Review: The Phantom Tollbooth By Norton Juster


MAKING LITERACY AND NUMERACY COOL FOR KIDS

The strange adventures of a bored schoolboy with too much time on his hands.

 

Book CoverThe Phantom Tollbooth

Norton Juster
 

Genre: Children’s, Fantasy
Publisher: HarperCollins
Format: Paperback, 272 Pages
Date: 3rd March 2008 (First Published 1961)

ISBN-10: 0007263481
ISBN-13: 978-0007263486

 
Purchase From: Amazon | Book Depository
 

The Phantom Tollbooth is one of those children’s books that should be one of the defining reads of every bookworm’s childhood; much like The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe is. I certainly have fond memories of my first reading of it as a young schoolboy. But whereas C.S. Lewis’ classic is a very easy book to categorise and describe (being an age old tale of good triumphing over evil), Norton Juster’s story almost defies conventional categorisation. It is a story that is as unique as it is bizarre, making it all the more memorable. And as an added bonus, it’s hard to think of another book as likely The Phantom Tollbooth to spark an interest in literacy and numeracy in a young child.

Giving a synopsis of what the story is about would not likely engender much enthusiastic interest in the book. But here is a summary of the plot anyway. A bored young schoolboy called Milo, with little interest in school and studying, returns home from school one afternoon to discover that a build-it-yourself toy tollbooth has been delivered to him. After putting together the mysteriously sent gift, Milo gets into his toy pedal car to play, little suspecting that the tollbooth would magically transport him to the Kingdom Of Wisdom. He subsequently embarks on a bizarre road-trip around this fantasy land to complete a mission that will finally bring to an end a period of turmoil brought about by the disappearance of two princesses.

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Review: Willful Child By Steven Erikson


BRAVELY GOING WHERE THEY REALLY SHOULDN’T

Erikson boldly goes where he hasn’t gone before (and hopefully never will again) with this ill-judged parody that wears thin, all too quickly.

 

Book CoverWillful Child

Steven Erikson
 

Genre: Science Fiction, Parody
Publisher: Bantam Press
Format: Paperback, 352 Pages
Date: 27th August 2015 (First Published 2014)

ISBN-10: 0857502441
ISBN-13: 978-0857502445

 
Purchase From: Amazon | Book Depository
 

Steven Erikson is an author whose name is synonymous with the High Fantasy genre, having authored the Malazan Book Of The Fallen series. It was a surprise then, when he decide to dip his toe into science fiction with the publication of Willful Child; a parody novel that takes aim at Star Trek created by Gene Roddenberry. After reading the book, one can only hope that Erikson never again ventures outside of his comfort zone, for Willful Child is a spoof with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. And when a novel of only 350 pages feels at least 250 pages too long something is seriously amiss.

There is little point wasting words to give a synopsis of Willful Child. The novel’s plot is paper thin, which probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise. It seems Erikson’s sole purpose in penning the book was to poke fun of Star Trek, not to write an engaging story. And why not? Anyone who is familiar with Roddenberry’s brainchild, particularly The Original Series, will appreciate that Star Trek is an ideal vehicle for sendup. It is a franchise responsible for numerous television tropes ripe for mockery: copious technobabble and disposable “redshirts” being two of the most obvious examples. And the author goes after all these familiar Trek tropes with often hilarious results. The crew of the Willful Child even discover a planet made up entirely of a fake environment; a dig at the laughably bad set design of The Original Series. But Erikson’s lack of subtlety means that the joke wears thin, all too quickly.

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Review: Hyperion By Dan Simmons


THE PILGRIMS PROGRESS

Seven strangers embark on a once in a lifetime mission, each with a strange tale to tell.

 
Book CoverHyperion
(Hyperion Cantos, Book 1)

Dan Simmons

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Gollancz
Format: Paperback, 496 Pages
Date: 12th May 2011 (First Published 1989)

ISBN-10: 0575099437
ISBN-13: 978-0575099432

 
Purchase From: Amazon | Book Depository
 

It’s difficult deciding how best to describe Dan Simmons’ Hugo Award winning novel, Hyperion. Though it is a full-length novel it is structurally more like a collection of short stories loosely connected by an overarching conceit; a narrative choice acknowledged to have been directly inspired by Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales. Also, though Hyperion is a book that is ostensibly science fiction, stripping away the copious amounts of technobabble leaves a story that reads very much like a work of literary fiction. This is perhaps not surprising given the author’s known fondness for classical literature, which is very much in evidence throughout Simmons’ narrative.

In spite of the numerous classical literary influences that can be found littered all the way through the book, Hyperion should in no way be construed as being inherently derivative. It is unquestionably an original, unique work of fiction; it’s hard to think of another novel quite like it. And leaving aside Simmons’ literary pretensions (or perhaps snobbery) it is obvious that he put a great deal of creative effort into the science fiction aspect of the backdrop for the novel. The detail in which he writes about the technology, history and culture of his futuristic setting is instrumental in conveying just how well constructed and deeply thought out it all is. Which is all the more impressive given that not all of these elements are necessarily vital to the plot, which could work just as well without them.

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Quotable: The Left Hand Of God, “Solitude Is A Wonderful Thing…”


THE QUOTABLE QUOTE OF THE DAY

There’s no arguing with the insightfulness or truthfulness of these memorable words.

 

Book Cover _ Book Cover _ Book Cover _ Book Cover

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“Solitude is a wonderful thing in two ways. First, it allows a man to be with himself, and second, it prevents him being with others.”

Paul Hoffman
The Left Hand Of God

 
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Review: The Wise Man’s Fear By Patrick Rothfuss


A MYTH IN THE MAKING

There are three things all wise readers should fear: unwarranted hype, meandering narrative and directionless plot.

 

Book CoverThe Wise Man’s Fear
(The Kingkiller Chronicle, Book 2)

Patrick Rothfuss

Genre: High Fantasy
Publisher: Gollancz
Format: Paperback, 994 Pages
Date: 6th March 2012 (First Published 2011)

ISBN-10: 0575081430
ISBN-13: 978-0575081437

 
Purchase From: Amazon | Book Depository
 

For bookworms who have previously read Patrick Rothfuss’ epic fantasy novel, The Name Of The Wind, this review could tell you everything you need to know about the second instalment of The Kingkiller Chronicle by simply stating: this sequel offers more of the same, only hundreds of extra pages more of it; and the review could end there. Whether or not that is a good thing will depend entirely on how much any given reader enjoyed the first book. If The Name Of The Wind’s six hundred plus pages was a chore to read, then you can be sure that the nine hundred plus pages of The Wise Man’s Fear will require greater patience, still.

Assuming that the precocious protagonist’s meandering narration of his life story had you engrossed while reading the first book, you’ll be pleased to know this follow up pretty much resumes where its predecessor left off, and continues in the same vein. Rothfuss keeps Kvothe within the confines of his Inn, with his fae student Bast, and Devan the Chronicler for company, where he continues to recount his life story. As with the previous novel, Kvothe’s first person narration is intermittently broken up by the interludes of a third person narrator whom Rothfuss uses to keep readers abreast of events in and around the Inn.

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Review: Eye In The Sky By Philip K. Dick


WELCOME TO THE (NOT SO) REAL WORLD

Eight accident victims awake to find themselves trapped in a bizarre alternate reality… Or do they?

 

Book CoverEye In The Sky

Philip K. Dick
 

Genre: Science Fiction
Publisher: Gollancz
Format: Paperback, 256 Pages
Date: 9th December 2010 (First Published 1957)

ISBN-10: 0575098996
ISBN-13: 978-0575098992

 
Purchase From: Amazon | Book Depository
 

Philip K. Dick was not a writer generally known for his humour, therefore it is unsurprising that his stories aren’t particularly noted for their comedy value. Yet, his 1957 novel, Eye In The Sky, is undoubtedly a hysterically funny book whether or not he intended for it to be comedic in tone. A story by which he uses his trademark motif of distorted reality to take a satirical swipe at the Cold War paranoia of McCarthyism that had gripped the US during the Fifties when the book was written. The end result mocking the absurdity of persecuting people for what they may or not secretly think, based on random, innocuous criteria which effectively means that anyone can come under suspicion.

The narrative concocted by PKD actually has a few more layers than a cursory synopsis might convey. While being a denouncement of the witch-hunts of the era, the book does also posit that the beliefs that people hold can and do shape how they view the world around them. And the author takes this conceit and uses it in the literal sense within the story, with laugh out loud hilarity ensuing, as he torments his characters with manifestations of how the world is perceived in the minds of other people.

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