Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Lessons in French, by Hilary Reyl (pre-release)

I was fortunate to be able to read an excerpt from Lessons in French, made available by Simon & Schuster on Scribd and forwarded to me by the author via Goodreads.

Not a French textbook as the title might fool some into believing, Lessons in French is the captivating story of recent college graduate Kate, who moves to Paris to find herself, her heritage, and perhaps even l'amour. The narrative style of these first chapters paints a portrait of Paris that the reader could almost step right into, and perfectly captures the compelling voice of the protagonist, who is herself an artist. I eagerly await reading more of Kate's adventures in Paris and self-discovery. Lessons in French should be at the top of the reading list for all Francophiles!

The release date for Lessons in French by Hilary Reyl is March 5, 2013.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Touch of Frost, by Jennifer Estep

Touch of Frost, the first installment on Estep's Mythos Academy series, is a fantasy novel for young adults that concerns the misadventures of Gwen Frost, a teenager struggling to fit in at a magical academy. Supposedly, Gwen has been transferred to Mythos Academy because her grandmother wants her to learn how to better control her magical gift and use it for good. Instead, Gwen spends most of her time at school poking into the love lives of more popular students and bemoaning her lack of friends. Even when Gwen looks into the death of "mean girl" Jasmine, who no one seems to miss, the author doesn't bring Gwen's powers to the forefront or give her more than a bumbling role in bringing the mystery to a conclusion.

Estep describes Gwen as "a smart, plucky, slightly snarky heroine," but in fact, the protagonist comes across instead as whiny, self-pitying, and always needing a boy to save her. Gwen describes herself as a "geek," with a 4.0 GPA that she's proud of, yet she doesn't seem to enjoy classes or her job in the school library, so this is a hard idea to swallow. Most of the other characters are even less well fleshed out, and certainly less likeable. Jasmine's best friend and rival, Morgan, is described simply as "slutty," and Gwen's perpetual savior, Logan, seems only interested in two things: fighting his adversaries, and chasing girls. The only character who isn't completely one-dimensional is Daphne, a popular girl who ditches her old friends in favor of Gwen after realizing everything isn't as it seems in her clique.

By the end of the book, Gwen hasn't gained new skills with her magic, or found any self-confidence that would seem to make her future adventures worth reading about. I doubt that many teenagers would relate to this protagonist or enjoy reading about the cardboard cutout cast of characters at Mythos Academy.

The one strong point about Touch of Frost is the way that Estep draws on mythology to create the back-story for Mythos Academy and the students' powers, but she devotes too much time to developing this aspect of the story and not enough to the characters themselves. Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, although for a slightly younger audience, spins a much stronger and more enjoyable modern mythological tale.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Importance of Libraries

I've heard a lot of speculation about the future of libraries lately, and worries about how they can remain relevant in this age of e-books, Google searches, and Wikipedia. (Most of the concern seems to come from librarians, not from the general populace, however, which leads me to believe that their fears are worse than the reality). This piece by Matt Haig nicely sums up why libraries are still so important to society, and I couldn't agree more.




Monday, January 21, 2013

Libriomancer, by Jim C. Hines

What if you could reach into your favorite novel and pull out a magic sword, or a laser gun, or a spider? Isaac, the protagonist in Libriomancer, can do all that and more through the magic of believing in the power of books. But can he stop magical chaos from breaking through into everyday reality? Or will vampires, self-serving sorcerers, and character-possessed libriomancers prevail?

Readers of Piers Anthony's Xanth novels or Terry Brooks' "Magic Kingdom of Landover" series will enjoy the light, humorous fantasy of Libriomancer. The concept is similar to Inkheart by Cornelia Funke, in which characters are read out of (and into) books, but it is not as compelling emotionally, nor as linguistically well-crafted. The author feels the need to stop for explanations of how his character's magic works so often that the flow of the story is sometimes lost at the very height of the action.

This is a book for geeks, pure and simple. From Tolkien to Adams, nearly every fandom imaginable gets a shout-out here. Anyone who hates Twilight will cheer to see Isaac take on the sparkly vampires in the opening scenes, as well. And even fans of Twilight will admit it's amusing that Hines' characters credit Meyer with the existence of new species of vampire.

Libriomancer is the first in the Magic Ex Libris series, with book two, Codex Born, coming soon.

Unholy Night, by Seth Grahame-Smith

The wise men in Seth Grahame-Smith's retelling of the Nativity story are anything but wise, but they are charmingly human. Balthazar, the main character, is a thief with a conscience, who stumbles into the manger scene complete with a healthy dose of skepticism. Despite his unbelief, Balthazar's life becomes inextricably entwined with those of Mary, Joseph, and their infant son, and a non-stop adventure ensues.

Grahame-Smith does an excellent job of weaving together the Biblical tale, his own imagining of Balthazar, and a realistically recreated setting of ancient Judea. The little details such as the madness of King Herod prove amusing along the way. Mary comes through as a refreshingly strong character compared to the "meek and mild" descriptors that usually are associated with her, and Balthazar's eventual transformation is heartening to watch unfold. The very final pages of the book hold one last great surprise that brings loose threads together in brilliant conclusion to an exciting and inspiring story.