I am late to the party with Junot Diaz's work, but wow, what a book! This is realistic adult fiction, with interlocking stories tracing several generaI am late to the party with Junot Diaz's work, but wow, what a book! This is realistic adult fiction, with interlocking stories tracing several generations of a Dominican family. I say 'realistic,' though it owes a debt of gratitude to the magic realism of Garcia Marquez and Borges. I knew very little about the Dominican Republic before reading this novel. Now I can't imagine how I got along without the wonderful voices and characters Diaz evokes. He tosses out literary, pop culture, geek, and Dominican Spanish references with equal gusto, and if you don't understand them all, don't worry. Just hang on and enjoy the ride. It all adds up to a rich stew with wonderful, unexpected flavors mixed together....more
My YA recommendation of the month -- which is not really fair since I read the ARC and it doesn't come out until September -- is Jonathan Stroud's LocMy YA recommendation of the month -- which is not really fair since I read the ARC and it doesn't come out until September -- is Jonathan Stroud's Lockwood & Co.: The Screaming Staircase. You may be familiar with Stroud's earlier series about the genie Bartimaeus, and like Bartimaeus, Lockwood & Co. offers us an alternate modern England -- a brilliantly rendered world in which "the Problem" has inexplicably caused ghosts to run rampant and disrupt the lives of mortals. In this new reality, private agencies have arisen to combat the supernatural, and they rely on children as their operatives, since only their senses are keen enough to detect and combat ghosts. After a horrible accident in her home village, Lucy Carlyle flees to London where she joins a small struggling agency, Lockwood & Co., headed by the young and dashing (possibly too reckless) Anthony Lockwood. Soon they are embroiled in a mystery that may cost them their agency and even their lives. Ancient evil, unsolved murders, powerful ghosts and nefarious mortals -- this story will keep you reading late into the night, but you'll want to leave the lights on. Stroud is a genius at inventing an utterly believable world which is very much like ours, but so creepily different. Put The Screaming Staircase on your 'need to read' list when it comes out in September!...more
I don’t often request an advance reading copy of a book. In fact, I’m usually declining ARCs because I’m offered more than I could possibly read. HoweI don’t often request an advance reading copy of a book. In fact, I’m usually declining ARCs because I’m offered more than I could possibly read. However, when I heard about Oppel’s latest project, a prequel to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, I immediately asked if I could read an advance copy, and I was lucky enough to get it.
I’m a big fan of Oppel’s previous series that began with Airborn. I’m also a fan of the Romantics, like the Shelleys. It’s no coincidence that Percy Jackson is named Percy. Short for Perseus, yes, but Percy Shelley, who was enamored with Greek myths and wrote extensively about them, also liked to fancy that his name was derived from the old Greek hero. In one letter, his wife calls him “my own Perseus.” But I digress . . .
For many years, I’ve thought the Frankenstein story was ripe for retelling as a YA novel. It’s one of those ideas that I toyed with but never had time to pursue. I’m very glad Oppel beat me to it, because he does it beautifully.
This Dark Endeavour introduces 15-year-old Victor Frankenstein. Oppel has taken the liberty of giving Victor a twin brother Konrad, and while you may be thinking, ‘oh, lord, not the old twin brother plot device,’ it works well in this book and comes across as fresh and perfectly plausible. In fact, it’s vital to the story. When Konrad falls ill, Victor is driven to find a cure, even if that means turning to the forbidden secrets of alchemy. And so, from the best of motives, a dark obsession is born – to unlock the secrets of life and death.
There is much more to the story, though. Victor’s search for ingredients sends him and his friends on many harrowing adventures. I won’t give any spoilers, especially since the book isn’t out yet, but I can tell you this is a true page-turner.
Most importantly, there is Elizabeth, the distant cousin of the Frankenstein family – a spirited, fiercely independent young woman, devoutly Catholic, beautiful, headstrong, and drawn to both Konrad and Victor for very different reasons. It’s the love triangle between these three multidimensional characters that really drives the narrative. There are no easy answers, no true villains and heroes. I found myself cheering for Victor, and yet hating him at times. Konrad comes across as noble, and yet insufferably perfect. Elizabeth is mercurial, yet perfectly true to her convictions. Oppel really brings them to life, which in a Frankenstein novel has many levels of meaning, I suppose.
The book explores faith and science, loyalty and hypocrisy, love and jealousy – all the things that young readers, and even older readers, struggle with. In his earlier work Airborn, Oppel updated the classic Jules Verne/Robert Louis Stevenson adventures and pioneered what would later be called ‘steampunk.’ In This Dark Endeavor, Oppel has reinvented the gothic thriller for modern readers. The narrative crackles with tension, emotions run high, and the atmosphere is perfectly dark and brooding. The Shelleys would be proud. I definitely recommend you check out the book when it’s published August 23. I anticipate This Dark Endeavor will get a lot of attention, and rightly so....more
Throne of the Crescent Moon is an adult fantasy set in an alternate Middle East during the golden age of the Caliphate. It richly evokes the world ofThrone of the Crescent Moon is an adult fantasy set in an alternate Middle East during the golden age of the Caliphate. It richly evokes the world of Ali Baba, Sinbad, and Scheherazade. I love the way Saladin Ahmed creates his story, lovingly portraying his characters and his settings, bringing them all to vivid life. This is another very fast read, because the story moves along at a good clip. The main characters are a ghul hunter (one who searches out and destroys magically summoned demons) a holy warrior dervish who has almost supernatural skill with his sword, and a young nomad girl who has the coolest shape-shifting power you've ever seen. Even this powerful group will have trouble against the evil force that is rising to take the Khalif's throne, however. Since this is an adult fantasy, there is some adult content and some extremely creepy and dark villainy, but nothing that would bother most readers of YA fantasies. If you're ready for a fresh and different sort of fantasy, check it out!...more
Imagine a world where islands of solid ground are surrounded by seas of shifting dirt, sand and ice, all of it infested with dangerous subterranean p Imagine a world where islands of solid ground are surrounded by seas of shifting dirt, sand and ice, all of it infested with dangerous subterranean predators -- giant moles, ant lions and of course the dreaded naked mole rats. The only way across this earthen sea is a labyrinthine network of rails, built and maintained by mysterious beings called Angels.
In the Railsea, men travel by train, and brave molers set sail to hunt the giant moldywarpe. Our hero, Sham ap Soorap, has just signed aboard the moler train Medes as a medic's assistant. The captain of the train, like so many captains, has her own 'philosophy' -- she is obsessed with finding and killing a giant ivory-colored mole Mocker-Jack, who took her arm years before. However, when the Medes comes across a forbidden secret in the ruins of an old train wreck, Sham realizes there are quests even more important and more dangerous than the search for the great ivory mole.
Yes, this is a re-imagining of Moby Dick, with trains and moles instead of ships and whales. If that sounds ridiculous, that's part of the book's appeal. Only Mièville could take such an absurd idea, treat it as serious, and run with it to create a compelling, believable, hilarious story. Railsea is billed as a story 'for all ages,' and that's an apt description. It's not a book for everyone. You have to be willing to roll with the concept and plunge yourself into a bizarre environment, but the more twisted your imagination, the more this story will appeal to you. The more you read, the harder it is to put down.
I loved Mièville's earlier book for younger readers, Un Lun Dun, and Railsea is even better. I laughed aloud. I cheered for our brave hero Sham. I was caught up in the incredible world-building and the central mystery that finally takes us to the end of the rails, literally, where we find the truth about the Angels. If you've read Moby Dick, Railsea will be especially enjoyable (much more so, in my humble opinion, than Moby Dick -- blech). But knowledge of Melville is not essential to appreciating Mièville. This is a swashbuckling steampunk adventure with lots of heart and humor....more
I love this guy! It's been a long time since I sat down and read some straight-forward science fiction, and Scalzi seems to have a direct feed to theI love this guy! It's been a long time since I sat down and read some straight-forward science fiction, and Scalzi seems to have a direct feed to the recorded consciousness of the late great Robert Heinlein. Old Man's War introduces us to John Perry, a seventy-something earth man who has nothing to live for after the death of his wife, so he signs up for the army. You see, in the future, you can either die when you get old, or you can join the Colonial Defense Forces, get a new body designed for combat, and explore the galaxy protecting humanity. Only one problem: it's a hostile universe, and your chances of survival are slim to none. Scalzi's story is addictively readable. His dialogue crackles and he balances just the right amount of humor and pathos to keep his characters real in a very unreal world. After finishing Old Man's War, I went straight out and bought the sequel, The Ghost Brigades, which is every bit as good. I'm now starting in on book three, The Last Colony. I'm also very much looking forward to his forthcoming book in June, Redshirts, which is a send-up of Star Trek. You know, the guys in the red shirts always die. My older son Haley, 17, is reading this series along with me, and also loves it. Thanks, Mr. Scalzi, for some father-son geek bonding! ...more