Sunday, February 20, 2011

A culinary novel from a demented mind

The Alchemaster's Apprentice
Walter Moers

Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Cross-over-suitable teens and adults
Rating: 5/5

One cannot help but love the demented imagination of German author, Walter Moers. This book is a delicious delight. It is the story of Echo - the last Crat in Malaisea (the city where everyone is ill). What is a Crat? Well, it's a lot like a cat except that he can talk and has two livers. Echo's kind mistress has died and he is now alone in the world - and slowly starving and freezing to death. When the fearful Alchemaster, Ghoolian, discovers him, he has not the strength to run away but instead the two make a deal. Ghoolian requires the Crat's fat for his dastardly plans of immortality - and as an extra month of life and a hearty diet is favourable to the slow, cold death he is currently experiencing, Echo agrees. Now as a guest for the Alchemaster, Echo is treated lavishly and fed man delectable treats - all described in mouth-watering (and occasionally eye-watering) detail. But never fear: at no time does this book drag on or get boring! Some of the meals cause surprising insights and slowly Echo hatches a plan for his ongoing survival. Meanwhile, he has much to learn from the Alchemaster, for the more learned the creature, the more improved its fat will be. He makes some surprising allies and meets some strange beasties and all in all, this is a whimsical, fantastical tale of the highest order.

If you enjoy books that are quirky and weird, with random passages of philosophy and science, crazy characters and demented plots - Moers might well be the author for you.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The next big thing? Not likely.

The Emerald Atlas
John Stevens

Genre: Fantasy
Audience: Childrens 10+
Rating: 3/5

This book, the first in a trilogy, gained a lot of exposure at the Bologna Children's Book Fair. And understandably, there are high hopes for it. In truth, the novel is not exceptional. Described as having a fantastical, Narnia-like setting, I felt it rather lacked the enchantment of Narnia. Indeed, the whole plot plodded along at a reasonable pace, with few surprises. Possibly it is the inclusion of a Prophecy which made me balk from the start. Prophecy, evil "queen", kidnapped children. Nothing particularly amazing.

Kate, Michael and Emma have grown up in a succession of Orphanages, after being abandoned by their parents - parents only Kate - the eldest, can remember. Considered difficult to foster, they finally find themselves in an old, mysterious mansion in a small town. A town with a secret. After they discover a strange book, hidden in a secret room, they are catapulted into the past and into a struggle for their life - and the survival of the town's children is at stake.

There is humour, and the characters are well developed, but overall it failed to live up to expectations.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Lost Gate
Orson Scott Card
Mithermages series, book 1

Genre: fantasy
Audience: teens + adults
Rating: 4/5

Orson Scott Card weaves an involved and intriguing fantasy world into our own. Our hero is Daniel North, a young man living in what is more or less a commune - but a community where all the inhabitants have magical abilities and are descended from the Nordic Gods. Alas, poor Daniel has not displayed any talents of his own and it is feared that he is a Dreeka - one without magic and little bit than the non-magical humans (called Drowder). However, when Danny's talent actually DOES reveal itself, it puts him in even more danger. For Danny is a Gate Mage - the most despited and rarest of the mages. Loki, the trickster, doomed all with Gate Mage abilities when he destroyed all the gates. Forced to flee from his home, Danny must live on his wits and abilities. Entwined with this is the story of Wad, a young man freed after years of capture and flung into the complicated world of court politics. How do these two rather different stories weave together? You'll have to read it and see.

Card writes well-developed, and distinct characters - and that combined with the interesting world will engulf you in its pages until the very end.
Lesley Pearce

Genre: romance/historical
Audience: women
Rating: 3.5/5

Lesley Pearce is one of the best selling female writers in the WORLD. I am not sure why, because her writing style is weak compared to Belinda Alexandra and Kate Morton, but I guess she has been around longer. Still, she writes an engaging heroine and an interesting story. One of my customers described her writing as "dull" and it did not take me long to realise why. She writes like Danielle Steel. Her text is filled with "she felt sad at the treatment of the poor children" and other such text that is what they call "tell" not "show". Also, her language came across as quite immature, like she was writing to a child (although the content is certainly intended for an adult). Belle however was an interesting character, making many foolish mistakes due to her impulsive behaviour and lack of foresight. Of course, she was also the victim of terrible circumstances and some very bad men. But there were good men too, and good women and several shades of grey between the two. And a lot of sex. Some of it horrific, some of it rather less so.

Belle is the daughter of a brothel-keeper, but despite this she has been raised to be an innocent, good girl. She can read, and has a strong mind and will. But her sweet life turns to tragedy when she bears witness to a brutal murder. Shortly after she is abducted and introduced to the very trade her mother has carefully kept her away from - prostitution. But not one to take her fate lying down, Belle retains a confidence and spirit that is as admirable as it is bittersweet. Events take her to France, New York and also New Orleans and along the way she touches the hearts of many. But will she ever return to her beloved England? And if so, will she still be the same Belle she once was?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Reflections on Mirrorworld

Cornelia Funke

Genre: fantasy
Audience: Ages 12+ (with some mature concepts)
Rating: 2.5/5

I love Cornelia Funke. The Inkheart trilogy ranks up there in my "favourites". However, I did not love this book. I should have - it had all the elements of something I would enjoy - fairytale references, dark fantasy, a mirror reflected into ours. A curse. What it suffered from was poor plotting and poor writing. Is this how Funke's work usually is? Or is it the fault of the Translator (Not Anthea Bell, as her previous novels had been)? Who knows? Whatever it was, this felt like only half a book. It started introducing Jacob, one of the Protagonists to the Mirrorworld - a faerie tale world through the looking glass. It then jumped 12 years into the future when Jacob had been visiting on a regular basis, only to have his younger brother follow him and subsequently be cursed by a dark fairy to turn into one of the stone people, the Goyl. Constant inferences were made to events and adventures Jacob had participated in the past, but the present was a choppy shambles of unfinished sentences. I found my attention - and thus my comprehension - wandering throughout and forced myself to re-read several pages.

Another thing of note - although I found this in the "children's" section it is not really a children's book. Will and Jacob are adults, Jacob engages in several (albeit quite subtle) sexual encounters in the book. However, the writing style is too simple to be an adult's book. So I'm going to classify it as Young Adult, although that doesn't feel quite right either...

Cornelia, you've let me down.