Wednesday, February 29, 2012


Title: Stormbreaker
Author: Anthony Horowitz
List: #107 on BBC Top 200
Worth reading? Yes, but more for kids.

I got a Kindle in December. I love that it takes up much less room in my purse on the subway trek to and from work every day and that it works wonderfully for taking multiple books with me when I travel. I don’t like that our local public library has very limited Kindle offerings and that there are ridiculously long hold queues on the books they do have. When a title finally becomes available, I only have three days to download it and can then choose a one, two, or three week lending period. The problem with this is that when I’m happily in the middle of a free Kindle book and one of my holds becomes available, I have to abandon the book I’m reading and start the library book. This complicates my blogging!

Anyway, Stormbreaker became available over the weekend, and I finished it today during lunch. It is pretty short, only 148 pages, and written for a pre-teen or young teen audience. It reminded me a bit of The Hardy Boys or Tom Swift, but is probably more similar to James Bond for kids. The fourteen-year-old hero, Alex Rider, is recruited by MI6 and sent on a mission equipped with kid-appropriate spy gear. And adventures ensue.

In November, I dismissed Artemis Fowl because I didn’t think it was that creative despite the inclusion of fairies, so I feel a little weird praising this book. But somehow I find that Stormbreaker is a better book. It is still geared for children, but doesn’t seem quite as childish as Artemis Fowl, perhaps because it didn’t resort to the gimmicks of crude jokes and fake swearing. Instead, Stormbreaker is more of a straightforward, classic spy tale, though of course on a shorter and less complicated scale. And I think the book is perfect for its audience. I just hope the next two books in the series are as enjoyable because they are also on the list and already downloaded to my Kindle!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Colour of Magic

Title: The Colour of Magic
Author: Terry Pratchett
List: #93 on BBC Top 100
Worth reading? Maybe.

I’m not quite sure what to say about this book. I am sure that, no matter what I say, the legions of Terry Pratchett fans will not agree with me. It’s not that The Colour of Magic is a bad book. I just think it’s kind of a non-book. I started it. I read it. I finished it. And now I would be perfectly happy never thinking about it again. So I’ll think about it for the next ten minutes and then stop.

Like Good Omens, which Terry Pratchett co-wrote with Neil Gaiman, this book has a wonderfully humorous tone. Terry Pratchett appears not to take himself or his book too seriously. And, in certain circumstances, I think that works. For example, in Good Omens, I loved the tone. I think the difference is that Good Omens had a plot. The Colour of Magic does not.

Instead, the focus of the novel is on the characters. And mostly because they are just outrageous. The main characters are Rincewind, a failed magician, Twoflower, a tourist, and The Luggage, a giant sentient wooden box that sprouts legs and follows his owner Twoflower around no matter where he goes. Sounds promising, right? But alas, it’s really not. They are just kooky characters who meet other kooky characters in their travels and don’t develop or grow in any way. And to all of this there is no point and no plot and no real conclusion. To be fair, there is a vague back plot of the gods playing a dice game where the characters are the pieces in this game, but that doesn’t really lend a cohesiveness to the story. And, again, that is a concept that I think has more potential in theory than in practice.

Maybe the point is that Terry Pratchett is making fun of the fantasy genre? In that case, I’m not quite sure why he wrote a total of 39 books (and counting?) in the Discworld series. Which reminds me, the story takes place on Discworld, a giant disc carried by four giant elephants on the back of a giant turtle traveling through space. And I think the 39 books are tied together because they all take place on Discworld.

In any case, I don’t understand the hype. Maybe this is one fantasy series that I’m just not geeky enough for. Or maybe I’m too geeky and this book isn’t enough of a fantasy? Who knows. But count me among the unconverted. On the bright side, the book was only 285 pages, so I breezed through it! As for reading the other thirteen Discworld books on the BBC list? I don’t know... maybe if they’re the only books off the list available on my local library’s eBook site…

Friday, February 3, 2012

Oliver Twist

Title: Oliver Twist
Author: Charles Dickens
List: #182 on BBC Top 200
Worth reading? Yes!

I have to admit I was getting a little bored with the books on my list. I was yearning for a book with a fast-paced plot and a thrilling adventure. I was not completely sure what to expect from Oliver Twist, but because I generally like Charles Dickens and the story has been dramatized so often, I thought it would be worth opening. And was it ever.

Dickens is widely known as a brilliant storyteller, but I have found that some of his novels tend to have their slow patches where he gets lost in detail and description. Not so with Oliver Twist. Oliver tumbles from one adventure into another and Dickens makes sure the reader shares all of Oliver’s joy, terror, and sadness along the way. At times I found myself laughing, while other times I almost did not want to read on because I could not bear the misfortune that Oliver faced. But unlike other novels (ahem, The Jungle), Oliver Twist is one with a happy ending and one that embraces the concept of good triumphing over evil.

Of course, because this is Dickens, there are lessons to be learned from the novel as well. Or, perhaps more accurately, there were lessons aimed at readers in the 1830s. Dickens expertly employs sarcasm to publicly expose numerous problems of the day, such as the ridiculously inadequate and damaging law providing for the poor, the danger and prevalence of child labor, the widespread problem of homeless orphans in London, and the recruitment of children as criminals. To modern readers, the shocking part is that the things Dickens makes fun of were actually happening.

Oliver Twist is definitely worth the read. It is an absolutely marvelous story expertly rendered by a fantastic author. And it even teaches readers a little bit about London in the first half of the nineteenth century.