Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

The Emperor's Soul by Brandon Sanderson

Book Review by Sharon Powers.

I don't always tell you why I've selected a particular book to review, but today I want you to know that I've selected one of my favorite author's books for a very good reason. Earlier this month Brandon Sanderson won the Hugo Award for The Emperor's Soul. My congratulations go out to Brandon Sanderson for the award on this fine story.

This book was released on November 1, 2012, but I wasn't able to get it and finish reading it until January 26, 2013 [FYI: I keep a reading log of all the books I've read, just so I will have access to information, like this.].

Photo by Eddie Schneider from
Brandon Sanderson's blog.
Brandon Sanderson with the two Hugo's
he won earlier this month for his fantasy
novella, The Emperor's Soul, and for his
work on the podcast, Writing Excuses.
    Brandon Sanderson actually won two Hugo's this month, one for Writing Excuses, a podcast done in episodes of fifteen minute increments on various topics of writing, and the second Hugo for The Emperor's Soul.

    I love Brandon Sanderson's work and am thrilled to be able to let you know about this wonderful novella. I'm telling you right now, up front, at the top of the book review, if you haven't read it, go get it and read it. Now that I've given you the bottom line, so to speak, at the beginning of the book review, let's take a closer look at why this wonderful little novella is so good that it garnered a Hugo award.

    First, I don't pretend to know what the Hugo panel use as standards for their selection and elimination process, so I cannot speak for them. That simple. I can only tell you what I think about Sanderson's story. We see...

Shai's dungeon cell was dark with the
door set into the ceiling--she had to
exit it by climbing a ladder. Sanderson's story opens, Shaizan (called Shai in the story), is a forger who is facing a death sentence and is locked away in a deep dark dungeon. She is frantically searching every rock, every corner of her cell for a way out when an emissary suddenly arrives to take her for questioning before the emperor's "arbiters." 

    To obtain her cooperation, they threaten Shai. First, they show her her five precious "soulstamps" in Shai's storage box, taken from her when she was arrested. The stones, magically attuned to only her, can only be used by her to rewrite  her history, her personality, her very soul for a time. The arbiters threaten to destroy them. But then, just as suddenly, they arbiters offer them back to her as payment for her cooperation in creating a master forgery...hmmm...but a master forgery of what? When she also demands a lot of gold, the arbiters readily agree. Realizing it is all just too easy, she knows that when she finishes doing their bidding, she will not get her "soulstamps" back; she knows they are still going to kill her. Thus, begins the story of Shai, master forger.

Shai planned out her escape (not altogether different than
this little cartoon), but I doubt she used a crayon.
    Shai has only 100 days to create her greatest work and figure out a way to get out of the situation she is in, still alive. To complicate matters, she is constantly watched by one of the arbiters, a man by the name of Gaotona. Gaotona seeks to understand Shai as he watches her work...and plot. In a real turn of events, through complications, plot and intrigue Shai comes to the brink of failure. Shai has made good plans for her escape, but decides to complete the forgery before the "deadline," and escape before she can be executed. For her to succeed she may have to pull off a "Forgery" greater than the near impossible one she bargained to complete, she may have to pull off the "greatest Forgery of all."

    I was so tempted to tell you more, but to do so would really spoil the read for you. The journey into Shai's world is magical. Sanderson has created another wonderfully strong woman character and set her in an absolutely innovative and magical setting. Sanderson excels at taking a mundane, ordinary thing and redefining it making it something extra-ordinary (like forgery, or colors).

    The worlds Sanderson creates are nothing short of magical (pun intended). Once he has his concept firmly in mind, he structures the story to unfold in such a way as to not give everything away at once, but still keep the reader interested in what is happening. The conclusions are always satisfying, and in the case of The Emperor's Soul, I think that the successful ending could only have been successfully written in "The Way of Sanderson." (Pardon my small literary allusion to Sanderson's, The Way of Kings.)

I love the novella so much, I too, had to think about
what to do first! Twitter? Blog? Twitter? Blog? I'll tell
you what I would do...first go get the novella and read it!
What do I think about this book?

   ...Well, you've already had the bottom line about this book up at the top of the blog post. Buy it. Read it. Enjoy it. That simple.

    I love Sanderson's writing, as I indicated above, he is already one of my favorite authors. The work he did on rounding out The Wheel of Time books by Robert Jordan was nothing short of masterful. He deserves kudos galore for that alone. Undoubtedly, I will review for you at a later date, The Way of Kings, The Stormlight Archive, Book 1, sometime soon because book 2 of the new series comes out January 24, 2014 (if the release date doesn't change). I can't wait for it! 

    Most of all, I suppose I should wind up by saying that this wonderful novella, The Emperor's Soul, is just that, wonderful. Sanderson's writing is superb and I look forward to reading new material penned by this wonderful writer. I should think that we will be seeing more awards for Brandon Sanderson in the future. 

My Rating for this book:

My Rating: 4.5 Stars

4.6 Stars--Amazon (458 Reviewers)
4.78 Stars--Barnes & Noble (58 Reviewers)
4.31 Stars--Goodreads (984 Reviewers)

Information about this book:

Link to purchase the hardcover edition of The Emperor's Soul:
ISBN: 1616960922
Publisher: Dragonsteel Entertainment, LLC
Pages: 177
Award(s): Hugo Award: 2013, Best Novella

This book is available as an e-book from Amazon on Kindle, on the Nook, iBookstore, Kobo and from Dragonmount. It also available in paperback from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, or IndieBound. It is available from Audible as an audio book (unabridged). And, according to Brandon's newsletter, a small number of the hardcover edition of The Emperor's Soul, is available (via Tachyon) from The Brandon Sanderson Store (the last time I looked, $20.00 for an autographed copy.). This information is the best I have as of the time of posting.

Until next time...

...many enjoyable pages of reading.


____________________________________________________ - Barnes & Noble Reviews; - Cartoon about an escape; - Cartoon about what to do first; - 4.5 Stars out of 5; - Hardcover edition image of The Emperor's Soul - White Rose.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Treasures of Venice by Paola Zoffoli and Dario Cestaro

See book information at bottom of post.

The Treasures of Venice
by Paola Zoffoli and Dario Cestaro

Book Review by Sharon Powers

I have a rare chance to review for you, today, a new pop-up book, just released this month (September 10, 2013). I was so excited when I discovered this book was coming out. I preordered it so I could have it just as soon as it was available. I love all manner of books and genres, including pop-up books, like this one. 

This is a book for children of all ages (from 10 and up). The little girl in me delights in turning the pages and watching scenes--literally--unfold before me. 

Let's start with the cover. All six of Venice's landmarks as they appear on the front cover (see above, top left) are in beautiful pastel colors and the texture of the book is smooth and silky. It feels wonderful in my hands and appeals to my eye.

The back cover shows all six
pop-up landmarks that appear
on the inside of the book.
The back cover shows the landmarks popped open so you can see them the way they appear inside the book itself. Alright, I guess you can tell that I really like the cover, and I even like the title of the book.
All good, so far.

Six beautiful Venetian landmarks - six Venetian treasures: Let's take a look at the most interesting part of the book. Yes, that's right...the pop-ups themselves. I thought you might be interested in seeing what the real-life version of the pop-ups look like (that is, if you haven't already taken a trip to Venice and seen them in person). the left I have provided a thumbnail photo of the real article for you to compare to the pop-up paper version of Venice's treasures.
Ponte di Rialto

The first pop-up in the book is the Ponte di Rialto bridge: As you can see from the photograph (just below and left), the colors in the pop-up book (on the right) seem to reflect the colors from the real-life bridge as it spans the Grand Canal.

 Ponte di Rialto
Venice, Italy
Two lift-the-flaps appear below the pop-up telling the history of the bridge and  details about "the hunchback" on the bridge and "the market" on one side of the Grand Canal that draws visitors from near and far.

The book doesn't open up and lay flat;
Additionally, all pop-ups are created 
in the same unimaginative manner.

To view the pop-ups, you need to open the book to a 90 degree angle to make them pop-up. This is a bit unusual as most of the pop-up books I've read open a full 180 degrees so you can open them up flat without having to hold the book cover. If you were to force them to lie flat, of course, you would ruin the pop-ups.

If you stand the book up,
the pop-ups are sideways.
I suppose you could prop the book up against a wall or other object to hold it for you. The construction is just a little strange--you have to hold the book in your hands to look at it. When you lay the book down on the table the book won't stay where it is placed. This seems to be a major flaw in the book, even if the paper pop-ups actually pop up. OK, let's move on.

Basilica di San Marco pop-up.

Basilica di San Marco
Venice, Italy

Turn to the second page and you find the Basilica di San Marco.

Open the page 90 degrees, to see the basilica. Two identical lift-the-flaps appear below the basilica telling about its opulence and about the horse statues stolen from Constantinople as "war booty" by Napoleon. The other lift-up-flap details St. Mark's bell tower.

The next pop-up wonder is the Ca' d'Oro, "A palace fretted like an elegant jewel that reflects in the waters of the Grand Canal..."

Ca' d'Oro
Venice, Italy

Again you open the book to 90 degrees to pop-up the building. 

The two "lift-the-flaps" explain that Ca' d'Oro means "gilt house." At one time the building was gilt and glistened in the waters of the Grand Canal--though, sadly, the gilt has been stripped from its surface and is long gone.

The second flap, on the right, tells of the numerous treasures and about the "secret treasures of the courtyard."

Palazzo Ducate
Venice, Italy
The Palazzo Ducate comes after the "gilt house" pop-up, above, and as you can see in the photograph, the real Palazzo Ducate is also on the Grand Canal. Again, you open the book page to 90 degrees to activate the pop-up. The information in the lift-up-flaps tell the reader about the "Bridge of Sighs, statues, images within the palace, and of the largest oil painting in the world: Paradise, by Tintoretto.

No, unfortunately, the Bridge of Sighs is not one of the six pop-ups in this book. I was sorely disappointed in this regard.

Gran Teatro La Fenice
The next to last landmark is the Gran Teatro La Fenice.

Gran Teatro La Fenice
Venice, Italy

It, too, pops open at 90 degrees to reveal the fold open treasure. The first of the two lift-the-flaps describe the numerous times it was destroyed by fire, and the rebuilding(s) of the theater.

The second flap tells of Napoleon's conquest and subsequent protest by Venetians who uttered the phrase, "Viva Verde" and tossed red, white and green flowers on the opera stage as a symbol of protest to the regime.

The final pop-up landmark is Basilica della Salute
Basilica della Salute

Basilica della Salute
Venice, Italy
The ubiquitous 90 degree pop-up reveals the Basilica. The lift-the-flaps information tells the reader how buildings like the basilica were constructed to be able to withstand the water and elements. I found this information very intriguing, but wished for more substance.

Flap two informs us about the "Festa Della Salute," a holiday celebrated every year on November 21st.

What I think about the book. 

I loved the book cover, its use of color, texture, and even the title. I also loved the use of color throughout the book. The pop-up buildings are recognizable, even if the pop-ups were simply designed. Also, the information provided in the lift-the-flaps was interesting, even if abbreviated.

Additionally, I thought that with a book of this nature, much more information could have been provided by creating other smaller pop-up vignettes on each page. Other pop-up books I have read utilize a variety of methods such as maps you can pull out and unfold, tabs that reveal additional information, a wheel that when turned let's you see a variety of conditions for the scene, mini antiqued books that can be pulled out from a slot on the side of the page, additional fold out sections, and so on. I found the information interesting, but inadequate--it just left me wanting more. 

One other thing bothered me about the book. My biggest criticism of the book is the uniformity of the pop-ups, lift-up-flaps, and perhaps to put it more simply, the general layout of the book. The pop-up engineering was overly simplistic--it would have been OK for one building to be engineered that way, but to me, having them all engineered the same simplistic way was just not interesting. I expected more for my $18.34. 

    My rating: 2.5 stars out of 5

No Rating.                                      Goodreads                
No Rating.                                      New York Times      
No Rating.                                      Barnes and Noble    
One Star.                                       AMAZON Rating (I could only find one reviewer for                                                                                   this book, as it is so newly released.)

The following YouTube video is about famous landmarks in Venice, Italy. How many of the famous landmarks in this short 5 minute video can you spot that were included in The Treasures of Venice pop-up book? You might enjoy seeing them on film. I enjoyed this short video and hope you will also enjoy a quick mini-vacation to Venice as you watch this video. 

The Treasures of Venice pop-up book Product Details:
Publisher: Marsilio; Pop edition (September 10, 2013)
Hardcover: 16 pages
Book dimensions 8.7 x 8.7 x 0.9
Shipping weight: 15.5

All photographs of the pop-up book were taken by me on my digital camera; see Treasures of Venice pop-up book, above (and further references, below).

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, Part 2 [Monomyth: The Hero's Journey]

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card;
Review, Part 2, by Sharon Powers

DEDICATION: This posting is dedicated to all teachers--especially those who teach others how to read, write, and analyze literature; also, those teachers in particular who teach Ender's Game as part of their curriculum in their classrooms. Just as an aside, my beautiful daughter, an incredible teacher who teaches at Hardin Middle School in Salinas, is part of this distinguished group of people...all of whom deserve our thanks and support.

RECAP: Last week we looked at some of Orson Scott Card's writing techniques including third-person narrative, empathy, character building, a couple of the themes in the book, and how Card advanced the story through the withholding of salient facts (another way of saying this is that Card utilized the technique of an "unreliable narrator"). I also left you with a number of questions to ponder.

I have a lot of information to share with you today about monomyth, the hero's journey, and Ender's Game. On top of all that, I also have a couple of fun surprises down at the end of the post for you to enjoy, so, let's get going.

MONOMYTH: Today, let's look at Ender's Game as it relates to the monomyth. The term, "monomyth" was originally coined by writer, James Joyce. Later, Joseph Campbell wrote a now famous book about the monomyth, entitled, The Hero With A Thousand Faces. Campbell explained that the monomyth is a story that follows a pattern, one that can be seen in stories from all over the entire world. The stages, into which the stories have been broken up, have been dubbed, "The Hero's Journey."

Joseph Campbell explained the monomyth in a now famous quote from the Introduction of The Hero With A Thousand Faces: "A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder; fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won; the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man."

Once you become familiar with the monomyth you will begin to see the hero's journey everywhere, in books (The Hobbit), movies (Star Wars, and The Matrix), music (Holding out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler or Superman by Five for Fighting), video games (The Legend of Zelda), and even graphically, in cartoons (Superman, Thor).  Ender's Game, too, is a monomyth.

Check out this YouTube video about heroes, for fun, certainly, but also to get just a glimpse of Joseph Campbell's hero's as portrayed in cartoons and movies. This is also a great example of the hero's journey as portrayed in music [Holding Out For A Hero by Bonnie Tyler].

Now that we've had a little fun and had our introduction to the monomyth, let's take a closer look at just how a monomyth functions. Three stages exist for monomyths (The Hero's Journey). Those three stages are as follows: 

Part 1: THE DEPARTURE (or SEPARATION); Part 2: INITIATION; and Part 3: RETURN.  Here is a graphic of the journey from beginning to end, with all the stages set out for you.

Now, let's look at the DEPARTURE stage of the monomyth in Ender's Game; here, I identify the step and then show you the part in the book that is related to that particular step.   

The first step is the "Call to Adventure." Ender is living at home with his sister, brother and parents; but all is not happy, as he is bullied by his brother, Peter. At school he is also bullied by other students. Then, one day, things change, Colonel Graff arrives at Ender's home and extends an invitation: "My name is Graff, Ender. Colonel Hyrum Graff. I'm director of primary training at Battle School in the Belt. I've come to invite you to enter the school." Ender is "called to adventure."

The second step is the "Refusal of the Call." As Ender contemplates the proposal, he thinks about leaving his mother and father and Valentine and becoming a soldier. He thinks that he "didn't like fighting," that he "didn't like Peter's kind, the strong against the weak," and the "smart against the stupid." "Tears came to Ender's eyes, in spite of himself. He turned his face away...." He uttered, "I'm afraid," and "I don't want to go...." He is resisting the call to the adventure. 

The third step is, "Supernatural Aid." The IF (International Fleet) officers covered up Stilson's death to make it possible for Ender to join battle school. Even Ender's family thought that "[t]he Stilson boy [was only] in the hospital..." and not dead.

The fourth step is called "Crossing the First Threshold." Graff tells Ender that he could change his mind "[u]p until the time [he] got into the car with [the Colonel]." At this point, Ender stands at the threshold. Then, simply, Ender said, "Good-bye," to his family, and "reached up and took Colonel Graff's hand, walked out the door with him, and got into the car, having "crossed the threshold."

The last step of the DEPARTURE is "The Belly of the Whale." The trip to battle school in the shuttle: As Ender "walked the short bridge to the door in the shuttle...he noticed that the wall to his right was carpeted like a floor. That was where the disorientation began." For Ender, as he was confined in the belly of the shuttle, the ship became almost a living thing (like a whale) as he "...imagined the ship dangling upside down on the undersurface of the Earth, the giant fingers of gravity holding them firmly in place." In the belly of the whale (the shuttle), Ender meets his first challenge: Bernard, the other students and Graff's first pointed lesson.


The Call to Adventure:
Princess Leia's Message
The Call to Adventure:
"Follow the white rabbit."
In the table, just below, I have given you all the steps to the MONOMYTH in the first column and examples from two major movies, Star Wars (in the second column) and The Matrix (in the third column). 

In the fourth column, I have also given you the steps in Ender's Game for the DEPARTURE stage (only) of Monomyth: The  Hero's Journey. See how you can do filling in the rest of the stages in column four after you have looked at the examples. Have fun with it!

Monomyth: Comparison Chart for The Hero's Journey

The call to adventure

Princess Leia's Message

"Follow the white rabbit"
My name is Graff...I've come to invite you to enter the school.

Refusal of the call

Must help with the harvest
Neo won't climb out the window
Tears came to Ender's eyes, in spite of himself. He turned his face away...

Supernatural aid
Obi-wan rescues Luke from sandpeople
Trinity extracts the "bug" from Neo
Cover up Stilson's death so Ender can go to battle school.
Crossing the first threshold

Escaping Tatooine

Agents capture Neo
"Up get in my car with me, you can change your mind--he got into the car...."

The belly of the whale

Trash compactor

Torture room
In the shuttle. Ender deals with Bernard, the other students & Graff.

The road of trials

Lightsaber practice

Sparring with Morpheus

The meeting with the goddess

Princess Leia


Temptation away from the true path
Luke tempted by the Dark Side
Cypher (the failed messiah) is tempted by the world of comfortable illusions

Atonement with the Father
Darth and Luke reconcile
Neo rescues & comes to agree (that he's THE ONE) with his father-figure, Morpheus

Apotheosis (becoming god-like)

Luke becomes a Jedi

Neo becomes The One

The ultimate boon

Death Star destroyed

Humanity's salvation now within reach

Refusal of the return
"Luke, come on!" Luke wants to stay to avenge Obi-Wan
Neo fights agent instead of running

The magic flight

Millennium Falcon

"Jacking in"

Rescue from without

Han saves Luke from Darth
Trinity saves Neo from agents

Crossing the return threshold
Millennium Falcon destroys pursuing 
TIE fighters

Neo fights agent Smith
Master of the two worlds

Victory ceremony
Neo declares victory over machines in final phone call

Freedom to live
Rebellion is victorious over Empire
Humans are victorious over machines

I hope you have enjoyed the hero's journey with me today, but before we go, I have a couple more things for you. First, loving the book, Ender's Game, as I do, I find that there is just so much to talk about that even making the book review into two postings, I cannot possibly cover everything I wished to cover. Ahh, me!

I can hardly pass, though on leaving with you a little BONUS CONTENT that really didn't fit into either of the two postings (thematically, that is). So, to that end...

The following audio blurb is about the much-discussed "ansible" in the Ender's Game story. I hope you find it interesting. Here we go....

Second, when I attended college, I took a humanities class that was about (in large part) Joseph Campbell and his studies of myth. I loved the book, and wish to share that book with you, here. I highly recommend this book to you. Perhaps later, I might even do a review of this book for you. Meanwhile, the name of the book is The Power of Myth, by Joseph Campbell. This book also discusses many aspects of the hero's journey and has many lovely pictures to accompany the wonderful information included in its pages.

I hope you have enjoyed this week's blog posting about Ender's Game and the hero's journey. If you have any questions I have not covered, please feel free to send them on to me.

Until next time...

...many happy pages of reading.


Free Animated clip art from

______________________________________________________ definition of the term, "monomyth." - Lyrics to song, Holding Out For a Hero; - Superman, Five For Fighting, YouTube video; - Holding Out For A Hero, Bonnie Tyler, YouTube video; - Holding Out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler; - You Tube video of Holding Out for a Hero by Bonnie Tyler; The Hero's Journey (+ table of The Hero's Journey examples); - by Joseph Campbell.