Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Conjuring Glass by Brian Knight

I received this book as part of the LybraryThing Early Review and here is my review

What's the book about?

Penny has recently become an orphan. If this wasn't enough life changing, she moves from San Francisco to the little town of Dogwood in Washington. There she will meet her mother's long time friend and her godmother Susan.

She will also meet Zoe who will become her best friend and her companion in adventure.

What was different of this book?

I think a lot of people will read the book and at first get the feeling that they've heard this before. Magic, poor orphan, evil magician? But, fear not, the story is not a copy cat version of Harry Potter in anyway. Even compared with the first book of the HP series this, The Conjuring Glass is more oriented to younger children. 

What about the main character?

In the book Penny will have to learn a lot by herself and about herself.  If you put yourself in the shoes of a 10 year old I think this is a very relatable character. The book also touches a little bit of bullying because Penny is physically "different" (she is very, very short and gets teased about it a lot) and I wish in the second book we will see her standing a bit more for herself.

The 10% moment

It was easy to get to this point of the book. The prose is very easy to follow and there is not a lot of twists and turns about the characters, all of them introduced to a slow, agreeable pace. 

Final thoughts

I loved the drawings in the book. Another reason why I think this is more a Middle School oriented book than a Young Adult. I liked the fact that we have strings of the story that lead to the second book, without giving everything away yet remaining quite straight forward. Even though is not a book full of surprises is a nice reading and I think it would please is target audience.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

A Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China that never was by Barry Hughart

I read this book as part of the Sword and Laser Book club

What's the book about?

This book tells the story of Yu Lu, or Number Ten Ox, and Master Li Kao. Ten Ox leaves in the village of Ku Fu when suddenly the kids of the village get struck by a mysterious illness. Ten Ox is sent to find a wise man to help them save the life of the kids and he meets Master Li, probably the smartest person in China with an slight flaw in his character. They realize that to save the kids they will have to find the Great Root of Power. 

Whit this quest they will travel all over China and finally meet the Duque of Chi'in, a terrible villain that will try his best to stop our two heroes. They o the other side embark themselves in a bigger adventure without knowing it at first. 

What was different of this book?

This is a beautiful example of magical realism. The author takes a lot of influences of China's mythology and mixes it with clever humor. Although is a fantasy book, is not overwhelmingly so. The building of the story around the fantasy part is gradual and when it reaches its climax the reader won't be able to put the book down until all the pieces fit together. There is adventure, romance, humor and a heart breaking end.

What about the main character?

In this book we have 2 main characters but there are other big role characters all through the history. 

Ten Ox is a sweet mannered peasant boy. He is strong and his humble and he is easy to love as a character. He wants to help as much as he can however he can, and his biggest motivation through all the book is making things right for the kids in his village.

On the other hand we have Master Li. Smart as he is, he has lost the innocence that would make him a "good" character. Not that he is bad, but he has that bitternes that makes characters funny and ever so sarcastic.  One of the first lines he has got me smiling from the beginning:

          Take a bowl [...] fill it with equal measures of fact, fantasy, history, mythology, science, superstition, logic and lunacy. Darken the mixture with bitter tears, brighten it with howls of laughter, toss in three thousand years of civilization, bellow kan pei [...]

And I will be wise? He asked

Better' I said' You will be Chinese

That said, he is someone who will finish what he started, even if it costs  him everything. He will be the first one to praise Ten Ox when he is doubting himself. He is a cunning man but he has a good heart albeit not pure. 

The 10% moment

The example of writing that I just gave you happens at about the 10% of the book. It got me, hands down by then. You want to know what that mysterious illness is and mostly you will want to know what exactly is the flaw in Master Li's character.

Final thoughts

The resolution was not foreseeable (at least not for me) and I ended up with tears in my eyes with the beautiful ending. I know a lot of people in the S&L forum complained about the female role in the book. I have to tell you, that even though I was not crazy about it in general, I think it works with the style intended for the book.

I'm looking forward to reading the 2 next installments s of the series. 

TSS: Why libraries are awesome. An answer to Mr. Terry Deary

If you've been paying attention to the latest news (book related news that is) you already know about the controversy started by Mr Terry Deary. If you haven't, I will refer you to Amanda Nelson's post. You can go and read it and come back in 5 minutes.

Oh good, you are back. 

Maybe you are outraged, maybe you agree with Mr Deary, and as I've always said, it is not my job to tell you which one is best for you. However, I will share how I feel. Not towards the person, since I have never met Mr Deary, but towards the statements against libraries.  Or in other words, let me tell you why I love libraries and think that they still have a lot to give.

The first time I went to the National Library I was overwhelmed by the smell of books. I went there as part of a school assignment and spent the whole day in the building. It was full of people and yet it was very quiet. Everyone was concentrated in their books; everyone had a book in their hands! I was around 11 and I was in heaven. At the end of the day I wanted to take a book with me (The Godfather actually) but I didn't have a card back then so I had to leave empty handed. I was beyond sad because this library wasn't particularly near home and I knew it would take a while before I could come back and get my card.

But the thing about this was that I fell in love with public libraries right there. Until then I only used my school's library and I knew it was quite limited, but since I was one of the only ones taking books out that were not mandatory to read, I never had the angst of having to wait for a book. It was always there. The public library added extra content. I would hear about a great book and I would have my fingers crossed all along hoping I would be able to find it in the library AND there would be a copy available.  What was even better, was finding other books around the one I was looking for and ending up with a long piece of paper full of names and numbers (remember, this was before Goodreads and even constant access to the internet, so you know, it was a big deal) and walking around enormous bookcases.

Libraries allowed  me to find new authors, new genres. It allowed me to experiment different trends without spending my already little pocket money. And when I found something that moved me beyond words I would get it for myself whenever it was possible.

When I first came to Canada for an exchange (well, actually it was the second time, but the first one was a summer camp and I wasn't really on my own getting around) and went for the first time to the library of the Science department I fell in love again. Is not that it was so different from libraries back home (sure a better budget was evident) but it was the fact that I felt home. I read The Labyrinth of Solitude and Other Writings by Octavio Paz while snow was covering my window for the very first time in my life and I felt...happy. I was here for 8 months that time, in the middle of winter, so my bags where full of clothes and I was being very careful with my expenses since I didn't want to be caught in an emergency, so having access to the library saved me from boredom at first and from being homesick all through that experience.

When someone suggests that libraries should be closed and that are in any aspect a bad thing something inside of me cringes.

Libraries give a lot of people who might not be able to afford it access to wonderful worlds. When Mr Deary complaints about he not getting enough money out of his books I think he is missing the big picture. Libraries allowed people who can't afford at all his book to know his work, to share beautiful moments with other that have felt the same with his books. 

But besides that, libraries are still places for consultation.  I'm 27, I'm doing my PhD, most of the articles I "need" are online...and yet you will see me at least once a week in the Institute's library looking for references, finding the right book to support my evidence. And you will other student comparing notes, cross referencing and discussing (quietly) while trying to solve a problem

Libraries are temples of knowledge in my eyes and hence I will defend them and support them as long as I can. 

For wayt to help your local library, please see this post

Sunday, February 17, 2013

TSS: Direct or Makes you wonder Covers?

In case I haven't mentioned it yet. I bought myself a Kobo Touch. I did all the research and leaned towards the Nook for a while, then the Kindle and finally the Kobo caught me. Either way, this post is not about that exactly. I was browsing the Kobo Facebook  page and I saw a link for Pride and Pleasure by Sylvia Day. Without reading the title, or even the synopsis, I knew it was related to the 50 shades genre, and boy was I right. However, the cover in the link is not your typical erotica romance novel...or what was typical years ago. The other cover (see here) of the same book fits that typical image I always had and the "new" one I guess is supposed to disguised the true nature of the book, you know, for when you are reading it in public and you feel ashamed of it.

Except...except that nowadays this type of covers are as related to the genre are the ones with the big muscled guy with the damsel in distress!  So is not really meeting its intention, is it? This got me thinking to the only book I've ever read of the genre and how I bought it thinking it was something completely different. The culprit? The cover! I read Bliss River by Thea Devine. When I saw it at the store it was just a green book with water plants; when I read the back cover it was the story of a colony in Africa, the girl who wanted out and a guy who might be her way out...I imagined there were going to end up together, but only until I started reading and blushing profusely in the metro did I realized what this book was! I had a laugh at it, read it out loud with my boyfriend and moved on. But I always felt a bit cheated by the fact that nothing in that book's presentation indicated what I was actually buying.

Excellent marketing? Or just a well planted trap? I don't know, I've been thinking about it yesterday. What do I prefer, a cover and description that tells me "this is what you are getting" minus the spoilers off course, or do I want a "I'm intriguing, you think you might like me but maybe not" kind off presentation?. Off course, you guys are going to tell me that I can always read the reviews...but just as with the movies I try to avoid reviews that are too descriptive, not to ruin the momentum. I listen to a few podcast and when they praise a book I try to find the main idea of what the book is about to decide whether or not is for me.

But then again, if the cover of Bliss River would've been clearly an erotica novel, I would've never picked it up, and hence I would not really know that those books are not for me. Is saying that you do not like eating something but never ever trying it. How would you know?  (the key word here is like, I'm not referring to any conviction, that's none of my business) 

So? What do you guys think?