Archive | September, 2010

Ender’s Game: A Terrific Beginning

28 Sep

I’ve got to let you in on a little secret:  I HATE science fiction stories almost as much as I HATE Rick Riordan books.

Hard to believe, huh?

That’s why Ender’s Game—which is the first book in a series of something like 20 books starring a fascinating character named Ender Wiggin—caught me by surprise.  Knowing that it was a science fiction title, I fully expected to put it down after about three chapters.

But I didn’t.  In fact, I almost couldn’t put it down.  I was just dying to know whether or not Ender—who is just a boy in the story—is able to save the earth from complete destruction or not.

That’s right: The earth is about to be destroyed by aliens. Buggers, to be exact.  Creatures that work and live and follow orders just like ants.  Except they’re a whole heck of a lot more brutal than ants.

And they can fly spaceships.

And they’ve already invaded twice.

Ender—just like all of the other really smart kids from earth–has been taken from his home and sent to a military training station in space to prepare for the next Bugger invasion.  He’s put—just like all of the other really smart kids from earth—on to a battle team that trains together like a little army.  He learns—just like all the other really smart kids from earth—the ins-and-outs of fighting in space.

But Ender’s NOT just like all of the other really smart kids from earth.

He’s smarter.

Way smarter.

And that makes him a lot of enemies. Older boys try to embarrass him whenever they get the chance.  They even attack him in the hallways and in the showers, trying to beat him up.  The thought of a younger boy doing better than them in competitions just plain makes them angry.

But the leaders of battle school love Ender.  In fact, they see him as the only hope of saving earth—and they put a ton of pressure on him.  They promote him quickly, making him a commander of an army.  They put his army into unfair fights.  They make his team fight more often than anyone else’s team.

And Ender keeps winning….until he quits.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:  “Why’s Ferriter always writing about books that involve battles and fights and blood and guts?  Doesn’t he EVER read anything else?’

But it wasn’t the battles and fights and blood and guts that caught my attention in Ender’s Game.  It’s Ender himself.  He’s torn inside by the turmoil of being a leader even though he’s a boy.  He’s committed to his friends and loves feeling close to other people—the kind of close that teammates always feel when they’re involved in fierce competitions.

And those themes are the kind of themes that I love in a story. I think it’s because I’ve always loved being a part of a team and because my friends mean more to me than most anything in the world.

Sure, I loved seeing Ender battling his way through the entire Bugger invasion fleet.  Sure, I loved seeing him whip older boys in competitions where he shouldn’t have stood a chance of winning.

But I enjoyed watching him grow up and make friends even more.

Ender’s Game Rating:  Way75

Ranger’s Apprentice: Ruins of Gorlan

27 Sep

I started a new experiment a few weeks back:  I decided to let my students choose the books that I’m reading!  First pick went to a boy named Chris who I was SURE was going to make me read The Red Pyramid.

That had me pretty nervous, considering I’d already burned like 473 pages of my copy lighting my grill this summer.  I didn’t want to spend any more money on a Rick Riordan book!

To my surprise, though, Chris chose The Ruins of Gorlan, which is the first book in a series titled The Ranger’s Apprentice.  “It’s my favorite book of all time,” Chris said.

That’s high-cotton!

The Ruins caught my attention from page one, introducing a villain named Morgorath who was training a group of bear-dog-freak type creatures called Wargals to take over the Kingdom of Aurlean.  Who DOESN’T like stories about evil villains training bear-dog-freak creatures to take over Kingdoms?!

While I love action books—and really love books about the Middle Ages—what really caught my attention as the story developed was the relationships between two of the main characters:  Will and Horace.  Both are orphans who were raised by the Kingdom and both are growing up.  Horace is chosen—at the age of 15—to go to Battle School, where he proves to be a super soldier.  Will—despite really WANTING to go to Battle School—-ends up apprenticed to the fief’s Ranger, who is essentially like a spy.

What I like about Will and Horace is that they’re both struggling with life.  Horace is being bullied in Battle School, but doesn’t want to show it.  Will wants to be brave and courageous—-traits that he thinks his father, who he’s never met, would be proud of.  Those kinds of themes resonate with me—-and I think they probably resonate with all boys.

We all want to be courageous.

We all want to be brave.

We all want to be strong—even in the face of bullies.

But that’s not always possible.

As the story goes on, both Will and Horace grow into their roles. Horace becomes one of the best young warriors in the Kingdom and Will ends up saving his Baron and his master from a freak creature called the Karakara—-lights him on fire with an arrow from 100 yards, to be specific.  And I liked that, too…seeing boys grow up into men is kind of a neat thing, especially because I liked both boys by the end of the book.

The only hitch is there isn’t quite enough fighting for me. While both Will and Horace become talented apprentices, they spend most of the book practicing their skills.  Horace is a master—-with a wooden sword when he’s hitting a dummy.  Will is a master—when he’s throwing his knives at stationary targets.  I kept finding myself wanting to see them take on real enemies in real battles—-instead of just the wild boar that they kill together in like the 18th chapter.

Overall, though, The Ruins of Gorlan was interesting enough that I bought the second book in the series:  The Burning Bridge.  It’s even better than book one.

Ruins of Gorlan Rating:  Way65

The Hunger Games Rules. . .

27 Sep

I first heard rumblings of The Hunger Games a few years ago when one of my former students—a boy I called Johnny even though his name was not Johnny—stopped me in the hallway and said:

Have you read The Hunger Games?  It’s the BEST book ever!

Considering that I could never get Johnny to read anything other than Manga when he was in my class, I figured The Hunger Games HAD to be pretty good.  Any book that could hook Johnny had potential because Johnny wasn’t easy to hook.

So I stopped by the bookstore on the way home from school, bought me a copy, and started reading—and like Johnny, I was hooked.  It was one of those titles that I couldn’t stop thinking about and that I couldn’t put down.

What makes The Hunger Games so remarkable to me is that it is a violent, blow ’em up, rock ’em, sock ’em robot kind of book.  Almost every chapter sees the main character—Katniss Everdeen—in a predicament fit only for an imagination.  She’s chased by horrible creatures, hunted by horrible kids, and forced to do horrible things.

All while becoming the star of one of the most shocking reality shows of all time—a show brewed up by an evil government to punish their citizens by pitting 24 kids against each other in a fight to the death on live television.

Crazy, isn’t it?

Each death is broadcast on a nightly program that captures the attention of the entire nation.  Each act of brutality is celebrated by a country.

What made The Hunger Games different from all of the other gory books I’ve read in my life though—and I’ve read a bunch of gory books—is that there are characters that I really learn to love.  Katniss shows immense kindness and integrity while fighting in the arena, protecting a much younger, much sweeter girl named Rue and Peeta, her partner from her home district.

That’s cool, isn’t it?  Kind of an unexpected twist that makes her more human to me.

And The Hunger Games is full of interesting moral questions:

  1. Should we stand up to power when the powerful are making choices that are horrible?
  2. Would we act with character and class even in circumstances that are completely out of our control?
  3. Could we become horrible people if it meant protecting our own lives?

Those kinds of questions kept me wondering throughout The Hunger Games…and wondering is one of my favorite things to do.  Even better, those questions keep me wondering even today—and when a book makes me wonder long after I’ve finished reading it, it’s a-okay to say the least.

The Hunger Games Rating:  Way100

Welcome to I’m ALWAYS Right!

26 Sep

So I’ve been a teacher for a long, long time now.  And I’ve been a reader for even longer.

That makes me an expert, doesn’t it?

Sure it does.

But ever since I read Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief—which is unquestionably one of the WORST books ever written—my students have started to question my brilliance when it comes to picking out good books.

This blog is my attempt to reclaim my rightful position as book-chooser-extraordinaire!  Not only am I going to take strong positions on the books I’m reading, I’m going to PROVE that I’m right in detailed posts that are impossible to deny.  I’m even going to use my very own scoring system to rate the books I’m reading.

And if you’re brave enough, SMSers, you’ll push back.  I dare you to point out the flaws in my thinking.  I dare you to convince me that my positions on individual books are wrong.  I dare you to change my mind.

Bring it!

Mr. F

Mockingjay’s a Letdown. . .

26 Sep

I haven’t had a chance to write about it yet, but The Hunger Games is my favorite book of all time.  It’s full of action—something that any book needs if it wants to capture my interest—and it’s got interesting main characters that I actually cared about by the time that the book was over.

It’s also about standing up to power, which is a theme that you’ll see in almost every book that ends up on my Books that Rule list.  There’s something about seeing the little guy stand up to power that is just plain interesting to me.

Maybe it’s because I’m an American!

That’s why I dropped everything a few weekends ago to read Mockingjay—the third and final book in The Hunger Games trilogy.  I mean I dropped EVERYTHING.  I didn’t do any of my part time work.  I didn’t watch any television.  I didn’t grade papers.  I didn’t eat.  I didn’t sleep.  I didn’t feed the cats.  I didn’t give my daughter a bath.  I didn’t give myself a bath.

I read.  On my Kindle.  For hours on end.

My wife was ticked.

What made matters even worse—although there’s not much worse than smelling bad, an angry wife, a dirty child, and hungry cats—is that Mockingjay was a SERIOUS LETDOWN.

The story opens with the 13 districts of Panem in open revolt against the government after Katniss and Peeta stage a mini-love-bellion at the end of the Quarter Quell.  Katniss—who almost died at the end of Catching Fire—has been saved by the rebels and nursed back to health in the mysterious District 13.

The plan for the rebels is really quite simple:  get their little superstar in fighting shape and turn her loose on President Snow and his lackeys in the Capital.

Sounds amazing, doesn’t it? After the action scenes in both The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, I COULDN’T WAIT to see the young Miss Everdeen going bonkers on the power hungry people in the Capital that had been controlling her life for the better part of two years—-ESPECIALLY after I found out that Snow was torturing her beloved Peeta just for giggles.

But here’s the thing:  Katniss almost never fights in Mockingjay.  For the first part of the book, she’s in the hospital having horrible dreams and in District 13 making commercials.  Heck, the only thing the rebels DON’T do is put her on the side of a Wheaties box.

And while I’m SURE that her commercials were VERY important, I wanted to see her fighting.  That’s what she’s good at.

When she does finally get into a battle—defending a hospital in District 8—she shoots a few explosive arrows and then makes another commercial.  The entire scene is over in about 6 pages.  That’s a lot of reading for a few arrows, don’t you think?

Mockingjay only gets WORSE after Katniss’s first battle though. In fact, Suzanne Collins makes a mistake that I HATE to see in a book:  She skips over a TON of important events.  When Katniss is fighting in District 8, the rebels have control of ONE district.  Katniss then heads back to District 13, which gets bombed by the Capitol.

When the bombing is done, miraculously the rebels are in control of ELEVEN districts.

Just like that.

No explanation.

No fighting.

No Katniss shooting arrows through the hearts of enemies.

Nothing.

Now, the ending of the story—where Katniss finally gets to the Captial to confront President Snow is pretty cool.  It’s full of the kinds of morphlings and science fiction robotic fighting action that made the Hunger Games a great read.  But Collins blows that momentum, too, by having Katniss get knocked out by an explosion while standing outside the President’s mansion and having the rebels end the fighting while she’s unconscious and in the hospital.

Yup.  That’s right.  The whole story is about getting back at President Snow and Katniss never gets that chance.  The whole story is about rebelling against the Capital, and all but two of the districts are conquered in pages that you never get to read.  The whole story is about Katniss the hero, and she spends the entire book making commercials.

Now, maybe my reaction is partly because I was so jacked for Mockingjay.  Maybe I’m just disappointed because Mockingjay didn’t live up to the hype—or to the action—of the earlier books.

All I know, though, is that right now, I’d say that this book is BARELY better than The Lightning Thief.

Mockingjay’s Score:  Way5

The Horror of the Lightning Thief

26 Sep

Everyone knows from the day that they are born that there’s nothing better than a good story.

Sitting captivated on our grandfathers’ laps, we could listen anxiously for hours. For me, there’s nothing better than a believable story, which let me imagine that I’m living the events with the main characters. I also like stories that move at a quick pace from beginning to end. Finally, I like stories that can help me to learn something new.

Sadly, Rick Riordan’s The Lightning Thief fails in all three of these areas.

Whether you read Rick Riordan’s book or saw the movie version that was just released, there’s nothing believable about The Lightning Thief. In fact, there are dozens and dozens of events that simply couldn’t have happened.

The best example from the book happens when Percy, Grover and Annabelle journey to the Underworld and are confronted by Hades’ three-headed dog. While readers fear that the end is near for their favorite characters, this seemingly impossible challenge is solved when Annabeth pulls out a rubber ball and makes friends with Cerberus.

Are we really supposed to believe that the dog of the Devil was just looking for a friend?

In the movie, I struggled with one scene from the climax. As Luke and Percy fight over Zeus’s master bolt in New York City, they land on a roof that just so happens to have an ancient water tower sitting on top.

Now, I know that it was nice to see Percy defeat Luke with his weapon of choice, but do modern cities really have ancient water towers on their skyscrapers? That’s a stretch at best—and I can’t stand stretches in my stories.

The Lightning Thief—especially the book version—seems to drag on and on forever! It’s all rising and no action.

Now, the beginning of the story—which sees Percy trying to survive his journey to Camp Half-Blood—is full of action and is sure to capture your attention. It’s followed, however, by HUNDREDS of pages of boredom as Percy, Grover and Annabelle travel from New York to California.

Readers are forced to sleep through a trip on a train, a stop to visit a mattress salesman, a sightseeing trip in Saint Louis—because every hero on a quest wants to go sightseeing, right?—and perhaps most painfully, a journey in the back of a cargo truck with a sad lion and a zebra.

Every time that I turned the page, I was hoping for something good to happen, and every time I turned the page, I was disappointed.

Now, I’ll give Rick Riordan SOME credit: His stories have turned kids on to Greek Mythology again. It would be hard not to want to learn more about Satyrs and Centaurs after seeing Grover and Chiron.

I also like that references are made to real events from Greek myths. According to Greek Mythology, the fight between Poseidon and Athena, who competed with one another for the affections of the city-state of Athens really did happen.

What I worry about, though, is that students will blend facts from real mythology with the fiction of Mr. Riordan’s mind.

Isn’t it possible that someone somewhere is going to really believe that the Gods fought over the theft of Zeus’s master bolt and that a young boy named Percy saved the day with his heroics? There’s just enough truth in The Lightning Thief to leave readers confused about facts and fiction—and as a teacher, that scares me.

The Lightening Thief is simply the WORST story that I’ve ever read. I won’t be recommending The Lightning Thief—or any of its sequels—to my friends. I just can’t stand stories that dance in fantasy and never seem to end.

The Red Pyramid

20 Sep

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan is a GREAT book…for lighting grills with!

Yup.  You heard me.  For lighting grills.

Do you really think I read it?

I mean it’s another 528 pages by Rick Riordan, who I pretty much decided was the worst author on earth after reading The Lightning Thief. Why on EARTH would I actually read that thing.

But all summer long, I kept my copy next to the charcoal grill.  When I was ready to throw a few shrimps on the barbie, I’d rip out about a dozen pages and use them to start the fire!

Kept us eating grilled shrimp all summer long.

Nice.

Red Pyramid Rating:  Way5