Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Collection of Reviews

Once again I have forgotten to update and have gotten through a few more books that I now have to try to remember so I can write my thoughts on them here. Thank goodness I write some of my reviews on Goodreads or I'd be working on this all day. In any case, it's probably going to take an hour or so anyways. But I have the time.

Since my last post I have finished reading five full novels and two or three short stories and sequels. I won't list them all here, though. Three shall suffice. The first is:

Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Goodreads synopsis:
Life of Pi is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe.
Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel - known as Pi - has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions - Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.
But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen, his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest oftravelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.
Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.
As Yann Martel has said in one interview, “The theme of this novel can be summarized in three lines. Life is a story. You can choose your story. And a story with an imaginative overlay is the better story.” And for Martel, the greatest imaginative overlay is religion. “God is a shorthand for anything that is beyond the material - any greater pattern of meaning.” In Life of Pi, the question of stories, and of what stories to believe, is front and center from the beginning, when the author tells us how he was led to Pi Patel and to this novel: in an Indian coffee house, a gentleman told him, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” And as this novel comes to its brilliant conclusion, Pi shows us that the story with the imaginative overlay is also the story that contains the most truth.
My Thoughts:
I just want to first comment on how thorough the above synopsis is. It leaves little to wonder about and I am very glad that it is as such. I, for one, started out knowing nothing about the book I planned on reading except for what I concluded from the cover; that a boy is stranded on a boat with a tiger. Knowing that tigers could kill a man with one swat, this cover literally made me want to read this book. I mean, it's beautiful, isn't it? This cover tells a small portion of the story and urges you to pick the book up and learn more. I think every book cover should do as much.
And then you read the synopsis and feel as if you already know everything about the book. But you don't, really. There is so much more than the few facts that are given. Sure, the first 'part' of the book is full of facts about animals and such, but Pi Patel grew up in a zoo and animals are very much a part of this story so why not have a few facts about them? They might help you understand more later on. 
Another wonderful thing about 'Life Of Pi' is that it is possibly based on a real story. I personally didn't do any research to find out if that is true or not or if it was just part of the narrative, but the 'Author's Note' makes it seem as much and therefore I will believe it is but mostly because there is no consequence to my doing so.  If someone were to read this and say to themselves, "Haha. You thought that really happened," I wouldn't think much of it because, fiction or not, it happened in my head as I read and that counts as well as anything. But knowing that it might possibly be true makes it all the better. (Except when you get to the end and wonder if the story really had animals or not.)
In any case, 'Life Of Pi' is a beautiful story that I thoroughly enjoyed reading and gave five stars on Goodreads. I would definently recommend it.

Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
****+ (4 & 1/2 stars)
Goodreads Synopsis:
Four decades of peace have done little to ease the mistrust between humans and dragons in the kingdom of Goredd. Folding themselves into human shape, dragons attend court as ambassadors, and lend their rational, mathematical minds to universities as scholars and teachers. As the treaty's anniversary draws near, however, tensions are high.
Seraphina Dombegh has reason to fear both sides. An unusually gifted musician, she joins the court just as a member of the royal family is murdered—in suspiciously draconian fashion. Seraphina is drawn into the investigation, partnering with the captain of the Queen's Guard, the dangerously perceptive Prince Lucian Kiggs. While they begin to uncover hints of a sinister plot to destroy the peace, Seraphina struggles to protect her own secret, the secret behind her musical gift, one so terrible that its discovery could mean her very life.
In her exquisitely written fantasy debut, Rachel Hartman creates a rich, complex, and utterly original world. Seraphina's tortuous journey to self-acceptance is one readers will remember long after they've turned the final page.
My Thoughts:
I've always been intrigued by 'wood-cuts' so this books cover stands out to me but it was the synopsis that really got my attention. Dragons that can transform into humans? Yes, thank you. What a concept!
Truly it is one of the most unique and interesting fantasies I have ever read and definently one of the best fantasy novels I have read so far this year. I was intrigued by all the characters, especially the 'unique' ones. I've read a few young adult novels this year that left me absolutely horrified for the future of young adult literature, in which I wanted to throttle the author, editor, and publisher, but Seraphina was not like those other novels. Seraphina's author, editor, and publisher deserve praise and multiple hugs for sharing this incredible fantasy with the world. I'll admit that there were some not so well rated reviews that I read and agreed with on the fact that there was not a ton of action in this novel, but the worldbuilding and attention to detail are so very worth the read. I haven't read of such well described co-existing species since maybe Lord Of The Rings. Hartman did an amazing job of bringing us humans in a medieval world, dragons that can transform into human form, and the product of both in such a unique and well thought out way.
Knowing that this is the first in a trilogy has just peaked my interest even more. I am highly anticipating the next installment, 'Drachomachia', and even took a few minutes to read the short prequel, ' The Audition', which can be found free to read online through Goodreads.


Changeling by Philippa Gregory
** (2 out of 5 stars)
Goodreads Synopsis:
Dark myths, medieval secrets, intrigue, and romance populate the pages of the first-ever teen series from #1 bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl. Italy, 1453. Seventeen-year-old Luca Vero is brilliant, gorgeous—and accused of heresy. Cast out of his religious order for using the new science to question old superstitious beliefs, Luca is recruited into a secret sect: The Order of the Dragon, commissioned by Pope Nicholas V to investigate evil and danger in its many forms, and strange occurrences across Europe, in this year—the end of days.
     Isolde is a seventeen-year-old girl shut up in a nunnery so she can’t inherit any of her father’s estate. As the nuns walk in their sleep and see strange visions, Isolde is accused of witchcraft—and Luca is sent to investigate her, but finds himself plotting her escape.
     Despite their vows, despite themselves, love grows between Luca and Isolde as they travel across Europe with their faithful companions, Freize and Ishraq. The four young people encounter werewolves, alchemists, witches, and death-dancers as they head toward a real-life historical figure who holds the boundaries of Christendom and the secrets of the Order of the Dragon.
     The first in a series, this epic and richly detailed drama is grounded in historical communities and their mythic beliefs. It includes a medieval map of Europe that will track their journey; and the interior will include relevant decorative elements as well as an interior line illustration. And look for a QR code that links to a note from the author with additional, detailed information about the setting and the history that informed the writing. With Philippa Gregory’s trademark touch, this novel deftly brings the past—and its salacious scandals—vividly and disturbingly to life.

My Thoughts:
As a longstanding lover of historical fiction, I felt the need to read this novel despite not having read any other Philippa Gregory novels beforehand (I just recently found a copy of 'The Other Boleyn Girl' but hadn't started it yet.) But I was very disappointed. First I'll give a short summary of the book and then my feelings on why it wasn't worth my time.
Luca Vera is sent by the 'Order Of Darkness' (or better known as the Order Of Dragons') to investigate and inquire into what is happening at a nunnery on the lands of the Lord Lucretili. There he finds the beautiful Isolde Lucretili, whom has been named Lady Abess, but also finds a place of chaos, madness, and (what is assumed to be) evil.

That is about as interesting as a summary I can give. The actual Goodreads synopsis is a bit misleading. I'm guessing all that they mentioned in it covers the entire series and not just this book. The characters were very dull and I felt like I was reading the same thing worded differently over and over in each paragraph of dialogue. Moreover, there was no direction of plot and it ended in the middle of a bigger story without leaving you satisfied. As a series, I could understand that there is more to the story, but I for one won't even be bothering with the rest. I gave this 2 out of 5 stars because it was simply 'ok' and nothing more.


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