Tag Archives: Penguin

The 14th Dalai Lama by Tetsu Saiwai

3rd November 2011

*I received this book (in exchange for an honest review) from Gabrielle Gantz who is with Penguin.

If you haven’t yet checked out the manga biographies from Penguin, I would really encourage you to do so, particularly if you teach or have reluctant readers. This book is the first of three I received from Gabrielle, and I have really enjoyed each one.

The 14th Dalai Lama is a biography of, none other than, the 14th Dalai Lama, from his childhood all the way to 2009, demonstrating his loyalty to his people and to non-violence. It also details the strife China has caused Tibet. The only real introduction to Tibetan culture or the Dalai Lama I have had was when Seven Years in Tibet came out, so I was really interested in this bio.

Tetsu Saiwai’s illustrations are really nice, as is the cover, which I think is simply fantastic. I love the colors, the black and white image of the Dalai Lama, and the typeface. Sometimes in comics, I have trouble keeping track of the characters because they look similar. Saiwai does an excellent job of distinguishing each. One funny aside: the characters all seem to sweat a lot. I believe the artist was drawing attention to the stress in the Tibetan’s struggles, but it was kind of humorous. Also, there were some typos, which made me twitch a bit.

However, I really love the idea behind these books and am adding them to my ESL library because I think they will really engage my students, many of whom dislike reading.

Read this: if you’ve been hesitant to pick up a graphic novel but are interested in history. Also, recommended for use in the classroom.

Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day by Ben Loory

16th August 2011

*I received this book through NetGalley, courtesy of the publisher Penguin Group USA. Isn’t that an incredible cover?

THE SHADOW

Once there was a man who was afraid of his shadow.

Then he met it.

Now he glows in the dark.

Ben Loory’s Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day is the kind of book that is deceptively simplistic. The short short story above is just that, a three-sentence story. Its meaning? That’s a whole other matter. For each of the 40 stories in this collection, there is no neat “moral of the story.” These are grown-up fables, maximizing the complicated weirdness of life in general.

There is a Twilight Zone quality to them (in fact, Loory mentions this in an interview on Poof Books), lending them an unreality while also burning the irony and the bizarre into your mind: a walking tree who is gated to showcase its abilities, only to have the tree’s roots dig so deeply it cannot move. A house on a cliff that yearns to be friendly with the sea rushing past it. A man who turns on his TV only to watch his own life being played out – a life he is no longer really living. An octopus who lives on land but misses his family.

Stories for the Nighttime and Some for the Day is ethereal in the telling but gritty in the details – the symmetry and cruelty of nature is a strong theme, as is the futility of fighting against it. These are not bedtimes stories to read to your child (not that they are intended to be), but I did find them to be calming and structurally interesting, and I read a few before bed each night last week.

One of my favorite moments in the book is the one I’ll leave you with today, the ending of “The House on the Cliff and the Sea”:

And now, today, the two are together. They wander the world as one. They eat cakes and scones and lots of fish, and every now and then some coconuts.

The sea doesn’t care much for the land anymore, but sometimes they drift on by. And the house smiles and waves at its friends on the shore, and then they drift some more.

At night, the sea lies there and listens to the house creaking gently as it floats, and tries to remember that it now has a new name.

A house on the sea is a boat.

I Gave Quentin Another Chance: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

21st July 2011

*I received this book from Viking/Penguin. The Magician King will be published in August 9, 2011. Preorder your copy here.

At the end of Book I, Janet and Eliot tear Quentin away from his grief and anger to take his place on the throne as one of two kings of Fillory. Janet is a queen, and the two have found Julia, the girl Quentin loved in vain at the start of the novel. In Fillory, they laze about and try to ascertain just what royalty does in a magical land.

Quentin and Julia plan a trip to the Outer Island on his ship the Muntjac, needing to get away from the tedium of the castle after a series of ominous events indicate all is not right in Fillory.  Along the way he learns the story of the Seven Golden Keys and decides to follow the trail to find them. However, Quentin has not yet learned magic is not quite what he thinks it is and after locating the first key, he uses it and is plunged back to Earth. Insecure and out of his element, Quentin must rely on Julia and her hard-won dark magic to help him find his way back and heal Fillory.

So. If you read yesterday’s review, you know I was not a huge fan of The Magicians. However, as I also mentioned, I really liked Lev Grossman’s writing style and decided after taking a look at the website for the books that I would give it another go.

I still really disliked the characters. I mean, after the friends he has lost or who have been injured by all this questing, Quentin is still so eager to jump in and go on a quest for no apparent reason. For such an intelligent guy, he has no forethought. Plus, he is king of Fillory, this land he has always wanted to experience, and he is still unhappy.

BUT. And that’s a big “but” – Julia’s story made this book for me. In the last novel, she is taken to Brakebills for the exam but doesn’t pass. She sees Quentin and knows he has passed, but Dean Fogg tries to delete the memory, and it literally drives her insane first, trying to recall what happened and then, trying to understand why she wasn’t accepted. Julia explores magic in her own way, learning in magic “safe houses” and obsessing over spells. Accepted into an elite group who researches the source of magic, Julia feels as though she finally finds her place until the magic she loves destroys her small family of friends. Her story is incredibly dark and rather disturbing in several instances, but she and her friends’ exploration of magic and the divine was tense, well plotted, and interesting.

All in all, if you liked or even sort of liked The Magicians, I think you will really get into the sequel.

************

On that note, the publisher has kindly offered a finished copy of The Magician King to a lucky reader of this blog. All you have to do to enter is answer the question below by Tuesday, July 26, 2011:

Who are some of your favorite fantasy/magic authors and which book is at the top of your list? If you don’t read much fantasy, what might tempt you?

UPDATE: The winner of this giveaway is Amy! Congrats.

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

20th July 2011

The short version: A story of college students at a school of magic who aren’t happy with their lives and sit around drinking and complaining before they graduate and do a lot more drinking and complaining before they go looking for trouble…and find it.

Warning: a somewhat snarky review follows.

***

Quentin is the smartest kid he knows, but he is bored as hell. His parents are wrapped up in their own lives, and the girl he’s in love with isn’t in love with him. He has grown up reading a series of books about children who had adventures in the land of Fillory, and he’s stuck on Earth. In other words, his life is atrocious, and no one else has ever experienced such horrendous torture. You should all feel very sorry for him. Quentin certainly does, until an odd series of events leads him to Brakebills College, an elite school of magic where he passes the entrance exam.

From then on, it’s magic and studying and magic and studying with a few high and low points, like having sex while transformed into a fox, nearly dying in the wilds of Antarctica, and sitting around playing welters, a game of magic. Then Quentin and his friends, Eliot, Janet, Josh, and girlfriend Alice all graduate. Life as a magician in the real world is pretty boring. Do you get a real job? Well, why would you? There is a mysterious “magician’s fund” that apparently is never depleted and provides magicians money when they need it. (I’m all in, by the way.) However, again these characters are miserable – drinking too much, doing drugs, having meaningless sex – and they need something. That something is Fillory. Because lo and behold, it really exists. So the gang ponies up and heads to Fillory, but it isn’t all magic bunnies and beautiful nymphs. Something is wrong in Fillory, and Quentin must figure out what it is in order to try to be happy. (Here’s where the plot finally comes in, right around page 240.)

***

Because that’s all this novel is really about. Quentin is really really unhappy with absolutely no real reason (until the end) to be unhappy. But I have to start this review with this: Lev Grossman has some serious writing chops. In fact, that’s the only reason I finished this novel because lord have mercy, it was long. And drawn out. And not a lot happened for two-thirds of the book. There is no overarching plot here, and I guess that’s what annoyed me the most. At times I checked to make sure it wasn’t a spoof of Harry Potter and Chronicles of Narnia, since it referenced each multiple times. Fillory was essentially Narnia, which made me think Grossman could have just used it in the book instead of creating something so darn similar but not calling it Narnia. I kept checking to see what page I was on because I could not believe how long it was taking me to read this book. Without any real plot to move the book along, Grossman relies on his characters, and they are kind of a bunch of assholes. They are selfish, lazy, and pretentious. Alice, Quentin’s girlfriend, was the only character I remotely liked, simply because her background and unhappiness made sense. Everyone else just sort of claimed unhappiness for sport. Alice is the only one who actually points it out, telling Quentin:

[L]ook at your life and see how perfect it is. Stop looking for the next secret door that is going to lead you to your real life. Stop waiting. This is it; there’s nothing else. It’s here, and you better decide to enjoy it or you’re going to be miserable wherever you go, for the rest of your life, forever.

And pretty much, he is miserable forever – at least the forever that is this book – even with a pretty cool, British-y magic school, some pretty darn good friends, and money out the wazoo. Ultimately, this book was an exercise in futility, reinforcing the idea that some people ain’t happy and ain’t never gonna be happy, no matter what. If that’s magic, I don’t really want any part of it.

So I gotta know – have you read this? Did you react at all to it like I did? Or have I lost my non-magical mind?

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. All is not lost. The nice folks at Viking sent me this book and The Magician King, the sequel to this book, for me to read and review. Come back tomorrow for a giveaway and to see why I think it’s (somewhat) redemptive.

Other Reviews:

The New York Times

Fantasy Book Review

Entomology of a Bookworm