we learn the truth about the orphans' parents. We learn about Kit Snicket.  And we learn about the narrator, Lemony Snicket.

No cavalry coming over the hill.  No secret discovery.  No happy ending.

I strongly encourage you to read the series in order.

I just might get a commonplace book.


Monday, April 3, 2017

The Penultimate Peril by Lemony Snicket

Genre: Children's Literature

Setting: The Hotel Denouement a fictional hotel with oddly numbered rooms.

First Sentence: Certain people have said that the world is like a calm pond, and that any time a person does even the smallest thing, it is as if a store had dropped into the pond, spreading circles of ripples further and further out, until the entire world has been changed by one tiny action.

This novel is the twelfth in the author's thirteen novel series entitled "A Series of Unfortunate Events."

The theme of this novel is exploring the nature of good and evil.  Count Olaf and his henchpersons have used evil means to try to capture the Baudelaire's fortune.  The orphans themselves had had to use evil actions in order to escape from the evil Count.

All along the way, the orphans have met relatively nobel people who have allowed evil to happen to the children.  These people have hung the children out to dry, rather be involved in the children's predicament.  The phrase "hand the children out to dry" means to let the children fend for themselves, and to then forget about them.

This book begins on a high note.  One of the orphans' allies, a member of the secretive and good VFD treats the orphans nicely and with concern.  But soon the children are thrust into the same old predicament.

The children are at the the Hotel Denouement.  Soon there will be a gathering of all the VFDs, both good and evil, to either protect or destroy the hotel.

The Baudelaires are given jobs that are definitely to dangerous for three young children.  Since no one will be honest with them, the children do things that probably more evil than good.  Due to their actions, there is a fatality.  And once again, good people who should know better, turn their backs on the children.

And you'll never believe who helps the orphans leave the hotel.

This was a very dark novel.   It made me reconsider good and evil in the first twelve books of this series.

Now on to the final unfortunate event - The End.


Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Grim Grotto by Lemony Snicket

Genre: Children's Literature

Setting: Aboard a fictional submarine.

First Sentence: After a great deal of time examining oceans, investigating rain storms, and staring very hard at several drinking fountains, the scientists of the world developed a theory regarding how water is distributed around our planet, which they have named "the water cycle."

This novel is the eleventh in the author's thirteen book series entitled "A Series of Unfortunate Events."

In this novel the author uses the concept of the water cycle as a metaphor for the unfortunate events which have plagued the Baudelaire orphans.

  • The orphans find themselves is a dangerous or inappropriate place not of their choosing.
  • The evil  Count Olaf finds them.
  • The orphans find a way to escape his clutches...
  • Only to find themselves in another dangerous circumstance.
In this book the children find themselves on a submarine with VFD allies. (The VFD is a secret society working against the evil count.)  The orphans and their allies use the submarine to travel to the Gorgonian Grotto in search of the sugar bowl. The sugar bowl is an object greatly desired by both the evil Count Olaf and the good VFD.  No one will tell the orphans what is in the sugar bowl.

When the Baudelaires return to the submarine, the Captain and crew have mysteriously disappeared.

But, who is on the submarine?  Count Olaf of course.  Along with Esme, Carmelita, the man with hooks, and the rest of Olaf's henchpersons.

Now, the Baudelaires must find a way to escape the Count's clutches.

While working on their escape plans, the orphans decipher a VFD code.  This code gives them a plan for where to should go when they escape.

When they arrive at their destination, they discover Mr. Poe waiting for them.
Do the Baudelaires passively go along with Mr. Poe, and continue the cycle?
Or, do they make a proactive decision to break the cycle?

This book has an interesting ending.  Only two more books to go.

Is there a chance for a happy conclusion?