Prophet of Yonwood by Jeanne DuPrau

Book 3 of the Ember series is completely different than the two that precede it. While City of Ember and People of Sparks take place after mankind has nearly wiped itself out, Yonwood takes place before the City of Ember was created, back when things were still much like they are today. World tensions are running high and America is on the brink of war.

Althea Tower has a terrifying vision that leaves her only a shell of a person. She mumbles words that people take to be instructions from God about how to avoid destruction. Most of the town embraces her instructions wholeheartedly, giving up things in order to increase their love for God and work on being good. Nikki’s great-grandfather has just died. She and her aunt Crystal go to the small town of Yonwood to clean up the house and sell it. At least, that’s what Crystal wants. Nikki has other plans in mind, which are to move there. (Meanwhile, her father is off on a secret government mission and can’t really contact the family.) She meets Grover, a curious boy who enjoys studying snakes. Together they come to realize that maybe the things the Prophet says are not what people take them to be.

Like the City of Sparks, this story takes a long time before it reaches its high point. It is even harder to see where exactly the story is going or what the point is. I don’t find Nikki and Grover as compelling as Doon and Lina (perhaps because they aren’t so strange and different), but I do think that the end of the story, which comes full circle with the others in the series, really makes it worth the read.

Buy it here: The Prophet of Yonwood (Ember, Book 3)

The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau

The People of Sparks is Book Two in the Ember series and tells the story of what happens after the people of Ember find their way into the regular world. They find their way to a village called Sparks where the community has just managed to prosper in the post-apocolyptic Earth. Things start off well, with the people of Sparks trying to help the Emberites adjust to the world in the sun, but not everyone is thrilled and the stress of supporting 400 people grows. Can Lina and Doon find a way to keep the peace before a war erupts?

This book is interesting because it explores what would happen if a group of people who have worked so hard and suffered so much to create their village are forced to suddenly take care of a large group of people without the ability to support themselves. But though the topic is interesting, the novel progresses very slowly. It takes a long time for the story to really find its voice and find the interesting things.

This story felt a little more preachy than the first one, it had more of an obvious message. It’s still good and interesting, especially if you are like me and want to know what happens next with the characters.

Buy the book here: The People of Sparks (Books of Ember)

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

It’s been a while since I’ve made a post, not because I haven’t read anything but because I usually post about a book series as one post rather than as separate posts for each book. But having read 3 of 4 books for the City of Ember series, I’ve decided to make an exception because each book is distinctly different, with a very different tone and feel.

What’s funny about the City of Ember is that about two weeks before I went and bought it, my dad came to me and said “there was just this movie on TV that I think you would like, but I can’t remember the name or really how to explain it to you.” Then when I started telling him about this book after I read it he was like “hey, that’s the movie I was telling you about!” So clearly, he was right.

Onto the book. City of Ember is about a self-contained city. Beyond its borders is nothing but darkness. The people know nothing but the city. The only problem is that the lights have been starting to flicker and die, the pipes are bursting, supplies are running out. But what can they do when there’s nowhere else. Except that maybe there is somewhere else. When Lina discovers a note that contains instructions for how to leave, she and her friend Doon want to tell the city. There’s just one problem: the mayor is corrupt and doesn’t want the people to have more than him. There are many mysteries to resolve though, like how the people ended up in Ember in the first place, what the rest of the world holds, and can they get out before it is too late?

Jeanne DuPrau creates a fully realized reality. It feels very real. You can feel the terror of the citizens whenever the lights blackout. Of the three books I’ve read so far, this one is the best. It has the most tension and drama, there’s more going on. The last bit is a little over the top (in a “life is beautiful!” sort of way), but otherwise it’s exciting and realistic.

Buy the book here: The City of Ember (Books of Ember)

His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman

Somehow I haven’t written about one of my all-time favorite book series. It’s one of those books that I like to go back to every so often–usually after I’ve finished a long, serious book–when I want something familiar and of excellent quality. I first came across this series in college, thanks to a college course Adolescent Literature: Grimm to Voldemort (I know, sounds awesome right?) and am eternally greatful to Professor Flesch for assigning it. It is the only book series to ever make me cry and, as my friends can tell you, I don’t cry easily or often. And I cry every time I read it (and even discover new reasons to cry each time). Pullman has the ability to really get the heartrending emotions being experienced by the characters onto the page in a way that I’ve yet to find another author able to do.

You may remember when the movie came out for the Golden Compass, the first book in the series. There was the usual controversy over something that went against the Church (even though the first book actually has very little of this and it is the latter part of the series that really shows the anti-religion plot). And then there’s the issue of talking animals on screen. It just doesn’t work, they always look goofy and unnatural (because of course it is unnatural and therefore requires computer animation). But in the book it works perfectly and you can’t help but love the daemons and the witches and the armored bears and every other fantastical people that Pullman invented.

The series starts off with Lyra, a young girl who has spent her life running around Oxford College with little care for anything beyond her curiosity and sense of adventure. But when her best friend Roger is kidnapped (in a series of kidnappings rumored to be done by “the Gobblers”) she vows to rescue him. And so begins her journey, with a number of set backs and adventures along the way. But it turns out that freeing Roger is only the first of many things to come. The witches have a prophecy about her, one which says her decisions can change the course of the future. Lyra, together with her daemon Pantalaimon (a daemon is an external part of the human being that takes the form of an animal), and equipped with the altheiometer (a golden compass that she can ask questions and get the truth) set out on a long journey.

Book two, the Subtle Knife, begins with Will, a boy from our world whose mother is mentally ill. He discovers another world where he meets Lyra. While trying to find out more about what is happening, they meet Dr. Mary Malone who is working on dark matter experiments in our version of Oxford. Will gains possession of a powerful weapon, the Subtle Knife. The knife and the altheiometer are important instruments that are highly coveted, leading the two into more danger. At the end of book two, Lyra is kidnapped and Will sets out to save her.

Finally, in the Amber Spyglass, Will finds Lyra and together they set out for the land of the dead where part of their true purpose becomes clear. But a war is looming, can they survive?

Considering that this is a children’s series, the plot is anything but simple. In fact, it is possibly one of the most complex books I have ever read, full of big ideas and questions that always keep you thinking and guessing. In fact, it is the type of book you need to read multiple times because reading reveals new layers of understanding.

If there was ever a book series that you should read, I would suggest this one. In fact, I did just that to a friend of mine who did not enjoy reading. I told her to try this book because there was no chance she wouldn’t like it. Sure enough, she read the entire series and has since begun reading other things.

Buy the series here for a low price: His Dark Materials Trilogy (The Golden Compass; The Subtle Knife; The Amber Spyglass)

Man on Fire by AJ Quinnell

I’ve always enjoyed reading a book and then seeing the movie and comparing the two afterward. Most of the time I find the book to be superior because it has so much more in it, is more complex and detailed and allows for a greater degree of imagination, but on rare occasion I find myself preferring the movie. This is one of those cases.

Man on Fire is about Creasy, a mercenary who has lost his will to live–there’s nothing to live for anymore so why continue?–when he gets a job as a bodyguard for a talkative young girl who finds her way into his heart. But when she is kidnapped and killed, he seeks revenge on those who did it.

A few words about the movie: with Dakota Fanning and Morgan Freeman in the cast, you’ve already got some major talent in the mix. But I think that what actually made the movie better was some of the changes they made to the actual story (specifically that the girl was kidnapped but not killed).

I think the change in ending was a huge thing in the story because the ending of the book was so unsatisfying. The last third of the book was Creasy going from one person to the next and killing them. The little girl, Pinta, was supposed to have changed his way of relating to the world and yet he ended up resorting to revenge killings and losing his life. It just seemed like he didn’t learn anything in the end. I think also the timing of when it turned out that the girl died really hurt the book because it was so early on. There was no feeling of potential hope or the possibility that maybe she could be saved. I think that the potential for her to be brought home safely (whether or not she ended up dead in the end) might have made a big difference both in my feelings for Creasy and how I felt about the book overall.

The author also had a tendency to over-explain things and box them into packages. “She was the type of woman that…” is the sort of phrase that he used a lot. I hate when people are given categories and boxed into types. People are complex, no two people are exactly the same, and giving people a “type” has always been something that bothers me. (Sort of in the way that I hate when fantasy writers have two different nations that live near each other and has they have very distinct physical features. They live near each other, interact, and intermarry, they are not going to look so different that you can tell what city they come from!)

There was a lot of back story that didn’t feel like it was really relevant and characters that felt like they were just thrown in their in order to add more pages.

Overall, it wasn’t bad (definitely readable and mostly a smooth narrative). It was good enough to finish, but I would certainly not seek out another book by AJ Quinnell.

Buy the book: Man on Fire