Pendragon: “The Soldiers of Halla”

“The Solders of Halla”

by D.J. MacHale

3 *** = Good, may not be for everyone

Bobby Pendragon and I have been through a lot together. We’ve run many miles together, baked many cookies, oh, and fought the evil demon traveler Saint Dane.

Bobby has kept me company through hundreds of miles of the I-5 corridor, and I’ve cheered him along as he’s toiled to save the universe, or “Halla” as he calls it.

I’ve spent more time with Bobby than almost any other fictional character: ten audio books -136 hours to be exact. (Yes, I do have relationships with real people too.)

Bobby and I need a break.

The Pendragon series is every fantasy geek’s dream. There’s a little Star Wars. There’s some Harry Potter. There’s a little more Back to the Future. And, there’s a lot of Lost. A LOT OF LOST. (There’s even a polar bear. I kid you not.)

When I picked up book ten, “The Soldiers of Halla,” from the library, I felt very similarly to the way I felt when I started the last season of “Lost.” My thoughts exactly? This had better be worth it.

It was.

Let me explain a couple of things. The Pendragon series is long and wild. It follows Bobby as he bounces around ten different worlds, or territories, along with his fellow “travelers,” attempting to stop the villainous Saint Dane from manipulating history for his own personal gain.

Author D.J. MacHale lets very little on about the underscoring theme of the series until book nine, “The Raven Rise.” Up to that point, it had mostly been children’s adventure books. In the final two books, things get way more spacey and spiritual. Let’s just say it didn’t go where I thought it’d go.

“The Soldiers of Halla” is Bobby’s final journal documenting the travelers’ final stand against Saint Dane. It’s a lot of action with an ending that was way better than I had anticipated. The more I think about it, the more beautiful it seems.

And, unlike “Lost,” it answered all my questions. Take that, J.J. Abrams.

If you’ve read the first nine books of the series, I don’t think I need to convince you to finish. However, if you haven’t started the series, allow me to make some recommendations.

It’s a good series. Really. But it’s long. Really. I think that the only reason I hung in there was because I was listening to the audio books. I barely made it past the first book because I wasn’t a huge fan of the narrator. Let’s just say his “girl voice” is kind of annoying. It’s for that reason that I’m not holding one of the main characters, Courtney Chetwynde, against the author. Yeah, her personality isn’t my favorite, but I think it’s her voice that drives me crazy.

All of the books are written primarily as part of Bobby’s journal. And although Bobby is pegged to be one of the “cool kids,” he’s actually a cornball. Sometimes, I would snort with laughter over some of the dialogue. It was kind of hard picturing many of the conversations occurring in real life.

I think these books are mostly for middle school kids, professionals with long commutes, or bored runners. (I’m 2 out of 3, so it worked out).

If you’re one of the above, then read on, and “Hobey-ho.” You’ll get that later.

Trying to read out of my Paranormal Romance Comfort Zone: The Scorpio Races & Worldshaker

So in my attempt to broaden my reading horizons, this new year,  I decided to read some novels that were not Paranormal romances.  My first attempt at this goal was:

The Scorpio Races

By Maggie Stiefvater

2 ** = Overall not recommended; there were some highlights, but nothing to write home about

I hate to be negative about reviews, this book has had some glowing reviews.  That was a big reason I was willing to give this author, Maggie Stiefvater, another try.  I read her Shiver series and was torn up about the way she ended it.  So with all the glowing reviews, I thought this may be what I needed to step out of my comfort zone.

This is a story that has a really interesting lore about water horses woven into it.  The world is very magical and walks such a fine line between the real and magical world that I was really intrigued.  The draw back was the very dangerous part the water horses play in our characters lives.  We meet Sean Kendrick and Puck Connolly, both who have been touched tragically by these water horses.  Although, the writing style and the magical lore of these horses are really lovely, I was struck by the tragic events that happen and continue happening, in these two young lives.  (I must warn you all, I tend to lean towards happily ever afters or magical worlds.  I do not enjoy real life, tragic or end of the world fiction.  I read for an escape, so I am careful in my book choices.)  The romance in this is very real and sweet, but Ms. Stiefvater did it again, gave me an open ended ending.  Ugh.

Overall, this book was ok, FOR ME.  I am sure others who don’t mind the violence and sadness will love it.  If you like an open ended ending, then you will love this book.  Not sure if I will read any more of this author’s books, unless I  know the ending is a bit more definite.

The next book I attempted after the sad and unsatisfying first attempt was:

Worldshaker

By Richard Harland

2 ** = Overall not recommended; there were some highlights, but nothing to write home about

I thought this would fit more into the adventure books I have read in the past.  All the reviews were throwing around mentions of steampunk and romance.  OH my was this book wrong for me.  Col lives on the upper decks of this Juggernaut, which is a huge ship that even goes over land.  Living on the upper decks signifies his rank in the society of the Worldshaker!  He then, by chance, meets a filthy named Riff, she lives on the very bottom decks.  This chance meeting begins  to unravel all the beliefs he has had about the society he lives in and will soon be Supreme Commander of.

I felt this book to be less about adventure and more of a commentary on classes and the way people view others in society.  The romance was very light and although the world was very rich, it was very sad.  Way too heavy for me to be enjoyable.

So, I am on a break from my goal and have purchased a very satisfying Paranormal romance!  He He!  I will attempt another DEEP book later this month!

Let me know if you have some suggestions!  Remember, I need fiction!  Escape, adventure & maybe a little romance.  Just not Paranormal romance.  🙂

The Maze Runner Trilogy

This book is best accompanied by a 20 oz. latte (with whip cream, of course) and a muffin - as are all books. Also note the "Pendragon" book in the background. To be reviewed soon. Eeeek.

The Maze Runner Trilogy (“The Maze Runner,” “The Scorch Trials,” and “The Death Cure”)

By James Dashner

4 **** (almost 5)  = Can recommend; Great; Overall enjoyable

I may be a bad friend.

For Christmas, I gave my buddy, Erin, the first book in “The Maze Runner” trilogy (also called “The Maze Runner”). I had just finished the trilogy and was anxious to spread the wealth of yet another series set in a dystopian future with political undertones.

To be honest, they reminded me of “The Hunger Games,” minus an ending that sent me into a 2-week blue funk.

However, I have been receiving texts like this ever since:

“I’ve spent the last five minutes trying to talk myself into getting out of bed and walk up to my dark bathroom. I’m too scared of grievers.”

And this:

“Oh my gosh. I just read the part about Ben and the graveyard. I am never leaving my bed.”

I had kind of forgotten that the book was a little scary. I had forgotten that there are violent, mechanical monsters (grievers) that sting their fleeing victims, sending them into insanity. I had forgotten that there was quite a lot of death and chaos. I had also forgotten that I had let Gaby borrow this book a year ago, then urgently told her NOT to read it after I finished the second installment, “The Scorch Trials.” I don’t think she would have appreciated the death and despair.

Now I remember.

I just finished reading the last book in the trilogy, “The Death Cure,” but seeing as we haven’t reviewed the first two books, I thought I’d review the trilogy as a whole.

Here’s the set up:

Thomas wakes up in a box with no memory and only the knowledge of his first name. This box ends up being a lift that transports him into the Glade, an expanse that turns out to be the center of a huge shifting maze, inhabited by a group of teenage boys who at one time all found themselves in the same situation as Thomas.

This “Lord of the Flies” community is spied on by little bugs with the word “WICKED” engraved on their back and haunted by grievers who roam the maze.

When Theresa, the first girl ever to arrive in the Glade, shows up with the message “WICKED is good,” the desperate plans to escape the maze begin, as does the investigation to discover exactly what WICKED is and why Thomas and the other boys ended up in the Glade fighting for survival.

The trilogy follows Thomas on this journey. Throw in some telepathic communication abilities, a fast-spreading epidemic that leads to insanity and death, and a mysterious company that seems to be behind it all, and you basically have the Maze Runner trilogy.

James Dashner did a masterful job at writing characters that are easy to root far, as well as some that give you the heebie-jeebies. Each chapter seems to end with a cliff-hanger, making it incredibly difficult to put the book down.

But, my favorite aspect of the trilogy is that at the end of the very last book, I felt so satisfied. In my mind, the ending was right. I didn’t feel like I had wasted my time reading into the wee hours of the night, allowing myself to get emotionally invested in fictional characters.

I would highly recommend this series. Now, let’s be clear. This series is incredibly intense and does contain characters and situations that are fairly disturbing. If you’re particularly sensitive to those things, I’d pass this trilogy up. That’s why I didn’t give the trilogy five stars. It’s not for everybody. I think Erin will be fine. Gaby, I’m not so sure.

I also found out that this was on our local high school’s reading list. It’s probably okay for 17 or 18 years olds, but I wouldn’t hand it to anyone younger. There’s no sex or language (although they do have made up swear words that the Gladers developed that are tossed around freely), but in my opinion, the books are too intense and potentially troubling for kids.

“The Hunchback Assignments” by Arthur Slade

“The Hunchback Assignments”

By Arthur Slade

4**** = Can recommend; Great; Overall enjoyable

I had two plans for this weekend: read and watch the Broncos vs. Patriots game. Not at the same time of course. I wouldn’t do that.

However, three minutes into the third quarter, this is what happened.

I started to read. The game was just too painful.

I’m not ready to talk about it. Let me just say that TEBOW HAD NO PROTECTION FROM HIS OFFENSIVE LINE! There. I’m feeling better already.

The good news is that I finished my book, and unlike the Broncos defense, it was solid. (I’m done now. Promise.)

I picked up “The Hunchback Assignments” by Arthur Slade randomly last week at the library. I was bored and feeling risky.

The book is loosely, and I mean loosely based on “The Hunchback of Notre Dame” by Victor Hugo. Okay, so I haven’t exactly read Hugo’s classic, but I did read the Wikipedia synopsis, and I have seen the Disney movie. So, I’m basically an expert now.

The book is set in late 1800s England and follows Modo – a shape-shifting hunchback who is raised in seclusion until he’s 14. At that point, Modo enters London and begins investigating several disappearances of prominent members of society.

Slade writes some pretty intriguing characters. I love Modo. My heart breaks for Modo as he tries to accept his deformity and earn the love of the mysterious Mr. Socrates, the man who adopted him as an infant and coldly raised him to be his agent. There also is Octavia Milkweek, another young agent who accompanies Modo on much of his investigation, but is kept from his true identity due to his shape-shifting abilities. I’m sure you can see the potential of a complicated romance brewing.

And then there’s Tharpa and Mrs. Finchley, the only two people who have truly accepted Modo as he is. Oh, and there are some pretty gnarly villains too.

The book is easy to read and moves quickly through the plot. I love that. It doesn’t feel like a single page is wasted.

“The Hunchback Assignments” is only book one of three, and there’s much to be determined in ensuing books. I’m hoping Slade will reveal even more about his mysterious characters, particularly Mr. Socrates and the villains, Miss Hakkandottir and Dr. Hyde who seem to value scientific advancement at the expense of human life.

I’m pretty anxious to pick up book two from the library. I actually was going to get it today after church, but I’m snowed in. And when I say snowed in, I mean there’s maybe an inch of fresh snow on the ground. Welcome to Washington.