Christie Burke's Infinite Booklist

The Looking Glass Wars October 7, 2010

Filed under: adventure,crossover,fantasy,fiction,guys,science fiction,series,YA — Christie @ 9:14 pm

I broke a cardinal rule last winter and booktalked Frank Beddor’s The Looking Glass Wars without having read it first.  (In my defense, I didn’t actually talk much – just showed the book trailer and noted that we own the book.)  It’s a reimagining of Alice in Wonderland; I talked it up as a fractured fairy tale.  Having just finished it, I think it’s more a SF/battle story that happens to use Alice as its backdrop.

 

The story begins with Alyss Heart’s seventh birthday and a palace coup that forces her to flee Wonderland through the Pool of Tears.  She lands in Victorian London and makes a life for herself with the Liddell family (Alice Liddell was the actual little girl for whom Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll wrote the original Alice stories), until eventually she’s brought back to Wonderland as an adult and takes on a fight for her rightful throne.

 

Frank Beddor walks a fine line in this book — Wonderland is recognizably the world of Alice, but it looks a lot different from the way Lewis Carroll brought it to us.  The events of the story are plausible in that world, but completely new and intriguing.  On top of that, The Looking Glass Wars is the start of a trilogy and is followed by a series of graphic novels dealing with Hatter Madigan (Alyss’s royal bodyguard).

 

Though I found this book slow at first, I think that may have been me and not the story.  It picked up considerably about a third of the way through and really kept me going from then on.  So I was wrong about the fairy tale situation — sorry, high school kids.  You should probably read this book anyway.

 

I, Robot September 11, 2009

Filed under: crossover,fiction,guys,science fiction,YA — Christie @ 11:10 am

Sometimes I run out of stuff to read at home, and sometimes when that happens I pick up a book of my husband’s (which, chances are, he hasn’t read).  Right now I’m reading Isaac Asimov’s classic I, Robot, a collection of short stories that reads like a coherent novel.

I’m sort of surprised that I like it.  More than one person has been surprised to see me reading it.

Asimov is Serious Sci-Fi, which has never been exactly my deal.  Even when I was more into the sci-fi/fantasy genre, my brother read Asimov and I read the fluffier, more humanistic Bradbury novels.  But I’m in it now and loving it.  The Three Laws of Robotics, which show up in a surprisingly broad range of places (Robocop’s Prime Directive developed from Asimov’s laws, for example), originated in these stories.  (I actually knew about them already, which is saying something.)

It’s interesting to me that these stories were written more than 50 years ago (!) with this futuristic view.  The future Asimov was creating is a little dated now – we are so far beyond the concept of “robot” as presented here that it almost doesn’t make sense – but the things we ask and expect of machines, the continued quest for AI, and the tension between people and machines are still completely relevant.  I think that’s what makes I, Robot a good read: although the stories center on the robots, the human element is timeless and very, very true.

I don’t think that at this stage of my life I’m going to become a rabid sci-fi person.  Having read a little Asimov, though, and a little Orson Scott Card, I think I’m better off than I was before.  At least the door is open.  At least I have a sense of who (besides me!) these books are good for.

 

The Eyre Affair June 21, 2009

The Eyre Affair, cover image from Penguin.com

The Eyre Affair, cover image from Penguin.com

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde.  Viking, 2003 (or possibly 2001 – there may be a UK/US publishing thing here).

The Eyre Affair is the first in a series of slightly loony detective novels featuring Thursday Next, an operative with the Literary Detectives arm of SpecOps in a twisty parallel version of late-20th-century Great Britain.  Certain people travel freely through time; others (including Thursday) are the proud keepers of reconstituted dodos and other extinct species, recreated through DNA sequencing.  Air travel is via dirigible rather than by plane – that’s just how things developed in this world. In this installment, characters from classic fiction are being kidnapped and worse.  It’s up to Thursday to set things right and to apprehend the criminal mind who wants to change literature forever.

The Thursday Next books are pleasantly silly, laced with puns and unexpected literary humor.  They’re also solid stories.  Thursday is a strong and interesting protagonist with realistic problems (like her One True Love, who is marrying someone else, and her unwillingness to play along with the shady intentions of the government).  Fforde’s writing is laugh-out-loud funny, and it takes a LOT to get me to say that.  This is good stuff, recommended for readers who like Douglas Adams or Terry Pratchett.  I’d also give it to readers of detective stories, but with a little more forethought.

Related:

Please, please take some time to poke around in jasperfforde.com.  Hilarious.

Jasper Fforde on Wikipedia.

 

Atonement June 13, 2009

Atonement, by Ian McEwan.  Anchor Books, 2001.

Some time ago, I happened to catch the end of the movie Atonement – it was haunting and a little distressing, but completely intriguing even in the small snippet that I saw.  When I found Ian McEwan’s book on the gigantic list, I considered that a good omen and picked it up eagerly.

This is the story of an English family in the time before and during WWII, of a horrible and damaging mistake that there’s no room to correct and the events that follow from the error of someone who’s young and… well, I was going to say foolish, but maybe youth is her biggest actual problem.

I don’t know why I was surprised that Atonement is a literary novel.  (Maybe something about reading a string of high-school romances?  I sorta forgot there was such a thing as literature.)  It took me a long time to get involved with the story, which is unusual for me.  I was prepared to put it down after 100 pages, but Something Happened about 70 pages in, and I was hooked. McEwan handles the details of war beautifully; it’s appropriately horrifying without being desperately graphic.  Other settings are similarly detailed and distinctive. I’m glad the story finally caught me, because the work itself – the actual arrangement of the words on the page – is so carefully done that it would have been a shame to miss it.  (Can you tell I’m a little geeky about language?)

My take: I’d recommend this book to war buffs (though it is not an action book), readers of romances, and anyone who appreciates literary irony – but only if they have the stamina for careful reading.  Atonement was a good read despite the slow start, finely crafted and thoroughly researched.  I appreciate the way the loose ends are (not exactly) tied up at the novel’s conclusion – the inconclusiveness feels like an appropriate feature of the story rather than a cutesy author ploy.  McEwan is such a master of his writing that the writing disappears, and only the story is left.  I’ll look for more by this author.

Related:

Author’s website at ianmcewan.com.

A blog featuring all manner of McEwan news.  Kind of interesting, if you really like this author.  (Please note that the blog keeper’s identity is not clear.  Publisher, I’m guessing, but who can tell?)