The End of the Artemis Fowl Saga *sniff, sniff*

Artemis Fowl, The Last GuardianThe Artemis Fowl books were love at first read.  I loved the characters, the writing style, the world – and  I recommended the books to anyone and everyone.  Seriously, what was there not to love? There was a criminal mastermind / boy genius, fairies, a tech genius centaur and a bodyguard named Butler – and those are just the characters.  So I can honestly say, nothing makes me sadder than the fact that “The Last Guardian” is the final book of this eight book series.

In “The Last Guardian”, Artemis Fowl once again faces off against his arch-nemesis Opal Koboi who is out to destroy the entire human race and wreck havoc on the fairy community in the process.  So Artemis must once again use his superior intellect to try to save his family and save the world.

In this book, we are really able to see how far Artemis has come. He is no longer the petulant young criminal mastermind that wants nothing more than money and power.  He has grown a heart, so to speak, and it’s a progression we’ve been able to see throughout the entire series.  And I think this character growth is what makes Artemis so much more of a likable character than Harry Potter, for example.  Don’t get me wrong – I liked reading the Harry Potter series.  But to be honest, I never really liked Harry.  Time and time again he seemed to be Voldermort with nothing but his mother’s love and courage.  I didn’t feel like he was particularly good at magic, particularly smart or particularly crafty.  In fact, by book five I was almost ready to give up on the whole series – he was so whiny and frankly annoying.

This is not the case with Artemis Fowl.  Although he starts out the series as a clear anti-hero, he develops into a real hero, several times over.  He’s not a stagnant character, trapped in the same endless battle and approaching the problem in the same way – he grows and develops into a man (well, maybe not a man but a mature sixteen year old).  We also see him grow as a person, learning to form bonds with people, fairies and dwarves that are more about power and money but about friendship.

I also love how easy it is to jump back into the series.  It’s been several years since I’ve read the first seven Artemis Fowl books but I was able to just pick up this book and quickly re-immerse myself in the universe – without feeling like there was a lot of useless repetition and rehashing of past events.

The only critique I have about this book is the very end.  I won’t give anything away, but I do wish that the novel would have stopped two or three chapters earlier – I think the book would have been more powerful (although I suppose less of a children’s book then) .  I know why Mr. Colfer did what he did, but I still wish he had chosen another path.


Does the Hypnotist Hypnotize Its Readers?

All I can say is that the Swedes sure know how to write thrilling (and somewhat disturbing) murder mystery novels.  After the brilliant success of The Millennium Trilogy by Stiegg Larsson, it seems like we’ve had a steady stream of murder mystery novels in translation being released in the states.  The Hypnotist is written by a duo of Swedish writers and it is, if nothing else, disturbing.  You have a serial killer who hacks apart his victims and is driven by a single handed determination to destroy in a frighteningly methodical way, and a hypnotist who is somewhat likable and sympathetic, but not really.  My real question is what gets lost in the translation.  I think the biggest struggle I had with this novel is the writing style – and I’m not sure how much of that has to do with the original authors and how much of that has to do with the translation of the text.  There were sentences that just didn’t flow properly (at least to my ear).  There were also key plot points that I felt were left unexplained, which I will not go into here (because there’s nothing worst than spoiling a murder mystery).

This book begins with a call to Erik Bark, a former hypnotist who has given up the profession due to something that happened in his past.  A family has been brutally murdered – hacked to pieces in fact, but there is a lone survivor – a teenage boy.  Detective Joona Lina, the officer on the case, begs Erik to hypnotize the boy, who is in critical condition, in order to find out what happened and get vital clues to the vicious homicides and the location of the one remaining family member – a sister who has gone missing.

Throughout the novel, sad to say, I was more interested in Erik’s past, and what drove him to give up hypnosis, than the actual crime itself.  There are, however, the requisite twists and turns – with a surprising twist in the murder investigations that you will have to wait and read about if you decide to pick up this book.   Many compare this murder mystery novel with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series,  siding with one or the other.  If I had to pick,  I would be staunchly on team Millennium Trilogy.

The Other Side of Tina Fey

If you haven’t read Bossypants, what are you waiting for? Stop reading this blog post and go straight to the bookstore, the library or your ereader and pick up this book.  It’s hilarious, insightful and one of the most interesting biographies I’ve read in a long time (although I can’t honestly say I read a lot of biographies).  It’s a quick read, and it reads like a good stand up comedy routine. keeping you laughing until the very end.

And you get to see another side of Tina Fey – the, rougher side of Tina Fey.  The Tina Fey with an edge which to be honest I never really saw in the movies and TV shows, although I suppose I should have known – she was a writer for SNL after all.

The book is really funny, very tongue in cheek, slightly self-deprecating and just a complete pleasure to read.  I think Tina Fey also does a great job being a feminist views, without pushing her feminist views on you.  Let’s face it – it’s hard being a high powered woman, whether it’s in the entertainment industry or any other industry. And for a woman in the entertainment industry, there’s also the age ceiling – the you’re 40 and no longer hot so your career is over, thing.  Tina Fey does a great job of empowering, in general. women, comedians, etc.  I felt, happy reading the book.  In fact I laughed out loud on several occasions.

So what have we learned? Get this book. Her anecdotes, her stories, her vignettes are hilarious.  It’s well worth a read.

Oh Noes! The Robots are Coming!

I first encountered Daniel H. Wilson years ago at a small bookstore in Mountain View, CA.  At that time I had no idea who he was, but a friend had asked me to go to his book signing of “Where’s My Jetpack?” and get a signed book.  I remember being amused by this young, geeky robotics PhD student turned writer.  But that was the last I thought about him.  Until I saw the book Robopocalypse while I was surfing through Amazon’s “Best Books of the Month” and decided it pick it up.  I have to admit, when I first read the back cover I thought, “oh, this will be entertaining but probably a pretty standard ‘Oh no! The Robots are taking over the world what will we do!’ ” kind of book.  Which in a lot of ways it is.  But the book takes a very common premise and makes it something incredibly interesting.

Mr. Wilson traces several different people as they try to deal with  robot uprising.  By painting “history” in these vignettes, it gives you a better sense of the scope of destruction and the war happening between man and robot.  Some of his scenes between robots and man were so realistic, that for awhile I would gingerly step into elevators, afraid that they were out to kill me, even though I knew that the thought was ridiculous, at least for now.  He also throws in a few twists at the end that I was completely not expecting which definitely led to a better and more fulfilling finish (no spoilers, promise).

I hope to hear more from Mr. Wilson, although he might be busy the next few months / years working with Steven Spielberg to turn his book into a movie.  And I think it’ll be an amazing movie – I can’t wait to see it come out.  It’ll take a bit of careful treading to make sure the movie reflects the best parts of the book.

Sexing it Up on the Moon

I recently had the pleasure of sitting in the park on a warm (but thankfully not sweltering) day, listening to Ben Mezrich, the author of “The Accidental Billionaires” and “Bringing Down the House”, talk about his new book “Sex on the Moon”.  Mr. Mezrich, first of all, is an incredibly engaging speaker and a pleasure to listen to – a man with 101 stories. He recounted the people he’s met, his writing process, and the crazy people who contact him, wanting him to tell their story.  What an interesting life he must lead.

So back to the task at hand. “Sex on the Moon”.  This book, sadly for some, is not really about going to the moon or about having sex on the moon – at least in the literal sense.  The book is, however, about a smart young man named Thad who steals  a 600 pound safe, filled with moon rocks, out of a secure NASA facility.  Why, you may ask? Why for love, of course.

So let me start by saying that the book was definitely well-written.  Unfortunately, however, I didn’t find the premise all that engaging.  It’s not that the story wasn’t interesting.  It was more that the story didn’t need a whole book.  It felt like an amusing anecdote you’d tell a friend.  “Hey, did you hear about that punk kid who stole those moon rocks and thought he wasn’t going to get caught? Seriously, what was he thinking?”  Or maybe a corny rom com.  “Thad worked for NASA.  He thought space was his one and only love, but then he  met… Rebecca.” Okay. So it wasn’t really like that, but you know what I mean.

But amazingly, Thad does come across as a somewhat likable character.  Sure he’s a bit arrogant, a bit swaggering.  But somehow you find a soft spot in your heart for him, for an idealistic kid who did something stupid for love and paid the price, giving up a big chunk of his life to do so.  And I have to say I also somewhat admire the kid – he was able to take a bad situation and approach it with grace, taking a bad situation and making it, well, a positive one.

Looking at the Achievement Gap

These days there’s a lot of talk about the Achievement Gap in the US, which is obviously a huge problem.   But what is often not addressed is the Global Achievement Gap, which Tony Wagner looks at in this book.

In this book, he takes a look not at our worse schools but at our best – and from there compares the skills kids are learning in school with the skills that are necessary in the workforce.  His results in a nutshell? Not so great.

After polling a bunch of company executives, Mr. Wagner distilled the 7 main skills students need today to survive in the workforce:

  • critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Collaboration and lead by influence
  • Agility and adaptability
  • Initiative and entrepreneurialism
  • Effective oral and written communication
  • The ability to assess and analyze information
  • Curiosity and imagination

And scarily enough, these are not really skills that we’re cultivating in schools today.  If you can, think back to your AP tests, the tests that are supposed to pass you out of college level courses.  How many of those tests asked you to solve problems? How many of them really even asked you to analyze information and create a thoughtful written response?  Sadly enough, rarely any. There’s a serious deficit in American education, even for the top students, and we’re not doing anything to fix it.  In comparison, other countries are.  Take China for instance.  Long criticized for lack of creativity and imagination,  they’re actively trying to change their education system, trying to keep the best of their current education system while concurrently trying to instill their students with the qualities they’re lacking.

This, needless to say, does not bode well for America’s future.  I think this book is a great read.  It helps you look at our education system in a slightly different way, from a macro level versus the world rather than a micro level and all the problems we have within.  And both problems do need to be fixed.

Sorry for the long break…

But I hope to be back again soon! I’ve been busy with a new job and a variety of other things, but I hope to be able to blog about all the cool new books I’ve read lately including:

— Ben Mezrich’s Sex on the Moon
— Daniel H. Wilson’s Robopocalypse
— Tony Wagner’s The Global Achievement Gap
— Brandon Sanderson’s The Mistborn Trilogy

And, on a separate note, I was able to attend a reading at Barnes and Noble by none other than George R.R. Martin! Needless to say, it was quite a treat.

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