[Book Review] The Magicians isn’t just about the magic

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

If I read one more review of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians that proclaims it  “Harry Potter for adults,” I just might break something. Yes, The Magicians is a bildungsroman about a teenager who discovers he’s a magician and subsequently enrolls at an exclusive magician’s college, but just because the two works share certain elements does not mean that the former is simply a matured version of the latter. (Plus, as an adult, I find the implication that Harry Potter isn’t for adults quite insulting. But I digress.) In actuality, comparing Grossman’s novel to J.K. Rowling’s series does a disservice to The Magicians. It is an inventive story that stands quite well on its own. Continue reading

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[ Book Review ] Urban Fantasy, Espionage Edition

The Man with the Golden Torc by Simon R. Green

(Secret Histories, Book 1)

His name is Drood. Edwin Drood.

Cover name: Shaman Bond.

His whole life, he’s been taught that his only reason for being is to protect mankind and maintain order in a world saturated with magic, super-science, aliens, and monsters. Around his throat, Eddie wears a magic torc–it’s retractable armor and an invisibility cloak all rolled into one. But trouble is stirring–there are evil powers that want to take the Drood family down, and a traitor in the family. So when Eddie is summoned home from the field for the first time in ten years, he knows it can’t be good.

My big mistake with this book is that I took the cover art at its visual word and approached the novel as yet another Urban Fantasy. Never having been a James Bond watcher, I completely missed Green’s play on the 1974 movie title, The Man with the Golden Gun, and so was unprepared for the novel’s tongue-in-cheek style. This book does not have the angst and grittiness that I am so used to seeing in my Urban Fantasy–instead I proclaim the advent of a new genre: Urban Opera, little brother to Space Opera.  If you’re a fan of shows like Reaper, Sanctuary, Werehouse 13, Eureka,  or Torchwood, this is the book for you. Green’s urban fantasy adventure delivers a kind of Men In Black meets The Bourne Identity with a wisecracking cast of characters.

Shows? Movies? Yes. With its heavy helping of cheese, witty comebacks, and action violence that levels entire city blocks in the middle of London, this is a Hollywood action flick in writing form. As things begin to seriously hit the fan around page 100, the story hits its stride and races down the gauntlet of everyone-who-wants-to-kill-the-main-character and through scenes of fun, kick-butt action.

But two and a half canaries are lopped off the book for a shaky beginning, a show-off narrator with an adolescent swagger, and the very convenient ending. The characters were one-dimensional, and the overall world hard to swallow. Still, the rating canaries that are left loved the banter and humorous interchanges. As Edwin races against time trying to understand why he has been betrayed, he’s forced to hook up with his arch-enemies–tension and witty quips ensue. It’s great.

I would suggest The Man with the Golden Torc to readers who’ve enjoyed books like Blood Oath and I am Number Four. While Edwin’s brief run-in with a sex cult makes me a little wary of recommending this book to the younger YA crowd, I think this book will be best enjoyed by action-spy-fantasy minded teens who like superhero flicks.

No question–I would go see the movie. But I’m not sure if I’ll be picking up the next book.

___

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This Week’s Mine Shaft

Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan

Four semesters of economics in college convinced me of one unshakable truth: economics is irredeemably boring. So when I saw the tagline to this book included the phrase “dismal science”, I approved.

I approved even more when I read the intro and the authors promise of no-graphs and no-math. So I dove in. I’m roughly half-way through, and it’s kept its promise. The narrator is witty and engaging, and I’m surprised to find myself calling it a fun read. Let’s see where that goes.

Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff

I’d like to say that I picked this book up out of some kind of noble sentiment. Perhaps I picked it up because I heard the NPR program about the book in March (April? May?), or perhaps being a literate lover of history, I couldn’t walk past the chance to get an in-depth look at this ancient Egyptian celebrity. Oh, who am I kidding?

I got the book because when I was 15, in a flash of teen genius, I named my darling cat Cleopatra. It took about a week for sanity to reassert myself and I downgraded the name to “Clea”.

Reading this book shall be a kind of penance. Learn from my misdeeds, canaries. Ye Shall Not Call Your Cat Cleopatra.

Infidel by Kameron Hurley

And lest you think that I have completely converted to the dark side, here’s a bit of the fantastic to my reading list.

I’m finding myself drawn in more and more into the world Hurley has created, despite the main character’s name (Nyx, if you must know. Nyx the ex-assassin.) and the discomfiting realization, courtesy of Amazon.com, that this is apparently the second book of a series, not the first.

Still, I hadn’t noticed from the story itself, and that bodes really good things.

And really, any book with a cover like this one will have to work really hard to put me off.

Now over to theothercanary…

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin

theothercanary’s mom on the phone: “Hey, Meggie. Don’t forget we have book club this week.”

theothercanary: “Yep. All done with that book.”

theothercanary’s mom: “Great, see you there!”

theothercanary, after hanging up the phone: Fuck.

Ten pages into “Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter,” and I’m already miffed. The sentence structure does not allow for speed reading, and this little canary has a deadline!

What’s on your reading list?

This Week’s Mine Shaft

What are the canaries reading this week?

Plugged by Eoin Colfer: Things had been going marginally okay for Daniel McEvoy. Until his girlfriend gets killed. And the cosmetic surgeon that doing his hair plugs goes missing. And when the more bullets that start flying, the less Daniel knows what is going on. This is Eoin Colfer’s breakout novel into the adult genre, and it promises to be an interesting and fast-paced read.

Remember Artemis Fowl? Yep, it’s that Eoin Colfer.

And we have an advance review copy in our grubby little wings.

I wonder how the humorous tone we’ve grown to love in the Artemis series will translate–or whether Colfer wants it there at all.

Gone/Hunger by Michael Grant: It’s easy to compare the Gone Series to Lord of the Flies. After all, everyone over the age of 15 suddenly disappears from the small town of Perdido Beach, CA and it’s up to the remaining kids to learn how to survive–and to figure out what caused the disappearance of the adults in the first place.

It’d sound like just another social commentary–except some kids are gaining superpowers. When I first heard about it, I couldn’t imagine how Grant was going to pull it off. Especially since the covers are super melodramatic. But I was stuck in an airport and Gone was the only decent-looking YA at the kiosk I decided to raid for Mountain Dew and Rolos. Gone actually went well, but could he keep the same level of eerie dystopia alive for a second book?

Feed by Mira Grant: Another Grant.

It’s 2039.

Postapocalyptic 2039.

Full of bloggers…and zombies.

I’m not a fan of zombie stories, shows, or movies. Neither is theothercanary. Actually, her exact words were, “Eff zombies!” But for some strange reason, she’s decided to read this book. Actually she tells me this is pretty good, even if she has no clue how to talk about the story without spoiling the ending. Major twist ahoy!

Second Grave on the Left by Darynda Jones: I half-listened, half-read the first book of the series, First Grave on the Right, and announced that I wouldn’t be reading the sequel. Famous last reading words, right there. In this latest installment, our Grim Reaper heroine is facing a slew of new problems. Her boyfriend is in hiding, her secretary’s best friend is missing, there’s a dead guy in the trunk, and she’s just discovering that there may be a bit more to being a Grim Reaper than just glowing real pretty.  (Book giveaway, coming soon too!)

Glass Houses by Rachel Caine: I was browsing my local audiobook library for this author’s Weather Warden series when I stumbled onto this–the first book of the Morganville Vampires.

Rachel Caine has a knack for creating three-dimensional, believable characters, and then pulling you along for the entire ride.

But a YA vampire series?

This I have to read.

Dragon Blood by Patricia Briggs: I picked this book up because I’ve read its prequel–and loved it.

Narrated by the wonderful Joe Manganiello, this continues the story of Ward, now the lord of his own fortress. Except, he pissed off a lot of people in the last book. I hear they’re not happy about him having his own castle.

I’m a little bit leery of the book, though. The previous installment had been very much self-contained, and from my experience, it’s very hard to set an unplanned sequel on its wobbly feet.

What are you reading this week?

[ Book Review ] When a good blurb leads to a dead canary

Little Brother by Cory Doctorow

(a book written in eight weeks)

In the aftermath of a terrorist attack in San Francisco, the tech-savvy, teenage Marcus Yellow and his friends find themselves in the struggle between what is “politically necessary” and the unalienable rights of the individual. They take the fight against Homeland Security to the digital world.

Can a few school kids make a difference?

Do I recommend this book? It depends. Does the small speech excerpt below do it for you?

“My name is Marcus Yallow. I was tortured by my country, but I still love it here. I’m seventeen years old. I want to grow up in a free country. I want to live in a free country.” (290)

If yes, please feel free to ignore my review and read the book (you can download it free and legally here). If you’re not completely convinced, continue.

This is a review requested by a friend who said: “Read something by Cory Doctorow – I want to know if I should.”

The Review:

It is not a good sign when you hit page 27 and you already have enough material to make up an entire review. I decided to trudge on to page 50 just to see if things improved — an explosion of action at that point convinced me to slog my way to page 75. But my dedication just made my list of problems so long that I had to cease and desist. It’s for your, the reader’s, benefit that I stopped. Anything longer than this and you would have died by proxy.

Where to begin? Perhaps at my nonplussed reaction at the awards the book was listed (or nominated) for, or the blazing critical reception it received. On reading the rave reviews, I began to doubt my sanity. Was I even reading the same book?

Exhibit 1:

“But to his credit, Doctorow weaves a captivating story that raises serious political issues without hitting you over the head with the hammer of civil liberty.” From SF signal

From Little Brother:

“I use the Xnet because I believe in freedom and the Constitution of the United States of America. I use Xnet because the DHS has turned my city into a police-state where we’re all suspected terrorists. I use Xnet because I think you can’t defend freedom by tearing up the Bill of Rights.” (192)

Exhibit 2:

“Marcus is a wonderfully developed character: hyperaware of his surroundings, trying to redress past wrongs, and rebelling against authority.” – School Library Journal

From Little Brother:

“The Man was always coming down on me, just because I go through school firewalls like wet kleenex, spoof the gait-recognition software, and nuke the snitch chips they track us with. […] I raised my arms over my head like a prizefighter and made my exit from Social Studies and began the perp-walk to the office. […] Spending Fridays at school was teh suck anyway, and I was glad of the excuse to make my escape.” (22)

Exhibit 3:

“I’d recommend Little Brother over pretty much any book I’ve read this year, and I’d want to get it into the hands of as many smart 13 year olds, male and female, as I can.” – Neil Gaiman

It’s interesting to note that Neil Gaiman is referenced (and quoted) in the introduction of the Creative Commons version of the book. Also, each chapter of the Commons version starts with a shout-out to (and the address and phone number of) Doctorow’s favorite bookstores.

Little Brother says, question everything.

Exhibit 4: 

 “I was completely hooked in the first few minutes. Great work.” –Mitch Kapor, inventor of Lotus 1-2-3 and co-founder of the EFF, on Little Brother.

I just don’t…I don’t know where I went wrong in reading this book. Maybe if I’d have stuck to the end, I’d have had a stunning revelation that this is the most evocative dystopian struggle against encroaching totalitarianism since Orwell put pen to paper. Perhaps 1984 does meet Catcher in the Rye in Little Brother.  But I couldn’t finish, and because of this, I will refrain from addressing any of the socio-political or thematic issues I noticed in the first 75 pages. I’ll talk about the story instead, and the many things that made me sad inside.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Continue reading