Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

Yeah, I got a little sidetracked with renovating my house (new carpet and new paint job in all the bedrooms FTW). In any case, I'm glad I had more time to figure out how I feel about The Magician King. I didn't think it would be possible, but Lev Grossman actually managed to outdo himself, and write a better story than The Magicians. This sequel shies away from the magical arts and Harry Potter-esque feel of the original, and steers more toward other-world, Narnia type fantasy story. He doesn't just drop important parts of the story, however. Everything ties very nicely into both Earth and Fillory, and Grossman manages to make me even more sympathetic towards his characters than it should be possible. They are fictional, after all. Grossman gets 5 out of 5 stars for channeling his inner Lewis, Rowling, and Tolkien, and creating such a realistic take on magic and fantasy lands.

First off, Grossman's characters are very easy to relate to and to identify with, even if they're fresh from magical college and have spent 2 years ruling a magical land called Fillory. I couldn't help but feel some type of pathetic pity for Quentin (because honestly, who becomes king of their paradise, and get everything he wanted, and still pine for more?!), and truly wish for him to succeed on his quest throughout this book. The same for Julia, who I at first thought was cold and utterly devoid of emotion, and who I learn through flashbacks is in fact cold and utterly devoid of emotion. But, at least I understand where that really came from, and her backstory is written so well in this novel. The back and forth between present day and her past added a lot to the story, and while it was sometimes difficult for me to remember what I left off at, I quickly got right back into the plot.

The ending of The Magician King, however, leaves a little to be desired. Or, maybe I'm just used to everybody getting a happy ending. I really just feel sorry for ______ (leaving out names is my way of avoiding spoiling the book, clearly), in that he/she was just kind of left in the cold while everybody else (presumably) lives happily ever after. I really, really, REALLY hope Grossman writes another tale of Fillory, because it's killing me just knowing _______ was basically left on his/her own with nobody, no friends or home or anything.

Still, though, I have to give Grossman major points for getting me so emotionally invested in what happens to these characters. I think some authors gloss over character development in an effort to keep their novels light and the plots fast paced, but this was a very well-written story that moves along seamlessly, while continuing to develop characters and make them multifaceted and more realistic than some real people I have met. 5 out of 5 stars, and I will continue hoping for another Grossman novel until I am obliged.

Justin :)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

50 Shades of Grey- A Guy's Perspective

Yeah no. I picked this book up knowing full well what it was about, and what the target demographic was, but wanting to be able to leave a review for those people who are looking for something other than rave reviews by almost every female who's read it. I, a guy, read this book hoping to see just what all the hype was and to leave a truthful review from the 1% of the demographic that isn't female. Honestly, this was pure unadulterated smut, and I'm rather upset that it's a bestselling paperback novel week after week.

50 Shades of Grey has sold as well as the Harry Potter series, if not better. And that is truly terrifying. This book is clearly an author's first attempt at writing; the style is sophomoric at best. As for the plot, yes I understand that this book was meant to cater to women (it started out as a Twilight fan fiction, after all). I had just hoped for better. The whole story was about Ana trying to change Christian, and bring him 'into the light' and become what she's looking for. Not to stereotype or sound to chauvinistic, but that is just typical. Can't she accept him for who he is and what he likes, or just move on and find someone else? Oh and also, what virgin gives it up within a couple weeks of meeting somebody? I feel like if you hold on for that long waiting for the right time, maybe you should wait till you know somebody a little longer than that. Sheesh. And while we're on that topic, how many people went from innocent virgin to willing participant in BDSM activities? This plot was less realistic than The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter.

This book gets points for not attempting to be anything more than what it actually is. EL James (I hope) doesn't expect to win any Pulitzer prize for this book, and I think the majority of the world knows what kind of smut this is. I'm just disappointed in this book becoming such a bestselling craze. What happened to the days when the bestseller list included good books, or even classic stories? This is a ridiculous addition to the likes of Harry Potter, The Night Circus, and any and all Stephen King and James Patterson novels, and I'm more disappointed in society for this book's success than I am for Snooki being allowed to pen not one, but three books.

There is no truer statement to describe this book

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tongues of Serpents by Naomi Novik

Not too much to say about this, the sixth book in Novik's Temeraire series. I like the series, and they're all similar in writing style. The characters are still enjoyable to read about, and this book was about on par with the rest of the series. I'll give it my average 3 out of 5 stars. Nothing special, but the series is still entertaining.

From the publisher:
Convicted of treason despite their heroic defense against Napoleon's invasion of England, Temeraire and Capt. Will Laurence have been transported to a prison colony in distant Australia- and into a hornet's nest of fresh complications. The colony is in turmoil after the overthrow of military governor William Bligh- aka Captain Bligh, late of HMS Bounty. And when Bligh tries to enlist them in his bid to regain office, the dragon and his captain are caught in the middle of a political power struggle. Their only chance to escape the fray is accepting a mission to blaze a route through the forbidding Blue Mountains and into the interior of Australia. But the theft of a precious dragon egg turns their expedition into a desperate recovery operation- leading to a  shocking discovery and a dangerous new complication in the global war between Britain and Napoleon.

My thoughts:
One of my favorite things about the more recent Temeraire novels is that the dragons are getting their own voices in the narratives. More and more pages are being given over to Temeraire's own thoughts and opinions, through his own perspective, rather than the entire novel being from Laurence's head. Maybe I really just like animals more than I do people (seriously, I'm going to grow up to be a dog person), but I happen to like the dragons more than a lot of the human characters. They're so young and naive, yet full of wisdom and perspective that no human character has in these books. It's very interesting, and makes them such likable characters. I've said it before and I'll say it again, what I wouldn't give for dragons like Temeraire and Kulingile to be real creatures.

The plot in this story is pretty much average. Nothing to rave about, but I still found it entertaining and can't really find any faults with it. Laurence is struggling with his duty to England, and his growing dislike of the government and their inhumane strategies in the war against France and Napoleon, so it's interesting to see how this conflict plays out through his actions. I feel pity for the two, especially because Iskierka and Caesar are two of the most narcissistic, antagonistic characters I've seen in a while. They are spiteful and condescending and I'm rather surprised Temeraire hasn't simply blown them away with his Divine Wind just to be rid of them. At least that'd solve a lot of his and Laurence's problems (even if it creates a whole host of new problems).

All in all, Tongues of Serpents was an average installation to the series. Not my favorite book in the series, but it was a steadily-paced book that kept me interested. The characters are addicting and fun to read about, and I'm eagerly anticipating the moment I can grab the next book, Crucible of Gold.

- Justin

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Dark Horde by Brewin

Honestly, I don't really even know where to begin with this book. There were a lot of strengths and a lot of weaknesses to this horror story set in rural Australia, and it's difficult for me to decide which are more important to me in writing this review. My ambivalence lends itself very easily to my 3 out of 5 star review of The Dark Horde.

From the publisher:
1989, rural Victoria, Australia. Something is preying upon the township of Howqua Hills. Brian Derwent, head of the local police station, must simultaneously grapple with the investigation, his disintegrating personal life and unseen forces that are not of this world.

Part thriller, part crime fiction, all supernatural horror, The Dark Horde tells of the return of an ancient evil that is neither stoppable nor comprehensible...

My thoughts:
Well, the lack of comprehensiveness of this story is very evident in its ability to create many different questions, and not provide an answer for a single one of them. This story was one that I was reluctant to read late at night, as my imagination produces very vivid dreams (or in this case, it would be nightmares), and the plot was very fast paced and interesting. However, this is one of the few books where I feel like there just wasn't enough character and plot development.

From Brian and his 'family' to Vincent and his friends to Dr. Dawson and everyone else, a very wide plethora of characters are introduced to us by Brewin. So many, in fact, that it was difficult to keep track of everyone. Especially since people kept dropping like flies once the Dark Horde showed up (you know, in the first chapter). It's hard to start empathizing with characters when everyone starts dying, you get tired of getting emotionally invested in a character just to see them crumble in the next chapter. This is a particular shame in The Dark Horde, because the characters are almost all relatable, if not likable.

I don't know, I'm not big on description and setting and stuff, which is probably why I like teen/young adult novels that are geared toward an entire demographic of ADHD individuals, but I just felt lost throughout this story. The perspective/story line changed with almost every single chapter (mostly because the character that the chapter focused on died more often than not), and it was difficult to keep track of who was alive, who was being talked about, and just what the hell was actually happening.

Sometimes, not knowing what's going on is a plus (see the original Amityville Horror if you don't agree). In this case, I just felt like it made the story very confusing and hard to truly enjoy. The conclusion especially just left me with more questions than ever. It seems like that was the point, but at the same time I just ended up frustrated that I didn't know what the hell had happened the entire story, and how the characters ended up after the book. And yes, I love getting to make my hypotheses about what happens to the characters when the book ends. But, I just couldn't in this case because I had no idea what happened. I think a little more information regarding this mysterious Dark Horde (and their relation to humanity) would have made things a little more enjoyable.