Thursday, August 30, 2007

Pawn of Prophecy, Book 1 of the Belgariad by David Eddings

Posted by lea at 1:41 PM 0 comments Links to this post
I came across this childhood favourite of mine at a church jumble sale and bought it for $1. What a bargain for this fantastic fantasy fiction.

I enjoyed rereading it enormously – the characters are well-drawn and diverse, the action is vivid and in true fantasy fashion, the journey is epic. The best thing about Pawn of Prophecy is the handful of characters who are drawn together to undertake a journey and complete a task (on which the balance of the world hangs, of course). Each has different strengths and weaknesses, motivations, backgrounds and heartaches, and their interactions are priceless. The whole setup reminds me a lot of the fellowship in Lord of the Rings (as most post-Tolkien fantasies do) but I didn’t know that when I first read this book.

There are elements in the Pawn of Prophecy seen in many other fantasy novels – whole worlds, different races, wise magicians, jealous gods, underdog heroes who discover their destiny and a long journey to right a world gone wrong. So while a lot of it is not strictly original, the book is engrossing and, best of all, genuinely funny. Sometimes the humour is a little... young and somewhat repetitive, but it's still very enjoyable.

The main weakness in the series that I can see now as an adult is that things work out too perfectly – none of the main characters dies, almost everyone finds their match, the world is set aright and they go riding off into the sunset (so to speak). There’s a depth to sorrow and heartache in children's books that grab the juvenile heart and force a kid to grow up, and it is unfortunate that Eddings didn't capture that in this series. Who can forget bawling over Charlotte’s Web and Bridge to Terabithia? Eddings gives the reader exactly what we want – which is satisfying for us, but cheats the series of being great.

Rating: 8/10
Highly enjoyable and satisfying read. And I adore Garion.

A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole

Posted by lea at 1:16 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Seriously seriously funny.

This is adult literary humour at its sharpest and riotously funniest. The ‘hero’ is Ignatius J. Reilly, a hulking monster of a man-child who considers himself a genius, unappreciated by the world at large. He IS unappreciated by the world at large, but not because of his genius. He’s a slothful, bullying, gluttonous hypochondriac whose misadventures begin when his mother drives her car into a brick building. He is forced out of the cocoon of his room (where he fills endless Big Chief tablets with his monumental writings) to find work to help pay the bill. From destroying the working order of Levy Pants by depositing all their documents in the circular file (read: trash) to eating himself out of his wages at the Paradise Hot Dog stand, his journey is a comedy of errors that escalates with his relationship with his socially overly-conscientious female doppelganger, Myrna Minkoff.

I’m planning to update this review with some quotes from the book so come back to this page.

Rating: 9/10
Brilliant and almost flawless.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Northern Lights, by Philip Pullman

Posted by lea at 3:16 PM 0 comments Links to this post
This is a really good read, fast-paced and fantastical, taking the reader into a world where every human has a daemon (animal creature that almost equates to the person’s soul) and evil is afoot. Children begin to go missing from every city, and strong forces journey into the mysterious North to discover the secret of the Dust and the netherworld from which it comes.

Phillip Pullman paints a world of scholars, adventurers, witches, talking armoured bears, gyptians (like real world gypsies) and church-world politics. His heroine is Lyra, a girl whose personal journey is central to the story as she goes on a quest to find her playmate, Roger, who has been captured. Lyra is likeable, sympathetic and completely engaging.

Pullman’s narrative is well written and surges relentlessly forward, almost so fast that we don’t get as full a picture as we could of the incredible races, forces and motivations that he reveals along the way.

I was engrossed until the very end, where there is a wide opening left for the second part of the His Dark Materials trilogy, The Subtle Knife.

Rating: 8/10
A great fantasy adventure – a real page-turner.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Die Hard 4.0 (known in America as Live Free or Die Hard)

Posted by lea at 1:37 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Yippikaiyay for old school action heroes!

‘You’re a Timex watch in a digital age, ’ says arch-villain Thomas Gabriel to Detective John McLane, and I'd have to agree - but in a good way. Although the plot is based around post-9/11 security measures, the movie has a distinctively retro early-90s feel. Bruce Willis reprises his imperturbable balding working-class-hero character with ease, and manages to look surprisingly good while he’s doing it.

As with the last 3 movies in the Die Hard series, McClane is the reluctant hero thrust into the position of having to save the world (a.k.a. America). He’s bombed, shot, blasted, thrown out of things, onto things and off things, which make him look tougher and cooler than ever – especially compared to his sidekick, geeky hacker extraordinaire Matthew Farrell (played by Justin Long, who will forever be known to me as ‘Mac guy’ from the excellent Mac/PC ads). Their odd-couple chemistry is great and the one-liners fly almost faster than the bullets.

McLane's feisty daughter Lucy becomes the hostage of choice by the baddies (not a spoiler - it's pretty predictable), and the FBI are always one step behind. Good thing that Det. McLane is always on the ball - even if it means having to kick skinny Asian ass (very tough attractive ass at that).

It may be a little corny and obvious at times, but there’s genuine humour and great action throughout. Throw in the goodwill built up from the last Die Hard movies, and this is definitely one that’s worth watching.

Rating: 8/10
They don’t make them quite like this anymore. Yes it's a little formulaic, and the newer action thrillers may be smarter, wittier and quicker, but this is pure action with likeable heroes - can't ask for more in my books!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The One You Really Want, by Jill Mansell

Posted by lea at 1:33 PM 1 comments Links to this post
I read this book on the recommendation of a friend, who said Jill Mansell is one of the better writers in the chicklit genre. I would reluctantly agree, which doesn't say that much because I think the genre is littered with writing that mostly belongs at the bottom of a birdcage, in my humble opinion :)

Mansell falls into the trap of most other authors of her genre, which is the portrayal of too-perfect characters. Even the flawed characters, like rock star Rennie in this book, is perfect in his flaws. This makes them unrelatable and one-dimensional. There are endless unrealistic coincidences peppered throughout the book (Nancy's mother just happens to bump into Zac who just happens to hire both her and her daughter and just happens to be the former gay lover of their stiff-upper-lipped next door neighbour who's been trying to kick them out of the street). Like many other chicklits, The One You Really Want is a grown woman's fairy tale where everyone ends up with just the right person and things work out perfectly in the end. There's no real depth to the story - even the moment when Zac's father is confronted with his son's homosexuality, the scene is shallow, quick and unrealistic: 'I still love you son.' Hug. Close curtain.

Perhaps that's what makes these books so successful (after all, chicklit is a huge market now) - women want escapism in their reading matter. And in those cases, this book may satisfy. Personally though, I found it a bit too glib and contrived. If it was funnier, even with all the same drama, it would've been better (along the lines of Marian Keyes). But it's not.

Rating: 5.5/10
Okay read but not great. Some clunky moments and a bit too contrived.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Posted by lea at 1:13 PM 0 comments Links to this post
It was alright, but in my opinion, it feels like J.K. Rowling lost interest from book 4 onwards, and you can tell from her writing. The books from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire seem to somehow lose the fun and spontaneity of the the first 3 books, which were the only ones I genuinely enjoyed reading. Deathly Hallows is still a page-turner, but like my 13 year old nephew Christian, I read it mainly because I’ve invested too much time in the series to stop now, and of course there’s the pure interest to see what the major fuss is all about.

In Deathly Hallows, the plot gets ever thicker as dark forces overtake the Ministry of Magic and the entire magical (and muggle) kingdom is in danger of Voldemort’s regime. More people die and Harry becomes a bigger twat than ever with his whining and doubting. I know a couple of people who said they couldn't put the book down, but I found it very easy to do. Harder to do was picking it back up, because Harry was so bloody annoying. However things do improve and kudos to Rowling for meeting expectations of unprecedented proportions to round up the series.

Finally, there's a little epilogue at the back sketching out what happens to the crew 19 years in the future. Most fans will probably be interested to know what happened to the everyone, but I thought it was a bit sterile and jarring.

Rating: 7/10
Finally the series is over and Potter mania can rest... until the next movie, of course.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Fracture

Posted by lea at 5:10 PM 0 comments Links to this post
Brilliantly acted.

The premise of the story is that Anthony Hopkins’ character discovers that his wife is having an affair, and engineers the perfect crime to kill her and get away with it. The detective investigating the murder, it turns out, is the guy his wife was having the affair with. But don’t worry – that’s not a spoiler. The movie goes way beyond that.

The plot is a dance between the characters played by Anthony Hopkins and Ryan Gosling. They’re both brilliant actors, but Ryan Gosling really does (sorry for the cliché) steal the show. He plays the young cocky prosecutor who finds himself stretched to the limit with this wily and deviously intelligent defendant. I found it really gripping and really enjoyed the twist at the end.

Rating: 8/10
Great acting, but the young up-and-coming lawyer angle is somewhat reminiscent of John Grisham.
 

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