Friday, December 20, 2013

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
184 pages

The Last Battle is the riveting conclusion of C.S. Lewis' epic high fantasy series The Chronicles of Narnia. At first it is scary and suspenseful, but towards the end there is peace and closure. In the final book a nefarious ape named Shift uses his weak-willed, yet gentle donkey friend Puzzle in an evil plot that precedes the ending of the world Narnia.

In the first chapter of The Last Battle, Shift manipulates Puzzle into swimming underneath a waterfall to retrieve a yellow object. The object is a lion's skin that Shift uses to carry out his plot to deceive and control the Narnians. Puzzle reluctantly accepts Shift's idea for him to wear the lion's skin and pretend he is Aslan.

When rumors are spread across the land that Aslan has returned to Narnia, King Tirian and his companion Jewel the Unicorn are excited until a great centaur arrives and tells them the rumors are a lie. He reveals that the stars are showing signs of impending disaster. Suddenly a tree nymph races up to King Tirian and shouts that the trees are being cut down and murdered. Tirian arranges for the centaur to get help back at his castle Cair Paravel while Jewel and him go to the site of destruction.
Tirian and Jewel discover that his fellow Narnians are working with the foreign Calormenes to cut down the talking trees to sell to Calormen. After witnessing a Calormen whip a talking horse who was carting lumber, Tirian and Jewel commit murder in their rage at the sight. They surrender to the Calormen and are held as prisoners in the area. Tirian is tied to a tree and starved for hours when he calls to Aslan for help after figuring out Shift 's deception. Tirian is transported to another world where he sees seven people gathered around yet he cannot speak.
In several minutes two children appear and free Tirian from his bonds. They introduce themselves as Eustace and Jill, the ones who rescued his ancestor King Rilian from Underland. The three of them rescue Jewel and form a plan to attack Shift and free the Narnians. Along the way to a safe house they assist a group of Dwarves who were being sold into slavery to Calormenes. After the Dwarves are freed they tell Tirian they no longer believe in Aslan and will no longer serve any king.
Tirian, Eustace, Jill, and Jewel continue their plans and are joined by a loyal Dwarf who leaves his group to fight with them. During the planning they see a large monstrous figure of a skeleton creature with a large vulture head entering the forest where the Narnians are enslaved. They are frightened when they realize it is the Calormene god Tash. In the evening they return to the location where Puzzle impersonating as Aslan leaves the stable at night to trick the Talking Beasts of Narnia. They take Puzzle from the stable and decide to wait for the centaur to come with help from Cair Paravel. An eagle meets them and tells them that the centaur is dead and Cair Paravel has been overthrown by an army of Calormenes. They are deflated, but decide they must fight for justice to the death.
Tirian leads his group to a showdown with Shift and the Calormen in the forest. The Narnians are quickly defeated while Eustace, Jill and Tirian are thrown inside the stable where the god Tash has already consumed Shift. Tirian is thrown into the stable and sees Tash take a Calormen leader. He fears he will be taken next when a voice tells Tash to be gone in the name of Aslan. Tash disappears and King Tirian looks at his surroundings and sees he is no longer in the darkness of the stable. He is in a sunny land where he is greeted by High King Peter, King Edmund, Queen Lucy, Lord Digory and Lady Polly.
King Peter and his friends explain that they saw his face when they were gathered at the Professor's house and knew he was from Narnia. They took a week to find the magic rings Digory buried as a child at his old home and were meeting at a train station for Eustace and Jill to go to Narnia. Then they all suddenly transported to this place, while Eustace and Jill went to him when he was tied to the tree.
Aslan appears and allows the group to watch him end the world of Narnia from the other side of the stable door. Aslan calls all the people of Narnia, including those who have died in the last battle to the door. The Talking Beasts and people who have been loyal to Aslan and Narnia enter through the door, while those who did not believe in him were sent away. Then Aslan wakes Father Time who was featured in The Silver Chair and orders him to call down the stars and put out the sun. High King Peter shuts the door, which ends the world of Narnia.
All of the Narnians who made it to the new land are amazed to realize it is a better version of Narnia and that they are starting a new life. Aslan leads them to his country where they are greeted by all the former kings and queens of Narnia, along with Reepicheep, Mr. Tumnus, Puddleglum, and other characters from previous books in the series. Aslan explains to Peter, Lucy, Edmund, Jill, Eustace, Digory and Polly that they were killed in a train accident in their world and this is the start of their new life. They are overjoyed and reunite with their old friends from Narnia. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
183 pages

The sixth entry in the Narnia series, though chronologically first within the storyline, is revelatory and enchanting. The book provides a great background story to the  history of  "the comings and goings between our world and Narnia."

Digory Kirke, who becomes the famed Professor in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe, and his friend Polly Plummer are exploring the space in between the attic of their homes when they accidently enter into Digory's Uncle Andrew's study. They are frightened and try to leave immediately, but Uncle Andrew locks the door to prevent them.

Uncle Andrew tricks Polly into touching a yellow magic ring he received from his godmother and she disappears. Digory is outraged, but realizes he has no choice but to go after Polly using another yellow ring and brings two green rings with him that will send them home.

Digory arrives at "the Woods between the Worlds", a soporific forest containing many pools of water, but no living creatures in it except for Polly and a gerbil Uncle Andrew used for a previous experiment. When Polly wakes up and gains her senses, the two children figure out how to use the rings and decide to explore other worlds. The first world they jump into through one of the pools is dark and desolate. After walking through an ancient castle for a long time, they reach a room with hundreds of people who are frozen in time. There is a bell with a hammer and a sign that tempts its reader to ring the bell. Polly wants to leave and is about to return to the woods when Digory aggressively prevents her and rings the bell.

After the bell rings several times, an elaborately dressed woman in the back of the room comes to life and demands to know who woke her up. The strange woman tells the children she is Queen Jadis of Charn and that everyone in her world is dead. She reveals that all her people and her rival sister's people were killed when she said "the deplorable word." The children see that she is evil and try to escape her, but she manages to return to England with them.

Queen Jadis, now called the Witch, orders Uncle Andrew to get her a carriage and fine jewelry for her takeover of the world. In the ensuing hours the witch causes a huge uproar in the community for stealing jewels and a horse and carriage from the local townspeople. In Polly and Digory's neighborhood the witch tears a piece of a lamp-post off and has a showdown with policemen and a mob. Just when the situation gets out of control Digory uses the yellow ring to send the witch, Uncle Andrew, Polly, and the stolen horse with his owner to the Woods.

After a struggle to escape the Witch the whole group jumps into a pool that leads them into Narnia at the moment Aslan creates the world. Aslan sings and creates the stars, trees, flowers, hills, waters, etc. The Witch and Uncle Andrew are frightened and want to get away from the lion, while the rest of the group is in awe of Aslan. The witch throws the piece of the lamp-post at Aslan, intending to kill him, but it glances off of him unnoticed. The witch then flees as the piece of the lamp-post grows into a full grown lamp-post--the backstory of the lamp-post Lucy sees as she enters Narnia in The Lion, the Witch, and The Wardrobe.

After Aslan creates the beasts and chooses pairs to give the gift of speech, he gives Digory the task of finding an apple in a garden far away to plant as protection from the Witch he brought to Narnia. Polly and Digory fly to the garden on the back of Fledge, the horse who was brought to Narnia from England who Aslan gives a pair of wings. When Digory reaches the garden and picks the apple he is tempted to eat it, but chooses not to. The Witch attempts to deceive Digory one last time, but fails as Digory refuses her offer. Fledges flies the children back to Aslan and he allows Digory to take an apple from the tree he planted for his dying mother.

Digory and Polly return to England with Uncle Andrew, while the horse and his cabbie, who is coronated as the first King of Narnia, remain. Digory gives his mother the apple and she recovers from her illness. Polly and Digory continue their friendship, while Uncle Andrew never practices magic again.

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
199 pages

The Horse and His Boy is the fifth published novel in The Chronicles of Narnia series. The main character named Shasta lives in the world of Narnia and his story takes place during the reign of High King Peter, King Edmund, Queen Susan, and Queen Lucy. Chronologically the events of this book happens third in the series.

Shasta lives as a servant to his father Arsheesh in Calormen. They do not have a close relationship and bear little resemblance to each other. One day a visiting nobleman named Anradin discusses a deal to buy Shasta to be his slave from Arsheesh. Shasta overhears this conversation and learns that Arsheesh is not his father. He also discovers that Anradin's horse is a Talking Horse from the land of Narnia who calls himself Bree. They plan their escape that night.

Bree and Shasta travel for several hours until they see another horse and traveler in the night and want to take cover. When a lion appears the horses and the riders flee to safety into a forest. The other rider introduces herself as Aravis, a young aristocrat from Calormen who is running away from an arranged marriage to an old grand vizier of the court, and her horse is a Talking Horse named Hwin. The four devise a plan to go through the city of Tashbaan in Calormen to get to Narnia.

When Bree, Shasta, Aravis, and Hwin enter Tashbaan they are unexpectedly separated by a procession of visiting royals from Narnia. King Edmund sees Shasta and seizes him, believing him to be Prince Corin of Archenland. Shasta does not reveal his true identity and enters the palace of the Tisroc. While Shasta is in the palace he overhears Queen Susan and King Edmund talk about escaping Calormen to avoid a marriage with the Tisroc's son, Rabadash, who intends to marry Queen Susan despite her indifference. After the royal party leaves Shasta in a room alone, a mud streaked boy climbs through the window and introduces himself as Prince Corin. Shasta tells Corin that he's been mistaken for him and asks him if he can leave. The two boys, who look exactly alike, become friends as Corin tells Shasta how to get out of the palace unnoticed.

While Shasta spends the night in a desert near the palace, Aravis hides out with an aristocrat friend Lasaraleen. Aravis and Lasaraleen sneak into a room and overhear the Tisroc and Rabadash discussing plans to attack Archenland without warning in order to invade Narnia and capture Queen Susan who has escaped Calormen. When Aravis escapes the palace and reunites with Shasta in the desert, she warns him of Rabadash's plans and they agree to hurry to Archenland to warn King Lune. Bree, Shasta, Hwin, and Aravis travel across the desert and mountains for several days before fatigue sets in and Rabadash's army is close behind them. As they approach the forest land of Archenland a lion comes and chases them, pushing them to reach King Lune faster. Shasta runs on foot and meets King Lune to warn them of Rabadash's imminent attack.

King Lune and his court race back to the castle and prepare for battle. Shasta is unable to keep up and gets lost on another path. While Shasta feels sorrowful he hears someone walking beside him and thinks it is a ghost. The figure reveals himself as Aslan and explains that he has been helping Shasta on his journey to Narnia. He states that he was the lion that brought Aravis and him together and he was the lion that scared the Talking Horses into running faster to get to King Lune on time. Shasta ends up in Narnia and informs the Narnians of the battle at Archenland. King Edmund and Queen Lucy bring an army to assist Archenland.

When the Narnians arrive to the battle Rabadash and his army are overtaken and defeated. Rabadash refuses to surrender and is taken captive into King Lune's castle. Rabadash is offered a choice to be released under certain conditions, but he rejects it. Aslan appears and warns Rabadash to take the offer or suffer the consequences. After Rabadash refuses again Aslan turns him into a donkey. Aslan tells him that he can turn back into a human when he goes to the altar of Tash during the Autumn Feast, but he will not be able to go past ten miles of the Temple of Tash or he will turn into a donkey permanently. Rabadash is nicknamed "Rabadash the Ridiculous" from that day forward.

Shasta tells Aravis that he is actually Prince Cor, heir to the throne of Archenland. He is the long-lost identical twin of Prince Corin, who was stolen at birth to prevent the prophecy of Cor helping Archenland in their greatest danger from becoming true . The prophecy was fulfilled nevertheless, when Shasta warned King Lune of the attack on Archenland. Aravis apologizes to Cor for treating him poorly and says she realized he was a good person when he helped her after the lion chased them into Archenland. King Lune invites Aravis to live in the castle with Cor, while Bree and Hwin go to Narnia. Prince Cor and Aravis eventually become King and Queen of Archenland and become the parents of the most famous King in Archenland's history.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
217 pages

Eustace Clarence Scrubb returns to Narnia in the fourth book of the series and has matured after his trip on the Dawn Treader. On this adventure to Narnia he goes with a school mate named Jill Pole.

In the opening scene Jill Pole is crying after being victimized by "Them", a notorious gang of bullies at her school Experiment House. When Eustace finds her in the back of the school he tries to comfort her by telling her about his experiences in Narnia. Jill believes him and they agree to try to get to Narnia by summoning Aslan. Eustace and Jill are promptly chased by some of "Them" until they reach a door that is normally locked and it opens to Aslan's Country.

The ensuing adventure begins after Eustace falls of a cliff into Narnia and Aslan comes to blow him to land safely. Aslan then gives Jill an important task that is crucial to the future of the kingdom of Narnia. Jill must remember four signs that Aslan says will help her and Eustace find King Caspian's long lost son Prince Rilian. Immediately the first sign is botched when Eustace doesn't recognize King Caspian as the elderly king leaving on a ship. When Jill and Eustace find out about Caspian they are allowed to stay at Cair Paravel until the kings returns. However, an owl named Glimfeather tells them they must leave in secret at once if they want to succeed to find Prince Rilian because Regent Trumpkin has banned Narnians from the task after years of failed attempts.

Glimfeather takes Jill and Eustace to a marshland where they meet the lovably pessimistic Marsh-wiggle Puddleglum. He assumes the worst about everything, but is considered too cheerful by his fellow Marsh-wiggles. The three of them journey together to travel to the land of the ancient ruined city of the giants. After they pass by the giants who live in Ettinsmoor unnoticed, they meet the beautiful Lady of the Green Kirtle who is accompanied by a suspiciously silent knight in black armor. The lady tells them to go to the castle of giants at Harfang for the Autumn Feast.

Puddleglum is doubtful and doesn't want to visit the castle, but Jill and Eustace are so cold and tired they go against his concerns and insist on going. By the time they reach Harfang the children are somewhat frightened. The giants at the castle treat them with great respect and take care of their needs. As Puddleglum and the kids plan getting to the ruined city they find out that they are going to be the meals for the Autumn Feast.

At the earliest opportunity they escape from the castle and were chased by several noble giants. They had to hide in a cave to survive. They ended up falling down a slope and slid for miles underground. After finding each other in the darkness, a group of earthmen tell them to follow them by order of the queen. Jill, Eustace and Puddleglum are now in Underland.

After traveling an endless journey further underground and across the Sunless Sea they reach a castle. The three of them meet a man in the castle who tells them how much the queen has helped him deal with his curse where he turns into a lunatic every night for a certain period of time. The man tells them that no matter what he says that he must stay shackled to a silver chair so that he won't turn into a deadly snake. Puddleglum and the kids are scared, but comply with his request.

Though Jill, Eustace, and Puddleglum say they don't want to watch the man turn into the lunatic, they feel compelled to witness his transformation. When the man is strapped to the silver chair he begs them to set him free and that he is sane, but being held prisoner. After he says "in the name of Aslan" they recognize the fourth sign and unleash him after a quick debate. The freed man reveals that he is Prince Rilian and was being used by a witch in a nefarious plan to overthrow Narnia.

Prince Rilian and his rescuers have a showdown with the queen of Underland, who is the Lady of the Green Kirtle. The Lady tries to use the same evil magic she used to brainwash Prince Rilian to make them all forget who they are and where they came from, but a brave act by Puddleglum enables them to get their senses back. When the Lady sees her magic has failed she turns into a snake and is about to kill Rilian when Eustace and Puddleglum come to his aid and the three of them kill her.

After the queen's death all of the earthmen are free from her spell and they all escape to Bism--the Bottom of the World. Rilian, Puddleglum, Eustace and Jill use the path to Overland constructed by the earthmen in the evil plot to return to Narnia. After they are pulled from underground to their freedom by dancing Fauns and other Narnian creatures, King Caspian sees his son Rilian one last time before passing away.

King Caspian is resurrected as a young man in Aslan's Country where Jill and Eustace get to speak with him and Aslan. They come up with a plan to get revenge on the bullies in Experiment House when they return to their own world. The bullies are still trying to open the door Jill and Eustace left through in England when they are terrified and beaten by Caspian, Jill and Eustace and see the back of Aslan when the door opens. Afterwards all the bullies are expelled and Experiment House replaces its headmistress and becomes an effective school.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
223 pages

The third entry in The Chronicles of Narnia is an absolute delight and my favorite of the first three in the series. In this book Peter and Susan are left behind--Aslan told them they were too old to come back to Narnia in Prince Caspian--while Edmund and Lucy go on a dangerous trip to the end of the world with their annoying cousin Eustace Clarence Scrubb.

The book opens with Edmund and Lucy staying at their Aunt Alberta and Uncle Harold's house for the summer because their parents and Susan went to America for a job opportunity while Peter stayed with Professor Kirke from The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. In the first chapter Edmund and Lucy are talking about Narnia in the guest bedroom when Eustace comes in to make fun of them. He heard the siblings talking of Narnia and thought they were "playing a game."

Suddenly the three of them end up going inside a curious painting on the wall with a queer ship at sea. They end up having to swim for their lives. Luckily it is King Caspian's ship and he helps them get on board. Caspian explains to them that he is on a journey to find the seven noble lords his Uncle Miraz sent away when he stole the throne. They are Lord Rhoop, Lord Bern, Lord Octesian, Lord Restimar, Lord Revilian, Lord Mavramorn, and Lord Argoz. There is also a plan to reach the end of the world if possible where brave mouse Reepicheep believes Aslan's country is located.

They found Lord Bern alive and well on their first stop, he actually bought Caspian from slave traders because he knew Caspian's father. Caspian appointed Bern the Duke of the Lone Islands after seeing how corrupt to governor was who allowed the slave trading. The next part of the journey is interesting because of Eustace's foul attitude. He wrote journal entries where he was convinced Caspian and his cousins were rotten and he was a victim of illegal actions. His character remains annoying and insulting until he turns into a dragon on an island where they discover Lord Octesian's crest. Octesian is presumed dead, either eaten by a dragon or turned into one and passed away in that form. When Eustace turns into a dragon after intentionally leaving his crew behind to get some solitude, he feels lonely for the first time in his life and his perspective changes.

After showing the passengers of the Dawn Treader that he is Eustace in dragon form he enjoyed their company. He turned back to a human in a dream like sequence where Aslan shed his dragon exterior. Afterwards Eustace was no longer an extreme nuisance. They moved onward and found Lord Restimar turned into solid gold on Deathwater Island in a magic body of water that turns everything to gold. They landed on an island where they were threatened to be killed by invisible creatures called Dufflepuds whom were under the spell of a powerful magician. Lucy had to read a spell to make them visible again.

There was a deadly sea serpent attack and a place called Dark Island where they found a nearly insane Lord Rhoop. Dark Island is a place where all your dreams come true, meaning your worst nightmares will come alive and terrorize you. After rescuing Lord Rhoop they discover that Lords Mavramorn, Argoz, and Revilian are on a retired star named Ramandu's island, but they are in an enchanted sleep. The only way for them to wake up is for Caspian's crew to go to the end of the world and for a person to go there and never come back. Reepicheep volunteers. They have a pleasant, non-dramatic voyage to the end of the world where they reach Aslan's country.

Aslan tells Caspian he is to return to Narnia and that Edmund, Lucy, Eustace and Reepicheep are to stay behind. Reepicheep sails off to Aslan's country and is never seen or heard from again, while the children go back to the guest bedroom in England. It is a bittersweet ending because Aslan tells Edmund and Lucy they're too old to come back to Narnia. But he promises they'll see him again one day. Eustace is changed for the better from then on. Caspian gets closure on his evil Uncle Miraz's reign after the return voyage with the surviving lords. He marries the retired star's daughter they met on Ramandu's island and rule Narnia for generations.

The story was very pleasant and I loved the imagery and the adventure. My favorite of all is Reepicheep. He is the bravest character I've ever read about in any book, which makes him one of my favorite ever. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is a great, quick read that is good for children and imaginative adults.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
195 pages

The second book in The Chronicles of Narnia takes place one year later in the world of the Pevensies and 1300 years later in Narnia. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy are waiting at a train station to return to school when they are magically transported back to Narnia. They arrive on a beach and eventually travel to a land where they see a ruined castle. The children figure out that the ruins is their old castle Cair Paravel.

When they go inside the castle and find their old weapons and gifts they see a boat arriving with two armed soldiers and someone tied up. Susan shoots at the soldiers with her bow and arrow, who then jump off their row boat and swim away out of fright. The children rescue the captive from the boat who is the Talking Dwarf named Trumpkin who tells the story of King Miraz and his nephew Caspian that led him to this point.

King Miraz is the leader of the people called Telmarines who have conquered Narnia and erased the memory and history of ancient Narnia, Aslan, and the Talking Beasts. The remaining old Narnians live in hiding while many of the trees and other magic creatures have fallen into a deep sleep. Caspian lives in the castle with the King and is tutored by a half-dwarf named Doctor Cornelius who tells Caspian of the true history of Narnia and that he is the real King of Narnia. Caspian learns that King Miraz killed his father and sent seven of his father's noble lords away to steal the throne. Miraz also plans to kill Caspian now that he has a newborn son. Doctor Cornelius gives Caspian a magic horn from Queen Susan and helps Caspian escape in the middle of the night. When Caspian's horse runs through a forest and flees out of fright, Caspian is knocked out from hitting his head on a tree.

Caspian awakes in a cave and is questioned by a talking badger named Trufflehunter and two dwarves, Nikabrik and Trumpkin himself. Although the dwarves are wary of Caspian, Trufflehunter is ready to anoint Caspian the rightful King of Narnia. After a long discussion the three agree to take Caspian to the hiding place of the old Narnians. Caspian meets fauns, Talking Mice, including the valiant Repicheep, Talking Beavers, Talking Bears, giants, etc. who are ready to rally and fight for him against King Miraz. Doctor Cornelius arrives and warns everyone that King Miraz's army is approaching and they must be ready to fight. After the king's army reaches the old Narnians and they fight for many hours, Caspian decides to use Queen Susan's horn for help. It was then that the children were transported to Narnia.

The children and Trumpkin take a journey to meet Caspian and his army. On the way Lucy sees Aslan who tells her to follow him. She tells the others, but they don't believe her and continue on their path. The path that the group takes ends up being deadly and they have to turn around and camp in a forest. At night Lucy sees Aslan again and he tells her to wake up the others so they can follow him. Lucy is unsure, but she knows she has to do it. Peter, Susan, and Trumpkin are doubtful, but Edmund is supportive. Eventually they agree to follow her. When Lucy takes them to Aslan, no one can see him but her. She tells them to follow Aslan and they walk behind her since they can't see where he is. After some time they all can see Aslan and apologize to Lucy for their unbelief.

Aslan takes them to Caspian and the Narnians who are facing imminent defeat. Peter, Edmund, and Trumpkin overhear a meeting between Caspian and Nikabrik about using dark magic to defeat King Miraz. Nikabrik suggests that his Wer-wolf and Hag friends raise the White Witch from the dead to defeat the King. Caspian, Cornelius, and Trufflehunter disagree and a fight breaks out. Peter, Edmund and Trufflehunter jump in resulting in the deaths of Nikabrik, the Hag and the Wer-wolf. After they recover and dispose of the bodies they come up with a plan of action to defeat King Miraz's army.

The Narnians agree to propose a duel between High King Peter and King Miraz, the winner of the duel wins the battle between the armies. Although this is disadvantageous to Miraz's larger army, Miraz is manipulated into accepting the offer by his traitorous Lords Glozelle and Sopespian. During the duel High King Peter delivers a blow that knocks King Miraz down flat. Lord Glozelle then stealthily murders the King in the ensuing commotion declaring that the Narnians killed Miraz while he was down. The Telmarines charge to attack, but Aslan arrives with the awakened trees and gods of Narnia to defeat them. The Telmarines attempt to escape, but they are trapped at the Great River where there is no bridge.

Aslan, Susan, and Lucy lead a victory parade through the Telmarine inhabited towns, inviting those who wish to join old Narnia and those who don't to join the defeated army. After the celebration Aslan tells the Telmarines that they can return to Earth where their ancestors came from by walking through a magic door he created. Initially most of the Telmarines are reluctant and frightened that it is a trap. Then a brave Telmarine goes through the door and the Pevensies follow him, proving it is safe. Peter and Susan learn that they will never return to Narnia again while Caspian is crowned King of Narnia and the old Narnians can live out in the open once more. The children return to the train station only minutes later in their world just as Susan and Lucy's train to school arrives.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
172 pages

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the incredible first book published in The Chronicles of Narnia series. Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy Pevensie are four young siblings who are staying at Professor Kirke's estate in the countryside for their safety during a war in London. The children play hide and seek in the large house on a rainy day when Lucy chooses to hide in a wardrobe in an empty room. Lucy tries to reach to the back of the wardrobe and enters into another world where it is snowing. At a lamppost Lucy meets a Faun named Mr. Tumnus who tells her she is in Narnia.

Mr. Tumnus invites Lucy to his home where they have tea and talk for hours. Mr. Tumnus tells Lucy that Narnia has been under a winter spell cast by the White Witch for 100 years. He confesses to her that he was going to turn into the White Witch who commanded Narnians to turn in any Son of Adam or Daughter of Eve. Lucy forgives him then realizes she has to go back to her own world. When she gets out of the wardrobe and finds her brothers and sister in the hallway outside the room she tells them she is back. They question her and she says she was gone for hours in another world. After they respond by saying she was only gone for ten minutes and to stop making things up she runs away crying.

Over the next few days after Edmund makes fun of Lucy for the Narnia story, Edmund follows Lucy into the wardrobe out of curiosity and enters Narnia too. The White Witch passes Edmund on her sled and orders her servant to stop. She asks Edmund what he is and he tells her he is a human. She offers him Turkish Delight that bewitches Edmund into becoming addicted to it. The White Witch tells Edmund to bring his brother and sisters to her castle in order to get more Turkish Delight. After the witch leaves, Lucy sees Edmund and is delighted that they can both tell Peter and Susan that Narnia is real. However, Edmund denies having went to Narnia when he returns to their world and claims he was playing a make believe game with Lucy. Peter is angry with Edmund for being cruel to Lucy and tries to comfort her. Peter and Susan talk to Professor Kirke in their confusion where Professor Kirke implies that Lucy is telling the truth and that there are other worlds.

Later when the four Pevensies hide from the housekeeper in the wardrobe they all go into Narnia. Peter and Susan apologize to Lucy for not believing her and she says it's okay. The children go to Mr. Tumnus' abode and see a sign that says he's been arrested for treason. They meet Mr. Beaver, a talking beast of Narnia, who invites them to his home where Mrs. Beaver is cooking a meal for their guests. Mr. Beaver tells the children they are in danger in Narnia because the witch fears an old prophecy about two Sons of Adam and two daughters of Eve sitting on the throne of Cair Paravel, thus ending her reign as Queen. Mr. Beaver tells them that Aslan, a great Lion, is coming back to rescue his people. After their meal they notice Edmund is missing. Mr. Beaver states he has betrayed them to the White Witch and they must leave at once.

While the children flee Mr. Beaver's home, Edmund reaches the White Witch's castle in the freezing cold where he sees many Narnians have been turned to statues by the witch. The White Witch is furious with Edmund for not bringing his siblings and makes him her prisoner until she finds them. During her travel to the Beavers' place she notices the snow is melting and flowers are growing, signifying Aslan has returned and her powers are weakening. Peter, Susan, and Lucy are greeted by Father Christmas after leaving their hiding place and given gifts: a sword for Peter, a magic horn for Susan, and a healing potion for Lucy. Soon afterwards the children reach the place where Aslan is and he greets them with the other talking beasts of Narnia. They prepare to go to battle with the White Witch.

The White Witch sends a small army to attack Aslan's camp and decides to kill Edmund. A group from Aslan's army rescue Edmund right before she stabs him. In the same evening the White Witch goes to Aslan and informs him that Edmund is a traitor and belongs to her by the law of deep magic. Aslan acknowledges her claim and negotiates with her in private to free Edmund. The Witch is satisfied with his arrangement and lets Edmund go free. Aslan doesn't tell anyone what he said to free Edmund. After everyone in Aslan's camp goes to sleep Lucy and Susan see Aslan leaving and follow him. Aslan tells them they can come with him but they have to stop when he tells them to. They go to the White Witch at the Stone Table where Aslan is bound by ropes, shaved of his mane, and mocked by the Witch's followers. She calls Aslan a fool and says she will triumph over the prophecy now that he has given himself as a sacrifice. Then the Witch kills Aslan with a knife. Lucy and Susan are horrified, but keep quiet behind bushes. After all the Witch's people leave they go to Aslan's body and cry.

Awhile later the girls are woken up by a loud cracking sound. They see the Stone Table is split in half and Aslan is gone. They search for him and find him on a hill nearby where he tells them he came back to life because a deeper older magic resurrects an innocent person who takes the place of a traitor, but the witch didn't know about that. Aslan lets Lucy and Susan ride on his back to the White Witch's castle where he breathes on the statues and brings them back to life. They all assemble to meet the Narnians at battle with the White Witch. When they arrive at the battle the White Witch is winning by turning her enemies to stone with her wand. Edmund reaches her and breaks her wand with his sword. The Narnians who turned to stone are freed and they are joined by Aslan and the newcomers from the castle. In a matter of minutes the Witch's army is defeated and Aslan kills the White Witch.

Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy are crowned the Kings and Queens of Narnia, and the thrones are restored at Cair Paravel according to the prophecy. The children rule in Narnia for many years in what was later considered the Golden Age of Narnia. On a hunting trip for a white stag, the now grown Kings and Queens reach a lamp post and get strange feelings. They walk through the forest and go through a wardrobe entering their own world as children again. Professor Kirke smiles when they tell him their story and insinuates he knows all about the kind of adventures they had, alluding to his childhood that is featured in the prequel The Magician's Nephew.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck by Jeff Kinney

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
217 pages

The latest entry in the Wimpy Kid series is immensely enjoyable. Hard Luck features the usual Greg Heffley humor involving his slacking, self-centered, scheming, homebody nature. Greg gets into relatable scrapes at school and with his family that makes his character still fun to read about.

In this book Greg finds himself friendless when his best friend Rowley ditches him for his girlfriend Abigail. Greg's ensuing search for new friends and the struggle of being alone makes you smile even though it can be pretty sad sometimes, for example, when he has to play checkers with a teacher during recess after pressing the "Find a Friend" button for company on the playground. He comments on how the students ineffectively handle problems such as there not being enough seats in the lunchroom and the way many students tried to crook the Hero Point system for extra recess. Greg offers insightful social commentary on the structure of the different groups he tries to see if he can fit in with such as noting that the girls tend to discriminate against less popular boys and the unhygienic habits of the boys at his lunch table.

When Greg attempts to let the results of a Magic 8 ball make his decisions for him his plan unravels and things get out of hand at school because he doesn't complete homework assignments and is not being responsible for his actions. The funniest moment of the book is when Greg goes to school with The Body Blankie to be more comfortable. Another standout scene is at a family reunion on his mother's side where Greg has difficulties finding his place among the kids and the grown ups. There is a hilariously realistic scene where everyone fights to find his great-grandmother Meemaw's diamond ring.

This book manages to convey humor despite the serious topic of feeling isolated. Greg starts to take some responsibility for his actions and even made a wise decision to keep his family intact over Meemaw's ring at the end, which is unexpected and touching.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever by Jeff Kinney

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
224 pages

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Cabin Fever is the sixth book in Jeff Kinney’s immensely popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. Kinney is an online game designer and creator of the educational kid game website Poptropica. He writes and illustrates the Wimpy Kid series that he says is based on his real life childhood experiences. The series was initially an online version in 2004 that Kinney agreed to publish due to its popularity. The release of Diary of a Wimpy Kid in 2007 proved its continued success.

There are over 100 million books from the series in print and the last three books made it to #1 on the New York Time Bestsellers list. Within the first few pages of Cabin Fever it is easy to see why Wimpy Kid is such a big hit. There are all the elements of familiar childhood angst and awkward social situations that make this book humorous, universally appealing and relevant to kids around the world today.

Cabin Fever continues to follow the daily life of Gregg Hefley, a mischievous, business savvy seventh grader who has a penchant for getting into all kinds of trouble. This book is full of laughs and relatable situations for young kids such as Greg shoveling his neighbors’ driveways to raise funds for his recreational activities. Greg uses hilarious tactics to quell his anxieties like sending phony e-mails to his relatives to figure out what they are going to get him for Christmas ahead of time.

The diary opens with Greg’s consternation about getting Christmas presents. He is aware that he has behavioral issues and fears that if he gets in trouble before Christmas he won’t get any presents. The humorous element is the inclusion of Greg’s mom’s childhood doll named “Santa’s Scout” who is going to watch the kids to make sure they are being good. Greg feels like the doll is following him everywhere though he suspects his older brother Rodrick is placing it where Greg is at.

The main action before the snowstorm referenced in the title is Greg’s attempt to make money from his own version of the school store named Holiday Bazaar. In true Greg fashion his plan goes terribly awry. The police begin to investigate the green stains Greg accidently created on his middle school building while trying to advertise his store. The ensuing trepidation that Greg experiences is amplified by the winter blizzard that traps him and his family in the house for a couple of days with a limited food supply.

Cabin Fever is a delightful addition to the Wimpy Kids series because it offers a different setting and climate. While many of the previous books had plots surrounding school issues, this one focuses on the holidays and Greg making mature decisions after he makes a big mistake. At this point in the series it seems like Kinney would have run out of topics to talk about, but Greg always finds a way to keep people interested because he is that dynamic of a character. Though Greg is still a kid at the end of the book, he learns a valuable lesson about honesty that hopefully many of the readers can learn from too.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw by Jeff Kinney

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
217 pages

In The Last Straw Greg's schemes and laziness are laugh out loud hilarious and ridiculous. Greg is worried that father is going to send him to military school to make him mature and hardworking, but Greg thinks he's perfect as stated in his first entry about New Year's Resolutions: "Well, the problem is, it's not easy for me to think of ways to improve myself, because I'm already pretty much one of the best people I know." He then set out to help other people improve, including suggesting to his mother to chew her chips more quietly.

The tension between Greg and his dad began when Greg's dad caught him standing over the heating vent wearing his mother's fluffy bathrobe. He also caught Greg hiding in a basket full of his mother's underwear in the laundry room. His father was also tired of waking Greg up for naps. The turning point happened when Greg's father witnessed him trying to use the Force to get a remote for 15 minutes. He tells Greg to go outside and exercise after that. Greg's laziness is exacerbated by the fact that his father's boss Mr. Warren has three sons who are sports fanatics and Greg's dad sees them exercising when he drives home from work every day.
Greg joins a soccer team as a bench player after feeling pressured to be more physically active. However, he goofs off a lot and is not interested in the games. When Greg gets the opportunity to be goalie he gets distracted by dandelions. His father is furious and fed up once again. Greg tries to cover up the fact that his grades are getting lower because he's not completing his school work due to his lazy behavior. For example, Greg turned in a fake four page paper for biology class because he was too busy watching tv and playing video games. Greg's father encounters a teenager named Lenwood from their neighborhood at the movies and they get along surprisingly well. Greg's father is impressed by Lenwood's transformation and Lenwood tells him that he goes to Spag Union Military Academy. After that conversation Mr. Heffley tells his Greg that he is going to sign him up for the same military school and that new recruits report on June 7th.
Greg is frantic to get in his dad's good graces so he joins the local Boy Scouts. Greg decides he wants to be in Troop 133 instead of Troop 24 because Troop 24 does a lot of community service projects and Troop 133 has hot dog roasts and pool parties. The Boy Scout experience goes well and helps Greg appear more disciplined. Greg's progress is ruined when he is unable to go on a camping trip and his dad has to camp with the Woodley brothers instead. Mr. Heffley ends up going to the emergency room with the Woodley brothers and is very upset about the whole weekend. Greg feels there is no way he can convince his dad to change his mind about sending him to military school now. Things appear pretty grim for Greg until he inadvertently saves his dad from having to perform something goofy at Seth Snella's half birthday party. Greg climbs a tree to retrieve a blanket that his little brother Manny threw in the branches and Greg's pants fall down. Just as Mr. Heffley was going to be videotaped performing, Greg took the attention away as he was hanging from the tree branch.
Mr. Heffley thought that Greg was pretending to get his dad out of the performance, and he was very happy for the distraction Greg caused. On the morning Greg feared his dad was going to send him to Spag Union his father tells him that he's re-thought the whole thing and that maybe Greg can just do push ups and sits up every once in a while. Greg is extremely relieved and uses his newfound freedom to imagine a great summer lounging around the pool with a cute girl. Greg is grateful his father has changed his mind, but that doesn't mean he's going to change his ways as evidenced by his plans at end of the diary. Greg might be lazy, but he's determined to enjoy himself even if he's doing something he's not particularly fond of, and that's a quality readers can admire along with his sense of humor.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules by Jeff Kinney

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
217 pages

Greg Heffley continues to chronicle his middle school days in the second installment of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The book opens with Greg trying to downplay his interest in diary writing for the new school year saying, "I guess Mom was pretty proud of herself for making me write in that journal last year, because now she went and bought me another one." Readers can tell that Greg likes writing in his diary, and it's a good thing he does because he is refreshingly candid and hilariously flawed. Greg recalls that he has to keep his diary a secret because "some jerk" would find it and get the wrong impression of him. His older brother Rodrick is the one who finds Greg's diary and punches him. This sets up the highly relatable theme of sibling rivalry in Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Rodrick Rules.

Greg has a bad summer on the swim team. He gets picked up late by Rodrick in his Loded Diper van and has to avoid getting hit by all the band equipment while sitting in the back. Greg hides out in the bathroom for most of swim practice because he doesn't enjoy the cold water or swimming on a team. When he goes back to school everyone runs away from him and he remembers he has the Cheese Touch from last school year. Greg passes it on to a new kid at school named Jeremy Pindle. Greg has to deal with Rodrick being lazy with household chores such as doing the dishes and they have a lot of arguments in front of their little brother Manny, who is disturbed by them. Greg's Mom and Dad mistakenly believe Manny draws a picture of them two fighting and try to act loving in front of him, but Greg knows Manny drew the picture of him and Rodrick. At school Greg has to endure Rowley's stories about his vacation to South America and worry that Rodrick will reveal an embarrassing event that happened to him over the summer.

Greg's dad takes him to the mall often so he can avoid hearing Rodrick's band practicing in the basement. Greg notes that every time Rodrick has a paper to turn in at school, he manipulates his dad into typing it up for him. During the first few weeks of school Greg pulls a prank on his classmate Chirag Gupta by pretending he's not there. Chirag complains to the Vice Principal and Greg has to apologize to Chirag after his mother finds out. Mrs. Heffley warns Greg that if she catches him lying again he'll be grounded for a month. She introduces a program called "Mom Bucks" to encourage Rodrick and Greg to do household chores and do good deeds. On Career Day Greg fills out a questionnaire and imagines his future counting his money in a pool at his mansion. When he gets the results and sees "clerk" he remarks, "Well, there must be something wrong with the way they set these forms up or something, because I don't know any clerks who are billionaires." Greg's parents go away for the night while Rodrick has the flu. As soon as they leave Rodrick calls all his friends over and throws a big party. Rodrick asks Greg to bring a table upstairs from the basement and gets locked down there. Greg falls asleep in the basement and when he wakes up and goes upstairs the house is trashed. Rodrick tells Greg that if he doesn't help him clean up he'll let out his secret. Greg reluctantly helps clean. They panic when they see "Hi Rodrick" in permanent marker on the bathroom door and decide to replace it with a closet door in the basement. When their parents come home Mr. Heffley inspects the house and doesn't find any proof of the party.

Mrs. Heffley offers to pay Rodrick to teach Greg how to play the drums. Greg recruits Rowley for the drum lessons, but they don't go well because Rodrick is impatient and uninterested. One day while Greg is playing board games at Rowley's house he notices that one of the board games has the same exact play money as "Mom Bucks". Greg takes all of it and figures he has enough money to not have to work in the future. Greg buys Rodrick's old history paper for $20,000 "Mom Bucks" because he didn't have time to write his own paper after counting on it to snow overnight. Greg realizes that Rodrick got an F on the paper and doesn't turn it in. When he comes home he finds out that his mom discovered the stolen "Mom Bucks" stash underneath his mattress and has ended the Mom Bucks program. Rodrick and Greg get in more trouble after Thanksgiving when Mr. Heffley finds a photo of Rodrick's party after developing the pictures on the camera in the living room. Rodrick is grounded for a month and Greg is banned from video games for two weeks. Greg is further punished for setting up Rowley to get injured during a sleepover and is forced to take Rowley's place for the school Talent Show. Greg has to be paired with a first grader named Scotty Douglas for a magic trick act. Greg doesn't put any effort into the tryout and they don't make it in the show. He is slightly relieved, but also embarrassed because they were the only act not to get in. Rodrick's band makes it in the show and they plan to use the tape of their performance to get a recording contract.

Rodrick asks Greg to record his band's performance on the night of the talent show, but Greg refuses to because he doesn't like the way Rodrick has been treating him. Mrs. Heffley records the performance, but it turns out bad because she made a lot of comments over the music. Rodrick and his band then rely on the school's recording and are angry that the cameraman mainly focused on Mrs. Heffley dancing to their performance. Rodrick blames the taping fiasco on Greg and gets revenge by telling all his friends the embarrassing event that happened to Greg over the summer. Greg tells the real story first: While he was visiting his grandfather at a senior citizens' housing named Leisure Towers, he tried to escape from Rodrick after he found his diary. Greg runs into the bathroom intending to rip all the pages out of his diary and flush it down the toilet. As he starts ripping the pages he realizes that he accidently went into the women's restroom. He is trapped in there for over an hour and a half. The women report that there is a "Peeping Tom" in their bathroom and Greg is escorted out by security.

At school the next day Greg is prepared for the worst then is surprised when all the boys come up to him congratulating him. It turns out that the story changed to Greg having snuck into the girls locker room at Crossland High School on purpose. He got nicknamed the "Stealthinator" and became popular in school, though the girls were not happy about what he supposedly did. Rodrick is further ridiculed because the footage of his mother dancing to his band became popular online and he became known as the drummer from the "Dancing Mom" video. Greg extends an olive branch to Rodrick by helping him on his science project that he had to re-do using the scientific method. Although the science experiment Greg helped Rodrick to complete is ludicrous, he feels proud of himself and confidently claims "When Rodrick gets first prize tomorrow and passes Science, I just hope he realizes how lucky he is to have a brother like ME." Greg is willing to put Rodrick's past slights behind him and accept the differences between him and his older brother--i.e. he's better than Rodrick.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
217 pages

The first installment of Jeff Kinney's blockbuster Diary of a Wimpy Kid series offers a glimpse of the hilarious experiences to come in the life of crafty middle school student Greg Heffley. He begins his first diary by explaining that it is a journal and that he would not be pouring out his emotions in it. He says that writing in this "journal" was his mom's idea, however he explains why it will "come in handy" in the future: "The only reason I agreed to do this at all is because I figure later on when I'm rich and famous, I'll have better things to do than answer people's stupid questions all day long."

Greg comments on how he plans to increase his popularity level this school year, but his best friend Rowley seems oblivious to the fact that he doesn't look cool. Greg talks about the dreaded "Cheese touch" that a student can get if they touch a piece of molded cheese on the basketball court. The person with the Cheese touch can pass it on to another student who hasn't crossed their fingers. At home Greg tries to get away with slacking off, but his parents usually call him out and make him do things he doesn't want to. When he tried to get in lower academic classes, Greg suspected his mother spoke with the Principal to get him moved up. When he played video games after school his father kicked him out the house and told him to get real exercise. Instead of playing outside Greg goes to Rowley's house and plays video games with him. Greg's older brother Rodrick often plays pranks on him that Greg likes to use on Rowley. Rodrick is characterized as an emo teenager who has a heavy metal band named "Loded Diaper". Whenever Rodrick's band practices at home, Greg makes sure not to be there because they are "AWFUL."
One of the first things Greg attempts to do to boost his reputation at school is to run for Treasurer of the student government. He figured he wouldn't have any competition until he found out that Marty Porter, who is good at math, was running for Treasurer too. Greg made posters about Marty having head lice and being clumsy with the school funds, but the Vice Principal told Greg he was not allowed to "write fabrications about other candidates" and took the posters down. Greg figured his "political career" was over after seeing Marty handing out lollipops to students to get votes. Greg then sets his sights on a money making scheme after going to a high school haunted house and calculating how lucrative it is based on the ticket price. He recruits Rowley to make their own haunted house and charge kids in the neighborhood fifty cents a piece to get in. After the first kid gets too frightened by Greg and Rowley screaming at him and hides under the bed, Rowley's father shuts down their haunted house. When Greg and Rowley go trick-or-treating they end up getting chased by teenagers and hide out at Greg's grandmother's house. They taunt the teens while they are safely inside, but it turns out to be a huge mistake later on.
When a wrestling unit starts at school Greg is mortified that his wrestling partner is Fregley, a strange kid who lives in his neighborhood. He is disturbed by the fact that Fregley keeps pinning him and decides to gain weight to get out of Fregley's weight class. He asks his parents to buy him exercise equipment and his dad gets excited, but his mother tells him to do jumping jacks and sits ups for two weeks to prove he was serious. Greg makes his own makeshift exercise equipment by filling two empty gallon bottles with sand and attaching them on the sides of a broom stick. He calls Rowley over and makes him test out the weights. By the time Rowley finished bench pressing the "barbell" he told Greg he didn't want to weight train anymore. Greg ends up not lifting the weights at all. Just as Greg is settling in his ways at school his mother forces him to sign up for "The Wizard of Oz" school musical. He signs up for the role of a Tree assuming that he wouldn't have any lines, but the music director Mrs. Norton wrote an original song for the trees so everyone can sing in the play. At the time of the performance Greg chooses not to sing because Rodrick is there with a video camera and he doesn't want him to use the footage against him for the rest of his life. The musical is a disaster because everyone forgot their lines and many of the actors behaved inappropriately. Though Greg ended up having a good time, his family didn't enjoy the play.
Greg's next attempt to improve his status at school was to become a Safety Patrol. He enjoyed the perks of getting hot chocolate every school morning and missing most of Pre-Algebra when he had to walk kindergarteners home from school midday. Everything was going well until Rowley was accused of "terrorizing" the children and got in trouble. Greg felt guilty because he was the one who scared the children by chasing them with worms. When he confessed to Rowley that he was the real culprit, Rowley told the supervisor and Greg was dismissed from his Safety Patrol duties. Rowley stopped talking to Greg and got a new best friend. Greg then attempts to get in the Class Favorites section of the yearbook by becoming the school paper's new cartoonist. He submits his comic "Creighton the Cretin" and gets selected. Greg notices that no one is laughing at his comic strip. He finds out that his cartoon was changed to "Creighton the Curious Student" and the words were completely different from what he wrote so he quits being the cartoonist.
Rowley is selected as the new cartoonist for the school newspaper with his comic strip "Zoo Wee Mama." Greg confronts Rowley because they came up with the "Zoo Wee Mama" idea together before they stopped being friends. While they are arguing on the playground and others students instigate for them to fight, the teenagers who Greg and Rowley taunted on Halloween come and grab them. The teenagers force Rowley to eat the molded cheese. Greg tells them he's allergic to dairy to avoid eating the cheese. After the ordeal is over the students wonder what happened to the cheese. Greg tells them he got tired of seeing it and removed it. They claim Greg has the Cheese touch and stay away from him. Rowley starts talking to Greg again and things get back to normal. At the end of his first diary Greg is very disappointed when he sees that Rowley won the title of Class Clown in the superlatives section for his "Zoo Wee Mama" comics and  wants Rowley to remember that he ate the cheese if he gets too full of himself.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dork Diaries: Tales of a Not-So-Happy Heartbreaker by Rachel Renee Russell

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
354 pages

The sixth book of the Dork Diaries series, Tales from a Not-So-Happy Heartbreaker, continues the daily chronicles of eighth grade student Nikki Maxwell at her new private school. The book is about the big Sweetheart's Dance at school where girls have to ask guys to be their date.

Nikki is preparing to ask her long-time crush Brandon to the Valentine's Day Dance, but something or someone is preventing this from happening. While her friends Chloe and Zoey have already asked their dates to the dance, Brandon seems to be giving Nikki mixed messages.

Initially Nikki and Brandon set up times they can hang out, yet none of their plans are successful. Nikki uses advice from a magazine column to determine that Brandon is not interested in her unless he makes a change. Eventually Nikki gets the courage to ask Brandon to the dance, and he says yes. Nikki becomes distraught when she finds out he can't attend due to a sudden illness on the day of the dance. After Chloe and Zoey convince Nikki to go to the dance Nikki is shocked and furious to find out that Brandon is there. Brandon is confused about the whole situation and follows Nikki into the girls bathroom to figure out what is going on. When they talk face to face they find out that MacKenzie Hollister, Nikki's worst enemy, is responsible for the miscommunication between the couple by using Brandon's missing phone. Brandon and Nikki make up and dance together for the rest of the night along with Chloe and Zoey and their dates.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Smart Miss Know it All by Rachel Renee Russell

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
321 pages

Nikki Maxwell continues writing in her diary and chronicling every detail of her life in the sixth installment of the Dork Diaries series. This time around Nikki is in big trouble for attempting pull a prank on her arch nemesis Mackenzie Hollister. On New Year's Day Nikki and her best friends Chloe and Zoey play truth or dare. When Zoey dares Nikki to toilet paper Mackenzie's house, they decide to do it together as revenge for Mackenzie's antics against them. The girls throw toilet paper all over Mackenzie's front lawn, but they are caught red-handed by Mackenzie.

Over the next few days Mackenzie threatens and blackmails Nikki to either get her an invitation for Brandon's birthday party or risk being suspended from school when she publishes the incident in the school newspaper. Nikki panics and decides to join the school newspaper to prevent Mackenzie from printing the story. During the new staff members meeting Nikki is not given a position by the newspaper adviser Mr. Zimmerman. Nikki is in tears and is too scared to ask Mr. Zimmerman why she was not chosen to be the photo layout assistant when she sees the sign up sheet in the garbage with her name crossed off. Nikki realizes Mackenzie tried to sabotage her once again and has to work up a lot of courage to ask Mr. Zimmerman for a position. He tells her that there are no staff positions left, however he decides to make her the advice columnist on a whim.

Nikki's advice column alias is Miss Know-It-All and she begins  to receives tons of letters after a brief unresponsive period. Her column soon becomes very popular and increases the student newspaper readership by forty two percent. Nikki gets a letter that she believes Brandon wrote about her where he asks how he can tell her the truth about his feelings and his family background. Nikki understands how he feels because she hides her bug extermination scholarship from everyone. Mackenzie is suspicious that Nikki is Miss Know-It-All and still angry that Brandon did not invite her to his birthday party so she sets up a meeting with the principal to report the toilet papering incident. Chloe, Zoey, and Nikki are scared senseless when the meeting is about to begin, but a new student named Marcy comes in and has an exclusive breaking news interview for Mackenzie. Mackenzie believes Marcy is talking about the toilet papering situation, but she actually asks her questions about locking Chloe, Zoey and Nikki in a closet and stealing their costumes during the charity Ice Show last year. Mackenzie is flabbergasted and decides not to say anything at all about the toilet paper prank.

Nikki attends Brandon's party and has a great time, but she is extremely embarrassed that her dad is picking her up in his custom work van that has a giant roach on top of it. She lies to her dad about the address so that he can park a few blocks from the party. After nearly getting caught when her dad arrives at the party, Nikki manages to sneak away without being seen. As her dad drives her home she receives a text from Brandon and its revealed that he knows about her dad's bug extermination van. Nikki laughs hysterically and reflects that maybe she can be honest about who she is like Brandon wants to do with her. Nikki's diary shines when she responds to the distressed students at her private school for the advice column and when she calms down and sees that her life isn't as horrible as she thinks it is.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Graceful Ice Princess by Rachel Renee Russell

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
346 pages

Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Grateful Ice Princess is notable for Nikki Maxwell's maturation and her moments of selflessness despite the humiliation she'd potentially have to endure. In the fourth book in the Dork Diaries series Nikki panics over an upcoming charity show called Holiday on Ice. The show donates $3,000 to any charity of the participant's choice. Nikki is in a group with Chloe and Zoey who are excellent skaters, but she can barely move without falling flat on her butt. The charity show is very important to Nikki because she accidently finds out that her the animal shelter that her crush Brandon volunteers at will have to close down if they do not receive financial support. Nikki and her friends sign up to skate for Fuzzy Friends in order to keep it open.

Nikki volunteers to help Brandon at Fuzzy Friends afterschool one day and she is absolutely smitten by Brandon's dedication and care for the animals. When Nikki discovers that Brandon's grandmother is the owner of the animal shelter and that they would have to move because his grandfather wouldn't be able to operate the shelter due to an injury, she decides to skate for her friend and for the shelter. Nikki feels overwhelmed by this decision after several disastrous practice skating sessions nearly convince her to give up. But she perseveres after Brandon's grandmother gives her a thank you gift for skating  in the charity show for Fuzzy Friends. Before the big show Nikki has to deal with her parents and her little sister Brianna's shenanigans over winter break.

When Nikki and her family attend The Nutcracker Prince play wearing matching tacky homemade outfits Brianna nearly ruins the whole performance by getting onstage to see if any of the desserts in the play are real. However the audience sees the whole thing as a comedy and laughs at the disaster Brianna causes. After all her frustration over the holidays Nikki starts to see the humor in her family life too, revealing "I have to admit... Once you get used to them, having a family to hang out with can be kind of nice." She even gives Brianna her expensive chocolate cupcake to make up for her disappointment with the desserts on stage and wisely reflects "But most important, I discovered that giving away something you cherish to someone you love can actually make you happier than keeping it." Nikki's growth over the winter break prepare her for the turmoil that ensues before the charity show.

The Holiday on Ice Show is directed by world famous skater Victoria Steel who threatens to kick terrible skaters out of the show. Nikki is spared from this treatment by clever distractions from Brandon and Brianna during each of her practice attempts to perform with her group. On the day of the big show, Chloe, Zoey and Nikki are ecstatic when they get beautiful fairy costumes for their skating performance. After the girls return from their manicure and pedicure trip they are heartbroken when they see that their outfits are replaced with clown costumes. Somehow their fairy costumes were shipped back to New York with the extras. Nikki suspects her arch nemesis Mackenzie is behind it, but she has no proof. They decide to wear the clown costumes and put on a great performance for Fuzzy Friends. When they go to their dressing room to get their skates they see a note from the wardrobe manager telling them that their fairy costumes are in Locker 17 at Storage Area C. When they go in Locker 17 someone shuts the door behind them and locks them in. They use Chloe's dying cell phone to call their parents, but no one picks up. Nikki tells Chloe to call her number because she suspects Brianna is using it to play games on it without permission. Brianna answers Nikki's phone and they quickly tell her where to find them. Brianna and Brandon rescue them from the locker.

During the show, Chloe, Zoey, and Nikki wear the clown costumes. Nikki falls on her butt and slides across the ice. She thinks she's ruined everything, but it turns out the audience is laughing and cheering because they think it's part of their clown act. After that, Nikki skates perfectly and only falls on purpose to make the crowd laugh. After the show ended the director awarded Fuzzy Friends with an additional $10,000 prize money because Nikki, Chloe, and Zoey were chosen as crowd favorites. Nikki is elated that she was able to contribute to keeping Fuzzy Friends open and helping Brandon out. Brandon gives Nikki flowers and tells her thank you. When he gives her a big hug she wonders what the hug meant--if it was a friendly hug or something more. Then she thinks that she wouldn't want Brandon to know why she was thinking that and happily calls herself a dork.

Friday, August 9, 2013

City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars
464 pages

City of Ashes is the second installment of The Mortal Instruments series for young adults. The book is very long and tedious.

The book continues right after the events of the first book. Clary is staying at Luke's house while her mother is still in a coma. Jace has been thrown in prison by the Inquisitor, who works for the Shadowhunter government called The Clave, for suspicions of working with Valentine. Clary, Isabelle and Alec go to the Silent City to free Jace where they discover that the powerful Silent Brothers are dead and the Mortal Sword has been stolen.

Jace tells his friends that Valentine stole the sword. They visit the Seelie Court and make an arrangement with the fairies to help defeat Valentine. The Queen of the Seelie Court humiliates Jace, Clary and Simon by forcing Clary to kiss the one she desires to be freed from a spell, and it turns out to be her brother Jace.

Simon gets killed after a desperate visit to Hotel Dumont to reverse the side effects from the vampire blood he ingested as a rat in the first book. Raphael, Clary, and Jace watch as Simon transforms into a vampire. Meanwhile Valentine has been murdering Downworlders to complete a ritual with the sword that would enable him to control the entire demon population.

Valentine eventually captures Simon to use as a vampire sacrifice in the ritual. Clary and Jace go to the ship where Valentine is hiding out and a great battle between Shadowhunters and Demons breaks out. There are several casualties, but all the main characters survive. Clary learns that she has special strength and ability with her runes and destroys Valentine's entire ship. Simon turns into a daytime vampire after Jace lets him drink his blood to revive him. While Clary is wrestling with her feelings for Jace and recovering from the showdown with her father, she meets a mystery woman who tells her that she knows how to wake her mother from the coma.

The story ends with questions such as what will happen now that Valentine has control of the demon world? When will Clary's mother wake up? and what will happen to Clary's relationships with Simon and Jace?

Thursday, August 1, 2013

City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
512 pages

City of Bones is the first novel in The Mortal Instruments series. Though the series is not very original and reads like a soap opera, it is an interesting young adult fantasy world. The book is about a 15 year girl named Clary Fray who discovers that her life isn't ordinary after witnessing a murder at a New York nightclub.

After Clary talks about the crime with her best friend Simon at a coffee shop she sees the blond haired boy Jace who committed the act. Jace tells her that he killed a demon and that he is a Shadowhunter, a descendant of the angel Raziel. Clary's mother calls and sends her a frantic message telling her not to come home. When Clary does go home she finds her apartment destroyed and her mother is missing. Clary is then attacked by a demon.

Though Clary survives the attack she is infected with deadly poison. Jace arrives and takes her to the Institute, a secret Shadowhunter lodge disguised as a rundown church. Clary is cured and meets Jace's adoptive brother and sister, Alec and Isabelle Lightwood. She also learns about the Shadowhunter lifestyle, and the Mortal Cup, a powerful angel instrument that an evil Shadowhunter named Valentine wants to use to create more Shadowhunters and kill all the "Downworlders" i.e.  vampires, werewolves, etc.

Clary finds out that her memories have been blocked, by her mother's orders so that she would never know she was a Shadowhunter. She goes to the Silent Brothers with Jace to see if they can retrieve her memories so that she can find her mother, but the Brothers are unable to help because the block is too strong. Clary has find the warlock who put the blocks in her memory to remove it.

Jace, Isabelle, Alec, Clary and Simon attend the "High Warlock of Brooklyn" Magnus Bane's party after they figure out he's responsible for the blocks. He tells Clary why her mother gave her restricted her memory and that the spells will fade naturally, but are too difficult to remove. Simon drinks a liquid that turns him into a rat and he is subsequently kidnapped by vampires. Jace and Clary go on a dangerous rescue mission to the vampire lair, but are able to save Simon.
While drawing a picture of a cup at the Institute, Clary learns of her special power to hide objects inside paper and deduces that her mother hid the Mortal Cup in a tarot card at Madame Dorothea. Jace, Isabelle, Alec, and Clary go back to Clary's house to talk to her downstairs neighbor. They are suddenly attacked by Madame Dorothea who has been possessed by a greater demon. They defeat the demon and escape with the Cup.

A betrayal at the Institute leads to Valentine getting the Mortal Cup and a showdown between the werewolves of Clary's father figure Luke's clan and Valentine's henchmen, Forsaken. By the time the battle is over Valentine escapes through a portal while Jace and Clary believe they are brother and sister because Valentine is revealed to be Clary's true biological father. Jace  believes that Valentine is his father based on his memories and what Valentine told him.

At the end of the novel, Clary visits her mother who is in a coma at the hospital and vows to find out how to wake her. Jace and Clary feel awkward around each other, but know they must work together to find Valentine and stop him from using the Mortal Cup.

The book would have benefited from a stricter, linear focus. Several chapters, including the Silent Brother trip and the Simon-vampire kidnapping, were irrelevant to the plot as a whole despite the fact that these storylines continue in the next book, City of Ashes.