Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Courageous Princess

Title: The Courageous Princess
Author: Rod Espinosa

What it's about: Princess Mabelrose lives in the tiny kingdom of New Tinsley. Her life is a happy one, with loving parents and freedom to grow and play. Then one day she's kidnapped by an evil, powerful dragon who intends to keep her prisoner. Not one to put up with this sort of treatment, Mabelrose steals some things from the dragon's hoard and escapes, meeting new friends and allies in her quest to get back home.

What I thought: So, yeah, this is a graphic novel, and it has a simple charming style. It's not really in manga style, nor is it like American comic books. It reminds me most of Rapunzel's Revenge, actually, a graphic novel written by Shannon Hale that I reviewed a couple months ago. Anyway, the story starts out simple enough, with the (by now) cliche of a spunky princess who rescues herself, but Mabelrose becomes pretty well-developed as a character. I liked her because she had a good mix of strengths and weaknesses. She wasn't perfect, but she also didn't success just because of a deus ex machina. Basically, this is a pretty well constructed fantasy story, and I only wish that the library or Amazon had the next two volumes for sale.

Overall: A fun adventure in graphic novel format.

What Dreams May Come

Title: What Dreams May Come
Author: Richard Matheson

What it's about: Main character Chris dies, but the story just begins. Even though he discovers there's an afterlife, he can't let go of thoughts about his wife Ann. Then something happens that puts Chris' eventual reunion with Ann in jeopardy, and he must hope that the love the two of them share is strong enough to win the day.

What I thought: What I liked best was the descriptions of the afterlife. Very detailed, made me wish more of the story focused on explaining this place. The relationship between Chris and Ann was very well developed, too, and while there was a lot diabetes-inducing stuff, it was balanced out with character flaws for them both. You know what didn't really work for me? The actual plot itself. That is, when Chris had to go save Ann, that whole bit was interesting too, but it just felt like it hadn't been a big enough conflict to really justify the story, and the ending seemed like a letdown. You know, these complaints actually mirror the ones I had for Bid Time Return. I guess that's just Matheson for you. But overall this was pretty good.

Overall: If you like unconventional love stories, this is worth checking out.

The Third Policeman

Title: The Third Policeman
Author: Flann O'Brien

What it's about: An unnamed narrator goes on a search for a black box that belonged to the man he murdered. He's joined by his soul named Joe, and his search takes him to a two-dimensional police station that's staffed by three policemen with interesting foibles. Our friend learns a lot about bicycles, atomic theory, and the nature of the universe.

What I thought: You wanna know just how far out this book is? I got high from reading it. Okay, well, seriously, this book is a trip and a half. It's very readable in that the language is simple and unpretentious. The main thing that gave me trouble was just wrapping my mind around the sheer weirdness of O'Brien's imaginings. However, they're very creative things that he comes up with, connecting bicycles with atomic theory, the idea of a two-dimensional police house, that whole underground place. I mean, what is this I don't even. The digressions about de Selby are very amusing, too. But, jeez, holy extended footnotes, Batman!

Overall: Very weird, and not the easiest thing to read. However, this is entertaining and worthwhile overall.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The Angel's Game

Title: The Angel's Game
Author: Carlos Ruiz Zafon

What it's about: Aspiring novelist David Martín is approached by a mysterious figure who offers him an enormous sum of money to write a book. David, who is hungry to prove himself, takes the offer and begins work. However, he soon discovers that the figure who offered him the job is more than he seems and that he may only be a small piece in a larger mystery that weaves itself through Barcelona and even the very house he, David, now lives in.

What I thought: A discussion of The Angel's Game cannot take place without mentioning its predecessor, The Shadow of the Wind. First off, I'm gonna say that I prefer The Shadow of the Wind over this book. That is not to say that The Angel's Game is not an excellent book, however. The same macabre sense of mystery and nostalgia pervades The Angel's Game and pulls you into its world. My main complaint was that... Well, while at times in The Shadow of the Wind it seemed that Zafon was almost beating you over the head with exposition of past events, this time around it seems that things are left a little too mysterious to fully make all the connections during the first read-through. The events near the end and until the epilogue move at a frenzied pace, and you more feel the events than totally process them. And it's a fun ride, but it feels a bit lacking. The whole Faustian feel of things was a good theme, but it didn't feel played out well enough. I was expecting something like The Shadow of the Wind, with history repeating itself, and I did get that from this book too, but, well, while I'm not saying that the parallels should be exceedingly obvious (while it worked for Shadow, it's not for every book) and while the last scene in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books definitely worked, but... I guess it ties back into the lack of explanation I was mentioning before. Maybe someone out there in readerland feels differently about this. Please do say so if you disagree with my assessment. I will say that I very much liked the character of Isabella and her interaction with David. She reminded me of Fermin, although the two are quite different. Fermin's older, while Isabella's a young thing; Fermin's worldly and dapper, while Isabella is somewhat naive and temperamental. But there's that role of confidant that both take up, with wisdom and assistance for the main character. Also, I will mention that I liked the connections between The Angel's Game and Shadow. Oh, one other thing. I remember reading somewhere, maybe on Wikipedia or Amazon or some other place, that this book would explain more about the Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Well, it did, but I still feel that we didn't learn enough. I suppose Zafon will write more books set in his shadowy version of Barcelona and thus satisfy the curiosity of myself and other readers.

Overall: I can't say it's as good as The Shadow of the Wind, but The Angel's Game is another excellent offering from Zafon.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Wee Free Men

Title: Wee Free Men
Author: Terry Pratchett

What it's about: Tiffany Aching, with the help of the Nac Mac Feegle and her own common sense and determination, must rescue her brother from the land of the fairies and keep the fairy queen from causing havoc in the real world.

What I thought: For some reason, this book didn't draw me in as much as some of Pratchett's other books. It's a good, solid Discworld story, with plenty of clever humor and philosophical tangents that make sense in the context of the story. Tiffany's a likable protagonist with realistic foibles and flaws. I guess it just didn't click with me. Truth be told, I'm most attached to the characters of the Watch, and when it comes to Discworld witches, I wish there would be more books with Agnes Nitt. But Tiffany's a good protagonist, and I'm gonna order A Hat Full of Sky and see what she gets up to next. Maybe she'll grow on me.

Overall: A decent entry into the Discworld series. If you like the witches, check this out.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Bid Time Return

Title: Bid Time Return
Author: Richard Matheson

What it's about: Dying screenwriter Richard Collier is spending the last days of his life trying to write a book. He travels without direction, letting a coin flip determine where he goes. Richard ends up in the Hotel del Coronado, a place with a long history, and there he sees the photograph that will change his life. Elise McKenna, a famous actress, performed at the Hotel del Coronado in 1896, and a photograph taken of her then remains on display. Richard sees it and falls in love with the woman. Though he knows that it's an impossible love, he immediately begins to research Elise, and soon decides that he will do anything, even circumvent time itself, to be with her. Richard's attempts at time travel eventually succeed, and he meets Elise. But can true love really win out against the relentless flow of time and history?

What I thought: The whole book has the quality of a dream. From the clipped narration style at the beginning to the luxurious descriptions of the world of 1896, there's something not quite real about the whole story. However, the dictation style of the story does give it an immediacy and passion that draw you in. This is a wonderful love story that just pulls you along, and my only complaint would be that the ending is a bit... abrupt and less dramatic than I would have liked. But it works, and the whole book works, and if you liked The Time Traveler's Wife, you'll like this one.

Overall: Lovely story.

The Dark Reflections Trilogy

Titles: The Water Mirror, The Stone Light, and The Glass Word
Author: Kai Meyer

What it's about: Set in a very much alternate Earth, our story begins in Venice, where the orphan Merle and her friend Junipa are going to work as apprentices to a great magic mirror maker. The master mirror maker, Archimbaldo, is mysterious but kindly, curing Junipa's blindness by giving her mirror eyes, and his housekeeper Eft is a friend to Merle. Across the street is another craftsman and his apprentices. Despite the traditional rivalry between the apprentices of the two households, Merle is taken with Serafin, the former street thief turned delivery boy. The two quickly get entangled in the war with the Egyptian Empire, however, and are separated. However, while Merle loses Serafin, she gains a companion in the Flowing Queen, the mysterious protector of Venice, and Vermithrax the stone lion. Soon the three of them are off to Hell to solicit aid in protecting Venice from the Egyptians.

What I thought: Confusing summary, I'll bet. What I liked about this series was how serious and dark it turned out to be, and also how you could tell that the author had put a lot of effort into developing this world. On the flip side, it seemed as though there was more development done than we were shown, and I feel that the series as a whole would have been better if it had moved just a bit slower. As it was, the relationship between Merle and Serafin seemed a bit hasty, and some plot points, while making sense, seemed a little confusing because the build-up wasn't completely there. Ah, but don't think I'm condemning the series. Not for a minute! This is great fantasy. The bleak city of Venice, the mysterious, alien, powerful Egyptian Empire, the fact that Hell is a desolate, inhuman wasteland that's actually visitable by mortals, and then even the Iron Eye and the realm it is built to mimic. This is all wonderfully conceived. Merle is a great, realistic character with plenty of development and personality. She questions, she makes mistakes, she doesn't let destiny just push her along. And the series' conclusion makes sense and is well executed. I didn't like it all that much personally, but I can't say it wasn't good.

Overall: A very solid fantasy trilogy.