Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Fool Moon by Jim Butcher

Book two in the Dresden Files. Click here for book one.

Plot: Chicago wizard Harry Dresden is back for another life-threatening, magical mystery packed with plenty of suspicion, bad relationships, and...werewolves? Harry must struggle to uncover the mastermind - and motive - behind periodic gruesome murders while at the same time attempting to salvage his working relationship with Special Investigations officer Murphy. It may prove too much to juggle in this dangerous game of human and metamorphosing canine.

Comments: The friend who recommended this series to me claimed that the books just get better as the series continues. I was rather skeptical - I've read many series that sort of peter out, and, after all, book one would be a hard book to top anyway. But I was wrong. So very wrong.

Fool Moon is - if possible - even better than Storm Front, which is to say, Fool Moon is an incredibly entertaining story. I still love the character Harry Dresden for all of his awkwardness and misfortune, and also for his steely determination and natural instinct to protect everyone. I must admit that I don't particularly like the character Karrin Murphy even though Harry respects and loves her greatly as a colleague. In his narrations Harry has recalled good times with Karrin, but in the first two books of the series, she spends most of the time not trusting him, bossing him around, and in Fool Moon, trying to arrest him. I understand that she's a police officer and has a duty to the law, but the way she acts is prejudiced and practically traitorous. It's like she was looking for evidence to point to Harry as the suspect, already believing that he was the murderer.

I liked the new characters in this story. I have a feeling that each book in the series will introduce a new cast peppered with characters to hate, characters to love, and some odd balls throw in just to spice things up. One of my favorites was Tera West, a mysterious, lupine woman intent on saving her fiance no matter what it takes - and who has absolutely no problem with public nudity. Just putting that out there. I must say that betwixt all the treacherous political maneuvering, hunting for illegal magic users, and near-death experiences, Harry has certainly managed to find time in these past two books for a bit of risque business with women. Well, if I recall correctly she was the same woman in both books, but I'm just pointing out that this type of adult fantasy generally includes some romance to cater to a different part of the crowd. Not that it takes away from the quality of the book - if anything, the tangled emotions add flavor and suspense to the story.

Rating: I rate this book a ten out of ten. Read Storm Front, and then read this book.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Shifter by Janice Hardy

Plot: In a world filled with magical healers, Nya has an unusual power: instead of just healing pain, she can shift pain from one person to another. This puts her in a dangerous position and Nya is forced into hiding. But when healer apprentices begin to disappear, including Nya's younger sister, she must unravel the mystery and save the apprentices - no matter what the cost.

Comments: This book was great! It was creative, well-explained, and very touching. I love Nya's stubborn personality and protectiveness for her sister. Nya made this story lively and the problems personal. She wouldn't give up, and I admire that greatly. From the very first chapter, I loved Nya, and Danello, the cute boy who helps her on this precarious journey. It was interesting how Soek was introduced as a kind-of love rival for Nya, but I'm not entirely sure where he "went" at the end of the book. There was no further mention of him, which was confusing. But I liked how Danello was jealous because it proved how much he liked Nya.

The politics were a little complicated in this book, which got in the way of the story. Some parts regarding the Duke and the Luminary and others were rather hard to follow, and though I was able to continue reading the story, it became slightly more difficult to read because of this. I feel as if the author also could have been more clear on the issues between the two different races in this book. I was confused as to how one knows what race you are (it had nothing to do with skin color - just hair color, apparently), and...the whole thing was not well explained. I also don't understand why they hate each other and disliked the prejudice Nya had against the more powerful, wealthier race.

Rating: I rate this book an eight out of ten.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Small Gods by Terry Pratchett

Plot: When the Great God Om appears to lowly temple novice Brutha as a turtle, it takes a while to convince the rather slow Brutha that it's really Him. After all, Om has only ever appeared as a huge bull, or a swan - impressive, god-like forms. But Om is reluctant to tell Brutha that He, the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient Om, is in fact stuck in turtle-form. So He strings Brutha along on a dangerous journey, but little does he expect that obedient god-fearing Brutha is beginning to think for himself.

Comments: When I began reading Small Gods, I expected another of Terry Pratchett's hilariously witty, light-hearted fantasy novels. So I was completely thrown off balance when it turned out to be a lot deeper and more philosophical than any Pratchett story I've ever read. Small Gods isn't just the story of Om and Brutha; it's also a powerful message about morality, religion, and what is truly right. The story started very slowly, and even once the physical journey began the plot pace was rather sluggish. But I was interested, and once I shook off any remaining expectations, I really got into the book.

I love the way Brutha changed in this story. It started when he began to hesitate before obeying orders, and to question the judgement of his superiors. By the end of the book, Brutha openly defies Om several times - but by now, Om has been influenced by His experiences with Brutha, and He changes too. Instead of his original goal of obtaining as many followers as possible, Om's newly grown conscience causes him to shift paths. His big decision towards the end of the book made me smile, and it was inspiring, too. This is definitely a great story showing the enormous changes in two different characters based on each other.

The politics and long philosophical/scientific debates and explanations were a bit tedious for me. Perhaps that component depends on your personal taste, but it was slightly dry in my opinion. As always, I love the way Death was portrayed in this book as a character, and though his part wasn't all that large in this particular story, it had a poetic ring to it. It's nice to feel like you know Death. The desert with black sand was a great image, and I like the idea that judgement lies at the end of the desert.

Rating: I rate this book a seven out of ten.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Storm Front by Jim Butcher

Book One in The Dresden Files. Click here for book two.

Excerpt from book (sign on office door):

"Harry Dresden - Wizard
Lost Items Found. Paranormal Investigations. 
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates. No Love Potions, 
Endless Purses, Parties, or Other Entertainment."

Plot: Harry Dresden is a wizard by trade living in the busy city of Chicago. To put it nicely, most people are rather skeptical as to the existence of magic, and therefore as to the stability of Harry's mental health. He doesn't really mind, but business is rather slow, barely managing with the occasional checks from the police department where he is sometimes called in as a "psychic consultant". But when a grisly murder is committed using black magic and Harry is blamed, he realizes that a bit of drama isn't all it's cracked up to be. As the mysterious murderer continues, it's up to Harry to uncover their identity and put an end to the horrifying deaths.

Comments: I absolutely loved this book! The mystery sucked me in, and I couldn't put it down. Harry is a well-formed character, easy to imagine and impossible not to love. He's awkward yet confident, simple, clever, and a sweetheart. I can visualize his tall figure striding down the street, coat whipping around his thin frame. The descriptions in the book clearly painted pictures in my mind, without being overly detailed. I felt very much involved in the story, like I was watching it all happen from the sidelines. It's fun, being able to imagine Harry's face when Susan tricks him into agreeing to a date, or being a silent spectator cheering Harry on when he faces the murderer once and for all. Harry's character infuses the story with amazing life and spirit.

The murders are rather grisly (as afore mentioned), and the descriptions are certainly vivid. There's definitely a mature theme in this story - Harry has some interesting moments with women, too - though nothing too drastic. I wouldn't recommend this for a middle schooler, but for high school students, this book is great. I'd also like to point out that Storm Front would be a great book for adult readers as well. The writing is sophisticated and the concept and theme slightly dark and definitely mature, but if you aren't a fantasy fan, perhaps this isn't the book for you. However, the magic isn't exaggerated in this book - it requires specific steps, energy, and focus; you can't just point a wand and say a couple words. I like that some effort is necessary to use magic in this book, because it makes it seem all that much more realistic.

Rating: I rate this book a ten out of ten. Go read it. And then read Fool Moon, book two.

Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

Plot: A young boy is stranded in the middle of nowhere after his plane crashes. Alone, far from civilization, and not exactly an expert on wilderness survival tactics, Brian must fight to survive.

Comments: This book came very highly recommended, and I'm glad I decided to read Hatchet. Though the reading level is low - maybe sixth grade - the story is great! If you like survival stories, this book is very descriptive and detailed as to how exactly Brian builds a camp, makes tools, etc. However, I'm not a very outdoorsy kind of person, and I didn't get bored with all the technical talk. The simple, concise explanations and tips almost made me believe I could survive in the wilderness!

I found it interesting how Brian's life at home was woven in with his story of survival. Bit by bit, you begin to learn about what he's left behind and understand the problems he had back home. I like the way you get to know Brian's life better, with skill and creativity, rather than a blunt paragraph or two towards the beginning of the book. In addition to the flow of the story, this element added a bit of suspense to the plot.

My favorite thing about this book is that it seems realistic. Brian has a lot of challenges to face while attempting to survive in the wilderness, such as shelter, fire, and, perhaps most importantly, food. It's not easy. There are no shortcuts for him. He doesn't have a handy backpack with matches, a tent, and freeze-dried food. This story Brian's determination and perseverance inspires me to persevere in my own life, though in a completely different way. Hatchet is a strong, well-written story, and I definitely recommend it myself.

Rating: I rate this book an eight out of ten.