Sunday, October 26, 2008

Going Postal

Title: Going Postal
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: Moist von Lipwig is a conman whose luck has run out, or so it seems. He's encountered a benevolent angel (though angels usually don't come in the form of Assassins Guild-trained tyrants) who has offered him a second chance at life. If Moist accepts the offer, he gets the job of Postmaster for the Ankh-Morpork Post Office and the task of reforming the postal system of the city. Figuring it to be better than death, Moist takes the offer. He doesn't realize he'll have to deal with a golem parole officer, a pin-obsessed apprentice postman, a chain-smoking golem advocate, and an even smoother operator than himself who holds the reins of the clacks system and thus is an enemy of the revived post office.

What I thought: What a great book. It incorporates all the developments that have occurred in Ankh-Morpork, like the clacks and the Ankh-Morpork Times and the expanded City Watch and freed golems. We also get a look at the city from a new point of view; Vimes and crew in the Watch books see things from a copper's point of view, but Moist has his own shrewd way of seeing the world, and this is good for laughs and for the insights into human character that Pratchett is so good at delivering. I liked the looks into the culture of the clacks towers and their operators and the comparisions to computer programmers.

Overall: A great new entry into the Discworld series.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

James and the Giant Peach

Title: James and the Giant Peach
Author: Roald Dahl

What it's about: James is a small boy who lives with his two awful aunts. One day, a mysterious old man gives him a bag of magic to help him, but James spills the bag's contents on the ground near the old peach tree. Soon a giant peach is growing, but that's not the only thing that the magic affected. When James sneaks out to see the peach at night, he meets amazing new friends and starts off on a wonderful journey to a better life.

What I thought: I was actually pretty indifferent to this. This was one of Dahl's earlier books, though, according to Wikipedia, so perhaps he hadn't quite hit his stride. There are plenty of rhymes and some very clever bits of description, but it's a short book and seemed kind of in a rush to me.

Overall: Not bad, but Dahl has written much better stories.

Life of Pi

Title: Life of Pi
Author: Yann Martel

What it's about: Pi Patel is a young boy with an interest in religion and in zookeeping. His family decides to move to Canada, but on the way there, their ship sinks, and Pi ends up stuck in a lifeboat with a tiger that was part of the ship's cargo. Until he is rescued or makes his way to land, Pi has to figure out how to survive on the lifeboat and how to keep himself from becoming the tiger's next meal.

What I thought: The story here is simple but beautifully told, with very easy, simple, and yet deep prose. I mean, all of the authors I like can tell a good story, but it takes some special skill to make the words so, well, evocative, bringing out the sensations of the world for the reader to truly experience. Besides that, the observations made really make you think as you read, make you want to evaluate your beliefs in the light of what has been said.

Overall: A beautiful book that will make you think and sweep you away into the world of its story.


Title: Skybreaker
Author: Kenneth Oppel

What it's about: So after defeating a pirate captain, our hero Matt Cruse has enough money to attend the airship academy. He's not doing so well, though, and he worries about being good enough for his spunky rich friend Kate. When Matt gets the chance to go after the Hyperion, an abandoned ship sailing unreachably high and supposedly loaded with gold, he jumps at it, hoping to gain himself a better future with the riches. Soon Matt, Kate, the captain of a high-flying skybreaker ship, and the girl who has the key to the gold are all setting sail for adventure at treacherous heights.

What I thought: The first book has a light-hearted swashbuckling feel to it. This book, in contrast, has some genuinely creepy stuff to it. The setting is an abandoned airship full of corpses. Come on, how much more morbid can you get? There's plenty of science in this book, too, and there's a real feel of desperation as the story heads toward its climax. My main complaint? Basically, Matt is basically always vindicated. He's always got the right view of things, and if someone disparages what he suggests, that person's later proven wrong. It's not enough to turn me off the books, of course, but it does get a little annoying.

Overall: A very gripping second book.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Deep Secret

Title: Deep Secret
Author: Diana Wynne Jones

What it's about: Rupert Venables is a Magid, one of the magic-users who helps keep the universe running smoothly. He's really only a beginner, but when his mentor dies, it's up to Rupert to appoint a new Magid. To take care of this task, he decides to bring all his potential candidates together in one place, which happens to be a sci-fi/fantasy convention. It will be up to him to select the proper Magid while also dealing with a collapsing empire a couple worlds away.

What I thought: This book is a great example of the wonderful chaos that Diana Wynne Jones is so fond of instilling into her stories. Rupert and Maree are both fun characters, plenty flawed but still quite likeable. The portrayal of the convention is good; you can see some gentle mocking along with a respect for people who enjoy hobbies like that. It makes for a great setting, too. The way that magic is shown to work and the system of different worlds is a unique one.

Overall: This is one of my favorite books by Diana Wynne Jones and really one of my favorite books, period.

Quick update

Just another update to say that I haven't forgotten this blog. I am two reviews behind, but only two. Life of Pi has been keeping me busy for over a week now, and my schedule here doesn't leave me much time for leisure reading. Plus, I always get worried about reading too quickly and running out of books by the end of October. Oh, to be in America with public libraries and books in English! But I plan to visit Blackwell's when I go to Oxford later this month, so if I'm in dire straits, book-wise, I can pick up a novel or two. Well, I have a lazy weekend these next couple of days, so I will get the reviews for Deep Secret and Skybreaker posted, at least!