The Unwritten Vol. 5, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

The Unwritten Vol. 5Every time I get a new trade of The Unwritten, I try to leave it sitting on my table for a couple days so that I can at least seem like a patient person. But a certain husband of mine saw it waiting for me, snatched it up, and read it first like a MEANIE. So I had to read it right afterward so he couldn’t spoil it. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking with it.

It’s wonderful, as though you’d expect me to say anything else at this point. It starts with a heist, which is one of my many story-related weaknesses, and then it reminds us about Tom’s effed-up childhood, and then it lays out some very intriguing backstory for Tom’s dad, and the cabal people are killin’ lots of other people and there is a child made out of comic-book superhero (yes, you read that right) and it is cah-razy up in here.

I was a little disappointed that there wasn’t a bumper issue or whatever you might call it at the end of this volume, something like the Mr. Bun tales or the creepy Choose Your Own Adventure that would give me a diversion from the fact that I have to wait months for the next set to arrive in my library! But, on the other hand, extra story and extra questions just waiting to be answered those many months from now. 🙂

Recommendation: Seriously, why haven’t you already started reading this series?

Rating: 9/10

The Unwritten Vol. 4, by Mike Carey and Peter Gross

Dear The Unwritten,

I love you so much. Let’s run off together.

Love, Alison
p.s. It’s cool if my husband comes too, right?

LeviathanI will grant that on its own, this volume was not quite as good as any of the first three, especially that last one with the parodies and the choose-your-own-adventure-ness. Dang, that was a good one. But it’s not really like those other ones anyway… we’re done with the “Is Tom Taylor actually Tommy Taylor? With, like, magic and stuff?” plotline and we are moving fully into “Is the world just entirely made of imagination?” existentialism. And vampires, because why not?

In this collection, aptly titled Leviathan, Carey and Gross treat us to a whale of a party, ha ha! Ahem. There are whales, is what I’m saying. A few of them. Including the ever-popular Moby Dick, whose story Tom ventures into and then breaks and then escapes only to find himself hanging out with Sinbad, Pinocchio, and various others inside an apparently very hungry whale. And then things explode.

Oh, and meanwhile our friends Richie and Lizzie only wish they were hanging out in the belly of a whale, on account of they’ve met up with a mean and slightly magical puppeteer who needs some information out of them. Things go as you might expect, there. And then at the end we meet up again with that foul-mouthed rabbit dude from the second volume, who has not gotten any pleasanter but has gotten some worshippers. Goody.

And there are so many other little things that have me intrigued to see where this story goes. It is clearly epic and intricate and fantastic. But I could also go for some more stories that are just full of awesome brain candy. Either way is good.

Rating: 8/10

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

I have been meaning to re-read this series since, oh, the first time I read The Eyre Affair almost exactly three years ago. But I really got it into my head to do it over the summer, and by that time I had lent the first book to a good friend who is apparently bad at returning books, and I was all, fret fret fret. But then I realized — audiobooks! So I grabbed this book on audio from the library, and I can now say that it is a rather different experience.

The idea behind The Eyre Affair is actually a complex set of ideas. You have an alternate universe where Britain has been fighting the Crimean War for, you know, 130 years, no big deal, so you’ve got the pro-war/anti-war/pro-soldier/pro-let’s-have-a-nap-instead set of issues. This alternate universe also includes time travel that is constantly re-writing history. Also vampires and werewolves. Also people who really really know you’re talking about them. Also reconstituted dodos. Also many other things, and also, primarily for the book’s purposes, a Special Ops unit dedicated to solving crimes against books. Which is awesome.

It’s a whole big mess of everything, and so when I read it with my eyes, I necessarily imbued a Hitchhiker’s/Buffy/Monty Python snark-the-day-away sort of mentality into it. And in fact, the audio book box promises these things. But what struck me within the first chapter of reading with my ears is that the narrator, despite having a fantastic voice for Thursday, does not choose to play the book that way. She is very very earnest and plays very straight off the page, and I felt like I was missing out on a lot of Fforde’s wit and sarcasm.

On the plus side, I can now pronounce a lot of things from the book better than I could a week ago. Darn British people and their un-intuitive spellings.

The other thing I found interesting about re-reading this book is that I had forgotten how different the first book is from all the rest, because Fforde had really intended The Eyre Affair as a standalone. The pacing is slower (we don’t even get to the Eyre part until practically the end!), there is a LOT of exposition-y stuff, and Thursday is not quite the BAMF she becomes later. And oh my goodness had I forgotten about Daisy. Let me just go jump into this book and punch her in the face.

Right, yes. On the whole I recommend the eyes-reading experience better than the ears-reading, but either way is pretty fantastic.

Recommendation: Do you like books? Mysteries? Sci-fi? Love stories? Dodos? Characters called Braxton Hicks and Jack Schitt? Fun? Go read this series.

Rating: 7.5/10 (lower than last time for the audio sadness)

(A to Z Challenge)

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing, by Jasper Fforde

Jasper! It has been so long! And even longer back to the last Thursday Next! I have missed you so much.

Okay, soooooooooooo. I tried explaining this book to my husband, but it is in fact quite difficult to explain without the help of five previous novels to get across the whole BookWorld concept. But, basically, there is a BookWorld and it is inhabited by all the characters of all the books you ever or never read, and whenever you read a book these characters are like, “Oh, time to pop on stage!” and act out your book. This is why books are slightly different every time you read them, see? It makes perfect sense.

Hanyway, we found out in the afore-linked last novel that the Thursday Next books have been published within the world of Thursday Next, but they’re not the same as the ones we here in our world have been reading, and the chick what plays Thursday is not… not really Thursday-ish. She’s kind of a hippie rather than a badass. Nonetheless, in this book the written Thursday gets a big taste of real Thursday life when not only does a strange book-crash (I cannot explain that) mystery leads her to, among other things, find out that Real Thursday is totes missing, which is a problem on many levels.

I thought this entry was brilliant, possibly because I’ve been severely lacking Fforde in my life recently and possibly because this book was much tighter, I think, than others in the series, and more subtle (especially compared to the last). I also loved that it’s from the point of view of a written Thursday, and therefore gives us more insight into the BookWorld, which is decidedly less complicated than the real Thursday’s world, and also more predictable but predictably amusing. Because the book has a different protagonist and all, I would say it’s difficult to read this without having read the others, but I don’t think impossible.

Worrisome is the fact that the book wraps a lot of things up quite nicely, which leads me to think that all of the Thursdays might be getting shelved soon, though if it’s in favor of new and exciting series I might be okay with this.

Recommendation: If you like literature and you like satire, this satire of literature is for you. But you should probably start back at the beginning for optimum effect.

Rating: 9/10
(A to Z Challenge)

The Magicians, by Lev Grossman (5 September — 7 September)

I was really super-interested in this book, which was billed to me as “What if Harry Potter were really real, but the students all had to go work in the non-magic world when they graduated?” A depressing thought indeed! And that’s a pretty okay billing, but the book is more like “What if you spent your whole childhood hoping for magic, and then you got it, and then you realized that it was pretty boring, and then you resigned yourself to real life, but then the non-boring magic you’d hoped for happened, but then it was nothing like Narnia anyway?” Two depressing thoughts indeed!

Unfortunately, though I really liked the book as I was reading it, I was left with a sense of annoyance at the end. I think it was because of the disjointed mess that is the plot as described above. There are a lot of good ideas here, but they don’t all fit together as well as they maybe could. I don’t want to say that Grossman didn’t do his best, because I honestly don’t know how he could have told this particular story differently, but I think maybe he should have told a different one.

The beginning is excellent. Our hero Quentin gets to a Princeton interview to find the interviewer dead, but the paramedic on the scene has envelopes for him and his friend James. Only Quentin takes his, and, after opening it, he finds himself on the grounds of what he thinks is Fillory, Grossman’s version of Narnia and the setting for Quentin’s most favorite books ever. It’s not, though, it’s actually a school called Brakebills and Quentin is there for the entrance exam. After a really long exam and some argument among the professors, Quentin is admitted. He spends the next four years learning magic, making friends, and doing some stupid things that don’t turn out nearly as well as he hopes.

But then Quentin and pals graduate, and are learning to deal with the real world, which I think is an entirely interesting premise to begin with, but Grossman throws in a free trip to Fillory and suddenly the book is a quest novel. And then it gets weird, and I don’t want to say anything to spoil it because it gets interesting, but it’s also disappointing in the end and I just don’t know. And there are a whole bunch of guns in the first act that totally fail to go off in the third even though they could have been very very very interesting plot points, and that frustrates me immensely.

As I’m typing this I’m realizing that I liked the book even less than I thought I did! This is terrible. It’s not that I hated it; I was riveted to the pages every chance I could get because I really liked the characters and the setting and the writing. But if I could, I’d go back in time and tell myself to skip it.

Rating: 5/10

See also:
Blogging for a Good Book

Pass me yours, if you’ve got ’em.

The Angel’s Game, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón (20 June — 24 June)

Wow. What a book. I have to admit that I’m still not exactly sure what happened in this book, but in this case I think that’s a good thing!

Zafón takes us to turn-of-the-century Barcelona to meet David Martín, a writer of crime stories first in the newspaper and then as part of a ridiculously long contract for monthly novels. After his first story is published, Martín receives a note from an Andreas Corelli congratulating him on his talent and expressing a wish to work with him in the future. These sorts of notes keep popping up until one day Martín and Corelli meet under odd circumstances and Martín decides to take Corelli up on his offer. This would be all well and good except it seems that Corelli has more than a few tricks up his sleeve and that Martín’s life — his health and his world — may be in a bit of danger.

This novel is a bit fantastical but still reads like something that could happen to someone you know someday. I was never really sure what was going on with Corelli or with Diego Marlasca, another mysterious character in the novel, but I was with Martín 100 percent… until near the end, when all of the novel’s truths are thrown up in the air like a deck of cards and I was turning pages furiously to see which cards would land face-up. (How about that metaphor?)

The ending was sort of a let-down; I thought it could have ended earlier, but I may be missing something. I’ll have to read this through again in the future.

Rating: 8/10
(Chunkster Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Spain)

Bookhunter, by Jason Shiga (20 June)

These graphic novel things are starting to grow on me. I don’t think I’m ready for any big-kid books, like Watchmen and the like, but I’m getting there!

So this is a nice, short, simple-drawing book about the library police. No, really. I saw this description of it while plowing through the Unshelved archives (excellent comic, p.s., you should also go plow through the archives), and I was, to say the least, intrigued. Library police? Concentric locked-room mysteries?? Library police??? How can I join?

And, happily, it was a good time. We get what seems to be a cold open with the library police tracking down a guy who is stealing all the copies of one particular book from the Oakland Public Library. Agent Bay and his team bust in and totally get the guy, but then we don’t care about him anymore and we move on to the main story. In this, there’s a Bible missing and the OPL needs Bay to recover it before it has to be returned to the Library of Congress. Only… it was stolen from a safe that has not been obviously cracked. And the book is only in the safe at night, but there’s also no sign that the thief broke into or out of the library. Which means the book must have left during the day, but without triggering the anti-theft alarms at the doors. An exhausting riddle!

Best of all, the book is set in 1973, so Bay solves the mystery with the help of microfilm and a giant card catalog. Can’t go wrong with that.

Rating: 8/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2007)

People of the Book, by Geraldine Brooks (20 May — 27 May)

People of the Book is the fake story of the Sarajevo Haggadah, an illuminated seder text that baffles historians to this day. Brooks took some of the facts of the haggadah’s discovery and created fictional characters and situations to explain how these things came to be.

Our protagonist, Hanna Heath, is a young but excellent book conservator who is tapped to handle the restoration of the book. While examining it, she discovers an insect wing, some wine stains, and a few salt crystals that pique her interest and get her asking questions. Although Hanna doesn’t get all the answers, we do — Brooks writes scenarios for all of these that give a sense of the “people of the book” and why it is so important and revered.

I quite enjoyed this book, though it was a bit of a slow go as the narrative jumps back and forth between Hanna in the present and the other characters in their respective times. I found these journeys into the past to be more exciting than the present narrative, in which we discover that Hanna hates her mother and doesn’t form lasting relationships and works with far too many young but excellent professionals. In the past, we discover the tyranny of religion, the compassion of individuals, and all of the discrete steps that had to be taken to make the Sarajevo Haggadah the complete book it is today. I can only hope that the haggadah’s true story is as excellent as its fake one.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury (11 April — 14 April)

This is one of those books that I tried to read years ago but never got around to finishing, and picking it up again definitely reminded me why that happened. There are just too many words in this book! I mean, not really, because it’s only 170-ish pages long, but really really, because Bradbury writes sentences in which silent trains run soundlessly along their tracks. So that’s what silent means.

That’s not to say that the book isn’t good… it just takes a disproportionate amount of time to the length of the book to figure out what the heck Bradbury’s saying.

So anyway. If you don’t know, Fahrenheit 451 is about a world in which firemen are employed to start fires that burn up book collections, because books are bad and rooms made of four wall-sized TVs are good. One fireman, Montag, meets a girl who doesn’t pay attention to the propaganda, and her influence helps push him on a path to try to overthrow the system.

I wish I had read this book during an English class, because it needs a lot of discussion. Bradbury makes some interesting points about how people perceive books and how outmoded they are in this day and age (the book is set sometime around now, from what I can tell) which are almost true, 50 years after he wrote them. We may not have flying cars, but we do certainly have apathy toward books.

Rating: 6/10
(My Year of Reading Dangerously Challenge)

First Among Sequels, by Jasper Fforde (5 January &mdash 6 January)

This came in for me yesterday at the library, and even though I was a few pages into another book, I couldn’t help but read this instead. Love me some Thursday Next.

The events of this book pick up 14 years after those of the previous one. Thursday is now 52 and settled into her life as a wife and a mother of three. SpecOps has been officially disbanded, but Thursday’s job as a carpet layer is really a cover for doing SpecOps work, which is really a cover for continuing her duties in Jurisfiction. In that last, she is stuck with two trainee Jurisfiction agents… Thursday1-4 from the first four books of the series as well as Thursday5 from The Great Samuel Pepys Fiasco. Things, as they do, quickly go wonky and Thursday ends up having to save all of Time as well as herself from evildoers. No big deal.

As I said, I love me some Thursday Next, and this is no exception. It’s a bit more heavy on the allegory this go-round (the government has a surplus of stupidity they have to use up and are thinking about getting into the stupidity credits game; there’s a show called Samaritan Kidney Swap) which I think detracts a bit from the real story, which is Thursday kicking butt and taking names. Nonetheless, I am thoroughly looking forward to the next in the series, which will apparently be called One of Our Thursdays is Missing but is not the next book Fforde is releasing. Sigh. Off to find some Nursery Crime, I suppose…

Rating: 7/10
(Countdown Challenge: 2007, Support Your Local Library Challenge)