Book Wizard: Science Fiction Books 5-8

About

This exciting genre of books focuses on speculations on science or technology. They may be set far in the future or perhaps in some advanced alternate reality. The plot may revolve around the use of high-tech tools or techniques to solve the problem. Or the book may be scientific speculation on the results of some event.





“The Other Side of the Island,” by Allegra Goodman

In this exciting science fiction fantasy the world environment has been ruined. The ocean has risen, wiping out whole continents and leaving small islands for people to live on.

Young Honor and her family live on island 365, a place where The Corporation controls everything, and those who don't submit are turned into human robot slaves.


“Found,” by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Thirteen years ago an unscheduled plane pulled up at the jetway of Sky Trails Air. Airport workers discovered that the plane was full of crying infants, and yet there were no pilots or crew on board. Once the babies were removed the plane disappeared without a trace. Now, thirteen years later, these children are teenagers, living with adoptive parents. Little do the teens know, but they will soon have to face their strange past again.


“Code Orange,” by Caroline B. Cooney

It starts as a simple science project. Mitty has to write a research paper about an infectious disease. His chosen topic is smallpox.

But in one of his old research books Mitty finds an envelope full of smallpox scabs. He opens it, not realizing that he may be exposing himself to a deadly disease that killed hundreds of thousands of people in the past. Suddenly Mitty finds his science project to be considerably more exciting than he had originally thought.


“A Swiftly Tilting Planet” by Madeline L’Engle

In this unusual science fiction fantasy story young genius Charles Murray travels back in time to prevent a nuclear disaster from destroying the Earth.

In the process he explores the deeply rooted struggle between good and evil. He must travel thousands of years back in time to correct numerous hatreds and evils with the power of love. And if he doesn't do it correctly, then there may be no future to return to.



Inkweaver Review 2009-04-30T14:53:00-05:00

“Jellicoe Road,” by Melina Marchetta

Book Cover Art for Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta“Jellicoe Road,” by Melina Marchetta is a very unusual book about the parallels between the lives of two groups of children, and the effect that their decisions and the unique place called Jellicoe Road has on them. The complex social interactions, foreshadowing, and strange clues in the story makes the it slightly difficult to understand, especially at first, but it gives the novel a powerful effect.

The main character is Taylor Markham, a seventeen year old girl who was abandoned by her mother at a gas station on Jellicoe Road when she was eleven. Fortunately she was found by a family friend named Hannah and taken to live at Jellicoe School, a selective state run school for clever children with troubled pasts.

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Review of "Jellicoe Road" by Melina Marchetta
Inkweaver Review 2009-04-29T14:11:00-05:00

“The Other Side of the Island,” by Allegra Goodman

Book Cover Art for The Other Side of the Island by Allegra Goodman“The Other Side of the Island,” by Allegra Goodman is a dystopian style science fiction novel about a girl living in a future time when humans have started enclosing areas of the Earth as a way of dealing with the ruined environment.

Honor and her family have always been slightly eccentric. Although they live on Island 365 in the Tranquil Sea, Honor can sometimes remember a time when they lived somewhere else: somewhere where it snowed and the islands were not enclosed, but open to the sky.

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Review of "The Other Side of the Island" by Allegra Goodman
Inkweaver Review 2009-04-28T12:23:00-05:00

Interview with Author Susan Beth Pfeffer

About Susan Beth Pfeffer
Picture of author Susan Beth Pfeffer
Born in New York City, and raised on Long Island, Susan Beth Pfeffer moved to Middletown, NY immediately following the publicaton of her first children's book, Just Morgan, and continued to live there as she wrote another 74 books for kids and teens.

Among her many titles are Kid Power (winner of the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award and the Sequoyah Children's Book Award), About David (winner of the South Carolina Young Adult Book Award), The Year Without Michael (also winner of the South Carolina Young Adult Book Award and selected as one of the American Library Association 100 best books for young adults published in a 25 year period), and the popular Portraits Of Little Women series.

In the winter of 2005, having nothing better to do, Susan wrote the manuscript that became her 74th book, Life As We Knew It. After 40 years, she became an overnight sensation. Life As We Knew It was her first New York Times best selling title. It was named the young adult selection for One Book New Jersey 2009, and won the 2009 Garden State Teen Book Award. It is also the first winner of the Truman Readers Award.

Following the success of Life As We Knew It, Susan has written a companion novel, The Dead And The Gone, writing about the same natural catastrophe that is the backdrop for the first book, while focusing on completely different characters. The third book of the trilogy, and Susan's 76th title, This World We Live In, is scheduled for publication in spring of 2010.

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Interview with Author Susan Beth Pfeffer
Inkweaver Review 2009-04-27T09:04:00-05:00

“Found,” by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Book Cover Art for Found by Margaret Peterson Haddix“Found,” by Margaret Peterson Haddix is book one of “The Missing” series, a science fiction fantasy about a group of children who discover that they have been stolen from various time periods using advanced time travel technology.


Thirteen years ago a plane full of infants landed at jetway of Sky Trails Air. There was no pilot of flight crew on board, and after the babies were removed from the plane it disappeared. Careful scrutiny of the flight records indicated that the plane had never landed. Even the radar records show nothing at all.
The FBI quickly hushed up this strange occurrence, and now those infants have grown to be teenagers. Soon after the incident that were given birth certificates and carefully injected into adoption systems across the country. The children know nothing about their past. In fact, some of them don’t even know that they are adopted orphans.
But now, thirteen years later, the children will have to face the past again. Soon after Jonah meets his new friend Chip both boys receive a strange pair of messages. The first says “You are one of the missing.” The second says “Beware! They’re coming back to get you.”
Jonah and Chip are intrigued, and quite frightened but they start investigating their past. Soon they uncover secretive FBI records, and strange hints and clues from people who witnessed the incident thirteen years ago.
And then Jonah and Chip find a list of the children who were on the plane. Every single one of them is now living in the same area. All of them have moved recently, for a variety of different reasons. But one thing is clear. The children are being gathered together for some important reason.
“Found,” by Margaret Peterson Haddix is a very exciting start to a novel series that I feel has real potential. As in her other novels Haddix mixes high-tech science into the story line while keeping the characters personable and realistic. The time travel aspects of “Found” are interesting, though not as developed as in some other science fiction novels that I have enjoyed. However, the action and character relationships are very well choreographed, and this makes up for any obscurities that the time travel theories may introduce.
“Found” is an exciting book that I’m sure all young readers will enjoy reading.




Inkweaver Review 2009-04-27T08:31:00-05:00

“Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls,” by Lynne Jonell

Book Cover Art for Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls by Lynne Jonell“Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls,” by Lynne Jonell is a delightful book about a young girl named Emmy and her adventures with a group of intelligent rats that have mysterious powers. This book is the second in a series that began with “Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat.”

When Emmy first met Raston, he was a sulky and obnoxious classroom pet that liked to bite. But the first time Emmy was bitten by Raston she discovered an amazing thing about Raston: people who are bit by the rat can understand Rat speech.

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Review of "Emmy and the Home for Troubled Girls," by Lynne Jonell.
Inkweaver Review 2009-04-26T14:36:00-05:00

“The Tale of the Swamp Rat,” by Carter Crocker

“The Tale of the Swamp Rat,” by Carter Crocker is a novel about a young rat born during a drought that threatens life in his swamp.

Book Cover Art for The Tale of the Swamp Rat by Carter CrockerWhen Ossie was born his parents and siblings immediately noticed that he was a little different. Not only was Ossie, “not much for talking,” but he also seemed to daydream a lot. But when Ossie's family is eaten by the feared rattlesnake Mr. Took, Ossie is the only one to escape. Alone and afraid, Ossie quickly discovers that in the real world life is dangerous for a young rat.

But then Ossie meets Uncle Will, an age old alligator that seems to have been around as long as the swamp itself. Uncle Will starts watching over Ossie, and soon this unlikely pair are exploring the swamp, with Ossie riding on the old alligator's back.

But troubling times are ahead in the swamp, because a drought has arrived, and the waters of the swamp are slowly drying up. With less and less water to go around the swamp creatures are getting more and more cantankerous. When a shifty stork named Prophet Bubba claims that he can explain why the swamp is drying up, the swamp animals are eager to listen. But Uncle Will and Ossie know that this self proclaimed prophet has his own agenda. First he says that all birds must stop flying because their beating winds are blowing away the clouds. Then Prophet Bubba claims that the swamp is drying up because the mud turtles are digging their burrows too deep and letting the water out. Needless to say, none of Prophet Bubba's solutions work, but the gullible creatures of the swamp all believe him. But then Prophet Bubba says the drought is Ossie's fault.

Carter Crocker has done a great job in writing “The Tale of the Swamp Rat.” The storyline is carefully developed, flowing as smoothly as swamp water itself. The story is told in a unique voice that captures the very essence of the swamp. The animal characters in “The Tale of the Swamp Rat” are beautifully rendered. From the small lovable creatures like Ossie and his young friends, to the evil animals like Mr. Took and Prophet Bubba, Carter Crocker breathes life into his creations with great care. I feel that all young people will enjoy reading “The Tale of the Swamp Rat.”

Inkweaver Book Rating:

Plot

Characters

Presentation

★★★★Overall

Inkweaver Review 2009-04-25T11:00:00-05:00

“Virus Hunter” by C. J. Peters

“Virus Hunter” by C. J. Peters is a thrilling autobiography about its author’s thirty year career fighting dangerous viruses around the world. The book was coauthored by Mark Olshaker.Book Cover Art for Virus Hunter by C. J. Peters

The overwhelming theme of “Virus Hunter” is the need to be extremely careful when dealing with infectious diseases. C. J. Peter’s introduces an old medical adage: “Common things occur commonly. Uncommon things don’t. Therefore, when you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.” However, in the field of disease research and control you have to assume that the hoofbeats are those of zebras, or pay the penalty for underestimating the danger that could be present.

The very first chapter, entitled “The Killer Without a Name” sets the the pattern for the rest of the book. C. J. Peters does an amazing job of showing the tension, fear, and danger associated with virus outbreaks. First he shows what such an epidemic is like from point of view of someone living in the area:

One day you child, your parent, your spouse, or your lover—the person your cherish most in the world—is vigorous and healthy and full of life. Then he or she comes down the a headache, some fever and body aches, his or her chest feels heavy, breathing becomes labored. They complain of vague symptoms that get worse and worse. Sometime later, they collapse.

Twenty-four hours later, they’re dead.

Then C. J. Peters moves on to show the point of view of the medical community. The doctors discouraged by their apparent inability to keep their patients alive. In some cases they are overwhelmed by scores of sick people and others who are afraid that they might be sick. Then the disease starts killing nurses and doctors.

The hospitals themselves become dangerous places because they are filled with sick and dying people. The rest of the general populace sees the inadequacy of the hospitals and doctors and so they stop taking their relatives there, choosing instead to try to treat them at home.

Peters has worked in this kind of atmosphere for thirty years. He describes the way that he has had to deal with the press, doctors, and anguished patients. Since many such dangerous outbreaks occur in third world countries, C. J. Peters also describes the way the local economy and local culture affect the way the CDC and other research teams have to deal with people.

It is also highly dangerous to work in the research facilities that handle infectious diseases. C. J. Peters describes trying to save the life of a colleague who cuts himself with a scalpel while performing an autopsy. He shows healthy doctors who break down, sure that they have the disease themselves. Time and again, he demonstrates how even the most expensive high-tech research lab is only as safe as the procedures and attention to detail shown by the people who work in it.

“Virus Hunter” is extremely detailed, and its passages are both exciting and informative. This is an adult book, however. Not only does it include rather graphic medical descriptions of the effects of some diseases, but C. J. Peters makes occasional use of profanity. This language is the only thing that I regret about the presentation of “Virus Hunter.”

Overall, I would definitely recommend “Virus Hunter” as an exciting educational book on infectious disease.

Inkweaver Book Rating:

Focus

Interest Level

Presentation

★★★★Overall

Inkweaver Review 2009-04-24T09:32:00-05:00

Book Wizard: Science Fiction Books 1-4

About

This exciting genre of books focuses on speculations on science or technology. They may be set far in the future or perhaps in some advanced alternate reality. The plot may revolve around the use of high-tech tools or techniques to solve the problem. Or the book may be scientific speculation on the results of some event.





“The Dead & The Gone,” by Susan Beth Pfeffer

In this thrilling piece of speculative fiction a giant asteroid hits the moon, jarring it into a new orbit closer to Earth. Dramatic climate changes result for the Earth, and panic and looting run rampant.

Seventeen-year-old Alex Morales must try to keep himself and his two sisters alive through the terrible disaster.


“The Adoration of Jenna Fox,” by Mary E. Pearson

Seventeen-year-old Jenna awakes from a coma to find herself completely changed. In her time advanced medical technology has allowed scientists to replace damaged body parts with biotechnology. Jenna was involved in a deadly car accident, and only 10% of her real brain and a few tissue samples were salvaged. The rest of Jenna's body was reconstructed using nanotechnology and electronics. Jenna must face the question of whether she is human or just a digital continuation of a girl who really died.


“Atherton – The House of Power,” by Patrick Carman

In this amazing science fiction fantasy readers are introduced to the world of Atherton. Atherton was created by a mad scientist to serve as a new refuge for humans who wanted to escape the ruined, polluted environment of Earth.

But now the world is changing in mysterious ways, and only one person can understand what is happening: the scientist who created Atherton.


“Atherton – Rivers of Fire,” by Patrick Carman

This exciting sequel to "Atherton - The House of Power" continues the adventure.

In search of answers about his word daring young Edgar travels into the depths of Atherton. Here intricate processes take place, designed to keep the world of Atherton alive. But for Edgar, they are nothing but danger.


Inkweaver Review 2009-04-23T14:21:00-05:00

“A Study in Scarlet,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

“A Study in Scarlet,” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a fascinating detective mystery story that introduces Sherlock Holmes to the world.Cover Art for A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The story starts by introducing John H. Watson, an army doctor recently returned to London after a disastrous tour in India. Watson is happy to be in London again, but he soon finds that he needs better quarters. Unfortunately, his income is so low that he can not afford anything decent.

Through a friend Watson is introduced to Sherlock Holmes, who has found a comfortable apartment but needs someone to share the rent with. At first Watson is a little bit skeptical about Holmes, who seems to be a very eccentric individual indeed, but when Watson visits the apartment that Holmes wants to rent, he decides that he might as well try it out.

Soon Watson and Holmes have moved into their apartment on Baker Street. From the very start Watson finds himself wondering about Holmes. For one thing Holmes doesn’t seem to have any regular employment, and he has a very strange system of knowledge and study.

After a few failed attempts, Sherlock Holmes himself tells Watson of his career. He is a “consulting detective.” When the police and Scotland Yard are unable to solve a mystery or catch a criminal, they contact Holmes, who uses scientific principals to shed new light on the mystery or track down the culprit.

Soon enough Holmes has a chance to demonstrate his skill. When a murdered man is found in an empty building nearby the police are baffled. The murdered victim has no wound on his body, yet the room is marked with blood. In addition, none of the victims personal possessions were stolen, his money and various other valuables are untouched.

Sherlock Holmes agrees to take the case. When he arrives at the seen of the crime, however, the whole matter seems to get even more complicated, rather than clearing up. First a woman’s wedding ring is discovered on the floor beneath the dead body. Then the word “Rache” is discovered written on the wall with blood.

Sherlock Holmes’ investigation will uncover events that began decades ago in America. The crime is a deadly revenge plot that has taken decades to come to culmination. The daring and persistent perpetrator is a determined person though, and it will take careful panning on Holmes part to capture him.

“A Study in Scarlet” was first published in 1887. This classic story is a good introduction to Doyle’s character Sherlock Holmes. Unfortunately, in this book Doyle shows Holmes in a slightly unflattering light, portraying him as proud and angry that he doesn’t get enough recognition for his skill. Other than that “A Study in Scarlet” is a great mystery story. The plot is realistic and reasonably unusual.

All mystery lovers should read the classic “A Study in Scarlet.”

Inkweaver Book Rating:

Plot

Characters

Presentation

★★★★★Overall

Inkweaver Review 2009-04-23T10:55:00-05:00

Book Wizard: Realistic Fiction Books 5-8

About

Realistic fiction uses made-up characters, but their actions and problems are realistic in that they are something that could occur to us. Some realistic fiction books deal with a death in the family or some other real traumatic event that the character must deal with. Also included in this genre is the classic "coming of age" story, which focuses on how a real event helps a character to grow up or mature.



“The Beloved Dearly,” by Doug Cooney

Twelve-year-old Ernie has always liked making money. But other people never seem to appreciate his business ventures.

But then Ernie comes up with the ultimate business: pet burial. It starts out great. But soon Ernie realizes that profits aren't the only thing to worry about. Friendship and real compassion for the grieving are also important.



“Trigger,” by Susan Vaught

This innovative book is written from the point of view of a boy who is brain damaged from a failed suicide attempt that erased much of his memory.

The therapy people have given him a notebook in which he can keep his memories, but it can't answer the nagging question of why he tried to kill himself. At the same time he has to deal with the reactions of other people to his suicide attempt and his disability.



“The Secret Rites of Social Butterflies,” by Lizabeth Zindel

When Maggie and her Mom move to a new school district Maggie is afraid that she won't be able to find any new friends.

But soon after going to her new school Maggie is accepted into a secret school clique called the Revelers. Maggie is thrilled to have friends, but she is slightly worried about the Revelers and their strange purpose, which seems to be to keep track of all the school secrets on a vast chart that they call The Wall.



“Sahara Special,” by Esme Raji Codell

Sahara Jones is a young girl who has two files. One is her school file that contains all the worried notes from teachers and assessments by counselors. The other is her secret writing file, which she keeps hidden behind the books at the local library.

When a new teacher arrives to teach Sahara's class she helps Sahara to develop personally and open her secret file to others.



Inkweaver Review 2009-04-23T09:52:00-05:00

Book Wizard: Realistic Fiction Books 1-4

About

Realistic fiction uses made-up characters, but their actions and problems are realistic in that they are something that could occur to us. Some realistic fiction books deal with a death in the family or some other real traumatic event that the character must deal with. Also included in this genre is the classic "coming of age" story, which focuses on how a real event helps a character to grow up or mature.



“Kira-Kira,” by Cynthia Kadohata

As sisters Katie Takeshima and her older sister Lynn enjoy a special relationship. Katie looks up to her older sister, because she seems so smart. Lynn helps Katie to find the "kira-kira" the special things all around in the world.

But then Lynn gets lymphoma. In the face of medical bills and Lynn's declining health it is harder and harder to find "kira-kira."


“Becoming Naomi León,” by Pam Munoz Ryan

Naomi León has lived with her grandmother for most of her life, ever since her real mother abandoned her. Naomi loves her grandmother, but she has always wondered why her mother didn't want her.

Then Naomi's mother returns. She has changed her name, and now she wants to change Naomi's life. She wants to separate her from her mentally disabled brother and take her away to live with her, but Naomi is afraid of her mother.



“Waiting for Normal”, by Leslie Connor

After her parent's separation Addie ended up living with her mother. She misses her step sisters, who are now living with her father, but she also doesn't want to leave her mother.

But Addie's mother sometimes leaves for days on end. Addie knows such neglect is not a normal family life and she wishes that she could live with her step father.



“Ruby Holler,” by Sharon Creech

Twin orphans Dallas and Florida have never been able to find a home. They end up getting sent back by everyone who offers to take them. The twins start to think of themselves as troublemakers that no one wants.

But then an older couple offers to take them to live with them in their old home in a beautiful place called Ruby Holler.




Inkweaver Review 2009-04-23T09:28:00-05:00

“The Mystery of the Third Lucretia,” by Susan Runholt

Book Cover Art for The Mystery of the Third Lucretia by Susan Runholt“The Mystery of the Third Lucretia,” by Susan Runholt is an enjoyable mystery about two daring teenage girls who uncover a multi-million dollar international art crime.

Fourteen-year-old Kari and her best friend Lucas have been friends for years. When Kari and Lucas get a chance to go to London with Kari's mom, who is an international writer and photographer for The Scene magazine, the two girls don't realize that their trip is going to turn into a full scale mystery.

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Review of “The Mystery of the Third Lucretia,” by Susan Runholt
Inkweaver Review 2009-04-22T17:33:00-05:00

“Daydreams in Mermaid Grass,” by Natalie Williams

“Daydreams in Mermaid Grass,” is a good collection of powerful, descriptive poetry written by Natalie Williams.

In Natalie Williams’s own words “Daydreams in Mermaid Grass” is “a collection of tales, legends, stories, dreams and nightmares in poetry.” The entire tone of the collection is one of epic fantasy, and dark dream imagery. Many of the poems in the collection reminded me of the tone of Lord Tennyson’s lyric epics, though Natalie William’s voice is much looser with more touches of the modern world to keep the reader grounded from a more familiar viewpoint. This voice that is both ancient and modern is very well balanced I feel.

The poetry in this collection is very modern in form, making use of both internal and external rhyming schemes. These rhyming schemes sometimes flow freely, but at other times they seem slightly forced or awkward. For example, in her poem “Ravens Can’t Sing” Natalie Williams begins with the lines:
When I woke up this morning it was winter
And before it was spring
Robins are now ravens
Ravens can’t sing
Dandelions painted daylight with gold
Now with ice and snow coloured cold
The first four lines flow through the reader’s mind very smoothly, and the thoughts follow a wonderful natural progression. Even the last two lines, though slightly less enjoyable are still well formed, even if the rhymes seem slightly forced. Farther on, however, the poem seems to deteriorate in quality, mirroring the gradual images of degeneration that fill this poem.
When I woke up this morning in a long dream waking
As the dawn was breaking
I seemed to be taking
Too long or too shy
To be taking a leak
Now riddled and weak
As winter, relief seemed bleak
The following lines seem much more awkward, as if the content was sacrificed so that the poem could stick to the artificial rhyming scheme. In my opinion the use of three or four rhyming lines in a row makes it much harder to create a poem that is still emotionally relevant. In the end, my overall reaction to “Ravens Can’t Sing” was that it could have been a fantastic poem, but instead it was just an average one.

This experience was repeated many times as I read “Daydreams in Mermaid Grass.” Some of the poems are really good, but they have small flaws or rough portions. Instead of being wonderful they left me feeling mildly disappointed.

The one thing that motivated me to continue reading the collection was the extraordinary subject matter and focus of “Daydreams in Mermaid Grass.” The poem themes are well designed and each is attention grabbing in its own way. One of my favorites was “The Mockingbird and the Jewelfinder,” a poem full off beautiful imagery about precious jewels and song.

All considered I would say “Daydreams in Mermaid Grass” is a good poetry collection that could have been great. I would definitely look for future poetry from Natalie Williams.

Inkweaver Rating:

Voice

Theme

Presentation

★★★Overall

Inkweaver Review 2009-04-22T16:08:00-05:00

Inkweaver Review Book Wizard



The Inkweaver Review Book Wizard is here to help you find a great book. There are some books that you remember for the rest of your life. Hopefully you will find one here.

To get started you must choose a genre of literature that appeals to you. Books usually fall into neat categories of similarities. If you like one book from a category there is a possibility that you will enjoy more books like it.

Realistic Fiction

Realistic fiction uses made-up characters, but their actions and problems are realistic in that they are something that could occur to us. Some realistic fiction books deal with a death in the family or some other real traumatic event that the character must deal with. Also included in this genre is the classic "coming of age" story, which focuses on how a real event helps a character to grow up or mature.

Science Fiction Books

This exciting genre of books focuses on speculations on science or technology. They may be set far in the future or perhaps in some advanced alternate reality. Typically the plot revolves around the use of high-tech tools or techniques to solve the problem. Or the book may be scientific speculation on the results of some event.

Historical Fiction Books

These books aim to make history come alive. They show real past events in a whole new way by putting readers in the point of view of a character experiencing history first hand. Many of these books contain wonderful descriptions of life in the past or of the hidden workings that were behind historic moments.

Fantasy Books

This genre is best known for Medievalist tales in the Tolkien style. However, a major characteristic of Fantasy is that although it may draw on real world elements it is usually set in a fantastic world quite unlike our own. Fantasy is all about possibilities and escapism to a different world or setting.

Mystery Books

This books focus on either crime or problem solving. In the crime mystery a professional or intelligent amateur puts themselves in danger's way to unravel a crime and catch the perpetrator. The problem solving type of mystery usually involves a mysterious map or difficult series of clues that lead up to some hidden treasure or valuable.

Animal Books

These books are frequently funny, sometimes sad. Animal books are distinguished from other genres because animals play major roles in the storyline. These stories may focus on the relationship between a person and their pet, or they might go so far as to make an animal a sentient, thinking character. In some of these books animals can even talk!

Utopian/Dystopian Books

This genre of books focuses on the society and culture of the future. In Utopian books society has reached a point where all problems seem to have been solved. But then an inquisitive character discovers a concealed secret about the world he lives in. In Dystopian books the world has been completely ruined. Perhaps the environment has been destroyed or the world is ruled by an authoritarian government that denies people basic rights. The characters in these books must fight to survive in their dangerously unstable world.

Non-Fiction

These books are about real life. They are usually designed to teach about the world that we live in or the people that live in our world. Some may be historically based, others may focus on things that are occuring today. Some non-fiction books are autobiography's about the lifes of famous figures. Non-fiction books may even conjecture about the future of our existence.
Inkweaver Review 2009-04-21T14:41:00-05:00

Critical Analysis: “The Red Pony,” by John Steinbeck

Book Cover Art for The Red Pony by John Steinbeck“The Red Pony,” by John Steinbeck is a classic story about an immature young boy faced with the realities of birth and death. Although “The Red Pony” may at first glance appear to be a light tale for young readers, it is actually considerably deeper in application and scope, dealing with feelings of rage, sorrow, and futility. A particularly interesting aspect of “The Red Pony” is John Steinbeck’s use of incompletion to add depth and feeling to the stories.

The Gift

The main character of “The Red Pony” is Jody Tiflin, a ten year old boy with “hair like dusty yellow grass and shy polite gray eyes.” From the very start of “The Red Pony” John Steinbeck makes it clear that Jody Tiflin is no junior angel. In the first chapter, “The Gift,” Jody crushes a muskmelon in the garden. “It was a bad thing to do, he knew it perfectly well. He kicked dirt over the ruined melon to conceal it.” Then Jody’s mother has to warn him to fill the wood-box completely rather than crossing the sticks to cheat on his chores.

However, when Jody’s father reveals to him that he has some surprise waiting the next day Jody shapes up fast, combing his hair and obeying his mother. Jody’s father reveals that he has bought a red pony colt for Jody. The pony means more responsibility for Jody, but he leaps to the challenge, eager to please his father and keep the pony for himself. Jody names the pony Galiban, after the nearby Galiban mountain range.

Soon Jody is getting up early to do his chores and making sure that Galiban is kept curried and in good condition. John Steinbeck describes the way Jody and Galiban become closer over time. Gradually Jody trains the red pony, first to the bridle, then to the saddle. Then the day approaches when Jody will be able to mount Galiban for the first time.

But while Jody is at school Galiban is left out in the pasture in the middle of a rain storm. Jody covers his pony with a blanket, but he fears for Galiban’s health. Sure enough when Jody comes out to the stable the next morning he finds the red pony sick.

“He just took a little cold. We’ll have him out of it in a couple of days,” says the stable hand Billy Buck. Jody trusts Billy, but as the days past it becomes clear that Galiban is not getting better, in fact he is getting much worse. In a series of traumatic scenes Billy must operate on Galiban, first to remove a “strangle” then to cut a hole in the pony’s windpipe so it can breathe.

Eventually Jody realizes that his pony Galiban is going to die before he gets a chance to ride him. Jody sleeps all night in the stable with his sick pony, but when he awakes he finds the stable door open and tracks leading out through the grass.

Jody follows Galiban’s trail as fast as he can but by the time he arrives it is too late and a buzzard has already violated the red pony’s corpse: “its beak had just risen dripping with dark eye fluid.” Jody catches one of the buzzards and pummels it to death with a rock. Eventually his father and Billy Buck arrive on the scene and pull him off the dead bird.

“Jody, the buzzard didn’t kill the pony. Don’t you know that?” his father says. Billy Buck then stands up for Jody saying “’Course he knows it. Jesus Christ! Man, can’t you see how he’d feel about it?”

This first chapter of “The Red Pony” sets the tone for the next chapters. Jody’s trust in Billy Buck as a horseman and his love for his father are compromised by the death of Galiban. On the one hand, Jody no longer trusts Billy Buck, despite the fact that the old hand taught Jody everything he knows about horses. Billy told Jody that Galiban would be fine out in the pasture during the rain, and he told Jody that the horse would be fine despite his cold. When Galiban dies Jody no longer trusts Billy as “infallible” as he did before.

At the same time, though, Billy Buck is perhaps more of a father figure for Jody than Jody’s real father is. Jody’s father Carl Tiflin doesn’t seem to know how to behave around the boy and is easily embarrassed by him. Jody seems to be much more comfortable with Billy. We can see this in such passages as right after Carl gives Jody the red pony colt:

“Carl Tiflin went out of the barn and walked up a side-hill to be by himself, for he was embarrassed, but Billy Buck stayed. It was easier to talk to Billy Buck.”

Jody cares so much about his father’s opinion that is difficult for him to talk to his father, because he is afraid of not being able to live up to Carl Tiflin’s standards. Instead it is Billy who teaches Jody about caring for horses and it is Billy who in the end stands up for Jody and carries him home after the pony is found dead.

The Great Mountains

With the red pony dead and no longer keeping him busy and obedient, the second chapter finds Jody throwing rocks to break open sparrow nests, torturing the dog Doubletree with a rat trap, and killing a small songbird. In this passage Jody’s murder of the songbird is especially interesting because of the way John Steinbeck relates Jody’s feelings with regard to his actions.

“He didn’t care about the bird, or its life, but he knew what older people would say if they had seen him kill it; he was ashamed because of their potential opinion.”

Immature Jody feels frustrated about the death of his pony and rather than dealing with these emotions as an adult would he takes out his frustration on other small creatures.

At this point in the story John Steinbeck introduces a mountain range to the west. Unlike the friendly Galiban Mountains that Jody named his colt after, these mountains seem sinister. Jody wonders about what these mountains contain and even his father and Billy Buck tell Jody that the mountains are unexplored. To Jody these mountains are at the same time both frightening and wonderful. He imagines a lost city somewhere among them.

Then an old paisano man named Gitano arrives at the Tiflin farm. Gitano says that he was born on the Tiflin farm and raised there as a young child. He says that he has come back to the farm to live out the rest of his days.

Carl Tiflin does not want Gitano on the farm. He says that he is already having enough problems trying to keep the farm from being foreclosed on without taking another another hand, especially an old one who can’t work very hard. Jody’s mother and even Billy Buck stand up for Gitano but Jody’s father is unmoved.

John Steinbeck draws an interesting parallel between Gitano and Easter, an old horse that Carl Tiflin maintains on his farm despite the fact that it is too old to work. Easter was the first horse that Carl Tiflin ever had and he doesn’t want to shoot it. Carl defends himself with respect to his not wanting to take on Gitano, but at the same time keeping an old horse that can’t work. “If ham and eggs grew on a side-hill I’d turn you out to pasture too, but I can’t afford to pasture you in my kitchen.”

To Jody, Gitano is a mystery even like the strange mountains to the west of the Tiflin farm. Gitano says that he has been in the mountains when he was a boy. “What did you see in there?” Jody asks Gitano. The old man answers “I don’t remember… I think it was quiet—I think it was nice.”

The next morning Gitano leaves the farm early in the morning. He steals the old horse Easter and takes off into the mysterious mountains to the West. By the time Jody and his family wake up he is long gone. John Steinbeck portrays Jody’s reaction to the experience.

“A longing caressed him, and it was so sharp that he wanted to cry to get it out of his breast. He lay down in the green grass near the round tub at the brush line. He covered his eyes with his crossed arms and lay there a long time, and he was full of a nameless sorrow.”

In “The Red Pony” Jody is an immature child who does not understand all the things around him. Often he is filled with powerful rage or sorrow but it seems that he does not truly know what to think or how to react.

The Promise

This powerful third chapter of “The Red Pony” extends the narrative line that ended earlier with the death of Jody’s red pony colt Galiban. Carl Tiflin decides that Jody needs another horse, but his plan is different this time. He gives Jody five dollars as a stud fee. Jody will take Nellie, one of their mares, to a nearby neighbor who has a stallion. After they mate Nellie Jody will raise the colt from birth. Once again it will be years before Jody will be able to ride the colt, but according to Billy Buck “the best way for [Jody] to be a good hand with horses is to raise a colt.”

As was the case when he received Galiban, so the news and potential of another horse colt makes a new boy of Jody. Suddenly he is filled with “maturity and importance,” doing his chores carefully and not playing tricks on his mother. Jody envisions a strong young stallion that he will name Black Demon. In his mind Black Demon will be a powerful horse that will make Jody famous in roping contests and will even allow him to help the President catch bandits.

The mare’s year long pregnancy gives Jody plenty of time to develop his youthful fantasy, but as the delivery date nears Jody begins to worry. Billy Buck tries to tell him that everything will be just fine, but Jody can’t really trust him now. The last time that Billy Buck said things would be fine Galiban died.

When the time finally comes for Nellie to deliver the baby colt both Billy Buck and Jody realize that there is something wrong. The colt is twisted inside and can’t come out. Billy makes a quick examination.

“He glanced wildly toward Jody. And then his fingers made a careful, careful diagnosis. His cheeks were growing tight and gray. He looked for a long questioning minute at Jody standing back of the stall. Then Billy stepped to the rack under the manure window and picked up a horseshoe hammer with his wet right hand…

He heard Billy whispering hoarsely in the stall. And then he heard the hollow crunch of bone. Nellie chuckled shrilly. Jody looked back in time to see the hammer rise and fall again on the flat forehead. Then Nellie fell heavily to her side and quivered for a moment.

Billy jumped to the swollen stomach; his big pocketknife was in his hand… He sawed and ripped at the tough belly. The air was filled with the sick odor of warm living entrails.”

Billy removes the colt from the dead mare Nellie and lays it in the straw at Jody’s feet.

“There’s your colt. I promised. And there it is. I had to do it—had to…

Jody tried to be glad because of the colt, but the bloody face, and the haunted, tired eyes of Billy Buck hung in the air ahead of him.”

Once again, the colt that Jody looked forward to so much turns out much different from what he expected. On the surface all of Jody’s dreams are fulfilled for the colt is a black stallion. However, the black colt lives up to his name of Black Demon in that his traumatic and deadly entrance to the world forever makes him a demon in Jody’s eyes. Jody will always be slightly afraid of him, much as he is afraid of the mysterious mountains to the West of the Tiflin farm.

Billy Buck seems, to some extent, to blame the death of Nellie on Jody. “I had to do it,” he says. Billy couldn’t let his promise fail again. He feels bound to give Jody the colt he wanted so badly, even if it means the death of Nellie. Rather than breaking the colt to take it out of its mother, he chooses to kill the mare to save the colt. But in either case there can be no satisfaction for either Billy or Jody.

The Leader of the People

When the fourth chapter opens Jody has once again returned to being a disobedient young boy, purposely scuffing up his shoes and throwing rocks at the cat. Black Demon gives him no satisfaction and in fact the young colt is not even mentioned again in this last chapter. Like the death of Galiban, the birth of Black Demon is something that Jody wants to forget. Black Demon no longer makes Jody feel “mature and important.”

An interesting side theme of the fourth chapter is Jody’s plan to destroy the mice living in the haystack. Jody’s plans to bring destruction upon them are weaved in and out of the main theme of the chapter. Apparently the mice are “plump, sleek, arrogant.” Jody feels that they are too “smug” in their immunity to cats and traps. He wants to bring disaster on them, by exposing them to the dogs and beating them with a flail. This side aspect bolsters John Steinbeck’s obvious indications that Jody is not the type of angelic, mature young hero that one might expect. Instead Jody is immature, resentful, perhaps even conniving. These feelings are at the same time tempered by sorrow and affection for the things he loves or is awed by.

The main storyline of the fourth chapter begins when Jody’s grandfather, his mother’s father, arrives at the Tiflin farm for a visit. Carl Tiflin doesn’t like his wife’s father. The characteristic inability to get along with the in-laws is not something that John Steinbeck is focusing on, however.

Carl doesn’t like his father-in-law because the old man tells the same stories over and over again. According to Carl “he just goes on an on, and he never changes a word in the things he tells.” Grandfather was part of the early wagon trains that led the way for settlers to conquer the Western lands. The experiences and adventures that he had along the way marked him for life, and the “Westering,” as he calls it, is the focus of all his thoughts and attentions. For Grandfather the Westering was the greatest thing that humankind ever did, and the fact that he was able to be a part of it, in fact at the head of it, fills his waking thoughts and night dreams.

In a particularly painful and insensitive scene Carl complains about Grandfather when he thinks that he cannot hear.

“That time’s done. Why can’t he forget it, now it’s done?… Why does he have to tell [the stories] over and over? He came across the plains. All right! Now it’s finished. Nobody wants to hear about it over and over.

The door into the kitchen closed softly… Then the kitchen door opened and Grandfather walked in.”

After hearing Carl Tiflin complain about the stories Grandfather is crushed, and it seems as if he has lost a part of himself. Jody still wants to hear the exciting tales about the Westering, but Grandfather tells him, “Westering has died out of the people. Westering isn’t a hunger any more. It’s all done. Your father was right. It is finished.”

Jody sees that his Grandfather is sad, and he feels sad as well. He offers to make Grandfather a lemonade.

Grandfather was about to refuse, and then he saw Jody’s face. “That would be nice,” he said. “Yes, it would be nice to drink a lemonade.”

Once again a dream in Jody’s life is crushed and he is left with the broken pieces of what is left. Perhaps Jody’s act of getting his Grandfather a lemonade could be thought of as an ending response better than what came before. When Jody faced the death of Galiban he responded by torturing the family dog, but now he is doing something for someone else. At the same time, though, Jody gets the lemonade for Grandfather as much to spite his father as to comfort his Grandfather.

Conclusion

Interestingly, “The Red Pony” is throughout a study of contrasts and pairs. The wonderful red pony colt Galiban reflects Black Demon, the marred colt whose birth was the death of its mother. The Galiban mountains themselves reflect the fearful, unexplored mountains to the West. The old man Gitano reflects Jody’s Grandfather, in that both old men are rejected by Carl Tiflin, and both of the men were explorers, Gitano of the mountain ranges to the West and Grandfather of the Westering himself. Carl Tiflin and Billy Buck contrast each other, with Carl Tiflin being hard and shy at the same time, while Billy Buck seems to show more interest and care for Jody.

“The Red Pony” is perhaps the height of John Steinbeck’s use of incompletion. The stories that it contains have no happy ending. Jody does not end up matured by his experience as so many other similar books, “The Yearling,” for example, would have it appear. John Steinbeck refuses to sentimentalize. Though the passages may seem sad or emotional this is purely reader response. Steinbeck takes care to portray the scenes with a sterile, detached distance, a matter of fact attitude.

It is this tone and mood in particular that make “The Red Pony” a great work of art. John Steinbeck’s writing style is perhaps even more thought-provoking, even more evocative than if he had purposely directed the passages in a sentimental direction or used them to promote some external purpose or fairy tale ending. For this reason I highly enjoyed “The Red Pony” as a piece of classic literature and a work of art. I recommend it to all readers.
Inkweaver Review 2009-04-21T10:09:00-05:00

Improved Random Post Link Widget for Blogger

The complete instructions and new code for the random post link have been moved to Experiment Garden. Instructions in this post may be outdated, so please see the new version.

The random post link addon for Blogger has now been updated to better and faster than ever before.

Basically this script creates a text link to a random post on your blog. It displays the random post's title as well as a brief random message to accompany it.

The major changes between this updated version and the current version are:

The addon no longer requires the Archive Widget to be added to your page.
The code is no longer limited to displaying posts from the past three months. It can now give you links to posts from your blog's entire history.

You can see the code in action at the top of the post area here at Inkweaver Review. Just refresh the page a few times to see a variety of random links to posts I've written in the past.

Removing Inkweaver Review Advertisment

You may notice that about one out of every ten random links is not to a blog post but back to Inkweaver Review. I would appreciate it if you left this, as it shows appreciation for the time and effort that I went to to create this script. However, you may not like the effect. There are two options you might want to take.

First, you can make the advertisement appear less often by simply adding more of your own custom messages to the list of random messages.

Find the section of code:
var introArray = new Array(
"Have you read ^?",
"Check out ^.",
"Look at ^.",
"Just for you: ^",
"Please look at ^.",
"Would you like to read ^?",
"You might enjoy reading ^.",
"Do you want to read ^?",
"Please read ^.",
"Random link powered by <a href="http://inkweaver-review.blogspot.com/"></a>"
)

To add another message just copy one of the lines in the middle, and paste it again in the middle. If you want to customize the message, just keep in mine that the caret "^" is where the random link is inserted.

If you want to remove the link back to Inkweaver Review completely, just remove the last message in the list. After you remove this message, be sure to remove the comma at the end of the new last message. If you remove the link back to Inkweaver Review then please add another link somewhere. Perhaps add me to your blogroll, or else write a post about the addon with a link to this page.

Limiting Number of Posts Used

Another customization that you may want to do is limiting the number of posts that the script can choose from. As it is the script will display links to any of your posts up to the 99999th post. You may want to limit it to the last 100-200 posts for several reasons. For one thing your oldest posts might be out of date, or their writing quality might not be as good as your new posts. But another reason why you might want to reduce the number of posts is load time. Loading a list of all the posts you have ever written on the blog can be time intensive for older blogs. So to reduce the number of posts that the script will choose from find the number 99999 in the code that you added to the XML template and change it to a smaller number. For example, the number 100 will limit the results to the last 100 posts that you have written.

I sincerely hope that this Blogger addon can be of help to you. If you encounter any issues please let me know by commenting here, and I will do my best to get back to you as soon as possible.
Inkweaver Review 2009-04-20T15:42:00-05:00

“Knights & Castles,” by Philip Dixon

“Knights & Castles,” by Philip Dixon is part of “Insiders”, a fabulous educational series for young readers. The Insiders series uses vivid three dimensional computer graphics to depict scenes and historical events. These 3D renderings add amazing life to the informative text.

“Knights & Castles” begins by introducing the concepts of knights and castles. First it shows how knights fit into the medieval social caste system. A complex image shows the interactions and relationships between such medieval figures as the pope, king, bishops, barons, knights, and peasants.

The next major highlight of the book is an amazing two page spread showing the start of a medieval battle. The accompanying notes explain common battle strategies used to defeat the enemy. One thing that I appreciated about Insider's “Knights and Castles” is that it depicts battle and fighting without getting gory or excessively violent.

Page 16 of “Knights & Castles” shows a castle from above and explains what different buildings in medieval castles were used for. One fact that I really appreciated on this page had to do with the way spiral staircases in medieval castles were built to make it easy for a right handed defender to defeat enemies coming up the steps.

For readers who have ever wondered how medieval castles were built, pages 20 and 21 show and amazing construction scene. From initial stone preparation by the masons to the construction of the walls, “Knights & Castles” explains how castles were built.

After these broad scale views of castle life the book starts focusing on life inside the castle. It shows how medieval banquets appeared, and explains the process of becoming a k night. One of my favorite parts of the book shows a medieval field during each of the four seasons. Peasants did different types of work during each time of the year.

The last portions of “Knights & Castles” show different famous castles such as The Tower of London, Krak des Chevaliers, Castel del Monte, Caerphilly, and Mont-Saint-Michel.

I highly recommend Insiders' “Knights & Castles” to all young readers. The accurate details and fascinating images are instructive and fun to read at the same time.

Inkweaver Book Rating:

Details

Pictures

Presentation

★★★★Overall
Inkweaver Review 2009-04-20T12:27:00-05:00