More Minds - Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 in , , ,
More Minds - Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman; ISBN: 0-590-39469-X; Fantasy, Young Adults; Scholastics, 1998.

(This review was originally posted on my multiply page on January 25, 2009.) 
Reading this book is like watching a full-length kiddie movie, the kind shown on Disney or Cartoon Network. And it is fun, if a bit surreal. What impressed me is that the premise of everybody having a too tremendous power – being able to change reality to suit themselves –is shown as not being the deux ex machina readers expect it to be (well, most of the time anyway). Unfortunately, the reason why the story was enjoyable, its bizarreness, is also its weakness; the story became too confusing, with incoherent storyline shortcuts done to quickly wrap up the plot. In short, it reads like it had been severely edited to keep it short, presumably not to tax out the attention span its target readers – children. It’s either that or they are planning to make a sequel. Either way, it is a good way to spoil a decent fantasy. Way to go Scholastic. Coupled with slightly unappealing lead characters, I give this a 4 out of 5.

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Dragonhaven - Robin McKinley

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 in , , ,
Dragonhaven - Robin McKinley

(This review was originally posted on my multiply page on February 3, 2009.)

Once upon a time, there was a prince who lived in an isolated forest/mountain kingdom. His mother had recently died thus making the king very sad and at the same time very protective of his only family. But the prince chafed and the king reluctantly allowed him for a solo trek through the realm. But whether through chance or fate, the prince had instead met a dying dragon - a dying mother dragon, with one of her dragonlet still breathing...

Well, not really. While the premise sounds like a typical high-fantasy dish, let me assure you it is not. The "kingdom" is an American forest park - think Yellowstone - in a modern world very similar to ours. The "prince" is Jake Mendoza, the teenage son of the Park Director. And while dragons are real, they are more or less treated ordinarily, an endangered species yes, but nothing that biologists and the rest of the scientific community couldn't explain.

Now if you think that is all there is to this story, then you don't know how adept Robin McKinley is in writing fantasy.

The fantastic and the mundane, the magical and the normal intertwine in this wonderful story. The story of a boy and his extraordinary "pet" may had been the stuff of many children's book and movies ("Free Willy" was the first thing that came to mind, then Naomi Novik's equally wonderful "Temeraire" series was the better second) but Ms. McKinley placed a fresh new twist to it. By making dragons commonplace and familiar in Jake's world, she had instead (and perhaps deliberately) emphasized their uniqueness to us readers who are bereft of dragons in OUR world.

The most contentious of the tools that Ms. McKinley used was the one many other readers claim made the book horrible - her use of the first-person narrative form. The assumption was that Jake was forced to write about his experiences with the dragons a few years back and that any way of writing his memoir will do, despite his lousy (to put it mildly) writing style. And yes, there are times that I can't blame them since Ms. McKinley might have put the laid-back tone a little too far sometimes. For example, I can't believe that a 22-year old guy (at the time of the supposed writing), someone who had supposedly aced all his high school aptitude exam, use the word "amazinger" in any way possible. Not to mention wasting a few pages botching up his explanation of how "dragon telepathy/language" works (don't ask, I don't understand it myself).

Yet it was strange that many people can't get past the writing to see the gem that is the story itself (just goes to show some people can be quite anal-retentive about what they think should constitute good writing *shrug*). Despite taking me aback for a few pages at the start, I do think the relaxed tone of the first-person narrative/memoir was quite charming. And this may be because Jake is one of the most charming hero I've read in a while. In fact, all of the characters are very believable, including the dragons themselves.

All in all, I've finished the book with a warm fuzzy feeling and a general goodwill of all creatures on earth - dragons or no dragons. Five Stars.

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Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix

Posted by Marie on Wednesday, October 17, 2012 in , , , , ,
Room Full of Mirrors: A Biography of Jimi Hendrix - Charles R. Cross; ISBN 1-4013-0028; Non-Fiction, Biography; Hyperion, 2005.

(This review was originally posted on my multiply page on January 27, 2009.)

If you're a Jimi Hendrix fan, do not to read this review.

Okay, consider yourself warned.

At the end of three weeks (a long read by my standards), I have to make an effort to finish reading this book. It was difficult to maintain interest in that seriously stupid guy that was Jimi Hendrix. Deliberately wasted talent, deliberately wasted opportunity, deliberately wasted life.

I would had still found the book fascinating despite having an unpleasant anti-hero as a subject (I like reading about the music of the 60s and the 70s, and the evolution of the genre that we call Rock) if only Mr. Cross doesn't have a limitless supply of excuses for Hendrix's failings. As an example, Mr. Cross reluctantly reveals about Hendrix's tendency to use violence towards his girlfriends - but, he hastens to explain, that was just the alcohol speaking and he's really actually quite gentle. But when one reads these sort of instances again and again and again, Mr. Cross's protestations becomes, not just ridiculous, but insulting to the readers' intelligence.

To Mr. Cross defense, one can argue that he have to contend not just with the entire Hendrix clan, but the hundreds of fellow musicians, friends and fans who zealously guard Jimi Hendrix's memory. He then has no choice but to tiptoe around; give the truth, of course, but provide exhaustive explanations, using carefully chosen and sometimes blandly neutral words. The general tone, therefore, comes across as ludicrously apologetic.

Not everything is bad though. Mr. Cross is at his best when writing about Jimi Hendrix and his band's (whether the Experience or the Band of Gypsys) professional life. The (r)evolution comes alive that you can almost see and hear it - the early forays of Rhythm and Blues musicians to Rock, the London Mod culture, the parallel hippie and psychedelic culture in the US. It is fascinating to read about Jimi's interaction with his fellow musicians, especially my favorite ones. My favorite part of the book was on the Monterey Pop Festival, attended by the "British delegation" consisting of The Experience and The Who, who totally owned The Experience that Jimi Hendrix was forced to do show gimmicks just to keep up with Townshend's gang.

Finally, the reason why I gave a good 4 instead of a mediocre 3 was that I'm eternally grateful to Mr. Cross for giving me Jimi Hendrix the Blues man, rather than just the rock star. I admit that I am part of the crowd that knows him by his four hits (Voodoo Child, Hey Joe, All Along the Watchtower and Foxy Lady) - now I love him for his less famous songs, such as Gypsy Eyes (which I thought was an Eric Clapton original; just goes to show that even the greatest guitarists are not immune to the temptation to steal 'n own); Castle Made of Sand (sad and hauntingly beautiful lyrics); Angel (if there is any theme song of Jimi Hendrix's life, this one is it); Red House (one of his hits but is more bluesy than most); and many, many more.

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