Book Review: Good Omens

The cover of Good Omens.

The cover of Good Omens.

I picked this up on my trip to Kitt Peak in May 2014. I was travelling with my supervisor for the trip, who went to University of Arizona for grad school. Since we were down there, he picked up some books he had left behind years ago; he also decided to purge some of the books because he either had other copies, or didn’t want them anymore. As a result, I got a free book!
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch, is a cheeky/sarcastic take on the tale of the end of the world. I suppose the two main characters are Crowley (the Snake from the Adam/Eve story) and Aziraphale (an angel) who live on Earth and attempt to sway humans into their respective camps. The Armageddon is started by the coming of the Devil’s son, named Adam in this story, who Crowley had inserted into a human family in Britain. The rest of the story follows Adam and his realization of his abilities.
If you like british humour, it’s a great book. It’s full of witty banter, sarcasm, and has a great message regarding the philosophy of living your life to ‘code.’
While I liked it, this wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read. I kinda feel like something was missing. Or perhaps, a better way to put it, I felt like it didn’t focus hard enough on one story. There were a lot of parallel stories that you get bits and pieces of. It also felt a bit anti-climactic, but perhaps I’m missing the British style humour.
Either way, if you like Neil Gaiman (and you should) give it a read and enjoy a different take on Armageddon.
Happy Reading!

Book Review: Coraline

The cover of Coraline.

The cover of Coraline.

Written by Neil Gaiman, Coraline is a wonderfully imaginative tale of a girl named Coraline who is becomes twisted up in a race to save her parents from her dreaded Other Mother. It’s a short (163pgs) novella that you could classify as horror/fantasy. Perhaps the best way to describe it is it feels like a child’s imagination gone wild. When we’re young, the line between reality and imagination is very blurred. We can dream up so many amazing things (both wonderful and scary) and live inside that world as if it’s real. This inevitably leads to nightmares that make us rush into our parents room, avoiding going downstairs without an adult, or simply afraid to look in the closet at night. Just pondering the idea that children live in such a mix of imagination and intellect makes me jealous.
Coraline, our protagonist, has just moved into a new house with her parents; well, just moved into PART of the house, there are two other flats in the house occupied by very interesting characters. On a random rainy day a couple of days before the new school year begins, Coraline discovers a door that is supposed to lead to the empty flat on the same floor as theirs. Upon stealing the key from her parents, she opens the door, but it leads to a freaky parallel dimension wherein her Other Parents will do anything she wants: play the games, make her yummy meals, and all around support her in her desires to explore and create. However, her Other Mother has a (not so) hidden agenda to keep Coraline as her own for all eternity. The Other Mother has stolen Coraline’s parents, and won’t tell her how to get them back. Coraline draws on all her wit, courage, and physical strength to save her parents (and other children trapped in the alternate dimension), and eventually destroys the Other Mother.
I very much enjoyed the pace of the book, finding myself on the edge of my seat as I was reading. I was rooting so hard for Coraline! Gaiman’s style came through as a cheeky and interesting, and with a mature childhood tone to it. It was if the writer was a child with a wealth of adult vocabulary and experience to draw on. It was refreshing to see such an exact portrayal of what it’s like to be a child with an active imagination.
Of course, the movie was very well done, and you should absolutely see it. My philosophy is to always read the book first; but honestly, this is one of the few times where the movie does the book justice. No matter which you read/watch first, you’re in for a treat. Highly recommend either.

 

Happy Reading!

Book Review: Shades of Grey

This is the book cover artwork that is used in North America. Britain/Europe received a different cover.

This is the book cover artwork that is used in North America. Britain/Europe received a different cover.

Jasper Fforde is one of my favourite authors. He has a whimsical-yet-intellectual type of writing style that keeps you interested even (akin to Douglas Adams). Fforde is, of course, most notable for his Thursday Next series. I wrote Book Reviews for most of the books in that series, beginning with The Eyre Affair. When I was done reading that series (though as I write this post I realize there is a new Thursday Next book out that I absolutely must read), I was itching for more Fforde and so expanded out into his other series, which led me to Shades of Grey 1: The Road to High Saffron.
I had no idea what to expect with this book, but was happy to find that I kept to Fforde’s usual style of witty, charming, and accessible writing mixed with a multitude of literary references (both noticed and unnoticed, I presume). I absolutely enjoyed the characters he created for the book and his ability to develop them in a 3 dimensional way.
The story’s protagonist, Eddie Russet, lives in Chromatica, a world where everything is controlled by the Colortocracy. The entire society is dominated by color, and Eddie’s place in society is dictated the same. Eddie is a ‘Red;’ this means he is only able to see the colour red. This puts him rather low in the Colortocracy; for instance, he cannot turn down an ‘order’ from a ‘Green.’ The plot surrounds Eddie’s encounter with a ‘Grey’ named Jane who’s job is to reveal the underlying corruption in Chromatica, and have him join her side in rebellion.
I enjoyed the book very much, and will definitely be looking to pick up the sequel, whenever it comes out.

Happy Reading!

Book Review: The Legend of OZ: The Wicked West

The cover of the graphic novel 'The Legend of OZ: The Wicked West'

The cover of the graphic novel ‘The Legend of OZ: The Wicked West’

Finally, I’m getting to this. I bought this book at the San Diego Comic Con back in mid July and never got around to reading it. It is a graphic novel called The Legend of OZ: The Wicked West, written by Tom Hutchinson, drawn by Alisson Borges, and coloured by Kate Finnegan. The story retells the very famous The Wizard of Oz (released in 1939), but recasts the universe into a western. Honestly, that was enough for me to buy it.
The writer clearly had fun putting this together in the clever, or even whimsical, recasting of the famous characters. There ARE a tin-man, a scarecrow, and a lion… just not necessarily as you remember them. Perhaps my favourite augmentation is the wicked witch of the west: instead of a broom, she carries a long rifle that is somewhat shaped like a broom. Brilliant.
The story is roughly the same, but it’s a fun take on the classic. I enjoyed the new style, the artwork, and plan to check out the next issues at some point.
Happy Reading!

Book Review: The Dune Series

The original Dune series is 6 books long. There are many more books in the Dune chronicles, but all written by the author's Son and others.

The original Dune series is 6 books long. There are many more books in the Dune chronicles, but all written by the author’s Son and others.

Well… I did it! I finished reading the Dune series, which consists of six novels. Written by Frank Herbert, Dune is heralded by many as the greatest science fiction novel of all time. It won the inaugural Nebula award for Best Novel, as well as the Hugo Award. After this, Herbert wrote 5 sequels to his series, exploring the universe he created even further. And while the series has its ups and downs, every book is worth reading.
Dune takes place in a futuristic Universe where humanity has spread out into the Galaxy. Planets are ruled by houses, which are basically power families, all of which are underneath a great Emperor. The story centres on one planet called Arrakis, though known to its own inhabitants as Dune. A sand planet. It is the home of the Fremen people who live in the harsh land of desert. As a result of their environment, the Fremen people have developed a culture centred on water conservation almost down to a religion. On this planet of Dune, there lives massive sandworms [almost like the movie Tremors. Oh. Haven’t seen it? well, you should]. These sandworms (400 meters long, 40 meters in diameter at their largest) are a vital part of the life cycle that creates melange, also known as ‘the spice.’ This spice is basically a drug with a number of positive side affects: longer life, greater vitality, heightened senses, etc. Most importantly, the spice is able to give prescient capabilities to certain people in the book, most notably the Navigators that pilot between stars systems, and the Bene Gesserit Matriarchal society (more on them later). A final piece of this Universe’s extraordinary puzzle is the Butlerian Jihad. This something constantly referred to in the books, but happened much earlier than the timelines in the stories. This Jihad ended up prohibiting any technology that could act as a human brain: ‘thinking machines’ or artificial intelligence of any kind. As a result, humans have trained their brains to possess apparently super human type computational abilities. The Bene Gesserit excercise it, but the group of people who are fully trained in these abilities are known as Mentats.
The Bene Gesserit; so much to say. They are an organization of women, a sisterhood, whose full members are called ‘Reverend Mothers;’ they train themselves to be masters of physical and mental abilities to the point they appear to be ‘witches’ to outsiders. Also, to be a Reverend Mother, you must survive what’s known as the ‘spice agony.’ This is a procedure that pushes the women to near death, which forces the women to awaken an inner self and the inner lives of all her female ancestors. The Bene Gesserit influence is felt as the primary driver of the plots of all 6 books.
Specifically, in the first book, Dune, we pick up on with the Bene Gesserit as they are looking for a male who is capable of the same abilities of a Reverend Mother: awakening their inner self and contacting the memories of all their male ancestors. The Bene Gesserit have only the ability to tap into their female ancestors memories, and have been looking for a long time for male capable of the same (what they call a Kwisatz Haderach). We begin the book by the Bene Gesserit testing the son of Leto Atreides and the Lady Jessica (a Reverend Mother). Paul ends up being the Kwisatz Haderach, and this begins the epic saga that is the Dune series.
The themes behind the Dune series are many. It’s an analysis of politics, ruling. It’s a psychological thriller. If I had to describe the series in one word, it would be intense. In reading the books I constantly felt that every decision, every plot turn, every conversation was intensely important, and if the wrong decision was made it could destroy everything. That feeling of standing on a precipice is prevalent throughout the books, and one of the reasons I enjoyed it so much.
Further, Herbert’s writing is very different than others I’ve read. Much of the writing takes place inside the minds of the characters. We get to follow along their thought processes, their inner conversations (with themselves and Other Memory), and thus get to intimately follow how the story plays out. That was my favourite part of the series.

Frank Herbert wrote these original 6 books, which spawned an avalanche of follow ups: a movie, a mini series, a 2nd mini series, and a multitude of books written by Herbert’s son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin Anderson. What I just found out, also, is the original 6 books had a planned 7th book, however Frank Herbert died before he could write it. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson took the notes for the 7th book and wrote two more books… .. … which I now have to read!

There is entirely too much to say about one of the greatest series of all time. All I can really say is that I enjoyed it, and I recommend reading it.

Happy Reading!