Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

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Atlas Shrugged by Ayn RandAtlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Ayn Rand’s stated intention with Atlas Shrugged was to explore her own philosophical ideas about life and human existence and the “ideal man” in novel form.  As a college Philosophy major I was intrigued by the idea of a novel intended to flesh out new philosophical thinking.

Ayn Rand’s style is beautiful and her writing is excellent, but the characters come off as too specifically drawn and singularly focused to be believed.  Each of them embodies an ideal rather than being “particularly” real.  The result is none of them feel like people you might run into anywhere in everyday life.  While I could see some the emerging themes being explored within each character, as reader of contemporary fiction, I prefer my characters to be tangible.

Ayn Rand demonstrates a keen and insightful understanding of human rationality and her characters are equally self-perceptive and self-aware.  Nevertheless, they often lack the ability to understand the motivation behind the ways other characters think and act.  While her exploration of character insights are eerily perceptive, each character’s continual rational analysis of their every experience gives the impression they are each navigating the overall story in isolation, reacting to the actions of the other characters, but never really connecting with them.

While the strength and beauty of the writing carries the reader along from page to page (an essential ingredient of a 1,200 page work) this work feels more like an intellectual exercise, albeit a very well written one, than like a story.  In the end, my commitment to the story itself didn’t last the full 1,200 pages and I ended up putting this one aside.

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Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

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Where The Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace LinWhere the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Beautifully written and elegantly woven, like the Old Man of the Moon’s red threads of destiny, the story of Minli’s quest to change her family’s fortune takes her on an incredible journey of child-like mystery and self-discovery.

Reminiscent of The King of Ireland’s Son, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is a delicate weaving together of many stories into a single tapestry of magic, hope, friendship and thankfulness. Simply told and powerfully experienced this is definitely my vote for our next family read-aloud.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon is the winner of the 2010 Newbery Honor and the 2010 Josette Frank Award.

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Boneshaker (The Clockwork Century #1) by Cherie Priest

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Boneshaker by Cherie Priest Boneshaker by Cherie Priest

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

At its heart, Boneshaker, set in 1880, is the story of Briar Wilkes and her son, Ezekiel, estranged from society and from one another by the mysterious and fateful actions of Briar’s husband (Zeke’s father), Leviticus Blue, and Zeke’s desperate attempt to rewrite history to try and clear his father’s name (along with the threat of zombies thrown in for good measure).

As genre goes, Boneshaker falls under the growing genre of steampunkBoneshaker was my first real experience with steampunk; it was definitely a worthwhile introduction.  What makes Boneshaker unique within that genre (zombie infestation aside) is that it’s set in North America rather than the traditional Victorian setting of London, England.  The zombie aspect provides an element of danger and even a touch of horror, but never pushes the horror envelope very far, lacking the overly-gratuitous descriptions of zombie carnage that might turn off slightly more sensitive readers, like me.

Ms. Priest takes nice advantage of the classic scary movie technique where moviegoers can more often hear the monster, without actually seeing it.  Throughout the story, thundering hoards of zombies (“rotters”) can been heard shambling with hunting intent behind closed doors, in outer hallways, on upper floors and outside just beyond the range visibility thanks to the fog of Blight gas filling the streets of downtown Seattle.

It’s clear from reading Boneshaker that Ms. Priest has done her homework on Seattle history. However, unlike some stories where the author’s research ends up written into the story as lots of unnecessary, albeit sometimes interesting, descriptive information, Ms. Priest uses a light touch so the story flows quite naturally without giving the impression she’s trying hard to squeeze in her research so it doesn’t go to waste.  Additionally, Ms. Priest has intentionally crafted her setting as an *alternate* history, taking liberties where necessary to tell the story she wants to tell the way she wants to tell it.  The result is that the story’s history comes off quite believably (again, zombie infestation aside) although I’d be curious to know what Seattle area readers might have to say after reading it.

In addition to its two main characters, Briar and Ezekiel, Boneshaker hosts a number of memorable characters (both likeable and unlikeable) which further bring the story to life; although it hardly seems appropriate to refer to them as secondary both because they are complexly written and because they are so essential to the integrity of the story.  By the end I found myself caring as much about what happens to each of them as I did about Briar and Zeke.

I definitely have Boneshaker on my list of books to read again.

NOTE: At the time of this review Boneshaker has been nominated for a Hugo Award.

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Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

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Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, #1) Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This series might best be described as young James Bond in a land of the fairies.  Only, instead of working for British Secret Intelligence Services, this protagonist is out for himself.

The story features the ruthless criminal mastermind and child prodigy, Artemis Fowl, who uses cunning and his vast fortune to get more of what he wants – money.  Admittedly, I didn’t finish the book, so feel free to stop reading this review here if you’d like.  However, after only the first few chapters it was clear this book is more focused on plot than it is on character development.  Despite Artemis’s young age his personality is already firmly established.  He behaves, thinks and acts almost entirely like an adult (not very interesting in a child character) so that I’m not entirely certain the story would change much if he was an adult.  Additionally, he’s always a step or two ahead of everyone else which not very compelling (at least for me) because there’s no perceived risk of failure.  Although, in this case, I’m not sure I can support Artemis’ goals (no spoilers here) enough to worry for him that he may fail.

Clever idea, cleverly written and likely very entertaining, but to quote author Dawn Metcalf, “It’s just not my thing”.

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