Jonathan Stroud

2012-2013: Summer Reading List: Part Three – Wells, Gaiman, Stroud

1. The Time Machine – H.G. Wells

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Why not kick off Part 3 with a classic?

Years ago, I read an abridged version of the Time Machine without realising it was an abridged version until I finished it and thought, that was really short. (Hey, I’m clever.)

To be honest, the complete text didn’t add a whole lot more. It’s a short book; my copy was just over a hundred pages. Wells’s story is an elegantly penned tale about a mysterious scientist, referred to only as ‘the Time Traveller’, who regales his disbelieving peers with a story of his voyage into the far distant future.

The Time Machine has a decidedly steampunk feel, particularly with all the levers and clockwork machinery (the machine itself is ‘squat, ugly, and askew, a thing of brass, ebony, ivory and translucent glimmering quartz’), and that I enjoyed. The scope of Wells’s narrative is also impressive–his protagonist travels 500,000 years into the future to discover that mankind has devolved into two very different species, the Eloi and the Morlocks. He then goes further still, to witness the fate of the dying Earth. Wells’ ideas are so far-fetched that I struggled to find them even remotely believable, though I supposed believability isn’t at all the point of the story.

Wells’s writing puts me somewhat in mind of C.S. Lewis in this instant: eloquent, not overly fanciful, as easy to follow as a bobbing tide. I liked the choice of using a nameless point of view character, listening to the Time Traveller’s story. The ending is also a treat.

2. The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

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A very enjoyable Gaiman read. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to get around to TGB. I can’t say much more about this book that hasn’t already been said. It’s written for children and that definitely shows, but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty for us full-grown kids to sink our teeth into.

Nobody Owens is an immensely likeable protagonist, and Silas, the witch-girl Liz, Bod’s adoptive parents and Miss Lupescu are all equally fun to encounter. Divided into eight parts that function as short stories to create a chronological novel, The Graveyard Book is well-paced and is a balanced mixture of adventure and poignancy. Favourite parts include Bod’s escape from the greedy pawn-shop owner with Liz’s help, and Scarlett and Bod’s exploration of the Sleer’s cave.

Gaiman’s play on names is quite delightful and his prose is as lively as ever. A surprisingly fun read, despite the fact that the opening scenes involve the attempted murder of a baby o_O

3. The Ring of Solomon – Jonathan Stroud

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As I am a huge fan of the Bartimaeus trilogy, I knew it would only be a matter of time before I got around to reading the sequel–or rather, the prequel.

In Ring of Solomon, we are transported into a pseudo-Biblical period Jerusalem overrun by magicians and spirits. A slightly younger Bartimaeus is a slave of one of King Solomon’s many magicians. Solomon himself rules Israel and surrounding submissive kingdoms with the help of an Uberly Powerful Ring that can raise armies of demons at a single touch.

Bartimaeus’s wit is by no means diminished, and his POV chapters are a romp. Asmira, the female protagonist and a super loyal member of the Queen of Sheba’s guard, on a suicidal mission to kill Solomon, provides the more boring half of the book. For most of the story she isn’t much more than a one-dimensional, annoying character with zero sense of humour. I was somewhat disappointed.

The reappearance of Farquarl and the rapport between Farquarl and Bartimaeus are a hoot, and the character of Solomon is unexpectedly intriguing. I thought this book would be uniformly predictable but I was proven wrong. Though Ring of Solomon doesn’t have the scope of the original trilogy, Stroud has not lost his ability to tell an awesome tale (moreover, he actually does action scenes well, which is a rare talent in my opinion). If we’re in luck there’ll be lots more Barty adventures to come.

PS. Can someone please make this into a movie, stat?!?

As summer’s coming to an end in my corner of the world, that brings my reading list to a close. Hope you enjoyed the science fiction flavour this year and maybe discovered something that you’d like to read or re-read. Do stay tuned for many more reads throughout 2013 :)

Five books that shaped my childhood

I think the books that we read in our childhood affect us more than at any other point in our lives. So here are five book series that enthralled me, made me laugh, and filled my innocent, un-moulded brain with new and interesting possibilities.

1. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S Lewis


Magic rings with the power to teleport you into new worlds; a voyage to the edge of the world; minotaurs and epic battles and evil witch-queens…how could a kid not love Narnia? My childhood friend Becky lent The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to me when we were in primary school and multiple re-readings of all seven books soon ensued. My favourites are the Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Eustace turning into the dragon, the one-legged hopping men, the strange feast) and the Silver Chairthe twist blew my eight-year-old mind! These books always bring back fond memories. Also, if you know a kid who hates reading, try Narnia. It worked on my brother many years ago.

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2. Sweet Valley Twins by Francine Pascal

This is embarrassing, but oh so true. Did any of you ever succumb to this series? Our little local library was well stocked with Sweet Valley, and I must have spent hours trawling through the romantic/cheerleading/travelling/friendship dramas of blonde twins Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield. This is probably how I learnt about boyfriends =(

PS. I have since thrown out my Sweet Valley books ;P

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3. Song of the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce

This series is da bomb, if you’re a little girl with big dreams of adventure, hot princes, and beating snobby guys at their own game. Tamora Pierce taught me that young-adult fantasy exists and can feature a young female heroine, fast-paced storyline and a gratuitous plot (safe sex, safe drinking, safe sword-fights). Alanna is good at pretty much everything. Princes and thief-kings alike fall in love with her. This series inspired me to write my first and possibly only full length novel, Amaya: Crusader of the Slaves, which features a Mary-Sue character with no flaws and a killer knack for fighting, diplomacy, generally getting everyone to love her, saving the kingdom, and becoming Queen of Shal-Amor. It’s going to be the next Harry Potter. I can feel it.

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4. The Obernewtyn Chronicles by Isobelle Carmody

If you must know, I still adore Obernewtyn. Isobelle Carmody began writing this series when she was still in high school, back in the 1980s, and it’s just flourished under her talented craftsmanship. When I first immersed myself in the post-holocaust world of Elspeth Gordie and the Misfits, I only knew that this story was UNPUTDOWNABLE! Now, re-reading the series, I can admire Carmody’s powerful, fluent language. She chooses words succinctly, wasting none, and packs so much into each book (although they do become successively more brick-like). There’s no purple prose, and for this I respect her immensely. Adjectives are overrated.

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5. The Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud

Another master storyteller. Wit, adventure, an alternate London governed by a Parliament of greedy magicians. It’s the lesser-known, better Harry Potter. Bartimaeus the 5000-year-old, silver-tongued djinni taught me that fantasy can be modern and humorous. After reading this series I tried my hand at my own fantasy book featuring a witty demon. It achieved moderate success amongst my friends and now sits in the bottom of my drawer.

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As you can see, four-fifths of my childhood was shaped by fantasy. I also read a whole bunch of other local library offerings (yes, I was that kid—the one who staggers out of the library with a stack of fifteen books, and you come to recognise her only by her sweat-spotted forehead and the top rim of her glasses) including Babysitters Club, Animorphs and Tomorrow When the War Began. Funnily, as I was a pretty sheltered (read: Asian) kid, I think I learnt a lot about life from books. It might explain why my worldview is a bit wacky…and why I always see monsters in the clouds.

What are the five books that shaped your childhood? I’m curious to know =)