Category Archives: Fiction

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.

 

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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.

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.

Life as a Circus Veterinarian

When this book first came out, I resisted.  The premise just didn’t seem that interesting to me.  But then the book stuck around.  It continued to be prominently displayed on bookstore shelves and the next then I knew, it was a movie starring Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon.  And so I caved.   Although an entertaining read, I didn’t find Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen to be that engaging.  The characters were good, but not great and the story drew me in but didn’t keep my attention.  It was a quick read, however, great for a lazy memorial day weekend.

The story focuses on the life of Jacob Jankowski, a Cornell veterinary student who, a short period before his final exams, finds himself without a family and without a home.  In a state of shock, he hops on a train, and begins his life as a member of the circus.  His veterinary credentials, even though he never completed school, give him a foot in the door as an animal character.  The book gives us a glimpse into the circus life – the slang, the battle between performers and the working men, and the way the circus business works.

In that sense it was interesting – seeing life in the circus, behind the curtains.  It’s the same reason I liked the play “Noises Off”.  But beyond that, I didn’t find the romance to be that believable.  Sure, I feel bad for Marlena and her short-tempered, vicious husband, but beyond that, the main characters didn’t pull me in.  Walter, however.  Walter I liked.  Walter is a circus performer, a midget, whose best friend is his faithful companion Queenie, a dog.  In a lot of ways, Walter is one of the most complex characters in the book  – Ms. Gruen peels away his harsh exterior to show a softie underneath.  All in all, I give this book 3 out of 5 stars, if using a star system.

Re-examining the Bible with Philip Pullman

As part of The Myth series, Philip Pullman retells the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection with a twist in his novel “The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.” His big twist? Instead of there being one baby boy born in the manger that fateful day, Mr. Pullman proposes that there are 2 – one strong, healthy boy named Jesus and another weaker one named Christ.  This twist completely changes the story, obviously, turning this biblical story on its head.

In my opinion, this is a particularly interesting re-telling.  Mr. Pullman paints Jesus as a man who preaches his beliefs not to create a religion but simply to spread the word.  In fact, he expressly does not want to create a religion because of all the negative things religion can bring, for example, war.  This is also why he prefers not to perform miracles and provide proof that he is the son of God.

Christ, however, approaches things differently.  He believes that miracles are a great way to “market” Jesus’ word, and based on the encouragement of an “angel” starts to keep track of Jesus’ accomplishments and preachings, retelling history as his view of history – truth with a a bit of embellishment.

As an atheist, Mr. Pullman pokes holes in many of the common beliefs surrounding the Christian faith – for example the resurrection and the “miracle” of one loaf feeding an entire city. He also writes the entire story in a similar voice and style as the Bible, lending his novel some of the solemness of the Bible itself.

Would I recommend it? I’m not sure.  I think the story is interesting, but obviously the writing style, although I understand why he chose it, makes the novel a bit of a dry read.  The book is, however, short.   If you have some spare time, and are interested in religion (in more of a theoretical literary sense versus in a faith-based sense) I find his retelling to be fairly interesting.

Life in a 11′ x 11′ Room

Wow.  Room was an amazing read and the author’s style and approach to the story is incredibly interesting and provocative.  The novel takes place through the eyes of 5-year old Jack, a boy who’s never known a world outside of Room, a 11′ x 11′ space.  When I first started reading, I was a bit thrown off by the style.  I wasn’t really sure what was going on.  But soon I realized that the book would lose its power if not told through the eyes of a child.

This novel took me through an emotional roller coaster ride.  The book begins with Jack happily talking about all the fun stuff he does in Room.  Told through the eyes of a child, the 11′ x 11′ room take a life of his own, with meals, physical education, reading, and playing – a pretty normal, happy childhood.  Even though it struck me that something was weird, especially since the boy never talked about anything outside the room, it didn’t really click.  At one point, I was under the delusion that Jack was actually a robot who was “put to sleep” every night in the wardrobe (I know, I’ve read too many science fiction stories). But as the story continues, details continue to leak out that seem a bit out of place.  The strict bedtime, the fact that nothing leaves or enters the room except Old Nick, the fact that Old Nick comes every night around 9 pm and the bed creaks and creaks and creaks.   It’s easy to overlook these details though, because when they’re told through the eyes of a young child, it’s all suffused with a sense of innocence.  You realize something’s weird, but Jack seems so happy, seems like a normal 5 year old boy with an active imagination, like so many other 5 year old boys.

When the details began to unravel, there is nothing but horror.  You realize how much a child who grows up completely cut off from the world doesn’t know – for example, that the TV world isn’t just in the TV – that it’s images of “the outside”.   You realize the horrible situation Jack’s mother is in, and how strong she is to keep it together for so many years.  Ms. Donoghue does a great job of really helping the reader learn about Jack, building a believable character as he encounters experiences that are everyday to us, but obviously very new to a child who has never seen the outside of a Room.

I highly recommend this book.  It will really take you on an emotional journey as only a book written from the point of view of a 5 year old child can.  By showing the world through a 5 year old’s eyes, it turns a horrible, emotionally traumatic situation into something that is at least palatable, although still only barely so.  And in this way, she really brings to light the trauma that results from an abduction. and the love of a mother, pushed to her limits but keeping it together for the sake of her child.

Dragons, Dragons Everywhere!

Book 4 of the Fablehaven series – “Secrets of the Dragon Sanctuary” –  takes us to Wyrmroost, one of the most dangerous dragon sanctuaries.  Once again the Fablehaven team (along with assorted fellow adventurers) are on a desperate quest to beat the Society of the Evening Star to the five artifacts that, together, will release the evil demon Zzyzx.

Mr. Mull continues to develop the characters, giving Seth magical abilities to talk to demons and other shadow dwellers.  He also makes Seth a more likable character – making him a boy who takes calculated risks versus allowing his curiosity to get the better of him.   I find it great that Mr. Mull is able to develop such cool new characters with every new book.  My favorite new character in this book is, without a doubt, Raxtus, a not so big, and not so scary dragon.  Although he can be a bit of a whiner, he’s a comical character, capable of witty banter and flashes of courage.  I can only hope he plays a bigger and bigger role in the last and final novel, “Keys to the Demon Prison.”

The ending of this book, to be honest, seems to be a bit of a cop out, although I can’t come up with a better way for the book to end.  Although I’ve enjoyed the adventure up through now, I think I’m ready for them to end.  It is possible to have too much of a  good thing and I think this series is reaching that point.

I’m rooting for the good guys to win!