Book Review: The Gates – John Connolly

Title: The Gates
Author: John Connolly
ISBN: 9781439175408
Pages: 304
Release Date: September 28, 2010
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Genre: Urban Fantasy, Satire
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

As young Samuel Johnson wanders the neighborhood with his dog, Boswell, he witnesses something very strange at the Abernathy’s house.  Little does he know that what he’s seen is a direct result of an accident at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, which has opened up a small gateway to hell.  Samuel must work with scientists from CERN, as well as a creature called Nurd, to close the gateway before Satan himself creates a literal hell on Earth.

Review:

The summary above may make The Gates sound like an adult horror novel, but it isn’t at all.  It’s actually a witty, satirical novel that is reminiscent of The Phantom Tollbooth or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  The book is filled with humorous footnotes, and the overall tone is one of whimsy and mischievousness.  This makes it a fun, delightful read; children will enjoy it, while adults will appreciate its humor and understand Connolly’s satirical musings.

Samuel is an endearing character, and he and Boswell make an absolutely adorable mental picture for the reader.  The boy is inquisitive and extremely bright, but also friendly.  He doesn’t hesitate to make friends with the subdemon Nurd, even though Nurd’s original plan involved harming Samuel.  The plot is engaging, but it takes some time to pick up, and there are some slow spots over the course of the novel.

The Gates has an added layer of science, which makes it a fascinating read for anyone interested in particle physics.  Because the gateway to hell is opened through a stray particle escaping from the Large Hadron Collider (a massive structure underneath the earth in which scientists smash atoms and sub-atomic particles into one another in an effort to recreate the energy of the Big Bang), Samuel insists on understanding the scientific principles behind it.  Connolly takes the reader through the difficult concepts of quantum mechanics with surprising detail and clarity.

Overall, The Gates is a quick, easy read that will engage readers of many ages.  Connolly has built a fun little world through his book, which is exciting because there is a sequel to this book out now.  If you’re looking for an amusing read that won’t make you think too hard, but is different from your normal fare, this is a good choice.

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Book Review: Earth (The Audiobook) – Jon Stewart & The Daily Show

Title: Earth (The Audiobook)
Author: Jon Stewart & The Daily Show
ISBN: 9780446579223
Pages: 256
Release Date: September 21, 2010
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Genre: Non-Fiction, Satire, Audiobook
Source: Publisher
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary:

In this book, Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show present a guide to the human race for aliens.  They picture a future in which the earth is still here, but humans have made themselves extinct.  This book serves as an introduction to human life for aliens.

Review:

I really enjoyed America (The Audiobook), so I was eager to give Earth (The Audiobook) a try.  Unfortunately, I discovered that, while Earth was amusing and held my attention, it wasn’t nearly as laugh-out-loud funny as America.

Once again, Jon Stewart and The Daily Show correspondents are the narrators of this audiobook, and they all do a wonderful job.  Sigourney Weaver joins them as a sort of overall narrator, which might seem strange but it works out well.  Her voice is actually very well suited to audio productions.  The audio version is unabridged, a nice change from America, which was abridged.  Its 3 and a half hours didn’t seem very long, though.  While I wasn’t necessarily left wanting more, I definitely would have been happy with another hour or two of material.

I definitely found Earth funny and was chuckling throughout the listen, but I came away from it with a “meh” feeling.  Perhaps it would have worked better in print, as other audio reviewers have stated.  I also wonder if America worked better because poking fun at the quirks in American government are a staple for Stewart and his writers know its ins and outs.  It’s also a finite entity – there’s only so much explaining you can do.  Earth seemed much more sketchy; it’s clear that he focused on some points for the sake of humor, but overall it just didn’t make as much sense.

Earth is a book that probably works better in print than it does on audio, which is a shame because the entire cast is talented at narration.  It’s an entertaining, short listen, so if you’re in the mood for something mindlessly amusing, this might be a great pick.  Overall, though, I was a bit disappointed in it, though curious enough to want to seek out a print version to see if my suspicions about print vs. audio are true in this case.

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Book Review: America (The Audiobook) – Jon Stewart

Title: America (The Audiobook): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction
Author: Jon Stewart & The Daily Show
ISBN: 9780446691864
Pages: 240 (paperback version)
Release Date: September 20, 2004
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Genre: Non-Fiction, Satire, Audiobook
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

In this audiobook, Jon Stewart and the writers of The Daily Show take the listener through the different facets of American democracy, taking time to focus on history, the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, the Founding Fathers, and each branch of our government, all with The Daily Show’s signature humor and satirical interpretations.

Review:

I’m a fan of The Daily Show, so I’ve been wanting to read America: A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction for a long time, but for some reason, it didn’t really appeal to me in print.  When I received a download of America (The Audiobook) from Hachette at BEA this year, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to “read” this book.

I’ve said before that while I don’t really listen to audiobooks on a regular basis, I want to start.  America (The Audiobook) was my first, and it worked incredibly well.  The non-fiction/satire format was great in audio because it didn’t require intense concentration to follow what was going on.  I listened to it while driving, and if I had to tune out to focus on traffic, I had no problem tuning back in and understanding exactly what I’d missed.  It made me realize that memoirs might be the perfect genre for me in audiobooks.

I usually don’t like abridged versions of books, but America (The Audiobook) was abridged and it worked very well.  I think if it had been the full content of the book, it would have gotten old.  The narrators, Jon Stewart and occasionally some of The Daily Show writers from the time it was written (Ed Helms, Samantha Bee, Stephen Colbert, Rob Corddry and more), do an excellent job with the content. 

The book itself was very funny.  Of course, there’s plenty of inappropriate humor – if you aren’t familiar with The Daily Show, I wouldn’t dive straight into this audiobook without first checking whether you find their sense of humor amusing.  This is definitely a book that made me laugh out loud, which makes me glad I didn’t listen to it on a plane!  They cover every facet of American democracy, skewering each part equally.  Admittedly, some of the jokes are blah, which makes me glad that they did abridge it – like I said, more would likely have gotten old.

I’m glad my first experience with an audiobook was such a success – I’ve already tracked down more memoirs I want to try on audio.  I really enjoyed listening to America (The Audiobook) and definitely recommend it if you’re a fan of The Daily Show, and especially if you’ve been feeling cynical about American politics lately!

The Magicians – Lev Grossman

Title: The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
ISBN: 9780670020553
Pages: 416
Release Date: August 11, 2009
Publisher: Viking Adult
Genre: Fantasy, Satire
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4 out of 5

Summary:

Quentin has never really fit in, at school or in his life at home.  His parents are too busy for him and he only has two friends, neither of which seem overly concerned about him.  He finds solace in fantasy books from his childhod about the magical land of Fillory.  When Quentin is admitted to Brakebills Academy, a school for those who can use magic, he feels as if his childhood dreams are coming true.  But what he doesn’t realize is that a world with magic in it can still be a dark and dangerous place.

Review:

I was really intrigued by the prospect of The Magicians, so I was very excited when my book club chose it for our November read.  I’ve seen it billed as a Harry Potter for adults.  I was very curious as to what it was like.

I have to say, the marketing around The Magicians did it a disservice.  This is not really a fantasy book; it’s a book about fantasy books.  Grossman pays homage to multiple fantasy works in The Magicians – The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and T.H. Whyte’s The Once and Future King just to name a few.  Reading it as a satire or an homage really changes the experience of it for the better.

The first half of The Magicians worked well.  It was slow at times, but Quentin’s experiences at Brakebills were fascinating.  The parts after Quentin leaves Brakebills were a little less appealing, in part because the two halves of the book are so different from one another, bridged by a rather unlikeable middle part.  I think The Magicians may have worked better as two separate books.  That would have given Grossman the ability to go into more depth and explore each world more.  That might have been more satisfying.

There were a lot of dropped plot lines in The Magicians, which was definitely frustrating.  Something would happen that would seem to have lasting repercussions for the storyline, yet it would never be revisited.  Additionally, a lot of aspects of the book weren’t explained clearly, and that vagueness was frustrating.

All of these complaints may make it seem like I hated the book, which I surprisingly didn’t.  I actually enjoyed the experience of reading it.  Grossman is a talented writer, even if this story wasn’t as tight as it could have been.  The book went quickly for me, and I never was bored, even during the slow parts.  The Magicians definitely had its flaws, but I still think it’s an interesting book.  Above all, this is a book written for those who loved all those childhood fantasy novels.

A last note, I think The Magicians made a wonderful book club read.  Some of us loved it, some of us hated it, but we all had something to say so the discussion was very lively.

Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith

Title: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Author: Jane Austen & Seth Grahame-Smith ISBN: 9781594743344 Pages: 320 Release Date: April 4, 2009 Publisher: Quirk Books Genre: Satire, Fantasy Source: Personal Copy Rating: 4 out of 5 Summary: It’s Pride & Prejudice…but with an unexpected twist.  Now the classic novel beloved by millions has zombies!  Will Lizzie […]

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Censoring an Iranian Love Story – Shahriar Mandanipour

Title: Censoring an Iranian Love Story Author: Shahriar Mandanipour ISBN: 9780307269782 Pages: 304 Release Date: May 5, 2009 Publisher: Knopf Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction, Satire Rating: 4 out of 5 From the publisher’s website: From one of Iran’s most acclaimed and controversial contemporary writers, his first novel to appear in English—a dazzlingly inventive work […]

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How to Buy a Love of Reading – Tanya Egan Gibson

Title: How to Buy a Love of Reading Author: Tanya Egan Gibson ISBN: 9780525951148 Pages: 400 Release Date: May 14, 2009 Publisher: Dutton Adult Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Satire Rating: 4.5 out of 5 From the dust jacket: To Carley Wells, words are the enemy. Her tutor’s innumerable SAT flashcards. Her personal trainer’s “fifty-seven pounds overweight” […]

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Gifted – Nikita Lalwani

Title: Gifted Author: Nikita Lalwani ISBN: 9780812977943 Pages: 304 Release Date: September 11, 2007 Publisher: Random House Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction Rating: 3.5 out of 5 From the dust jacket: Rumi Vasi is 10 years, 2 months, 13 days, 2 hours, 42 minutes, and 6 seconds old. She’s figured that the likelihood of her […]

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