Friday, July 27, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J.K. Rowling

The Basics: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling, 2007, 607 pages, hardcover

How I found it: Like everyone else, I preordered it from Chapters and waited for my Canada Post special Saturday delivery last weekend (mine arrived at 11am). I have been a fan of the Harry Potter series since the 3rd book came out and I realized it wasn't just for kids.

What's it about?: This is the culmination of the Harry Potter series where he finally faces off against Voldemort. Without giving away too many plot points, the story revolves around Harry, Ron and Hermione travelling around and camping, trying to find clues towards a mysterious quest that Dumbledore gave them at the end of the last book, and trying to avoid Voldemort's Death Eaters. There are several battles, including a grand finale battle at the end.

Did I like it?: As with all the Harry Potter books, I liked this one. However, at 607 pages, I found that it did drag a bit at times, and the plot was slow moving, especially during all the camping scenes. It does have a good ending that was a surprise to me, despite all the rumours flying around about it. I also enjoyed the epilogue as it provided a great parallel to the whole series.

Will you like it?: If you've read the other Harry Potter books, you are pretty much obligated to read this one to find out what the final outcome will be. Plus, it's just as good as most of the other Potter books. The books have grown up with their readers, and this is more teen fiction than children's lit now, which will appeal to the older reader. If you haven't read the Potter books, don't read this one - start at book one, work your way through, and say goodbye to your free time as you get sucked in.

But don't take my word for it: A huge amount of Harry Potter background and some reader reviews (some with plot spoilers) from, a review from a north London blogger, one from the UK's Telegraph and the Guardian, and the wikipedia entry (with plot spoilers). These are just a few of the thousands of things written about the release of this book. It was a huge media event - do some googling if you need more.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ultimate High: My Everest Odyssey - Goran Kropp

The Basics: Ultimate High: My Everest Odyssey, Goran Kropp with David Lagercrantz, 1999, 227 pages, paperback

How I found it: This book was lying around my parents house. It's likely that it belongs to my dad.

What's it about?: Kropp was a mountaineer from Sweden who decided to climb Everest in a manner that he felt was the "purest" way to do it. This involved biking from Sweden to base camp with all of the gear and food he would need on the climb. He then attempted to climb the mountain using only his own gear, and food, using no fixed ropes or porters, and no bottled oxygen. Kropp climbed in 1996, the famous disaster year chronicled most famously in Krakauer's Into Thin Air, and several other books (I've read pretty much all of them). His climb ended up getting put on hold as the crisis unfolded.

Did I like it?: I've read a lot of mountaineering books and there are really two kinds of mountaineers: the normal ones and the crazy ones. Kropp was a crazy one. His dedication to his training was fanatical. He seems to have been quick tempered. But his journey is an interesting read as he has his own insight into the 1996 Everest season and other general mountaineering topics. In general, this was a fairly average read for a mountaineering book and not particularly great. However, it is by no means bad.

Will you like it?: There are much better mountaineering books, and even much better Everest books than this one. However, the "pure" way in which Kropp chose to climb is vaguely intriguing. Kropp also had aspirations to be a full time adventurer on the scale of Colin Angus. After his trip to Everest and back, he skiied to the north pole and had plans to sail to Antarctica from Sweden, ski to the pole, then sail back. However, Kropp died in a rock climbing accident in 2002 so this book is the only documentation of an adventuring career that never got off the ground.

But don't take my word for it: The usual reader reviews from and publishers blurbs Amazon, a review from the Denver Post, and one from the New York Times are all I could find.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Video Night in Kathmandu and Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East - Pico Iyer

The Basics: Video Night in Kathmandu and Other Reports from the Not-So-Far East, Pico Iyer, 1988, 382 pages, soft cover.

How I found it: Random browsing in the travel writing section of Chapters. Plus, I had already read some of Iyer's work and knew I liked it.

What's it about?: Iyer took a series of trips to Asia in the mid-80s while most countries there were in the middle of becoming more and more Westernized. He writes a chapter on each of the countries he visited, Bali, Tibet, Nepal, China, The Philippines, Burma, Hong Kong, India, Thailand and Japan. For each chapter he focuses on the ways each country and its people are taking on Western influences, and the ways in which they are making them their own.

Did I like it?: Iyer is an excellent travel writer. He includes enough of himself in his writing to make the reader understand who he is and how he feels about the experiences he is having, but he doesn't include so much that his experience overshadows what the place is really about. Iyer also attempts to really engage the locals, understand their view and their life, and tell the reader a bit of their story as well as his own. Iyer's book is also a bit of a time capsule - it was written in the late 80s, almost 20 years ago, and presumably, a lot has changed. The edition I have contains a new afterword which was written in 2000. In the afterward Iyer comments that much has changed in Asia, in terms of the effects of globalization and technology, but that much as remained the same. I think that must be even more true now.

Will you like it?: If you are interested in travel writing, Iyer's is among some of the best and this is a great book to check out. Iyer manages to really personalize Asia, while at the same time illustrating how global culture is becoming. Great writing and some great stories.

But don't take my word for it: The usual collection of publishers blurbs and reader reviews from Amazon, a review from the blog of professional traveler and author Rolf Potts, vagablogging, a recent interview with Iyer, and a not as recent interview.