Adventures in Reading


Fiction: Coraline by Neil Gaiman, 2008
December 16, 2008, 2:50 pm
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , , ,


On a rainy day in her new home, Coraline Jones’ mother shows her a door that opens to a brick wall. But over a stretch of the overcast and final days leading up to a new school year, Coraline discovers a hallway through the door identical to her own home that leads to her apartment, her house, her yard. It’s a strange world slightly off kilter from Coraline’s reality and here she meets her other mother and other father: strange likenesses of her parents with buttons for eyes (and that want to sew Coraline’s eyes closed). When Coraline’s real parents go missing, she must return through the door to save them.

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a children’s horror book written with children in mind, for children, and with the structural simplicity of children’s books. Coraline has thematic issues of losing and rescuing parents, searching for home, and exterior and interior realities. And it’s all a bit gruesome as the world is slightly off and includes button-eyed people, rats (enough to creep me out), and a hand that chases Coraline. I will say from reading the quotes on the book jacket I expected something stupendous and I thought it was fair (though I do look forward to the movie). I found it similar to Vivian French’s Robe of Skulls.

Conclusion: Tossed.



Fiction: Branchwater by Steven Maus, 2008
November 16, 2008, 11:13 am
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , ,

“There were people cheering, coming out of their seats in excitement. This kind of thing happened only once a year and nobody was inclined to miss it.”

Steven Maus’ Branchwater is the fantastical story of humans and mantliks, human created guardians. After a great period of peace, the mantlik and human races have nicely started on their separate ways until the human town is threatened by outside forces. The mantliks are called upon to return to their guardian position to help save the humans as well as themselves.

Branchwater is a self-published book from iUniverse and Maus is a promising author. It’s an interesting plot that allows for diverse interpretation regarding the relationships between these three groups. The story development is somewhat peculiar as the world of Branchwater and particularly the mantlik creatures are never at once fully divulged; rather, Maus leaves a trail of breadcrumbs for the reader to put together, but I confess it was somewhat demanding for the reader to follow.

My fantasy experience is a bit limited to my enthusiasm for Terry Pratchett, but I found elements of Branchwater bothersome as a fiction reader. Maus has a somewhat unagreeable writing style as he consistently uses adverbial clauses and often with misplaced commas. While I normally don’t find grammar mistakes too distracting, the clauses along with some basic language errors made the book cumbersome. Though the plot seems sound with some catchy themes in development, I did not finish Maus’ Branchwater.

I can only imagine the difficulties of self-publishing an entire novel (nearly 200 pages) but the writing tutor in me acknowledges that more preparation could have been used. If you need professional help when it comes to editing Words by Rachel is a reader I’d recommend.

Conclusion: Tossed.
(Available on Bookmooch.)

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Fiction: The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett, 1986

“The sun rose slowly, as if it wasn’t sure it was worth all the effort.”

Terry Pratchett’s The Light Fantastic continues from the cliffhanging finish of The Colour of Magic. Our heroes, the wizard Rincewind and the tourist Twoflower, begin the story dangling off the edge of the world; thanks to one of the eight great spells (left behind by the creator) lodged in Rincewind’s head, the two travelers find themselves on a haphazard journey to save the Discworld.

The Light Fantastic is a great and early example of Pratchett’s literal engagement with the Discworld; for example, Great A’Tuin the world turtle acts like a regular, old turtle. Thus the strength of the main plot doesn’t have to rely on too far fetched ideas, something that seems to crop up particularly in fantasy, but rather depends on a turtle doing turtle-like things. This early book in the series does have a couple of developmental issues ranging from scene switches to some thematic humor issues, but these don’t take away from the story.

A lot of the fun in rereading The Light Fantastic is in discovering the loose assortment of foreshadowing. Pratchett seems to reference at least three future books. If not the best of the Discworld series, The Light Fantastic is a satisfying read with the usual Pratchet philosophical wanderings.

Conclusion: Keeper.



Fiction: Colman by Monica Furlong
September 21, 2008, 11:02 am
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , ,

“Four of us escaped on Finbar’s ship after Juniper’s trial as a witch–Juniper, Wise Child, Corman, and me.”

Concluding Monica Furlong’s trilogy, Colman continues the story of Wise Child through the eyes of Colman, Wise Child’s cousin. Upon returning to Juniper’s homeland, the cast of characters are confronted with an impoverished population being brutalized by Juniper’s nemesis from Juniper. Though only children, Colman and Wise Child are called upon to perform tasks that will help reestablish Juniper’s home to its former glory and ensure that Juniper’s brother is crowned king.

I didn’t care for Colman nearly as much as I did for Juniper and Wise Child. While it does a great job concluding the trilogy overall, I wasn’t taken with Colman as a narrator and found him to be rather tedious. I’ve not read enough of Furlong to really comment, but she seems to be more comfortable writing in a female rather than a male voice. It’s a worthwhile book for any fan of the trilogy, but I left it feeling less satisfied than I had with the previous two.

Conclusion: Returned to library.



WordPress search engine terms

It’s time for another round of WordPress search engine terms. For those of you unacquainted with WordPress, our Dashboard (and more specifically stats’ page) maintains a list of search terms that led innocent reader to our blogs. Said terms are frequently amusing, intruiging, and unrelated.

Anisha Lakhani: The delightful author of the novelSchooled, I was the first (says the author) blogger to comment on her novel. It was a novel I started with doubts but concluded as I hurriedly turned the pages to find out what would happen to the protagonist Anna whom begins the novel as a morally centered teacher but quickly falls prey to the enticements of wealth and materialism. Well-written and entertaining, it’s a light read that manages to escape the many pitfalls of the genre. Though I have not followed it too closely, Lakhani has been accused (at least online) that the book was very much about her and that she still tutors; however, I don’t wish to spread hearsay and would like to emphasize that Lakhani says she does “not tutor anymore.”

Norwegian Wood Quotes: Whether in reference to Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami’s Norwegian Wood or to the Beatle’s song “Norwegian Wood,” I don’t know but both are favorites of mine. Last March I linked to two (out of the plethora) quotes I liked from the novel and one being:

“If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking. That’s the world of hicks and slobs. Real people would be ashamed of themselves doing that” (31).

Walter Moers: I have a stab of excitement followed by a pang of regret every time a browser finds my blog for Walter Moers. A brilliant German author whose fantasy/fiction series unfolds on the world of Zamonia, in the two novels I have read (The City of Dreaming Books and The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear) Moers uses whimsical protagonists that adventure through his fantastic world. Accompanying the story are Moers’ own illustrations. So why the pang of regret? There is not nearly enough information of Moers available for my liking (and much less available in English).



Fiction: The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
September 16, 2008, 11:50 am
Filed under: book reviews, fiction | Tags: , , , , , ,

“Twoflower was a tourist, the first ever seen on the discworld. Tourist, Rincewind had decided, meant ‘idiot.'”

The first book to occur on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, The Colour of Magic describes the journey of Rincewind and Twoflower — the Disc’s first tourist and tour guide. The reader follows them on their journey starting in Ankh-Morpork and concluding at the end of the world. Pratchett’s wit and style keeps the reader entertained along with his “serious” take on fantasy as his protagonists make their way through various fantasy genres including dungeons and dragons and magic pony.

The Colour of Magic often comes with a warning: though it’s the first it’s not the best, and some Amazon reviews seem to uphold this opinion. Though it’s rather unlike Pratchett’s later works, it’s a humorus and endearing novel in its own right. As Pratchett has described it himself, it’s a novel of travel and exposes the reader to the Discworld at its roughest stage. This is the “primordial goo” that the rest of the Discworld bubbles forth from and definitely worth a read.

Conclusion: Keeper.

Other opinions: Trish’s Reading Nook.



Fiction: The Robe of Skulls by Vivian French

Of all the book genres to shop in, my favorite section to make a book selection based purely on the weight of the book jacket has to be the children’s section. It is the one area of books where covers can be as fanciful and whimsical as you like, with no concern for the austerity that settles upon the art of adult’s books [1]. Vivian French’s The Robe of Skulls has been one such book, and I made sure to check it out before all of our available copies went to Halloween displays.

The Robe of Skulls is the story of the abused orphan Gracie Gillypot and her escape from her evil stepfather and sister thanks to the help of a bat. It’s also the story of Prince Marcus, whose overprotective father has contributed to his boredom with being a prince and it is the same bat that helps him with an adventure. Marlon the bat works for the Ancient Ones, weavers, and these ladies exist at the center of the story. But it is Lady Lamorna and her desire to acquire a dress decorated with skulls that she cannot afford that truly begins the story. In a world of True and Falsehearts, who will escape the weavers?

French’s tale is a ghoulish book filled with marvelous names and locations punctuated by Ross Collins’ illustrations that have a Roald Dahlish quality, a certain gruesomeness and starkness that encourages the viewer to fill in more detail. Though a relatively simple and short story, The Robe of Skulls manages to embrace many fairy tale nuances: orphans, princes, beautiful damsels, royalty turning into frogs, a witch with an inept sidekick, and everyone (mostly) returns home after learning valuable lessons.

A cute story with just enough fright to keep it interesting (but not too scary), I am sure it will be an endearing read for children. However, I did feel it lacked the complexity that makes children’s books also attractive to adults.

[1] Excluding some fantasy and sci-fi books, but even then they’re usually a bit more mature for adult consumption.

Conclusion: Returned to work.

Other opinions: Charlotte’s Library.