Peter and the Starcatchers

Peter and the Starcatchers (Peter and the Starcatchers, #1)Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

What a creative retelling of Peter Pan! This book was compelling, exciting, and Peter felt like a real boy and not some magical creature.

To be honest, I’ve never read the original Peter Pan. My primary experience with Peter Pan is the Disney cartoon, though I’ve seen other Peter Pan related movies such as Hook (1991), Peter Pan (2003), and Finding Neverland (2004). So, I’m familiar with the various Peter Pan characters and what kinds of magical things happen around him.

Some could say, this is a story about how an orphaned boy named Peter became Peter Pan, but I’ll leave that the other reader’s discretion. I just know that the Peter in “Peter and the Starcatchers” came across as a real, adventuresome, curious, brave, and good-hearted boy who ends up doing great things.

The author uses all of the references of the original Peter Pan in fun ways. For example, Peter and his orphan friends (who turn out to be “the lost boys”) board a trade ship called “The Neverland” and there’s a substance called “starstuff” that makes people happy and also allows them to fly (how can you have a Peter Pan who doesn’t fly right?). There are savages, pirates, mermaids, a giant crocodile named Mr. Grin, and Smee – the pirate captain’s trusty sidekick.

I like the introduction of the “starstuff,” the concept is magical, fun, and gives the story a stirring adventure. We get a glimpse at how creatures like fairies, mermaids, and the lock ness monster were created in the world. When the starstuff was first introduced, I immediately thought about fairy dust and in the Disney Peter Pan version, there was a lot of emphasis on “happy thoughts” and flying. Was it the same? Apparently not, but I think the idea of the starstuff is a lot more exciting and ominous; it lends more scope to the imagination.

I highly recommend this story for young readers, especially those who enjoy Harry Potter. The story is written so well, that I think older readers would enjoy it too, but it will primarily satisfy the child in you.

I can’t wait to go through the next book in this series.

Fledgling

FledglingFledgling by Octavia E. Butler

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve always enjoyed Octavia Butler’s novels. I actually haven’t read very many, I read the “Lilith Brood” series when I was in high school. I just remember being struck by how uniquely creative the world that Ms Butler had created was. I also enjoy the distinctly “Black” perspective she portrays in her writing. I loved that because you didn’t really get that in many stories back when these novels were first published.

Anyway, I digress. I was intrigued to get the audio for Fledgling because of an article I read on flavorwire.com about “10 great science fiction books for people who don’t read sci-fi”and of all of her novels Fledgling was on this list. To be honest I was surprised by 2 things: 1) that the book wasn’t “Kindred” (a novel I’ve been wanting to read for a long time – the one she’s most famous for writing) and 2) Fledgling is a vampire novel.

I’m going to start off by saying that vampire novels don’t attract me in any way. I only read Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight because I was desperate to understand what all the hype was that made this woman an over night sensation. But, I had such fond memories of Octavia Butler’s story telling that I decided to give Fledgling a shot.

Let me tell you, I was not disappointed at all. I’m may not be the right person to say this since I don’t read vampire novels, but I really thought that Ms. Butler’s take on vampires was a very fresh one. These aren’t evil, kill-all-humanity vampires, but a race of people who are just trying to live in the world. They live in communes with “human symbionts.” These vampires have most of the attributes that we think about when we hear vampire, but they aren’t stereotypically violent or blood-thirsty.

We follow the main character, Shori, as she recovers from a tragic event and we learn as she does about what and who she is. We learn that the main character is different from other Vampire or Ina, as they call themselves.

What I liked most about the way this story was told is that I felt like I understood Shori every moment of her struggle to figure out who she was and I enjoyed the new take on what Vampires are and I like how Shori is a “genetic experiment.” It brought a different perspective that I enjoyed. I was sad when the book was over.

Thorn

ThornThorn by Intisar Khanani

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I first picked up this book because it was written by a college friend of mine. I was so excited to hear that she had published a book – a YA fantasy – that I simply had to support her in her endeavor to be a professional story-teller. I am so glad that I did because this really is a beautifully written novel.

This is a fairy tale inspired by a fairy tale. I’m not as familiar with the story of The Goose Girl as I am other stories such as Snow White or Sleeping Beauty, but I don’t really think it matters.

This story stands strongly by itself. It’s the story of a princess who doesn’t feel like a princess but who, by the end of the story, realizes that she is a true queen – at least in spirit if not in name. This is a story about arranged marriage, magic, justice, and the power of one’s true spirit. Princess Alyrra starts out as a girl who loathes courtly gossip and intrigue and wishes to be free of her prickly mother and hateful brother. The Menaiyan king comes seeking her hand in marriage for his son, Prince Kestrin.

You learn early that Alyrra is a gentile soul, who is very introverted, perceptive, and thoughtful; she’s aware of the intrigues that play out around her but she feels powerless to do anything about them. Bound by duty to her kingdom and her family she agrees to the arranged marriage.

The beginning of the book was slow for me. The danger of having the narrative in first person is that I became as apathetic as Alyrra about her situation. I liked her but was not sure whether or not I had the patience to get to the meat of the story. Though there was an interesting scene at the end of Chapter 3 with a sorceress, the threats of the scene didn’t linger long enough in Alyrra’s thoughts to maintain its impact. It wasn’t until Chapter 6, the second appearance of the sorceress, that the story really picked up and started to take shape for me.

I was happy I stuck with her story. Chapter 6 is where treachery truly hits Alyrra at full force and she is forced to switch bodies with Lady Valka, who is Alyrra’s enemy – though the reader doesn’t really understand why until later in the story. Suddenly, the princess physically becomes a lady in waiting and the lady physically becomes the princess. This is the point where Alyrra becomes Lady Thoreena, which eventually shortened to Thorn.

Alyrra’s transformation from princess to goose girl seemed natural, due to her demure personality, her desire to not participate in court life, and her wish to live a life that is her own. The most exciting aspect of the story was watching Alyrra grow and realize that she wants her position as princess back and fights for it.

By the end of the novel I was excited for how soft and yet strong Alyrra becomes. She is a heroine that I would like my future daughters to have as a role model. Alyrra’s not a swashbuckling heroine who gains physical fighting skills to defeat her foes, but a young woman who sharpens her unique strengths to overcome difficulties: her wits, her powers of speech, her kindness and warmth toward the people around her, and innate sense of justice. I was proud that she fought for her prince in her gentile yet strong manner, she trusted him to be a good person, and he too fought for the goodness in his own heart.

I found the end of the story quite powerful and neither Alyrra nor Kestrin walked away unscarred from their experience. My only disappointment was that I didn’t get my kiss at the end of the story, but there was a great bollywood moment where I was left feeling happy as if they had.

Portrait of a Spy

Portrait of a Spy (Gabriel Allon, #11)Portrait of a Spy by Daniel Silva

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think this is my first official “thriller and espionage” novel. I was first introduced to Daniel Silva by the members of one of my critique groups. Our group of three is one of my driving forces is getting my own story written and proofread. There is myself (the SF/fantasy writer), one who is a fantasy, nonfiction, and philosophy writer, and a mystery writer. They both had nothing by great things to say about Daniel Silva’s books and suggested that I read Portrait of a Spy.

I of course, ordered the audio immediately from the library (there are at least 3 YA novels that I’m trying to read the traditional way right now and it’s taking me a long time). The great thing about the audios is that I can listen to them all the time and I can get through them fairly quickly.

The great thing about Portrait of a Spy was, based off the glowing recommendation, I knew that my husband would enjoy it too. So, when my husband and I began to listening to the book when we’d make long drives in the car or instead of sitting and watching netflix we’d sit and listen to our audiobook. It amused me when my husband go so engrossed in the story that he was like “when can we listen next?”

One of the things I didn’t realize when I first ordered this book is that Portrait of a Spy is book #11 of his Gabriel Allon series. The great part is that it didn’t matter! We got just enough information about all the character that it didn’t matter that neither of us had ever read any of these books before. The great thing too, is that since these books are thrillers and not mysteries, if we go back and read the preceding books, it doesn’t matter.

Terrorism is a very touchy subject and I felt that this book handled the subject quite deftly. You get perspectives of extremism and you also get moderate views. Though the characters don’t always justify their reasons there are those who have very high tolerance and those who have very low tolerance for terrorists and varying view on how to deal with/respond to them. I learned a lot about how certain terrorist acts are handled these days. I really liked the explanation of the terrorist attach at the beginning of the book and why the authorities took the actions they did. You could tell that the author did his research to justify what happened.

The story was complicated and I was excited to learn about all the twists and turns that it took. I loved the hidden jabs that the book took on the US government because a great part of me tends to also have a very jaded view of how bureaucratic our government is. I have some personal experience with that, so I enjoyed many of the subtle and not so subtle jabs.

I found the initial chapter a little slow, but I understood that I was learning about the main characters and what they were all about, so I didn’t mind too much. I think my favorite part about the book was the depth of Gabriel Allon. I found him to be a strikingly complicated character and loved how the author described Allon’s thought processes and rationals. Though I think many people may think of Allon as being too idealistic as a spy, but I actually know people who think as complicated and as quickly as this character does, so I found it very real.

I also enjoyed the character of Nadia al Bakari. She too was a complicated character with divided loyalties. (She’s the heroic Arab character of the story.) You get a glimpse of female Saudi life through her perspective and receive her views on terrorism and Islam and her beliefs that they are not one in the same. She is a powerful, courageous character who does what she can for her people.

I’m not much into giving summaries of stories and in this case it probably wouldn’t really hurt to do so, but I hope I’ve intrigued you enough to consider reading this well written book yourself.

Enjoy!