Friday, September 11, 2015

Librarian Rhapsody, The Paper Magician by Charlie N Holmberg, The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and Alife the Unseen by G Willow Wilson

I love this, it's hilarious and wonderful!
Library Video of the Day: 'Librarian Rhapsody'
Imagine Queen's classic song "Bohemian Rhapsody" interpreted (well, rewritten) by the staff at
Shoalhaven Libraries in New South Wales, Australia as "Librarian

Is this nonfiction?
Is this just fantasy?
Work in the Library
We escape from reality
Open your eyes
Pick up a book and read...
I'm volunteering, there's many more like me

The Paper Magician  by Charlie N Holmberg (who is actually a woman) was an impulse buy from Barnes and Noble because I'd seen a review on Goodreads and on Shelf Awareness, and it seemed similar in tone and style to Gail Carriger's delightful steampunk Parasol Protectorate and Custard Protocols series. Fortunately, it is somewhat similar, and it has a strong romantic theme, as well as being a ripping YA yarn that kept me turning pages well into the night.
Here's the blurb:
Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.
Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.
An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.
I was delighted by the brisk efficiency of Ceony (whose name, I assume rhymes with Peony, the flower) and her determination to save her paper professor and the man she loves. Having a son who was a big fan of origami, I appreciate the art of paper folding, and I know how hard it can be to make pieces that function or even stay together. So it was wonderful to read about a paper dog that comes to life and giant paper airplanes that actually fly, or even a paper heart that beats to keep someone alive. Holmberg's prose is as crisp and elegant as her protagonist, and the plot is speedy, yet twisty enough that it keeps the reader engaged in wondering what will happen next. I was thrilled to discover that there are two more books available in this series, which I've ordered and are even now on their way to my doorstep. This book deserves an easy A, and I'd recommend it to fans of the Steampunk genre and fans of origami and fantasy.

The Copper Gauntlet by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare is the second book in the Magisterium series, which is meant as a sort of underground Harry Potter knock off. That's not to say that these books are poorly written or conceived, because they aren't, but there is a slight whiff of formula fiction to them, nonetheless.
Here's the blurb:
Callum Hunt’s summer break isn’t like other kids’. His closest companion is a Chaos-ridden wolf, Havoc. His father suspects him of being secretly evil. And, of course, most kids aren’t heading back to the magical world of the Magisterium in the fall.

It’s not easy for Call . . . and it gets even harder after he checks out his basement and discovers that his dad might be trying to destroy both him and Havoc.

Call escapes to the Magisterium -- but things only intensify there. The Alkahest -- a copper gauntlet capable of separating certain magicians from their magic -- has been stolen. And in their search to discover the culprit, Call and his friends Aaron and Tamara awaken the attention of some very dangerous foes -- and get closer to an even more dangerous truth.
 As the mysteries of the Magisterium deepen and widen, bestselling authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare take readers on an extraordinary journey through one boy’s conflict -- and a whole world’s fate.

I am always in a quandry about how to pronounce Callum Hunt's name. I know that Callum is pronounced Cal-uhm, (as in there are lots of CAL ories in this) but when it is shortened to "Call" as it is in these books, is it pronounced "Call" as in "Call the Midwife" or "Cal" as in "Silent Cal was a president of the United States"? Anyway, that was one of several nitpicks that I have with the Magisterium books, the other main one being that this Jasper kid is extremely annoying. While I gather that he's supposed to be a whiny little bastard who is self centered and a coward, I don't really think he needs to exist at all. I realize that he makes a nice contrast to the other characters, who are all more or less goody two shoes, but with Call himself being kind of a screw up, it just doesn't seem fair to saddle him with someone who not only doesn't want to be anywhere near him, but who wets himself anytime there's danger and tries to sell the team out for his own safety. There was also more than one gruesome scene that I don't feel needed to be quite so horrific...this is YA fiction, not Stephen King. Still, the prose is excellent, the characters very dimensional and the plot swift and sure. Overall, a novel worthy of a B+ and recommended to anyone who has read the first book.

Alif the Unseen by G Willow Wilson (also a female author) was another impulse buy in the bargain bin at Elliott Bay Bookstore in Seattle, now residing on Capitol Hill instead of it's former location in Pioneer Square.
I wasn't sure I was going to like a novel that takes place in the Middle East and involves the labyrinthine politics of that area. So I was shocked when I found myself unable to put the book down, riveted as I was to the characters and the plot of this well-written fantasy novel.
Here's the blurb:G. Willow Wilson has a deft hand with myth and with magic, and the kind of smart, honest writing mind that knits together and bridges cultures and people. You should read what she writes.”—Neil Gaiman, author of Stardust and American Gods
“Driven by a hot ionic charge between higher math and Arabian myth, G. Willow Wilson conjures up a tale of literary enchantment, political change, and religious mystery. Open the first page and you will be forced to do its bidding: To read on.”—Gregory Maguire, author of Wicked and Out of Oz
In an unnamed Middle Eastern security state, a young Arab-Indian hacker shields his clients—dissidents, outlaws, Islamists, and other watched groups—from surveillance and tries to stay out of trouble. He goes by Alif—the first letter of the Arabic alphabet, and a convenient handle to hide behind. The aristocratic woman Alif loves has jilted him for a prince chosen by her parents, and his computer has just been breached by the state’s electronic security force, putting his clients and his own neck on the line. Then it turns out his lover’s new fiancĂ© is the “Hand of God,” as they call the head of state security, and his henchmen come after Alif, driving him underground. When Alif discovers The Thousand and One Days, the secret book of the jinn, which both he and the Hand suspect may unleash a new level of information technology, the stakes are raised and Alif must struggle for life or death, aided by forces seen and unseen.
With shades of Neal Stephenson, Philip Pullman, and The Thousand and One Nights, Alif the Unseen is a tour de force debut—a sophisticated melting pot of ideas, philosophy, technology, and spirituality smuggled inside an irresistible page-turner. 
The only reason I include the Gaiman and Maguire quotes in the blurb is that they're right, Alif the Unseen is all the things they describe, and more. While I wasn't a fan of how women in the novel are treated, I recognize that this is the reality for women in the Middle East, and Wilson does a credible job getting into the minds of the men surrounding them to show their feelings about their mothers, sisters, friends and lovers. It really is a whole different world, and I was fascinated by the prejudice that the main characters showed to everyone else who wasn't of their own status. I was somewhat horrified by how they view "converts" to Islam, especially American women, as being disingenuous and stupid as well as gullible. Even Alif's friend "NewQuarter" who is an Arab prince comes under the glare of disapproval and is made to seem cowardly and ridiculous. But it is the government that comes in as the true villain here, with The Hand's ruthless cruelty and madness almost putting an end to our hero. The parts of this book that I enjoyed the most, however, were the magical alleyways and back passages of the djinn and other magical creatures who are woven throughout the book. Having limited knowledge of what kinds of genies that there are, and how they operate, Wilson's lush outlines of their lives and deaths (and legends) makes for fascinating reading. This novel gets a well deserved A, with a recommendation that anyone interested in the myths and legends of the Middle East as well as an interest in the digital age of revolution should give this book a try. It will astound you.

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