The Outcast (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #8) by Kathryn Lasky

The Outcast (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #8)The Outcast by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

The Outcast is the continuation of Nyroc’s change-of-heart story. He’s betrayed his mother and the Pure Ones and reinvented himself as Coryn. But he’s also come to realize that there’s no place for him in the owl kingdom, so he sets out for the volcano wasteland called the Beyond the Beyond. I will admit that every time “Beyond the Beyond” was mentioned, I would think of the Mysterious Beyond from Land Before Time and the “Beyond the Mysterious Beyond” song from the seventh movie. (Enjoy. Or, for diehard fans of the first movie, mourn.)

Anyway, the story leaves the owl world for the first time, bringing us in contact with our first creatures who escape blatant discrimination: the wolves. The wolves for some reason have Scottish-style clans and one of them is led by a Caligula who maims his children. (Did you think “acceptable racism”, child enslavement, and cannibalism were inappropriate in a RL 4 book? Try some violent domestic abuse on for size!)

(With the wolves of the Beyond, of course, comes the spin-off series. But more on that in my review of the entire Ga’Hoole series.)

Unfortunately, this story also marks the major plot shift of the series. Suddenly the Guardians of Ga’Hoole take a back seat to the Ember of Hoole, and a whole new mythology shows up. Speaking from the perspective someone halfway through of To Be a King looking back on The Outcast, this shouldn’t have been part of the Ga’Hoole series. Or, more accurately, The Hatchling should have started a second Ga’Hoole series instead of tacking onto the original six books. Because in all honesty, the series is fundamentally changed by The Hatchling and The Outcast. The protagonist changes from Soren to Coryn. The genre changes from adventure to fantasy. Things that were perfectly non-magical and explained mundanely in the first six books are suddenly magical and fantastic in the later books. Focus shifts from dealing with the Pure Ones to reliving myths (myths that are invented in these books rather than explained prior and feel “fake” as a result).

So what should have happened? Well, the first six books should have been the Guardians of Ga’Hoole series. Then The Hatchling and The Outcast should have been the Ember of Hoole series or maybe the Coryn of the Eclipse series, or whatever better title the publishers could have come up with. The First Collier, The Coming of Hoole, and To Be a King should have been the Legends of Ga’Hoole series (by which I have heard it called by fans). As I haven’t read the last four books, I can’t say how they should have rolled out, but it shouldn’t have been with all these fundamentally different stories mashed under one heading. I mean, really. If you’re going to have a mid-series three-book flashback trilogy, you’re writing a universe, not a series.

Anyway, on to the mid-series three-book flashback trilogy. Brace yourselves, mythology Retcons are coming.

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The Hatchling (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #7) by Kathryn Lasky

The Hatchling (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #7)The Hatchling by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★★☆

As of The Hatchling, the Ga’Hoole story shifts focus. Soren and his friends step down from their main character positions for the next two books, and Soren’s nephew Nyroc takes over.

Nyroc is the second egg of Kludd and Nyra (the other broke before hatching), born during an eclipse and so destined to be either Nyra Junior or the super special awesome second coming of Jesus Hoole. As he’s the new protagonist, I’m sure we can all tell which he’s going to be.

Beyond the predictability, however, this is the best book of the series thus far. There’s no nursemaid snake in this one, so the series’ biggest reminder of its inherent racism is gone. Better yet, Nyroc actually makes friends with other species, which is (sadly enough) mind-blowing in this universe. And unlike Soren and his friends, Nyroc’s anti-prejudice standing is actually genuine. His mother’s a hateful bitch, and so he, unlike the other owls, learns that racism isn’t only reprehensible when it’s directed toward owls. It’s reprehensible period. And it’s great to have a character who finally reflects that.

The Hatching is the only book so far in the series that I truly enjoyed. Sure, it has some stupid bits and a lot of predictability, but changing the protagonist is the single best thing that’s happened for the series so far. I really hope Lasky can keep this up.

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The Burning (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #6) by Kathryn Lasky

The Burning (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #6)The Burning by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

With The Burning comes the end of the series’ focus on Soren, the Band, and the Chaw of Chaws. (At least so far as I’ve read at this time of writing, which is up to To Be a King. The focus changes again after that, but from where we seem to be going, it looks like it’s going to be Coryn’s story from The Golden Tree to the end.) It’s a massive disappointment, of course, as the Chaw of Chaws was the single best aspect of the story. As a matter of fact, they’re just about the only aspect that make any sense.

Exhibit A: The Guardians of Ga’Hoole, an ancient order of owl-knights, act like they don’t have any more experienced or trusted warriors than the adolescent protagonists. The King and Queen, the teachers, all the other Guardians–they all leave every important aspect of the story up to the main characters with zero in-universe justification.

Exhibit B: Kludd’s initiation into the Pure Ones inexplicably demands the murder of a family member, ignoring the fact that there couldn’t be a more counterproductive method of proving one’s worth; if the Pure Ones want to build a pure race/society of Tyto Albas, why would they purposefully kill off the potential breeders?

Exhibit C: There’s no sense of time flow to the series. The narrative skips over massive periods, giving off the impression that only a few weeks are passing. And then a single line will suddenly clarify that years have gone by without so much as a nod.

Exhibit D: The protagonists are just as prejudiced and ruthless as the antagonists, and yet the narrative never once hints at the possibility that maybe the war isn’t as morally black-and-white as the protagonists think. When the protagonists do something, it’s good. When the antagonists do something, it’s bad. No one questions this. Not the snakes that the protagonists have enslaved. Not the other birds that they spend so much time insulting. Not even the vultures that Twilight threatens to maim (in order to get them to join the Guardians in fighting the Pure Ones).

So I’m hoping that with the shift of focus that’s coming in the next book, things will start to improve again. Unfortunately I’m starting to suspect it’s not the Ga’Hoole series that doesn’t work for me so much as it is Lasky’s writing in general. I’m honestly wondering if what this series needed was just a brutally honest editor. There’s enough here that it could have been great: an awesome team of characters at the core of the story, a secret society of owls who can use their specialized training and intellect for both war and humanitarianism (well, the owl equivalent of the term) depending on which needs doing, two opposing Big Bads to give the story some hints of moral ambiguity and opportunities for awesome team-ups and war tactics, a Cain and Abel aspect to explore psychologically, etcetera, etcetera. Instead, everything was handled in a rather clumsy fashion, and what could have been a great plot has thus far been lost on me.

Maybe I’ll have better luck with Warriors.

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The Shattering (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #5) by Kathryn Lasky

The Shattering (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #5)The Shattering by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

As of The Siege, the series started improving slightly, and that continues into The Shattering. The racism is being scaled back a bit (mostly because of Mrs. P’s reduced presence in the story) though it still rears its ugly head at times, biology failures still pop up every now and then (the characters seem to be under the impression that bats are blind birds, which, uh, is certainly saying something about their understanding of the world around them), and the plots are still melodramatic and juvenile (the entire plot of The Shattering is painfully clear by the time you reach page fourteen), but I think it’s slowly improving from its dreadful beginning. If Lasky can keep this up, my opinion of this series might just turn around soon!

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The Siege (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #4) by Kathryn Lasky

The Siege (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #4)The Siege by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★★☆☆

This series is so strange to me. As I said in my previous reviews, I’m really bothered by all the discrimination on the part of the protagonists and the plot’s inherent hypocrisy. On the other hand, there are nuggets of awesome tucked in here and there.

For example, I felt the sudden creation of the Band was something of a cop-out because there wasn’t really much building of the comradarie; the four owls were suddenly friends for life, no questions asked. But the Chaw of Chaws? It took the Band’s stated relationship and build upon it to get a killer team with a solid friendship as backbone. I felt like I was watching the Harry Potter kids become a family again. I love well-developed teams of characters, and the Chaw of Chaws fit the bill perfectly.

But there’s just so much nonsense elsewhere that the awesome bits are lost in the sea of bullshit. It is so disappointing to me that the relationship dynamic between Soren, Gylfie, Twilight, Digger, Otulissa, Ruby, Martin, Eglantine, Primrose, and Ezylryb got bogged down by all the bungled racism, the juvenile handling of mature themes, and the wishy-washy world-building.

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Top Ten Books I’d Like to See Under the Christmas Tree

Inspired by an old Top Ten Tuesday prompt.

TwiLite: A Parody

Love between a teenage girl and a vampire can be a beautiful thing. Then again, it can get a little ugly. Just ask Stella Crow. Stella is a clumsy but otherwise ordinary girl whose life takes a radical turn the moment she meets Edweird. Though perfect on the outside, Edweird Sullen is remarkably unrefined on the inside. He also happens to be a one hundred year old vampire, trapped in the body of a teenage boy, who has yet to finish high school. Nonetheless, Stella is unconditionally smitten with him. But not everything is rosy in this gloomiest of towns. Edweird’s enemies have sworn to put a tragic end to their romance. Against all odds, the bond between Stella and Edweird is nearly strong enough for their love to survive. Most love stories between an impossibly handsome vampire and an ungainly young woman have a magical ending. This one – not so much.

I can’t find this anywhere!

I read this Twilight parody years ago, having gotten it as a Christmas present. Upon joining Goodreads, I went back to reread it so I could accurately rate it… only to discover I’d already sold it. Unfortunately, there isn’t a library in Maryland that has a copy, either, so it looks like I’m out of luck on this one unless it miraculously appears under the tree!

The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures: The Ultimate A-Z of Fantastic Beings from Myth and Magic

The newest entry in the popular Element Encyclopedia series spans the globe and the ages to present a feast of magical beasts, both familiar and rare. Populating this ultimate reference is a host of marvelous creatures, many of which have stirred our imagination since childhood; they come from fairytales and myths, and from beloved writers such as the Brothers Grimm, Lewis Carroll, J.R.R. Tolkien, and J.K Rowling. Each entry delves into folklore and history to reveal such secrets as why dragons guard the weather, how to make mermen laugh, and how a slow lizard cost humans the gift of eternal life. From Chinese dragons to Norwegian sea monsters, banshees to griffins, cherufes to lampaluguas, every fantastic figure gets its due.

I can’t find this anywhere!

I stumbled across this series when I found Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses at the local library. I find the series to bit a tad silly, but there’s a lot of interesting information in Encyclopedia of Spirits, so I’d love to give the Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures a try. But again, the library’s let me down.

The Dark Secret (Fear Street: Cataluna Chronicles, #2)

Stepsisters Regina and Lauren are thrilled – they’ve got their own wheels! And this sexy Cataluna is one hot car!

Too hot. Because inside the Cataluna the curse of Bad Luck Catherine lives on. And while Catherine is hunted in her own time, Regina and Lauren will be haunted in theirs. Because in this car, evil is always in the driver’s seat.

I can’t find this anywhere!

The Dark Secret is the second book in the Cataluna Chronicles series. The library has the first book and the third book, but not this one. Annoying.

Party Line

Mark has discovered a way to meet girls–on the teen party line. Unfortunately, he also discovers that some of the new girls he meets on the phone have disappeared. What started as a way to get dates, leads Mark into a frightening mystery–one that becomes dangerous as well!

I can’t find this anywhere!

I’m almost positive that I’ve read this book before, and I’d love to get my hands on it to read it again. Too bad Point Horror books can be so hard to find nowadays!

One Last Kiss

Eleanor Rawlin just wants to live a normal life, but her father is obssessed with killing the vampires who murdered her mother.

I can’t find this anywhere!

When I was twelve, I adored this. I’m sure, of course, that I’d hate it if I read it again (as is the case with most R.L. Stine books), but I’d still like to give it another go just to see what was so great. Unfortunately for me, the library either lost or threw away the copy I read, and there isn’t another one in the entire state.

Off Balance: The Real World of Ballet

I don’t have a summary for this one, sorry!

I can’t find this anywhere!

A few months ago, I checked this out from the library. The local brand didn’t have a copy, so I had to use the state-wide system… and the state-wide system can be pissy. I didn’t manage to finish the book before it was due back, and when I went to check it out again, up pops the message that this book is no longer on loan state-wide. PISSED.

Mrs Jeeper’s Creepy Christmas

It’s time for Bailey City’s annual holiday decorating contest – even Mrs. Jeepers is getting in on the fun! But when Eddie starts spending all his time reading with the new library volunteer, Grandpa Vamps, his friends are sure something strange is going on. Everyone knows that Eddie hates books! Could Grandpa Vamps really be a vampire who’s got Eddie under his spell?

I can’t find this anywhere!

I was a bit difficult getting my hands on all the Bailey School Kids books, but I managed it! …with one exception. I’d love to get my hands on this.

Jane in a Land of Enchantment

Jane’s first solo adventure through the mirror takes her to a fantasy land where flowers talk and she can fly Everything is so wonderful, until she’s asked to help save Lily from the troll who lives in the Enchanted Forest. He’s tricked poor Lily into thinking he is something he’s not. Will Jane be able to turn the tables on the troll and bring Lily back safely?

I can’t find this anywhere!

Honestly, I’m not convinced this even exists. There’s incredibly little information about it, even though a handful of people claim to have read it. So if this appeared under my Christmas tree, I’d be ecstatic.

Goodnight Kiss 2

Stine delivers the long-awaited sequel to Goodnight Kiss. Vampires are stalking the small resort town of Sandy Hollow. None of Billy’s friends believe him, but nobody can explain the bodies found on the beach–with two puncture holes in the neck. The undead are here, and Billy’s going to beat them–or join them.

I can’t find this anywhere!

I read Goodnight Kiss and wasn’t exceptionally impressed, but I was intrigued enough to seek out the sequel. I put myself on the library’s waiting list for the omnibus of Goodnight Kiss and Goodnight Kiss 2… and stayed there for a year.

Finally, I went back and checked. As it turns out, some asshole checked the book out and never returned it. Back in 2007! Why the library still has the book on their website, I haven’t the slightest idea.

All My Friends are Dead

If you’re a dinosaur, all of your friends are dead. If you’re a pirate, all of your friends have scurvy. If you’re a tree, all of your friends are end tables. Each page of this laugh-out-loud illustrated humor book showcases the downside of being everything from a clown to a cassette tape to a zombie. Cute and dark all at once, this hilarious children’s book for adults teaches valuable lessons about life while exploring each cartoon character’s unique grievance and wide-eyed predicament. From the sock whose only friends have gone missing to the houseplant whose friends are being slowly killed by irresponsible plant owners (like you),All My Friends Are Dead presents a delightful primer for laughing at the inevitable.

I can’t find this anywhere!

This is popular and new enough that I could probably get a copy of this at a bookstore, but between my town’s utter lack of a real bookstore and my strict policy about only buying used books (barring special occasions), I’m going to have to wait for the library to get the memo and buy this. Or, you know, Santa.

The Rescue (Guardians of Ga’Hoole, #3) by Kathryn Lasky

The Rescue (Guardians of Ga'Hoole, #3)The Rescue by Kathryn Lasky

My rating: ★★☆☆☆

The Rescue is more of the same–some more secrets are revealed, the plot slowly progresses, and jarringly enough, the prejudice fail gets worse.

Mrs. Plithiver was a terribly offensive and tragic character in the first two books. In the Ga’Hoole world, blind snakes are kidnapped and enslaved by their white owl “masters” (Lasky’s word, not mine). They rant about how most birds are disgusting, worthless, and ignorant creatures while they blindly revere whites owls.

Now, Octavia the Kielian snake has arrived to one-up her. Octavia wasn’t kidnapped to be a thinly-veiled mammy character, she was kidnapped to be a child soldier. By the protagonist’s mentor. Who is a war hero turned pacifist and revered by all the other characters. And this enslavement is never implied to be anything but acceptable. Ezylryb literally buys Octavia from her parents, and no one thinks there’s anything wrong with this!

So why is it, then, that St. Aggie’s is the root of all evil for cultivating child soldiers, while the protagonists are heroic and noble when they do the same damn things to the snakes!?

But don’t worry, because it gets even more hypocritical than that with the arrival of the Big Bad of the series, Nyra and Metal Beak’s “Pure Ones”. The Pure Ones believe that Tyto owls are superior to all species, and that Tyto Alba owls are superior to even other Tytos. Obviously, the Pure Ones are evil, evil monsters.

Wait, wait, wait. Everybody back up a second. Why is it that when the protagonists discriminate against other species, it’s just part of being an owl, but when the Pure Ones discriminate between owl species, it’s reprehensible and must be stopped at all costs? What the hell is happening here?

I just don’t get this series. The bare bones of the idea (anthropomorphic owl civilization, like a bird version of Warrior Cats) isn’t bad, but the actual plot is an exercise in hypocrisy. There’s nothing wrong with the idea of a group of owls fighting thinly-veiled owl Nazis. But there’s definitely a lot wrong with a group of owls fighting prejudice… all while engaging in it.

I’m almost inclined to take this as a straight-up WW2 allegory, with the Pure Ones being Nazis, St. Aggie’s being communists, the Guardians being the Allies, and the snakes being Pre-Civil Rights Movement blacks. It’s not a particularly good justification for the hypocritical prejudices of the main characters, but at least it’s a little more clever and deep than the characters just being assholes.

Unfortunately, all traces of any such allegory are gone before the series is even half over, so… Nope. Still fail.

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