This fantasy novel set in the magical land of Earthsea introduces Ged, a boy whose magical ability shines in a society with numerous witches and practitioners of magic. After saving his village from an attack, Ged is taken as apprentice by a wise wizard and then sent to wizarding school. Despite his talent and proclamations that he may become the greatest wizard, Ged is headstrong and impatient and unleashes an evil shadow that follows him around and tries to possess his body. Ged thus has to face many quests and challenges to learn how to face down the shadow creature and understand himself. It’s a good novel, and apparently pretty influential as many of the tropes and ideas are picked up by other fantasy novels. Harlan Ellison’s reading of the audiobook is a dynamic performance that captures Ged’s anger and uncertainty.
Author: Eoin Colfer
Title: Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian
Narrator: Nathaniel Parker
Publication Info: New York : Listening Library, p2012.
The final installment in the Artemis Fowl series or so it would seem. Opal Koboi has her biggest take over the world plot, Mulch Diggums has his biggest flatulence, and Artemis has his ultimate moment of genius. And sacrifice. Colfer’s humor stands out as Koboi raises an army with her minions occupying the bodies of the dead with comic results. It’s a nice distraction from the grim reality of a story that puts the entire world in peril. This is a strong finale the series.
Author: Paul Cornell
Title: Love and War
Publication Info: London : Doctor Who Books, 1992.
Previously read by same author: Timewyrm: Revelation
This is my 3rd Doctor Who New Adventure, and it’s one that has a notably good reputation among diehard Doctor Who fans. In this story, the Seventh Doctor and Ace – who is grieving over the death of a childhood friend – go to the planet Heaven. The entire planet is a cemetery for the people of Earth and the Draconians who die in the Dalek Wars. Ace falls in with a group of Travellers encamped on Heaven, and begins a romance with a young man named Jan. The Doctor seems to disapprove of Jan, and Ace begins to drift away. This is only a preamble for an act of betrayal that will push Ace out of the Tardis for good.
Apart from the tragic situation that divides the Doctor and Ace, this novel has a number of interesting attributes. It introduces the archaeologist Berenice Summerfield who will go on to be a regular companion of the Doctor. It also features the creepy villains the Hoothi, who are kind of a sentient fungi. On the downside there’s a whole subplot involving virtual reality in something called Puterspace. And like Timewyrm: Revelation, the narrative jumps quickly among a large number of characters and stories, making it a challenge to read. All and all, an imaginative and influential Doctor Who story.
Title: The Avengers
Release Date: 4 May 2012
Director: Joss Whedon
Production Co: Marvel Studios / Paramount Pictures
Genre: Action | Adventure | Science Fiction | Superhero
On a sultry summer night my family and I escaped to a cool pub for supper. The Avengers was on the tv with the sound off and my wife soon found herself relating the dialogue to the children and explaining what was going on. The next day, my son – who often proclaims that he does not like to watch movies – asked to watch the whole movie with the sound on. So we watched and were introduced into the Marvel Universe. As someone who knows little to nothing about comic book superheroes I felt that I got a basic sense of the characters, although I’m sure people who’ve watched all the movies get a lot of references. All the actors are strong in their roles and are entertaining, funny, and suitably conflicted. The theme of a team of rivals needing to find a way to work together is well-done without being hit over the head too much as well. On the whole, it’s entertaining, brainless fun.
One unexpected thing is just how militaristic the SHIELD/Avengers world is. It’s a bit unsettling considering the unrestrained military spending in the real United States to think that in a fictional world there would be need for another whole level of secret military forces. I also felt that the superheroes are immortal makes the non-stop fighting among themselves and against Loki rather lacking in drama. The only thing at stake is the amount of collateral damage suffered in human lives, buildings, and vehicles.
A couple of nice touches at the end of the film address this. First, the Avengers are physically and mentally exhausted after the battle (leading to the famous post-credit shawarma scene). Second, is the montage of news reports showing some people celebrating the Avengers as heroes, but others questioning whether their responsibility in bringing such devastation to the Earth. It’s good to have the film’s premise questioned onscreen even if it’s a small bit.
Author: Evan J. Mandery
Title: Q : a novel
Publication Info: New York, NY : Harper, c2011.
An unnamed narrator tells the story of Q, Quentina Elizabeth Deveril, the love of his life. After meeting, dating, and planning to marry, an older version of the narrator arrives via time travel to tell him that he can’t marry Q. He takes his elder self’s advice and tries to move on with his life. But then more and more time traveling future selves arrive, constantly interfering with his life.
This may be the most twee novel I’ve ever read. It pushed the limits of Poe’s Law, making me wonder if this is the ultimate New York hipster with affectations novel, or just a parody of New York hipster with affectations. I eventually decided that it’s later, and to its credit parts of this novel are laugh out loud funny. The conclusion is also very satisfying. But to get to that point – whoa boy – it was tough to not just give up reading.
Author: Anthony Horowitz
Narrator: Julian Rhind-Tutt and Derek Jacobi
Publication Info: HarperCollins Publishers and Blackstone Audio (2014)
Horowitz follows up on his authorized Sherlock Holmes novel House of Silk with this mystery set in 1891 immediately after Sherlock Holmes and James Moriarity are believed to have fallen from Reichenbach Falls. The narrator is Frederick Chase, a Pinkerton detective who travels to Switzerland seeking American criminal mastermind Clarence Devereux whom he believes will rendez-vous with Moriarity. In the wake of the supposed deaths of Moriarity and Holmes, Chase joins up with Scotland Yard detective Athelney Jones who displays a skill in deductive reasoning. Based on the title, one wonders if Jones is Moriarity in disguise? Or Holmes in disguise? I won’t tell. Chase and Jones return to London to continue the search for Devereux and find themselves pulled into the brutally violent underworld of expatriate American criminals. It’s a gripping mystery with a lots of twists and turns, and a great companion to the Holmes’ canon. The performance of Rhind-Tutt and Jacobi on the audiobook is particularly entrancing.
Around the World for a Good Book selection for Thailand
Author: Ngarmpun (Jane) Vejjajiva
Title: The Happiness of Kati
Publication Info: New York : Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2006.
Kati, a nine-year-old girl lives with her grandparents and dreams of her mother who left five years earlier. Finally, it’s revealed that her mother has ALS and is close to death. The separation from her mother seems cruel, but it is obvious there’s a lot of love in this family. They are reunited for Kati’s mother’s last days, a time where Kati learns a lot about her family. Before dying, Kati’s mother tells her how she can contact her father who she has never met. The final chapters detail Kati’s choice to seek out her father or not. This is a touching novel, written from a perspective that realistically portrays the way a child views the world and deals with difficult issues like death.
Around the World for a Good Book Selection for Norway
Author: Linn Ullmann
Title:The Cold Song
Translator: Barbara Haveland
Publication Info: New York : Other Press, c2011
This novel is a story about a family at seaside summer home and the young woman Milla who comes to work as their nanny, but goes missing and is later found murdered. This is not a spoiler as Milla’s remains are discovered in the first pages of the book, but the manner of Milla’s demise is revealed over the extended flashback that makes up the bulk of the novel. The rest of the cast includes Siri, the A-type restaurateur who hires Milla; Siri’s philandering husband Jon, a novelist struggling with writer’s block; their non-conforming 12-year-old daughter Alma; and Jenny, Siri’s 75-year-old mother who resents the massive birthday party that Siri forces upon her. There’s a lot of tension in this novel as the characters navigate around one another, and while not a crime novel, the imminent crimes against Milla hang there over the whole story.
Besides: Jon would never have used the expression “sell like hotcakes”—not only was it a cliché, it was also inaccurate. Hotcakes no longer sold like hotcakes. He had no statistics to back this up, but he was pretty sure that hotcakes fared poorly compared to smartphones or drafty houses in overpriced areas (like his own, for example) or antiaging creams.
Author: Paul Cornell
Title: Timewyrm: Revelation
Publication Info: London : Dr Who Books, 1991.
The final book in the Timewyrm tetralogy is unlike any other Doctor Who story I’ve yet experienced. For starters, one of the characters is a sentient church, there’s an English village on the moon, and much of the story takes place inside the Doctor’s mind. That may sound gimmicky but this a complex and ambitious novel that examines the Doctor’s grief and anguish through the previous incarnations who live in his mind. This is a challenging book to read as it has a lot of characters and facets and leaps from one to the other rather quickly, but a very satisfying story that pushes the bounds of a Doctor Who adventure. It’s also very influential as the revived television series has clearly mined this novel for ideas (and the author Cornell has also written screenplays for the show).
Recommended books: Timewyrm: Exodus by Terrance Dicks