Friday, May 31, 2013

Beyonders book 3: Chasing the Prophecy - by Brandon Mull

My husband and I preordered this book, partly because it was a good deal, and partly because we enjoyed the previous two so much. This one struck me as different—not necessarily worse, or bad, just different than I expected, especially in the beginning and end of the book.
The first thing that is clearly different is that the reader starts the book already knowing the story. In the end of the second book, Seeds ofRebellion, we are left with a prophecy showing the “only” way that the rebellion could succeed in defeating the evil, power hungry emperor, Maldor. This third book is only really worth reading to find out just how the prophecy is fulfilled, not if it is fulfilled (despite it clearly being a shot in the dark for the rebellion). Because of this, the reader starts knowing the ending, and a couple small clues for specifics along the way. The book does, in fact, embody the old proverb “the joy is in the journey.” I think this is part of the reason it took me longer to really get into this story than the previous books: there were simply fewer surprises along the way.
The prophecy says that in order to succeed, the Galloran and his team will have to split. One group seeks a piece of lost information, and the other group gathers an army for a direct attack on Felrook, Maldor’s castle built on a high, rock island. The Beyonders are also split. Jason heads off to look for obscure information in an old library, and Rachel (who is now incredibly powerful with Edomic, the language of magic), joins the crew to attack Felrook.
The second main difference is only noticeable because I was expecting something different. In the previous books, almost every chapter introduced some interesting new creature, plant, language, or system unique to Lyrian. I always thought these “inventions” were fun and interesting and I expected them in similar proliferation in this third book. But Chasing the Prophecy is different. It builds more on what Brandon Mull already set up in the previous books. Even though he certainly introduces new creatures, the surprises in this book are of a different kind, and less frequent. They come in the fulfillment of the prophecy, the twists of fate, the necessary deaths, and the clever solutions to seemingly impossible problems.
I will not go through the storyline of the book, because anyone who read Seeds of Rebellion will have a pretty good idea of the structure of the story, and the details, as I said, are the source of the delightful surprises.
At just over 500 pages, I did not find this book too long. Yet it was too long to be impressively good. To be sure, the second half of the book clipped along steadily with the twists and turns of plot. It is the first half that I suspect Mull could have cut down and sped up. But why have a short best-seller when you can have a long one? It’s not Harry Potter, but there was already enough interest to ensure the book’s success. If there had been only moderate interest, or Mull had been a less popular author, I expect his editors would have taken much greater care with his beginning and ending. Evens so, the book is enjoyable; just not a great as I had hoped.
The ending is where I felt truly disappointed. The last page is a letter from Jason to his parents which Rachel takes with her back to their world. (A little spoiler right there. Yes, Rachel returns home and Jason doesn’t.) The letter is meant to wrap things up and let Jason’s parents know that he is still alive, and cares about them, even if he never wants to come home again. But the way the letter is written, most parents would prefer to go on believing that their son had died in a freak accident (being swallowed by a hippo). Receiving this letter would probably leave them wondering if some prank were being played on them, if Jason was alive somewhere in the world, if he was crazy and being kept in some asylum somewhere. Jason, after all his courageous acts, and all his creative thinking, writing from his noble heart to reassure his parents, would never write a letter like this.
The entire book is a great, epic story with a fun surprising resolution to the many problems it presents, and I cannot possibly give it a bad review. It’s fun and I wholeheartedly recommend the entire series. But after a glorious victory, the ending in the Epilogue left a bad taste in my mouth. If you can stomach it, I would just recommend not reading the Epilogue. It’s not really necessary, but if you must read it, avoid reading Jason’s letter to his parents. Instead, savor the triumphant victory, the hero’s sacrifices, the cleverness and goodness of those who succeeded. That is the real, and better ending to the story. 

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Kate Miller 23: The Doctor, Part 2

I'm sorry for the long break in posting my "journal" entries! We have been travelling a lot (which you will read about when I catch up on the in-between posts.) But here I am, finally, with the next post, and the answer to that all-important question: boy or girl?

Boy or girl? Boy or girl? Since "being" had already been clearly established, boy or girl was now the question!

23. The Doctor, Part 2 (April, 2013)
            Kate hated going to the doctor, mostly because of experience, and the rest on principle. But there was no getting around the fact that, this morning, she was excited. Not only that, but she had been counting down the days to this, April 12, as if it were Christmas! And in a way it was, for a new baby was coming…even if not that particular day. And the exciting gift that she and Mister would be given was knowledge of just what sort of baby it would be! The question she had mused over in her journal a couple weeks before would be answered: Boy or girl?
            At first, Kate and Mister both clearly desired to have a boy, but by the morning of April 12, Kate felt that she had almost no preference at all. She would be absolutely delighted with either a son or a daughter, and the joy would be in finally being able to imagine specific things about their future together. She wondered happily if she would be spending more time having tea parties or mock battles. Of course, they weren’t mutually exclusive, but there was no doubt that boys and girls had distinctive preferences and delights. If he was a boy, she would want him to be gentlemanly and strong and confident in courtesy. If she was a girl, Kate would want to train her to be gentle (without being weak), resourceful, and courageous in self sacrifice.
            When she and Mister got into the car after breakfast, they grinned at each other. “Are you ready for this?” Kate asked.
            “You bet.” There was no awkwardness or shyness. Mister was looking forward to this just as much as Kate.
            Walking in, the office felt too routine. Shouldn’t there have been at least a band playing? Perhaps some confetti and cake? No, there was only the standard query for a name, and the pulling out of a file.
Kate preempted, “And I still have the same address and insurance...” but the receptionist read off her address and insurance anyway, and looked at her expectantly. Why did they always do that?
“Yes!” Kate said again, impatiently.
Since they were there close to opening time, they did not have to wait very long. When her name was called, Kate practically levitated (as much as a twenty-week pregnant lady could) out of her seat. Mister calmly closed his book and stood in the usual fashion. But he was right behind her as she followed the nurse back to the sonogram room. Jenny was there again.
“Hello!” she said cheerfully, “Twenty weeks, huh? You’re looking great!” She spread the covering over Kate’s belly, got her tools ready, and looked back and forth between Mister and Kate and said, “So, do you want to find out…”
“Yes!” interrupted Kate.
Jenny laughed and said, “Okay! Let’s hope Baby is in a good position today.”
She found the head quickly, near the top, on Kate’s right side. “It’s no problem to be breech at this point,” she reassured them, “they always swim around and shift a lot.” Kate and Mister got to see their baby’s face, and nose, and arms. A little hand came up to the face and went into the mouth and out again. Jenny pointed to a colorful spot moving on the screen, “See that?” she said, “Your baby’s eating! He just swallowed and you can see the fluid going down into his body.” She traced the line with her finger. Kate looked at Mister and glowed. Measurements were perfect, and everything looked as healthy as could be.
Jenny moved the sensor around and took pictures of the feet, and the legs, and in between the legs…there was no doubt at all. He was in a great position, and Kate knew before Jenny said anything. He was a boy. A boy!!! 
When Kate and Mister got back in the car after the appointment, Kate had an overwhelming sense of awe and joy and responsibility. She looked at Mister and whispered, “We have a son!” 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Kate Miller 22: Cravings Part Two

22. Cravings Part Two (April 2013)
            The house had been empty for two whole days, and Kate was still recovering from her after-party slump. Of course it was always wonderful to have the extra time with Mister, but she did so hate to see everyone go. But today was going to be exciting! She had gotten tickets for the two of them to go see the National Symphony Orchestra, which was playing a Chopin piano concerto (romantic delight!), and a Dvorak symphony (rousing the giants!) that very night.
             It was a slow Friday and Kate bustled around getting things done: cleaning the kitchen, vacuuming, sweeping the tile. Finally, she decided to sit down for a breather and read. But at the last moment, instead of reaching for Out of the Silent Planet, which she was rereading for the third time, she instead pulled out a Chinese cookbook that she had brought back from the house in Florida. She snuggled up with Mister on the couch and opened it to the first page. It was springtime, and everything was fresh and new and it was one of those times to do things from the beginning. She read the introduction, and then the several pages that described four different styles of Chinese cooking. She gradually started flipping through the recipes and recognized that the Szechwan style generally caught her eye more than many of the others. Her tummy rumbled as she read over lists of ingredients: garlic, green onion, soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger…
She looked at the clock. It was too late to go to the store and make one of these amazing dishes. But she just had to have some tonight! It almost seemed as if she wouldn’t be able to eat at all if it wasn’t some kind of Chinese food. She looked down at the book, then up at Mister, who was looking at his book. She moved her face closer…closer…finally he looked up.
“You want something?” he asked suspiciously.
“Just wondering when we have to leave for the concert…and thinking about dinner.”
“What were you thinking about it?”
Kate grinned. She knew it was silly, but she really wanted Chinese food. “Can we go out to a Chinese place beforehand?” she asked bluntly.
Mister glanced at her cookbook and chuckled. “Are you sure that’s what you want?”
She nodded and bit the corner of her lower lip.
Mala Tong was a restaurant in Arlington, which was a new place for both of them, and had the distinction of being listed with the “100 best places to eat in DC”, with more stars and fewer dollar marks than any other Asian restaurant. Traffic was bad, and Kate had an uneasy feeling that they might end up stopping at any old Chinese joint and ordering takeout to eat on the balcony at the Kennedy Center. But they made it to the restaurant and had time to sit down and order. “And it’s a Szechwan restaurant!” Kate had exclaimed when they arrived. “This is exactly what I wanted!” Kate ordered a mess of pork and garlic sauce, and when it came…oh, the bliss! The sauce! The flavors! Kate and Mister were sitting at the bar, and Kate beamed at the large, unsmiling, gangster-looking barman opposite her. She took another bite and laughed.
“This is SO good!” she said to no one in particular.
But Mister laughed with her, sharing her joy.
The concert was grand, even though the romantic Chopin and rousing Dvorak were preceded by a modern composer that no one would have stayed for had he been later in the program. When Kate and Mister got home, late that night, she reheated what was left of her dinner and sat down in their kitchen. Taking a bite, she said, “Wow. Amazing! Even reheated!”
A couple weeks before, Mom Miller had taken Kate shopping at the H-Mart and had bought her a brand new, large, purple wok. This was especially convenient with all the company, because Kate didn’t have another pan that would hold enough for everyone. And for the week following the concert, the purple wok (though cooking only for two) became Kate’s new favorite kitchen appliance. It appeared every day on the stove for chicken chow mein, beef and corn, broccoli stir fry, and several other brand new dishes.
“I like it when you have cravings,” Mister said one evening. “You just go out and learn to make whatever it is you want. It’s so…brave! And a good deal for me.” He grinned and got up for more. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Kate Miller 21: Louise and Co.

21. Louise and Co. (March 2013)
            Louise is coming to town…Louise is coming to town… Kate hummed to the tune of "the Farmer in the Dell.” It was 8 o’clock in the morning on a Saturday, and Kate was up, dressed and (mostly) cheerful. If anything could get her out of bed that early on a Saturday, it would be the arrival of her best friend, Louise. She could only stay for four days, but Kate was glad to see her and her boys at all! They were to meet at a park in Maryland, since they were coming from Louise’s in-laws’ house in Delaware, and had to stop at the Baltimore airport to drop her husband off. Kate checked the map for the fifth time. An out-of-the-way park was not an ideal place for a rendezvous, but she figured there was a reason, and tried not to be too apprehensive. After all, Kate thought optimistically, if we’re both trying to get together and we’re both going to the same spot, how complicated can it be?
            An hour later, she was on the phone with Mister. She identified her road, “I’m going west,” she said. “Is that right?” She said the names of the roads as she passed them.
            “Uhm.” Mister hesitated. “I’m not sure. Are you going South?”
“No. I’m going west. It’s an east-west road.”
“Well where you are, it’s going north-south. Maybe you should turn around.”
            “Phooey!” She had already turned around twice. No one believes in straight roads anymore, she grumbled unreasonably. Normally, she preferred windy roads. Just not today.
            “Who picked this place to meet?” Mister asked in that tone of voice which indicated that if said person were present, he would get a piece of Mister’s mind.
            Kate laughed. “I don’t know. But I didn’t, so don’t blame me. A few minutes passed. Sooo,” she said hesitantly, “I’m not seeing any of those roads you mentioned. Here are my cross streets again,” and she gave Mister her new position.
            “Oh!” he said, surprised. “You’re going the wrong way. Turn around. You’re probably about a mile away.”
            “You mean I was going the right way to start with?” she growled.
Hank (at a different park than the one where we met up)
            “I guess so. Well, you should be good to go now. Good luck and give me a call if you need more help!” And Mister hastily hung up.
            A few minutes later saw Kate safely at the park. She hopped out of the car, curvy roads all forgot. She and Louise hugged fondly and chatted as they watched 2-year-old Hank zoom around the playground. It was obvious now why the park had been chosen. Louise was half African-American, and she had married a handsome, pale blonde young man. The resulting effect in Hank (and baby Ike too) was a round, tanned-looking, full lipped face, with tightly curled honey colored hair. Hank was fiercely enthusiastic about everything he loved. “TRAIN!!!” he would roar, and then run around chug-chugging and tooting his horn. Kate couldn’t help thinking that he would have made a perfect model for Normal Rockwell—if he could sit still long enough.
            That night, when Kate and Bettina were preparing dinner, Jack spotted 6 month old Ike in the living room, and instantly went over to play with him. He cooed and cuddled and bounced and tickled, and Kate thought, with admiration, that the Miller family produced very good uncles (Mister already having proved himself one of the best.) She would look forward to Jack and Bettina playing with her own baby…will we have a boy or girl? she wondered once again. Kate sighed contentedly. She loved having a full house. And even though the children were loud, and up early, and their things somehow always got scattered all over the house; Louise’s boys were very fun and cute, and Kate wished they could stay longer and looked forward to her own baby coming.
Boy or girl?  she mused in her journal. Older brothers are the best, not that I’m partial…but we both come from families with oldest boys. I think I would like that. A little friend for Hank and Ike and cousin Thomas. But girls are wonderful too. I love little girl clothes, and tea parties, and dress-up. But boys are awfully fun too, with wrestling, and building forts, and sports—I don’t even care at this point. I just CAN’T WAIT to find out! Only two weeks to go… 
"Louise" and baby Ike at Easter lunch


One last trip to the playground