Monday, June 28, 2010

Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis

Title: Out of the Silent Planet
Author: C.S. Lewis
Rating: ☆☆☆(☆☆)
3/5 Stars

I am a huge fan of C.S. Lewis.

It's really just that simple. I love the books he wrote and I love the point of view he represented. He is one of the most recognized Christian authors and, to my mind, the most important. Lewis didn't just blindly write about faith. He didn't try to club people over the head with Christianity. He wasn't hateful towards members of other faiths, nor was he completely unquestioning of his own faith. Lewis used fantasy and science fiction to examine his faith, to experiment with the idea of God in magical worlds or in far off planets. I admire him greatly for his intelligent religious viewpoints. I believe that a lot of modern day Christians could really learn a thing or two from Lewis, because faith should constantly be reexamined and questioned if it's ever going to progress in the way that science has. Personally, I would do just about anything to see Lewis go head to head in a battle of words with the illustrious author and atheist, Phillip Pullman. Their respective fantasy series have essentially done the same thing: examined the concept of God in terms of multiple worlds, generated through fantasy naratives. Lewis projects Christian idealogies throughout his worlds, while Pullman smashes them.

Wow, definitely getting away from myself there, but the point is, I really admire Lewis and what he has to say, which is why I picked up Out of the Silent Planet. In terms of the message of the book, I was as happy as I've ever been with his work. The story definitely had a hidden Christian manifesto, similar to the Chronicles of Narnia series. However, I'm not sure if I really connected with the surface plot. I've never been that into retro science fiction, and this was certainly retro. I did enjoy seeing an author address the problem of language on other planets, and the questions of survival. Often, characters luck out in discovering that the natives eat the same things as we do here on Earth and they happen to speak the same language! Wow! Not in this book. Lewis did a great job depicting the linguistic difficulties that Dr. Ransom (the protagonist) might have suffered. But, like I said, the plot itself just wasn't exciting enough for me. The descriptions were beautiful, but they didn't make things move along very quickly.

Despite my disinterest with the plot, I will most likely pick up the sequels. They're great books to have in my arsenal, especially since I love Lewis so much.

ISBN: 978-0743234900
Price: $14.00, paperback
Pages: 160

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Title: The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
5/5 Stars

I think, perhaps, I give out too many 5 star ratings. Maybe I need to think more closely about what deserves such a perfect rating. Many books that I give 5 stars do have their flaws. Does that mean they deserve 4 stars? I don't want to put anyone off reading a book because I gave it a less than perfect score...but what does perfect really mean?

I'm asking these questions because I find myself wanting to give The Magicians 6 stars, simply because it was really that good. Don't get me wrong, I loved the Percy Jackson books, and some of them really are perfectly crafted, but this book. Well, I just don't know where to begin. It was one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Please don't worry, all you purists; I wouldn't put this ahead of Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia, or even Harry Potter. However, as an adult fantasy novel, it was just incredible. I've never read something from the genre that I found so relatable. Perhaps it's the modern setting, perhaps it's the teen characters. I just connected with Quentin so easily and could not put the book down.

The Magicians begins in modern-day Brooklyn, with Quentin preparing for an Ivy League interview. As he makes his way home from the disastrous meeting, he finds himself in the gardens of prestigious school of magic, to which he is soon admitted. Quentin has been dreaming about magical worlds all his life and now he is one! Alas, the world of magic is not all he thought it would be, and soon Quentin learns that the trials he faced before magic are not so different from the one's he's faced with now. The book spans a 4-5 year period, in which Quentin goes to Brakebills school of magic and then enters the real world, culminating in a journey to the land of his favorite childhood books, Fillory. As I said, not everything in this new world is what Quentin expected, and the book chronicles not just his adventures, but also how he comes to terms with them.

I suppose The Magicians hit close to home because I too have always wished there was a world other than this one. No worries folks; I'm not about to go do anything crazy because I can't live in this world if there's no magic. I'm just saying I could relate to the idea that fantasy novels, though I love them and wouldn't have the same life without them, create a strange sense of hope for us loyalists. I go through my life thinking I'm just waiting for that something big to happen to me. If my experience of life turns out to be anything like Quentin's, maybe a big surprise won't make that much of a difference at all.

ISBN: 978-0452296299
Price: $16.00, paperback
Pages: 416


Obviously, I don't have anyone reading this blog regularly, but I did want to give a little nod to the new layout design. It's a template from Blogger that I tweaked a little. Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan

Title: The Red Pyramid
Author: Rick Riordan
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
5/5 Stars

Boy was I jonesing for some Rick Riordan this summer. I read all of the Percy Jackson books this time last year, and now, I've just developed this association with summer and Riordan's fast-passed, easy reads. When the weather gets warm, I want books I can breeze through, but who's stories I can really connnect to and reccomend to other readers. Well, Riordan does just that, so when I saw The Red Pyramid in my local Barnes and Noble (an establishment I should probably be banned from, considering my book-buying addiction), I just had to have it. And my goodness, it did not disappoint.

Pyramid is the first book in Riordan's new series, The Kane Chronicles, featuring brother and sister, Carter and Sadie Kane. Carter has grown up with their archealogist father, travelling the world, while Sadie staid in London with their grandparents, living a relatively normal life. When disaster strikes at the British Museum, Carter and Sadie are thrust together to save their father who disappeared at the museum. The story links Sadie and Carter to the traditions of ancient Egypt, and soon, they find themselves mixed up in an ages-old conflict between the gods and the magicians who keep them at bay.

It's clear that Riordan has a passion for the mythologies of the world, and he's continuing what he started with Percy Jackson's Greek heritage in the Egyptian siblings. He even gives a slight nod to Mount Olympus and the Empire State Building in this new book. He has a great ability to rejuvinate ancient stories for modern readers, and make classic myths come alive with lively young characters. I think he's doing something marvelous for his readership; introducing them to a deep literary history and, quite possibly, developing their interests in the history of our world. I'd like to think that after reading The Red Pyramid, kids might want to learn more about Egypt and would pursue more books on the topic. I know the book sparked my interest, and I can't wait (as usual) for the sequel.

ISBN: 978-1423113386
Price: $17.99, hardcover
Pages: 528

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Title: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Author: Stieg Larsson
Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆
5/5 Stars

This was the very last book I bought in the UK, and let me just say that I am so glad I did. I'd had the Millenium Trilogy on my TBR list for a long, long time, but never got around to picking it up until my studies were done and I really had some downtime. I was totally shocked by the story of its author, Stieg Larsson, who died shortly after delivering the manuscripts for "The Millenium Trilogy" to his editor. Sadly, he never got to see the worldwide success that his books acquired.

The first of his novels, I must say, started out rather slow. It took three weeks to get through the first 200 pages, with other books in between. However, once all the back story had been fleshed out, and the mystery really started going, I had finished the book in 2 days. Larsson is clearly a master of suspense and intrigue.

The book follows three main plotlines. First and most prevelent is that of Mikael Blomkvist, a financial journalist who has just been convicted of libel. He thought he was publishing a revealing new expose on one of Sweden's most influential CEOs, but his information was quite wrong. Though it looks like his career is going completely downhill after the trial, he is soon hired by Henrik Vanger, a retired entrepeneur. Vanger is convinced that his favorite niece, Harriet, was murdered almost fifty years ago and wants Blomkvist to continue the long-dead investigation into her disappearance. Lastly, there is the story of Lisbeth Salander, a mysterious, troubled young woman living in Stockholm. She works for a private investigator's company and her skills are unmatched. When Lisbeth joins Blomkvist on the case to find Harriet, they discover the shocking truth behind her disappearance.

Like I said, the plot didn't really thicken until about 200 pages in, but when it did, boy did things get good. Larsson clearly has a great gift for story-telling, and his knowledge of the financial stories that Blomkvist was investigating was really incredible. It felt like you were reading a true account, a story of fact, instead of a fiction. Where other crime books glaze over some of the more tricky plot areas, this novel convered all the bases and was truly inspired. I really can't wait to pick up the next one!

ISBN: 978-0307454546
Price: $14.95, paperback
Pages: 608

Dead in the Family by Charlaine Harris

Title: Dead in the Family
Author: Charlaine Harris
Rating: ☆☆☆☆(☆)
4/5 Stars

I cannot even begin to express how long awaited the release of Dead in the Family was for me. Since I finished Dead and Gone, I have been counting down the days until the next Sookie Stackhouse book (not to mention Season 3 of True Blood, the television counterpart!).

This time around, I just couldn't give it full marks and it's for the same reasons as before. Harris seems to write these books in a pattern. She'll put out one, incredible, cliff-hanger of a novel that I have to give five stars, and next time, she'l put out a book that is great, but not quite as suspenseful. I feel like Dead in the Family was one of those not-quite-so suspenseful novels.

Sookie begins this book in what seems to be a healthy relationship with the vampire Eric. They are seeing each other regularly and really respecting each other. It seems like maybe Sookie's life as come back to normal. Even though it's taken many months for her to fully recover (emotionally and physically) from the bloodbath of the Faery War, she is finally happy. It's short-lived, however, because Eric receives surprising visitors: his maker and a new brother. They occupy all of Eric's time and become a huge liability to his thriving business in Shreveport.

It isn't surprising that the climax of the novel involves a final confrontation between Eric's controversial family and Sookie and her allies. I just found the ending somewhat predictable considering the story arch. I really enjoy these books so much more when there's a shocker at the end. If Harris follows the trend, however, it looks like the next one will have me on the edge of my seat once again!

ISBN: 978-0441018642
Price: $25.99, hardcover
Pages: 320

Twisted Wing by Ruth Newman

Title: Twisted Wing
Author: Ruth Newman
Rating: ☆☆☆☆(☆)
4/5 Stars

I picked up this British paperback while in the UK and had it on my shelf for almost two months. I guess I just got caught up in homework and travelling, and never got around to reading it until the weekend before finals (good idea? probably not). What appeared to be just another crime novel at Waterstone's turned out to be one of the fastest reads I've ever encountered. I read the book in 24 hours, which is not necessarily a huge feat for me, but that usually happens when I'm reading Harry Potter, Twilight or some other anxiously awaited title. This was completely unexpected!

Twisted Wing takes place, for the most part, at Ariel College at Cambridge University in England. Ariel college is small and it's students share a close bond, which is why when one of their own turns up brutaly murdered, no one seems to know who is behind the heinous crime. After a year of mourning with no leads turning up, another student is murdered, and finally, at their graduation ball, a third student is killed, but this time, there are students at the scene. The book starts off at the third and final murder and gradually fills in the back story of the "Cambridge Butcher" and the students who were his/her victims.

What begins as a crime drama turns into a psychological thriller, with the investigators, the students and the readers completely unable to discern who or what is behind the killings.

I would certainly recommend this book to anyone, even people who weren't previously interested in crime books. I was really hooked by the story and the complexity of the characters. The novel's only pitfall is its slightly unsophisticated writing style, but for a debut novel from Newman, I was truly impressed. The book is only available in kindle version in the US, unless you buy used (womp womp).

ISBN: 978-1847392480
Price: £6.99, paperback
Pages: 384