Author : Alice Hoffman

An 8-year old girl, in a fit of bratty fury, wishes never to see her mother again.  As ugly coincidence would have it, her mother dies in a car accident that very night, and changes this little girl forever.

The entire book speaks of the girl in the first person; so, no name is referenced to her.  For that, I shall assume her name to be also that of the author’s : Alice.

After the tragedy, Alice, being the self-centered person that she is, begins an emotionally self-destructive life based on guilt over what she wished.   She retreats inward, builds a wall against herself, and becomes the Ice Queen — emotionally frigid,  out of touch with her feelings —  quite a depressing character actually.

Indeed the book is dark and gives me a sense of constantly being right smack in a gloomy winter.   But the book is beautiful and the writing, superb. Despite the sense of being enveloped in a cloudy gray, I needed to read and read ’til the end.  I needed to know how Alice gets her redemption and if she ever does get it.

Back to the story…. Alice is struck by lightning and loses her ability to see the color red.  This inability starts to give her a peek of how much she has lost out on life by taking a lot of things for granted.

Like a clam in its shell, she slowly opens herself to relationships with other people.  She accepts her brother’s attempts to reach out to her, makes a new friend, hooks up with a fellow lightning survivor , Lazarus Jones, whose touch can scorch and whose breath can burn (literally).  (Alice Hoffman has a tendency toward the surreal or the fantastical.  But this is what makes her stories so interesting. )

She slowly thaws her own emotional prison and is redeemed by the final realization that life is precious, life is worth living, and people give meaning to life.  Her guilt is overcome with the new sense of knowledge that her mother’s death was never her fault.

In the end, the book’s central message is summed up when Alice says, ” This is what I know, the one and only thing.  The best way to die is while you’re living…”

Alice Hoffman has written a gem of a book.  If you’ve never read her work, this would be a good first start.

My Mark : Excellent

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Author : George R.R. Martin

I am a huge fan of fantasy novels. My all time favorite is the classic Lord of the Rings trilogy, along with the Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien.

A Song of Fire and Ice series,however, comes as a close second.  Finally, something in the genre that is different and so very refreshing.

What struck me most is its sense of realism.  Mr. Martin makes us taste, see, and feel a world that could have been real.

Descriptions are graphic.  I could almost smell the rotten corpses, and also taste a luscious banquet.  Characters speak the way they would, perhaps, if they existed.  If crude language is called for, Mr. Martin pens it as it should be.  For the guys  out there, there’s plenty of action, blood and gore.  Of course, some magic as well; but, magic hardly figures in anyone’s victories.  It’s still pure guts, smarts, and power that determine the tide.

The books’ strength, however, lies in the characters.  The series does not have fantasy’s usual static good and evil personas.  As in real life,  each has several facets in his personality and these make each character so interesting and multi-dimensional.  No one is really virtuous and no one is wholly evil.  We can identify with all or at least sympathize with all his characters.

How does he accomplish this?  Wonderfully, Mr. Martin devotes each chapter to a selected character.  He makes us get to know the person — how he thinks, what he likes,  why he feels a certain way, his logic and perception of the world, why he does what he does, etc.  No one is cut and dried.  This way, he develops his story and the voyeur in you,  that you just have to have more of it.

Hence, his four thick novels aren’t enough.  I suspect the story may not be even halfway done; but, that’s why George Martin fans are impatiently waiting for the 5th book of the series, promised in 2007  and not yet delivered. GRRRR!!!! We want the 5th!  We want the 5th!

Books in the Series : A Game of Thrones,  A Clash of Kings, A Storm of Swords, A Feast for Crows

October 4, 2008 Update: Ooooh!  Dance With Dragons, the 5th book is out!  It is not available in my location yet, though. Rats!