Monday, May 26, 2014

Two Weeks in Books

It's been a little while since I've reviewed what I'm reading, so allow me the liberty of giving you four for the price of one! Check out my Thursday post, a review of Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
YA urban fantasy by J.K. Rowling

We've all read this one, but I have to say: it's as good the second time as it was the first. Harry goes head-to-head with the Dark Lord with a broken wand and frustratingly incomplete knowledge about what he's supposed to do. It speaks to every young adult's frustration as we enter the adult world with lots of questions and no direction.

I started rereading the series on tape over the 3000-mile drive to Virginia. It just gets better and better as it goes along: the story and characters mature together; hidden symbols acquire greater depth; and the characters remain gritty and lovable to the last. I'm sad it had to end at 7 books.

This should go without saying: if you somehow managed to not read Harry Potter, you need to go to the library RIGHT NOW, sit down, and read all 7 of them. Give yourself a dope slap first. You'll thank me later.

Lord Valentine's Castle
Epic science fantasy by Robert Silverberg

I got hooked on Silverberg's Majipoor books via the novella, The Seventh Shrine, which features Lord Valentine years in the future. I fell in love with Valentine, a leader who is able to be both just and gentle, hard and reticent, intelligent and kind. Lord Valentine's Castle is at the beginning of his life, where Valentine wakes up with no memories and no goals. Having read the novella, I knew how things would end for Valentine, but it didn't spoil the action.

The book develops Valentine's character wonderfully as he joins an alien juggling troupe and is beset by strange dreams about his identity. You really see through his eyes in the beginning. Later, however, the pacing changes. Silverberg suddenly realized his character had to arrive and sped him along with less care for character development. It starts as a character-driven novel but ends plot-driven. It was frustrating, but not so much that I wouldn't recommend it. The writing style is perfection itself, a good model for young writers.

The Libriomancer
Urban fantasy by Jim C. Hines

Isaac is a normal librarian. That's because he's been banned from using magic. Instead, he catalogs books--because books are where magic stems from. The power of imagination brings the things in books to life, from a useful ray-gun in a sci-fi classic to vampires from paranormal romance. The only magical thing Isaac gets to keep is Smudge, his pet spider who ignites when danger is near.

The vampires who attack Isaac's library aren't interested in romance; in fact, Isaac isn't sure what they want. His magical community is under fire and no one knows why. Worse, Gutenberg, the man who started it all, has been disappeared. All Isaac has are Smudge and Lena, a dryad who works as a bodyguard and to whom he is somewhat attracted...

While the action starts immediately, the first 3-4 chapters were still trying to establish the voice and pacing. I felt a little bogged down at first, but the magic was so intriguing I kept reading. I'm so glad I did: this book has the most unique concept of magic I've ever read. The rest of the book was a page-turner: between constant danger and the slow unraveling of the mechanics of magic, this book did a good job making the impossible possible. It felt like a fantasy thriller--with plenty of comedy thrown in.

I got this book at the writing conference I attended; Jim Hines was one of the speakers and is an all-around awesome person. The book is snappy and fun, with good voice and unique ideas on magic. This is a book for book-lovers everywhere: if you ever dreamed of books become real, you'll love this fantasy.

Mennonite Meets Mr. Right
Comedic memoir by Rhoda Janzen

The title was off-putting. I hate the term "Mr. Right" and I'm not interested in Christian memoirs. However, every single word in the title is sarcastic, NOT face-value. It was previously pub'd as Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?

It's not a Christian memoir, it's a comedic memoir. I laughed my way through it. The book deals with three major threads: Rhoda's battle with breast cancer, her romantic relationship with Mitch, and her spirituality. No ground is sacred; no topic goes unturned. So many quotables. It's a must-read!

What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations?
Top on my list are:
- Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang
- Empress of the World by Sara Ryan
The Maze Runner by James Dashner

Word count: 810.