Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: The Martian Chronicles

Book Name: The Martian Chronicles
Author: Ray Bradbury
First Published: 1950

Ray Bradbury was an American fantasy, science fiction, and mystery fiction writer. He was known for his dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451 and for the science fiction and horror stories gathered together in The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man. Many of Bradbury’s works have been adapted into television and films and he has left his stamp on the science fiction and fantasy genres.

Bradbury was born in the mid-west, but his family moved back and forth between Waukegan, Illinios and Tucson, Arizona for most of his formative years. When Bradbury was fourteen, his family settled in Los Angeles, California and he remained in the Southern California area for much of his life. Bradbury was a reader and writer throughout his youth. He claimed that he was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars series and wrote a fanfiction based on those tales at the age of twelve. He credits this series as the inspiration for The Martian Chronicles and notes that he likely would never have written about Mars at all if it was not for his love of the Burroughs’ series.

Bradbury cited H.G. Wells and Jules Verne as his biggest science fiction influences, followed by Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, Theodore Sturgeon, and A. E. van Vogt. As Bradbury matured, he drew more from the style and works of Alexander Pope and poet John Donne. When later asked about the lyrical nature of his prose, Bradbury replied that it came, “From reading so much poetry every day of my life. My favorite writers have been those who’ve said things well.” He also has said, “If you’re reluctant to weep, you won’t live a full and complete life.”

Bradbury did not attend college. Instead, he sold newspapers once he graduated from high school and spent much of his time reading. “Libraries raised me. I don’t believe in colleges and universities. I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money. When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.” Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 at the UCLA’s Powell Library where he rented a typewriter in one of their study rooms. The rental rate for completing the entire novel was around ten dollars since the rental of the manual typewriter was ten cents per half hour. He preferred to write on a typewriter instead of computers because that was what he was used to.

Ray Bradbury lived at home until the age of twenty-seven when he married his sweetheart, Marguerite McClure. They had four children together. He was an active member of Los Angeles Science Fiction Society where he made his first connections in the writing community of Los Angeles. From these connections, he began to meet publishers and gained a following for his work that now spans the globe. Bradbury is credited with writing 27 novels and over 600 short stories. More than eight million copies of his works, published in over 36 languages, have been sold around the world.

In his later years, Ray Bradbury became a well sought out speaker at literary events in the Southern California area. He never obtained a driver’s license and did not enjoy travel. It was well known on the speaker circuit, if you wanted Ray Bradbury to speak at your event, you should arrange to have a driver come and get him. I regret that I did not take the opportunity to meet Mr. Bradbury in person before he passed away in December of 2011. He was a favorite on the literary speaker’s circuit in Southern California and I personally know many writers that consider him to be an inspiration.

“Science is no more than an investigation of a miracle we can never explain, and art is an interpretation of that miracle.” – Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles

The Martian Chronicles is a collection of short stories based on the colonization of the planet Mars by people fleeing from an atomic devastated Earth. There is conflict between the aboriginal Martians and the colonists as they adjust to life on the new world. The stories are tied together by short vignettes, creating a loose novel in three parts.

The first third of the book tells of the first attempts by humans to land and explore on Mars. The native Martians endeavor to prevent them from returning. In the fourth story _And the Moon be Still as Bright, it is discovered that the Martians have been decimated by a plague brought by the humans, much the way that the American natives were brought down by European disease by the conquistadors. This sets the stage for the second part of the book when the humans colonize the deserted planet and set about making it into a second Earth. The final part of the book occurs after a global nuclear war on Earth cuts off contact between the two worlds. The few surviving humans that remain on Mars become the new Martians and the circle of life continues.

the-martian-chronicles-book-coverMy first exposure to The Martian Chronicles was during the 1980s when the mini-series starring Rock Hudson came out in 1980. Hudson played one of the colonists from the fourth Martian expedition who later returned with his family to colonize Mars. I have never forgotten the scene when Hudson playing Col. John Wilder takes his children to a Martian canal and points at their reflection in the water. “There are the Martians.” He tells them. One day there will be humans to do this and not all that far in the future.

I have always loved the ERB series, John Carter of Mars, and between the two, a love for stories about the red planet has grown in me. After The Martian Chronicles mini-series, I made a point to seek out the original book. While I enjoyed the written stories, I think that in this case, I prefer the mini-series, although Ray Bradbury himself thought it boring! You can still see all three episodes today on YouTube. ONE TWO THREE

The science behind the stories is sorely outdated. Back when Bradbury wrote the stories, it was believed that Mars had more atmosphere and it would be more hospitable to human life. Today, we know that living on Mars will be much more difficult than simply getting there and setting up homes. We will need to combat a rampant CO2 atmosphere, low gravity and live without the protection of a magnetic planetary field. Still, this is a classic science fiction tale and several of the stories in the collection are well worth reading. My personal favorites are: “Rocket Summer”, “Ylla”, “-And The Moon Be Still As Bright”, “The Off Season”, and “The Million-Year Picnic.”

Book Review: Journey to the Center of the Earth

Book Name: Journey to the Center of the Earth
Author: Jules Verne
First Published: 1864

Jules Verne was a 19th century French novelist and poet and is often referred to as the “Father of Science Fiction”. He was born in 1828 in Nantes, France. He trained to be an attorney like his father before him, but Verne was more interested in becoming a writer. Once he graduated from his law studies in Paris, he embarked on a journey of writing several very unsuccessful plays. One day, he met editor Pierre-Jules Hetzel and allowed the editor to help him overcome his natural tendency to dive deep into the scientific and to focus more on the people of his stories. The combination of the two men was like dynamite and many classic science fiction and adventure stories were born from the result. Titles such as The Mysterious Island, Five Weeks in a Ballon, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and From the Earth to the Moon were a direct result of their collaboration. Verne penned more than 70 novels in his lifetime and is the second most-translated author in the world, succeeded only by Agatha Christie.

“I seriously believed that my last hour was approaching, and yet, so strange is imagination, all I thought of was some childish hypothesis or other. In such circumstances, you do not choose your own thoughts. They overcome you.” – Jules Verne, Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth starts in the year 1863 in the home of Professor Lidenbrock. Bear in mind, this makes this a contemporary science fiction tale of its day and not a historical one since the book published in the following year. The good professor has purchased an original runic manuscript written an Icelandic King. It contains a coded note written in runic script. His nephew Axel assists him in translating the message into Latin, but keeps the translation away from his uncle due to the fear of what his uncle might do with the information, but after two days he breaks his silence. The ancient note written by the Icelandic alchemist Arne Saknussemm claims to have discovered a passage to the center of the Earth via a cave in Iceland.

Being of adventurous spirit, Professor Lidenbrock wishes to repeat the journey of this ancient Icelander and leaves for Iceland forthwith. Axel joins him against his better judgment and complains the entire way, explaining his fears of descending into a volcano and trying to come up with reasonable theories why the journey should not take place. His uncle refuses to listen and the pair travel to Reykjavik, Iceland. There they hire a guide, one Hans Bjelke, and the three continue overland to the base of the great volcano.

There are three craters in the volcano. According to Saknussemm’s note, the passage to the center of the Earth is through the crater that feels the shadow of a nearby mountain peak at noon in the last days of June. Axel rejoices when the weather remains cloudy and no shadow can be detected. If the bad weather continues, their party can turn around and return home. However, on the second to last day the sun comes out and the shadow falls into the correct crater. Lidenbrock leads the way with Hans and Axel in tow, into the depths of the Earth.

The three adventurers have a series of mis-adventures, usually it is Axel who suffers the most. When they take a wrong turn and run out of water, Axel almost dies. He also wanders off and gets lost from the trio, only to be found due to an acoustic phenomenon that allows him to speak with his uncle from miles away. As the trio continue to descend, they discover a vast cavern with electrically charged gas at the ceiling and filled by a subterranean ocean. It is surrounded by a rocky coastline of petrified trees and giant mushrooms. The professor names the ocean after himself, as any Victorian explorer commonly did during these times. The men build a raft from the petrified trees and set out over “Lidenbrock Sea”. The water has ancient Ichtyosaurus and Plesiosurus and part of the coastline is full of living prehistoric animals and insects.

A lightning storm threatens their passage on the sea and shipwrecks the trio back onto the coast. There, Axel discovers an over-sized human skull. Later, Professor Lidenbrock claims to have seen a 12 foot tall human watching a herd of Mastodons. Axel and Lidenbrock have a lively argument about the human, not knowing if this was a true man or an man-like ape. The three decide it is better to stay away for their own safety and continue to follow the trail left by Saknussemm.

The trail ends at a rock-slide. Unable to dig through the granite, they use gun cotton to blast the passage in the hope that they can find their way to the center of the Earth. When the blast occurs, little do the adventurers realize that a vast bottomless pit is all that is behind the rockslide. The sea rushes in to fill the new gap and the trio is swept away at breakneck speed inside the volcanic chimney of water and magma. You’ll have to finish the book to find out the fate of our trio of intrepid explorers.

Journey to the Center of the Earth Book CoverThis classic Jules Verne novel sometimes gets a bad rap. Some find it tedious or long-winded due to Verne’s hard science approach and the fact that the science is based on centuries old ideas that are extremely out of date and no longer considered true. The Victorian ideas come across as sexist and imperialistic to modern sensibilities. Yet, this science fiction novel was ahead of its time and in many ways is as impressive today as it was when it was written. Verne has a timeless style to his writing that gains him fans even today.

Some care needs to be taken when finding a copy of the book to read. Remember, this book was originally written in French. All the English versions are translations and unfortunately some are better than others. In the 1960s certain translators took liberties with the story, changing it in subtle ways. The story is basically the same, but many details have been changed. You can if you got one of the lesser translations by the names of the characters. Axel becomes Harry. Professor Lindenbrock becomes Professor Von Hardwigg. Curiously, Hans remains Hans in all editions! However, do not fear, either as Axel or Harry, he still is in need of smelling salts to aid his fainting and hysteria.

Book Review: Elantris

Book Name: Elantris
Author: Brandon Sanderson
First Published: 2005

Brandon Sanderson was born in Lincoln, Nebraska in 1975. His general schooling began at Brigham Young University as an English major after completing a two-year LDS mission to Seoul, South Korea in 1997. While working on his graduate degree, he became an editor for the semi-pro speculative fiction magazine Leading Edge. Sanderson gained his Masters in creative writing in 2005.

In 2006, Sanderson married Emily Bushman, also an English major and teacher, who also serves as his business manager. They have three children and currently reside in American Fork, Utah. Sanderson continues to teach creative writing at Brigham Young University in addition to his work as a full-time science fiction author.

You can catch Brandon Sanderson with his writing buddies Dan Wells, Mary Robinette Kowal, and web cartoonist Howard Tayler on their weekly podcast Writing Excuses. It is filled with writing tips and good humor jokes for aspiring authors.

Sanderson’s first novel is Elantris, published by Tor Books in 2005. It met with positive reviews and showcased the author’s ability to create unique magic systems for his stories. He followed it with his famous Mistborn fantasy trilogy.

In 2007, Robert Jordan, the author of the Wheel of Time, died and his famous series was left unfinished. Jordan’s editor and widow, Harriet McDougal, selected Sanderson to finish her husband’s final book and to give closure to millions of Wheel of Time fans worldwide. Under Sanderson’s care, the final book became three and each met with great success on the New York Times bestseller lists. It also propelled Sanderson into the limelight. Since then, most of Sanderson’s novels land on the NYT bestseller lists, proving him to be a highly successful author of his generation. Many books, novellas, and short stories are pouring from this prolific author’s pen even today.

“To live is to have worries and uncertainties. Keep them inside, and they will destroy you for certain–leaving behind a person so callused that emotion can find no root in his heart.”
― Brandon Sanderson, Elantris

Elantris was the capital of the nation of Arelon. A shiny and radiant city filled with benevolent demigods who use their magic to the benefit of humankind, the parent race from which they spring. A decade ago, their magic failed without warning. The powerful Elantrians became leper-like cripples that cling to the shadows of their dark, crumbling city. Elantris is shunned and feared by all, no one understanding the disaster that befell its people.

With the fall of Elantris, a new capital is built nearby. Peopled by ordinary humans, Kae is a city with the poor, religious fanatics, and the upper class with imperial ambitions. Princess Sarene of Teod is sent by her people to marry with Crown Prince Raoden of Arelon. She has never met him, but via letters, she has grown fond of him and hopes for love in her arranged marriage to him. However, when she arrives at Kae, she discovers that the prince is dead.

As Raoden’s widow, Sarene remains at Kae and uses her influence to help the poor and counter the threat posed by the fanatic Hrathen of Fjordell. This high priest wishes to convert all of Arelon to his religion and then claim the kingdom for his emperor and god.

There is a secret that neither Sarene or Hrathen know. Prince Raoden is not dead. He has been sent to Elantris by his own father when he was struck by the Elantris transformation, known as the “Shaod”, that once would have turned him into a demigod. Now, he is a powerless wretch exiled to the dirty streets of the fallen city. There, much as Serene works with the poor of Kae, Raoden works to help the fallen former demigods of Elantris. As he continues his work to provide comfort and aid, a series of events leads him to learn more about the disaster that befell the former capital of Arelon and might reveal the secret to the magic of Elantris itself.

Elantris Book CoverElantris is the first novel that I have read by author Brandon Sanderson. When he was selected to continue the Wheel of Time series, I was a little nervous. I am a huge fan of the Wheel of Time and was disheartened by the loss of author Robert Jordan. Could anyone truly fill this man’s shoes and complete his magnum opus? To placate my fears, I purchased Elantris and gave Sanderson a trial read. My fears about the Wheel of Time dissolved and now I have a new favorite author to enjoy.

The book showcases what have become signatures in Sanderson’s writing. Incredible world building, complex and unique magic systems, combined with likable characters. There are a few weaknesses in his first novel, the ending is anti-climactic and there are a few plot-holes that are left unresolved. Even so, I can whole-heartedly recommend Elantris as a book to add to your reading list. If you love epic fantasy with strong female characters, great pacing, and beautiful world building, I urge you to give Brandon Sanderson a try. There is a good reason why he is constantly topping the New York Times bestseller lists.

Book Review: Watership Down

Book Name: Watership Down
Author: Richard Adams
First Published: 1972
The Library Association’s Carnegie Medal 1972
The Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize 1972

Author Richard Adams was born in Newbury, Berkshire. He attended Bradfield College during his early years and transferred to Worcester College in Oxford to specialize in Modern History. When World War II began, Adams enlisted in the British Army, serving until 1946. Upon his discharge, he returned to his ala mater to earn first a Bachelor of Arts and then a Masters in 1953.

He worked in the civil service as an assistant secretary for the department of agriculture and then moved to the department of the Environment. With the publication of his second book, Adams was able to shift into becoming a full-time author.

Watership Down started as a story that he told to his two young daughters, Juliet and Rosamund, when they were young. The family loved the rabbit stories and urged Adams to write it as a novel. It took him two years to write and was rejected thirteen times by publishers before it found a home. Watership Down went on to sell millions of copies and won the Carnegie Medal and Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize for 1972. The book has gone on to sell over 50 million copies and has earned the author more income than all his other books put together.

Adams currently lives with his wife Elizabeth in Whitechurch, England a short distance from his birthplace.

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”
― Richard Adams, Watership Down

Watership Down begins with Fiver, a runt of a rabbit who has the talent of a seer, seeing a horrific vision of Sandleford Warren’s destruction. He convinces his elder brother Hazel that what he envisions will come to pass and that everyone needs to leave the warren before it is too late. Fiver is not believed by the leaders of the warren. Hazel and Fiver leave their home along with a small band of brother rabbits and head off into the unknown.

The group is invited into a new warren, but they soon realize that it is unsafe and that the warren simply wants them to increase their own numbers because a nearby human farmer kills off a number of them for food. Hazel leads his merry band of brothers away from the dangerous warren after Fiver rescues the rabbit Bigwig from a snare. Fiver sees a new home for them in his visions and Hazel is determined to lead his friends there.

Eventually, the small band of rabbits find a peaceful habitat to create a warren of their own. They call it Watership Down. At first, the rabbits are happy, but they realize that their entire group is composed of male bucks. Without female does to create kittens, the warren will die with them. Hazel enlists the help of a black-headed gull named Kehaar to locate other warrens where they might be able to convince does to join them.

Kehaar leads them to Efrafa Warren, which is overcrowded and has many extra does. Hazel sends a request to the leader of the warren to ask for does, but his messengers barely escape with their lives. Hazel learns that Efrafa Warren is a police state run by a rabbit named General Woundwort who refuses to allow anyone to leave the warren. Inside there is a doe named Hyzenthlay who would like to leave and has a small group of females that would come with her. Hazel and Bigwig devise a plan to rescue the females and soon all are ensconced at Watership Down.

Soon General Woundwort is on their heels and Watership Down comes under attack. Will Hazel and his intrepid rabbits protect their home and keep their new mates? You will have to read this classic tale to find the answer.

Watership_Down_coverI think that there are two types of people who read Watership Down. Those that see through the layers of the story and love it and those who don’t get it and wonder why anyone would like a book about talking rabbits. I first read this book in the 1980s and felt a strong connection to it. The book is one that I always think of when asked what books I favor reading. I did not understand why I felt this way at the time. I was young and not as critical about the books that I read then. I enjoyed the way the rabbits filled archetypal roles of ancient human societies: leader, seer, warrior, and villain and the sense of oral tradition with their stories about the rabbit hero El-ahrairah. Their needs are primal and to the point, find a home, select a mate, and have children. The over story is a simple one, of friendship, loyalty, and adventure, but by its simplicity, Watership Down is a bit deceiving.

The characters that Adams creates are animal-like, you never forget that Hazel, Bigwig, and the others are rabbits. They retain their animal characteristics throughout the story, yet their needs and desires are the same as humans and in reading about their adventures, we the reader glimpse more of our past societies. As you absorb the mythos of their tribal organization, you start to realize that here is a commentary on how humans once lived and associated. It strikes a deep chord and resonates with most ancient cultures.

I feel that this is a good book to read with your children or grandchildren. While there are a few scary parts here and there, it is a commentary on learning to embrace new ideas while retaining the wisdom of the past. Ideas that are worth passing on. For the kids it will likely be a tale of talking rabbits, but for the parent, you will see the story with fresh eyes and appreciation if you’ve read it before.  Find out which type you are when it comes to Watership Down. I suspect you will love the book.

Book Review: A Spell for Chameleon

Book Name: A Spell for Chameleon
Author: Piers Anthony
First Published: 1977
August Derleth Award Winner 1978

Piers Anthony was a British immigrant who came to America with his parents at the tender age of six years. He was not a happy child, being bullied at school with parents that divorced. Anthony met his wife, Carol while both were attending Goddard College in Vermont. After several odd jobs, Anthony joined the army in order to support his pregnant wife. In the military, he became an editor and cartoonist for the battalion newspaper. During his time in the army, he became a naturalized US citizen. After a two-year tour of duty, he became a teacher at the Admiral Farragut Academy in Florida before he switched careers and became a full-time author.

During his start as a writer, Anthony and his wife made a bargain. If he could sell a piece of writing in one year, she would continue in her efforts to support the family. If he could not, he would give up writing forever. At the end of his first year, he did manage to get a short story published and the rest, as they say, is history.

Piers Anthony has gone on to write several series of books and has gained much success as a fantasy and science fiction author. His Xanth series, which spans 30 books, continues to be written with a new book added to the series almost every year.

“Now it was done. He was free of Xanth forever. Free to make his own life, without being ridiculed or mothered or tempted. Free to be himself. Bink put his face in his hands and cried.” ― Piers Anthony, A Spell for Chameleon

A Spell for Chameleon begins with the introduction of a young man named Bink. He has a problem. In a land where every human has a magical talent, he is one of the unfortunate few who does not. If a human of Xanth does not display a talent by their eighteenth birthday, they are thrown into exile into the non-magical realms, our world. Bink undertakes one last quest to discover if he has magic. To visit the Good Magician Humfrey, whose magical talent is that of information. If Humfrey can discover his talent, Bink can remain in Xanth and marry his sweetheart, Sabrina.

The quest takes Bink into the heart of the magical realm. He faces many dangers, but always at the last minute a coincidence saves his life. He meets several people along the way. A pair of Centaurs, Crombie the Soldier, and three young women. The first woman is Wynne, a stupid but beautiful girl and the second is Dee, an average girl without an apparent magical talent just like Bink. The final woman is Iris the sorceress who power is that of illusion. Iris is powerful enough to rule Xanth in her own right, but because she is female she was denied the throne and instead the Storm King rules.

Iris saves Bink from an illusion trap and makes him an offer. She will provide Bink with the illusion of powerful magic, allowing him to overthrow the Storm King and remain in Xanth. Then they would marry and Iris would rule as Queen. Bink turns her down and continues on his journey. He wants to marry Sabrina and does not trust the sorceress, fearing he would become her slave.

At last, Bink arrives at Magician Humfrey’s castle. He is tested by three challenges to gain entry. Humfrey determines that Bink not only has magic, but it is of magician-caliber. However, some power prevents the magician from determining what that magic is. He sends Bink home with a note stating that Bink has magic and should not be placed in exile.

Bink returns to North Village to show the note to the Storm King, but due to the King’s rivalry with Humfrey, the king ignores the note and orders Bink into exile. He crosses the magical shield that separates Xanth from Mundania (our world), leaving his parents and Sabrina behind forever. On the other side of the magical barrier, Bink is captured by the Evil Magician Trent, who had been exiled from Xanth twenty years previous for his attempt to overthrow the Storm King and rule in his place. Trent wishes to know where the source of magic is in Xanth so he can toss a magic nullifying potion on it and allow his troops through the magical barrier. Bink refuses to help Trent and is thrown into the pit with Fanchon, an ugly woman, but one with a superior intelligence.

What Bink does not realize is that he has met Fanchon before. She is known as Chameleon, a woman who changes appearance and intelligence with the phases of the moon. Wynne and Dee were the other two phases of the three that Chameleon morphs into. Chameleon is in love with Bink and had followed him to Humfrey’s castle. The good magician advised her to go to Mundania where the lack of magic would allow her to settle into her middle phase of Dee. On learning that Bink was to be exiled, she thought that perhaps they could create a life together. For no man has ever wanted her due to her extreme shifts, but as average woman Dee in Mundania, she feels that she might have a last chance for happiness.

Bink and Fanchon escape to sea, due to Fanchon’s incredible intelligence, but are pursued by Trent’s men. Eventually, Bink, Trent, and Fanchon are all swept back into Xanth via a whirlpool but Trent’s forces are left behind. The three get to know one another and Bink discovers that he likes Trent and finds that his time in Mundania has matured the young hothead that tried to take over the kingdom.

They meet up with Sorceress Iris once more and this time, Iris offers herself to Trent, hoping that they would become the next King and Queen of Xanth. Bink tries to stop them by challenging Trent to a duel of magic. During the duel, Bink’s particular form of magic is revealed. In a final thrust of using physical force against Bink, Chameleon puts herself in front of the man she loves and saves his life. This stops the duel and the group bands together once more in order to save Chameleon’s life.

Will Chameleon live and win Bink’s heart over that of his old flame Sabrina? Will Trent and Iris overthrow the Storm King and rule Xanth together? Will Trent find the source of magic and be able to destroy it to allow his troops into the magical realm? You will need to read the book to find out.

A Spell For Chameleon Book Cover

I first read A Spell For Chameleon when I was very young and the book was first in print. I was delighted by the world building, a magical land where groan-worthy puns were alive in a fantastical natural environment.

I loved the three main characters: Chameleon, Bink, and Trent. Each was quirky, intelligent and straightforward. I was fascinated by Chameleon and the concept of a woman who changed with the phase of the moon and by Bink, a young and handsome man with refreshing flaws that made him likable. Trent, while portrayed as “evil” also was relatable and in the end, I found myself rooting for both him and Iris.

The novel is a first of a very long series of Xanth novels, of which Mr. Anthony seems to produce a new one once a year for the most part. I have not read the entire series because I feel the quality of the books begins to deteriorate after the fourth or fifth book. The first three are fun and worth the read if you enjoy fantasy novels. This one and its sequel, The Source of Magic, are my two favorites. I feel that both books are worth looking into, but I would not necessarily give them to children due to the sexual overtones of the stories and the sexism that is portrayed as “normal behavior”. The sexism does make the novel somewhat dated, but I would not necessarily skip the book for that issue. Xanth is a world that everyone should experience at least once in their lives.

Early Xanth Series:
A Spell for Chameleon
The Source of Magic
Castle Roogna
Centaur Aisle
Ogre, Ogre