Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magicians told the story of Quentin, his times at magical college Brakebills, and the dazed and confused years after graduation. It's basically a grown-up, more angst-ridden Harry Potter. The sequel, The Magician King is in some ways even better.

At the end of the first book, Quentin and his friends defeated the Beast in the magical land of Fillory, though at great cost. As the second book starts, they are ruling Fillory as kings and queens. Unfortunately, Quentin isn't content to be the king of this magical world he has dreamt of since childhood. It's incredibly consistent with his character from the first book. He wasn't content being an overachiever with a promising future, he wasn't content with his relationship with Alice. It's kind of infuriating, but understandable. He wants something more, even if he can't express exactly what that something more is.

Quentin decides that what he needs is an adventure, so he sets off to visit some distant island that hasn't paid its taxes, ever. Once there, he stumbles upon a quest to collect the key that winds up the entire world. When he actually gets the key and turns it, he finds himself back on earth, right outside his parents' home. This wasn't quite the adventure he anticipated.

Of course, Quentin being Quentin, he is immediately unhappy with returning to earth and must return to Fillory by any means possible. He is joined in his earth adventure by Julia. In The Magicians, Julia had been Quentin's big crush. She also took the exam for Brakebills, but she failed. Anyone who failed was supposed to have their memory wiped, but it didn't take with Julia. She knew there was something she could have had, something missing from her life. Now she is somehow different, she uses powerful magic and doesn't use contractions.

Intermittent chapters in The Magician King tell about Julia's path to becoming magical, a hedge witch as Quentin calls her. They visit the half-way houses and magic underground where Julia first learned spells. Quentin's reaction to all this is absolutely delightful in its snobby pretentiousness. He reminded me of nothing more than Ted Mosby.

In the end, Quentin ends up with an even greater quest. There's gods and keys, a whole big adventure to save magic. Still, I can't imagine that Quentin is happy with how everything ends up, though Quentin isn't ever happy anyways. My favorite part of The Magician King is how it doesn't strictly focus on Quentin, the Harry Potter of the story. It wanders off and lets us know what happened with Ron, Draco, and even Dudley, the one magic doesn't choose. You realize that even the sidekicks want to be the hero of their own story, that sloths are awesome talking animals, and that sometimes you need to be happy wherever you happen to be, Quentin.

I received an advanced ebook of The Magician King from NetGalley. The book will be available in stores on August 9th.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Good Stuff: A Reminiscence of My Father, Cary Grant by Jennifer Grant

It's almost funny to think that there was a time when I didn't know who Cary Grant was. In college, I took a class on 20th century American history. The big project was for everyone to choose a movie theme and write about how the movies represented their time period. My theme was "The Ideal Man," all about Cary Grant. I was supposed to watch three movies and ended up watching something around twenty. I bought and borrowed anything I could get my hands on, just to get more Cary. He has that kind of draw.

Personally, I'm a fan of autobiography as opposed to biography. Nobody can know anyone better than themselves, right? As far as I'm aware, Cary Grant never wrote an autobiography (Though according to Ms. Grant, he started one). However, a biography by his daughter comes pretty close.

My initial reaction to Good Stuff was crying. I was on my break at work and just started crying. Jennifer Grant wrote a touching tribute to her father. No offense to my own dad, but Cary Grant was a wonderful father. He saved almost everything she touched, and the book is full of photographs, letters, and drawings. I was awestruck by how he took up fatherhood with such zeal.

It was nice to get a glimpse at the man behind the famous Cary Grant, and also reassuring to know that the real Cary Grant was basically just as he seemed. Rumors are addressed and mostly debunked. Cary Grant comes off as a poor boy who made it, then as a doting father trying to raise his daughter. Good Stuff made me cry, yes, but it also made me laugh and marvel at how amazing Cary Grant was in real life, even more amazing than C.K. Dexter Haven or any other character he played. My favorite Cary Grant quote was always:

"I pretended to be somebody I wanted to be until I became that person. Or he became me."

In his case, Alexander Archibald Leech pretended to be a movie star named Cary Grant. Cary Grant the actor pretended to be a father. He was pretending to be all those things at once, when he already was all of them at once. He no longer had to pretend, he had become Cary Grant, and Cary Grant had become him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Le Cirque de Reves translates to the circus of dreams. Without any warning, it arrives in a town. The gates open at nightfall and close at dawn. It contains tents filled with wonders beyond your wildest dreams.

It is also the setting for an epic battle. Long ago, two men chose students. They trained them in their ideology, telling them that one day they will be called upon to fight, but not telling them that only one of them will be left standing. Hector Bowen chose his newly inherited daughter Celia. The man in gray chose rescued orphan Marco. Celia and Marco are tied together before they even meet. Good-natured competition over controlling territory in the circus leads to respect leads to love. It's difficult to convey these things without sounding cheesy, but their romance is entirely charming.

Of course, the book isn't entirely about a magic battle. The other characters are fantastic, from the kitten-taming twins Poppet and Widget to circus groupie Frederick Thiessen. I think I'm in love with this book, because I absolutely adore everything about it.

I was drawn to The Night Circus because it reminded me of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Something about real-life magicians in fancy Victorian settings is very appealing to me. I'd recommend this book if you like Jonathan Strange and the movies The Prestige and The Illusionist.

I got my ebook of The Night Circus from NetGalley. The release date is September 13 (Which is also my birthday, FYI, and also sort of made me think I just had to read this book.).

Monday, June 6, 2011

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

There was something about the island that made the girls forget who they had been. All those rules and shalt nots. They were no longer performing. Waiting. Hoping.
They were becoming.
They were.
Beauty Queens is the story of a group of pageant winners whose plane crashes on the way to competing for the title of Miss Teen Dream. They land on a desert island and are forced to figure out a way to save themselves. Using the tools on hand, basically a bunch of beauty supplies and ripped dresses, they figure out how to get food, fresh water, and even make weapons.

One of the girls compared their situation to Lord of the Flies. The difference was that the boys lost their humanity while shipwrecked. The girls found themselves, their inner strength and untapped talents. Even now, there can be incredible pressure on girls to smile and look pretty, say sorry when they didn't do anything wrong. I enjoyed learning about the different contestants and how their history shaped their behavior on the island. All of their hidden secrets come out, but nobody is shamed for being who they are.

In the background of the book is the Corporation. They are the sponsors of Miss Teen Dream. Commercials run throughout the book, advertising products, movies, and TV shows. Unbeknownst to the beauty queens, there is also a secret Corporation compound on the island. They are planning a major weapons deal with an enemy nation, and the girls are getting in the way.

I thought Beauty Queens would be a fun and fluffy read. I have had a minor obsession with pageants since I was a child, when I made my Barbies compete for crowns. A lot of the book is fluffiness. At first, the girls practice for the pageant before ultimately focusing on survival. There's dresses and makeup and even a boatload of cute boys. It's also way more than expected, from surprise feminism lessons to a mysterious island that almost rivals Lost to a staggering body count. If this isn't a perfect beach read, I don't know what is.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ultraviolet by R.J. Anderson

Once upon a time there was a girl who was special...
This is not her story.
Unless you count the part where I killed her.

The last thing that Alison remembers is fighting with Tori Beauregard. Then Tori disintegrated. She isn't sure exactly how it happened, but Alison knows it's her fault, she killed Tori.

Now, Alison is being held in a psychiatric hospital. Her greatest wish is to be a able to return home. Unfortunately, despite her best efforts, sometimes Alison becomes overwhelmed and can't control herself. Certain stimulations, whether sounds, colors, or people, make her react in violent ways. When Alison becomes upset, the text even repeats, jumps around, and stops midsentence and starts over again. Reading that way almost made me feel like I was going mental as well.

About halfway through the book, we are given a name for Alison's condition: synesthesia. It's a real thing, which is a bonus. Synesthesia is a condition where different senses are connected to each other. Alison can see letters and numbers as different colors and she tastes words. She always felt the need to hide her abilities, just as she now hides her feelings and always tries to appear sane.

There's not much more I can say without giving anything away. I preferred the first parts of the book when Alison was trapped in the hospital, not even sure herself whether she was sane or not. That seemed like a very possible and scary situation. The following parts...well, they're less believable. It took me out of the book a little. It's not bad, per se. The whole book isn't ruined. It wasn't even completely unexpected (There's foreshadowing). I just wish it would have stuck with the original story.

I got my ebook of Ultraviolet from NetGalley. It will be released September 1, 2011.