creative [kree-ey-tiv]: adjective. Synonyms: clever, cool, innovative, inspired, prolific, stimulating.

criticism [krit-uh-siz-uhm]: noun. The act of passing judgment as to the merits of anything.

30 Aug 2010

The Sea of Monsters - Rick Riordan

The second novel in the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series is, like the first, very very good.
This time, the thirteen year-old Percy Jackson is accompanied by Annabeth (again) and Tyson - a very tall and ugly and socially rejected kid that attended school with Percy this year - and once again a quest! appears. Yes, it involves Grover. This new quest more or less follows Odysseus' odyssey, and by the end of the book the plot surrounding the eeeeevil titan Kronos thickens.
Now, I have to draw the inevitable parallels between Percy Jackson's series and Harry Potter's: in both cases we have a heroic but not perfect hero (Percy), who has an extremely smart female friend (Annabeth), a bit of a comic relief of a best friend (Grover), whose adventures take place at a specific time of year (during the summer), feature a magical location away from his parent(s) (Half-Blood camp), and... It doesn't matter. Because these resemblances in no way detract from the story's enjoyability.

29 Aug 2010

Much Fall of Blood - Mercedes Lackey, Eric Flint & Dave Freer

Once again, this story concerns a certain Prince Manfred of Brittany and a certain Erik something-or-other from Iceland. This time, though, their story takes place in lands held by the Golden Horde, the Mongols. And we have a very strong female protagonist, the princess of the Hawk clan, Bortai, who is actually likable.
So first things first: the cover. It pretty much screams "FANTASY FICTION!" with its typeface and colour of typeface, and with its shiny cover art. That's all I have to say about it, really.
One thing that I appreciated very much about this novel was that the chapters were short, to the point, and they switched between the different characters' points of view. Also, since this 594-page book is divided into nine parts and 85 chapters (a lot, I KNOW), you get an average chapter-length of 6.98 pages. So if you read so much of this novel in one sitting that you get sick of it, it's your own damn fault.
Now, to be honest, the beginning of the story was slow. A bit boring, too - I'm not a huge fan of fictional political intrigue, and it's been a while since I read This Rough Magic, the immediate prequel. Thankfully, the pace picked up once elements of fantasy fiction (werewolf-ish gypsy-ish people! A dude who is almost a reincarnation of his legendary mad grandfather!) and ass-kickery were introduced, to make for an overall okay read. I don't regret reading it, but I won't re-read it either.

28 Aug 2010

(500) Days of Summer - That 2009 movie

Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Zooey Deschanel. What's not to love?
I liked it - except maybe for the you've-got-to-be-kidding-me ending and the fact that Summer's storyline is a bit um... Nonsensical. Out of character.
But apart from that, I really liked this movie; it's a non-linear story with little bouts of interesting cinematography in-between the major plot points. It's enjoyable, even when you want to tell some characters that they're being real douchefaces.

26 Aug 2010

Persepolis - Marjane Satrapi

This is just so good!
You've probably heard about the film, but this is about the novel. The graphic novel, to be precise. And it is just SO good!
It's a bit of a memoir of Marjane Satrapi's life growing up in Iran between 1979 and 1984 - from when she was nine to when she was fourteen. It spans from the Iranian revolution to the institution of the Islamic theocracy, up until when her parents sent her to Austria to continue her education in a social environment where she'd be happier.
It's touching, heartwarming, heartbreaking and even funny at times - it puts the universal experience of growing up in a setting which I really was not familiar at all. Plus, it does all that in a sequential art format. It's great, really!

The Winter Oak - James A. Hetley

Apparently this is a sequel to The Summer Country (by the same author), but oh well.
To be absolutely honest, the only reason I picked up this book was because, as the blurb on the back tells us, there's a dragon called Khe'sha. I giggled a little bit (I mean, who wouldn't?), and decided that what the heck, this 295-page-long fantasy novel (magic! People with the Old Blood can wield Power! And Important Words are always Capitalized!), with a partial setting in the real world and a partial setting in a Celtic fantasy world, and several nods to Arthurian legend.
It was okay - at times I felt like I missed something that would explain some of the characters' motives (as in, why does Jo suddenly decide to, um, try to convince policepeople that she had killed her father? What? I don't get it!), and I got a few "um, what? Why?" moments, but it's all right. I was still reasonably entertained.

Infinite Jest - David Foster Wallace

This book is HUGE, and challenging, and I'll have to pay some overdue-book library fines for it. Oh well.
Let me put it into hard data for you: the story is 981 pages long, and we're talking about some standard-size, 43-lines long, size 12 text here. And then you have 98 pages' worth of endnotes (388 endnotes total). Which makes for a 23.5 cm (9.5") long, 15 cm (6") wide, and 5 cm (2") thick brick - and that's with a soft cover.
Now, about the story itself: it's a nonlinear narration that follows a bunch of characters. These include a competitive-junior-tennis player and total pothead who attends this tennis academy his parents have founded, his older brother, his older brother's super pretty ex-girlfriend, an ex-Demerol addict dude with a huge head who now works at a halfway house down the hill from the tennis academy, and a superviolent Québec separatist terrorist cell descriptively named Les Assassins en Fauteuils Roulants (The Wheelchaired Assassins). Plus a bunch of other characters. Who are all, in twisted and non-obvious and often surprising ways, interconnected.
This novel (published in 1996, hey look at that right after the last Québec Referendum; this might explain why Québec Separatism is such a huge thing in this book) takes place in the future - that is, at about this point in time. However, I don't know that for sure since a new time-naming system has been conceived to help keep the North American economy strong; years are sponsored by different products. So you get the Year of the Trial-Size Dove Bar. Or the Year of the Whopper. Or the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (which is the year of the story). Which is rather confusing until, after a few hundred pages or so, a convenient list of the years' chronological order just appears.
Ok, so what else... A huge northeastern chunk of the United States and of eastern Canada (bye-bye New Brunswick and southeastern Québec!) is called the great Concavity. You see, instead of filling up landfills everywhere in north america, the O.N.A.N. just launches its garbage (on prime numbered days only!) into that region, the Concavity. Which is the site of so-called "annular fission", a weird thing that removes toxic waste from the environment to provide literally clean energy to the ONANite countries. So essentially what happens is that in the early part of the month the Concavity is this teratogenic, carcinogenic, toxic wasteland, and in the late part of the month it becomes this super lush and overgrown jungle full of feral hamsters and "insects of Volkswagen size". You know what? I think this means it's a dystopian novel. Because seriously, wtf?
The thing about this novel, though, is that the entire story feels like a giant foreshadowing of this dark, looming and terribly awful thing that's going to happen - and after the first chapter you know something really messed up happened - and yet it never tells you what happened. Or really, what will happen; the novel ends on a completely unresolved note (um, spoiler alert I guess?). It's a great read, though; a challenging one, but even without resolution I think it's worth it.
On a final note: although it didn't take me 100 years to read Infinite Jest (yes, I'm bragging right now), it did take me almost two weeks. I wasn't reading anything else. IT'S JUST SO HUGE!

13 Aug 2010

The Lightning Thief - Rick Riordan

The first novel of the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series is very very good. No, really - I read it in two sittings, it's that good. (Yes, I enjoyed it very much)
If you've seen the movie, you'll easily recognize the first chapters of the book - except that you should visualize Percy as a twelve-year-old sixth-grader, and not the seventeen-year-old high schooler who took the lead role in the movie. Be warned, though: starting from Percy's arrival at Camp Half-Blood, all the details change, and a slightly different (but essentially the same) story is told from then on.
Apart from that, what is there to say? The story is a lot of fun to read, full of action and adventure and Greek mythology (wooot!). I can't wait to get my hands on the sequel!

12 Aug 2010

Shambling Towards Hiroshima - James Morrow

This novel takes place in 1945, before the end of WWII on the Japanese front, and the US has two options to end the war: 1. they could use the result of Project Manhattan and drop an A-bomb on the Japanese, or 2. they could use the results of the top secret Knickerbocker project and release a behemoth of unsurpassed deadliness, a gigantic biological weapon that's essentially a ginormous fire-breathing super-aggressive iguana, who would wreck havoc and destruction upon any Japanese city. The thing is, they don't want to release any Godzilla if they can avoid it, so they want to make a mini-demonstration of its destructive powers to a handful of Japanese emissaries. And that's where our first-person narrator comes in.
Syms Thorley is a B-list horror movie actor, who specializes in playing The Monster in various 1930s and 1940s horror movies. Mummies, Frankensteinian monsters, and other prosthetics-and-makeup-heavy characters are his specialty - and he has the shamble, the limping walk down pat for every character. If you haven't guessed his role in the story yet, look closely at the cover art. That's it.
This was a somewhat short, very witty, and quite entertaining read. It reminded me a bit of Kurt Vonnegut's writing style, except less ADHD-like, a more focused narrative that skipped from flashback (in 1945) to present-tense and -time narration (pretty much every chapter begins with our narrator telling us what distraction occurred when he wrote the previous chapter).
(And by the way, I lifted the picture from this thing, which is a far more detailed review-like-thing with a much better exploration of this book's themes. Click on the link!)

11 Aug 2010

À Ciel Ouvert - Nelly Arcan

In this 270-page-long novel, Nelly Arcan explored themes ranging from the obsession with beauty to the obsession with love, while touching on mental, physical, sexual and emotional health issues.
Because let's face it, all of the main characters have issues. First you have Rose, a stylist who is addicted to plastic surgery (or so I saw it), and is obsessively in love with her boyfriend-then-ex, Charles, with whom she incidentally works with. She's also pretty misogynistic and has some issues about women being her competition in love, which stems from her childhood.
Then you have Julie, a documentary writer who has to deal with her own alcoholism and her drug issues, as well as her zombie-like state of existence following her last breakup, years ago, which only gets broken once she "steals" Charles from Rose. She's also very driven when it comes to maintaining her appearance, with frequent harmful effects (burning in the sunlight, badly injuring her shoulder while working out, scarring, that kind of thing).
And then you have Charles, the photographer with the traumatic childhood, the sexuality issues, and the mental health issues which pop up later in the novel and swell from there on.
The content was depressing, but this novel was also very well presented; Arcan's prose is fluid, and while some of her sentences might seem a little run-on and superfluous, they do manage to successfully dictate the pace and ambiance of the story. An okay read.

8 Aug 2010

Inception - That 2010 movie

Oh where to begin?
I liked this movie. It wasn't really confusing (or at least, a lot more simple than the reviews I'd read made it seem), and it was a very interesting concept to begin with: how do you plant an idea into someone? People can trace back the genesis of their ideas, so you want to make them think that they thought of it first. And since there's some convenient dream-invasion technology available, guess how our protagonists do what they have to do?
Anyways. You have Leonardo Dicaprio, Ellen Page, and a guy named Joseph Gordon-Levitt whom I had never heard of before this movie, and who looks a lot like a skinnier (and more alive) Heath Ledger. The whole concept of layers of dreams reminded me of the layers of the Twilight in the Night Watch series of novels. (Yes, I had to bring a book in somewhere!) And... well, it's a very entertaining movie, that I might even watch again someday. Maybe.

7 Aug 2010

The Amulet of Samarkand - Jonathan Stroud

This first installment of the Bartimaeus Trilogy has two protagonists. There's Nathaniel (shh, that's his birth name! And names have power!), later called John Mandrake (his official magician's name), an eleven-year-old magician's apprentice. He's apprenticed to a weak, abusive magician who takes out his frustration about his stagnant political career on Nat. In this world (set in contemporary time), magic is real and magicians are the (educated) ruling class; they control the British government, and by extension the rest of the Empire. Whose entire power comes from their mastery of demons, from the weak imps and foliots to the common djinns to the powerful afrits to the so-powerful-at-least-two-magicians-are-needed-to-summon-and-control madrits, to even more powerful (but fortunately uncommon) beings.
Speaking of the supernatural, our second protagonist is Bartimaeus. He's a medium-power djinn who shapeshifts a lot, and has a quick wit, plenty of sass, snark and sarcasm, an over 5000-year-long backstory (barely hinted at in this book), and an oversized ego. The chapters told from his (first-person) perspective are also a much more fun read than those from Nathaniel's (third person narration), not only because of Bartimaeus' wit but also because of his liberal use of footnotes. This makes sense if you've read the book.
I particularly liked how the vocabulary and themes were beyond what is expected of a YA novel: Bartimaeus is a very articulate djinn indeed, and this novel doesn't shy from tackling prejudice, social injustice, oppression, and other interesting stuff. It's a really good novel! Read it now!

6 Aug 2010

Graceling - Kristin Cashore

It's a fantasy novel. Some people have extraordinary skills - called Graces - and you can spot them by looking at their eyes: they will have different colours. Like one blue eye and one green eye. Or one grey eye and one blue eye. Or one silver eye and one gold eye (why limit yourself to the range of natural human eye colours?!). In most of the world (in six of the seven kingdoms, basically), though, Gracelings are feared and shunned. So unless if you have an awesome or useful (for your king) Grace, your life will suck.
Anyways, this story is Katsa's. She is the niece to a bullying king, who has used her Grace to his gain by making her his right-hand woman as it is, the lady he can send to kill anyone, who'll do it effortlessly and that thus terrifies all of his underlords. But Katsa's obviously unhappy with this life, and then A WILD PLOT APPEARS.
KATSA USES RAGE (for all of the first part)
471 pages, 39 chapters, three distinctive sections later: I still think Katsa's Grace is very... convenient.
It was an okay read - not extraordinary, but not bad either - which is pretty normal considering it's Kristin Cashore's first novel. It dealt with issues ranging from dealing with prejudice, what it means to be independant, and understanding your limitations (even if you're a seemingly invincible character like the protagonist, Katsa). I would definitely reccomend it to any teen who likes fantasy fiction.

4 Aug 2010

Tigana - Guy Gavriel Kay

This is a novel of epic proportions.
I am not only referring to Kay's usual wordy and never-ending prose (or so it seems at times when you read it); I am also not simply alluding to the fact that the story is, as usual for Kay, epic (seriously, it's about how an entire peninsula and even two faraway kingdoms/empires are affected by the twenty-year toils of a few dedicated, passionate men who seek revenge over the tyrant who not only conquered their kingdom, but also bespelled it so that its true name, Tigana, could not be heard, written or in any way imparted to anyone who was not born there, so that its entire culture would be erased by the passage of time - ok I'll stop now.). I am also not just making a little joke about its 688-page (hardcover) length, or about the fact that the summary at the back literally refers to it as an "epic narrative that will change forever the boundaries of fantasy fiction."
I mean it literally: its proportions are impressive. This book is 13.5 cm (5.25 inches) wide, 22 cm (8.75") long, and an impressive 6 cm (2.25") thick. It is a real brick.
It was also a bit sluggish. And although I appreciated that there was a reference to Fionavar (the "original world" in Kay's mythology) in the legend of Finavir, it was just another detail amongst many others that could have been left out without losing anything of importance in the story.
A very long novel, great for when you have several months of vacation-time. Although I guess that if you only read one book at a time, this once could last for only two, maybe three weeks... An okay read.

3 Aug 2010

Super Mario Galaxy 2 - That Wii Game

The wonky gravity, the dubious physics, the space that's seemingly full of air (and thus pressure, which eliminates the need for a spacesuit in this Mario-world), the diminutive plumber, his abducted princess and the almighty Bowser (who nevertheless gets pwned by a diminutive plumber, once again) all come back in this second Super Mario game in space.
Now this game is great, and not-so-great all at the same time. Let me explain:
It is an AWESOME game because

  • The platform levels are all the more fun with weird gravity pits that twist your mind
  • The music! It's great!
  • If you've played the first Mario Galaxy, you can pick up the controller and understand this game immediately
  • Yoshi is there, and everybody loves Yoshi!
  • There is a LOT stuff to do; I haven't completed this game yet, but it takes you about 60 stars to get to the Final Bowser Fight, 120 stars to "finish all the levels", and then 240 stars to get to the last world. I shit you not.
  • It gives several shout-outs to the first Mario Galaxy (right after the Final Bowser Fight, you'll see what I mean, plus there's a world where all you do is fight Galaxy 1's first bosses), which is fun for those who've played it.
  • It also gives some shout-outs to Super Mario Sunshine (another of my favorite Mario games): one level in particular is lifted straight from Sunshine (from one of the "Hotel Something Secret" levels. You know what I mean)
It is a not-so-great game, though, for a few reasons:
  • Most levels are too easy. Especially if you've played Galaxy 1 and are already familiar with the controls; the first four worlds (they include 6 galaxies each) especially.
  • Just like in Galaxy 1, the Bowser fights are repetitive. It's essentially the same fight each time, which is, frankly, boring.
  • Personal pet peeve: you can't keep all the extra lives you earn, you have to start every game-play with a set number of Marios. Which is annoying when you get a BUNCH of them, stop the game and lose them all, and then get one of the really challenging levels the next time you play.
I had fun, though.