Saturday, April 26, 2008

Magician: Apprentice by Ramond E. Feist

Link for synopsis: Magician: Apprentice (Riftwar Saga)

So this book came highly recommended from a brother-in-law, so I decided to pick it up. In many ways it is a predictable fantasy read, complete with castles, princesses, political intrigue, elves, dwarfs, magicians, swordplay and aliens. Aliens? Ok, so it does have a few unique features, in fact the added twist of aliens in this classic fantasy brings the uniqueness that sets this book apart. I also really like the honesty when it comes to the time period. Nothing increases the "cheese factor" in a fantasy more than when it seems like the characters are a bunch of clean, intelligent middle class mid-west Americans who unfortunately are just stuck in this medieval world for the duration of the story. Instead Feist shows the pain of being in the dark ages; the lack of understanding the world around them, the danger involved in traveling, and the realities of starvation and warfare that made that time period so dark. We tend to romanticize what was a painful and ugly time period in a lot of ways. Certainly most books make it sound easier than it was.

So I have to add one criticism, but first I have to once again expose my opinion and therefore my bias. I read for pleasure and enjoyment. Therefore when I finish a book, even if it is part of series, I want to have some sense of closure. I also want the good guy to win. Neither of those things happened here. Yes, there was some closure, but only on one out of three plot lines. The main character doesn't even appear in the last third of the book! I know that there are other books in the series to follow, but that is just unacceptable to me. I have simply ignored the fact that the book is over, and I have the next sitting here next to me, so the story will continue. If I had been reading it back when they were originally publishing these books I would be very unhappy. Months of waiting with everything in limbo. That is no way to treat your readers.

Date Completed: 4/26/2008
Rating (1-5): 3.5

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Charlie Bone and the Beast by Jenny Nimmo

So I realized that my plot descriptions were largely redundant because Amazon provides them for everything anyway, so I am just going to provide a link to that page here: Charlie Bone and The Beast (Children Of The Red King, Book 6) and call it good.

What I really want is a chance to respond to what I read, so that is what I will do from now on.

So after reading Charlie Bone And The Hidden King (Children of the Red King Book 5)I was extremely disappointed. My main issue was that I thought that book 5 was to be the last book in the series, and the ending was not at all satisfactory. Very much like the ending in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7). Short, shallow and missing the closure that every reader should be rewarded with after reading a whole series. So I was delighted to run into CB and The Beast while looking for my wife's monthly book club book in Borders about a week ago. I snatched it yesterday and finished it last night.

Nimmo has done a great job of extending the series and the story line. Despite the abrupt ending in the last book, which resulted in a rough plot transition at the beginning of this book, the characters flow nicely into the new conflict. I am also pleased to say that the books no longer feel like a time-constrained rewrite of the Harry Potter series. The first book, Midnight For Charlie Bone (Children of the Red King) was the worst offender, introducing us to a school for magical children, where there were different divisions within the school, represented by different colored cothing. The main character was an 11-year old boy who just discovered he was magical, who immediately picked up two friends (one male and one female) as well as an arch-enemy. In some ways I am surprised that this series even got printed. I am glad it did though, because now that we are into the adventure the similarities are disolving and the concepts in The Children of the Red King series are standing on their own.

I will say that you could still find a LOT in common between Harry Potter and Charlie Bone, but I wouldn't let that keep you from enjoying this story. I should also admit that my rating on this one is biased. I have a strong appreciation for a good series, since you get more into the characters, their world and their problems. This book would not get rated so high if it were standing on its own. Luckily it isn't.

Date Completed: 4/20/08
Rating (1-5): 4.1

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald

Synopsis: J.D. (John Dennis) has a little brain. His brother Tom however has a great brain. From one chapter to the next we watch as Tom uses his great brain to save lives, help the disabled and welcome oppressed immigrants in the great state of Utah before the turn of the century. Oh, and he turns a profit every time. J.D. is thoroughly impressed as the brother he idolizes moves from one success to another, but as the list of Tom's genius ideas builds, and his profits accumulate, J.D. will learn whether or not Tom's moral limits will ever be reached.

Opinion: OK, so I like this book for one huge reason. It is the smart subtle comedy that is strewn throughout the pages that is the gem here. Yes, Tom is a pretty smart kid, but J.D., his little brother, is pretty smart himself. And yet Tom always brings him around to his way of thinking with a combination of faulty logic, undeserved guilt, and mild threats. It is cleverly done and deserves the success it has seen since its first copyright date in 1969. Mixed into the comic exchanges where Tom is jockeying for money and power is the background conflict between the dominant religion in the area at the time, Mormonism, and everything else. We see humanity on both sides of the religious line as each group makes moral errors, and the book closes that loop by demonstrating how everyone can coexist as well. I highly recommend this one for all to read, but it is a must-read for any child growing up in a religious environment without a lot of diversity. It teaches tolerance and understanding, as well as moral values, in an entertaining way.

Date Completed: April 9, 2008
Rating (1-5): 3.7

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Gom on Windy Mountain by Grace Chetwin

Years ago I ran into a number of books by Grace Chetwin, and all that I remember is that I loved every one of them. I was wandering around the library last week, waiting for my 6 year old to select which Star Wars picture book he would bring home this week when I spied this book and grabbed it immediately. I had no recollection of the plot, but as usual I didn't let that stop me for a minute.

Plot:Stig the Woodcutter lives a humble life on Windy Mountain, working out a lonely existence by trading with the town below. One day a woman shows up at his door and in short order becomes his companion for life, bearing him many children, all whom resemble their father. Finally, a boy is born resembling not Stig, but his wife, and to add to the conflict the good woman disappears overnight. The family must now figure out how to survive without the incredibly talented matriarch, and Stig must raise this baby boy, Gom, on his own, who seems to exhibit some unusual abilities. Gom searches for acceptance and meaning in his life, while Stig learns to live with the absence of his one true companion.

The plot was slow, to be honest. Like many books written at the 4-6th grade level the concepts were simple and the characters straight forward, but the velocity of the story was just plain sluggish. I will be the first to admit that new releases these days are fantastic in their action levels (just wait until I get around to the Artemis Fowl series), but it is a literary culture shock to go back to the slow, linear plot-lines of yester-year.

Having said all of that, I have to say that once again I was impressed by the author. Even with a slow plot line, a setting that is so far removed from today's youth and totally uncomplicated main characters, I found myself enjoying the entire journey. The plain conflicts throughout the story were genuine and real. The predictable characters were somehow able to interact in a way that brought them to life. Chetwin accomplished that great challenge that is before every author, and got me to care about what happened to the characters. When sad things happen, which they always do, I felt felt the melancholy that affected the actions of the characters. Even while requiring a healthy patience, it was a delightful read, and the slow plot is easy to forgive when you look at the remaining books in the series.

Date Completed: April 2, 2008
Rating (1-5): 3.5