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Book Recommendations: February 2013


By Appa the Gypsy

Now, THIS is a library...

Now, THIS is a library…

Maybe you’re like me, and you’re forever drowning in that pile of books to read that’s always growing, and never seems to shrink. Maybe you wish you read more, but you don’t know what’s worth picking up. Either way, there really is never enough time to wade through the contents of the bookstore or the library and work out which ones you love and which ones aren’t really your thing. That’s what recommendations are for! We all need a little help working out what’s out there. So I’m here to help you find something you might like to pick up, by telling you about books I’m glad I’ve read…

Middle Grade Science Fiction/Fantasy: Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

There are Artemis Fowl graphic novels. True story. They look pretty epic.

There are Artemis Fowl graphic novels. True story. They look pretty epic.

The series is one of the best children’s series I’ve ever read. Fast, witty and anchored in our own world, the Artemis Fowl books make for an entertaining read for people of any ages. The story follows the adventures of child-genius, Artemis Fowl, as he repeatedly encounters the underground world of fairies.

Always one step ahead, or so he likes to think, Artemis and his faithful butler, rather ingeniously named Butler, go head to head with, and at times, team up with, the fairy police on several different adventures. Artemis challenges the fairy world to get at their gold, takes on the Russian Mafia, goes toe-to-toe with a crazed pixie genius multiple times, gets caught in other dimensions, time travels, contracts a magical personality disorder, and saves the world repeatedly. Fast-paced and smart, these books challenge the reader to think ahead, to work out the puzzles, and to figure things out before the mastermind protagonist can.

All eight books in the series.

All eight books in the series.

If you haven’t read these books, then I suggest you give them a shot, and if you know a kid who hasn’t had the pleasure, go buy them a copy too! My favourite book is the seventh one, because it’s just downright hilarious, but all the books are a fantastically entertaining read, and the main character learns some wonderful lessons about selfishness and what’s really important in life. Seriously. These books are brilliant, and Artemis makes a great journey from the anti-hero to the real hero throughout the series.

1)      Artemis Fowl

2)      Artemis Fowl: The Artic Incident

3)      Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code

4)      Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception

5)      Artemis Fowl: The Lost Colony

6)      Artemis Fowl: The Time Paradox

7)      Artemis Fowl: The Atlantis Complex

8)      Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian

Young Adult Paranormal Romance: The Shiver Trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater

I’ve been reading a lot of YA novels recently, mostly because they’re easy to read, if I’m being honest. And, let me tell you, there are some terrible titles in the Fantasy and Paranormal Romance genres of the YA section in your bookstore. And I mean terrible. The explosion of the paranormal romance genre onto the top seller scene, and the addition of the Young Adult section to the shelves at bookstores created a void that is slowly being filled with great titles which are being buried under crap at a much faster pace. This series is not crap. I wouldn’t be recommending it if it was bad… obviously I quite like it. And I do think it’s important to give the attention to the titles in the genre that are actually good, instead of spending all our time slamming the ones that aren’t.

The books in the Shiver Trilogy. They so pretty.

The books in the Shiver Trilogy. They so pretty.

What I liked most about the Shiver Trilogy was, rather unusually, less to do with the world where becoming a werewolf is a death sentence to your humanity or the beautiful love story of the two main characters. It was refreshingly all to do with the writing. Stiefvater’s writing style was measured and melancholic, and it felt strangely poetic somehow. I think the setting also lent itself perfectly to that tone as well. It was completely different from anything I’ve read recently, and that’s what pulled me into this story.

Right. So, let’s breakdown the story, to give you an idea of what the series is about. This is purely a werewolf story, so don’t expect any vampires or zombies or anything like that. Werewolves. That is all. The mythology of the werewolf in Shiver is pretty standard, if not more scientific than usual. Werewolf bites carry the werewolf disease which causes you to transform into a wolf (just a normal wolf, nothing gigantic or mutant or anything), and the transformation is triggered by seasonal temperatures. When it’s cold, you go wolf, when it’s warm, you become human again. But, the longer you have the disease, the shorter your time as a human gets to be and the less cold it needs to get to trigger your transformation, until, eventually, you just never transform back into a person. And that’s where you get the epic conflict of the love story that is the heart of the story. Sam and Grace are working against the clock, trying to find a way to stay together. With the ever-dwindling habitat for the wolves becoming more and more invaded by poachers, and Sam’s time as a human becoming shorter and shorter, the discovery of a possible cure becomes the most important thing in the world. As the characters come to terms with themselves and the things that have happened to them in their lives, they build relationships and friendships with each other, bound together by a need to save themselves from the inevitability of the werewolf virus.

On a final note, I will comment that Stiefvater might really have something against parents in general. The parents of the characters of this book are just plain bad at parenting, one set to a particularly horrible degree. The only parental adult figures that are viewed favourably are the ones that no one’s actually related to… Go figure. But, maybe that’s the point. I hear not many people really like their parents much as teenagers. Anyway, I really did like this series. I’m not saying everyone would love it, but if you want something to read on a rainy day in front of a fire, then this could be just the ticket. And it could be worth the read, just to prove to yourself that well-written paranormal romances do exist, because that’s what this series is. It’s well-written.

1)      Shiver

2)      Linger

3)      Forever

Here. Have a book trailer for the last book. Trust me. There’s no spoilers. I don’t understand book trailers… What is it for? I don’t know.

Adult Fantasy: Dragonlance by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

DragonlanceI am a massive fan of the Dragonlance books, as you may have noticed, since this series of books was one of my 3 Things That Make Me Want to Play Dungeons and Dragons (wish fulfilled, btw). Anyway, I started reading the series when I was about fifteen, and I’m really glad I did, because these books kept me reading as a teenager. I was having a lot of trouble finding good titles at the time, and what better solution to that problem than a series than includes over a hundred and fifty books? You heard me. There are heaps. I’m not going to lie, I haven’t read them all, but I did adore the ones I did read (and I did read a lot of them). So, reading this series is a massive undertaking. Understand that, but also understand that you don’t have to read them all, and, frankly, good luck finding them all. But I really think they’re worth giving a shot, particularly for readers looking to transition from the world of middle grade and young adult fantasy and science fiction, in into the adult section of the bookstore. I’d also recommend them to anyone wanting to take a break from the really gritty adult fantasy books that you generally come across.

Adult Fantasy novels can get intense. It’s a fact. Very few don’t include some sort of sexual assault and/or gruesome death scene. I don’t know why that is, to be honest. Could be some way of forcefully connecting the world of the book to our world of reality, or something. Either way, it can get intense, and difficult to read. Especially if you’re only on page ten.  I first started reading Dragonlance books when I was about fifteen, and I came out the other side just fine. Because Dragonlance, at least the first few sets of books, is like… Lite fantasy. It’s got all the good stuff that normal fantasy books have, without the majority of the bad. I’m not saying it was written by Stephenie Meyer and thus everyone gets married and chooses not to live in sin, but it’s a lot easier to handle. But, as important as this point is, I think I should move on to some more compelling reasons for getting into the series.

And that's not even half of them...

And that’s not even half of them…

The characters. They’re the reason you want to read this series. I mean, they die and new ones take over in time, because the series also spans several centuries, but the core characters, known as the “Heroes of the Lance”, are absolutely worth reading about. You’ve got your half-elf, tortured by not belonging with either race, and a dwarf, old and battered, but bound by a desire to care for his friends. A kender, a member of a childlike race of people who don’t understand laws of possession, or any kind of cruelty or evil, and a man who wants more than anything to be a knight, valuing honour above all. Twin brothers, one a frail-bodied mage of great intelligence and cynicism, the other a bulky, slow-thinking warrior, both considered to be half of a broken whole, and both needing to escape the other, although yet to discover that. When these six meet a plainswoman and man guarding a powerful artefact, they are flung into a war that no one knew had begun, and one that not all of them will survive. Add to the mix a love triangle involving an elven princess and a dangerous highlord of the goddess of evil, several gods just casually walking among men, and the return of dragons to the world as well as the weapons that destroy them, the dragonlances, and you’ve got yourself the makings of an epic series. I’ve found that the magic and the fantasy worlds of books like this are what draw you to them, but it’s the characters, and their stories that keep you there, and for me, Dragonlance taught me the importance of the characters. Often in fantasy novels, the characters aren’t allowed to drive their stories, because their worlds or some sort of prophesy or an intense sense of duty controls them too much, but I’ve never thought that was the case with this series. These are people who are allowed to make their mistakes, choose to save the world or to help destroy it, or even to just turn away and let what will be happen. The characters are driven by what they want, even the characters we think are good. They aren’t just good because they’re good, and that adds a lot of depth to a set of characters that could have come across as preachy and one-dimensional, which is a distinction that many fantasy novels fail to make.

Just as a final note on Dragonlance, I’ll explain the way the series works, because it’s not straight forward. Basically, you have your main storyline, which is mostly several sets of trilogies in a chronological order (messed up by timetravel, kind of, but let’s not get too picky), and most written by the same two authors. Then you have the prequels, side stories, and anthologies that all fit in somehow. Some of these lead into or follow on from the main storyline, and really are core novels, while others are supplementary, dealing with characters and events that do not relate the main story very much, if at all. I really got into the prequels, such as The Soul Forge which was my absolute favourite prequel, and the side stories like the Icewall trilogy or the Lost Chronicles, which tells the story of something happening on the side of the main storyline or something that isn’t explained in the main story. I didn’t particularly like many of the anthologies, mostly because there was some poetry and some stories I didn’t really get when I was younger. I’m sure I’d understand them now, but I will admit that there was always at least one story in the anthologies that I really enjoyed. I’d suggest googling it, or checking out this webpage, because it’s complicated, but I’ll give you a shorter list to help you get started.

Chronicles Trilogy:

1)      Dragons of Autumn Twilight

2)      Dragons of Winter Night

3)      Dragons of Spring Dawning

Legends Trilogy:

4)      Time of the Twins

5)      War of the Twins

6)      Test of the Twins

The Second Generation

7)      The Second Generation

8)      Dragons of Summer Flame

From there, you can kind of go where you like, I think, but I’m telling you that it is imperative you read the first six on my list before venturing elsewhere in the Dragonlance world.

Fun Fact: A book from one of these series has been adapted into an animated movie. I wonder which one…

Feel free to comment and suggest any books or series to me or our other readers that you’ve liked. Even though I do suffer from the never-shrinking pile of books I have to read, I think I’d be lost without it too. It’s like a constant challenge that I’m accepting, so don’t feel bad for adding to that pile. In fact, come at me with your recommendations. Challenge accepted.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

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