Thursday, September 22, 2005
Buy a box of Kleenex upon the purchase of this book; you're gonna need it. And guys, read this as far away as possible from persons of the opposite sex; you don't want them to think you're a wussy. (And for the record, I'm not either.) Once you've found a cosy enough closet to dwell in for the hours you'll spend reading this, peel the edges of the book carefully. You're going to want to keep it on a shelf when you're done.
Kleenex. Closet. What's new? It's a Nicholas Sparks book so naturally, this is a book on romance and judging by the fact that it's been made into a movie starring Kevin Costner, I'll go out on a limb and say it was wildly successful with women and SNAGs everywhere.
And rightly so too. As with all of Sparks' books, this is a touching one. By the end, you'll be crying silently and softly to yourself, wondering if you'll ever experience even the briefest moment like those the characters in this book do. (Hence the Kleenex.) And it's the kind of crying that makes you feel good.
However, if you've even read anything by Sparks before this, the effect will be slightly diminished. I've read The Notebook and True Believer, so this is actually the third one I've read. While I was still touched and amazed at the characters Sparks conjured up, at one point I thought to myself, "Hmm... typical Nicholas Sparks scene," right around the time they were making love.
But what wasn't typical about it, depends on whether you were expecting it to end like a normal Nicholas Sparks book. Because u\if you did, then you're going to be in for a neat surprise.
I give it a 7 out of 10.
at 3:13 PM
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
With a title like that, one might assume that it's a book about the rich and famous in America. To an extent, that is accurate, but the "gods" are no longer rich, nor famous. Who (or, more accurately, what) are Neil Gaiman referring to? To the literal gods, of course. Those deities of the Norse and Hindu, among others. And there are a lot. Ever wondered what happened to Thor? Well, he shot himself in the '70s.
What drove Thor to kill himself? And what made the deities, who are, supposedly, all-mighty and powerful, become so... human? According to Wednesday, who is, the American version of Odin (more on that later), gods feed on prayer and belief. Now, with modern amenities and entertainment, man no longer believe in the old gods, preferring to spend time devoting the new gods, i.e. the television, media... etc.
And why are these gods called American, when they are Nordic or Hindi in origin? You see, (again, according to Wednesday) gods come to new lands when their believers go there, carrying them in their minds, and creating them there. So, using this theory, we'd have a few hundred Odins running around the world.
Throughout the novel, we see their world through Shadow's eyes, who works for Wednesday. Technically, this is a Dan Brown-ish novel. But it has so many elements in it that you won't be able to tell. Short stories are abound. History lessons, too, actually. There're elements of thriller, horror, humour and God knows what else Gaiman thought was suitable to throw in there.
If you're planning to read this, be forewarned that it's going to be a long read. Like, weeks. The pace is slow but not boring. It's just the right kind of speed for a book this ambitious. Gaiman gives you time to put down the book and process all the information, and then think about it some more before continuing. If you're looking for a Dan Brown book, don't bother with this.
I give this book a 7.5 out of 10
at 4:12 PM
Monday, September 19, 2005
Here's a book I ran into by chance in the school library back when I was in Form Three. My reading frenzy was at it's peak, then, and I made an almost daily routine of visiting the library to borrow two books (as I was allowed only that amount). Since the selection of books in SMKTM wasn't exactly as wide as KYUEM's (but at least better than Sains Seremban's), I normally picked books randomly, without discrimination. This book was one of my first finds. It was good enough for me to buy my own copy when I finally found it, three years later.
Anyway, this book has an Enid Blyton-ish feel to it (I'm judging based on the very few Blyton books I've read. My sister is the Enid Blyton reader, not me), what with two innocent young boys as main characters, out on a kind of adventure or, more accurately, treasure hunt. Obstacles appear along the way, but it's nothing that can't be worked around. And at the very end, the clues and mystery surrounding the treasure is resolved, in an unexpected way. No, I'm not spoiling anything for you by saying that, it would have been pretty obvious how things would turn out from the moment you read the synopsis at the back of the book.
Regardless of predictability, Minnow on the Say is a charming tale. The author manages to capture the childlike innocence of two twelve-year old boys, Adam and David, who are on the search of Adam's family treasure. An orphan, Adam lives with his Aunt Dinah, who can barely afford to take care of him since she's not working, and the pension they live on from their grandfather isn't much either. When the talk of sending Adam to live with his cousins in Birmingham arises, Adam decides to find the treasure so that he can stay. The story is mainly seen through David, Adam's best friend who is drawn into the search as his friendship with Adam develops.
The story is set in the Barleys, a rural countryside somewhere in the UK, I'd say. I haven't taken Geography for three years now, so pardon my lack of sense. Either way, the author paints a beautiful picture of peace as she describes the place, with the green grass and the River Say behind the two main characters' houses. (Hence the 'Say' in the title. 'Minnow' is the name of the canoe that they use on their treasure hunting adventures). And the events that unfold as every chapter passes are the kind that keep you turning pages. From the discovery of the rhyme that was to be the clue to the treasure:
'When Phillip came to the single Rose
over the water,
The treasure was taken where no one knows
None but my daughter.
over the water,
The treasure was taken where no one knows
None but my daughter.
To the unexpected (almost) discovery of the treasure, the author never leaves you at a dull moment. The language is simple, and the story doesn't drag, so it's perfect for teens or children, at length. Think of it as a children's version of 'The Da Vinci' code, if you must. Minus the history lessons and killing, keeping only the 'treasure hunting' air.
A good read for when you need to keep things simple.
8 out of 10.
A good read for when you need to keep things simple.
8 out of 10.
at 9:29 AM
Friday, September 16, 2005
All powerful thingamabob. Bad guy wants it. Good guys want to stop bad guy from getting it because bad guy is either going to use it to take over the world or cause a lot of property damage. Good guy has an ultimate hero meant to get ultimate thingamabob. Guided by an old powerful guy whose power is supposed to be unrivalled except for maybe that of the bad guy, and a bunch of other different characters who don't nescesarrily get along, ultimate hero travels in search of ultimate thingamabob. Results in showdown. Good guys win.
That's the premise of your typical fantasy story. And truth be told, The Belgariad uses just that. Being the cheapskate who knows that buying the individual 5 books will cost him at least 160 bucks, I have taken the easier way out (not PLB, sadly) and bought the 2-book edition, where the first volume is a combination of the first three books while the second volume is a combination of the two remaining books. One volume costs 60 bucks, resulting in me having only to spend RM120. Saves RM40.
But don't think that RM40 is the only thing I gained from all this. I also learned a very important lesson. And that is that regardless of having an all too typical premise, with not much twists to wait out for, a book can still be entertaining if the author knows how to keep you interested. Now while David Eddings hasn't really created a storyline to shout about, the world he weaves is alive and diverse enough for you to keep turning pages as the motley crue of good guys travel from place to place in pursuit of the bad guy's lackey who has the thingamabob. Now some might say that creating a rich world with its history isn't new- Tolkien got there first. Well I'll admit the truth of that, but at least this diverse world isn't accompanied by annoying loud monologues, and the only characters that do go 'thee' and 'thou' are soundly made fun of by the other characters, who at least have the sense to talk like normal people.
Now in the Belgariad, the thingabamob is The Orb (of what, I can't remember), which is supposed to contain such awesome powers that it can cause uh... bad things. And a bad minion working for the ultimate bad God stole The Orb in hopes of using it to 'revive' his master (apparently Gods in this world can be rendered comatose too). Fighting to prevent this are Belgarath and Polgara- a sorcerer and a sorceress, who are also surprisingly a father-daughter team that take the opportunity to lash at each other once in a while. Though this hardly makes up for the sarcastic, horny Church nights supplied in The Elenium, their antics are good enough for a laugh once in a while. The main character is a starry-eyed and reluctant as Frodo, however. Meet Garion. He's not really special (they never are in the beginning of the book, are they?) but he's somehow meant to get The Orb back and kill the comatose God for good. Or at least thats how the prophecy's supposed to go. Accompanied by, like I said, a motley bunch of characters who don't nescesarrily get along with each other. Think, a guy who can talk to horses, a knight who thinks he's invincible, a werebear (of sorts), a guy who can walk through walls, a sarcastic spy (my favourite character) and a bitchy, spoiled brat princess. Their different personalities and their frequent quarrels add color to the already colorful world David Eddings has laid out in front of us, making the story all the more enjoyable. Though, as in The Elenium, the main characters and only two or three others truly get character development, that's a flaw you'll hardly really notice until you get to the end of the book and think back. So that's a plus side I guess.
But as I said, the main attraction is the world itself. As the poor fellows who signed up to be main characters trudge through snow, sand, forest, etc. etc., whilst getting shot at, poisoned, maimed, etc. etc., you'll notice that the places where they go are very much alive. Countries have their own culture, their own style of dressing, etc. etc. I found the Nyissans particularly interesting, but as the slot of 'main evil bad guy' had already been taken by the time their evil queen had been introduced, she had to leave rather early, depriving the reader of a sex scene (HAAARAAAAM!, scream the Biddah Police) between a brainwashed little boy and a narcissistic woman. Oh, wait, that was a good thing.
I haven't bought Volume Two, and despite the fact that I highly doubt there to be any surprising twists awaiting me in Volume Two, I'll buy it anyway because I like this book enough to do so.
Robin Hobb still rules the fantasy arena in my book, but David Eddings still deserves som respect.
Oh yeah, and it's better than The Elenium.
7.5 out of 10.
at 6:18 PM
Thursday, September 15, 2005
H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most renowned authors when it comes to horror. He's not that famous here in Malaysia, though. Blame it on lack of publicity for books, plus the fact that he's well, dead, and can't promote new things. His stories redefined the horror genre, in a sense, and till this day some stories are labelled as 'Lovecraftian style horror' because his style is, in essence, different than that of typical horror stories. Strangely enough, his original plan was to write sci-fi. He didn't like the fact that most sci-fi stories of that era depicted 'aliens' as 'humanly'. Indeed, the demons or Old Ones in his stories are meant to be aliens, in a sense, though they are a lot more bizarre. Think, really bizarre. Like beings that don't have actual physical form due to the fact that they live on a different plane altogether, or beings composed of sound. It's weird, but some people love it all the same. His stories are based on what he calls the Cthlhu Mythos, a chronology of events ranging from millions of years in the past since before dinosaurs were even on Earth, to the present day. All of them revolve around the 'Old Ones', who were said to have inhabited Earth at some point in time, and are now trying to come back here. Before you buy this book, you might have to decide whether you like Lovecraft's style. To try reading some of his works for FREE, click HERE.
And some knowledge on the Cthlhu Mythos itself would be helpful, though not essential. For that, click HERE.
So basically, this book is a compilation of stories based on the Mythos, written by Lovecraft's fans or friends. Truth be told, however, you don't need to be a fan of Lovecraft's works to read them. They're creepy all the same, exploring areas concerning demons, and insanity, and like Lovecraft's original stories, most are written in first person view, amplifying the horror factor when it comes to the bits about insanity. Though there are one or two stories that are more like history reports which you can skip, ones like 'The Statement of One John Gibson', where it is written as a statement, followed by a cassette recording from an asylum are REALLY good. Others to check out are 'The Plain of Sound' and 'Demoniacal'. New and bizarre concepts are explored in certain stories, like the usage of rock and roll occult music to summon a demon, and a futuristic movie set with shapeshifting actors. All in all, as it is an anthology, it's hard to judge as a whole, and it's hard to give it an accurate score.
As a newly-converted Lovecraft fan, I give it an 8 out of 10.
Aï! Aï! Cthulhu fhtagn!
at 11:16 AM
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
The second book in the Farseer trilogy by Robin Hobb, and by far possibly the best of the three, this book picks up where the first left off, with Regal's assassination attempt on Fitz failed miserably, where the main character still isn't in a situation to do anything about it but return to Buckeep as he is bound by duty to the King. Regal grows impatient to succeed the throne, and as he grows more ambitious, so do his attempts grow more extreme. Though the premise of being stuck in a situation where you can't do anything to the person who's repeatedly trying to kill you has been used (and proved to be fun to read) in the previous book, this book explores further into Fitz growingly complicated life. His duty to the King interferes with his love life, which recieves a stunning revival with the return of a certain someone, his ability with the Skill leads to some problems, conspiracies are being formed, and all the while, the Kingdom is STILL under fire from the Red Pirates, who seem to be getting further and further inland. And still no one is getting any closer to solving the mystery of Forging.
A lot of characters are developed in this book, again proving Robin Hobb's finesse. Most first-person type books aren't very capable of giving a balanced view on its other characters, but Robin Hobb pulls it off. Verity faces his problems as King-in-Waiting. Burrich's disapproval of Fitz's usage of the Skill still threatens their relationship. The Fool remains as mysterious as ever, and darker characters are given more spotlight in this book. The turn of events also remains, as before, unpredictable, making this book harder to put down than the first as the twists come so suddenly and so unexpectedly that they send you reeling with every passing chapter. The ending also end convieniently for you to start rushing to the stores for Book 3.
Another matter that I would like to bring to attention is the introduction of the character Nighteyes, the wolf, which leads to the forming of possibly the most powerful human-animal bonds ever.
Robin Hobb again wields power over our emotions. Expect to grumble, scream, shout and smile with every event that the main character experiences. With the bulk of the Farseer Trilogy in this book, if you've gotten this far, you'll realize that the 60+bucks spent (on this one and the one before) was well spent. More than well spent, even. I keep it with me, alongside His Dark Materials and The Sight, which shows just how much I adore this series.
And yet I only have Shahril to discuss it with. (rolls eyes)
Khairul won't take my word for this, but this book deserves a 10 out of 10. 12 even. It's that damn good.
at 11:09 PM
Saturday, September 10, 2005
There, with Stephen King behind me, I’ve finally returned to my original pace. Yep, I’m done with Wolf Brother, in less than a day too, and when that happens, you know what that means, haha. Well even if it is no secret that I have a passion for books that have wolves in them, I’ll try my best not to let that influence my judgment in this review. Now Wolf Brother has been out for quite a while now, truthfully. I remember seeing a book review in the paper, comparing its success to the success of Harry Potter. (Another book that has received this form of praise is Lionboy, though I have yet to try that one out. Guess wolves come first.) Being a diehard Potter fan, though my enthusiasm for the series has particularly declined since the tragedy that was Order of the Phoenix, I would not say that this book is better than Harry Potter, but that’s only because in my honest opinion, the two books are two different categories altogether. Although they’re both categorized under the Young Adult section, the brand of fantasy involved in the two are significantly different, which means that Wolf Brother is a truly original concept not derived in any way from Rowling’s work.
Now, where Rowling painted a world of magic and sorcery hidden in our own world, colored it with bright characters and interesting objects, Michelle Paver takes a world that could very well exist in our own, set right after the thaw of the Ice Age, when Man was still exploring the vast lands. (Which specific era, Mesolithic, Paleolithic, don’t ask. I’ve forgotten how to tell the difference). The main character is Torak, a young boy who’s just lost his father to a bear possessed by a demon. At his deathbed, his father sends him on a quest tied to the destruction of the demon-bear, as if the bear isn’t stopped, the Forests will all die. Or something catastrophic of that magnitude. The opening of the book immediately thrusts us into that situation, which might prove to be a little too fast for some people, but if you’re willing to ignore it, the story steadily builds up at an interesting pace, revealing more things about Torak’s past and his world as the story progresses. Seeing that the premise of this story is basically a journey, it would of course be filled with some other characters, friends and enemies. Although the demon-bear would be considered as the penultimate monster-enemy-that-deserves-a-climactic-battle in the finale, the twist of logic in this story is that Torak’s enemies include nature itself. Fever, avalanches, wild animals, you get the picture. Magic exists in this book, though not in such an obvious way as portrayed in Harry Potter where wands and flashy lights define ‘magic’. Magic as depicted in this book is more primal, and less obvious, though the end of the book hinted that even more would be in store for the sequels, leaving me obviously craving more.
As for the story’s pace, as the opening was a bit sudden, the rest of the story falls in place rather quickly, and takes you through a roller-coaster ride which will keep you turning pages, as there is seldom a long moment of quiet rest for the main characters. This doesn’t mean that the author doesn’t take time to detail her world enough though, in fact, the journey takes Torak far enough for the reader to appreciate how the world was before machines and stone buildings were made. The raw power of nature, and the tribal spirit of Man, Michelle Paver pulls off this piece of work wonderfully. I wouldn’t be able to judge yet, but if I’m not mistaken, the ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ series would possibly be comparable to this story, though Clan of the Cave Bear would probably be targeted for older audiences, judging by its thickness. One of these days, if Michelle Paver takes too long to write a sequel, I might just pick it up.
If there was any flaw in this book as far as I can tell, it’s that the pace can sometimes get a bit too fast, to a point where you probably won’t feel for some characters as much as you would like to. You’ll probably realize this at the very end, however, so don’t worry about having to drag yourself through this book, because you definitely won’t. In a sense that this book is a definite crowd pleaser for adults and children alike, in the end you could probably compare it to Harry Potter after all. So from now on, maybe I shouldn’t look at that ‘as good as Harry Potter’ tag so skeptically. Judging from past disappointments, however, I will still avoid the ‘better than Phillip Pullman’s Dark Materials’ tag, and the ever-annoying, still rampant in the market ‘BETTER THAN THE DA VINCI CODE’ tag.
All in all, yeah, I’m satisfied.
8.5 out of 10. Bring on the sequel, Ms. Paver!
P.S-This author would like to point out that the ‘better than Da Vinci Code’ tag, has only not disappointed him once, and that was for ‘The Rule of Four’.
at 9:15 AM
Friday, September 09, 2005
My third Stephen King book that I've finished. Where to begin? Of course with the name 'Stephen King' emblazoned on the cover, one can't help but expect a lot, regardless of whether you're a newcomer or a longtime fan (I'm neither). Others, who have tried Stephen King and decided that his style is way too slow-paced for their tastes would know well enough to stop trying. Longtime fans who haven't read this have probably been discouraged by bad reviews, considering the fact that most fans who have tend to use the words 'disappointment' and 'Tommyknockers' in the same sentence. Well, since I'm neither a longtime fan nor a newcomer, in the end I'll have to say that I'm neither disappointed nor impressed for that matter. This book merely just 'is', where it does have glaring flaws as some fans claim, it has certain areas where it makes up for those flaws.
Alright, 'The Tommyknockers' is practically about an alien invasion of some sort. B-Grade? Not quite. And it's definitely not as typical as most 'body-snatchers' type alien stories are, though the premise would sound the same. The first part revolves around one Bobbi Anderson, who stumbles upon a strange metal object deep in the woods on the outskirts of a small town called Haven. Overcome by a strange urge, she begins digging it out, while small changes start happening to her. The story then shifts to that of Jim Gardner, Bobbi's boyfriend who's out of town at the time. Being the main protagonist of the story, he finds himself back in Haven (albeit, after a long series of unnescesarry events) to find that something is changing not just Bobbi, but all the folks of Haven. This series of events are told through small 'chapters', as the focus is removed from Jim to the rest of Haven's inhabitants, who notice the changes one way or another. And after following the viewpoint of all these people, the story ties up at the end with Gardner. A rather unique style, I'd say, which probably earns this story extra points. And since I'm an occasional sci-fi fan, the whole 'alien' premise wasn't a turn-off. It helped that the aliens weren't exactly typical, and as King always does, he makes his characters as real as real can be. Cynical, and sarcastic at times, characters in this story as you'd expect real life people to. That has always been King's finer points, in my honest opinion.
Now to the downsides. As I have often said, King isn't someone who makes you want to speed through a book. Chances are, you'll want to put down the book come 100th page or so, but as usual, if you stick around long enough, the fun'll come around eventually. You may take a few days (or weeks in my case) to get through the book, and at the end, you may not find those weeks worth it, but you won't curse yourself for paying for the book either (especially if you buy it at PLB like me). The plot has a few holes in it, here and there, and the climactic confrontations at the end left much to be desired, and you'll feel like King had a lot more explaining to do (on the Tommyknockers' part. The human parts were as usual, elaborated all TOO well).
This book has its share of moments, and being a horror novel, the moments I'm talking about are creepy. Sorta. Depends on how you define creepy. Talking dolls, and Jesus potraits, oh, and a Coke machine that moves around and kills people. Oh yeah. I'd say the moving Coke machine was the best thing in this book. Haha.
Seeing that I absolutely loved 'Salem's Lot', comparisons between the two are inevitable, so I'll just say that 'Salem's Lot' was way better than this. Of course this may possibly due to the effects the Cthulhu Mythos has had on my perception of aliens. But in all due honesty, 'Salem's Lot' didn't have as much flaws as this one did, but Tommyknockers still makes a decent read.
Now I can finally get my claws on Wolf Brother.
5 out of 10.
at 7:50 AM