Thursday, June 28, 2012

REVIEW: Austenland by Shannon Hale

by Shannon Hale

“Well do I remember the first night we met, how you questioned my opinion that first impressions are perfect. You were right to do so, of course, but even then I suspected what I've come to believe most passionately these past weeks: from that first moment, I knew you were a dangerous woman, and I was in great peril of falling in love."

She thought she should say something witty here. She said, "Really?” 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every girl must occasionally read fun frivolous girly books. Equally true, every great author needs to write them.

Shannon Hale, author of The Goose Girl, a fantastic book, has written a delicious, indulgent, smart, and surprisingly genuine girly book. Jane Hayes, graphics designer, is obsessed with Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy (in a ashamed, hide-the-dvd-in-her-plants kind of way). To cure her of this, her great aunt Caroline bequeaths Jane a trip to Pembrook Park, a Jane Austen resort where women go to live in the world of Austen, surrounded by actors (specifically gentleman actors) to play the parts of Austen-like heroes: the brooder, the jovial rake, the common-man-turned-successful-sea-captain). Jane struggles with the dichotomy (real or not real?), and feels like a desperate, sad, ridiculous women, but then, things begin to turn around. Is she deluding herself, as always, or is she being offered something real in Austenland.

DAMN, this book was surprisingly good. I swear, I came home today and read the entire thing in one sitting (minus a chapter or two yesterday). It was so refreshing after reading books where I care about style and serious things. It was like exfoliating! Scrubbing off the slough of academia and large fantasy tomes to revel in a little bubble bath.

And yet, this book surprised me with it's depth. Yes, the plot is predictable, so is the plot of almost any romantic comedy. I began with the book at arms length, judging Jane for fangirling, and the being weirdly ashamed about it. But as the story continued I was sucked in, and became totally invested in her story, squeeing and crying out in emotional agony at the appropriate moments.

This is a must have for anyone who a) has the Austen fever and b) has ever fantasized about being swept off your feet by the guy of your dreams in a romantic setting. I'm looking at all of you, ladies.

PS: It is also a Movie.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

REVIEW: The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician King
Lev Grossman

“Quentin had an obsolete sailing ship that had been raised from the dead. He had psychotically effective swordsman and an enigmatic witch-queen. It wasn't the Fellowship of the Ring, but then again he wasn't trying to save the world from Sauron, he was trying to perform a tax audit on a bunch of hick islanders…” 

The Magician King pretty much picks up where The Magicians left off. Quentin and his friends are kings and queens of Narnia-- I mean Fillory. Everything is pretty much perfect, and there is not much for them to do. Quentin longs for adventure, but the best he can come up with is an unnecessary trip to collect back taxes from an island territory. From there, the book is basically The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, with some side excursions and the mysterious Julia (self taught witch friend of Quentin)'s back story woven in.

Well, Lev Grossman does his brilliant and frustrating thing again. He lets the story meander leisurely. There are some frustrations along the way, but nothing too big. People live their lives. You come to love them, and the world they inhabit. You know something horrible is going to happen because that is what Grossman does. However, in this book it takes so long for something horrible to happen that you think, maybe this time it won't! You come to love the natural rhythms of the story, and accept the Narnian logic of things. And then within the last 100 pages, he takes everything you love, locks it in a house, and burns it to the ground. Metaphorically speaking. And damn it, it is satisfying.

It differs from The Magicians in a few ways, though. First, Quentin is no longer a dick. He has grown up into a decent person, still a little haunted by the events of the last book. Second, Julia (a minor character in the first book) comes into her own in this incredible journey of power, addiction, and transcendence as she teaches herself the magic denied to her when she failed the Brakebills exam in the last book. Third, Grossman seems to trust in Fillory just a bit more. It really comes into its own as Narnia, the land you love and long for, rather than a cardboard cut parody of Narnia. The scenes where Quentin is sailing on the ship are saturated with peace mixed with salty adventure, exactly what you wish for in a Fillory adventure.

It really takes a long time for Grossman to pull the rug out from under you, but when it happens he nails you not once, not twice, but three times in quick succession. Just when you think everything is safe (though you have a small voice telling you it might have been too easy) he will get you, but never in a way that you expect.  The ending is desolating and painful, but strangely right. Almost like Eustace scratching away at his dragon skin to become a new man in Dawn Treader. 

Another brilliant book from Grossman. I can't wait for the third!