Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Avid Reader - April 2011

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Believe it or not, I had never read the original vampire story. It was sitting on my ‘classics’ shelf next to Frankenstein, so I grabbed it. Also, this summer, one of my staff is going to be teaching ‘Dracula,’ so I thought it wouldn’t be a bad idea for me to be familiar with the original work. I have to admit, that, like all of the 19th Century books I’ve read recently, it is ‘dense.’ They aren’t brief when they are describing events. Stoker was no different. I hypothesize this is because of the extremes in visuals that we have now at our finger tips through the media; it takes fewer words to elicit that vivid suspension of disbelief. The style Stoker used was the letters, diaries, and journals of his main protagonists. It took a while for me to get into it, but once the action really started going, it was fun to read. The chase from England to Transylvania was entertaining. One interesting fact I didn’t know that there was an American in this British story – Quincy Morris, a young man of action from Texas. It is entertaining to see that the stereotypical Western hero makes such a strong impact upon a Gothic horror book. Overall, ‘Dracula’ was an entertaining read. B+.

Jedi Search by Kevin J. Anderson

I knew that after Zahn’s Trilogy, the next Star Wars saga would be a bit of a letdown. The Jedi Search book had so much going for it, but it just didn’t feel right to me. Han Solo and Chewbacca captured and the Falcon crashed. Luke, Lando, and Leia coming to their aid. The political upheavals and another Imperial threat. Some of it felt forced, and there was one scene where Han Solo was written like he was Indiana Jones; while the characters are similar, they aren’t the same (despite Harrison Ford playing them both). It was interesting to see where the Death Star had been built. Perhaps it was the new, overly strong force user Kyp Durron. We were supposed to like him; he was like a combination of Han and Luke, but he just did not gel well for me. It does get the start of the Jedi Academy going on Yavin, but the whole book felt a little forced to me. Overall, I give the book a C.

Dark Empire I by Tom Veitch and Cam Kennedy

This graphic novel was combined from a 6 issue series. I borrowed this from my friend Adam Landa; believe it or not, I don’t own this. I had originally intended on just re-reading the novels, but in Jedi Search they referred to the happenings of this series so much I had to go and find a copy of it. The idea is interesting; the cloned Emperor returns with massive machines that destroy environments. The Emperor gives some of his ‘dark powers’ to his ‘dark jedi’ and causes all sorts of troubles for the New Republic. Luke gives in to the dark side and trains with the reborn Emperor, and only through the love of his Jedi sister Leia is he able to overcome it. It’s a pretty good storyline, but I found that I am not a fan of this particular artist. Cam Kennedy came in with his own style. His style is described as ‘gritty, energetic, chunky, and raw.’ I would agree with those things. I do like the energy that he brings to the page, but ‘gritty,’ chunky’ and ‘raw’ are not complimentary. The characters are inconsistently drawn and not always identifiable as who they are supposed to be. Sometimes they are too blocky or their body is well defined but the face is a cartoony caricature. It’s not a style that melded well with Star Wars in my opinion. I give the Dark Empire I graphic novel a C.

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff

I was first introduced to Taoism in my World Religions class at Luther (taught by staff alum John Sieber). I admired it and the message that it gives of acceptance and taking things as they come. It is a fine lesson. When I started to read Benjamin Hoff’s comparison of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories with the main ideas of Taoism, I was enchanted. Hoff captures the essence of the characters and the idea of Pooh is the essence of Taoism is very funny. Pooh just is, while Rabbit overcomplicates, Owl pontificates, and Eeyore complains. Pooh is the ‘uncarved block’ that does what needs to be done when it needs to be done, and then moves on through life humming. Hoff captures both Pooh and Taoism very well. I give ‘The Tao of Pooh’ an A.

The Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead

In an effort to read more of what my students are reading, I borrowed the Vampire Academy from L Kitty Kat L. I have to admit, I went into it with some trepidation of ‘oh, gawdz, here is another teenage angst book using vampires as a vehicle.’ There is some of that, but I found myself like thing the books more than I liked the Twilight series. These are not the traditional ‘vampires.’ These ‘Moroi’ are another race of humans who need blood to survive and have some magical abilities, and have super strong guardians dhampires who help guard them. The main character – Rose – is one of these guardians, and her best friend Lissa is a Moroi with incredible powers that are driving her insane. To help maintain control, Lissa cuts herself – a very weird vampiric thing to do when blood is so hard to come by. There is a lot of interesting touching on important social issues including cutting, addiction, status, power, and love. Rose is not nearly as whiny or wrapped up in a romance the whole time as the Twilight heroine which makes it easier to read. The Moroi politics feel realistic, and really not that different from the backstabbing you can see in many social circles, and the Moroi and dhampires who go mad and kill someone while feeding become much, much, much more powerful than the ones who don’t, and feeding on other Moroi will make them even more powerful. Mead’s writing style isn’t bad, but on more than one occasion I found myself reading along and suddenly realizing that I was reading a flashback, which then made the scene make sense. Overall, The Vampire Academy is a pretty good read. I believe it is a better read than the Twilight saga. I give it a B+.

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

At the end of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, a new prophesy was revealed. Percy and his fellow demigods had battled against the Titans, the predecessors (and parents) of the Greek gods, and won. Following the actual mythology quite well, the next threat comes not from the powerful generation before them, but the powerful generation following, as well as the original Earth mother. Three new lead characters – Jason, Piper, and Leo - are introduced, and we see the story through their three pairs of eyes. Jason has amnesia, Piper is able to convince anyone of anything – liking giving her a BMW, and Leo is severely ADHD. We also discover that Percy Jackson is missing. As with all of Riordan’s books, the books happen in just a few days and are very fast paced. There is enough time to get to know the new characters as well as reacquainting with the returning characters. This is definitely, however, part of a series. This is not a stand-alone book, even though it is the first part of a series. It in reality is a continuation of the Percy Jackson series, and the world won’t make a lot of sense to people unless they read the Percy Jackson series. Overall, I enjoyed the books, although it sure seemed to me that all the characters were a little dense as to who the ‘big bad’ was going to be. It seems odd to me that I could make that leap as a human who knows the Greek and Roman myths faster than demigods who are living it. I give ‘The Lost Hero’ a B+.

On A Pale Horse by Piers Anthony

On a Pale Horse is an interesting read. The book takes place in an alternate world where science and magic exist side-by-side. The story follows a young man at the end of his rope. Zane is an ‘everyman’ character who falls into taking on the role of Death. In this world, living people take the ‘office’ of an idea like death. He is one of the five main ‘incarnates’ – the others being Time, Fate, War, and Nature. Zane is put into the position of saving Luna, the woman he falls in love with from Satan because in twenty years Luna will cast the deciding vote that will defeat Satan’s master plan. It is an enjoyable read, and with just enough humor in it to make it even more fun. In all reality, this is my favorite of Piers Anthony’s work. I know his most popular books are his Xanth series, but so many of those books are long stories designed so he can make a bad pun. I’ve enjoyed the idea of a mortal taking the role of these ‘ideas.’ Watching this flawed young ‘nobody’ turn into a competent ‘Death’ was well done. I give ‘On a Pale Horse’ an A-.