Book Reviews by Today, I Read…

A Continuous Book Review and Vocabulary Assignment

June 1

Comments: 1

Review: The Gardener by S. A. Bodeen

by Ann-Katrina

The Gardener Cover

Title: The Gardener
Author: S. A. Bodeen
ISBN: 978-0312370169
Story Length: 240 pages
Genre: Middle Grade Science Fiction

Back Cover of The Gardener

Mason has never known his father, but longs to. All he has of him is a DVD of a man whose face is never seen, reading a children’s book. One day, on a whim, he plays the DVD for a group of comatose teens at the nursing home where his mother works. One of them, a beautiful girl, responds. Mason learns she is part of a horrible experiment intended to render teenagers into autotrophs—genetically engineered, self-sustaining life-forms who don’t need food or water to survive. And before he knows it, Mason is on the run with the girl, and wanted, dead or alive, by the mysterious mastermind of this gruesome plan, who is simply called the Gardener.

Will Mason be forced to destroy the thing he’s longed for most?

Three Quick Points About The Gardener

  • Point 1: Ample material with which to start a discussion. The book deals quite a bit with the changing global environment and its ramifications for the human race.
  • Point 2: Spotty character development. Mason, as a character, started out well enough, but when Laila was introduced the character development faltered and stalled.
  • Point 3: Plot by numbers. The unfolding plot was too convenient, even for a middle grade read, and a side effect was a problem with consistency. Continue reading »

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April 11

Comments: 2

Read-a-Thon Update 3: Siberia by Ann Halam

by Ann-Katrina

It’s probably clear by now that I’m not doing the hourly update thing…and my reading speed is still somewhere between snail and turtle. I think it’s partly because I’m lounging in my bed while I read, which always hampers my reading speed. But still, I’m OK with it.

Siberia by Ann Halam Anywho, I just wanted to offer a quick update about Siberia by Ann Halam before moving on to my next book.

First impressions: Wow. Just wow. This book is like 1984 with a thirteen year old protagonist and animals, sort of, with more of an environmental spin than political. It’s truly hard to describe without giving up too many spoilers, but I will say this book had me holding my breath, gasping, and weeping for humanity.

The bleak and desolate landscape was painted with a clarity that’s startlingly possible. It’s some time in the future in some place on planet earth—although the name Siberia is used, it doesn’t necessarily mean Siberia as we know it—when the government watches your every move through a frightening red eye in your home and school and work and food is rationed (you can forget about anything that tastes good) and people would sell their own grandmother for an extra bit of jam.

There were a few rough patches that made me cock an eyebrow, but overall it kept me on my toes. Words are kind of failing me right now. All I can think is that this book will stick with me for a while. It’s brutal, but worth it. Also, I mistakenly thought this was fantasy when I picked it up, but it’s actually science fiction. Definitely great conversation piece. Proper review to come, eventually.

Now I’m going to take 30 minutes to cheerlead and get myself a proper snack (and some more Earl Grey tea…I think I’m on my fourth or fifth cup already…you can’t turn into tea by drinking too much of it, can you?)

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April 5

Comments: 8

Book Notes: The Gardener by S. A. Bodeen

by Ann-Katrina

The Gardener I’m coming upon three quarters of this book and I’m on the fence about it.

On one hand I love the premise and it’s swift. Using recent biological discoveries, Bodeen weaves a conspiracy story around the bioengineering of children who only need sunlight to survive. Despite this scientific angle, which could easily get boring too quickly, the story doesn’t slow down much as Mason takes it upon himself to rescue one of these children and winds up on the run from the people who created her.

On the other there is a plot-by-numbers feel to it and the puppy love Mason has for Laila feels inorganic and wedged into the story. Suspense is feigned; there are tense moments, but it’s easy to predict what will happen next. For instance, when the unnamed girl sees a picture of Dr. Emerson, she immediately recognizes the scientist. When Mason and the girl go to Dr. Emerson’s lecture, surprise surprise, Dr. Emerson takes one look at the unnamed girl and recognizes her. No big deal, until it’s turned into some amazing and earth shattering event. Plus, Mason mentioning how cute Laila (aka the unnamed girl) is every few pages and using it as a way to explain why he’s going to so much trouble for her is clunky. It was already well established in the opening chapters that he has a hero complex and his awe was put on display the first time he laid eyes on her.

The question for me is whether these detriments outweigh the redeeming qualities and so far the answer is no. Right now I’m hovering around a B-/C+ letter grade for this book, but I’m hoping the ending is awesome so I can bump it up to a solid B/B+.

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February 27

Comments: 7

Review: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

by Ann-Katrina

Tuck Everlasting Cover

Title: Tuck Everlasting
Author: Natalie Babbitt
ISBN: 978-0-312-36981-1
Story Length: 136 pages
Genre: Children 10+

Is eternal life a blessing or a curse? That is what young Winnie Foster must decide when she discovers a spring on her family’s property whose waters grant immortality. Members of the Tuck family, having drunk from the spring, tell Winnie of their experiences watching life go by and never rowing older.

But then Winnie must decide whether or not to keep Tuck’s secret—and whether or not to join them on their never-ending journey.

Three Quick Points About Tuck Everlasting

  • Point 1: Pensive. If I were to sum up this book in one word, that would be it.
  • Point 2: Ethereal. If I were to sum up this book in another word, that would be it.
  • Point 3: Bittersweet. If I were to sum up this book in one final word, that would be it.

My Thoughts on Tuck Everlasting

(Below are my thoughts on the book. If you want a full run down, you can read the story summary, which includes spoilers.)

I am terribly in love with this book, despite its melancholy.

First, there is the writing itself. On the surface, it looks simple, but there is an elegance in that simplicity. The descriptions are painted with an ethereal quality, quite like a daydream, and it has a steady undercurrent not unlike drifting lazily down a stream.

Next is the characters. Each one seems to have a life outside the pages of this book. Even when I finished reading, I could still imagine these people in miniature size continuing to live out their lives.

Winnie Foster was a bright, curious, and mature young girl, but she was still a little girl who did little girl things. Jesse Tuck was the epitome of impetuous youth, despite 104 years of experience. Miles Tuck was a weathered and pensive man, quite possibly due to his lot in life. Mae Tuck was a jubilant woman who somehow made me smile every few seconds. Angus Tuck was a wise, and sometimes persnickety, man who, more than anything, was ready to leave this world.

And the man in the yellow suit…what can I say about him? It’s been a long while since I remember disliking a character so swiftly as him. A true villain indeed. He was greed incarnate. But I did end up pitying him a bit at the end.

Then there is the story. A young girl tired of her life of confinement sets out on a mission of adventure, and finds exactly that—in an unexpected way. There’s plenty of tension—being held captive in a strange place with strange people; plenty of growth—what it means to truly live; and plenty of learning—what it means to do the right thing.

Finally, the message. There are so many nuanced messages woven in the story, including tolerance, greed, procrastination, choice, but the one recurring theme is that of life and death. Specifically, what does it really mean to live? And when you have immortality bestowed on you, do you continue to live at all?

Some parts of this book made me laugh and some parts choked me up. For instance, there’s a section where Tuck takes Winnie out in the rowboat and lodges it on a fallen tree trunk to illustrate his point:

“It goes on,” Tuck repeated, “to the ocean. But this rowboat now, it’s stuck. If we didn’t move it out ourself, it would stay here forever, trying to get loose, but stuck. That’s what us Tucks are, Winnie. Stuck so’s we can’t move on. We ain’t part of the wheel no more. Dropped off, Winnie. Left behind. And everywhere around us, things is moving and growing and changing. You, for instance. A child now, but someday a woman. And after that, moving on to make room for the new children.”

Winnie blinked, and all at once her mind was drowned with understanding of what he was saying. For she—yes, even she—would go out of the world willy-nilly someday. Just go out, like the flame of a candle, and no use protesting. It was a certainty. She would try very hard not to think of it, but sometimes, as now, it would be forced upon her. She raged against it, helpless and insulted, and blurted at last, “I don’t want to die.”

“No,” said Tuck calmly. “Not now. Your time’s not now. But dying’s part of the wheel, right there next to being born. You can’t pick out the pieces you like and leave the rest. Being part of the whole thing, that’s the blessing. But it’s passing us by, us Tucks. Living’s heavy work, but off to one side, the way we are, it’s useless, too. It don’t make sense. If I knowed how to climb back on the wheel, I’d do it in a minute. You can’t have living without dying. So you can’t call it living, what we got. We just are, we just be, like rocks beside the road.” –pg 63-4

That was the moment that my heart broke for the Tucks. That was the moment I finally drank in all that it meant for them to live forever because forever is a long time to watch the world drift by.

But ultimately, the lesson is: life is what you make of it, regardless of how long you’re given.

This is a book I wish I’d read as a child, and it’s a book I will certainly read again, multiple times (and to my future children). A beautiful story, though bittersweet.

Rating: Required Reading [A] (?)

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January 19

Comments: 5

Teaser Tuesdays: The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

by Ann-Katrina

Teaser Tuesdays Happy Tuesday! It’s time again for another edition of Teaser Tuesdays

Here are the rules:

  • Grab your current read
  • Let the book fall open to a random page
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • You also need to share the title of the book where you get your teaser from…that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given
  • Please avoid spoilers

The Sea of Monsters This week’s teaser:

As the chariots lined up, more shiny-eyed pigeons gathered in the woods. They were screeching so loudly the campers in the stands were starting to take notice, glancing nervously at the trees, which shivered under the weight of the birds.” pg. 79 The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan

Last year I read the first book in the series, The Lighting Thief, and enjoyed it very much. In fact, it made my 9 books I’m glad I read in 2009 list. For the longest, I’ve been meaning to pick up the second book and continue Percy’s adventure. Now just seemed like the perfect time.

A bit of fantasy to help me escape from the trappings of impending responsibility and I have a soft spot for Greco-Roman mythology. So far this book isn’t disappointing, but I’m still in the early portions of the book.

On an almost random tangent, I just learned that a new movie based on The Lightning Thief is due out in theatres and I can’t wait to see it.

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