Thursday, November 29, 2007

Vivacious Narrator Makes The Amulet of Samarkand Sparkle and Shine

If you're one of the cowards reluctant readers afraid to approach Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, you may be interested in another Jonathan - British writer Jonathan Stroud, that is. His The Amulet of Samarkand (the first book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy) reminded me of Susanna Clarke's masterpiece - even down to the footnotes - except that it's much less daunting. It's just as brilliant, but infinitely more readable. Not that you should ignore Jonathan Strange, but if you're not quite up to the task, check this one out...

This young adult novel stars 11-year-old Nathaniel, who's apprenticed to an aging London magician named Arthur Underwood. The apprenticeship promises to end with a coveted position in Parliament, but it's turning out to be a lonely life for Nathaniel. Without family or playmates, the boy focuses only on learning magic and trying to please his master. This isn't easy because, as Nathaniel soon discovers, Arthur Underwood is a doddering old fool and a second-rate magician to boot. The old man confines Nathaniel to the library, refusing to teach him any real magic until he's of an appropriate age. Bored, the boy delves into advanced tomes, teaching himself the powerful spells and incantations his master forbids him to learn. When Arthur finally permits Nathaniel to mingle with other magicians, the boy is humiliated by a vain and powerful magician named Simon Lovelace. Arthur refuses to stick up for his apprentice, which stings Nathaniel badly. He vows that not only will he show all the magicians how skillful he is, but also that he will have his revenge on Simon Lovelace.

With feverish intensity, Nathaniel studies his books and practices incantations until he knows enough to exact his revenge. He calls up a legendary djinn (a mid-level demon) named Bartimaeus, enslaves him with magic and makes him steal an ancient amulet from his enemy's collection. Nathaniel soon discovers that this artifact - The Amulet of Samarkand - has, in fact, been stolen from the British government. Its presence in Lovelace's home damns the magician, creating the perfect opportunity for Nathaniel to expose him as a thief. The boy is so hungry for revenge that he fails to see how much trouble he's really gotten himself into - angry imps stalk his every move; Bartimaeus plots his demise; and Lovelace threatens the Underwoods with violence if they don't return his property. Before he knows it, Nathaniel has lost the only home and family he has ever known. With a resentful Bartimaeus by his side, the boy takes on his arch enemy to avenge his family and save the magical world. All of his skills will be required to face the powerful magician and his servants from the Other World. Has Nathaniel taught himself well enough? Does he have the strength to face his enemies? Or will his pride destroy him for good?

When I describe this book, it is from Nathaniel's point of view, but the story's real star is Bartimaeus. His voice sparkles in clear counterpoint to the boy's dull, whiney tone. I loved his character as well. The great Bartimaeus smarts at his imprisonment, knowing "[he] was bound to take some abuse for scurrying around on behalf of a scrap like [Nathaniel]" (10), so he fights back with sarcastic cajoling and mocking taunts. His exaggerated sense of self-importance made me laugh out loud. In spite of himself, Bartimaeus also finds compassion for the forlorn boy. These dueling natures make him a hilarious and intriguing narrator. Since he shines so brightly, it's obvious why Stroud named the trilogy after him.

Lest you think the book lacks action, let me tell you, it has it in spades. Honestly, I couldn't read the story fast enough, so eager was I to find out what happened next. It's a charming, enthralling read that will cast a spell and pull you in deeper with every magical page. Note: The Amulet of Samarkand bears many similarities to Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, but not enough to get you out of reading the latter! Buck up - now you've got two magical books to read and enjoy.

Grade: A

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Lost in Books, or My Random Thoughts on Reading

I've been working so hard on Christmas - decorating the house, writing out Christmas cards, standing in line at the post office, etc. - that I haven't gotten as much reading done as I would have liked. It didn't help that I was reading a book I just couldn't get into - John Dunning's Booked to Die. I may come back to this one, but for now, I'm going to return it to the library. After abandoning Dunning, I picked up The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud, which is fabulous. I'm really enjoying it. A review will be up just as soon as I finish the novel.

Since I don't have a book review, I thought I would throw out a question, which was inspired by a conversation I had with my husband last night. We were talking about recurring dreams and he mentioned one he has in which he's searching for me amid endless rows of books. We laughed about it, because I am frequently "lost" in a book. My husband is incredibly patient with my compulsive reading, but I think his dream reveals his occasional frustration with it. So, my question is this: how does your significant other deal with your (sometimes) obsessive reading habits? Does he/she care? Suffer in silence? If you don't have a significant other, what about your kids, friends or other relatives? How do they react to living with a bibliophile?

I think everyone has something to which they are addicted, be it video games or golf or crochet or tv; something with which they get so absorbed they forget about the real world. Books just happen to be my choice of drug. My husband deals with it. Patiently. Just like I deal with his love for PSP, sports and various electronics. It works for us, but I guess my husband's dream made me realize I need to pop my head back into the real world every now and then ... just to let him know I'm not so lost that I can't be found :)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Tick Tock, The Mystery Starts With A Clock...

For those of you who are missing a certain bespectacled boy wizard, The House With a Clock in Its Walls may provide a happy diversion. Not that it really compares, but it's a fun Gothic story about magic, ghosts and a mysterious clock.

The star of the novel is 10-year-old Lewis Barnavelt, who lived with his parents near Milwaukie until the day they were killed in a car accident. Now, he is traveling to New Zebedee, Michigan, to live with an uncle he has never met. Although his maiden aunts have warned him about Uncle Jonathan, Lewis finds the man warm and friendly, if a bit eccentric. Jonathan lives in an old mansion, filled with wonderful, odd items, like stained-glass windows that change their scenes and a coat rack with an ever-changing mirror. Lewis soon realizes that his uncle Jonathan is a wizard, though he claims to be "pretty much [only] a parlor magician, though I have a few tricks that go beyond rabbits and playing cards" (34). With this realization comes another: Jonathan's chocolate-chip-cookie-baking housekeeper and best friend, Mrs. Zimmerman, is a witch. Together, they are determined to unlock the mysteries of Jonathan's mansion, which once belonged to a dangerous magician couple. The foremost mystery concerns a clock hidden somewhere behind the walls, a clock that never stops ticking, a clock that may lead to the destruction of all humankind.

Lewis loves his new life with Jonathan and Mrs. Zimmerman, who make his days fun and interesting. Outside of the mansion, however, Lewis is having a little trouble. He's always been overweight, and thus a target of other kids' taunts. Then, one day, he meets Tarby, a popular boy and athlete who's banned from baseball because of a broken arm. Bored, Tarby decides to tutor Lewis in the fine arts of catching and throwing. Lewis is thrilled with the friendship, until Tarby's arm heals and he assumes his former place as star athlete, a position that doesn't include consorting with nerds like Lewis. Desperate to keep his friend, Lewis decides to show him a little magic. His tricks work better than he can ever imagine, unleashing a powerful ghost intent on destroying the world. Terrified, Lewis keeps his secret from Uncle Jonathan, meaning he must face the menace alone. The key to its destruction seems to be Jonathan's clock, but where is it? Can Jonathan find it in time? And, most importantly, can he destroy the ghost and save the world from obliteration?

Like I said, the story lacks the depth of Harry Potter, but it's a fun read. Yes, it's predictable. Yes, the mystery is solved with relative ease. Still, it's a worth taking a peek at the indomitable Lewis and his quirky world.

Note: If you just can't get enough, you will be happy to know that The House With a Clock in Its Walls is the first in a series. Although the book was published in 1973, I believe it and its sequels have recently been reissued in paperback. John Bellairs died in 1991, but he penned numerous books during his lifetime; I, for one, am going to the library to search for more!

Grade: B +

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Giver Asks: What Does It Mean to Be Human?

Imagine a world in which all of your choices were made for you, from your daily wardrobe to your family members to your career to your spouse. Think of a world in which you were entirely safe, where you were permitted to take no risks, and where physical pain could be erased with a single dose of medicine. Picture dwelling in a whitewashed world where everyone lives and thinks in exactly the same way, and questioning the rules leads to public chastisement and even "Release" from the community.

Jonas, star of Lois Lowry's The Giver, lives in just such a community. For 12 years, he has dwelt within its borders, attending school, mingling with friends and abiding by the strict rules that make his town the peaceful place it always is. Like all of his classmates, Jonas is looking forward to the December Ceremony when he will receive his "Assignment." This will be his career, which could be anything from Laborer to Doctor to Road Crew Maintainer. To his shock, Jonas learns he will be the new Receiver. The position comes with great honor, but even greater secrecy. Jonas receives a list of rules that will govern his training period, which allow him to do two things which are strictly prohibited in his community: to ask questions of anyone and to lie. Disconcerted, Jonas begins his training with The Giver, an elder who sags under the weight of his responsibilities. The Giver explains Jonas' new responsibilites: he must carry all the memories of the world - from sunshine, to sledding, to war, to starvation - so that his community will be free to live their peaceful, doubtless lives. In essence, he will feel all their emotions for them. As The Giver transfers his memories into his new apprentice's being, Jonas' dull world explodes into a dazzling array of color, sensation and emotion. Some of the memories Jonas receives are terrifying - war, loneliness, abandonment - but others are so powerful - love, family, warmth - that he realizes how empty his real life is. Now that he is able to ask questions freely, Jonas finds himself questioning the life he has been leading - why is he not allowed to have choices? Why can't families have more than the 2 children allowed by the Elders? And what does it really mean when someone is "Released" from the community?

As Jonas ingests this new knowledge, he knows that he can never again be satisfied with his dull, flavorless life. Together, he and The Giver hatch a plan to open the peoples' eyes. When their plans go horribly awry, Jonas suddenly finds himself on a terrifying journey to find "Elsewhere," a place that may or may not exist. Without the promised memories of courage to bind him up, Jonas must rely on his own wits and bravery to save himself, his future and the one person he truly loves.

That's the story in a nutshell, but this book isn't really about the main story. As one reviewer put it, "The simplicity and directness of Lowry's writing force readers to grapple with their own thoughts" (Booklist, Starred Review). Lowry's story is so unadorned that it provides the perfect canvas for infinte thoughts, opinions and analyses. Lowry, herself, says,
...The Giver is many things to many different people. People
bring to it their own complicated beliefs and hopes and dreams and fears and all
At the very least, it's a story about what it means to be human. To me, its message is that without choices, experience, risk and passion, we are not fully human.

I don't know if Lowry meant for the book to have any religious applications, but to me The Giver symbolizes Jesus Christ, at least to some degree. When he accepts memories for other people, he swallows some of their pain, leaving them comforted. Their pain still exists, but only dimly. This is what Christ does for us. Our suffering weighed on Christ (as it does on The Giver), as evidenced by his tortured cry, "O my Father...let this cup pass from me" (Matthew 26:39, KJV) in Gethsamane, but He knew His duty and thus carried our burdens for us. Like Christ, The Giver desires that all men have their agency so they can learn wisdom through their choices. And like Jesus, The Giver knows he must help his people through the pain that knowledge and agency can bring. Like Lowry said, we bring our own convictions to the book and this is the interpretation to which I kept returning.

The one issue I had with this book is the very ambiguous ending. I'm a reading simpleton, who loves endings which neatly wrap up all of the story's loose ends. Paradoxically, I hate predictable endings. Anyway, The Giver ends in a way that leaves it VERY open to interpretation. Lowry calls it an "optimistic ending," but insists that the true ending exists only in the mind of the reader. As aggravating as that is for a neat-endings-junkie, it's also a sign of a truly great novel - one that makes you think long after you've closed the book.

Grade: A+

Saturday, November 17, 2007

A Bookworm's Meme

I love memes about books and reading. I stole this one from Becky, who got it from Dewey:

1.) Do you remember learning to read? How old were you? Nope, I really don't remember learning to read. My mom said I taught myself how before I started kindergarten, so we'll just have to take her word on that.

2.) What do you find most challenging to read? Anything technical, scientific or math-related. Boooring!

3.) What are your library habits? I head to the library about 3 times a month. I'm really bad at renewing books on time, so I'm often there to pay overdue fines. In spite of this, I still feel compelled to check out a whole stack of books each time I visit. Why is that? I think it stems from my childhood (doesn't everything?). As a kid, I used to walk down to our town library, load up on books and hike back home. My route wasn't quite a mile long, but it seemed like a major expedition. So, I toted home as many books as I could carry to avoid having to make the long walk to the library. Plus, I love the sense of anticipation I get from seeing a whole pile of books I have yet to read.

4. Have your library habits changed since you were a kid? Yes and no. I've always loved libraries and visited them often. As a kid, I spent more time reading in the library than I do now. And, of course, I no longer have to walk to the library, which is a very nice change!

5. How has blogging changed your reading life? Well, I started this blog to track what I read and record my opinions for myself and anyone else who happened to stop by. At that time, I had never heard of reading challenges - now, I'm an addict. They have really broadened my horizons by making me read things I otherwise wouldn't. Joining the book blogging community also exposed me to other people's book blogs, from which I get all kinds of ideas and recommendations.

6. What percentage of your books do you get from (a) new bookstores, (b) secondhand bookstores, (c) the library, (d) online exchange sites, (e) online retailers, and (f) other?

(a) 40%
(b) 0% - I rarely go to secondhand shops
(c) 40%
(d) 0 % - I've heard lots about these, but have never tried them
(e) 10% - I love me some Amazon
(f) 10% - from retailers (like Costco) who aren't officially bookstores, review copies and gifts

7. How often do you read a book and not review it on your blog? What are your reasons for not blogging about it? I pretty much review every book I read.

8. What are your pet peeves about ways people abuse books? I hate it when people write in books. It just drives me nuts to read someone else's notes in a library book. I also hate dogearing (just get a bookmark, people!).

9. Do you ever read for pleasure at work? Well, I'm a stay-at-home Mom, so yeah, I read at home all the time. Do I ever shirk my responsibilities in favor of reading? No, never (hee hee)!

10. When you give people books as gifts, hwo do you decide what to give them? Oddly, I don't buy a lot of books as gifts. I guess because I feel like books are such personal things. When I do purchase them as gifts, I take into account the person's favorite authors, subjects, and genre of books. If I'm buying a gift for a booklover, I'm much more likely to purchase a gift card so that they can select their own books.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

WWII From An Animal Point of View

Although I've read numerous books about the Holocaust, I have never encountered the kind of information I found in Diane Ackerman's The Zookeeper's Wife. Most books on WWII focus exclusively on the human element; this book is different because it takes a close look at the toll the war took on animals, specifically the residents of the Warsaw Zoo. Through the diaries of Antonina Zabinsky, "the zookeeper's wife," we get the stories of all the zoo's characters, both human and non.

Antonina and her husband Jan ran the zoo before and during the war, caring for all who lived on the grounds. This included a host of animals, from house cats to elephants to rare Pryzywalski horses. During Warsaw's years of Nazi occupation, the zoo's population also consisted of "Guests" - Jewish friends, Underground workers and others in need of aid - who hid in the zoo's cages and outbuildings. The Zabinsky's also stuffed fugitives into every corner of the villa they called home. While Jan worked with the Resistance, Antonina cared for all of her tenants. She especially loved the animals, with whom she had an almost magical relationship. According to her husband:

It's as if she's porous. She's almost able to read their [the animals']
mind. It's a snap for her to find out what's bothering her animal
friends. Maybe because she treats them like people. But you've seen
her. At a moment's notice, she can lose her Homo sapiens nature
and transform herself into a panther, badger, or muskrat (235).

Because of her abilities, Antonina always had animals around her,
even living in the villa with the family. One of the most charming scenes
in the book occurs when Antonina observes her son taking his pet badger for a
walk. During the height of the war, the villa hosted a chaotic mess of animals and people, co-existing in relative harmony. Antonina empathized with every individual, continually drawing similarities between the humans and the animals.

For me, the most fascinating aspect of this book was Ackerman's description of the Nazis' exhaustive philosophies, which they applied not only to humans but also to plants and animals. Despite the established theory of "hybrid vigor" - the fact that inbreeding actually strengthens bloodlines - German zoologists chose not to allow Polish animals to mate with their pure bred counterparts. Partly because of this, the rarer animals in the Warsaw Zoo were transported to Germany, while the less "important" residents were simply shot.

Like all Holocaust stories, this one kept my interest. I did get bored with some of Ackerman's endless animal descriptions - I'm not a big animal lover - although those passages seemed more warm than those discussing the humans in the book. Ackerman talks about people in kind of a cold, remote way. The story also seemed random and spotty - I found myself getting too much information on subjects I didn't find interesting (the nesting habits of various species) and too little on the topics I wanted to know about (Antonina's writing). The last third of the story turned into a tense and compelling conclusion. Overall, though, I thought the book was just okay.

Grade: B-

Prizes in the Post

The only thing better than getting a big check in the mail is getting free books! Thanks, everybody, for sending these fun titles my way. I can't wait to read and review them.

The top two, Christmas Jars by Jason F. Wright and Fablehaven by Brandon Mull, came from the former's publicist at Deseret Book. I won American Gods by Neil Gaiman from Chris. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen was a win from Katrina. Thanks, again!

Thursday, November 08, 2007

What Happens When A Child of the Shadows Comes Out Into the Light?

What would you do if you discovered a child whose parents kept him hidden in the attic at all times? What if they never allowed him outdoors, forbade him to go to school or anywhere in public, and didn't even set a place for him at the dinner table? What if they denied his existence to even their friends and family? You'd be dialing Child Protective Services, wouldn't you? Now imagine that the child is being hidden away for his own protection. Imagine he is a third child in a world that only allows couples to produce two kids each. Imagine that his discovery could lead to trouble with the government, and possibly even to his death. What do you do now? If you're a member of the Garner family, you pretend you have no son or younger brother.

In Among the Hidden, the first book in the Shadow Children series by Margaret Peterson Haddix, we meet Luke Garner, a 6-year-old "Third" who doesn't officially exist. He spends most of his time in his house with the shades drawn. Although he's allowed out of his attic bedroom, he must be ready to run for it if anyone should knock on the door. He lives in mortal fear of the Population Police. Fortunately for Luke, his family's hog farm sits in an isolated area, surrounded by heavy woods, so he's at least allowed out into the backyard. That is until the Government decides to plow down the trees and build fancy new homes for the rich "Barons." The Garners panic at the first sight of construction, banishing Luke to the attic; even at meals he is forced to sit on the attic stairs, away from the windows. When the Government decides to stop letting the Garners raise pigs, Luke's mother is forced to take a factory position, leaving Luke home alone all day, without even the backyard as a refuge.

More isolated and lonely than ever, Luke takes to spying on his new neighbors. One day, he makes a shocking discovery - he sees a young face in a window, long after the inhabitants have left for school and work. He knows he's found another Third. Desperate for a friend, Luke creeps out of his house and into his neighbor's home. What he finds is Jen Talbot, a feisty Baron who's not content with hiding out in her house, opulent though it may be. Since Mr. Talbot is a Government employee, the family has access to the Internet, which Jen has used to set up a chat room for other Thirds. Luke is astonished to find that not only is there another Third in his neighborhood, but there are thousands across the nation. Jen is using her computer to gather them for a rally at the president's house. Although Luke wants freedom just as much as Jen does, her rashness scares him. He's putting himself in enough danger just sneaking over to Jen's to hang out. When the rally ends in tragedy, Luke fears that Thirds will never receive the freedom they crave. He knows he can do nothing to change his fate, or can he?

I always find the premises of Haddix's novels interesting. This one is no exception. As a young adult book, this one was too quick to explore all of the moral issues brought up by the premise, but Haddix did a pretty good job tackling them. As always, she couches the big questions (Is it right for the government to control a country's population? How do we evenly distribute goods so that no one goes hungry?) in a taut, action-packed plot. I love that she focuses primarily on the story, letting the moral issues subtly bubble to the surface. Despite these layers, Among the Hidden is still kind of a bare bones novel, so hopefully the sequels will continue to flesh out the story. I'll definitely be reading them to find out what happens to Luke and whether or not he can change the world for himself and the other Shadow Children.

Grade: B

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Not Quite Up to the Hype, But Uglies Makes For An Exciting Read

What would you do to be stunningly gorgeous? Undergo a painful operation? Donate a few
brain cells to science? Betray your best friend? These are all dilemmas Tally Youngblood must face in Scott Westerfeld's young adult novel, Uglies.
Tally lives in a future world where all 16-year-olds undergo an operation that turns them from an "Ugly" nobody into a model-perfect "Pretty." Fifteen-year-old Tally has been looking forward to this operation her whole life; she can't wait for the procedure that will erase all her imperfect features and turn her into a knockout. She longs to live in New Pretty Town, where the Pretties spend their lives partying and having fun. When Tally's best friend Peris turns Pretty, she suffers from the most bitter loneliness she's ever known. Determined to find her friend, Tally sneaks into the Pretty part of town only to find that Peris has changed into someone she doesn't recognize - in more ways than one. Once she turns Pretty, she knows they will be able to reconnect. The question is, what in the world is she going to do until then?
The answer arrives in the form of Shay, another Ugly on the brink of her 16th birthday. Shay loves a rush almost as much as Tally. Together, they are a force to be reckoned with, hoverboarding and playing tricks on the incoming Uglies. Tally assumes that they will continue their antics as Pretties, but Shay isn't so sure. In fact, Shay doesn't want to become a Pretty at all. She's happy with her face, happy to be different. She urges Tally to run away with her to a secret colony called The Smoke, where Uglies live freely, hiding from authorities that want to force them to be Pretty.

Although Tally wants to support her friend, she also wants desperately to become a Pretty. Only one thing stands in her way: Shay. Special Circumstances, a special branch of the government, informs Tally that she will not get the operation unless she helps them find Shay and the group of rebels with whom she's now associated. Tally reluctantly takes on the assignment. She's not prepared, however, for what she finds - or who she meets - in The Smoke. Torn between her desire to be Pretty and her new friends, Tally must make dangerous decisions that could jeopardize them all. At the heart of it all looms the question - How far will she go to be Pretty?

I thought the idea of this novel was really interesting, but I didn't end up liking the story as much as I thought I would. The action kept it exciting, but the characters felt flat to me. It also felt a little preachy, like the moral questions were more important to Westerfield than the story. I found myself comparing this author to Margaret Peterson Haddix, who writes on similar themes, but puts the story first, letting her moral questions leak out subtly. I prefer the subtlety. Still, this was a good read. I didn't think it lived up to its hype, but it was good.

Grade: B

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Something Wicked(ly Fun) That Way Goes

Phew! I finished the R.I.P. II Challenge. I saved the longest books on my list for last, which wasn't a very smart idea, so I ended up having to sprint to the finish line. My eyes are bleary and red from my frenzied final stretch!

I really enjoyed this challenge, although I found myself steering away from the horror genre and focusing more on magical stories. My least favorite pick was Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill (my review), and I really can't pick my most favorite. It's a toss-up between Lord of the Rings, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Stardust and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Really, the only book I read for this challenge that I didn't care much for was Heart-Shaped Box. Well, there was also Glass Books of the Dream-Eaters, which was just too erotic for me (I read Lord of the Rings in its place).

Thanks so much, Carl, for hosting this one. It was a lot of fun!

One Ring to Bind Me

One Ring to rule them all,
One Ring to find them.
One Ring to bring them all
and in the darkness bind them.

Well, the ring certainly held me bound this week as I raced to finish Lord of the Rings (hereafter LOTR) by Halloween. I chose it as part of my book sandwich for Peril the Third, which involved reading two weighty tomes with a shorter qualifying book in between. Note to self: read the long books first! Since I saved LOTR for last, I really had to sprint to complete it before the R.I.P. II Challenge closed. Luckily, it was an absolutely mesmerizing book; in fact, it had me rising early and staying up late just to see what happened. My obsession had my husband seeing green - our divorce papers would have been the first to declare "J.R.R. Tolkien" as a reason for dissolving a marriage!

So much has been said and written about this book that I'm sure I won't be saying anything new. Still, there may be someone out there who doesn't know the story, so here goes...The Lord of the Rings takes place in Middle-earth, a world inhabited by diverse creatures, from the gentle Hobbits in the Shire to the fair Elves to the fearsome Orcs of the darker regions. This story, as Tolkien notes "is concerned mostly with Hobbits" (1), in particular one Frodo Baggins. Frodo is the young cousin of Bilbo Baggins, a "very rich and very peculiar" (21) creature whose adventures are told in Tolkien's earlier novel, The Hobbit. LOTR opens with Bilbo's eleventy-first birthday party, at which Bilbo mysteriously disappears leaving most of his worldly possessions to Frodo. Although it's rumored that Bilbo has wealth untold, Frodo finds no riches, only a mysterious ring of which Bilbo spoke very little. Frodo knows the ring can make one disappear, but until Gandalf the great wizard delivers a warning about its power, the hobbit has no idea of its true importance. Gandalf explains: Long ago, magic rings were forged by Elven-smiths, rings which had various powers and strengths. The Great Rings, however, contained powers so irresistible that mortals became enslaved to them. Of these, there was One ring created to rule all the rest. To Frodo's dismay, he realizes that not only does he now possess the One, but also that the Dark Lord (the epitome of evil) will stop at nothing to have it. The young hobbit knows he must undertake a dangerous quest to take the ring to the dark lands of Mordor, and cast it into the Cracks of Doom, where lie the only fires hot enough to destroy it.

With three comrades, Frodo sets out on his secret quest. As they travel, they gain more friends until the "Fellowship of the Ring" is formed. The Fellowship consists of seven bodies - Frodo; his servant Sam; the hobbits Merry and Pippin; Gimli the Dwarf; Aragorn, a brave Ranger; Legolas the Elf. Gandalf also rides wth them when he can. The group moves through Middle-earth seeing lands beyond their wildest imaginings, lands filled with "Orcs, and talking trees, and leagues of grass, and galloping riders, and glittering caves, and white towers, and golden halls, and battles, and tall ships sailing." (955) All of their adventures bring them, finally, to the dreaded Land of Mordor. Ruled by the Dark Lord, Mordor is filled with darkness and enemies at every turn. With the rest of the Fellowship engaged in war, Frodo and Sam must make their way to Mount Doom and its fiery Cracks. Hungry and weary, the pair trek up the mountain, their every footstep tracked by the wily Gollum. The burden of the ring wears heavily on Frodo, its power drawing the stout-hearted hobbit inexplicably to its evil master. Still, onward they go until Frodo stands at the edge of the Cracks, where he must struggle to rid himself of the ring which holds him in its power. The fate of Middle-earth rests in his small hobbit hands.

I won't give away anymore, but I have to say that LOTR is the consummate adventure tale. It combines so many elements - danger, romance, humor, war - into a rich story about good vs. evil. Tolkien goes into incredible (and sometimes tedious) detail about all the life forms in his book, which makes his whole world live and breathe. I wept through the last fourth of the book because I cared so deeply about the characters and their individual fates. After reading 1131 pages, I was ready for the story to end, but I truly regretted closing the door to this incredible, magical story of a hobbit and his quest to save the world.
Grade: A+
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