John Dies at the End, by David Wong

 John Dies at the End

Written by David Wong, Narrated by Stephen R. Thorne

Reason for Reading: Real Life bookclub

Genre: Quirky adult horror


Review
This book is the king of unreliable narration. Presumably, this book is about David and John, two friends in a Midwestern town who need to fight off evil forces when a new drug (soy sauce)  opens a door to a parallel universe. Although it’s clear that David exaggerates a good deal for the sake of story-telling, it is up to interpretation whether David and John are really kicking the EF from PU butt, or if they’re hallucinating. Either way, it’s a wild, crazy, and very humorous ride. The humor is very dark, dry, and sometimes witty. It was my favorite part of the book. The plot was fairly non-existent, though. The book was more about action and weirdness – the story was just too wild to actually have a coherent plot. During the middle of the book, I was starting to regret that it was so long because I’m more of a plot-driven than situational-driven reader. But I’m glad I hung in there, because I got some great laughs and may view the world a tiny bit differently after listening to this book. 

You wouldn’t think this book would lend itself well to audio format, but Stephen R. Thorne did an amazing job. His delivery of the dry humor and action was spot on. I’m happy that I took the risk on audio. 🙂

A Cast of Stones, by Patrick W. Carr

A Cast of Stones, by Patrick W. Carr

Reason for Reading: Review copy was provided by publisher through Net Galley for an honest review.

Review
Errol Stone has grown to manhood as the town-drunk in an out-of-the way village. When a messenger from the capital city comes for a reclusive monk, Errol offers to help deliver the message in exchange for enough money to keep him in drink for a week. But he is attacked while trying to deliver the message, and is consequently swept up into an intrigue that he’d rather ignore. He and the monk must travel to the capital city, for it appears that the childless King might soon be on his deathbed, and corrupt politicians are vying for the throne. This story also throws hints about an evil force more powerful than man which might overthrow the land if the King dies without an heir. 

I really enjoyed this story. I was sucked in from the beginning, and I could easily empathize to poor Errol’s feelings that events were circling outside of his control. He was a very real character to me, which is rare in YA fantasy. The world-building was also impressive in this book. The world was built upon foundations expected for Christian Fiction, but it had the right ratio of realistic to fantastical elements to make it a fun and easy read. My one complaint is that the book ended in a cliff-hanger. The basic quest that was begun in this book was completed, thankfully, but it left many threads dangling for the next book. Luckily, that book will be published later this year. This story is suitable for young teens and up. 

The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis

The Last Battle, by C. S. Lewis

Reason for reading: This is the seventh (and final) book in the Chronicles of Narnia, which I’ve been reading in order-of-publication. I plan on rereading them all in chronological order using Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis, by Michael Ward as a guide.

Review
The final book in The Chronicles of Narnia depicts the apocalypse of Narnia. When a shrewd monkey teams up with Calormen to trick the Narnians into thinking Aslan has returned – and they are his spokespeople – Narnia is cut to ruins. Forests are destroyed, Narnians begin to doubt Aslan, and cities fall to heathen invaders. I’m afraid to say this was my least favorite of the Narnia books (though I still liked it quite well!). Intellectually, I know Lewis had to have an apocalypse – whatever begins must also end – but it was still a bit dreary.  So although I understand why the apocalypse had to come, I still liked the other books so much better. Not only because they were much more cheerful, but also because they had more fun-filled adventure.

However, despite my misgivings about uplifting-yet-dreary endings, I want to address Philip Pullman’s opinions about the Narnia series (which I first mentioned in my blog post about The Amber Spyglass). WARNING: This commentary will have spoilers for the Narnia series! In his 1998 article in The Guardian, The Darkside of Narnia, Pullman stated his opinion about the Narnia series: “there is no doubt in my mind that it is one of the most ugly and poisonous things I’ve ever read.”   Pullman is an atheist, and he believes that the being-dead-in-Heaven-is-better-than-being-alive-on-Earth philosophy is “life-hating.” It is unsurprising, therefore, that he feels The Last Battle is “one of the most vile moments in the whole of children’s literature.” Happily, I disagree with his anger at this belief in Heaven. Even though I found The Last Battle to be a bit dreary, I appreciated the message of love and Heavenly gift that Lewis was portraying.

Pullman continues to say:

But that’s par for the course. Death is better than life; boys are better than girls; light-coloured people are better than dark-coloured people; and so on. There is no shortage of such nauseating drivel in Narnia, if you can face it.  

I agree that Narnia conveys some rather sexist and ethnocentric views, but that’s what English literature of that period was like. Lewis (and the Narnia books) are a product of their time.


I don’t think any of those arguments is strong enough to merit my discussion alone. The reason I felt moved to discuss Pullman’s opinions are in this paragraph (which I unfortunately read before completing the series):

And in The Last Battle, notoriously, there’s the turning away of Susan from the Stable (which stands for salvation) because “She’s interested in nothing nowadays except nylons and lipstick and invitations. She always was a jolly sight too keen on being grown-up.” In other words, Susan, like Cinderella, is undergoing a transition from one phase of her life to another. Lewis didn’t approve of that. He didn’t like women in general, or sexuality at all, at least at the stage in his life when he wrote the Narnia books. He was frightened and appalled at the notion of wanting to grow up. Susan, who did want to grow up, and who might have been the most interesting character in the whole cycle if she’d been allowed to, is a Cinderella in a story where the Ugly Sisters win.  

When I read this paragraph, I wondered what Lewis actually did do with Susan in the book. But when I read the book, I interpreted those events differently than Pullman: Susan wasn’t allowed into Heaven at that time. It was made clear that Susan was in one of the silly stages of life, but it was just a stage. She still had a chance to grow out of it. She hadn’t been rejected from Heaven permanently, and it wasn’t her time to die. Susan lived. And Susan had the ability to change (just as Pullman points out). Lewis wasn’t saying that grown-ups can’t go to Heaven. After all, the kids’ parents went to Heaven, didn’t they? Lewis was saying that Susan was in a phase where she idolized material things – and had thus turned away from her spiritual health.

Also, I’m not certain Susan really is the most interesting character. By Pullman’s definition (he-who-changes-is-most-interesting) I believe Eustace’s character developed much more than Susan’s character. Why is Pullman ignoring Eustace?

What do other people think about Susan’s character? Do you think Lewis meant for her to be denied Heaven permanently?

The Little Green God of Agony, by Stephen King



“The Little Green God of Agony,” by Stephen King 
(Found in A Book of Horrors, ed. Stephen Jones)


In the introduction to his new anthology, Stephen Jones expresses dismay at the overpowering onslaught of horror-lite which has obliterated the good old-fashioned horror story from the market. The purpose of this anthology is to take back the market with some bad-@$$ creepy stories. He opens his anthology with “The Little Green God of Agony,” a story by the well-known master of horror, Stephen King.

Newsome, the sixth richest man in the world, is a man in agony. A plane crash has left him scarred all over his body, and unable to get out of bed due to neuropathic pain. After exploring all the traditional medical procedures for freeing himself of this burden, he cashes in for the non-traditional treatment–a reverend who claims that Newsome is possessed by a god of agony, and that he (the reverend) has the power to expel the demon. Is the reverend a charlatan? Or is Newsome really possessed by a demonic agony?

This is the first Stephen King story I’ve read in quite a long time. I’ve always felt that he has an incredibly creative mind, and an amazing power to delve the reader into the darkness of his stories. On the other hand, the almost-book-snob in me cringes at his metaphors sometimes. (eg. “she…laced her hands together on the hanging hot-water bottles of muscle beneath his right thigh.” I’m sorry. That just really falls flat for me.) Once I’d managed to rid myself of the sharpened pencil stabs of distaste for SK’s continued use of unsatisfactory metaphors, however, I enjoyed the story quite a bit. His dark imagination was the perfect taster for the savory horrors to come in this anthology. 😉

The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman


2012 Book 47: The Subtle Knife, by Philip Pullman (3/11/2012)

Reason for Reading: Interested in the Paradise Lost allegory

My Review: 3/5 stars
Lyra has traveled to a parallel universe, where she meets Will—another traveler of universes. They team up when they find that Lyra’s quest to find out more about dust and Will’s quest to find his missing father are intertwined. This is a difficult book for me to review. The first time I tried to read this book, I gave up about a quarter of the way through because I didn’t like being beat over the head with an anti-religion Message. It really lacked subtly in this book, and I hear it is even more brutal in the third book. However, I decided to give this book another try because I learned that it was a retelling of Paradise Lost, and I was interested in seeing what he did with that. My final conclusion: I still feel that I was being beat over the head with a Message; however, I think Pullman is a VERY creative author. SPOILER ALERT: I was a little off-put by the pointless waste of lives at the end of the book. But perhaps the third book will elucidate the reasons for these deaths.

Shadows: Book of Aleth, by Michael Duncan


2012 Book 43: Shadows: Book of Aleth, Part 1, by Michael Duncan (3/3/2012)

Reason for Reading: This was my book club choice for this month. I am in charge of the discussion for the month so I have no choice but to read it! 😉

My Reveiw 4/5 stars
When Aaron, Captain of the Royal Guard, is given a mission to retrieve a stolen book by any means necessary he doesn’t question his orders. He soon finds that not all is as it seems. He becomes embroiled in the politics of Dwarves, a race of men he believed were fairy tales. He must lead a mission to retrieve the Book of Aleth and to discover the truth. I was pleasantly surprised by this allegorical fantasy of the Christian Fiction genre. The epic fantasy story was original enough to capture my attention and the writing was smooth and enticing. The religious message is present but subtle, which to me is a sign of a good writer. (I hate being beat over the head with a Message.) The book DID end with a cliff-hanger, but I guess I was expecting that based on the term “Part 1” being in the title. So I was only a tiny bit irked. (I think books should have a natural ending…even in series.) Other than that quibble, I was very pleased.

The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde


2012 Book 26:The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde (2/12/2012)

Reason for Reading: 12 in 12 Fforde February

My Review: 5/5 stars
SpecOps officer Thursday Next is swept away into a dangerous mystery when Jane Eyre is kidnapped. She has to literally jump into the story in order to rescue Miss Eyre. This book has hilarious British humor and word play. Its alternative universe setting is creative and fun. And I love books with so many references to literature. This book is awesome, and I can’t wait to start the second in the series. I hear they only get better.