Book Review: Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins
Book Reviews / August 17, 2005

Somewhere or other, Suzanne Collins claimed that she conceived the Underland Chronicles as a modern, urban answer to Alice in Wonderland. To be sure, what Gregor finds at the bottom of a manhole in Central Park is jarringly different from the topsy-turvyland Alice found at the bottom of her English rabbit hole. It is so different, in fact, that I am inclined to think of Underland as more of an Oz for the 21st century.

Book Review: Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
Book Reviews / August 16, 2005

In Scholastic’s “About the Author” blurb, Suzanne Collins explains her first novel as a 21st-century, New York City version of “Alice in Wonderland” – in the sense that instead of a rabbit hole, you might fall down a manhole – and what you would find at the bottom would be quite different too. What 11-year-old Gregor finds is an underground kingdom populated by purple-eyed people who live in harmony with giant bats (“fliers”). Their uneasy allies include giant spiders (called “spinners”) and giant cockroaches (“crawlers”). And their chief enemy is a race of man-sized, man-eating rats (“gnawers”).

Book Review: The Thief and the Beanstalk by P. W. Catanese
Book Reviews / August 10, 2005

I think this is the first book written by the author of The Brave Apprentice. Both books, and presumably The Eye of the Warlock also, belong to a series called “Further Tales.” The Brave Apprentice is the further tale of what happened after the classic tale of the Brave Little Tailor. And naturally, The Thief and the Beanstalk is the further tale that happens after “Jack and the Beanstalk.”

Book Review: Goblins in the Castle by Bruce Coville
Book Reviews / August 10, 2005

This story, by the author of Aliens Ate My Homework and I Left My Sneakers in Dimension X, started its life in an elementary school classroom, where the author’s half-mad, hunchbacked brother Igor made an appearance every Halloween. The classroom tradition evolved into a storybook which finally got published, so the rest of the world can fall in love with Igor and gasp with amazement, horror, and laughter at the antics of the goblins.

Book Review: The Fortune of War by Patrick O’Brian
Book Reviews / July 15, 2005

The sixth of twenty completed novels about a 19th-century Royal Navy captain named Jack Aubrey and his faithful ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin, is unusual in many ways. For example, in this book Aubrey is never in command of anything larger than a rowboat. As O’Brian explains in the preface, the book dramatizes actual events in naval history, inserting his fictional characters into the action. Yet even though they don’’t displace any of the real people who took part in these events—for example, Aubrey commands none of the ships that fight in the book’s two thrilling battle scenes—O’Brian’s characters make this story very much their own.

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Book Reviews / July 8, 2005

The book that started not one but two celebrated series of science fiction novels started, in turn, as a story in Analog Magazine, which my father used to get when I was a kid, so it was always lying around. First published in 1977, it is eerily predictive of some developments such as e-mail and the internet…but mostly, it is a far-out fantasy that inhabits its own unique, somewhat futuristic world.

Book Review: The Supernaturalist by Eoin Colfer
Book Reviews / July 8, 2005

In the near future, a place called Satellite City has become the urban nightmare du jour. Everything, including the steering of individual cars, is controlled by a privately-owned satellite hanging low in the sky over town. City police, private police, and armed-and- dangerous squads of lawyers patrol the city, and “no-sponsor” orphans like Cosmo Hill are locked up in a maximum security “institute for parentally challenged boys” where they earn their keep as guinea pigs to test all kinds of products, from music videos to health-and-beauty aids. Cosmo knows that he has a slim chance of living to adulthood, and if he does, he will be sold to a labor prison on trumped-up charges. He has three choices: be adopted, die, or escape. It’s too late for door number one, so that really only leaves two…

Book Review: Desolation Island by Patrick O’Brian
Book Reviews / July 8, 2005

Fifth in the series of historical novels that started with Master and Commander, this book continues the adventures of the big, jolly Royal Navy Captain Jack Aubrey and his small, melancholy friend and ship’s surgeon, Stephen Maturin. And though the mission in this book is an enormous test of Jack’s seamanship, leadership, and heroism, it is—more than the previous books in the series—really Stephen’s adventure, for the most part.