The Girl Who Could Fly by Victoria Forester

This is the story of a girl born into a very conservative family, the kind of family that always does things the way they’ve always been done. The only problem is, the girl, Piper, can fly. And that is certainly not something that people have always done. So when a woman comes to to take Piper to a school made just for people like Piper, it seems perfect. Some of the kids can move things with their mind or see through things or control electricity. Others can change their size or control the weather. Once there, Piper discovers that not everything is as it seems. Friends and enemies are not as clear as it first appears. The school may not be to help people like Piper after all. Piper, with the help of the other kids in the institute, must escape before they lose their special abilities once and for all.

The premise behind this book certainly isn’t the most unique of stories. It’s sort of a kid’s version of the X-Men. The story is fun but what made it hard for me to get through was that Piper, the main character, was not endearing. She was supposed to be sweet and inquisitive, full of energy. To me she was just as annoying as most people found her to be, but whereas the characters grew to appreciate her talkative nature, all I wanted was for her to be quiet. And while she was meant to say strange things with a Southern accent to exemplify her upbringing, I found it disruptive.

One of the premises of the story is that if you don’t use your magic you will lose it. But this is contradicted in one of the final scenes of the book which makes me wonder if ultimately there was no threat and you just had to make people remember. There’s also the question of J which remains unresolved. I think he could have played a bigger, more interesting part in the story. I also wonder why he (who I believe to be Johnny), as an adult, could not see what the children saw, which is that they have abilities and the people of the institute do not.

My final problem came from the fact that I think the narrative was somewhat contradictory. It made me feel like I didn’t know if I could trust the narrator, who was omniscient, which is a strange feeling. Specifically, the way that Conrad was described constantly contradicted itself. He’d grown mean and mad, except that he was always trying to help everyone, but he was mean and mad, but he was saving people…Mean and mad just wasn’t the right term for how he was feeling. Pragmatic, pessimistic, clinical, those are all things that describe him. Granted, this is a kids’ book so you’d need to find words that aren’t so difficult, but it just felt like the narrator got it wrong.

Ultimately, I found that the book fell short. It had the potential to be really exciting but the details didn’t all add up and the characters didn’t make me want to root for them beyond the fact that they’re children and it’s awful for them to be mistreated. (So, it was a generic root for the good guys, not a feel bad and really care for them kind of feeling.)

Fablehaven Books 4 and 5

It seems like no matter how good the last book is, the next book comes out even better in this series. I’m impressed with the way Brandon Mull was able to continue providing the twists, turns, and surprises. Even knowing that someone we trust could turn out to be a traitor at any time, I was always surprised by who it was. He did an excellent job of creating the suspicious atmosphere so that the reader felt just as untrusting as the characters.

Book 4, Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary, is about the group recovering the key to the Translocator in an attempt to keep it from the Sphinx’s hands. This requires a number of things, including tricking centaurs and defeating legendary dragons.

Like all final books in a series, book 5 is the longest yet, but it does not drag on. Book 5, Keys to the Demon Prison, is when all things come to a head as they head out for the final key to the prison, fight the Sphinx, gain new enemies and unlikely allies along the way. There is action and adventure all the way through with almost no moments to stop and think. Which for me is good, because that’s how I would imagine it feels in a crisis.

Fablehaven really is one of my favorite series. The characters are all unique, the surprises were always unexpected, the villains less certain than even Harry Potter would have. The world itself is rich and exciting and I want more. At the end of book five, Mull leaves a note that he will not be writing any more books in this series. He does not say he won’t write about these particular characters again, just that this plot is done. He leaves himself room with the end of the series for a new adventure (Seth still owes the Singing Sisters a number of things, the rest of the Eternals must be selected, the keys must be locked in new places, the preserves need to all be restored properly) and I hope he takes the opportunity. (He does say that he has another series in the works, which I intend to check out once it’s out.)

The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne Duprau

For the final book in the series (I’m assuming it’s the final book because it feels very final), the people of Sparks are having a difficult time getting by with their limited supplies. There isn’t enough food, the storehouse roof has collapsed, the work is still harder than what the people of Ember are used to.

But all that could change when Lina and Doon learn that there was something left for the people of Ember to help them make it once they leave Ember. They don’t know what it is–the only clue is the last 8 pages of a forty-seven page book–but they are sure that it requires they return to their abandoned city. So they do what they do best: sneak away and journey back there. But things don’t go as planned because the city they’d thought was dead is not as empty as they expect it to be.

This book manages to bring back the charm of the first book, City of Ember, that was lacking in the other two. Where Book 1 was full of excitement and mystery, the other two felt comparatively cumbersome and slow. They were important to the story but they simply lacked the urgency and adventure. This one didn’t lack any of that. From almost the first moment, something was happening beyond people complaining and arguing.

I’m also glad that we got to see more of Kenny. He may not be an Emberite, but he’s got the same good, adventurous spirit as Lina and Doon and he deserves more space. I’m less fond of Torren. Why can’t he figure out that his brother is a loser? And besides, who wants to listen to a whiner? Lizzie isn’t much better but at least she’s slightly entertaining in her own ridiculousness.

I can’t pretend to love the ending, which felt like a poor attempt to tie up the story nicely. (Sort of like the end of the seventh Harry Potter.) But the rest of the book makes up for it.

Fablehaven: Rise of the Evening Star by Brandon Mull

Things have changed since their summer at Fablehaven. Kendra has some new abilities, one of which allows her to see Fairy creatures without milk. Because of this, she can see what no one else can: that the new boy in town is no regular boy. How can she get rid of this hideous infiltrator?

But this mystery is minor compared to those that bring Seth and Kendra back to Fablehaven for the summer. The Evening Star is more active than it has been in years and it has dark plans. Secret preserves are being attacked because they hide magical items that, when combined, can release a powerful demon. What’s more, they need Kendra to power up the items (yet another side effect of the summer before). The biggest question of all: who can be trusted?

Book 2 in the Fablehaven series is just as good as the last one. It starts out a little slow (let’s face it, school is not nearly as interesting as a mystical preserve full of fairy creatures) but it quickly picks up and the rest of the book has you guessing. We meet new characters, adventurers in their own fields named Tanu, Coulter, and Vanessa, who teach Kendra and Seth more about the magical world. Tanu is a potions master, Vanessa collects mythical creatures, and Coulter is an expert in magical items (he’s also a sexist but that’s neither here nor there). With their individual talents, they hunt for the mythical items in the darkest, most dangerous parts of the preserve.

What I liked about this book, even more than the first one, was that it felt like part of a series and a little bit less like a standalone book. Where the first book only gave hints of dark movements, the second jumps right in. Of course, like with most books (especially in kids’ series) each book has a plot that raps up at the end of the book, but at the same time, they also fit together into one bigger story.

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

If you have not read the first book then you shouldn’t read this. It will ruin things and this is not a series that you want ruined. (I will say this for you though, while some sequels suck, book two is just as good as book one.)

In Catching Fire, Katniss has gotten home, the Victory Tour is about to begin, and Katniss discovers that surviving the Hunger Games was not enough. Gale is upset because of her romance with Peeta, Peeta is upset about Katniss faking the relationship, Haymitch is back to being drunk, new Peacekeepers have come into District 12 and they are much more brutal, and Katniss has an unwanted visitor…the President.

This isn’t the worst to come of course. It’s the Quarter Quell–every 25 years the Games take a special twist (one year they doubled the number of tributes for example). This year is no exception and the twist may be the worst of all because the President doesn’t believe that Katniss really suggested suicide because she loved Peeta. Her action has triggered tensions that have remained under the surface for years and if she doesn’t diffuse the situation things there could be an all-out rebellion. Which would most likely lead to the death of Katniss’s family and friends.

I’ve found often that where the first book in a highly imaginative, dystopian series is incredible, the next books in the series don’t hold up. No such issues here. Collins keeps the characters rich, the plot complex, and the entire book full of surprises and excitement.

At moments it feels like things happen too quickly in the book. Entire weeks zoom by in a matter of pages and it isn’t always clear that they’ve passed until afterward, but while I’m certainly curious about the events of the time spans that we skip, I understand why Collins did it. It would be slow down the book and get somewhat repetitive. This way things stay quick and exciting.

This might be one of the best series I read and I can’t wait until book three comes out. Things are about to change, yet again.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Katniss Everdeen has been taking care of her family ever since her father was killed–before her eyes–by a mine. She, along with her friend Gale, has been illegally sneaking out of her District and into the woods to hunt and bring back the meat necessary for their survival. She does this most of all because of her love for Prim, her younger sister. The day of the Reaping arrives as it does each year, when two children from each District are chosen to fight to the death while being televised to the entire population. Against all odds, Prim is chosen and Katniss knows that she has to protect her sister once again–by taking her place. Coming from District 12, the coal-mining district, Katniss has little chance of winning. District 12 has only won once. But maybe, with a little luck and a surprise alliance Katniss has a shot. If she can get herself to kill her competitors. Especially if she might love one of them.

Collins does an incredible job of weaving this dystopian world where things are run by the Capitol for the best of and the amusement of the Capitol. The one thing the Capitol can be counted on doing is finding ways to remind the Districts that they must obey. Or else.

The characters are so real and sympathetic that it’s hard not to cry at the moment when Prim’s name is reaped. You feel very keenly Katniss’s desperation, confusion, and anger at the things that have befallen her family.

The story is written in first person present, which really threw me at first, since it’s so rare. It took me a while to get used to it and in the beginning I thought I really disliked it. But once I got used to it, I didn’t notice it anymore and it made the rest of the story feel closer and more resounding. I will definitely be picking up Catching Fire as soon as I can get my hands on it (which will likely be after work today). I can’t wait to see what happens next and how Katniss takes to her life after everything.