Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “magic”

TylerDFC #CBR4 Review 19 #The Night Circus by #Erin Morgenstern

“The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it, no paper notices plastered on lampposts and billboards. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.”

No opening passage in some time has been as apt as this one for mood setting. You will not be expecting this book, and for a certain type of person, you may very well be as completely enraptured by it as I was. It is a difficult book to summarize and I know it has already been reviewed a few times on this Cannonball so I’m not going to go in to it again. The following is from Amazon:

Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night.

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors.

This is Morgenstern’s first novel but it reads as if it was written by a pro. Her characters are vividly drawn, descriptions are beautifully evocative and the story is absolutely mesmerizing. Set during the turn of the 20th century, Le Cirque des Rêves is a place full of wonders and subtle magic. The competition is not a battle so much as a trial of endurance to keep the circus operating and all of the illusions intact. As the competition wears on the lives of the magicians, the circus performers, even the visitors are all affected by the game that they have no way to escape until a victor is declared. Neither Celia or Marco know the rules of the competition nor how the winner will be named. As they begin to fall in love with each other things start to get even more complicated.

The Night Circus is the best book I have read in years and one I would call perfect. I compare it to Stephen King’s The Eyes of the Dragon, or Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. All three books perfectly balance story, characters, language, and mood and becomes something absolutely unique.

If more people would read The Night Circus and less were wasting their time with barely literate garbage like 50 Shades of Gray than the world would be an infinitely better place.

 

Mrs Smith Reads Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson, #CBR4 Review #20

 

I’ve decided that Alif the Unseen will be the book that everyone reads next year. I don’t mean that as a back-handed compliment either, I think it’s a great story that’s easy to follow, has very interesting characters, a smidgen of magic and even the Internet-hacker aspect of the narrative is effortlessly accessible, whether you’re 14 or 49.

I enjoyed the heck out of Alif the Unseen. G. Willow Wilson has written a magical mystery tour of life, the internet and everything, both seen and unseen. Wilson, best known as a graphic novelist, is an American who converted to Islam while attending Boston University. She deftly handles Islamic sensibilities and culture in a way that feels comfortable, and even familiar to western readers.

The protagonist, who goes by the handle Alif—the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a play on the 1s and 0s of his coding life—is half arab and half Indian. Alif lives in an unnamed Emirate state, a place where his life is invisible to many, not only because of his mixed-race heritage, but also because he works as a grey-hat hacker who helps others evade the Internet security forces who retain tight control of all information flowing into and out of his country.

Alif the Unseen by G. Willow Wilson

Baxlala’s #CBR4 Review #26: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley

YOU GUYS. This book is CRAZEBALLS. I don’t even know where to start. First of all! It’s 876 pages long. That is the exact number TO THE PAGE, even though it sounds made up. But I didn’t make it up, I just now looked in the book. Scout’s honor. Only I was never a Boy Scout or a Girl Scout so just pretend it’s Scout’s honor like Scout Finch, OK? That is some genetically good honor, you know? Atticus, man. FUCKING ATTICUS.

But let’s get back to the crazier, more incestuous universe of The Mists of Avalon, shall we?

The Mists of Avalon is a retelling of the legend of King Arthur, his knights of the round table, and all that chivalry crap, told from the point of view of the womenfolk. If you’re around my age, you may remember the miniseries that aired on TNT that starred Angelica Houston and a post-ER, pre-Good Wife Julianna Margulies. I’ve been meaning to read the book ever since I saw the mini-series and it only took me 11 years! Go me!

So let’s talk about the book, OK? Because it took me approximately 90 years to finish it. This contains slight spoilers but you might already know about them if you’ve ever heard/read anything about The Mists of Avalon before.

Morgaine (of the fairies!) is the daughter of Igraine and some duke nobody cares about, and is also the niece of Vivianne, Lady of the Lake (she has MAGICAL POWERS), and Morgause, the youngest of the three sisters and a total free spirit (this means she likes sex a lot and good for her!). Igraine ends up with Uther Pendragon BECAUSE IT WAS FORETOLD, and gives birth to Arthur, who is to be the king who brings peace to the land, if all goes according to plan.

Morgaine, who has THE SIGHT, is taken away by Vivianne when she’s quite young and when Arthur is still a baby. THIS IS IMPORTANT. Vivianne takes Morgaine to Avalon, where she is to be trained as a priestess. Once she’s grown, she takes part in a kingmaking ceremony, where the future king has to run with some deer (this is apparently very dangerous) and then have sex with a virgin priestess of Avalon. Lucky Morgaine, she is that virgin priestess. But not so lucky, because the king is totally Arthur, HER HALF-BROTHER. She is understandably upset, though she couldn’t have known it was Arthur, and runs away because DUH incest.

MEANWHILE, Lancelot Lancelet is busy falling in love with Guinevere Gwenhwyfar because of…reasons? I guess? She’s totally beautiful, but other than that, I’m pretty sure she has no redeeming qualities. Seriously, you guys, she is the worst. And not like Britta is the worst but THE ACTUAL WORST like I was wishing for her death most of the time.

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There are a million other characters and they all have really similar names, so I definitely recommend reading this book with a cheat sheet or the Wikipedia page open or something, and even then, if you’re anything like me, you’re going to just start pretending Gawaine and Gareth are the same person, which, honestly, probably won’t affect your reading of the story all that much because you’ll be pretty focused on the whole incest thing. Oh! And also the threesome.

Long story short (HAHAHA), you should read this if you like really long retellings of familiar stories and fairies and mother earth and shit. Also incest.

Amanda6′s #CBR4 Review 28: Among Others by Jo Walton

Raised by a half-mad mother who dabbled in magic, Morwenna Phelps found refuge in two worlds. As a child growing up in Wales, she played among the spirits who made their homes in industrial ruins. But her mind found freedom and promise in the science fiction novels that were her closest companions. Then her mother tried to bend the spirits to dark ends, and Mori was forced to confront her in a magical battle that left her crippled–and her twin sister dead.

Fleeing to her father whom she barely knew, Mori was sent to boarding school in England–a place all but devoid of true magic. There, outcast and alone, she tempted fate by doing magic herself, in an attempt to find a circle of like-minded friends. But her magic also drew the attention of her mother, bringing about a reckoning that could no longer be put off…

This was a really interesting book; reading it felt like an adventure. I don’t think it can be accurately described as ‘magical realism,’ at least not in the way I usually think of it, where magical/supernatural occurrences are presented as being the reality of the setting. Rather, this is the story of a girl who is so deeply connected to fantasy and science fiction stories that she applies the fantastical possibilities therein to her own world. Her magic, she explains, isn’t like the magic we read about though, with its spells that are cast from grimoires. It’s more like a re-arranging of the world and time so that things come to pass. If she wishes for the bus to come early, magic makes it so that the bus actually did leave earlier so that she perceives it coming to her earlier. Or when she wishes for friends, the universe doesn’t just make people start liking her; instead, she finds out about a book club that meets weekly to discuss SF.

It’s written in a diary format, and in addition to the ‘entries’ about what is actually happening in her life, we also get witty, insightful, and amusing reflections on the books Mori is reading, and her thoughts about the authors. This is a protagonist that lives to read and gain wisdom from these stories. This book has been called “a love letter to SF books and those who read and write them” and, more generally, “a book about books.” It’s true — these novels are Mori’s solace, and when she talks about any of your favorites (and if you read SF, she WILL mention at least one of yours) you’ll feel a connection and spark of happiness that somehow seems more substantial than the passing bemusement of having your fandom namedropped. You just know she takes it seriously.

Beyond all of the meta SF adoration and in jokes, the sections about Mori herself, and her family, and her interactions with other people, are hilarious, touching, sad, wistful, and suspenseful. This was one of those books that, like Angela’s Ashes, manages to turn some pretty depressing scenes and themes into something altogether different — transcendent, in a way. And yet, even though I just made the Angela’s Ashes comparison, this book is really nothing like that book, or any other book I’ve read. I highly recommend it, and especially if you’re into fantasy and SF, but even if you’re not, because it’s just a good story with a strong literary voice.

Gabe3886s #cbr4 review 8 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone

Harry Potter was born to magical parents during a time when great evil was around in the magical world.  The evil wizard, Lord Voldermort, was so evil that even a decade after his downfall, people still dare not speak his name.  He had heard of a prophecy in which a boy who is born in July will bring an end to his rule (this is mentioned in a later book).  He decided to rid the magical world of all boys born in July in a manner which is biblical in nature, and resembles the work which King Herod did in the bible.  When he got to the

Harry was taken by some of the Hogwarts’ staff to live with his Aunt and Uncle, where he was forced to live in a cupboard under the stairs, until one day he got a letter – thousands of them eventually – accepting him to study at Hogwarts where he could learn magic.house of the Potters to rid the world of baby Harry, something strange happened.  Sure enough he killed Harry’s parents, but in the process of trying to kill Harry something went wrong.  Harry Potter became the boy who lived, and he-who-must-not-be-named vanished.

Unbeknown to Harry and the other students, Hogwarts is guarding the Philosopher’s stone, a rare magical stone with very magical powers, including turning any metal into gold and being able to produce the elixir of life.  Some of the dark forces know it is there and try to steal it for their own purposes, and it is left to Harry and his friends to stop them, resulting in a one-on-one confrontation with Harry and the one trying to steal the stone at the end.

 For my full review, view the review on my website (opens a new window).

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #33 Invincible by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Invincible is the second book in the Chronicles of Nick YA series written by Sherrilyn Kenyon.  Like the first one, it is a wonderful romp into the Dark-Hunter world that Kenyon created, without the overtly detailed romance scenes that made her adult novels so popular.  Nick Gautier survived the zombie attacks in the first novel and is slowly adapting to the idea that the world as he knew it is not all that it seems.  While his fortunes may be turning around, the new football coach has a dark side that is far more sinister than anyone   realizes and the powers of darkness are still intent on getting him to give in to an Evil destiny which could destroy the world.  The future doesn’t have to be set in stone, but can the advice from “Cousin Ambrose” be trusted?  Will those closest to him keep him from turning into a monster to rival his father or betray him in the end?

Sherrilyn Kenyon knows how to keep a reader on the edge of their seat and laughing out loud at the same time!  The main character in this novel is so endearing and so full of teenage boy attitude that you don’t know whether to hug him or hit him at times.  His ability to struggle with what is thrown at him and the strange powers that he is developing gives readers hope that they can face challenges in their own lives with half as much determination and tenacity.  Despite incredible odds, Nick manages to find solutions that allow him to triumph in his own unique way, set against the rich, intricate backdrop of Kenyon’s Dark Hunter world. I found myself begrudging the times I had to put this book down for such mundane things as cooking supper and taking care of other household chores.  I inhaled Invincible in a day and after reading the shocking last few sentences, I knew that there was NO WAY I could wait for the third book to come out in paperback… so it was added to the basket on my very next trip to the bookstore!

Paperback format, 420 pages, published in 2011 by St. Martin’s Griffin

DragonDreamsJen’s #CBR4 Review #32 Misfit by Jon Skovron

It’s not often that I read a book which I enjoy as much as it also baffles me.  Misfit almost defies being categorized, despite being found in the YA section of major bookstores.  The cover art and jacket wording were unusual and eye-catching enough to grad the attention of my oldest daughter during our recent bookstore binge, but the subject matter was touchy enough that she checked with me first. Part Paranormal and Horror, part religion and history yet a wholly satisfying tale of a young woman coming of age, Misfit deals with the conflict experienced by a 16 year old Catholic-school student, Jael Thompson, who learns that her mother was considered a God to some and a demoness to others.  Learning how to cope as a half-breed while one of the fiends of Hell is… well.. Hell Bent on your destruction… proves to be a bit of more of a challenge than the everyday life of a teenager should hold.

Having inhaled the book in a day but the timing of it being during Holy Week (while I was still in a lot of pain from the whiplash’’), I found myself somewhat puzzled as to how I was going to rate this book.  I can see how the very subject matter and point of view might insult, intimidate or offend a certain segment of Christian readers, but some of the questions that are raised in this book are actually very important ones for young people to ask themselves; What do I believe in?  Is Evil done in the name of Good all right? Is there a wider world out there?

Many authors, from C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle to Phillip Pullman, George Lucas and J.K Rowling have caused readers to explore their own faith systems before and the delicate, precarious balance between Light and Dark.  Jon Skovron does so in his own way which is as unusual as it is unique.  Though this story could stand on its own, there were certainly enough loose threads and intriguing plot twists to hint at the possibility of a sequel.  Reading this just after Infinity gave me an unusual chance to compare and contrast the two stories and their Demon overtones. The female character in Misfit, though certainly enjoyable, lacks some of the optimism and gutsy strength  that permeates the Chronicles of Nick series and its main character.  Misfit is an intriguing insight into the more rigid dogma of Catholicism from one person’s perspective and the mayhem that ensues when things go suddenly awry.

Hardcover format, 362 pages, published in 2011 by Amulet Books

Bothari’s #CBR4 Review #18: Sorcery and Cecilia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

This was my favorite so far in the Cannonball Read. It was delightful, and it gives me a warm glow to know that there are two more books to enjoy.

Patricia C. Wrede (whose books I have loved since middle school) and Caroline Stevermer (new to me but will be exploring) played the Letter Game to create Cecilia and Kate, a pair of spunky and fearless cousins in the ‘regency romance’ era of a slightly alternate universe, where magic is real, but not often practiced by Young Ladies of Quality. Patricia and Caroline wrote the letters to each other in character as Cecy and Kate as a writing exercise (they describe it in the afterword), then discovered when they reached the end of the game that they’d written a book.

Kate has gone to London for her first Season, while Cecy is left behind in the countryside. Their letters start out fairly typically – who’s wearing what to which party, how overbearing their chaperoning aunts are, and oh, by the way, did you hear our own Sir Hilary got accepted to the Royal College of Wizards. Kate stumbles onto some magical weirdness in London, and Cecilia uses her budding magician tendencies to help in any way she can, sending protective charm bags or theories with nearly every post. Both girls meet infuriating but irresistible boys, worry about siblings falling under nefarious spells, find themselves entangled with evil wizards, and desperately wish they were not separated from each other.

The characters are wonderful, the writing is terrific, the magic is fun, and I may start annoying my friends and family by calling my car a curricle and my purse a reticule. This is one of those books that, upon finishing it, causes a happy sigh and good mood the rest of the day.

Gabe3886’s #CBR4 review 7 The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

Terry Pratchett's The colour of magicThis is the first story in the Discworld series of tales by Terry Pratchett.  The story revolves around a board game played by the gods Luck and Fate, amongst others, in which their moves play out in the Discworld – A world supported on the back of four elephants who are standing on the back of a giant turtle who is flying through space.

The Colour of Magic – also the 8th colour in the light spectrum on Discworld – hinges around a wizard called Rincewind who acts as a tour guide to a visitor to his city, Ankh-Morpork, and the situations they find themselves in.

To read more about the story and what I think of it, visit the post on my website.

Valyruh’s CBR#4 Review #33: The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss

I’m afraid this book marked the end of the road for me with regard to Liss’ books, which is truly unfortunate because I so enjoyed his first several works of historical fiction, with their brilliant depiction of the flavor of 17th century Europe. His last–and unexpected–venture away from the historical fiction genre, The Ethical Assassin, was unsuccessful, I thought (see my review #32), but his newest The Twelfth Enchantment was, to put it plainly, a dud.

This book takes place in early 1800s London, and Liss returns to the historical mystery genre—or so I thought–by centering his plot on the clash between the advance of industrial capitalism—with all of its exploitative and inhumane aspects—and the Luddite Movement determined to protect artisan labor and the living standards of the working poor by destroying the mills and their expanding investment in technology. This conflict should have offered a creative writer like Liss ample material for a thrilling historical mystery and yet he flubbed it so badly that I was sort of embarrassed for him.

To his credit, Liss attempted to write his novel for the first time from the perspective of his female protagonist, the young and pretty Lucy Derrick who has suddenly lost her father, her inheritance and her home and is forced to live in the restrictive and hostile environment of her uncle’s gloomy house in Devonshire, England.  Shades of Jane Austen. Her uncle and his housekeeper, the mysterious Mrs. Quince, are determined to marry Lucy off to the dour and unappealing mill owner Mr. Owens. With her sister and hateful brother-in-law now occupying the ancestral home and her uncle unwilling to support her further, it would appear Lucy has no choice but to succumb to a loveless marriage. Suddenly, George Gordon Byron—yes, the infamous Lord Byron—shows up at Lucy’s uncle’s doorstep with mysterious words for her and bearing a curse which Lucy miraculously discovers she can banish. Her proclivity for magic is a surprise to Lucy, and she begins to encounter a variety of mysterious and shadowy figures all of whom seem to consider her the central figure in a life-and-death battle over the future of England … and, one supposes, the world.

Byron is the first unexpected romantic entanglement that Liss throws in Lucy’s path, and it is a rather ridiculous plot driver that is only made more absurd by her awkward musings throughout the story over whether to protect her already slightly tarnished reputation by denying the gorgeous and willing Byron, or to plunge ahead into becoming one of his many sexual conquests. The fact that he is presented variously as a cad, a rapist, demonically possessed and a zombie hardly seems to factor into her considerations.

Another historical figure, the poet and printmaker William Blake, also conveniently shows up in Lucy’s life, and it is hard to tell whether Liss means him as a father figure, a mentor, a medium for Lucy’s dead father, or all three. The Rosicrucians make their appearance as well in the battle against the Luddites, as do faeries who take the form of the reborn dead and are the driving force behind Liss’ increasingly convoluted plot. Magical formulas and potions are scattered throughout the book, and one is never sure whether Lucy is talking to a fellow magician, a ghost, a faerie, or a zombie. The plot moves quickly and fantastically through many wild twists and turns, to a climax which is as neatly sewn up as it is unbelievable, involving ghost dogs, giant homicidal turtles (I kid you not!), ghoulish changelings, and of course the 12 enchanted pages which Lucy is tasked to collect before the bad guys get their mitts on them. I could go on, but why bother. Liss is great at creating ambience, as always, but his mastery at writing a good mystery novel appears to have vanished.

I like a good fantasy as well as the next one, but I also like to keep my historical fiction separate from my regency romances separate from my ghost stories. Liss managed to combine all three, and ruin them all. Oh well.

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