Friday, September 23, 2011

Fiction Friday

Somehow, I always seem to fall behind on posting book reviews here. And since I've been reading so much this year, I have a wealth of reviewed books to choose from. Reading is, of course, the most important activity one must do in order to be a writer. It's rare that I'll read a book and not learn something about the craft of writing. I'm still reading a lot of Middle Grade fiction these days, mostly because these are currently the most imaginative books being published. And while I've been working on my Middle Grade writing skills, a new genre for me, I've been trying to incorporate this wide-open imaginative style into my newer YA projects like Life is But a Dream and Afterworld. So I'd like to think my time spent in children's fantasy worlds is time productively spent...and if not, well, at least it's fun.

Nightshade City by Hilary Wagner
(Holiday House, 2010)

Always a sucker for middle grade, talking animal fantasy, I naturally had to read one that has been so positively reviewed. Having been a huge Redwall fan for over a decade, I admit to being a little skeptical of Nightshade City because of the publisher's obvious attempt to make the book 'look' like that series. I was actually pleased that the story doesn't resemble those books in tone or spirit, but rather is a very original story with wonderfully formed characters. Hilary Wagner certainly knows how to bring the world of the Catacombs to life. The barbarism of the Kill Army and its commanders is palpable and well-defined, as is the heroism of the rats of the newly formed Nightshade City. The story moves quickly, with enough action mixed in to keep the pages turning. I'm really looking forward to reading the next book.

However, the book did leave me with some questions. In the beginning of the book, there is a dark cloud that hangs over the plot. There is foreshadowing of a rape, which never occurs but still surprised me for a book geared to ages 9 and up. As an adult, I found it added to the sense of danger and was handled well, but as a children's author, I was simply surprised. But given that it was there, I was even more surprised that the concluding action of the plot is handled with so little violence. The entire book builds to a massive battle which never occurs. Which is noble, and also fits in with the theme of reason over brutality. But I couldn't help feeling that it somehow didn't fit the narrative structure set up in the beginning. None of this prevented me from thoroughly enjoying the book, and most people probably wouldn't notice these things, but as a writer, I found it a fascinating aspect of the book that I thought worthy of note.

The Time Travelers: Book One in The Gideon Trilogy
by Linda Buckley-Archer (S&S, 2007)

There are lot of things that are done really well in this book. Intrigue abounds in the plight of Kate and Peter after they are transported back to year 1763 during a freak accident. I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure of two modern twelve year olds navigating a grim and grimy eighteenth century London. (I love time travel even more than talking animals).

Rather than glorify the past as many stories are apt to do, Linda Buckley-Archer chose to present the horrid along with the charm. She didn't shy away from creating a vivid picture of the elements of past society which would shock modern readers, whether it be the foul stench, the deplorable food, the injustices of the legal system or the wretched conditions of the poor. I think it's important for a children's book to recall these times, not just as a way of illustrating how far we've come, but also as a way of considering how far we still need to go in order to end these practices today. However there was quite a bit of glorification of the present that I thought was ill-earned considering the lingering existence of many of these issues in today's world, even if to a much lesser degree. Still, I felt the book did a good job of showing today's world as being more convenient than anything else. It didn't hide the fact that problems still exist, they are just easier to take care of in many ways.

Despite my joy in reading The Time Travelers, I felt that the story dragged a bit with too many instances of repetition of similar predicaments facing the characters. Though each of these scenes were well-written and entertaining, I personally believe that limiting them to one example would have given the scene greater impact. I also felt the science aspect of the story to be glossed over, which stood out given the wonderful detail placed on the historical elements. With a topic of time travel, one of my favorites, I felt the science end of it needed more attention than it got. Obviously there is no right or wrong science when it comes to traveling through time, which gives the writer more freedom to be inventive. In this book, it simply felt as if there wasn't much thought put into creating a compelling way to illustrate it. I also wished Kate and Peter were a little more dynamic. Oftentimes they were overshadowed by their supporting cast (which was excellent by the way). Still, given all of that, the book was a page turner and never left me bored. Plus the James Jean illustrated cover is rather nice.

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