Friday, November 29, 2013

Historical Fiction: Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

Hannah Kent's Burial Rites takes place in 19th century Iceland, a place that is fairly mysterious to those of us that have been mostly stateside our entire lives. I figured the setting alone would make this an interesting read.

The Situation: It is 1828 and Jon and Margret, along with their daughters Steina and Lauga, run their small farm in Iceland, depending on whatever the land produces in order to survive through the harsh winters. The family has just received word that they are to have a young woman named Agnes stay with them for awhile. The family already has little space to spare in their small house, and after feeding themselves and their servants, there isn't much left. Plus, Agnes is a criminal charged with the gruesome murders of two men. She has requested to be moved to this valley since it is where she grew up, and she knows the Assistant Reverend who lives nearby. 

The Problem: Not only is Agnes a criminal, but the reason she has been moved from the prison to a home is because she has been sentenced to die and is now just waiting for the fateful day to arrive. Jon and Margret fear that she may display the criminal behavior that she has become known for while living in their home, and they worry over their daughters' safety and hope they don't become influenced by her. Also, the Assistant Reverend, Toti, fears he won't be able to help her as he is still young and a novice and not sure how to go about counseling her. But the longer Agnes does stay, the more the family gets used to not only having an extra pair of hands, but also her company. And after hearing her side of the story, it becomes clear to them that people are not always as they first appear.

Genre, Themes, History: This is an historical fiction novel set in 19th century Iceland, when death by beheading was still an acceptable form of capital punishment in that country. Agnes was a real person charged for the real murders of two men. She and two others, a man and another woman, were not only charged with their murders, but also for burning down the home that they were staying in at the time of the crime. Throughout the novel, Kent includes real correspondence between government offices and officials regarding the case. And while the story itself is fictionalized, Kent did extensive research and read many articles and stories that gave her a sense of what these people were like and how they related to each other. I think what struck me most about this story was how people make up their minds about you before they even meet you, and just how much time and effort is sometimes needed to undo that damage. 

My Verdict: This is a pretty fascinating story, and an ambitious one for a debut author, but Kent pulls it all of fairly well. The story is interesting, almost never boring, the setting is fascinating, and the characters are sympathetic and relateable enough to where the story doesn't just end up feeling like an historical account of something that happened too far away and too long ago for us to care. And at some moments, the language is absolutely beautiful. Historical fiction lovers will absolutely adore this book.

Favorite Moment: When Agnes helps deliver a baby during a difficult labor, to the shock and surprise to almost the entire community.

Favorite Character: Marget is an incredibly strong and constant wife and mother who is fighting her own battle to stay alive. She is understandably wary of Agnes when she first arrives, but the two of them soon come to a sort of understanding bordering on mutual respect.

Recommended Reading: This is perhaps an odd choice, but I recommend Fyodor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment. The two books don't have a whole lot in common, but they do both tell of how someone gets to a place where they believe murder is an option. 

Friday, November 22, 2013

Young Adult Fiction: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

A young adult novel that actually takes place during college instead of high school? Absolutely! Sign me up, every time. Maybe it is because I personally did not care for high school, but I was so glad to read the book jacket for Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl and see that it started when the Avery twins were entering college. That was enough to convince me that this book was worth reading.

The Situation: Cather and Wren (see what they did there? "Cather" and "Wren." CatheWren. Catherine. Pretty clever.) are twins starting their freshmen year of college in Lincoln, Nebraska. This means leaving behind their manic father to take care of himself while they move into the on-campus dorms. Wren already told her sister she didn't want to be roommates, so this also means the severely introverted and anxiety-prone Cath is on her own, and there is a complete stranger, and the stranger's stuff, and the stranger's boyfriend, in her personal living space. A lot is changing all at once, but something that has remained constant for Cath is her love for Simon Snow (think Harry Potter) and her anticipation of the eighth and final book set to be released at the end of the Spring semester. In between classes and assignments, Cath can keep going back to what she knows and she does best: writing Simon Snow fanfiction for her ever-increasing fanbase. Wren may have deserted her, but she knows how to make sure Simon Snow never will. 

The Problem: While Cath may insist that she is perfectly fine staying holed up in her dorm room all semester, writing and living off of protein bars, her roommate Reagan insists that she come up for air once in awhile, and Reagan's boyfriend just won't leave her alone either. Cath can't even enjoy her junior-level fiction writing class in peace when a fellow-student insists they continue writing together after the end of a group assignment. And while her sister Wren is the one person on campus whose presence she actually does crave, it is clear that Wren has moved on to hanging our with her new roommate, Courtney, attending parties, getting drunk, not visiting their dad when he lands in the hospital, and even getting back in touch with the mother who abandoned them all. What if all of the change is just too much for Cath? And what if her love for Simon Snow isn't enough to carry her through it all?

Genre, Themes, History: This is a young adult novel set on a college campus during that all-important transitional moment when high school and most of what has been familiar to a person for 18 years is left behind in exchange for the new challenges and experiences that college has to offer. The Avery family are three examples of different ways people cope with hardship and change. Cath and Wren's dad turns absolutely manic and spends a disturbing amount of time and energy on his work. Without the girls around, no one is at the house telling him what to eat, or just to eat in general, and when to go to sleep. Cath is prone to panic attacks and is incredibly anxious when things feel out of control, which is almost always, while Wren seems perfectly capable of going off completely on her own, when in reality she is going down her own path of destruction. As a fairly independent person, I see where Wren is coming from. If she and Cath never separate and just attempt living their own lives, they'll never know whether or not they can, and it is unfair for Cath to expect her sister to hold her hand forever. She also can't stick her head in the sand and decide not to engage in life. On the other hand, Wren can't just completely break free of family and expect everything to just work out. Isn't that what their mom did? Isn't that the pivotal moment in their lives that started all of this to begin with? This book is not just about the freshmen college experience, or just about family, but possibly about growing up and everything that comes with that. Even the whole friendships of convenience issue comes up as both Cath and Wren make friends with people who, just because of the way college life and dorm life works, happen to be in close proximity, and most of the time those friendships don't have any real staying power. The book is also about writing as there is little Cath would rather do than work on her Simon Snow fanfiction. In fact, there is so much about writing in here that it made me want to get back to my writing, and not just blog writing. Cath's passion and commitment are enough to inspire any reader who has the slightest urge to do some writing of their own.

My Verdict: I absolutely adore this book. Again, I was already pretty sold once I knew it took place in college as opposed to high school, but even beyond that, this is a fantastic book. The characters are relateable, and while I wouldn't say that Cath is the most upbeat and cheerful person ever, there definitely isn't the same kind of angst there that is often found in young adult protagonists. Again, the college setting is fantastic, and the entire backdrop of the dorms and the students and the classes and the library and the cafeteria was so well done without getting too bogged down in detail. There is some heavy stuff that happens within the 400+ pages of the novel, but it isn't so heavy to make the novel dark, but it keeps the book from being too light or too fluffy. If I had a complaint it would be about the excerpts that begin each chapter from both the Simon Snow novels and Cath's fanfiction. Just from the little snippets that Rowell gives us, I get the feeling that if I were to read either the Simon Snow books, or even Cath's fanfiction, that I wouldn't care for the Simon Snow novels at all. But trying to really get a good picture of a full-length book from an excerpt is like trying to buy an album off of iTunes based on those 90-second samples they give us (and yet people do it all of the time). Plus, none of it is real, so there is that. 

Favorite Moment: When Cath and Wren's father puts his foot down regarding Wren's behavior at college. He is pretty much the most laid back and easy-going father ever, so the fact that he got angry, and I mean really angry, meant that something had to have gone really wrong. He gives Wren two choices, neither of which she likes, but he honestly doesn't care. 

Favorite Character: I actually feel like I have a few choices here, which is rare for me, but I think I will go with Cath and Wren's dad. He can be pretty manic, but he has made the best of a less than ideal situation and has managed to get twin daughters off to college and not completely fall apart. 

Recommended Reading: I am actually having a hard time coming up with a specific book, so instead I'll recommend some authors: Sarah Dessen always seems like a good choice when it come to young adult books, as well as Sarah Ockler. John Green has written some of my favorite young adult novels, and I could never forget Ruta Sepetys and her incredible historical fiction geared towards teens. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Goodreads Choice Awards 2013 Final Round

This is it, the last chance to cast your votes in the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards. We are down to 10 finalists in each category and the ultimate winners will be announced after this last round of voting ends on Monday, November 25th.

There is no surprise that Khaled Hosseini's And the Mountains Echoed has made it into the final round in the Fiction category. Joining him is Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. And it looks like I will now be using my vote to support Hosseini as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah did not make it into the finals. Neither did Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, nor Lauren Grahams Someday, Someday, Maybe.

Even now that I have finished reading Marisha Pessl's Night Film, I think I will stick with my initial vote for Stephen King's Joyland, as both books made it into the finals for Mystery & Thriller. And joining them is Robert Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling. It will be really interesting to see who ends up the winner for this category, and I suspect it will be a fairly close race.

Both Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls and Hannah Kent's Burial Rites made it into the finals in the Historical Fiction category. Despite what is sure to be stiff competition coming from Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement and Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, I am hoping Kent's Burial Rites pulls through, though I am thinking it is a bit of an underdog.

And it looks like I once again have no one to vote for in the Science Fiction category as write-in nominee The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter did not make it into the finals. I am still glad to know there were people who liked it enough to write it in and get it included for the semi-final round. Maybe the third book in the series will do better.

Naoki Higashida's The Reason I Jump is still going strong in the Memoir & Autobiography category. But so is Malala Youfsafzai's I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban. So this another category to watch and may end up being a very close race as well.

And as for my favorite category, all three of my picks, Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Sarah Dessen's The Moon and More, and Ruta Sepetys' Out of the Easy, made it into the finals. Also, it is interesting to note that Rowell actually has another book that was nominated and has made it into the finals along with Fangirl, and it's Eleanor & Park, her other book that was published earlier this year. So if Rowell does end up taking the prize, for which book will it be? I am voting for Fangirl, but I also haven't read Eleanor & Park yet. Honestly, I will be glad to see any of the books I mentioned for this category take the prize, but I can only vote for one.

So that is my take on the final round of the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards. Cast your votes, make your predictions, and stick around for the results. It has already proved to be an interesting race and the results will surely not disappoint.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Nonfiction: The Wolf and the Watchman by Scott Johnson

I decided to pick up Scott Johnson's The Wolf and the Watchman: A Father, A Son, and the CIA when I saw it on the long list for the 2013 National Book Award for nonfiction. It would have to be halfway decent in order to be long listed, and a book about growing up with a parent in the CIA was just too intriguing to pass up.

The Situation: Scott Johnson was born in India, and would grow up never really staying in one location for too long. Only when he became a teenager did he learn that his father was essentially a spy for the CIA. Growing up he knew that there was more to his father's job than what he was told to tell his friends at school, but only when his father levels with him before showing him his "office" are his suspicions confirmed. Scott was always close to his father, and even continued to spend the majority of the year with him after his parents' divorce. He recognizes that being a part of the CIA and being a family man can't be the easiest thing. And being his son was becoming increasingly difficult as well.

The Problem: Not only is it fairly taxing on Scott to never be completely honest about what his father does for a living, but he eventually begins to wonder how much his father has hid from him as well. Surely there were things his father couldn't tell him; things Keith had to hide from his son not only because he wasn't at liberty to divulged them, but also because he had to keep Scott's safety in mind. It is this idea that will cause Scott to distance himself from his father and lead to his inability to completely trust him. Scott can't help but wonder exactly how much of his father's life is pretend. He also can't help but wonder how far his father has gone for the country he loves and works for. And even though Scott chooses a career in journalism, he realizes that he employs a lot of the methods his father used in order to get the information he wants. If he couldn't trust his own dad, what does that say about Scott?

Genre, Themes, History: This is a nonfiction book that follows Scott from his birth in India, through his many travels with his father because of his job with the CIA, and on through Scott's own travels as a journalist for Newsweek. Along with being about what it is like having a spy as parent, the book is almost equally about Scott's adventures as a journalist in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11th. Ultimately, the book begins to be about how Scott's job as a journalist in a war zone isn't that much different from his father's job with the CIA, and that really bothers him. It more or less all boils down to trust. Just as Keith used his training and skills with the CIA to not only get the information he wanted, but also get certain people to defect and work for the US instead, Scott uses similar skills and, for lack of a better word, manipulations to get the information he needs for his articles. And Scott has hard time reconciling the trust gained in order to get such information, and the perceived betrayal that happens when he then turns around and has that information published for the entire world to see. He also has a hard time coming to terms with some of the stuff his dad did, and other things he most likely did but never actually talked about.

My Verdict: There were moments when this book was incredibly interesting and I had to know what happens next, but also just as many moments when I was incredibly bored and could not have possibly cared less. I was way more interested in reading about what it was like to grow up with a parent who worked for the CIA than I was about Scott's time in Iraq, and the later half of the book leans more towards the latter. It was incredibly educational, and I think Scott portrayed his conflicting feelings towards his dad and even his own path in life quite well, so that even someone who has no idea what it would be like to live like that would understand the issue. I guess I just hoped that would stay as the center focus for the whole story.

Favorite Moment: As a teenager Scott makes the decision to stay with his mother, and his father actually breaks down and cries as he drops his son off.

Recommended Reading: The only suggestion I could come up with was Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner. I don't usually read books about war or government spies, so Hosseini's books were the first ones I thought of as they are usually set in and around the area Scott was covering as a journalist.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Goodreads Choice Awards 2013 Semifinal Round

The opening round for the 2013 Godreads Choice Awards is already behind us, and now each category has had five more books added based on write-in votes.

I must say that for the Fiction category, I am surprised to see Lauren Graham's (of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood fame) Someday, Someday, Maybe. It is an okay book, I am just having a hard time seeing it as the best fiction book of the year. I think I will stick with my current favorite for this category, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah. Another new addition includes Meg Wolitzer's The Interestings, which I have not read but I have heard good things.

I could not be more pleased to see that my write-in vote for the Science Fiction category, The Long War by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, has made it in for the semi-final round. I will definitely continue to vote for it and believe that it could go far in the competition. 

For the remainder of the categories that I have any interest in, it looks like I'll be sticking with the same books I chose for the opening round. I do hope that Stephen King's Joyland, Hannah Kent's Burial Rites, Naoki Higashida's The Reason I Jump, and Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl all continue in their respective categories at least into the final round, which is set to begin next Monday, November 18th. 

Whether your favorites win or lose, this competition pulls from a wonderful and diverse set of books. And if anything, it gives readers more suggestions for potential books to read. I know my list has grown considerably since the competition opened (Neil Gaiman I am looking in your direction).

Continue casting your votes here and check in next week to see how your favorites are doing.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Contemporary Fiction: The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

Believe it or not, this is the first book I have ever read by J.K. Rowling. Of course, on paper, The Cuckoo's Calling is the debut novel of Robert Galbraith, but by now, most of the world has learned that the book is actually the latest from the Harry Potter author. And I was curious to see how Rowling would handle a detective mystery. Also, this book has been nominated in the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards for Best Mystery & Thriller, which isn't at all surprising, especially considering its leap in popularity after everyone discovered who the true author was.

The Situation: Supermodel Lula Landry has fallen to her death from her London apartment. The police are more than ready to rule it as a suicide, as the model had a history of mental health issues. And if there was someone that would have murdered her, pretty much everyone is ready to blame her unlikeable on again off again boyfriend Evan Duffield, except he has an iron-clad alibi. The press are all over the story, the family is distraught, but everyone does their best to move on.

The Problem: Lula's brother, John Bristow, isn't even remotely convinced that his sister would have committed suicide. That is why he has insisted on reaching out to private detective Cormoran Strike, a veteran who lost his leg in the Afghan War, to investigate the entire incident, and is even willing to pay double the going rate. At first, Strike is going to refuse the offer, except he badly needs the job and the money. A recent break-up has him living out of his office, and debt collectors keep calling him demanding payment. Even so, he could be taking Bristow's money only to find out Lula did commit suicide, but then again, what if John is right and her killer is still out there. Strike's investigation gives him access to the types of people the paparazzi climb all over themselves just to get pictures of as they walk down the street. And Lula's family has the kind of money and connections that could protect them from almost anything. Everyone Strike interviews seems to have wanted something from Lula or were using her for something, and almost all of them have a secret to hide, something that keeps them from telling the whole truth. And if Lula was murdered, she may not be the one and only victim. 

Genre, Themes, History: This is a detective mystery, or crime novel, almost in the classic sense. It is also clear that Galbraith (or Rowling if you prefer) intends to keep the story going as a series, bringing Strike back to investigate more crimes. While an obvious theme may be the high cost of fame, another one is the complication of adoption, as all three of the Bristow children (John, Lula, and an already deceased older brother, Charlie) were adopted by Sir Alec and Lady Yvette. The adoption of Lula is further complicated by Lula being an African American child adopted into a rich white family. And then of course, there is also greed and jealousy coming from everyone on all sides over various things, mostly money, but also over attention and fame. 

Rowling initially sent the manuscript for The Cuckoo's Calling anonymously, and at least one publishing house declined it. Interestingly enough, it was eventually picked up by a publisher that is affiliated with the publishing house that worked with her on The Casual Vacancy. After it was revealed that Rowling was the author, the book soared to the top of the best-selling novel list on Rowling's authorship was supposedly leaked via Twitter (of all things) to a reporter at The Sunday Times by the wife of a lawyer who had worked for Rowling. 

My Verdict: I will probably always be suspicious of any post-Harry Potter book by Rowling that gets rave reviews, simply because people like to ride the wave and acclaim any book by an author who has already lead them through one of the most beloved stories of all time. I'm not saying The Cuckoo's Calling was bad, in fact, it was actually quite good and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. And usually with most contemporary novels, my disappointment lies in the ending, particularly with mysteries. But that was not the case with this novel. Rowling has Strike methodically and thoroughly unravel this mystery before arriving at the inevitable conclusion. At some points, Strike's methods and questioning did make for a boring story, but usually not for very long. I doubt Rowling fans will be filled with the same sense of awe and wonder and excitement they had with Harry Potter, but The Cuckoo's Calling is still worth a read.

Favorite Moment: When the bulky 6'3" Strike gets the chance to enter a trendy club with a supermodel in front of paparazzi.

Favorite Character: I am tempted to pick Strike, because I do like him a lot as a main character, but I think instead I will pick Robin, his secretary at his office. Robin is fairly integral in holding Strike's life together. He is more than a competent detective, but Robin still proves incredibly useful in getting Strike information he couldn't get on his own. She is also polite enough to never bring up the fact that he currently lives in his office.

Recommended Reading: I am not terribly big into detective mysteries. And there is only one true crime novel I have ever read, but I enjoyed it immensely. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is the true account of the murder of the Clutter family in Holcomb, Kansas. Capote wrote about the investigation that followed and even spoke to the suspects himself before they were hanged.  

Monday, November 4, 2013

Goodreads Choice Awards 2013

It is the opening round of the 2013 Goodreads Choice Awards, the only book awards that are decided on by popular vote from readers.

Since Goodreads is probably my primary resource for deciding which books I review and blog about, I am always incredibly interested in the Goodreads Choice Awards and which books have made the cut in each category. And fortunately, I have managed to choose quite a few books that have been nominated in various categories.

Just from looking at the fiction category I can see I'll have to make some tough decisions this year. No surprise that Khaled Hosseini's And The Mountains Echoed made the cut for this category. But also in the running are Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah, Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, and Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. I'd be willing to cheer on all four of these books, but I can only vote for one. And I am sure they will all have a hard time going up against Jhumpa Lahiri's The Lowland.

A few nominees for the Mystery & Thriller category that are also not at all surprising are Stephen King's Joyland and Robert Galbraith's The Cuckoo's Calling. Of course, as most everyone knows by now, Robert Galbraith is a pseudonym being used by J.K. Rowling. But even with the immediate popularity The Cuckoo's Calling was guaranteed to gain upon being associated with the popular Harry Potter author, I have to say that the book is pretty good and can stand on its own merit. And another book nominated for this category that I am actually in the middle of reading is Marisha Pessl's Night Film. I am only about a fifth of the way through and from what I have read I do believe it deserves to be nominated.  I will probably lean towards Stephen King, but Night Film may end up changing my mind.

Cathy Marie Buchanan's The Painted Girls has been nominated for the Historical Fiction category, and while I generally enjoyed the book, I can't say I believe it to be the best of the year. However, I also read Burial Rites by Hannah Kent for an upcoming blog post, and this book I am willing to vote for. But as always, this category has some stiff competition with Colum McCann's TransAtlantic and Philipp Meyer's The Son.

I actually don't have any favorites for the Science Fiction category, so I decided to write in Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter's The Long War. I'm kind of surprised it was not nominated seeing how the first book in the series, The Long Earth, took the prize in this category for 2012.

For a future blog post I read The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen Year Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida and translated by David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas). Just from reading the book jacket I had a feeling this book would be nominated, and here it is in the Memoir & Autobiography category. It is one of those books that probably everyone should read, and it is fairly short, coming in at under 150 pages. I won't be at all surprised if this book stays in the running for a long time, or if it ends up winning the entire category.

Probably my favorite category of all is Young Adult Fiction, and I am so glad to see that Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl has been nominated, a book I will be gushing about in an upcoming blog post. However, it isn't my only favorite from this year to be included in this category. Sarah Dessen's most recent novel, The Moon and More, as well as Ruta Sepetys' Out of the Easy have also been included. And really, I could see any of them taking the prize. Dessen seems to me like the obvious favorite, but Rowell could pull off an upset...Fangirl is just that good.

This is only the first round of voting, which is open through November 9th, and the second round begins next Monday, November 11th. So go ahead and begin voting for your own favorites here and making some predictions of your own. I must say, that I am probably more excited about this year's Goodreads Choice Awards than I should be. But hey, that's a bookworm for you.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Classic Fiction: Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card

The movie version of Orson Scott Card's 1985 novel Ender's Game comes out today in theaters throughout the US and Canada. I have many friends who read this book as kids and absolutely love it, so I approached it cautiously as someone who may have missed the window, but I was going to try anyway. The idea of adults using children for stuff that even some adults shouldn't even be doing is always intriguing to me, as is the idea of children growing up too fast too soon because of the world around them.

The Situation: Andrew "Ender" Wiggin is a third. What that means is that his parents had more than the regulation two children allowable under Earth's two-children policy, so Ender is the youngest of three, after his older brother Peter and his sister Valentine. Because thirds are not common, and are technically against the rules, Ender is tormented relentlessly for it by the kids at school, and even receives constant reminders about it from his parents who endure their own hardship for making the decision. But even though Ender is a third, he is the only one of the three Wiggin children that is accepted into the Battle School. He has been recognized as somewhat of a prodigy, and becomes one of the youngest kids admitted into the Battle School: a school made for training young children to serve in the military, and ultimately fight against the alien race that has twice fought against humanity. Ender enters the school when he is only six years old, but the teachers and leaders believe they have made the right decision. And if they are wrong, it could mean the end of the human race.

The Problem: It was bad enough when Ender was picked on at school. It was even worse that he was picked on and tortured at home by his older brother, Peter. But much to his frustration, it looks like he will be picked on in Battle School as well as he is immediately singled out as one of the best and brightest, and the other children resent him for it. Ender just wants to do well and make friends, and while he is allowed and encouraged to do well, making friends is never really an option. Just as he starts to get along with someone, the rules change or he is transferred to another group. The better he does, the more intent some students are to hurt him. And it doesn't look like the adults plan to ever step in and do anything about it, and are constantly hiding the truth from him. Meanwhile, Ender also fears that he does so well at the Battle School only because he is more like his sadistic brother Peter than he wants to be. Why is he so good at the games? Why is he so good at hurting others? And at what point do the games stop, and the real fighting begins.

Genre, Themes, History: This is a science fiction novel set in the not-so-distant future. Aliens, referred to mostly as "buggers" because of their insect-like appearance, have twice threatened the human race so that now much effort and resources are put into making sure that never happens again, even if it means taking children as young as six years old and making them into soldiers. It's pretty much war at its absolute worst. It's life under the constant threat of invasion, and what human beings are willing to do to remove that threat. But kids are almost bred for this as all three of the Wiggin children were monitored to see if they were even right for Battle School. In the end it was decided only Ender was up to the task. And the fact that he was even monitored a year longer than Peter becomes a sore spot for the older brother, making the teasing and torturing even worse. For the entire book, despite his best efforts, Ender is never really in control of his life. The book is like a crash-course in manipulation. But it is also like a case-study on gifted children and how their differences affect their lives, for better and for worse. There are many moments when Ender would prefer that he wasn't so special, but then again, he enjoys it, and he likes being the best, even if it means dealing with the isolation, and also the unwanted attention from everyone else.

My Verdict: It makes me sad that it took me so long to read this book, because now I doubt I will take the time to not only read the other four books in the Ender Saga, but also the many other books that make up the Ender's Game series. Seriously, there is a whole Enderverse out there that Card dreamed up. Fortunately for me, Ender's Game does just fine as a stand alone novel. Actually, it does more than just fine. The ending does not leave anything hanging, but it also doesn't just wrap everything in a neat little bow either. People die, people are manipulated, lives are changed, for better and for worse, and relationships are broken. And Ender himself will never be the same...actually, most of the people in this book, adults included, will never be the same. But even so, Card manages not to crush the reader's soul. There are plenty of tense moments, moments that show the evil that human beings (even kids) are capable of, but also some glimpses of kindness and hope that make anyone believe, even Ender, that we're not in fact all monsters.

Favorite Moment: I pretty much enjoyed it whenever Ender outsmarted someone, and that happens a lot. No matter what they threw at him to challenge him or push him, sometimes even to trip him up, he bested them every time.

Favorite Character: Ender does manage to make some friends in both Battle and Command School, one of which being Alai. He is one of the few people who remains a comfort to Ender throughout the book, even when they weren't in close proximity to each other. It is these types of friendships that will help Ender make it through.

Favorite Quote: From Dink, an older kid at the Battle School: "I know, you've been here a year, you think these people are normal. Well, they're not. We're not. I look in the library, I call up books on my desk. Old ones, because they won't let us have anything new, but I've got a pretty good idea what children are, an we're not children. Children can lose sometimes, and nobody cares. Children aren't in armies, they aren't commanders, they don't rule over forty other kids, it's more than anybody can take and not get crazy." 

Recommended Reading: I highly recommend Ernest Cline's Ready Player One. It also takes place in the not-so-distant future, but instead of fighting an alien race, Cline's characters are fighting a large corporation in an elaborate video game built around 1980's pop culture references. Yes, it is as awesome as it sounds.