Posts Tagged ‘readalong’

Introducing the Finnbranch Readalong

Howdy, Squiders! Let’s do a readalong, since it’s been a while. I’ve scoured my book shelves for series of the appropriate genres (which also aren’t massive) and have found Paul Hazel’s Finnbranch trilogy (Yearwood, Undersea, and Winterking) from the early ’80s. (I have a omnibus of all three from the later ’80s.)

I’ve never read it, but I’m pretty sure somebody bought this for me off my Amazon wishlist, so I must have had it recommended to me somewhere, or read something about it and thought it sounded like a good time.

Interestingly, it seems like while the trilogy was well-received back in the day, the reviews on Goodreads are all over the place. If nothing else, it should be an interesting look at how storytelling changes through generations, as I’ve previously noted somewhere in the archives that there’s a pretty obvious change in the fantasy genre in the ’80s. I wonder where this trilogy will fall on it?

Let’s do one book a month, since that seems to work the best for everyone who wants to read along being able to do so. So let’s read Yearwood by June 15th. And if you have any thoughts on this or potential future readalongs, please let me know, either in the comments or by contacting me directly.

Happy reading, squiders!

The Adventures of Kate Readalong: The Merlin Effect

Well, Squiders, here we are at the end of the “trilogy.” What I find most interesting about The Adventures of Kate is that, aside from Kate, the books are completely unrelated. There are no overlapping characters or locations. I suppose T.A. Barron could have gone on forever in this vein, though Kate would have probably eventually run out of adult relatives to take her exotic places or show her exotic things.

So, The Merlin Effect. Originally published in 1994. Kate states at the beginning that she’s 13 now; I feel like she’s also 13 in Heartlight. I flipped through the beginning of Heartlight again to check but couldn’t find a mention of her age, but if so it’s been a rather eventful year. Traveling through space on the back of a giant butterfly, traveling back in time to protect an ancient forest, and now hanging out with Merlin at the bottom of the ocean.

I place The Merlin Effect between The Ancient One and Heartlight in terms of my own likes. I felt a little more tired of the whole Arthur legend thing this time around, but I think that’s me being burned out on it in general. Still, this is a very different take on the whole thing.

Right, let’s gather our thoughts. In this book, Kate has accompanied her father to Mexico while he searches for the remains of a legendary shipwreck. Her father is a historian with a particular interest in Arthurian legend and Merlin in particular. (T.A. Barron went on to write several novels about Merlin, so I suppose this was a topic of particular interest for him.) He believes that this shipwreck may contain one of Merlin’s treasures, a horn of great, though unknown, power, and that by finding said treasure he can prove that Merlin really existed.

However, there’s a giant whirlpool in the general area of where the ship–if it ever existed–went down, which complicates things, as does strange volcanic activity that another scientist staying at their camp is studying. A third scientist is studying a type of fish believed to be previously extinct, but which seems to be given eternal life here in the region by the whirlpool.

Merlin and Arthurian legend is prevalent throughout, though it is interesting to see it mixed with new elements with the shipwreck and the whirlpool.

Anyway, I mostly enjoyed the book, though the last few chapters leapt point of views a ton in completely unnecessary ways, in my opinion, and the question as to whether or not Terry is still alive is never answered. I don’t know if we were getting set up for another book which never happened–though even if there had been more Kate books, it seems like they would have been completely unrelated–or that particular subplot was just deemed too unimportant to bother wrapping up. But it feels weird that it was just left hanging.

Have you read along with me, Squiders? What did you think of The Merlin Effect or the Adventures of Kate in general? I feel like the books have held up pretty decently over the past 20 years, which is, of course, always the danger of revisiting something you enjoyed in your youth.

Most of T.A. Barron’s books are middle grade, mythology-based series, so if that sort of thing floats your boat you might want to check out the rest of his stuff. I read the first few books of his Merlin series before I dropped it, though at this point I can’t remember if I got bored or simply aged out of the intended demographic. It looks like he’s moved on to Atlantis as well.

The Adventures of Kate Readalong: Heartlight

Right, as promised, here we go, Squiders!

I found this to be an easy read (I read it in bits over three days) but it also rubbed me wrong a lot of times. Let’s get into it, shall we?

First off, I want to say that my cover is thoroughly ridiculous. I have the Tor July 1994 edition (the book was published in 1990), and it features a giant floating head of whom I suppose is Kate’s grandfather, through the age lines look unnatural, hovering over a yellow galaxy, with Kate (looking too old) holding a blue butterfly about the size of a toaster. I know covers really don’t matter in the long run, but I don’t know that I would have picked this book up based on that. Also, the back cover copy is wrong, plotwise, which–what?

Anyway, on to the book itself. Did you guys read this too? How similar in tone to A Wrinkle in Time would you say it is? I would say, tonewise, the two books are near identical. Both feature a reluctant young female protagonist whose sole purpose for being on an adventure is to save a family member, both feature formless evil entities, and both mix metaphysics into the general mix.

As a general summary, Kate and her grandfather are near inseparable. Grandfather (as he is referred to throughout the book, even when it’s in his own point of view) is an astrophysicist who has been studying something he calls pure condensed light (or PCL). PCL is the secret to how stars work, and also to faster-than-light travel. When he discovers that the sun’s PCL levels are plummeting at a rate that gives it only a short time to live, he springs into action, using PCL to jet about the galaxy in an attempt to find answers before it’s too late. It’s a bit more complex than that, but that’s the general gist. Kate discovers him gone and goes after him.

I’m not sure this book counts so much as an “Adventure of Kate” so much as a ‘Kate bounces about and screams for help a lot’ sort. I mean, she does eventually gain agency and is useful, and we can’t all be Katniss Everdeen, but I just wish her first predilection wasn’t to panic.

There is also a lot of head-hopping, which bothers me in general. You know, avoiding head-hopping is one of the first thing “they” teach you as a writer, yet the amount of it that gets into published books…

Anyway! This has always been my least favorite of the trilogy, and it still is. It reads vaguely first novel-y (and probably is), and even with the high concept astrophysics/metaphysics, still comes across a little simplistic. I mean, it is a middle grade novel, but I guess I’m just a little spoiled. There are some things that are a little convenient (everyone can communicate with no language barriers), but whether or not that bothers you probably depends on your level of suspension of disbelief.

I also feel like the novel ends on a weird note, which I’ve seen before with scifi (though I would not necessarily deem this true scifi), where the author feels they need to be unnecessarily weird and/or metaphorical. I can’t fault that too much–it’s a genre convention. Some people probably like it.

So! TL;DR–not my favorite. Not sure I would recommend it to people who haven’t read it. As I mentioned in the intro post for the readalong, I came in at The Ancient One and read the rest of the books based on the strength of that one.

Speaking of The Ancient One, that’s up next. It’s a longer book (~500 pages IIRC) so give yourself time if you’re following along. We’ll discuss on July 28, to give us an even month. I’m excited–as I said before, this was a formative book for me, so it will be interesting to see how it holds up under the test of time.

Read the book, Squiders? What were your thoughts?

Announcing The Adventures of Kate Readalong

A lot of reading posts this week, Squiders. But hey, I figured you wanted some variety after hearing me talk about City of Hope and Ruin for months on end! (Speaking of which, you should go enter the giveaway on Goodreads.)

We haven’t done a readalong in a while, so let’s! This time we’re going to do a trilogy of books by T.A. Barron, referred to as either The Adventures of Kate or the Heartlight Saga. It’s not a trilogy trilogy–the books have the same main character (Kate) but the events do not directly follow from book to book.

The second book, The Ancient One, was assigned as part of a school project when I was in seventh grade. Each year my middle school would host a local author, and we would all read at least one of their books before the visit. The Ancient One was a formative book for me, but I haven’t revisited it since middle school, so I’m interested to see how it withstands the test of time.

(Eighth grade was Will Hobbs, and I was very thoroughly over Will Hobbs and the entire boy-gets-lost-in-wilderness-and-has-to-survive genre by then, so that was less enjoyable.)

Kate’s adventures are YA/MG scifi-y/fantasy-ish somewhat in the vein of A Wrinkle in Time.

Anyway, I’m excited, and I hope you come along with me! I’m really hoping the books hold up. T.A. Barron was a favorite author of mine in my early teens, between these books and his Young Merlin series. The three books in the series are Heartlight, The Ancient One, and The Merlin Effect. We’ll read Heartlight for June, so let’s say we’ll do the discussion on…June 28.

See you then! Have a lovely weekend, Squiders!

The Future of the Readalongs

If you’ve been with me for a while, Squiders, you know that I have traditionally done a readalong or two a year (depending on series length). The last one we did was The Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, which wrapped up mid-2014.

We’ve previously done Harry Potter, the Time Quintet (A Wrinkle in Time, etc.), the Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and the Howl’s Moving Castle books (which probably have an actual series name, but I don’t know what it is).

I’d like to do another one, but I find myself at a loss as to what to do. I’ve been focusing on more “classic” series with the idea that other people would either want to read them also or would already be familiar with them, so we could discuss them as we went. But I can’t think of another one I want to do. Narnia would be an obviously choice, but I don’t feel like re-reading it. The Oz books, though it’s harder to find some of the later books in the series. (Also, I’ve been reading The Wizard of Oz to my eldest, and man, the description can really drag.) The Lord of the Rings, maybe, though I just read The Hobbit and have read LOTR enough times that I can probably quote bits of it in my sleep.

(Plus I’d have to get through the part in the Old Forest again, oy.)

Maybe a newer series? But is there one that has been enough of a cultural force that most genre readers will have at least heard of it? I don’t want to touch a series of BFFN (big fat fantasy novels) like Game of Thrones or Wheel of Time, at least not for the readalong. I’d like to be able to guarantee I’d be able to get through a book on a reasonable time frame.

I’ve been reading some promising fantasy series, but they’re all ongoing and I’d prefer to do a complete series for the readalong.

I do like the readalongs and I’d like to keep doing them–I feel like they’re interesting from a learning standpoint, to see how authors continue story and character arcs across a series, as well as in individual books.

So, any suggestions? Anything you’d like some company reading through? I’d prefer something scifi or fantasy-related, if at all possible.

Otherwise, read anything decent lately? I’ve got the second book in the Tearling series out from the library right now and I’m looking forward to jumping into it.

Foundation Trilogy Readalong: Second Foundation

I know we’re a bit late on this one–Japan in the middle was a bit distracting–but to be perfectly honest I felt my attention wandering pretty bad on this one.

Like Foundation and EmpireSecond Foundation consists of two parts, the first taking place a mere five years after the conclusion of the last part of F&E. The Second Foundation (the entity, not the book) has come to the forefront, with everyone obsessed with discovering its location. This book also gives us sections from unknown Second Foundationers throughout as they work to counteract first the Mule, and later the First Foundation, in their efforts.

I think part of why I had a hard time staying connected is that I thought it was a little obvious, especially in the second story, where the Second Foundation was (and, later on, who the First Speaker was) and then I was generally a little annoyed at the red herrings deployed in the later part of the book.

We’ve got a female main character for the second part again, but it’s not as satisfying because the other characters don’t treat her terribly well (she’s only 14) and Asimov himself invalidates everything she does later on. That’s a person pet peeve of mine–I dislike ineffective main characters, even if they make sense from a plot perspective.

The whole series is a bit interesting from the standpoint of the fact that it seems like Asimov didn’t really plan the whole thing out, and just added things as they made sense as he went along. I swear the Second Foundation was not mentioned in the first book.

From a plot standpoint, I don’t understand why the First Foundation sees the Second Foundation to be such a threat, to the point where they feel that the Second Foundation has to be destroyed. In theory, both foundations are necessary for the completion of the Seldon Plan. Sure, the Mule throws the whole thing off, but I don’t understand why the First Foundation feels so threatened, and why they don’t want to work with the Second Foundation to fix things.

As we come to the end of this readalong, I’d have to say I found the books interesting but not really…hm. They didn’t hit any of my sweet spots. I don’t think I’d recommend them to someone else. At this point, I don’t think I would read the later books, though I do admit that I am a bit curious about how it all turns out.

Well, Squiders, what’s your opinion of Second Foundation and/or the trilogy as a whole? What was your favorite book? (Mine was Foundation.) Anything else to note before we move on?

Not sure what I want to do for the next readalong, so if you have suggestions, let me know.

The Foundation Trilogy Readalong: Foundation and Empire

Moving on in our Foundation readalong, today we’re going to discuss the second book, Foundation and Empire. Last time, with Foundation, I speculated about how Asimov had written the book, and the answer was given to me in a forward that Asimov wrote in my edition of this book. (I have the 1983 version, which has some truly horrific front cover art.)

And essentially, Asimov says that the entire original trilogy was made up of (increasingly longer) short stories, originally published in magazines, which is probably why it reads like it does. Foundation had four stories; Foundation and Empire has two.

And someone remind me–was the Second Foundation mentioned at all in the first book? I feel like it’s suddenly become a fairly major plot point out of nowhere.

So, Foundation and Empire is made up of two distinct stories, two distinct crises. For those who are reading this but not reading along, the basic plot here is that the Galactic Empire was falling apart, and Hari Seldon, who was a psychohistorian (and I am taking an online psychology course, and the professor said something about psychohistory and I did a double-take), uses math to predict the course of human society and to come up with a plan to lower the dark ages between empires from 30,000 years to 1,000 years. And so he engineers a Foundation, which will manage this, though purely through Seldon’s manipulations and predictions.

The first book covers the founding of the Foundation, as well as the first three “Seldon crises.” Society automatically changes so that the Foundation endures and grows in power, according to Seldon’s predictions.

The first half of Foundation and Empire focuses on the fourth Seldon crisis. I found this one a little unsatisfying, honestly, because in previous stories the viewpoint characters were directly working to change society so that the Foundation survived the crisis. The viewpoint character here, though he tries, accomplishes nothing, and the crisis is automatically resolved without him. The only thing that seems to be of note is that this is a direct confrontation between the remains of the Empire and the Foundation. (Hence the name of the book, I assume.)

The second half is more interesting. An external crisis, one that Seldon didn’t account for in his calculations, ruins the whole thing. The Foundation falls. The Empire falls. It sets up nicely for the third book, and I’m interested to see what the Second Foundation is like.

Also of note, in the discussion for Foundation, Ian brought up how sexist the book was. And he was absolutely right. The first book has exactly two women in it, both of who are easily distracted by fashion. In the second half of Foundation and Empire, one of the main viewpoint characters–the most main, I would say–is a woman. And while there are the occasional throw-away comments that kind of made my eye twitch, she’s actually presented quite well, considering the time period (late ’40s for the original short story publication). In fact, she figures out the plot twist, saves the entire thing, and is probably the strongest character in that part of the book. So good on you, Mr. Asimov.

Reading along, Squiders? What did you think of the book? How did Bayta’s characterization strike you?

Discussion for Second Foundation will go up in early May.