December 31, 2012

The Burning (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #6) by Kathryn Lasky

The Burning (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #6)The Burning by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

With The Burning comes the end of the series' focus on Soren, the Band, and the Chaw of Chaws. (At least so far as I've read at this time of writing, which is up to To Be a King. The focus changes again after that, but from where we seem to be going, it looks like it's going to be Coryn's story from The Golden Tree to the end.) It's a massive disappointment, of course, as the Chaw of Chaws was the single best aspect of the story. As a matter of fact, they're just about the only aspect that make any sense.

Exhibit A: The Guardians of Ga'Hoole, an ancient order of owl-knights, act like they don't have any more experienced or trusted warriors than the adolescent protagonists. The King and Queen, the teachers, all the other Guardians--they all leave every important aspect of the story up to the main characters with zero in-universe justification.

Exhibit B: Kludd's initiation into the Pure Ones inexplicably demands the murder of a family member, ignoring the fact that there couldn't be a more counterproductive method of proving one's worth; if the Pure Ones want to build a pure race/society of Tyto Albas, why would they purposefully kill off the potential breeders?

Exhibit C: There's no sense of time flow to the series. The narrative skips over massive periods, giving off the impression that only a few weeks are passing. And then a single line will suddenly clarify that years have gone by without so much as a nod.

Exhibit D: The protagonists are just as prejudiced and ruthless as the antagonists, and yet the narrative never once hints at the possibility that maybe the war isn't as morally black-and-white as the protagonists think. When the protagonists do something, it's good. When the antagonists do something, it's bad. No one questions this. Not the snakes that the protagonists have enslaved. Not the other birds that they spend so much time insulting. Not even the vultures that Twilight threatens to maim (in order to get them to join the Guardians in fighting the Pure Ones).

So I'm hoping that with the shift of focus that's coming in the next book, things will start to improve again. Unfortunately I'm starting to suspect it's not the Ga'Hoole series that doesn't work for me so much as it is Lasky's writing in general. I'm honestly wondering if what this series needed was just a brutally honest editor. There's enough here that it could have been great: an awesome team of characters at the core of the story, a secret society of owls who can use their specialized training and intellect for both war and humanitarianism (well, the owl equivalent of the term) depending on which needs doing, two opposing Big Bads to give the story some hints of moral ambiguity and opportunities for awesome team-ups and war tactics, a Cain and Abel aspect to explore psychologically, etcetera, etcetera. Instead, everything was handled in a rather clumsy fashion, and what could have been a great plot has thus far been lost on me.

Maybe I'll have better luck with Warriors.

December 28, 2012

The Shattering (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #5) by Kathryn Lasky

The Shattering (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #5)The Shattering by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

As of The Siege, the series started improving slightly, and that continues into The Shattering. The racism is being scaled back a bit (mostly because of Mrs. P's reduced presence in the story) though it still rears its ugly head at times, biology failures still pop up every now and then (the characters seem to be under the impression that bats are blind birds, which, uh, is certainly saying something about their understanding of the world around them), and the plots are still melodramatic and juvenile (the entire plot of The Shattering is painfully clear by the time you reach page fourteen), but I think it's slowly improving from its dreadful beginning. If Lasky can keep this up, my opinion of this series might just turn around soon!

December 27, 2012

The Siege (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #4) by Kathryn Lasky

The Siege (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #4)The Siege by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

This series is so strange to me. As I said in my previous reviews, I'm really bothered by all the discrimination on the part of the protagonists and the plot's inherent hypocrisy. On the other hand, there are nuggets of awesome tucked in here and there.

For example, I felt the sudden creation of the Band was something of a cop-out because there wasn't really much building of the comradarie; the four owls were suddenly friends for life, no questions asked. But the Chaw of Chaws? It took the Band's stated relationship and build upon it to get a killer team with a solid friendship as backbone. I felt like I was watching the Harry Potter kids become a family again. I love well-developed teams of characters, and the Chaw of Chaws fit the bill perfectly.

But there's just so much nonsense elsewhere that the awesome bits are lost in the sea of bullshit. It is so disappointing to me that the relationship dynamic between Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, Digger, Otulissa, Ruby, Martin, Eglantine, Primrose, and Ezylryb got bogged down by all the bungled racism, the juvenile handling of mature themes, and the wishy-washy world-building.

December 26, 2012

The Rescue (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #3) by Kathryn Lasky

The Rescue (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #3)The Rescue by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Rescue is more of the same--some more secrets are revealed, the plot slowly progresses, and jarringly enough, the prejudice fail gets worse.

Mrs. Plithiver was a terribly offensive and tragic character in the first two books. In the Ga'Hoole world, blind snakes are kidnapped and enslaved by their white owl "masters" (Lasky's word, not mine). They rant about how most birds are disgusting, worthless, and ignorant creatures while they blindly revere whites owls.

Now, Octavia the Kielian snake has arrived to one-up her. Octavia wasn't kidnapped to be a thinly-veiled mammy character, she was kidnapped to be a child soldier. By the protagonist's mentor. Who is a war hero turned pacifist and revered by all the other characters. And this enslavement is never implied to be anything but acceptable. Ezylryb literally buys Octavia from her parents, and no one thinks there's anything wrong with this!

So why is it, then, that St. Aggie's is the root of all evil for cultivating child soldiers, while the protagonists are heroic and noble when they do the same damn things to the snakes!?

But don't worry, because it gets even more hypocritical than that with the arrival of the Big Bad of the series, Nyra and Metal Beak's "Pure Ones". The Pure Ones believe that Tyto owls are superior to all species, and that Tyto Alba owls are superior to even other Tytos. Obviously, the Pure Ones are evil, evil monsters.

Wait, wait, wait. Everybody back up a second. Why is it that when the protagonists discriminate against other species, it's just part of being an owl, but when the Pure Ones discriminate between owl species, it's reprehensible and must be stopped at all costs? What the hell is happening here?

I just don't get this series. The bare bones of the idea (anthropomorphic owl civilization, like a bird version of Warrior Cats) isn't bad, but the actual plot is an exercise in hypocrisy. There's nothing wrong with the idea of a group of owls fighting thinly-veiled owl Nazis. But there's definitely a lot wrong with a group of owls fighting prejudice... all while engaging in it.

I'm almost inclined to take this as a straight-up WW2 allegory, with the Pure Ones being Nazis, St. Aggie's being communists, the Guardians being the Allies, and the snakes being Pre-Civil Rights Movement blacks. It's not a particularly good justification for the hypocritical prejudices of the main characters, but at least it's a little more clever and deep than the characters just being assholes.

Unfortunately, all traces of any such allegory are gone before the series is even half over, so... Nope. Still fail.

December 25, 2012

Epic Exam Fails: The Funniest Totally Wrong Test Answers by Michelle Zimmerman

Epic Exam Fails: The Funniest Totally Wrong Test AnswersEpic Exam Fails: The Funniest Totally Wrong Test Answers by Michelle Zimmerman

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

On one hand, some of the answers in this book are quite clever. Some are utterly ridiculous. A select few are hysterically funny.

On the other hand, this book is a massive rip-off at $2.99. It's astounding, really. All the same content (and exponentially more) is available at Funny Exam and similar sites for free.

The Journey (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #2) by Kathryn Lasky

The Journey (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #2)The Journey by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Yeah.... so, I had hoped that the second book in the series would start to bring up my opinion of the story, but it didn't. I have a lot of complaints with this one.

This is definitely written for the wrong audience.
As I said previously, I really think this book suffers for its audience. There's a paradox in the subject matter; on the one hand, Lasky wants to deal with themes such as Stockholm Syndrome, cannibalism, and child soldiers, but at the same time, she has to write these themes so they're accessible to her audience... which, unfortunately, is elementary and middle school students.

It's really ridiculous at times. One minute, the characters will be discussing cannibalism of children and even unhatched fetuses, and yet the next minute they'll be vowing to beat the "badbutts". Really? The cannibalistic badbutts?

I can't place the subgenre. Are we talking straight anthropomorphism of owls? Or are we talking magical owls?
At this point in the series, I can't tell if it's fantasy or just anthropomorphism. Are the owls just absurdly smart and humanized? They do, after all, have weapons, armies, kingdoms, and even a religion. Or is there some kind of magic going on? The problems with finding Ga'Hoole implies it; weather that causes people to fly past the Ga'Hoole tree without seeing it because they don't have clear hearts or whatever certainly screams of magic. But the reveal that flecks are science, not magic implies an effort to keep magical elements out of the story.

As I'm writing this based on notes I took a few weeks ago, I have since read most of the later books. The owls are indeed magic, but more on that in later reviews.

This is so racist.
Mrs. Plithiver makes me nauseous. She was kidnapped as a child and forced to serve Soren's family. In the present day, she is the family's exceptionally devoted nanny, and she has developed an intense reverence of owls and inexplicable hatred for other kinds of birds (at whom she spends at least a quarter of her lines launching what are obviously racial slurs). Not only is her character revoltingly reminiscent of mammy stereotypes, she's also exceptionally racist herself.

So, where does her racism come from? Oh, that's simple. The main characters all have lines devoted to their hatred of other bird species. The narrative makes it astoundingly clear that owls are good, clean, and noble, and all other birds range from "comes close to owls" with eagles to "murderous scourge of the earth" with crows to "dumber than shit" with seagulls and puffins.

And no one is ever offended by this in-story. The seagulls laugh uproariously at "wet pooper" jokes, the puffins are a source of self-depreciating humor, crows are straight-up Always Chaotic Evil serial killers with no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and even the characters who object to the offensive jokes (Otulissa, Baran) aren't upset that the jokes are prejudiced--just that they're crude and ignoble. Are you serious?

Meanwhile, the "wet pooper" jokes make no fucking sense to begin with! In-universe, the owl's main justification for their species discrimination is that their digestive system is nice and clean, whereas all other birds leave shit lying around because they don't have owl's noble gizzards to enable yarping pellets. Except, you know, that's not true. All birds have gizzards, including those totally disgusting crows. And, for the record owls do excrete typical white bird droppings. So this is me calling you on your bullshit, oh noble Guardians.

This could be pardonable as a cultural character flaw if not for one key element that isn't yet revealed in this book: the major enemies of the series are the Pure Ones. What's their evil, evil sin? Racism.

Where are the people, and where is this supposed to take place?
Or, as the birds call us, the "Others". The owls are show to admire if not revere us and the structures we left behind after we went extinct.

Except... what happened? How did we go extinct? Did we just up and disappear? Whatever happened, it was cataclysmic enough that the best survivalist species ever was completely wiped out, but ever other common North American creature is still roaming the forests without the faintest hint of any evolution via natural selection.

So apparently, we managed to cause an Apocalypse that left all of our buildings intact for thousands of subsequent years (bullshit, because stained glass and paintings in churches wouldn't last that long--and yet they appear in the story inside the crumbling stone buildings) and wiped out every single human and nothing else. Whatever Apocalypse that is, I would love to hear about it. All I've got is some kind of rapture event.

Meanwhile, I can't tell where the heck Ga'Hoole is supposed to be. The region isn't remotely recognizable, and it changes from forest to desert to arctic in a relatively tiny land area. What gives? It's not like enough time has passed for the plates to shift significantly.

*grumble* Normally, I wouldn't complain about something like that. It's a fantasy map--who cares if it's ambiguously placed, right? Except this is supposed to be a future of our world, so I'd like to see a future of our world, not some half-assed "it could be anywhere!" map that doesn't make any geographic sense.

Why is Ga'Hoole a myth?
The first book and part of this one builds Ga'Hoole up as this mysterious kingdom that hasn't been located in hundreds of years. It's so mysterious that most owls don't think it really exists.

...except a group of kids manage to find it with relatively little trouble, and the Guardians are incredibly active in the Southern kingdom. Day-in and day-out, the collier and weather chaws are flying into forest fires across the kingdom. The navigation and search-and-rescue chaws are routinely saving hatchlings, returning them to their parents if at all possible. (Meaning the parents would certainly know something was up, if not exactly what.) The rogue smiths across the kingdom are actively spying for the Guardians. So how does no one notice they're there, when they're everywhere!

I just don't know what to do with this series.
I really wanted to like it. And yet I'm finding myself wishing I hadn't wasted my time reading it. (It's fifteen books long; that's a lot of time I could have spent on other series!) I really can't understand how this series is as popular as it is.

December 24, 2012

Top Ten Books I'd Like to See Under the Christmas Tree

Inspired by an old Top Ten Tuesday prompt.

TwiLite: A Parody

Love between a teenage girl and a vampire can be a beautiful thing. Then again, it can get a little ugly. Just ask Stella Crow. Stella is a clumsy but otherwise ordinary girl whose life takes a radical turn the moment she meets Edweird. Though perfect on the outside, Edweird Sullen is remarkably unrefined on the inside. He also happens to be a one hundred year old vampire, trapped in the body of a teenage boy, who has yet to finish high school. Nonetheless, Stella is unconditionally smitten with him. But not everything is rosy in this gloomiest of towns. Edweird's enemies have sworn to put a tragic end to their romance. Against all odds, the bond between Stella and Edweird is nearly strong enough for their love to survive. Most love stories between an impossibly handsome vampire and an ungainly young woman have a magical ending. This one - not so much.

I can't find this anywhere!

I read this Twilight parody years ago, having gotten it as a Christmas present. Upon joining Goodreads, I went back to reread it so I could accurately rate it... only to discover I'd already sold it. Unfortunately, there isn't a library in Maryland that has a copy, either, so it looks like I'm out of luck on this one unless it miraculously appears under the tree!

The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures: The Ultimate A-Z of Fantastic Beings from Myth and Magic

The newest entry in the popular Element Encyclopedia series spans the globe and the ages to present a feast of magical beasts, both familiar and rare. Populating this ultimate reference is a host of marvelous creatures, many of which have stirred our imagination since childhood; they come from fairytales and myths, and from beloved writers such as the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K Rowling. Each entry delves into folklore and history to reveal such secrets as why dragons guard the weather, how to make mermen laugh, and how a slow lizard cost humans the gift of eternal life. From Chinese dragons to Norwegian sea monsters, banshees to griffins, cherufes to lampaluguas, every fantastic figure gets its due.

I can't find this anywhere!

I stumbled across this series when I found Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses at the local library. I find the series to bit a tad silly, but there's a lot of interesting information in Encyclopedia of Spirits, so I'd love to give the Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures a try. But again, the library's let me down.

The Dark Secret (Fear Street: Cataluna Chronicles, #2)

Stepsisters Regina and Lauren are thrilled - they've got their own wheels! And this sexy Cataluna is one hot car!
Too hot. Because inside the Cataluna the curse of Bad Luck Catherine lives on. And while Catherine is hunted in her own time, Regina and Lauren will be haunted in theirs. Because in this car, evil is always in the driver's seat.

I can't find this anywhere!

The Dark Secret is the second book in the Cataluna Chronicles series. The library has the first book and the third book, but not this one. Annoying.

Party Line

Mark has discovered a way to meet girls--on the teen party line. Unfortunately, he also discovers that some of the new girls he meets on the phone have disappeared. What started as a way to get dates, leads Mark into a frightening mystery--one that becomes dangerous as well!

I can't find this anywhere!

I'm almost positive that I've read this book before, and I'd love to get my hands on it to read it again. Too bad Point Horror books can be so hard to find nowadays!

One Last Kiss

Eleanor Rawlin just wants to live a normal life, but her father is obssessed with killing the vampires who murdered her mother.

I can't find this anywhere!

When I was twelve, I adored this. I'm sure, of course, that I'd hate it if I read it again (as is the case with most R.L. Stine books), but I'd still like to give it another go just to see what was so great. Unfortunately for me, the library either lost or threw away the copy I read, and there isn't another one in the entire state.

Off Balance: The Real World of Ballet

I don't have a summary for this one, sorry!

I can't find this anywhere!

A few months ago, I checked this out from the library. The local brand didn't have a copy, so I had to use the state-wide system... and the state-wide system can be pissy. I didn't manage to finish the book before it was due back, and when I went to check it out again, up pops the message that this book is no longer on loan state-wide. PISSED.


Mrs Jeeper's Creepy Christmas

It's time for Bailey City's annual holiday decorating contest - even Mrs. Jeepers is getting in on the fun! But when Eddie starts spending all his time reading with the new library volunteer, Grandpa Vamps, his friends are sure something strange is going on. Everyone knows that Eddie hates books! Could Grandpa Vamps really be a vampire who's got Eddie under his spell?

I can't find this anywhere!

I was a bit difficult getting my hands on all the Bailey School Kids books, but I managed it! ...with one exception. I'd love to get my hands on this.


Jane in a Land of Enchantment

Jane's first solo adventure through the mirror takes her to a fantasy land where flowers talk and she can fly Everything is so wonderful, until she's asked to help save Lily from the troll who lives in the Enchanted Forest. He's tricked poor Lily into thinking he is something he's not. Will Jane be able to turn the tables on the troll and bring Lily back safely?

I can't find this anywhere!

Honestly, I'm not convinced this even exists. There's incredibly little information about it, even though a handful of people claim to have read it. So if this appeared under my Christmas tree, I'd be ecstatic.

Goodnight Kiss 2

Stine delivers the long-awaited sequel to Goodnight Kiss. Vampires are stalking the small resort town of Sandy Hollow. None of Billy's friends believe him, but nobody can explain the bodies found on the beach--with two puncture holes in the neck. The undead are here, and Billy's going to beat them--or join them.

I can't find this anywhere!

I read Goodnight Kiss and wasn't exceptionally impressed, but I was intrigued enough to seek out the sequel. I put myself on the library's waiting list for the omnibus of Goodnight Kiss and Goodnight Kiss 2... and stayed there for a year.
Finally, I went back and checked. As it turns out, some asshole checked the book out and never returned it. Back in 2007! Why the library still has the book on their website, I haven't the slightest idea.

All My Friends are Dead

If you're a dinosaur, all of your friends are dead. If you're a pirate, all of your friends have scurvy. If you're a tree, all of your friends are end tables. Each page of this laugh-out-loud illustrated humor book showcases the downside of being everything from a clown to a cassette tape to a zombie. Cute and dark all at once, this hilarious children's book for adults teaches valuable lessons about life while exploring each cartoon character's unique grievance and wide-eyed predicament. From the sock whose only friends have gone missing to the houseplant whose friends are being slowly killed by irresponsible plant owners (like you),All My Friends Are Dead presents a delightful primer for laughing at the inevitable.

I can't find this anywhere!

This is popular and new enough that I could probably get a copy of this at a bookstore, but between my town's utter lack of a real bookstore and my strict policy about only buying used books (barring special occasions), I'm going to have to wait for the library to get the memo and buy this. Or, you know, Santa.

The Capture (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #1) by Kathryn Lasky

The Capture (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #1)The Capture by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

I really think this book suffered for its audience. For a middle-grade fantasy featuring an all-(nonhuman)-animal cast, this had an astounding amount of elements I didn't expect: kidnap, murder, (rather clumsy) Stockholm Syndrome, physical and psychological torture of children, and cannibalism, to name a few. Now, I'm not trying to say these don't belong in a children's novel; that's entirely subjective. What isn't subjective is that the genre does not allow the author to explore the horror of these elements the way the author should. And so this definitely would have benefitted from a demographic shift. I certainly would have enjoyed it a lot more had Lasky been able to properly explore the inevitable psychological trauma of her characters.

Read for Read by Theme's June 2012 theme, Bird Covers.

December 21, 2012

Who Broke Lincoln's Thumb? (Capital Mysteries, #5) by Ron Roy

Who Broke Lincoln's Thumb? (Capital Mysteries, #5)Who Broke Lincoln's Thumb? by Ron Roy

My rating: ★★★☆☆

Who stole the thumb off the Lincoln Memorial?

When KC and Marshall discover a chunk missing from the Lincoln Memorial, they're in a rush to solve the mystery. It couldn't have happened at a worse time: tonight is the celebration of the sculptor, and the statue can't be broken!

With Who Broke Lincoln's Thumb, the Capital Mysteries series has officially established itself. Its focal point is one of the famous D.C. memorials, the Lincoln Memorial. So KC and Marshall's mystery can offer children an enjoyable reading experience while it offers their parents a chance to teach their children some history.

For children who live near D.C., a trip to the Lincoln Memorial would be a great idea. And of course, there's also the opportunity of further research into Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, slavery, and civil rights.

View all my reviews

December 20, 2012

A Spy in the White House (Capital Mysteries, #4) by Ron Roy

A Spy in the White House (Capital Mysteries, #4)A Spy in the White House by Ron Roy

My rating: ★★★☆☆

With A Spy in the White House, the Capital Mysteries series hasn't quite established itself yet, but it's getting there. In the story, KC Corcoran, the soon-to-be First Daughter, and her friend Marshall are getting ready for the president's wedding when they realize there's a spy releasing secret wedding details to the press.

With the plot keeping KC and Marshall around the White House, there isn't much in the way  of introducing the capital to children, but it's a solid, child-level mystery; Ron Roy's back into the swing of things, and I'm very relieved to say goodbye to the out-of-place science fiction (the remnants of which have mysteriously disappeared to never be discussed again).

I don't love this series the way I loved the A to Z Mysteries series, but Capital Mysteries is coming into its own with steady improvement. Here's hoping Ron Roy keeps it up!

December 19, 2012

The Skeleton in the Smithsonian (Capital Mysteries, #3) by Ron Roy

The Skeleton in the Smithsonian (Capital Mysteries #3)The Skeleton in the Smithsonian by Ron Roy

My rating: ★★★☆☆

Now that's more like it! This installment brings back the Ron Roy plots I recognize: a simplistic yet enjoyable mystery aimed at children and utterly devoid of any inexplicable science fiction elements. It's also the installment that sets the Capital Mysteries series up on the path it'll follow through the subsequent books.

In The Skeleton in the Smithsonian, a man named Leonard Fisher and his attorney, Mr. A. C. Rook (ain't it punny, guys? ...guys?), claim that Fisher has recently discovered himself to be the long lost heir of James Smithson. Now Fisher is claiming that as Smithson's heir, the fortune--and, by extension, the Smithsonian itself--belongs to him.

It's a simple mystery for early readers, a return to the tried and true formula of the A to Z Mysteries series with the added bonus of introducing the USA capitol to children.

December 18, 2012

Kidnapped at the Capital (Capital Mysteries #2) by Ron Roy

Kidnapped at the Capital (Capital Mysteries #2)Kidnapped at the Capital by Ron Roy

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Fun fact: The first book establishes that the Capital Mysteries universe has the same Presidents as ours until it replaces the younger Bush with the fictional Zachary Thornton. This means that Mary Kincaid, who is introduced in the second book as a middle-aged black woman, is both the first female and the first African American to become the Vice President of the United States. So that's pretty awesome.

Unfortunately, the rest of the book isn't. It's nowhere near as outlandish as the first, but still doesn't meet my expectations of Ron Roy.

I just... I don't get this series. A to Z Mysteries and even Calendar Mysteries both made sense in their plotlines; there were reasons for the kids to be the only ones investigating the mystery, or else the kids weren't the only ones investigating the mystery. And in the situations when they weren't the only ones, the adults didn't flail around ineffectually; they at least were implied to be handling themselves properly in the background. This is totally different. The children are out fighting crime for no apparent reason--doesn't anyone watch these kids?--and the people who should be doing the job are nowhere to be seen!

Allow me to *sigh* again. In the context of Ron Roy's children's books, these are sub-par, and that's exceptionally disappointing to me. I was very much looking forward to reading and loving this series, and yet here I am with this weird sci-fi, pseudo-mystery series staring the only two people in this fictional parallel of D.C. with the remotest competence. And yet they're fourth-graders!

*grumbles* So I'll just be over here, waiting for the next A to Z Mysteries Super Special.

December 17, 2012

Who Cloned the President? (Capital Mysteries, #1) by Ron Roy

Who Cloned the President? (Capital Mysteries, #1)Who Cloned the President? by Ron Roy

My rating: ★☆☆☆☆

I cannot possibly communicate to you how much disappointment this book brought me.

I adore Ron Roy's A to Z Mysteries series, and I have for as long as I can remember. The Super Specials are still being released, which I didn't realize until recently, so that's thrilling for me. A little piece of my childhood is still ongoing, and that's great.

He has also created Calendar Mysteries, a spin-off of A to Z Mysteries for younger readers, focusing on the A to Z characters' younger siblings. I've read every one of those books that has been released thus far, and they didn't disappoint, either. They're more juvenile than the A to Z books, but bearably so. It pleases me to think that there's another generation of youngsters learning to love reading through that series, as well.

A to Z Mysteries and Calendar Mysteries are both set in the small town of Green Lawn, Connecticut. Roy's Capital Mysteries series is set in the same universe as the Green Lawn books, as evidenced when the two sets of characters met in White House White-out. So I expected the Capital Mysteries series to be more of the same, in a good way.

I was wrong. While the Green Lawn books are very firmly rooted in reality, with all the fantastic elements being explained by the end of the mysteries, that is not the case with the Capital books--or at least not with Who Cloned the President?, which features science fiction elements that are absolutely jarring in the Green Lawn universe... And frankly, that deeply frustrates me.

You see, I went into this expecting the impossible scenario the title and blurb imply to be refuted by the facts as they unravel over the course of the mystery--like in every other Roy book I've ever read. That was not the case, unfortunately. In this expansion of the Green Lawn universe, human cloning has already been perfected and is actively being harnessed by a nefarious company with a grudge against the President. Somehow this company manages to kidnap the President of the United States and replace him with a clone--and no one notices besides an unrelated fourth-grade girl, who then breaks into the White House, figures out which President is the clone, and saves the real President. And her only assistance in this daring rescue mission is a fourth-grade boy. In the end, the bad guys are put away, the clone turns out to be a swell guy, and the President becomes eternally grateful to KC. I can only assume that off-screen, every single person tasked in any way, shape, or form with protecting the President has been fired. At least.

*sigh* A to Z Mysteries and Calendar Mysteries have run for years, and over their run have explored the world of Green Lawn and distinctly sets its boundaries of reality. Capital Mysteries is set in the same universe and yet flies past those boundaries without a second thought about the reader's suspension of disbelief.

The saddest part of it all is that it didn't have to be this way. Had the cross-over A to Z installment never existed, there would be nothing (that I've read yet, at least) to imply that these three series were set in the same universe, and that would have given Capital the leeway for this ridiculous plot. But instead, they opted for what I had assumed to be a fun crossover--until I read Who Cloned the President?, at which point I've been forced to realize that it's less "fun" and more "grating".

But I have the entire series sitting unread beside me on the desk, so I assume I'll be reading onward. I can only hope that the later books in the series can somehow make up for this installment, because at the moment, I am very, very, disappoint.

December 14, 2012

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson

Consider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and EatConsider the Fork: How Technology Transforms the Way We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson

My rating: ★★★★☆

A copy of this book was provided via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The technology of cooking is a broad subject with a long history. From fire to utensils to the kitchen itself, Consider the Fork breaks down these broad clusters of technology and examines them bit by bit. A chapter on pans, for example, quickly evolves into an exploration of when pans are first known to be used, how humanity cooked before pans, how different cultures use different pans, why pans eventually came to be, what pans were made from at different points in history, the cultural impact of pans, the way the invention of pans changed humanity's diet, and so much more. There's such a plethora of information here, it's genuinely amazing.

Over the course of Consider the Fork, Wilson goes through the history of cooking, from pre-civilization to early civilization, then on through the Middle Ages to the Victorian Era, and finally up through the twentieth century to today; and as she did, it occurred to me for the first time just how much there is to learn about the technology of food. Between all the interesting factoids and the more in-depth exploration of historical cooking methods and the way modern life is (and isn't) changing technology, I found myself astounded that I could have so completely overlooked such an important facet of human life. That by itself was thrilling in a sense; I love anthropology and history, and here was a whole section of it I'd never considered before, ready to be explored! What's best, of course, is that Consider the Fork manages not just to trace the history of food technology, but to do so in a way that isn't expressly Anglo-centric. While the primary focus is on the Western world for the English-speaking audience, there's a refreshing effort to address Eastern culture, too.

Consider the Fork is a genuinely fascinating book, and I'll definitely be reading more like it in the future. As someone who loves learning, especially when it comes to anthropology, Consider the Fork is exactly the kind of book I love to read; I would definitely suggest it to anyone interested in cooking, cultural anthropology, and nonfiction in general.

December 12, 2012

Night of the Shifter's Moon (Unicorns of Balinor, #7) by Mary Stanton

A Quick Bookish Survey #3

The book I'm currently reading:


Since prehistory, humans have braved sharp knives, fire, and grindstones to transform raw ingredients into something delicious—or at least edible. Tools shape what we eat, but they have also transformed how we consume, and how we think about, our food. Technology in the kitchen does not just mean the Pacojets and sous-vide of the modernist kitchen. It can also mean the humbler tools of everyday cooking and eating: a wooden spoon and a skillet, chopsticks and forks.

In Consider the Fork, award-winning food writer Bee Wilson provides a wonderful and witty tour of the evolution of cooking around the world, revealing the hidden history of everyday objects we often take for granted. Knives—perhaps our most important gastronomic tool—predate the discovery of fire, whereas the fork endured centuries of ridicule before gaining widespread acceptance; pots and pans have been around for millennia, while plates are a relatively recent invention. Many once-new technologies have become essential elements of any well-stocked kitchen—mortars and pestles, serrated knives, stainless steel pots, refrigerators. Others have proved only passing fancies, or were supplanted by better technologies; one would be hard pressed now to find a water-powered egg whisk, a magnet-operated spit roaster, a cider owl, or a turnspit dog. Although many tools have disappeared from the modern kitchen, they have left us with traditions, tastes, and even physical characteristics that we would never have possessed otherwise.

Blending history, science, and anthropology, Wilson reveals how our culinary tools and tricks came to be, and how their influence has shaped modern food culture. The story of how we have tamed fire and ice and wielded whisks, spoons, and graters, all for the sake of putting food in our mouths, Consider the Fork is truly a book to savor.

Consider the Fork is...

...really a fascinating book. A microhistory of culinary technology, it's really opened my eyes to a facet of civilization I've never even considered before. Very interesting for anyone with a passing interest in anthropology! (I received Consider the Fork via Netgalley, and will be posting a review this Friday!)

The last book I finished:


Princess Arianna inquires about the past and learns the truth about the fall of the great unicorns from the Celestial Valley. She uncovers the truth about shifting magic and how that power has led the fallen unicorns into the become the evil Shadow Unicorns.

Shadows Over Balinor is...

...the final book of the Unicorns of Balinor series, which I am thrilled to finally be done with.

The next book I want to read:


Yann Martel's imaginative and unforgettable Life of Pi is a magical reading experience, an endless blue expanse of storytelling about adventure, survival, and ultimately, faith. The precocious son of a zookeeper, 16-year-old Pi Patel is raised in Pondicherry, India, where he tries on various faiths for size, attracting "religions the way a dog attracts fleas." Planning a move to Canada, his father packs up the family and their menagerie and they hitch a ride on an enormous freighter. After a harrowing shipwreck, Pi finds himself adrift in the Pacific Ocean, trapped on a 26-foot lifeboat with a wounded zebra, a spotted hyena, a seasick orangutan, and a 450-pound Bengal tiger named Richard Parker ("His head was the size and color of the lifebuoy, with teeth"). It sounds like a colorful setup, but these wild beasts don't burst into song as if co-starring in an anthropomorphized Disney feature. After much gore and infighting, Pi and Richard Parker remain the boat's sole passengers, drifting for 227 days through shark-infested waters while fighting hunger, the elements, and an overactive imagination. In rich, hallucinatory passages, Pi recounts the harrowing journey as the days blur together, elegantly cataloging the endless passage of time and his struggles to survive: "It is pointless to say that this or that night was the worst of my life. I have so many bad nights to choose from that I've made none the champion."

The protagonist Piscine "Pi" Molitor Patel, an Indian boy from Pondicherry, explores the issues of religion and spirituality from an early age and survives 227 days shipwrecked in the Pacific Ocean.

Life of Pi is... choice for this month's theme at the Read by Theme group. I'm looking forward to seeing the movie, so of course I'm going to be trying to read the book beforehand!

The last book I bought:

I picked up a slew of books from the library's for-sale shelf!

  1. Agnes Grey

  2. Double Love (Sweet Valley High #1)

  3. Secrets (Sweet Valley High #2)

  4. Crash Landing! (Sweet Valley High, #20)

  5. Kiss of a Killer (Sweet Valley High, #128)

  6. Lila's New Flame (Sweet Valley High, #135)

  7. Too Hot to Handle (Sweet Valley High, #136)

  8. Fight Fire with Fire (Sweet Valley High, #137)

  9. Sense and Sensibility

  10. 11/22/63

  11. Inkspell (Inkworld, #2)

  12. The Winter of Red Snow: The Revolutionary War Diary of Abigail Jane Stewart

  13. Demon Seed

  14. The Eyes of Darkness

  15. Charlotte's Web

  16. The Change (Animorphs #13)

  17. The Escape (Animorphs, #15)

  18. Say Cheese and Die-Again! (Goosebumps, #44)

  19. The Diary of a Young Girl

  20. Watchers

  21. Fear Nothing (Moonlight Bay, #1)

  22. Elizabeth's Secret Diary, Volume III (Sweet Valley High Magna Editions #9)

  23. Jessica's Secret Diary: Volume III (Sweet Valley High Magna Editions #10)

  24. Psycho

  25. Winter Moon

The last book I was given:


Knowing the outcome doesn’t always make a choice easier . . .

Addison Coleman’s life is one big “What if?” As a Searcher, whenever Addie is faced with a choice, she can look into the future and see both outcomes. It’s the ultimate insurance plan against disaster. Or so she thought. When Addie’s parents ambush her with the news of their divorce, she has to pick who she wants to live with—her father, who is leaving the paranormal compound to live among the “Norms,” or her mother, who is staying in the life Addie has always known. Addie loves her life just as it is, so her answer should be easy. One Search six weeks into the future proves it’s not.

In one potential future, Addie is adjusting to life outside the Compound as the new girl in a Norm high school where she meets Trevor, a cute, sensitive artist who understands her. In the other path, Addie is being pursued by the hottest guy in school—but she never wanted to be a quarterback’s girlfriend. When Addie’s father is asked to consult on a murder in the Compound, she’s unwittingly drawn into a dangerous game that threatens everything she holds dear. With love and loss in both lives, it all comes down to which reality she’s willing to live through . . . and who she can’t live without.

Pivot Point is... first Edelweiss approval! That counts as "giving", right?

December 11, 2012

Secrets of the Scepter (Unicorns of Balinor, #6) by Mary Stanton

Secrets of the Scepter (Unicorns Of Balinor #6)Secrets of the Scepter by Mary Stanton

My rating: ★☆☆☆☆

I'm very glad to be near finished with this series. When it started out weak, I was sure it was going to get better. Unless something amazing happens in the last two books, it looks like I was wrong--things have actually gotten worse over the course of the past few books. Ari has turned into one of the worst Sues I've ever read, and any nostalgia I had for this series has been duly purged.

Really, I'm genuinely confused as to how I could ever have enjoyed this series. As I am now, it hits just about all of my least favorite fantasy and children's lit cliches: hypocritical pseudo-hippy spiels, an exceptionally hypocritical Messiah protagonist, a pseudo-Christian deity whose supposed supremacy and holy righteousness goes completely unquestioned, strict black and white morality, and villains that even Disney would have rejected for being too stereotypical. Oh, and everyone's white. Everyone.

Generalities aside, Secrets of the Scepter is the low point of an already disappointing series. After retrieving the Scepter and removing the immediate threat the Shifter posed when he had the Indigo Star, Ari must learn how to use her new magic properly. To do so, the Scepter must be joined with three golden rings. (At this point, even Ari seems to realize the "making it up as we go along" nature of this series. These rings are supposedly part of a tradition as old as her royal family, but even she's never frickin' heard of it before.)

So to find these rings, Ari runs around the wilderness of Balinor, foisting her opinions on people and animals who want nothing to do with her. And when the various groups expressly inform her that she has zero authority in their domain, everybody looses their shit. Chase starts roaring about how the land belongs to no one but a thinly-veiled Expy of the Judeo-Christian God, and how Ari has authority over everyone on her side of the Gap because God gave her family the Scepter.

Seriously, that's her argument. God gave her family the Scepter, so she gets to tell everyone what to do. Because monarchies touting claims of Divine Right are always the right way to go.

And gods freakin' forbid anyone doesn't bow at her feet. Secrets of the Scepter introduces a bit more background into Balinor, most prominently of which are the Lords of the three remaining Houses. Two of them are bumbling dunderheads ready to go along with anyone who claims to be part of the royal family. Rexel, on the other hand, is not.

Lord Rexel demands proof that Ari is who she claims to be. Reasonable enough, right? Apparently not, because everyone loses their shit about this, too. Ari launches into a rant about how he's always enjoyed causing problems for her parents and now he's doing it to her, too.

Because he wants her to prove who she is and isn't ready to risk his people on a war that might just be one of Entia's tricks, Rexel is absolutely vilified. Besides Lori, he's is the first person in the series to show an ounce of critical thinking, and he so obviously he's cruel, hateful, and possibly villainous.

What problems, then, has he been causing Ari's parents for years? He questions their decisions and makes some of his own. (God, no; someone stop him!) Worse yet, he insists on calling his castle a castle! Everyone knows that only the royal family is allowed to live in a castle! (Quick, off with his head before he does something crazy!)

...seriously, what is going on here? If I hadn't already realized Ari was a self-righteous little brat, I would be surprised that her supposedly noble and well-loved family is such a bunch of pricks. At this point I'm sure that if I were living in Balinor, I'd probably signed up to work with the Shifter by now. Because this is ridiculous. Start a revolution, people. Where's your George Washington?

Kidding aside, the Shifter's rarely-seen subplot is the last bit of potential interest this series has to offer. I'm so desperately hoping to see some awesomeness from him in the last two books. Let's at least try to end this with a bang, please?

December 10, 2012

Search for the Star (Unicorns Of Balinor #5) by Mary Stanton

Search for the Star (Unicorns Of Balinor #5)Search for the Star by Mary Stanton

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Despite what I said in my By Fire, By Moonlight review, the plot of this came back to me very quickly as I started reading it--though the fact that I so completely forgot it offers quite the hint into what kind of impression it made on me when I first read the book.

In Search for the Star, Princess Arianna of Balinor has recovered her Scepter and passed the trial by fire and the ordeal by moonlight, so things are seemingly back to normal in Balinor. Seemingly. Because the oh-so-very-evil Shifter isn't one to quit that easily, and he runs off to retrieve the only talisman more powerful than the Scepter, something called the Indigo Star that's been guarded by the dragon Naytin in the Blue Mountain for the last thousand years.

So... Random new MacGuffin appearing out of nowhere with no previous mentions? Check. Random new characters and locations also appearing out of nowhere with no previous mention? Check. An overwhelming sense that the author is making this up as she goes along? Big ol' check, and par for the course with the Unicorns of Balinor series.

I am now more than halfway through the series, and I haven't the faintest idea what Ari's supposed to be doing to defeat the Shifter. Neither, for that matter, has Ari. There's no ultimate goal to the series beyond "defeat the bad guy by doing... something, maybe?". Instead of your typical "you must gather ______ to defeat the ___________", each book plops another "gather ___________ because something needs to happen in this book" in, slaps a cover on it, and calls it a plot. And it's not a plot; it's the literary equivalent of busy work. It's annoying.

But it's not the only silly thing going on here. Ignoring the extreme! overuse! of! exclamation! marks!, the strict black and white morality and wildly stereotypical villain/hero characters are laughable. Ari and Chase are good because they're a princess and a unicorn, respectively. Entia is evil because he hates everything that's good and happy. And that's not a joke; his motives are that juvenile. At one point, the book actually says that he's trying to enslave the Celestial unicorns because "The Shifter hates the colors of the Rainbow herd." Seriously?

And let's not forget the narrative's sanctimonious bullshit: the Shifter is evil because he's a cardboard cutout of a rejected Disney cartoon villain, and the protagonists are good because they're a pretty princess and a magical unicorn... and when one of the Shifter's oppressed and enslaved maids says she wishes she had the courage to kill him, our magical, sweet, noble, totally and utterly perfect little princess Ari makes it clear that KILLING IS TOTALLY BAD, YOU GUYS.

So this is a series about a war... that's trying to tell me killing is bad...? How exactly do you intend to stop this murder- and enslavement-happy-for-no-good-reason villain, then? Maybe hit him with some magic pixie dust and then he'll learn to love ponies and rainbows? Or are we just going to imprison him for the rest of his (possibly immortal) life, making sure he spends the rest of his years being hated, ridiculed, enslaved, etcetera? All of which will make him hate you and want to destroy you even more?

No one sees a flaw in either of these plans? There's no room for a carefully thought-out assassination here? If you say so, I guess.

But there's no question where this ridiculous line is coming from. This entire story is the author's mouthpiece, both in the sense of touting her politics and enacting her fantasy. The author simply hasn't detached herself from the story.

First there was the ludicrous "carnivores are evil and unnatural" spiel from Valley of Fear that was so terribly stupid I act quit one attempt at rereading this series. Now there's this "war without death!" nonsense. If the author isn't a pacifistic vegetarian/vegan, I'm a unicorn myself.

But it's not just that. It's everything. Ari spends a significant portion of time pointing out how Balinor is superior to Earth in every way: there's no "stench of gas", everyone up to and including lions pretends to be a vegetarian (while still eating insects and arachnids, because they're apparently lame and okay to eat), the unicorns are physically perfect and never tired, and blah and blah and blah. Just from the way the book is written, it's not even subtext that this is the author's ideal world.

Far worse than anything else on this front, however, is Ari. Ari is little more than a self-insert Purity Sue. What Bella Swan is to middle school girls, Ari is to elementary school girls. When her life at the horse ranch turns to crap, she magically discovers that she's actually a princess from a foreign land of unicorns and talking animals who has to face the evil but absurdly harmless sorcerer Entia. And when she's serving as princess? Dear god, she's just the picture of perfection. Everyone bows at her feet the moment they hear her name. They adore her for no discernible reason. She's always right about everything, even when the wise and experienced disagree. When she does something wrong, it's because someone betrayed her or something went wrong with the universe itself.

Ari is infuriating. She is the most sanctimonious, self-righteous, falsely humble protagonist I've ever had the misfortune to run across.

The two female main characters of Unicorns of Balinor are Princess Arianna and Lori Carmichael. Respectively, they are introduced to the reader as a poor farm girl and a spoiled rich girl. One of them is a self-centered brat, and the other is (perhaps accidentally) a psychologically interesting and reasonably likable deconstruction of the rich bitch stereotype.

Princess Arianna is not the least bit believable. Unlike real princesses (with the exception of some modern royals, like Queen Elizabeth and apparently Kate Middleton), her people love her. They're willing to band together under her leadership, even though she's an inexperienced thirteen-year-old of painfully average intelligence. Also unlike real princesses and teenagers, she seems to have the ability to bend the universe to her will. When she needs something done, she does it with little to no hassle, even if it's been described as the most ridiculously difficult and impossible task one can imagine. She sneaks around the country, defeats insanely powerful creatures and sorcerers, sneaks into and robs impenetrable fortresses, and basically anything else that entire armies failed to do. Really, why does Balinor even have an army when their God Mode Sue princess can do everything for them without breaking a sweat?

Maybe it's because she angsts so damn much. Whole pages are spent on Ari's lamenting; she's scared of being a princess, but she's meant to be a princess. She's scared of danger, but she must be strong for her people. She's afraid that she's actually terrible at being a princess, but at least she's not pathetic like Lori. My fucking god, this girl never stops whining.

Meanwhile, we're told repeatedly that Lori's the whiny one. She'd be a terrible princess. She doesn't understand other people. She's selfish and foolish. Except that to anyone with their eyes open, that's a description of Ari. Lori, on the other hand, has insight and a grounded sense of reality that everyone else in the story lacks; she's clearly a vital part of the story, but other characters take every opportunity to mock her as worthless; she's wonderfully snarky and clever, but apparently the people of Balinor hate that.

It's ridiculous, because the roles were set up properly in the first book. Lori was a terrible, horrendous person; she wanted her father to kill a horse for not cooperating with her. Ari, meanwhile, just wanted to escape her poverty and heartbreak. But now that Ari has achieved said escape, it's as if they've switched personalities. While Ari runs around flaunting her Incorruptible Pure Pureness and babbling about how she's the most humble and self-sacrificing person on the planet, Lori's the one who's an actual character. There's no trace of her former cruelty; there's only a very human sense of being lost and confused, being terrified of her cruel father and his temper, being the Only Sane Man in a ridiculous fantasy world... in general, just being an actual person.

Suddenly I find myself wishing this series could have been about Lori.

And that's just it, I guess. By following Ari and Chase, readers are forced to witness on the most boring and nonsensical facet of the plot while potentially interesting characters like Lori and even Entia himself are squandered.

Because while Stanton has made every effort to make Entia the manifestation of what Sauron would have been like if Lord of the Rings had been written for preschoolers, Search for the Star finally gives us a proper glimpse of him as an individual instead of a lame plot device. Frankly, it's the best scene of the series so far.

And by gods do I want more of it. Entia desperately needs to be explored and fleshed out. His story doesn't make a ton of sense so far. The details about his past are completely muddled. Search for the Star says that without the Scepter, Entia's no more powerful than his enemies. So how did he have enough power to steal the Scepter? And how did he have enough time to build this vast empire in only about six months? And for that matter, what the hell is he? We still don't know.

I am really hoping that the last three books can turn this around. Because I did enjoy this series as an elementary schooler, and I'm going to be incredibly disappointed (and somewhat ashamed of my childhood tastes!) if it ends as lame as it's been so far.

December 7, 2012

By Fire, By Moonlight (Unicorns Of Balinor, #4) by Mary Stanton

By Fire, by Moonlight (Unicorns Of Balinor, #4)By Fire, by Moonlight by Mary Stanton

My rating: ★★★☆☆

More mediocre fantasy from Stanton. In this one, Ari, Chase, and Lori have to deal with the consequences of taking the Scepter through the Gap. Because apparently that's a Thing That is Very Bad and upsets the balance of magic in the universe. And for some reason it means that Entia gets to issue Ari two challenges.

This is actually the last book in the series that I remember; as a matter of fact, I thought this was the last or second-to-last book in the series. I suppose that really goes to show how much I didn't enjoy the later books, since I've completely forgotten them over the past decade; though I won't be surprised if the memories come back to me as I read further.

Anyway, as I said, this is mediocre fantasy. So far the series is entirely episodic with no obvious plot goal. I'm halfway through the series, and I still have no idea what exactly Ari's goals are. Obviously, she's supposed to be overthrowing the Evil Sorcerer Entia, but there hasn't been a single hint toward how exactly she's supposed to be doing that. The series at the moment seems to be running on a sense of making things up as it goes along; each new book introduces some new, relatively unexplained thing for Ari to fetch, and it feels like the fantasy form of busy work. I'm really hoping a proper goal shows up within the next book or so, or else this is going to be incredibly boring as we get toward the end.

I can't say I recommend this, but nor do I strongly discourage anyone to read it. Young readers with a love of unicorns will likely enjoy it, and it's a good way to introduce the fantasy genre to children unfamiliar with it. Anyone over the age of ten or so, however, will likely find it juvenile and uninteresting.

December 6, 2012

Valley Of Fear (Unicorns Of Balinor, #3) by Mary Stanton

Valley Of Fear (Unicorns Of Balinor, #3)Valley Of Fear by Mary Stanton

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

Well, here it is. The Balinor installment I’ve been dreading. Maybe six months, maybe a year ago, I started rereading this series. Then I got to page thirty-five of this mess… and started reading the most ludicrous, baffling, and infuriating pro-pseudo-vegetarianism paragraph I’ve ever come across.

There are a lot of reasons for becoming a vegetarian or a vegan. Maybe you have a moral issues with eating meat. That’s great. Maybe you, like me, have moral issues with the meat industry. Or hunting in general. Or, again like me, farming in general. Maybe you have an allergy or have some other physical need for a specialized diet. That’s, in a sense, even more valid of a reason to cut meat/animal products from one’s diet. I will always respect a person’s dietary choices. But I will not respect you if your reasoning is moronic. And holy shit, this passage was the stupidest thing I’ve ever read.

And the funniest part of this is that it isn’t even genuine vegetarianism being screeched about here. I don’t even know what to make of it. Apparently, in Balinor, there’s no goddamn such thing as a carnivore. Just herbivores and—wait for it—insectivores. I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s just think about the first nonsense for a second.

Holy no. You cannot impose your personal morals on a motherfucking wolf! I don’t care if it talks to you or if it does the freakin’ hula. Wolves, lions, all these carnivores this book has screeching about how eating meat is TOTES EVIL, GUYS! and “NOT [acceptable] HERE IN BALINOR!”… What do you think happens if they don’t eat meat? All together now, class:

They die!

Yeah. They die. But then again, what am I talking about? These things talk. So they’re obviously not lions, wolves, rabbits, etc. They apparently have the completely, 100% human larynxes, tongues, nasal structure, etc. required to speak English. That’s one fucked up wolf, there. So maybe these mindbogglingly non-wolf/lion/etc creatures don’t need meat to survive. But then they’re not wolves/lions/etc, so please stop calling them that. Seriously.

But this brings me to what’s even more infuriating. Carnivores? TOTES EVIL. Insectivores? Nah, that’s cool, bro.

Wait, what? I’m sorry, what? Did I miss a memo or something? You know, the one about how insects are acceptable for consumption, but a chicken deserves to be the top predator of its particular food web? Why are chickens, rabbits, cows, etc. more deserving of, you know, not being eaten than insects (and I’ll just assume you’re include arachnids in there)? Is it because insects aren’t cute? That’s cool. So can I eat the ugly dogs? No? Oh, then maybe it’s because the insects aren’t as “intelligent” as some of the “higher” life forms? So can I eat people with IQs under 100? No? Huh. Odd.

Exaggerated examples? Yes. Do they demonstrate my point? Also yes. I am genuinely confused about the reasoning here. And I’m not—I am not—trying to say that any animal “deserves” in any way to be eaten. Really, I’m saying exactly the opposite: I consider every life—human, bunny, lion, turtle, spider, tree—to be equal. (If you want to put a religious spin on that—I don’t as I’m an antitheist—that would be: all life is sacred.) So I’m positively baffled when another person starts drawing arbitrary lines and categories pointing out which forms of life are “better” than others, and which can be consumed with a clear conscience. I just don’t get it.

But whatever. If you want to pick and choose who’s special and who’s not, that’s your thing. I just don’t want to read about it in my children’s fantasy novel. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.

…And then we get to page fifty five. Wherein the TOTES EVIL snake appears. The snake creeps out of the trees, speaking like thissssss, to seduce the other animals into eating meat and losing their voices forever! *le gasp* Disgusting Biblical symbolism for the win! The snake is specifically referred to as “evil” before he even does anything. He just looks “evil”. In other words, every animal is equal, except for insects and the ones with “evil” eyes. I… okay. Sure. It’s not like I don’t get it. Snakes are evil because Garden of Eden, and fruits from Trees of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and naked people, and yadda yadda yadda. All I have to say to that:


(See? I can do it, too.) And for added fun, the snake turns out to be Kylie’s shifted form. So… I guess this makes Kylie an allegorical Lilith, with Entia playing Lucifer? Wow, reading these as an adult is an odd experience.

So… here’s hoping the next one won’t be so obnoxious?