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Rooks, Stars, and a Spider-Man

I've been thinking a bit lately about how many books I will never get to read. That's not a new idea, of course, but it's one that makes me sad from time to time. A good way to combat the feeling is to start reading a book and have it be one that I really like. Here are two such books I read recently...

I'd heard some buzz about Daniel O'Malley's The Rook before the end of the year, enough to request it at the library. It's a book about a secret government organization in Britain called the Checquy that is responsible for fighting off supernatural menaces and the like (there's also an American Checquy). We learn about this world through the eyes of Myfanwy Thomas, who is also learning about this world. The thing is that Myfanwy isn't exactly Myfanwy. Myfanwy Thomas is a Rook in the Checquy, a position of great importance and power. The Myfanwy we meet at the beginning of the book has the body of Myfanwy but is a completely new personality. The original Myfanwy was warned that she would be overwritten and took the opportunity to write to her replacement, telling her everything she would need to know. O'Malley uses this to give the reader info-dumps while the main character is getting her info dumps. At first, I found the technique ingenuous and then a little far-fetched before settling into the story. O'Malley makes it okay that there is so much information in the letters. He also has crafted an engaging story, not only in the trappings of the fantasy world (there are references to previous stories within the universe that would be cool to read about) but in the story of the emerging Myfanwy, who is very easy to like and to root for. I ended up really liking this book and hope for a sequel.

I've known about John Green for a number of years, having read reviews of his previous novels. It's only been in the last few years that I've come to read YA fiction again, thanks in large part to the Harry Potter novels, so I decided I would dive into Green's work with his new novel, The Fault in Our Stars. It is the story of Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters, teenagers suffering from cancer who meet and fall in love. They are very articulate teenagers of the kind that you hope to meet in real life (and which there are many of, I'm sure) and their story is completely believable. It's not a novel to really talk about in terms of plot; in any event, I would recommend it for the writing, for the humor, for the seriousness, for the sadness, and for the joy. I liked it a lot and will definitely be reading Green's other novels.

I've liked Spider-Man since I was a kid and really, what's not to like? I've never, however, been a dedicated reader of comics starring Spider-Man. I don't have an explanation for it. My brother bought various Spider titles back in the 80s which I would read and I have picked some up over the years, most notably Ultimate Spider-Man in trades for a time. This week I picked up Amazing Spider-Man #678 and #679 on a whim and was glad I did. The story is a two-part time travel story, which I'm a sucker for. Peter Parker is working for a think tank of geniuses called Horizon Labs and one of his co-workers invents a door that goes into the future. It all seems innocuous and awesome until Peter steps all the way through, causing the scene to shift from the next day's break room to the utter destruction of New York City. Why? Peter stepping through the door meant he wasn't around for 24 hours, which somehow lead to the disaster. The remainder of the story has Peter and Grady Scraps (the inventor) trying to figure out a way to prevent what's coming. It's a smart, fun story by Dan Slott and has the fun art stylings of Humberto Ramos. I think I might have to keep reading the title.

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