Sunday, June 22, 2014

Book Review: How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

A few months back, I saw How I Live Now, and while there were certain aspects of the film that I enjoyed, it was also really confusing. I concluded that certain parts of the book had been edited out, so, I decided to read it. It turns out the book is better than the movie.

Both the book and the movie tell the story of Daisy, an American teenager who goes to live with relatives in England. There's a war brewing, and it isn't long before England is under occupation. The war changes everything on a macro level, and also serves as the catalyst for the growth of the characters.

I thought that the plot and the representation of war (both of them are closely interconnected) were handled well. The plot moved at a quick pace, but still left enough room for the characters to grow. The occupation was fairly well thought-out, but also managed to differentiate itself from many other depictions of war or life on the home front.

The style of writing, something akin to stream of consciousness, felt intuitive, and it was refreshing to see a writer exploring interesting narrative possibilities, especially in a book that was designed for a wide audience.  While I like more unusual or lyrical styles of narration, I can see how someone who doesn't might not like this.

The characters were well constructed, and even ones that were not central to the plot were still interesting and well-rounded.

Overall, a highly recommended read.

Chance of finding it in my imaginary bookstore? 90%

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Book Review: Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's Discworld series is an impressive beast: it totals 40 books, the first of which was published in 1983. Even though I've been a Pratchett fan for a while, I'm still working my way through them.

Raising Steam is the latest installment in the series.  It chronicles the arrival of the railway to Discworld. Dick Simnel, building on the work of his father, manages to harness the power of steam to create the Iron Girder, a prototype of the steam locomotive. With the help of Harry King, and later, Moist von Lipwig, the railway starts criss-crossing the world. However, getting the rest of Discworld on board (I'm sorry) proves to be quite difficult.

Pratchett tends to be a divisive writer: some people love him, others wonder why people read his work, and I don't think this will change any minds.  This novel is definitely in the classic Pratchett style, and, as you are probably able to tell, this is fine by me. This book is still as funny and pertinent as his earlier work.

This novel brings us another installment in the exploits of Moist von Lipwig, Lord Ventari, and Adora Belle Dearheart, among others, and the returning characters are just as charming and fun as usual. Not all of the characters grow and change, but there is still enough character development to keep the story engaging.

The plot is based on an interesting premise.  However, there are some points where it seems to drag a bit, and some of the plot development could have been set up better.

Chance of finding it in my imaginary bookstore? 90%

Monday, June 9, 2014

Book Review: Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
(my own photo)
Outliers is the book in which Malcolm Gladwell outlines an idea which is either mindblowing, or mindblowingly obvious.  Simply put, while an individual's success and failures are often put down to talent and determination, more often than not, luck, opportunity and background play a significant, and often ignored, role.

Covering a range of outliers from tech tycoons to professional athletes to the citizens of Roseto, California this book suggests that while these individuals did have attributes that contributed to their success, they also were often fortunate enough to be presented with opportunities not available to their peers, or to have a background that gave them certain advantages. This book is also credited with bringing the 10,000 hour rule into the public consciousness.

I'm not really sure that how qualified I am to judge the actual content of the book: the ideas he puts forward seem to be accurate and well-supported by evidence, but I can't claim to be an expert on the subject matter.

The writing has a nice flow, and he manages to draw together a wide range of data, biographical detail, and other relevant information and communicate it clearly. This means that it is a quick, easy read.  If you agree with the conclusions that he draws, then it can seem a bit unnecessarily repetitive.

Chance of finding it in my imaginary bookstore? 85%

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Book Review: Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
(my own photo)
Whether it's The Matrix, Harry Potter, or The Chronicles of Narnia, we all know stories that centre on the "Chosen One/s" attempt to defeat evil. Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn trilogy attempts to examine this trope by exploring a world in which the Chosen One has failed.

The Final Empire is the first book in this series. It focuses on a thieving crew, lead by Kelsier, and their attempt to overturn the Final Empire, a dystopian nation governed by the tyrannical Lord Ruler. The protagonist, Vin, learns that she is a Mistborn.  Mistborns have the ability to use Allomancy, a form of magic that uses metals to activate certain skills, such as becoming stronger and faster, or the ability to soothe other's emotions. Through the use of these capabilities, Vin and the rest of the crew attempt to gather an army, infiltrate the government, set the nobility against each other, and eventually destroy the Lord Ruler.

This book was an enjoyable, faced-paced read, with enough creativity to hold my interest over 643 pages.

The pacing was quick and tight, which means that it was a gripping read.  I also really appreciated the way that the plot was paced in terms of the series as a whole. Although this novel is part of a trilogy, and there is still more story to tell, the book was satisfying and enjoyable on its own. My friend recommended this book to me on the basis of the plot twists, and it delivered on that front.  While there were a few that I saw coming, that may have been due to the fact that I was looking out for them.  It is one of the few novels where you genuinely believe that the main characters could die early on in the series. Overall, the plot was one of the book's strengths.

The world-building was excellent. Many of the supernatural elements in the novel, such as Allomancy, aren't based on any particularly well-known myths and legends, but the ideas are still easy for the reader to follow. Even though there is a glossary at the back, most readers probably won't need to use it.

The book provides an interesting take on the "Chosen One" narrative. Certain elements of Vin's plot seem to be playing this idea fairly straight, but there are plenty of other aspects of the book that subvert this trope. While it is entirely possible to write a compelling "Chosen One" narrative, this idea has become slightly overplayed, and is often written poorly.  It is refreshing to see someone engaging with the idea in a slightly different manner.

That being said, the book isn't perfect.  On the one hand, it seems to be conscious of trying to avoid a simplistic good guy/bad guy dichotomy, it often falls into that trap. There are some characters that seem quite complex at the beginning of the novel, but in the end their actions are explained in a way that allows them to be seen as either entirely "good" or utterly "evil".

While I don't know when I'll be able to read the next book, I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next.
Chance of finding it in my imaginary bookstore?  85%