Monday, July 15, 2013

Top Ten Books That You Really Must Read Before You Die (Part 2)

To continue the list...

The Wormling Books--Jerry B. Jenkins & Chris Fabry
The Book of the King
The Sword of the Wormling
The Changeling
Minions of Time
The Author's Blood

The Story: Have you ever felt as if this world was a foreign planet sometimes? Like you're just here to do something important--but you have no idea what it is? The main character in this series, Owen, has felt out-of-place his entire life--until he discovers the mysterious Book of The King. Then an adventure begins like no other, with Owen at its front and center. What is so important about a shabby-looking book? Who is after him? Will Owen discover the truth in time to save the world he had not known existed, or is it too late to do what he was meant to do?

Why I Like It: It's an illuminated, fantasized version of the Gospel story--and it's brilliant. Owen's search for the Prince--who appears in the most unlikely fashion--the Holy Spirit making an appearance as a "bookworm" that gains strength as Owen reads and believes the Word of the King, the Dragon who desires to rule every kingdom by himself, and is consumed by greed, pride, and lies... Jenkins and Fabry make a fantastic duo when it comes to writing compelling Juvenile fiction.

*Also by this author: The Red Rock Mysteries, a great mystery series featuring twins Bryce and Amanda as teenage sleuths who find intrigue and adventure wherever they turn.

Warnings: There aren't any. The quoted passages from the "Book of the King" are straight-up paraphrased Bible passages. The series is full of Gospel parallels--and, let's face it, it's fantasy. Which makes it awesome.
The Artemis Fowl Series--Eoin Colfer
Artemis Fowl
The Arctic Incident
The Eternity Code
The Opal Deception
The Lost Colony
The Time Paradox
The Atlantis Complex
The Last Guardian

The Story: Artemis Fowl II is the son of an Irish crime lord. His father, Artemis Fowl I at one point attempted to turn all of the family's business into legitimate enterprises, but ends up going missing and pronounced dead, and the family loses a large amount of their fortune. Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl II is every bit the mastermind, and has made it his life's goal to return the Fowl name to its former criminal glory. He is going to make the family rich beyond comparison--by stealing fairy gold. Along with his gigantic bodyguard, Butler, he manages to capture a fairy and hold her for ransom--but the fairy he kidnaps is the unquenchable Holly Short, a captain in the Lower Elements Police Reconnaissance unit. (The "Lower Elements" being the fairy realm, far below the ground; this works into a clever bit of wordplay in referring to the Police and soldiers of the realm as "LEP-Recon") The two foes are evenly matched: Artemis has the brains to get what he wants, and Holly has the fiercely independent spirit to never be trapped for long. Who will win?

Why I Liked It: Because fantasy! I love anything with fairies and elves and Ireland and whatnot--and strangely enough, though the series centers on a character who happens to be a criminal mastermind, so one is compelled to root for the fairy "good guys", it didn't take much beyond the first book for me to give over and cheer for Artemis as if he was a hero, himself. The world Colfer creates in the Lower Elements and the way he "re-imagines" the fantasy creatures such as dwarves and elves (and even centaurs) that we've all grown up with is truly endearing and entertaining. The storytelling, too, leaves nothing to be desired; Colfer twists the story and stretches the reader's imagination so much that there are a couple books that left me puzzled as if I had completed an entire book of brain teasers. I checked out the books one at a time, but I typically ended up reading each in a single sitting. Great entertainment that puzzles you at the same time.

Warnings: Magic is a matter-of-fact in this fantasy world, mostly used in a practical capacity. The only "language" to speak of is of the fairy variety; the nature of the dwarves comes with some light potty humor, but nothing one wouldn't find in your typical kid-friendly movie.

*Also by this Author: I know Colfer has written several other books; if anyone has read any of them and would like to recommend them to me, feel free!
The Alex Rider Series--Anthony Horowitz
Point Blank
Skeleton Key
Eagle Strike
Ark Angel
Crocodile Tears
Scorpia Rising

The Story: "James Bond: The Teen Years," basically. Alex Rider, a British boy, was sent to live with his uncle when his parents died in a plane crash. His uncle raised him, taught him many useful skills, and Alex always assumed that his uncle worked for a bank--but when his uncle dies under suspicious circumstances, Alex discovers that both his uncle and his father were spies for MI6--and they had arranged for Alex to take up the "family business." Fourteen-year-old Alex--living under the guardianship of his American housekeeper, a spunky woman named Jack--is promptly initiated into the undercover lifestyle, facing everything from infiltrating a high-security computer manufacturing plant to getting launched into space to prevent the detonation of a deadly nuclear missile.

Why I Liked It: We found the movie first, purely by chance--and while the film itself left somewhat to be desired, it inspired us to check out the series, and I've read every single one. Horowitz is a master of intrigue, combining Agatha Christie's mystique with Michael Crichton's attention to technology and detail. The style is positively riveting; while a fourteen-year-old superspy is difficult to grasp, Horowitz has made Alex a believable character. He's got the gadgets, he's got the physical and mental training since a very young age--and he never suspected. He doesn't take himself too seriously--he's only fourteen; most of the time all he wants is to attend school and live a normal life like the other kids his age. And sometimes his teenage cockiness gets him into trouble--but never underestimate Alex Rider, because once you do, he will outsmart you.

Warnings: With intense situations and a teenager thrust into adult life, there is some language, but no more than one would reasonably expect. Occasionally graphic violence comes with the territory--and the last couple books ramp it up a notch. The book Crocodile Tears chose (unfortunately, in my opinion) to feature a "Christian" philanthropist as the villain (he was using the money from his "charity" to fund many illegal operations)--but on the whole the series is good enough to recommend.

*Also by this author: The House Of Silk--A new Sherlock Holmes adventure commissioned by the A.C. Doyle Foundation, written in the style of the original author. After reading Alex Rider, I was astounded at the way Horowitz managed to infuse the same thrill into a Victorian-stylized mystery novel. It lost none of the original Doyle charm. Horowitz is brilliant.
The Lorien Legacies--Pittacus Lore
I Am Number Four
The Power of Six
The Rise of Nine

The Story: The planet Lorien in a distant galaxy was attacked and decimated by a violent race called the Mogadorians. The Elders of Lorien ensured the survival of their race by sending nine Garde--then young children--and specially-equipped protectors far away from the dead planet, to the Milky Way Galaxy. These Loric refugees look like humans, but their natures as aliens are revealed by unique superhuman powers (their "Legacies") each of the Nine has. They are known by their numbers--and though the Mogadorians followed them to Earth, the Nine can only be killed in numerical order. By the start of the series, One, Two, and Three are dead, and Four has only just realized the full extent of his existence--and the Mogadorians are coming.

Why I Liked It: This is a prime piece of science fiction. I heard about it because of the movie, whose trailers intrigued me. I saw the book at a bookstore and started reading it, getting through about half before we had to leave. Even with that, when we finally sat down and watched the movie some weeks later, I could follow the action better because the various elements had been explained so well in the book, and also I realized how the movie left too many things unexplained which should not have been ignored. So my advice would definitely be to read the book first, and then you can watch the movie without getting confused.
Stories like this always run the risk of falling too far into the murky mire of alien life and the origin of humanoid species elsewhere in the universe, but the Lorien Legacies keeps the stories focused on the central characters, and what is happening between the characters, without getting sidetracked or over-explaining itself. The action moves at the right points, and yet gives the reader time to get acquainted with the characters before throwing them into peril. Even now, I am recalling each of the central characters and picturing their specific roles in the books, and how their unique personalities lent richness to the narrative--Sarah and the way she was Four's example of what human life should be; Sam and his "contribution" of belief in alien life and his loyalty to Four and the other Lorics; even ones like sassy Six and endearing Seven, the arrogant Eight, rash Nine, and mysterious Ten--and each are present and realistic in the story. "Pittacus Lore" (a pseudonym; the Lorien Legacies is a collaborative work produced by at least two writers) has great finesse and I can hardly wait for the next book in the series: The Fall of Five.

Warning: There is some mild language in these books, and the violence is graphic at times. Beyond that, I don't think there was anything else worth warning.
Nightfall--Isaac Asimov
The Story: From the "Father of Science Fiction" comes a truly unorthodox narrative: it is told entirely from the perspective of an alien race on an alien planet, facing the most devastating apocalypse and impending end of their planet. It is entirely contained within the alien world, and though Asimov uses reference terms that we Earthlings might be familiar with, he does take care to warn the reader that, this being an alien planet, the same words might have a completely different meaning in the alien context.
The apocalypse is explored from two perspectives: a reporter, who ascribes to the popular shunning of the religious fanatics who proclaim doom and call for conversion as their only means of survival, and he thinks the apocalypse is either the biggest hoax or the biggest scoop of his life; also present is an archaeological student, who is fascinated by the thought of witnessing the end of a civilization while she is in the process of uncovering its beginnings. But the question is: will they survive the end, or will their planet be obliterated?

Why I liked it: I love Asimov's straightforward style. His writings are very clear and his characters distinct. The thing that makes his writing a heady sort of thing is the way that most of the story happens in conversations between characters. Changes in circumstances, plot movement, deeply questioning concepts--all contained in dialogue. It never quite feels that way, because the characters themselves seem to ask the questions "aloud" that the reader is wondering at the time, but there you have it. I love the way he takes the time to make the technology and the various "props" accessible to the human mind by not giving it strange terms or new names, but rather, prefacing his work with the idea that though the book might say, "The man put on his boots and walked a mile"; in the alien world, it might really figure that "The Grillian put on his halverns and floggen a wexer"--but Asimov will use the familiar terms because he recognizes his audience. I feel that the use of familiar terms helps the reader enter into the story; we might watch a Grillian floggen a wexer in his halverns, and yet we would feel as though we'd just seen a man walk a mile in his boots. Anyone who likes science fiction must certainly read Isaac Asimov.
Incidentally, I read this book right about the May 2012 "Mayan Apocalypse" scare--and found it strangely ironic. 

Warnings: I don't recall anything that really stood out, except perhaps conversational swearing. Definitely I would not expect this to be a book safely bestowed upon your children (as opposed to The Wormling Books or Artemis Fowl, which would be entirely okay!), so I would say if you're old enough to want to read Isaac Asimov's Nightfall, there's nothing to be worried about. It's science fiction, written by a careful, thoughtful author.

*Also by this Author: I haven't read as much Asimov as I would like, but I have read the books Nemesis and The Complete Robot--the latter being more of an anthology of his short stories, including I, Robot and The Bicentennial Man. Very interesting to read stories featuring robots as actual characters and the capacity to interact, when one considers that Asimov wrote in an age when computers were automated data machines that filled or dominated a room by size alone.

So there you have it--a whole list of far more than just 10 books (more like 4 books and 6 series) that I liked and have raved about over 2 posts--which you are now tasked with reading before you die. You won't regret it.