Friday, March 27, 2009

The Color of Magic by Terry Pratchett

I first found out about Pratchett and his Discworld novels during my exchange trip to England in college. I was out of reading material and a friend of mine gave me one of his books to read. Eight years later and I'm still reading his books! 

The first book in the Discworld series, The Color of Magic introduces us to the very colorful creation of Pratchett's mind. Discworld is carried on the backs of four giant elephants, which in turn are carried by Great A'Tuin the turtle. The gender of Great A'Tuin is in question, and the main objective of Krull through the years was to discover if Great A'Tuin was male or female. 

Then there is Ankh-Morpork, in which we find the wizard Rincewind, though to call him a wizard is a great exaggeration. He finds himself pressed into service by acting as a tour guide for Twoflower, the tourist. Through the book, the hapless wizard is led on more adventure than he had ever wished to encounter. 

The book is great set-up for the series, as Twoflower and Rincewind find themselves traveling across the Discworld in search of adventure (or in Rincewind's case, avoiding it). The book is not a quick read, but needs to be savored, as Pratchett uses humor and satire to paint his world. He throws a lot of fairy tale and fantasy plot devices into the book, though by no means does he limit himself. The city of Ankh-Morpork, for example, is based off the city of Budapest in that it was once two cities separated by a river. The Patrician of the city is very Machiavellian in his methods.  There is also Hrun the Barbarian, who is the epitome of every hero in any story--from his long, flowing locks to his single-mindedness in finding damsels and treasure. 

The cover of the book is my biggest issue, as it is very boring. Pratchett's books are full, and the American covers fail to fulfill that. The British covers, on the other hand, are very busy. 
With the British covers, I frequently find myself trying to figure out who are what characters and what is going on! They're not known for their attractive qualities, and they don't look contemporary, but rather something I would pick up at a yard sale or flea market. With the smell of decaying paper. 

Regardless, there must still be some kind of happy medium between the two covers. The American cover fails to deliver for the goods inside, while the British cover delivers the goods too well. 

Lastly, I found out today that there is a movie for The Color of Magic. Granted, it was a television movie and only seen in the United Kingdom, but I am still curious enough to wish to see it. At first I thought it might be an animated movie, but no, it is quite live action. It stars Sean Astin as Twoflower and Jeremy Irons as the Patrician. (That last bit is enough for me to want to see it. 
Granted, they are going to take some liberties with the story. The movie includes the character "Cohen the Barbarian" (see his play on things?) while the book had "Hrun the Barbarian." It also includes characters that will show up in later books in the Discworld series. Some research shows that the movie is based on The Color of Magic as well as the next book, The Light Fantastic.

In a perfect world, the Discworld series would continue. Alas, Pratchett was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's, which means the end of Discworld will come sooner than we all could wish for. 

Friday, March 13, 2009

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

It's not very often that I find myself crying because of a book. Usually if I do, it's because I either get a paper cut or the book is so horrible that it makes me miserable. 

Not so with this book. 

The story starts with a stampede and a murder at the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Jacob Jankowski, Cornell-educated veterinarian, is witness. In the book, he tells the story of how he ran away from his life and joined the circus. What starts as a cliche turns into a touching story of a man who comes of age during the Great Depression and navigates the treacherous waters of a traveling circus. Gruen's characters are vividly painted, from the blustery ring top leader (who is not a Benzini Brother), to the star of the equestrian act, and to the "great gray hope" of the show, elephant Rosie. 

Gruen's inspiration to write about a Depression-era circus came from an article she read in the Chicago Tribune about circus photographer Edward Kelty. She writes about the circus in times before political correctness spelled the end of the "freak show" (the Lovely Lucinda was Uncle Al's underweight fat lady--she was no 850 lbs) and the pressures from PETA. Gruen also highlighted the behind-the-scenes back-stabbing as well as the competition among the various circus outfits. A bonus were the added circus photographs from the great depression, which added realism to a wonderful story. 

I would definitely recommend this novel. It's a modern historical fiction with elements of mystery and a twist on a murder.

Devil's Cub by Georgette Heyer

I just finished reading Devil's Cub, the sequel of These Old Shades. It is the story of Justin and Leonie's son, Dominic, the Marquis Vidal. The story opens when Vidal shoots a highwayman on the way to a party. This sets the character of Vidal very well, as he is very debonair, sophisticated, and can do no wrong. Every man wishes to be him, and every woman wants him.

He, however, does not want any woman. His eyes are on the lovely Sophia Challoner, but not as his wife. Instead he wishes to whisk her off to France and give her carte-blanche. In an effort to stop her sister from ruining her reputation--for Sophia thinks the Marquis means marriage--Mary Challoner takes her place. Alas, by the time Dominic finds out the switch, he is so angered that he takes Mary in her sister's place.

On their journey through Paris, Dominic discovers that Mary is nothing at all like Sophia and he has made a huge mistake. He immediately offers marriage, but Mary declines, preferring the life of a governess to that as his wife. After a sojourn in Paris, an escape attempt, and the arrival of the Duke of Avon on the scene (which Vidal was hoping to avoid at all costs), the story is in full swing.

It's a great story and I would definitely recommend her books. Right now I am tired of more recently published romance novels, especially the ones that descend quickly into the sex scenes and the love between the characters is not quite believable. I enjoy picking up a Heyer because it's a deeper read and so enjoyable. She is one author that a glom will not ruin!