Tag Archives: book reviews
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Kraken by China Miéville
Happy Cephalopod Week! Let us celebrate the wise and mysterious octopus, squid, and cuttlefish with some tales of my favorite tentacled monster: the giant squid.
As an avid audiobook listener, sometimes I’ll branch out and try out a book based solely on the narrator. One of my favorites is a rich-voiced Englishman named John Lee. He’s got a fantastic repertoire of voices and does gritty crime novels and humor with equal adeptness. I’ll listen to just about anything he reads. I’m pretty sure I never would have happened upon this book had it not been read by John Lee. I’d seen the name China Miéville in bookstores but never picked one up. I was surprised to discover that China is a burly bald British dude. Not that makes a difference.
Kraken is a bizarre story of a man named Billy Harrow, who works for the Darwin Centre at the British Museum of Natural History. His particular specialty is the giant squid, Architeuthis dux, which he lovingly preserved himself. When the squid goes inexplicably missing, Billy is drawn into a strange underground world of a squid-worshipping cult known as the Church of Kraken Almighty. In their literature, the body of their god going missing is a harbinger of dark times, possibly the end of the world. Riddled with strange gods and magical creatures, weird unearthly villains and cops with special extra senses, this novel is super weird but oddly tantalizing. If you have a taste for the strange, or are, like me, a fan of the giant squid, give this book a whirl. Better yet, listen to John Lee’s reading and let his rich voice lull you into dreams of squid gods.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Gemma Doyle is a typical teenage girl in some respects. Frustrated at the lack of personal control over her life, irritated with her mother over minor things, annoyed she has to remain in Bombay while her brother and father are in exciting Victorian London. But while out on her sixteenth birthday, her mother is relayed a mysterious message about someone named Circe and sends Gemma home. Next thing she knows, Gemma is having a vision of her mother committing suicide, which, though unlikely, turns out to be true. Gemma is flung into a strange new world of visions, magic, and grief. When she returns to London, she learns she is to attend Spence Academy for Young Ladies, a finishing school near London. In grief, Gemma’s father has turned to laudanum and cannot care for Gemma.
At the Academy, which her mother had also attended, Gemma begins to learn more about her mother and about herself. Her mother was apparently a priestess in The Order, an ancient group dedicated to preserving the order of magic in the world. Along with her new friends Felicity Worthington, Pippa Cross and Ann Bradshaw, Gemma learns that she has her own unique powers, such as the ability to travel into The Realms, a magical land between life and death. It is a beautiful and dangerous place where your dreams may be realized but your nightmares can too.
Not an easy book to summarize! This is just the tip of the iceberg. Printz Award-winning author Libba Bray has done a fantastic job writing in a proper Victorian young lady’s voice, with all the snarky little asides one might expect from a teenager trying, not always successfully, to be a proper young lady. There are three books in the series so if you like magic, intrigue, and historical fiction, this will keep you entertained for a while.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Lexicon by Max Barry
If you’re into non-stop action and sci-fi-y stories, but also appreciate a well-written novel, you ought to check out Lexicon by Max Barry. Two stories, set at two different points in time, dance around each other before slowly converging.
One plot line is about an Australian carpenter named Wil Park who has found himself caught up in some very unbelievable circumstances. A bunch of people are after him and he doesn’t know who they are or what they want. The ones who are trying to protect him seem as unpleasant as those trying to intercept him. A woman, barely alive, utters a series of strange words and instructs one of the men to kill himself. And he does. That’s when Wil realizes something serious is happening. And it all points back to a secret locked inside Wil’s brain.
Emily is a clever street kid in San Francisco. Her knack for persuasion has caught the interest of an unusual organization. After proving herself worthy, if just barely, she is taken to an academy to learn a secret science of persuasion. She learns there are certain words that drop peoples’ defenses and open them up to obeying the commands of others. Those who have mastered this skill are called Poets (because of their mastery of language) and take on a poet’s name.
While this method of storytelling can fall flat (I always get irritated when I have to shift gears like that) Barry pulls it off with ease. It’s a difficult story to summarize but a fun and interesting book to read. It’s interesting, constantly moving, and totally unique.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman.
I’ve got a review for the grown-ups in the audience today! And I can state from personal experience that this is a great one to read in bed. I had magical wizard dreams last night! And let’s be honest—the best dreams are magical wizard dreams. Awesome magical portals transferring you from one dimension to another—what’s not to love???
I reviewed the first novel in the trilogy a while back and was anxiously awaiting the release of the third. It did not disappoint. If you a lover of magic and things wizidrical (though they carefully avoid using the word “wizard” except in an occasional mocking tone—that that, Harry Potter!) then I can’t recommend this series enough. More contemporary than Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and more adult than Harry Potter, The Magician’s Land neatly sews up three volumes’ worth of travel into other worlds, dealing with all kinds of gods, some of whom are pure evil, others who are kind of doofuses, and facing demons from the past, both metaphorical and literal.
Lev Grossman is a fantastic writer and his narrative voice is both sardonic and casual and wonderful all at once. He never lets you forget that, although we are discussing kings and queens of the magical land of Fillery, these are still the jaded kids from Brooklyn and other decidedly un-magical places. And if you are more of an audiobook person, the narration by Mark Bramhall is also quite good. Though I must say he seems to have forgotten what Josh’s voice is supposed to sound like. 🙁 Aside from that it’s a wonderful novel that wraps up a wonderful series.
The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon.
We all know that the thing to do is to write dystopian teen novels. Everybody’s doing it. Some of them get lots of coverage because they are excellent (Hunger Games for example) and others get lots of coverage despite not being very good. And then there are those which are quite good but seem to have more of a cult following. Maybe The Bone Season falls into this category because it’s so different from so many other novels in this genre. Sure it’s got a teenage hero. Sure there is mounting tension and potential for civil unrest. But so much about this book is unique.
Set in London in 2059, the story follows a young woman named Paige Mahoney. She is a clairvoyant, which is not all that remarkable in her time. There are a lot of clairvoyants around. However, the politicians have created an environment unfriendly to these types and they must go underground to survive. What makes Paige unique is her particular ability. She is a dreamwalker; she can leave her body and travel through the aether, where the spirits roam. She can even enter another person’s psyche, though she doesn’t if she can help it. One day, despite all her caution, she slips up and becomes the number one target of the Scion, whose job it is to hunt down rogue clairvoyants. Shortly thereafter, she learns the weird truth about her home. When she is caught, she is shipped to the ruins of the off-limits Oxford town, which is now a camp for clairvoyants who are ruled by a group of beings called Rephaim.
What will happen to her? Will her unique abilities save her? Who and what are these Rephaim? This is a book for older teens or adults. It’s in intriguing story though Paige, the narrator, needs to lighten up a bit. I’m looking forward to the sequel but dubious about how the author intends to write six more books about this story.