Review and Summary: The Last Book in the Universe

lastbookbieimage1Title:  The Last Book in the Universe

Author:  Rodman Philbrick

Publisher:  The Blue Sky Press, 2000

Genre:  Teen Fiction


This story, I have to admit, was not what I thought it was going to be like. I can’t decide if it was better or worse than my immediate expectations. Either way, it was good, and it was definitely a book that I was excited about finishing. In a creepy, depressing land called the Urb, a teenage kid called Spaz lives with the Bully Bangers, the gang that controls Spaz’s home area of the Urb. The “Spaz” part of his name (we never learn his real name) comes from the fact that he can’t probe. Mind probe, that is. You see, our divulged main character lives during a post-apocalypse time after something called the big shake. It was a terrible earthquake, destroying nearly everything in sight. Fortunately, some humans survived and started a new civilization. Unfortunately, that civilization was terrible, and the land was conquered by anarchy and brute force, instead of strategy and decent government. Gangs rule the land, except for in Eden, an area which is only inhabited by genetically perfected humans called proovs. Mind probes are needles developed by years of introspection and science so harmful to your mind it’s almost like sunbathing in ultraviolet light. They create an experience that’s supposed to make you feel like you’re actually in the movie you’re watching. It’s like a TV you stick in your brain. Spaz, however, cannot use mind probes because he has something backtimers call “epilepsy.” If he uses a mind probe, he has a wicked seizure, and lights out – that’s all folks.

He meets an old dude named Ryter and they soon go on an adventure to rescue Spaz’s adoptive little sister, Bean, who is in another section of the Urb and dying. They meet a proov along the way named Lanaya who unexpectedly helps them in lots of random ways. Although Lanaya at first thinks that Spaz is about as attractive as a gargoyle because she is genetically “improved” (the cat’s pajamas is a metaphor that comes to mind) she soon becomes his friend and helps him rescue Bean. Bean, however, is terribly sick and in danger of dying, so Lanaya agrees to take her to Eden where the rest of the “normals” learn that she’s not just any proov – she’s literally a princess destined to become the heir of a position more luxurious than a deluxe yacht. Although Bean is eventually healed, they soon face the fact that Eden has a boycott on normal residents and have to leave. There is a surprising, yet wholly deserved ending that lets you know, as strange as it sounds, that Spaz is the last book in the universe.

The style of this book, I have to say, was not terribly unique. It was, however, similar to The Hunger Games – creepy, yet inspiring. The name didn’t really seem to fit in the beginning, but in the end it’s completely obvious. This is one of those stories where the main character tells the story. A few other incredibly successful books this are Junie B. Jones (although the genre is not similar) and The Hunger Games. I would recommend this book to kids ages 12 and up.


Posted by: Fred Reads


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Review: Inkheart

Thanks to my father’s youngest sister – my aunt – for getting this book for me after a children’s play when I was six years old, even though I was too young to read it. -Fred Reads


Title:  InkheartimagesCAH71OJ5 

Author:  Cornelia Funke 

Publisher:  Scholastic 

Series:  The Inkheart Trilogy 

Genre:  Children’s Fantasy/Teen’s Fantasy


Yes, my aunt did indeed buy me this book after a children’s play when I was six years old. In fact, I distinctly remember asking her for it, how it was on an attractive spinning book-case along with its sidekick, Inkheart, the second book in the trilogy. I don’t know what she was thinking, but she bought me the book. It had been sitting on my shelf ever since. Five years and three months later, I saw a thick, yet attractive paperback book sitting in one of my shelves.  Now, I had finished a book earlier and wanted to start another one, so I picked it up, saw the cover and suddenly a formidable, mind-blowing monsoon of memories started pouring down on the rainforest of my mind. It was the first time since I started the Harry Potter series in 5-K that I felt I was destined to read a fantasy book.

So here I am now, finished with the book, writing a review of it. Over all, this is an incredibly unique style of writing. It’s not a “happily ever after” book, but it’s not a “and so they all died” book either. This is a slightly dark fantasy book. I mean dark in a sort of thrilling way – not a mutant zombie apocalypse kind of way. It’s more like “Oh no! Will Capricorn succeed in forcing Meggie to raise The Shadow? Will the evil Basta put an end to mysterious Dustfinger? Will Fred Reads finally stop being dramatic?!” The magic in this book is very subtle. It’s a solid, sturdy plot, yet with whimsy and awe. Many teens today will read fantasy. It’s just a matter of balancing the plot so it’s not all boring, but it’s not filled with fluffy purple pandas and magical roads to candy land. This is a perfect, perfect balance in a story. This is a spot on, hit the nail on the head, home run, supah ninja awesome plot. There are un-stereotypical villains, un-average heroes, intelligent heroines (a detail in books that is struggling to keep its head above water), boisterous jokesters, mysterious double agents, wise creators, parasitic destroyers, and even horned martins (which are neither rodents nor marsupials) named Gwin. Even the dialogue and way the way the characters say it just makes you want to keep flipping the pages. The only thing that caused an interference with the awesomeness of this book was the ending. I mean, it was acceptable, but for a book as great as this, it’s got to be really, really good. Luckily the sneak peek at the end of the book saved that.

Overall I thought – no, I know – this is one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read. This one book has surpassed pretty much everything except the combined power of the epic Harry Potter series. It will definitely be a book that I read again (that’s just how I roll) in the future. I would recommend this book to an audience of ages 12 and up.


Posted by: Fred Reads

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Review: A Wrinkle in Time

Title:  A Wrinkle in TimeA Wrinkle in Time

Author:  Madeline L’Engle

Publishers:  Dell Books; Farrar, Straus & Giroux 

Awards:  John Newberry Medal;  Sequoyah Book Award; Lewis Carroll Shelf Award

Series:  The Time Quartet

Genres:  Classic; Fantasy; Sci-Fi


This is a most unusual book. I feel embarrassed, yet compelled to say that I really didn’t know anything about this book until I started reading it. Of course, I had heard of it, but I didn’t know anything about the plot, the characters, or even the genres. I also didn’t know that this is in fact the first book of a quartet. After reading this, I will definitely read the other books.

The style of the book is nothing unusual at first glance, but after getting a few chapters into the book I marveled at how L’Engle managed to keep me on track with this most complicated plot. I still don’t know how she did it, but I’m still suspicious. The author manages to write a serious good with quite a grave and even slightly disturbing plot (a sure sign of a classic to a kid), yet she manages to pack whimsy and awe in this short book. Oh, by the way, this is probably the shortest classic book I’ve ever read, only about 200 pages in an older standard novel size. Then again, it’s part of a series – you don’t have to have a long book. My favorite part was how the author explained what a tesseract (a wrinkle in time) is. I wish the author would have focused more on describing the characters. Although it was not necessary for the plot, it would be more enjoyable picturing the characters and what they’re doing if you knew what they actually looked like. The name itself is weird, because the adventure has lots to do with special kinds of wrinkles, but little of the wrinkles are time wrinkles. But I guess it depends on your perspective. The wrinkles aren’t wrinkles in time, but they do save lots of time.

Our three main characters are Meg, Charles, and Calvin. I can’t really describe their looks or age, because L’Engle doesn’t really say a lot of that stuff. I do know though that Meg is a stubborn, unattractive girl who gets into fights and is slowly turning into a delinquent. Those last two are mainly because of her father, who supposedly left on a government mission and hasn’t returned so far. Charles is an unusual young child and Megs younger brother, who has an uncanny way of, well, knowing things. He knows when his family is upset and comforts them easily. Calvin is not related to the Murrys (Murry is Meg and Charles’s last name), but he plays an extremely important part in the story. They have three mysterious friends who help them travel through the universe and defeat the forces of evil. The trio of friends go on a mission to rescue their father, but near the end it turns out much larger than they think.

I really enjoyed reading this interesting book. The plot was complicated, yet strangely easy to understand. Although I said earlier that there were grave and slightly disturbing problems in the book, they are not severe, and I would recommend this book to anyone ages 10 and up.

Posted by: Fred Reads

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Review and Summary: The Homework Machine

The Homework MachineTitle:  The Homework Machine

Author:  Dan Gutman

Publisher:  Simon and Schuster

Genre:  Children’s Fiction


 Short, fun, interestingly organized, and about something that you aren’t supposed to do. A good book after reading all these novels about serious issues and murderous plots. The Homework Machine is about four kids – a geek, a class clown, a know-it-all teacher’s pet, and a slacker. A most peculiar combination of fifth-graders. In fact, if you mixed together their equivalents in food, you would probably get something resembling the insides of a septic tank. Brenton is an interesting kid – he dresses unlike other people, he parts his hair weird, and he’s light-years ahead of everybody in intelligence. You might be guessing he’s either the geek or the teacher’s pet. He’s the geek. Judy is a stuck-up snob in the beginning, and she has her ring of friends, but is despised among others. She is adored among teachers, but later on in the book her personality begins to change. Sam, or as other people call him, Snik, is in an awkward position as the new kid in school. The class clown, luckily, can define a potential friend from an enemy. Kelsey is just an average kid who gets grades just high enough to get her through the year, and desperately wants to be out of school.

One day, Brenton tells Snik that he has a homework machine, and, of course, Snik doesn’t believe him. So he comes over with Judy and Kelsey, who hear about the conversation, and like in any other good children’s book, Brenton’s computer with software he designed himself does their homework. They have the fallacy that if their homework is done for them, life will become easier. They’re wrong, but they don’t know that. So they bring their homework over so often it’s outrageous, and the foursome deigns each other their friendship. Eventually, after many rumors leak out, they are caught by the police and have to explain everything. Of course, they try to get out of trouble, but they fail miserably. Don’t worry, they don’t get put in quarantine or anything – it turns out kind of good, actually.

When I started reading, this book had me confused at the beginning. It was on my book list for school, and not because I wanted to read it (I had never heard of it), but because my teacher found good reviews on it and thought that it could be used for a review (which I’m writing right now). Turns out, it’s not what you would excpect from a school book. It’s about four kids and a machine that helps them cheat at homework. Probably not a teacher’s first choice of a book. I wasn’t at all bamboozled into thinking that this was a classic book – I mean, any book about a machine that does homework probably isn’t some dude with a PhD’s idea. You may think at first that this book has no place in any school setting whatsoever – that it would encourage kids to cheat on their boring after-school assignments. However, after reading this book, I found that it sort of got me that no matter how hard you try to conceal your “accidental glancing” at someone else’s paper, you will (almost) always get caught. Even if that accidental peeking isn’t at all peeking, but using some geek’s super computer to do homework in your handwriting at the touch of a button. Hey, anything’s possible.

The setup of this book is quite interesting. It’s like a review, except they follow the same story in the same order with no questions asked. Do you remember my review of The Red Pyramid? Well, it sort of like that, except with WAY more people. All the kids’ moms are in it, an enemy at school appears a few times, and even a police officer talks at the beginning and end. There are back stories and random explanations, which keep the story interesting. Friendships develop and diminish, and there’s always a mysterious flair to the words.

After reading this book I am almost voracious for more Dan Gutman. He delivers bits of everything, and gives his books plenty of humor and good-natured sarcasm. This was a short book, with easy vocab and plot, so I would recommend this book to kids ages 8 to 12.


Posted by: Fred Reads


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Summary and Character Sketch: Mockingjay

Title:  MockingjayThe-Hunger-Games-Mockingjay-Book-Cover

Author: Suzanne Collins

Trilogy:  The Hunger Games

Publisher:  Scholastic Press

Genre:  Young Adult Fiction/Romance/Action

District 13; a supposed wasteland, bombed to dust in the war that is the reason of the Hunger Games. It’s not even supposed to exist anymore – just smoldering ruins and nothingness. The crowning display of the Capitol’s terrible power. It’s also the headquarters of the largest rebellion in the history of man kind.

In the Dark Days – a time of terrible nuclear war, there was a rebellion. There was also District 13. Its job was to make weapons – bombs, guns, and terrible modern death traps used by the capital. When District 13 rebelled, it was easily overpowered by the Capitol of Panem. The land was bombed to oblivion and that was the end of the war. But the Capitol was not satisfied. They created the Hunger Games – a terrible way of keeping the districts in line.

Now, a cruel seventy-six years later, the people of District 13 live on. They moved underground when the land was bombed and though the goings have been tough, they have pushed through to aspire another rebellion. Well, not really aspire. More like confirm. One year ago, a certain sixteen year-old named Katniss Everdeen ended the seventy-fifth Hunger Games, starting whispers of rebellion. Then when she blew up the force field surrounding the arena of the seventy-sixth Hunger Games, there were more than whispers. Now, there is an all-out war between certain districts and the Capitol. And that certain, now seventeen year-old girl, is the face of it. She is the mockingjay, the symbol of rebellion and the spark, no, flame of hope that gives the rebels a steady stream of allies and drive. The president of district 13 – Ms. Coin, is the person that keeps Katniss in line and basically bosses everyone around. The less-than-perfect conditions are not toxic, but enough to get some people from the inner districts complaining. Yes, the place is clean, but the rooms show little decorum. Surprisingly, the people are allowed to be omnivores, instead of just eating two foods.

Anyways, Katniss is caught in a mental snare. For once, she is not force to display hypocrisy, but she is still caught in the situation of choosing between Peeta and Gale. Ironically, Peeta was captured by the capitol, which should make the decision easier, but the truth is – she loves them both. Though luckily, Peeta and several other friends are rescued from the evil and sinister clutches of the Capitol. But then Katniss figures out that Peeta really isn’t there. The Capitol had done something to Peeta called “hijacking,” manipulating Peeta and his memories into thinking that Katniss is trying to kill her. Throughout the book Katniss must fight a battle against the new Peeta, to bring back the old one. Soon Katniss is trained to be a soldier and a voice for the rebellion at the same time, and when she goes into battle, everything changes. She’s a pretty good soldier, walking through danger as if it is a hologram, pulverizing every danger in her path, and, with help from her team and some excellent, yet dangerous deduction, they push through. Unfortunately, though, the team makes many sacrifices. President Snow, the leader of the capitol, is by Katniss like her silhouette. The ending does not come without deaths, betrayals, and decisions of life over love, and love over life.

Katniss herself goes over a huge transformation in this book and the trilogy. She starts off as a starving, poor, seemingly hopeless girl from the seam of District 12. Yes, she is strong, independent, but not even close to the scale of what she will be by the end. Throughout the two Hunger Games, she learns what life and love are truly worth, and the despicable acts that some people can do without hesitation or even blinking an eye. She knew some of this when she was younger, but now that she’s part of what her family is forced to watch, she knows it like the feel of her bow (pun intended). In the second book she must learn to trust others that may not be immediately trustworthy, and expect, quite literally, a stab in the back at any time. And in the third book she nearly breaks down with all the burdens she is given, but like in the other circumstances, she adapts quickly. By the end of the series she is not just a girl, but a physically and mentally strong woman, who can take on any burden without giving up. She can be cold and calculating at times, and warm and welcoming at others. In the span of a year she has become more strong and experienced than most people are in their entire lifetime. She has done the impossible by not only surviving, but helping others survive as well. She has the ability to kill, but she is not heartless either. In fact, I don’t even think that she would want to kill another soul after what she had been through, but that is not specified in the book – it doesn’t have to be.

Ah, the final book of the second most awesome series I have ever read, and most certainly ever will. Suzanne Collins hit the nail on the head, giving the perfect trilogy. I think that this is the best teen fiction material ever written. When I wake up in the morning, I reach for the book on my nightstand, and when I bring it back, the book’s not a Hunger Games book. Then I realize “It’s over. You finished the entire trilogy, and it’s over.” But all good things must come to an end. I cannot think of a way to give my thanks to Suzanne Collins for writing such a series of books with not just a respectable plot, but with raw power all over. The series comes to an end that I think is perfectly suited for it, one that I will never forget. This was more violent than the other two books, with more blood, death, and despair. But, in all honesty, I would still recommend this book to anyone ages fourteen and up. I leave you in the word that has kept me reading this series right to the very last letter, one that is simple, clean, and, in a way, powerful.


Posted by Fred Reads

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Review and Summary: Catching Fire

catching-fireTitle:  Catching Fire

Trilogy:  The Hunger Games

Author:  Suzanne Collins

Publisher:  Scholastic Press

Genre:  Young Adult Fiction/Romance/Action

Ah, here I am again, basking in the awesomeness of this book, and still trying to get myself calm from the aftershock of the ending of this book two days later. I find it hard to describe another book with this magnitude of sheer perfection. I guess the burrito thing is already used, so I’ll have to describe it in a different way… Ah-Ha! Yes, a root beer float. Think of this book as one of these heavenly concoctions, except in terms of literature. And this root beer float has not just root beer, but every kind of soda imaginable, mixing in a way that packs a punch, but not a Jackie Chan break-every-bone-in-your-body punch. This book has a lot more romance in it than the first book. But not in a way that seems fake. In a way that really makes you feel the character’s anger, fear, despair, confusion, and maybe their loneliness. In fact, I actually got teary, angry, confused and lonely myself in certain points of the book. It just shows you what a skilled author can do. I think there was about three or four moments in the book where I felt like I was going to weep, yell, punch a hole in the wall, or do some other crazy thing that you would never expect while reading any book, especially a fiction one, where you know it’s all made up. This book was so… honest. It was so outrageously believable I had to remind myself every once in a while that this is fiction – that it didn’t really happen. It’s not that it’s not totally futuristic; it’s just the way Collins tells it.

I realize that before I actually summarize this book, I’m going to have to make several things, mainly romance situations, a lot more clear than I did last time. I didn’t really think that it was very important. And it wasn’t in that book. But now it is. And if you want to read all my reviews before you read the series itself (which is fine), you need to really understand this stuff.

When Katniss was left to fend for the rest of her family after her father died in a mine accident (district 12 is the mining district), she leaned towards the woods, the only place where she really felt comfortable. Of course, it was forbidden to go in there, since there was a fence and everything around the district, but that didn’t stop her – she hunted, gathered berries, picked edible plants, and made some money selling things at a full-time black market, dubbed the Hob. One day, she came across some traps, and was scared out of her wits when a sixteen year old boy showed up and accused her of stealing from his traps. He asked her name, and Katniss said it so quietly the boy thought she said “Catnip.” She later found out that the boy’s name was Gale, and though they saw each other often in the woods, they were never really affiliated with each other. Little did they both know that soon they would rely on each other heavily as hunting partners. They became not only friends, but unbelievably important to each other, and not just for work. They were not lovers, though. Yet.

Gale was, truthfully, not incredibly important in the first book, save for some of his skills that rubbed on Katniss and helped her during the games. No, the second main character was highly understated in my last review, which was a mistake. Peeta, the mild-mannered, strong, flirty, and overall hot sixteen year-old is chosen along with Katniss to fight in the Hunger Games (don’t worry, I’m getting to the story of the second book, not the first). The story behind their awkward connection starts with bread. Peeta is the baker’s son, and very skilled at decorating and, well, baking. One night, Katniss was out of the house, her family was starving, and they were going to die if they didn’t get food immediately. So on her walk, on a rainy night, she walks past the baker’s house. A boy stands there, with blond hair, blond eyelashes, and a substantial chest and shoulders. He goes back inside under the command of his mother. His mother is a crazy, deranged woman. She goes so far as to beat him, and yells at him to feed the hogs. So he emerges in the rain again, carrying a burnt loaf of bread, that he supposedly burned himself. He takes a few little bits of crust off the bread until the woman stops giving him the evil eye, then hurriedly tosses the bread to Katniss and disappears inside. Katniss is surprised, grateful, and a little bit confused. Why did Peeta Mellark, a boy she barely knew, risk a beating to give her bread? It is soon revealed before the first games when he declares himself to be in love with her.

In this next epic, astonishing, mind-blowing account, Peeta and Katniss are living in luxury. They have enormous houses – the houses of the Hunger Games victors. They have to go on a victory tour throughout the other districts, possibly the cruelest part. The tour is despicable because all the other districts have to treat it like it’s a celebration. Remember – these are the districts whose tributes they killed. So imagine Katniss’s sheer panic as President Snow himself comes to her house and says that the way she ended the last hunger games is causing talk of an uprising – a rebellion against the capital. Katniss is both surprised and happy. Until, of course President Snow says that if she does not halt the uprisings, he will have Gale killed. She then later on learns that she has to go with Peeta again – to another Hunger Games.

When they get to the capital, Katniss knows she will not be going up against inexperienced kids – that they will have to battle 22 victors of previous Hunger Games.

There have been rumors of rebellion passed around by Katniss’s friends and her prep team. Her Mockingjay pin that she wore to her last games has become the probable symbol of rebellion. So her spirited stylist, Cinna, designs a dress that transforms into a Mockingjay-like outfit. He is beaten and arrested for this deed that the Capitol considers a crime, leaving Katniss shaken right before she enters the arena. During the games Katniss makes allies, there are over fifteen deaths in only two days, and she experiences many heartfelt losses and tragedies. The arena itself reveals a surprise in itself, having a very intricate setup, and there are unexpected friendships, sacrifices, and an ending that not only knocks you out of you seat, but leaves you scrambling back to the bookstore or library for more.

I honestly don’t believe that the next book could be better than this. This is the part where I get totally colloquial and say “WWWWOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!” after I reflect, expectantly peacefully, on the time I spent reading this book, and it comes BLASTING INTO MY MIND LIKE A HEAT GUIDED NUCLEAR MISSILE, KNOCKING OUT EVERY SENSE OF SANITY AND CALMNESS AND EXPLODING IN MY FACE, BLOWING ME UP LIKE A TRUCKLOAD OF DYNAMITE!!! Okay, got it all out of my system.

I believe I started that last paragraph saying that I honestly don’t think that the next book could be better than this. And I simply don’t. Collins has already done that amazing, uncommon, unexpected thing – she has created a sequel that actually improves upon the first book. That was one thing with Star Wars – the battle on the ice planet of Hoth and the moment when Darth Vader said “Luke, I am your father” both created explosive moments just enough to pass the Death Star blowing up. But that was in a movie. Not a book. I’ll say one thing – only the greatest authors this good planet earth has sired have created sequels better than books that already blew you away. Those are authors that honestly enjoy doing their work, and feel it coming from their own minds, and not having to look up on Google “hottest book topics of the year”. They make the hottest book topics of the year. Take JK Rowling (pronounced Rolling) for example – she started out literally scribbling notes on scratch paper and now she’s the richest author in the world. So nothing would surprise me.

I think it’s needless to say that, overall, thought that this book was completely awesome. I see no room for mistakes whatsoever, except I wish that the book was a gazillion pages long (shame on you, Collins!). I would again, because this was a moderately violent book with slightly dark and sinister moments, not recommend this book to anyone ages thirteen and under. I would, on the other hand, recommend this book to absolutely anyone over that age who likes, romance, action, and well, other books like this.


Posted by Fred Reads

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Guest Review by BetsyReads: The White Tiger

A Note From the Editor: We *love* our readers! In honor of Valentine’s day,  crosscountryreading honors its readers with our very first ever guest read! Please enjoy the following review by loyal reader, Betsyreads.

Guest Review by Betsyreads

Title:  The White Tiger

Author:  Aravind Adiga

Publisher:  Free Press, 2008

& HaperCollins India, 2008

Prize Winner: 40th  Man Booker Prize, 2008

Genre:  Fiction

 Am I not a part of all that is changing in this country?  Haven’t I succeeded in the struggle that every poor man here should be making – the struggle not to take the lashes your father took, not to end up in a mound of indistinguishable bodies that will rot in the black mud of Mother Ganga?  True, there was the matter of murder – which is a wrong thing to do, no question about it.  It has darkened my soul.  All the skin-whitening creams sold in the markets of India won’t clean my hands again (p. 473).

Munna, The White Tiger, Balram, and Ashok Sharma are identities of the same fictional man, and metaphors for the actual men of modern India.  Munna, which translates as “boy,” is the son of a tuberculosis-infected, half-starved, low caste rickshaw driver, and as such is expected to be content with a life of sweeping dirt and mice off of sweetshop floors.  The White Tiger is his adolescent nickname, assigned by the grandmother who knows Munna to be a rare and crafty child.  With the grandmother’s help, The White Tiger becomes Balram, a hired driver (of an actual automobile, not a rickshaw!) for a powerful, enigmatic landlord in the local area.

In the context of living and working as the landlord’s driver and general servant, Balram learns about the complexities of Indian society in the cities beyond his village, which he dubs “The Darkness.”  He shares with his intended reader, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, his revelations about the shifting realities of an ancient caste system, political corruption, marital traditions, family dynamics, and the key to business success in a rapidly changing India.  Favorable comparisons to Chinese society are offered almost as frequently as mocking references to American absurdities.  Overall, the perspective of the protagonist is intelligent and insightful, if at times crude and jarring.

Following a circular timeframe, the reader is cued at the beginning to follow Balram’s story to a foreshadowed act of incredible violence that changes, some might say frees, his life.  He very unapologetically becomes Ashok Sharma, boldly adopting part of his former master’s own name.  Using a metaphor of a rooster coop, in which animals corral themselves and are ultimately responsible for their own entrapment, Ashok Sharma admits how he was “looking for the key for years, but the door was always open.”  The cost of opening that door is given little consideration.

A Western reader would be foolish to miss the obvious parallels to the economic and political systems of the United States.  At least in India, the caste system is intentional – its existence is visible and its consequences acknowledged.  In the United States, one could argue, a more insidious caste system exists.  Where the caste system is invisibly enforced but outwardly denied, one must be even more of a White Tiger to change one’s status.

Betsyreads recommends this book for readers looking for a glimpse into the India that is kept carefully hidden from travel brochures.  Readers intrigued by intermingled discussions of philosophy, economics, history, and religion will be rewarded.  Aravind Adiga, in his first novel, allows the protagonist to ramble a bit – Hemingway fans may find themselves frustrated by the amount of sidetracked dialogue.  Overall, the journey is worth the meandering.  Due to persistent vulgarity, Betsyreads recommends this book for readers ages 16 and up.

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Review and Summary: My Side of the Mountain

Title:  My Side of the Mountain

Author: Jean Craighead George

Publisher: E. P. Dutton

Genre:  Fiction/Classic

            So, I pick up this book with a worn cover, a 1959 publishing date, and a color-combo that is, to be terse, quite ghastly. Then I read the author’s preface and completely change my first impression of the book. The author kind of opens up in those couple pages of writing, and we learn a good amount about him – why he wrote the book, and a kind-of cool story of how the book came to be published and the miracles that happened along with it. The author starts with the story of how he, like Sam Gribley (the main character), decided to run away from home, and returned three hours later. He explains the differences of him and Sam. He talks about how he wished he had the courage to do what Sam did, and he goes on about the bit of Sam Gribley he sees in the gangs of kids and the people all around him. It’s very heartfelt, you get that right when he starts, and made me wonder what it would be like to run away and spend the rest of your life living off the land untouched by human activity. Then he explains how the owner of the publishing company didn’t want to publish the book, but how someone persuaded him to do it. That, to me, was the best part of the book.

This book is, to my extent of knowledge, not very well known – at least not as a classic book. I think that the vocabulary is not very hard at all, though the style of writing fits the classic-genre-description. With it having chapters that all begin with “In which”, it brings back memories of my first series – The Spiderwick Chronicles. The book has illustrations, but seldom and scattered about, which almost always means it’s a young adult or classic book. In this case, it’s both. Speaking of illustrations, there are two general kinds – rough ones and detailed ones. The landscape/people drawings are very, very rough, but in a way that’s not totally messy and that gives you feeling it’s not supposed to be perfect. Like a Picasso painting, for instance. The sketches of plants, contraptions, and random constructed things are in such beautiful detail that it’s almost impossible to believe that they were done by human hand. But if you look really closely, you can see the breaks in between lines, and that gives you a reassurance.

The story itself is very thought-inducing. It is, like you probably guessed, about a boy named Sam Gribley who runs away to the woods, with parents certain that he will return within the next couple hours. His parents, however, are mistaken, and Sam lives on the land, catching fish, eating roots, stalks, and nuts, and building a very comfortable home in a tree. But it’s not just that. He not only learns how to survive, he learns how to live an extremely comforting life. He lives in the Catskill Mountains, a place inhabited by his ancestors, but long abandoned. He trains his own peregrine falcon, which he names “Frightful” and his newfound friend and companion gives him a helpful hand at hunting, scaring away mice looking to burrow in Sam’s home, and provides a source of entertainment. Sam gets befriended by a fearless and spunky weasel, which soon becomes known as “The Baron Weasel” and gets not only a friend, but a few laughs as well. He befriends a malnourished raccoon who is dubbed “Jessie Coon James” and names a few chickadees during the winter.

But, as time passes, human activity begins to disturb Sam’s serine life of quiet. But it has its upsides, too. He meets, Bando, a college English teacher lost in the Catskill Mountains. He becomes a fatherly figure to Sam, and he visits from time to time during school breaks. Hunters kill deer and they lose them, giving Sam a few meals, a door for his impressive tree house, and a few deerskin suits. He meets several other people, old and young, who either help him, become suspicious of him, or befriend then betray him.

Before the winter, our spunky main character in a frantic rush to save up enough food. So, disturbingly like a squirrel, he gathers, nuts, roots, and other assorted food items and puts them in another tree, which he burned out like his home. He puts Frightful in overdrive, making her hunt more and more rabbits and squirrels, and then freezes them, using methods not revealed in this book. Bando comes at Christmastime, like he had promised earlier, and a special surprise is on the horizon. Sam’s dad comes to see him for Christmas, and is not mad at him at all. In fact, both of them are ecstatic to see each other, and they have a feast with Bando. Later on, the city comes to Sam, and he has to go back home.

I thought that this book was very sincere and I would probably read a sequel to this if it had one. I would recommend this book to people ages twelve and up.


Posted by Fred Reads


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review and Summary: The Hunger Games

the-hunger-games-book-cover-290x290Title:  The Hunger Games

Author:  Suzanne Collins

Publisher:  Scholastic Inc.

Genre:  Young Adult Fiction

            Yes, I, Fred Reads, dare to review such a ragingly popular book as The Hunger Games. After a while of blogging, I’m ready to review a book with more reviews than possible to count. Some people may not agree on my opinion, but hey, they don’t have to. And by the way, is it just me, or have I been reading a lot of really good books lately? I’m quickly running out of original sentences that I use for these kinds of books.

You know how sometimes you read a book that you honestly don’t want to end? Like, seriously, you would want it to have so many pages it just goes on and on and on? Well, this is one of those books. No, wait, that sentence was way, way too calm for the emotions that I’m feeling right now. No, it was more like… HOLY BUCKETS!!!!!!! THIS BOOK IS SO TOTALLY FREAKIN’ AWESOME IT’S SCARY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Yeah, that’s more like it.  I was, as it may have come across, totally addicted to this book. I mean, literally, I had to peel my eyes and hands off this book after the first two and a half hours straight of reading. Without blinking. Or going to the bathroom. This book just generates this fast-paced… thing. I can hardly even describe it. Think about it as the world’s biggest, most totally awesome burrito ever created in the history of man-kind. It has suspense, action, sadness, anger, despair, humor (though not a lot, I mean, the people try to kill each other), betrayal, uncertainty, stuff that I don’t even know the name of, and, yes, a little bit of mushy stuff called love. Oh, and it’s rolled in a tortilla of perfect, incredible storytelling. Suzanne Collins is a literary twin of J.K. Rowling. She delivers the perfect punch in a book, giving you a surprise as soon as you’re sure you know what’s going to happen. She makes a perfect pie, in a way, putting the perfect amounts of everything in, none overpowering the others. I’m actually getting a little teary, this book is so perfect. Thank god, there are other books in the trilogy. I’m actually kind of mad at myself for not getting the whole set at once, because now that I’m done with the first book, I have to get the next one.

The plot of this book is inventive, perfectly paced, and more than slightly disturbing. I won’t sugar-coat it – this is a violent book with life and death scenarios, and there is blood in it, though not so much that it’s bad. Our protagonist is a sixteen year-old girl named Katniss Everdeen. She lives with her mother, her sister Prim, a goat, and an ugly, misshaped cat. They all live in the seam, an area in District 12. District 12 is one of the districts surrounding Panem, a shining, glorified, arrogant capitol. The twelve districts and Panem make up an area once known as North America. Almost everyone in district twelve is starving, and it’s the same scenario with the other outer districts. But every year they have a chance to fix that, to get more food than they could imagine for a whole year. But this happens in a grizzly, terrible way. The event called The Hunger Games, hosted by the capitol, brings together one girl and one boy from each district – twenty four people from the ages 12 to 18 – to fight to the death on live television. This year, Katniss and her best friend, Gale, are extremely nervous. The people get chosen randomly from the thousands of teenagers in their district, but someone has to get picked, and the odds are totally random. Luckily, neither Gale nor Katniss get picked. No, Prim, her little sister, the only person in the world that she could certainly say she loved, gets picked. Katniss is in a daze, and almost faints, as her only sibling walks onto the stage in front of thousands of people. Katniss snaps out of it, and volunteers herself in place of her sister. She’s sure she won’t win, but it’s the only way. Then the boy gets picked. Peeta Mellark. Laughably, the exact person she was hoping wouldn’t get picked. He has an interesting history with Katniss that’s revealed in the book, but do you seriously think I’m going to tell you what it is? She says her good-byes and gets whisked off to the capitol.

Before the games begin, her mentor (the only living person in District 12 that’s won the games), Haymitch, a drunk man, gives Katniss and Peeta some advice. Then she meets her stylist, Cinna, a very interesting character, who is awesome at designing clothes with expert techniques that make Katniss look beautiful. She’s almost in a state of repose. Then they get in the arena. All the audience thinks that they are madly in love, because of something Peeta said at his interview. She vacillates over running for cover or going into the thick of things when they are released at the cornucopia, a place with supplies that the competitors need to survive. She gets a backpack, and then makes for the trees. In the games she faces many dangers and setbacks, makes allies and loses them, and the book comes to an uncertain end that makes you want to read the next one.

I thought this book was just the right length for a young adult book. It’s not a gazillion pages long, so it’s not repelling, but it’s not twenty pages long with lots of colorful pictures, either, if you know what I mean. Like I said before, this book is indeed violent, but that should not give anyone a bad impression. I would simply give this book an age recommendation of anyone about 14 and up.

Posted by Fred Reads


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Review: Fly By Night

flybynight-316x480Title:  Fly By Night

Author:  Frances Hardinge

Publisher:  Macmillan Publishers, 2005 (UK)

HarperCollins, 2006 (US)

Genre:  Fantasy

Awards: Branford Boase Award (UK), School Library Journal’s Best Books of 2006 (US)


I was excited to find this book on display at my local library during the American Library Association’s “Banned Books Week” back in October. I picked it up, read half of it, lost interest, then recently checked it out again to give it another shot. I know what you’re thinking, “You lost interest in an award-winning Fantasy book which is about banned books?!” Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  Although Fly By Night is an adventure story filled with unique and quirky characters and a world that is unlike our own, overall, I found the book to be tedious.

The book is written in faux old English, at an unnamed time and place which mildly resembles jolly old England at the turn of the century. The writing has some amusing attributes – my favorite being that each chapter is lettered and titled, “A is for…”, “B is for…” and so on – but many of the chapter are simply too long and contain too many side stories which do not serve the plot whatsoever.

Mosca, our main character, is a Spunky young girl whose deceased father was once a great writer. Because of this Mosca has learned to read and write,  which in a world where written word is not only banned but feared, leads her to become intertwined in a full on war. Mosca meets a con man who is involved with several guilds which resemble social / religious / political groups. The guild leaders among the only characters who can read and write. They use the power of fear to manipulate the general public into following their guild – eventually this leads to a full on war. Mosca, who cannot seem to stay out of trouble becomes a key player in the outcome of the battle. The book ends with an uncertainty for where Mosca, her con man, and the general public will end up next.

Though this book has many great attributes of a riveting fantasy novel, the length, word choice, and never-ending subplots prevent me from recommending it to any of my friends. If wordiness and meandering plots is your thing, I’d find this book suitable for readers aged 10+.


Posted by: Janine Reads


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