Dec 31, 2011

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

I'd been hearing about this book for a long time and finally decided to pick it up after a particularly heartfelt recommendation from my good friend and her boyfriend. Boy, were they right. The remarkable thing about this fantasy novel is that it isn't so much a narrative as it is a story. It's rare nowadays to find old fashioned storytelling, in any medium. This book is the first of three days' recounting of the story of Kvothe, a living legend, a man much mythologized in his own time. He tells his own story, and what a story it is. Non-fantasy-lovers would probably not enjoy the book as much as those of us who read a fair amount of fantasy, but one does get the feeling that Rothfuss could tell a good story no matter what medium he is working in, and no matter what the story is about. It's engaging, fast-paced enough to be a page-turner, and funny enough to make you laugh out loud on occasion. I'm quite excited to read the second and third books of Rothfuss's masterful story.

Dec 24, 2011

This Burns My Heart, by Samuel Park

This is the type of book that makes me want to rip the pages just as fast as I'm turning them. For me, that means it's really, really good. The narrative follows Soo-Ja Choi, a young woman in post-war South Korea who wants to become a diplomat. Her struggle, throughout the book, mimics what I would guess was the struggle of the entire country: how to honor their past and heritage while looking ahead to a vastly changed future. Soo-Ja marries into a family we would consider to be horrific and loveless, but which probably echoes the way of many families from that time and before. She fights against the stringent parochialism all while desperately wanting to bring honor to her family, both the one she was born into and the one into which she married.

There are two strings that pull Soo-Ja through her hateful life: her daughter, Hana, and the man she loves but did not marry, Yul. At every turn, Soo-Ja is confronted with the two-fold morality of post-war Koreans. I wanted to scream at her horrendous father-in-law for her, to argue on her behalf with her deadbeat husband. And this is how I know Park is an incredible writer; he is able to draw you so completely into the story of this woman that you can't shake yourself free even if you wanted to, and hope desperately that just one thing in this woman's life will go right. I read this book in two days, I think most people reading this will gobble it up just as quickly,.

The Dragonriders of Pern, by Anne McCaffery

This is a compilation of three of McCaffery's Pern books: Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon. I read most of these books a long time ago but, of course, had completely forgotten them. I'm glad I've now had a chance to revisit and remember the delightful stories of the dragonriders of Pern. McCaffery, who recently passed away at the age of 85, had a deft touch plot and characters, and her books are a joy to read. While they aren't the best fantasy/science fiction out there, credit must be given for their originality when they first came out, and for McCaffery's decent writing skills. Her books are the perfect go-between for young adults looking to jump from YA fantasy into "adult" science fiction.

Dec 12, 2011

You Shall Know Our Velocity!, by Dave Eggers

This is the first Dave Eggers book I've read, and my main reaction: Wow. I can't believe I haven't read his work until now. Real literature wraps indelible truths in a story that pulls you in so strongly the truths hit you shockingly hard. This is exactly what this book does. The book is written in first person by Will, a 27 year old man who's life has been turned upside down by a sudden financial windfall, the death of one of his closest friends and his subsequent beating by three men in rural Wisconsin. He enlists his remaining closest friend, Hand, to join him on a cross-planetary trip on which he plans to give away $36,000 to those who seem to be in need. They start out in Senegal and end in Latvia, and we get every detail of their seven day trek.

Throughout, Will is caught up inside his own head. He holds imaginary conversations with those around him, remembers the painful events that precipitated the trip, explores his feelings about life, and death. The truths Eggers describes involve what it means to be ready to die, the solitariness one can feel even when being incredibly intimate with another human being, the desire to do anything and be everything all at once. I was struck most of all by Will's "paralysis of possibility," a phrase I myself conjured a few years ago when faced with certain life decisions. The money opened up infinite opportunities for Will, and suddenly he was paralyzed by the inability to choose. He yearned for limitations, clear-cut borders that pushed him into a definite direction. It's a feeling I can relate to.

Dec 7, 2011

A Crack in the Sky, by Mark Peter Hughes

This is the first new-ish young adult fiction I've read in awhile, and there are parts of it I liked and parts I didn't. I'll start with the latter first. The book can get a little preachy. Okay, a lot preachy. The premise of the series (this is the first installment) is that humans have killed the planet. One company has taken over every single aspect of life and supervised the building of domes to protect people from the Outside. Everything is run by the CloudNet, an infrastructure/entertainment system designed to keep the populace happy, productive, and ignorant. The reality is that the world is ending, and the company, InfiniCorp, has decided to simply live life as well as it can since nothing can be done to save the planet. If you're thinking this sounds a little like WALL-E, well, it does. It read a lot like WALL-E, and I'd be shocked if the author didn't take his initial inspiration from that brilliant movie. The blurb on the back calls the book "completely original," when it most certainly is not that. I have no problem with inspiration and leapfrogging on top of others' great ideas. But then to turn around and say it was "completely original" does not sit very well with me.

That being said, the book is pretty well written and engaging enough to make me want to keep reading it. One of the main characters is a mongoose with a chip in her brain, and though her speaking voice is incredibly annoying (not even a devoted pet, if s/he were able to speak, would call its owner "darling" or "my dear"), her presence is intriguing. Eli, the protagonist, can be a bit annoying, but what 13 year old boy isn't? What Hughes does well are bad guys. Most of these characters are just nuanced enough to make them believable, and truly scary. Yes, there are one or two who are evil just for the sake of being evil, but many others actually believe what they are doing is right, and that makes for the best kind of bad guy.

I think in a genre that leans heavily towards very strong female protagonists and either super-spy or super-nerd male protagonists, it's good to have a realistic, strong boy be the hero of a series. I feel comfortable recommending this series to a boy who enjoyed, say The Golden Compass (though it isn't nearly that good) but wants a slightly more relatable main character.

Dec 5, 2011

Thud!, by Terry Pratchett

For years, people have been telling me I need to read Pratchett's books based on my love of Douglas Adams and Larry Niven. They were right. His books are always shelved in science fiction/fantasy, but it's actually rather difficult to categorize him. This particular book was more a mystery than anything else; it just happened to take place in a world with vampires, werewolves, dwarfs, and a little bit of magic. The writing is fast-paced, with a healthy dose of British quirkiness that occasionally had me laughing out loud. As an introduction to Terry Pratchett, it definitely makes me want to read more of his work, and I greatly look forward to doing so.