Monday, 31 October 2011

Marcus Sedgwick - Vampires and Volts

Title: Vampires and Volts (The Raven Mysteries, book 4)
Author: Marcus Sedgwick
Pub. year: 2011
Pages: 256
Editor: Orion Childrens

Summary: Join the wonderfully weird Otherhand family and their faithful guardian, Edgar the raven, and discover the dark secrets of Castle Otherhand. It's Halloween and the Otherhands are enjoying the Annual Pumpkin Hunt. And there are preparations to be made for the Great Halloween Ball. Minty is all a-fluster. Solstice is busy spraying fake cobwebs everywhere. Valevine is in charge of disorganising everyone's carefully laid plans, and Cudweed seems hungrier than ever and oddly preoccupied with 'fresh brains'. In fact when Silas, Valevine's long lost brother, turns up with Samantha, the Otherhands would be well-advised to check out their guests. It's not long before wily Edgar works out that there's a preponderance of vampires and not all of them have false teeth. Just when he's about to solve the latest mystery at Otherhand Castle, the lights go out...

It's Hallowe'en!! You know, that time of the year when you stuff yourself with candy, take out your old gothic clothes from highschool days hoping they'll still fit, put pumpkin brains everywhere while trying to carve a damn face into the thing... well, why not read Hallowe'en books too, while you're at it? Don't move, I have exactly what you need here. Pumpkin hunt, Hallowe'en ball, vampires, one old black crow: Edgar is back (in paperback) for a new issue of the wonderful series!

Remember the delightfully weird Otherhand family? After battling against a monster in the basement, ghosts in the attic and a very weird teacher, they are back for Hallowe'en this time. No one can do better than them to celebrate this party properly: after all, it's almost Hallowe'en everyday at the castle! Cudweed is as hungry as ever, Solstice the usual busybody, Valevine the usual nutcase and Minty the unusal preoccupied lady. But fear not, the real hero is still our brave Edgar, always ready to grumpily save the day!

As before, the narration is really the strong point of this book. Edgar is the most wonderfully funny crow you've ever met and it's a pleasure to have him tell the story from his point of view, with a lot of puns and jokes, and a great deal of complaining! You won't get scared by this book, that's for sure, but the whole point of it is to have fun with original characters, mysteries to solve, suspects to apprehend and adventures to have. Four book later, still no sign of getting bored, and both children and adults alike will love it. Does it get any better than this?

On a different but related note, don't forget that Neil Gaiman has set up this great new tradition for Halloween: offer a scary book to someone! I already sent mine and I hope they'll like it... How about you, why not sending a great book like... Vampires and Volts for example?

All details and stickers are on All Hallow's Read, and listen to our great Neil Gaiman talk about it, he does it much better than I!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Ernest Hemingway - The Sun Also Rises

Title: The Sun Also Rises
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Pub. year: 1926
Pages: 251
Editor: Scribner Book

Summary: The quintessential novel of the Lost Generation, The Sun Also Rises is one of Ernest Hemingway's masterpieces and a classic example of his spare but powerful writing style. A poignant look at the disillusionment and angst of the post-World War I generation, the novel introduces two of Hemingway's most unforgettable characters : Jake Barnes and Lady Brett Ashley. The story follows the flamboyant Brett and the hapless Jake as they journey from the wild nightlife of 1920s Paris to the brutal bullfighting rings of Spain with a motley group of expatriates. It is an age of moral bankruptcy, spiritual dissolution, unrealized love, and vanishing illusions. First published in 1926, The Sun Also Rises helped to establish Hemingway as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.

I wanted to discover a bit more about Hemingway's life in Paris, because of a bookshop he used to go, and I thought this book would be a good start. Unfortunatly, it's more about Spain than Paris, and A Moveable Feast would probably have been more appropriate for my initial purpose.

However, it was nice to read something else from this author, even if I didn't really enjoy it. I was mostly bored and unattracted by the personality of the characters, the way they lived and talked. Even if I'm glad I learned a bit about the life during those years—and a bit more about Hemingway's style—I have to admit it's not my kind of reading.

I didn't really like the way the characters acted so scornful towards one another, such as: you're English, or you're Jewish, so you're that way. Heck, they're supposed to be friends! I know it was before WW2 and everything, but I always feel uncomfortable with that kind of statements. Plus there's a lot of repetition in words as well as in scenes, which doesn't help sweetening the pill.

Anyway, what I'm saying is that I'm not fond of the way he wrote and I was bored most of the time. That's a bit sad because I was hoping to like his books, but well, you don't choose what you like.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Neil Gaiman - Stardust

Title: Stardust
Author: Neil Gaiman
Pub. year: 1999
Pages: 223
Editor: Vertigo

Summary: Life moves at a leisurely pace in the tiny town of Wall - named after the imposing stone barrier which separates the town from a grassy meadow. Here, young Tristran Thorn has lost his heart to the beautiful Victoria Forester and for the coveted prize of her hand, Tristran vows to retrieve a fallen star and deliver it to his beloved. It is an oath that sends him over the ancient wall and into a world that is dangerous and strange beyond imagining...

Although Lyra and I have been blogging together for a while, we never really had the opportunity to read a book at the same time. Now it's finally the case! Let's enjoy this opportunity to see how both of us liked it, and what we have to say about it.

Was the story good?

Lily: Well, how could I say no? It is, after all, a Neil Gaiman's book, and I don't think I ever did—or ever will—find any of his stories bad. They have something very special in them, because in a way I can never say that it's "the best I ever read", even thought I never find it a chore to finish the books. Well here is the same, the story is kind of classic—very fairy tales like, as you guessed already, but with an edge to it, very dark sometimes. It's somehow based on a child story, being about this plain hero rescuing the star and bringing her back to claim his lover's hand, but quite mature in it's content—and I'm telling you, not all characters in this story will remain unharmed. And yes, there are details. Brrr.

Lyra: I agree with the Muffin. I'm never really enthousiastic with Gaiman's books, but I always enjoy them. He has a gift to tale things in a way that no matter what it is, I like it. I'm not a big fan of fairy tales but this one was cute, yet mature and unusual. I've always found it weird and frustrating that princesses fall in love with complete strangers, just because they're princes and about to rescue them. Here, we discover the girl AND the guy, and it feels all more credible and enjoyable.

Were the characters moving?

Lily: Of course, they're not staying still all book long... oops, sorry, you mean touching? That is something else also frequent with Gaiman books: while his characters are always surprising, courageous, strongwilled and so on, they lack some emotional attachment to them. Take for example Tristran... he's a nice guy, brave, becoming along the way a true hero, but that's it. You don't feel for him, as you don't feel for the pretty star, or the bad sorceress, or any other. It's a perfect story to read or to tell to escape the dull everyday life, but it's not the kind to become you favorite book ever.

Lyra: Will you stop saying what I have in mind, please? Like I said, I was glad to get to know each character, but yeah, I wasn't really moved by them. They were enjoyable but sometimes, I thought that they were acting in a way that didn't seems appropriate for what I knew about them (especially Tristran and Una).

So altogether... a must read or not?

Lily : A must read, I don't know. I definitely don't regret reading it, and I would recommend it to Gaiman's or Fantasy fans, but it's not really in my top list. The end is very predictable, not much happens during the story, and not being a big fan of fairy tales probably doesn't help. One thing though, the edition I read illustrated by Charles Vess is most awesome, the drawings fit perfectly the mood and I loved just looking at them. Buy it just for that, you won't regret it! And if you don't know it already, a movie was made in 2007 by Matthew Vaughn, quite different from the original story, but for once... I think I liked it better. Maybe because there were more pirates?

Lyra: (I always knew you were TEAM Pirate :P) I don't have the same edition, and mine wasn't illustrated (that's unfaiiiir), but anyway, I think it's a fine book to read. It's nice, I spent a good time with it, and I'm glad I did. But a must read, maybe not. If you feel like you can appreciate it, if you like fairy tales, if you like Gaiman's books or Fantasy, you should definitely try. If you don't, well, it's up to you. I've never been really disappointed by this author because he damn knows how to tell stories, no matter the subject, so, it can't hurt trying!

Monday, 10 October 2011

Blake Charlton - Spellwright

Title: Spellwright (Spellwright, book 1)
Author: Blake Charlton
Pub. year: 2010
Pages: 467
Editor: HarperVoyager

Summary: In a world where words can come to life, an inability to spell can be a dangerous thing. And no one knows this better than apprentice wizard Nicodemus Weal.
Nicodemus Weal is a cacographer, unable to reproduce even simple magical texts without ‘misspelling’ – a mistake which can have deadly consequences. He was supposed to be the Halcyon, a magic-user of unsurpassed power, destined to save the world; instead he is restricted to menial tasks, and mocked for his failure to live up to the prophecy.
But not everyone interprets prophecy in the same way. There are some factions who believe a cacographer such as Nicodemus could hold great power – power that might be used as easily for evil as for good. And when two of the wizards closest to Nicodemus are found dead, it becomes clear that some of those factions will stop at nothing to find the apprentice and bend him to their will…

Since I am willing to be a speech therapist, this summary caught my eye. The beautiful cover helping, I bought the book pretty quickly after discovering it. I'm glad I did.

The author's way of bringing his handicap through the story is really clever and brings something special to it. And it allowed people to start understanding what it feels like to suffer that kind of disorder. Nicodemus isn't perfect, he's got his problems, his faults, his dreams, like anybody else. But if I liked his personality, I was a bit disappointed because I couldn't really become attached to the characters. Even if some of them have really interesting parts. It was like I was watching from beyond a veil. I really hope it gets better in the next 2 books.

Apart from that, I really enjoyed the story, the magic inside. I loved the different creatures we heard about, even if the beginning was a bit confusing and we don't really know what we are dealing with. I also appreciated to see different civilisations with their own beliefs. The frame is well written and well thought. But I am disappointed with the last 2 chapters, they should have been in the next book, not at the end of this one. It breaks the 'to be continued' end there could have been. The end is interesting, but it is not a end to me. It is a beggining stopped at a point where it shouldn't be.

Anyway, as you can see, it's hard to feel the whole stuff just after this introduction book, so I'm looking forward to read the following ones.

Monday, 3 October 2011

John Scalzi - The God Engines

Title: The God Engines
Author: John Scalzi
Pub. year: 2009
Pages: 136
Editor: Subterranean Press

Summary:Captain Ean Tephe is a man of faith, whose allegiance to his lord and to his ship is uncontested. The Bishopry Militant knows this -- and so, when it needs a ship and crew to undertake a secret, sacred mission to a hidden land, Tephe is the captain to whom the task is given.
Tephe knows from that the start that his mission will be a test of his skill as a leader of men and as a devout follower of his god. It's what he doesn't know that matters: to what ends his faith and his ship will ultimately be put -- and that the tests he will face will come not only from his god and the Bishopry Militant, but from another, more malevolent source entirely...

I already told you about John Scalzi, didn't I? Yes, remember, something about an old guy going to war... Well, I was so charmed by his style and humor that I decided I would now read everything he did. And instead on continuing with the previous series, I came accross this short novella, all cheap and shiny with this wonderful cover by Vincent Chong. How could I resist that?

It could have been a simple SF novella. It could have been about this captain, utterly religious like everyone else in this universe, that goes on a special mission and meet some alien or another. It could have been about quantum physics, about spaceships coordinates, about space battles. It could even have been some funny story like I sort of expected, with improbable meetings and crazy situations. It could, but it isn't. Forget everything you thought this book was, because it is something else.

Yes, it is about religion, and I don't like this better than you probably do. But don't let it stop you! It is also about how a whole population can live solely on its beliefs, and rely on the power of fallen Gods to provide them the technology to travel through space. But being treated as they are, the Gods won't help with a smile, and Tephe will face the one of his own ship when his faith will be shaken by a terrifying event. The point of all this (at least the one I found for myself, thank you) is to make you think about what you want to believe in: an overpowering God that lies to you? That kills people? The other Gods that seem to tell the truth but also kill people? What if you've been blinded, if your world has shrunk because of a Faith too powerful to withstand science? And what if that was also a lie?

So it was not funny, but it was not disappointing either. Only 136 pages and you don't have the time to breathe with the succession of action, reaction, questions and (false) answers that shake our poor hero, to whom I couldn't help but relate. So short but oh so unnerving story, that leaves you trembling for him, forever lost in this madness. And you cannot help but think... what if God was the instrument of our ruin?