At first, I expected A Discovery of Witches to read like some weird marriage between Twilight and Harry Potter for adults. In the end, it was actually...moreAt first, I expected A Discovery of Witches to read like some weird marriage between Twilight and Harry Potter for adults. In the end, it was actually a lot like the TV series "Charmed." There are three different supernatural races that are born with their preternatural senses and powers - Witches, Daemons, and Vampires. According to social norms the three are not to canoodle with each other. Enter a witch who has turned her back on her natural abilities and a ridiculously old vampire, and watch the mayhem ensue. For those of you familiar with "Charmed," the love story read a bit like the forbidden romance between Piper and Leo (if Leo had been a bloodsucking, authoritarian vampire, and Piper had been more less witty and had golden hair).
In spite of the similarities where the romance was concerned, Harkness's novel is not bad. Sure, Matthew (the "heartthrob" of the novel) was arrogant, irritating, and I just did not understand what the main character saw in him, but I am willing to bet that in the post-Anne Rice world of fictional vampires, most authors are going to write the males like that. Outside of the romance, this book has a lot to recommend it to the casual reader. Harkness has begun to explore scientific reasons for the different supernatural races, her side characters are for the most part strong and ave purpose, and for reasons I cannot divulge here I am really looking forward to the next novel in this trilogy. (less)
The Twelve Dancing Princesses (or the Worn-Out Dancing Shoes) has been my favorite fairy tale since I was a child. Naturally, this made me both want to read and steer clear of Entwined, the brand-new take on the tale by Heather Dixon. I have to say, I am very glad that I picked this up.
Dixon has a brilliant way of writing - it is not dumbed down (for which I am grateful, given the current state of affairs in the YA literary world), and is at turns illuminating, endearing, and funny. She has been faithful to the original story while simultaneously creating something new.
I read this between The Rum Diary and Catch-22, and it has been the perfect form of non-patronizing escapism (as well as a way to keep sardonic humor from taking over my entire brain). I will definitely be paying attention to Dixon's work yet to come.
While I enjoyed The Name of the Wind more, that is pretty irrelevant. That is like saying that I vanilla ice cream more than I like salted caramels. B...moreWhile I enjoyed The Name of the Wind more, that is pretty irrelevant. That is like saying that I vanilla ice cream more than I like salted caramels. Both are "yum," and quibbling about which is more "yum" is a useless exercise. Thus, both appear on my favorites shelf....and I am highly anticipating book 3. (less)
Wow. I haven't been this pleased with a collection of short stories since Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors.
This book is like those dreams you wake up...moreWow. I haven't been this pleased with a collection of short stories since Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors.
This book is like those dreams you wake up from, wishing you could return in order to see how things turn out. There is a sense of anticipation pervasive through all three stories, and it follows you after you are done reading. I lost my morning to "Hatchling" - as those people who meditate pass hours in seemingly minutes - and I do not regret the time at all. It is one thing to read an author's retelling of a set of fairy tales; it is quite another to read fairy tales that are new. It is a rare and pleasant experience.
The synopsis tells you as much about these tales as one could without giving important plot points away, so I won't breath a word about the stories themselves...except to reiterate how entranced I was by their telling. This is one of those books that makes you ecstatic to be literate.
Like numerous others who reviewed this book, I found The Gates to be reminiscent of Good Omens, not in plot (of which the only similarity is an apocal...moreLike numerous others who reviewed this book, I found The Gates to be reminiscent of Good Omens, not in plot (of which the only similarity is an apocalyptic setting), but in style. Connolly writes this with the dry, sarcastic humor one expects from Pratchett and Gaiman, as well as the gratuitous use of witty footnotes. Consequently, though I liked the book, I kept having to remind myself who the author was.
When I first began reading this, I was expecting another adult novel with a child for the main character - as one finds in The Book of Lost Things. I quickly realized that this was meant for a younger audience, and therefore had to alter my thought processes accordingly. Still, from time to time I found myself becoming impatient with the plot and characters - along the lines of, "why are there so many 'sight gags' in an adult...oh right, this is not an adult novel."
My expectations about reading level aside, I still found myself wanting a bit more from the novel by the end, but overall it was an entertaining read. (less)
Tender Morsels is hard to review. For one thing, it is billed as a young adult novel, but much of the content and the writing style is not of a young...moreTender Morsels is hard to review. For one thing, it is billed as a young adult novel, but much of the content and the writing style is not of a young adult nature. So I am ignoring the suggestion of the publisher and reviewing it as an adult novel, which takes some of the pressure off - though warnings are probably still in order.
To start, my second favorite fairy tale of all time is Snow White and Rose Red (behind the Twelve Dancing Princesses). I think it speaks to the ingenuity of Lanagan that it took me a good while to realize that this is somewhat of a retelling of this fairy tale - even with the apropos cover. In the vast expanse of authors who make retelling fairy tales their raison d'etre (at least for the duration of the novel they are working on), in my opinion the only other author to show this level of creativity is Sheri S. Tepper - see Beauty.
Lanagan has a knack for pulling the reader along - through some of the most dire hardships to read - and still leave a sense of hope for the heroines in this novel. Paradoxically, there is also a consistent sense of impending doom as well. This allows the reader to wonder - despite the fairy tale nature, will in fact everything be "happily ever after" in the end? This I will not spoil by relating - if you can read novels in which terrible, terrible things happen to main characters, you can find out the answer to that question on your own...(less)
This was a first novel, which I think forgives a lot. If this had been the author's fourth or fifth novel, I might have given this two stars. There we...moreThis was a first novel, which I think forgives a lot. If this had been the author's fourth or fifth novel, I might have given this two stars. There were the normal issues one would expect with a first novel - predictable outcome, grammar issues, etc. - but because this is a maiden voyage, I was willing to look past all of that, particularly in light of her solid characters and evocative description.
The main reason that this is not getting four stars from me is the "climax." I cannot really use that term seriously, because I read it with literally no reaction. In fact, I missed that it was the climax and not a red herring climax (i.e., look at what you thought was the zenith, but really it comes in a few pages) until I reached the end of the novel and realized that was all I was going to get. It was a letdown after what was a solid, if predictable, plot. There is a sequel to this novel (maybe it was a red herring climax after all?), but I am not sure if I will take the time to read it.
I do have to note that this is the first book by Briggs I have read. Judging by the glowing reviews for her other novels, I might have saved myself some amount of frustration by starting with a later series. (less)
**spoiler alert** Here is the deal: Stiefvater is a good writer most of the time. I could put forth some examples to the contrary, such as the metapho...more**spoiler alert** Here is the deal: Stiefvater is a good writer most of the time. I could put forth some examples to the contrary, such as the metaphors that are just plain bizarre, or some of the dialogue.
But for the most part, Stiefvater writes very intelligently, and so I did not realize that my opinion of the story itself was falling until it was too late. Over the course of reading this novel I moved from interest to irritation to vague disappointment. This downward slide centered mostly around Grace, the hapless main character in this story, and her lack of real interpersonal relationships (or at least ones that I saw that qualified as real interpersonal relationships).
Grace seemed to have one facet to her personality - obsessive (I give the author kudos for her having the balls to even have Grace admit to this obsessiveness). She is obsessed with the wolves - particularly Sam - and this obsession continues through the time they have while he is human. Sure, Sam is an intelligent, Rilke-reading, lyric writing-on-the-fly, "sexy" guy, but I got the distinct impression while reading this that if he were not part wolf (her wolf, no less), Grace would not have been interested. I suppose I can forgive all of this because of Grace's unique tie to the wolf world, but man! Because Grace is nothing but obsessive, all she is offering Sam is that obsessiveness, and would an intelligent, Rilke-reading, lyric writing-on-the-fly, "sexy" guy really be happy with just plain obsession? Maybe. I am not an expert on teenage werewolves.
But what actually bugged me more was that void of interpersonal relationships. The obsession with Sam is the closest intimacy we have a glimpse of in the book. She has more of a connection with the wolves than her friends or her parents. The former are in her life for no discernible reasons - the most we get from Stiefvater is that Olivia also likes wolves, and Rachel is the extroverted glue that holds her introvert friends together. Most of the time I was hard-pressed to find evidence of the three truly even liking each other. There certainly was no trust between them. As for Grace's parents - both are too absorbed in their own lives to pay her any attention. More minor characters are relegated to plot movers, though I assume there will be more of Beck and Isabel in later novels. In this installment, the lack of other important relationships results in the Grace-centered portions dealing almost exclusively with her obsession with Sam. By the time I finished the book I had the disquieting impression that I was obsessed with Sam, which did not improve my mood at all.
Setiawan has done what I thought impossible - he has created a new fairly tale...for adults...without resorting to fairy tale cliches or sounding like...moreSetiawan has done what I thought impossible - he has created a new fairly tale...for adults...without resorting to fairy tale cliches or sounding like a lunatic. I really, really loved this book.This was not the opinion I had for the first thirty pages of the novel. I kept thinking "this is like Kelly Link meets Amy Tan" and could not get used to the style.
It took some doing, but when I finally did get used to the style (which is truly Setiawan's own), I really enjoyed myself and did not look back. Of course, because this is a fairy tale, attempting to explain the nuances of the novel without giving away some of the finer plot points is next to impossible. Almost everything is a fine plot point. I will definitely be keeping this author in mind....(less)
If I am lucky, I read about three or four books a year that jump to my list of favorites. Ice Land is easily one of those books. Every aspect of this novel was drawn so clearly. Tobin integrates Norse mythology as well as historical realities from Iceland into her storyline about a group of people (and others) at a cultural turning point in Icelandic history. At times I felt I was seated around a fire pit listening to a professional storyteller and other times I was so intensely focused on what was going on in the novel that hours would slip by without my knowledge.
I usually try to tailor my recommendations of books to the person I am speaking to (which is one reason I generally do not include a "recommended for" portion of my review on Goodreads). Every so often however, a book pleases me so much that I blithely recommend it to everyone, regardless of whether or not I believe it is something they would seek out on their own. I have a feeling that this is going to be one of those novels, so I caution my friends to prepare to be annoyed with my exuberance.
Of all of the books I have encountered, this has been by far the hardest to review.
Grossman has written a really good book.
He wrote it by combining...moreOf all of the books I have encountered, this has been by far the hardest to review.
Grossman has written a really good book.
He wrote it by combining ideas from other books (Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, and to a lesser extent, The Wizard of Earthsea and others).
ON THE OTHER HAND
He freely admitted taking his ideas from these books, and billed this as a "tribute" novel.
ON THE OTHER HAND (again)
Does freely admitting where your ideas came from make it acceptable to swipe them? This is almost like fan-fiction (which J.K. Rowling has at least gone on record as saying is ok - see the BBC News:), except for the crucial fact that Grossman is not writing fan-fiction here. He is not writing about Harry, Ron, Hermione, Edmund, Lucy, etc., but rather is taking the plots of these novels and applying them to his own characters. It ends up reading a bit like a Weird Al Yankovic song - the melody is there, but the words are entirely different.
A lot of fantasy ends up with similar plot points. There have been more than a few novels written about children learning magic in a school (both before and after HP - see A College of Magics and The Blood and Thunder Adventure on Hurricane Peak to name two), and a few novels about a set of children being whisked away to a fantasy land (though I am hard-pressed to think of any that came out before Lewis).
THE DIFFERENCE IS
Grossman uses not just general aspects that could be found in nearly any fantasy about kids learning magic or encountering magical things, but even plot specifics in order to further his own novel (magical letters of admittance, a fantasy land full of talking animals and half-animals, etc). Which again leads back to the whole, "he did this on purpose as a tribute, so does that make it ok?" argument.
IN THE END
I was forced to judge this novel as a tribute, since that is what the author is asking the reader to do. From that perspective, I mostly disliked it. This is mainly due to the idea that regardless of how he meant the novel to be taken, in my head it was almost as though Grossman was trying to somehow improve upon what other people had already done. He decided that if these types of events were to truly occur in real life, the outcome would look much different and the people involved would have more personal problems. Magic would be difficult, and life would be just as arbitrary and meaningless as it is now.
I take exception to this because:
(1) Real life is varied. Sure, there are some people who have a crapshoot throughout their existence, but there are also people who can have the "born under a lucky star" cliche applied to them, and all of those in between. From this perspective, I found Grossman's "real life" to be too skewed towards the negative possibilities - somewhat like the film "Reality Bites."
(2)The people who wrote the initial novels Grossman is basing The Magicians on did not in fact write "happy-go-lucky" books. Rowling made Harry Potter go through puberty in book 5, complete with exasperating mood swings. More than a few people died. LeGuin basically made Ged go through an existential crisis in The Wizard of Earthsea. Even Lewis, whose books were arguably the most optimistic, had their down points, or points when magic did not work.
In short, the tribute did not work for me from any more of a "realistic" perspective than the originals, which is an odd thing to find myself arguing, because this is fantasy anyway. Grossman is not a bad writer though - I wish he had come up with his own fantasy world so I could view his novel not as a tribute, but as its own entity. If I had never read nor heard of any of the novels this was based on, I might be inclined to give his writing more stars. (less)
Lifelode is a hard book to review. It would also be hard to give a synopsis that is not complete nonsense as well, based on the way it is written. I s...moreLifelode is a hard book to review. It would also be hard to give a synopsis that is not complete nonsense as well, based on the way it is written. I suppose regaling you with how it is written is the best way to begin, given the fact that this will most likely be a "make it or break it" sort of technique for any given reader. I will use an analogy...bear with me.
Picture a wall of pictures. The pictures tell a complete story, and if they were fashioned in linear order, you would be able to see this comprehensive story unfold just as any child "reads" a book made entirely of pictures. Now imagine that some creative genius(?) has scrambled all of the pictures up. The complete story is still there, but everything is happening all at once.
This is sort of what is being attempted with Lifelode.
*Let me stop here to say I am not just making this crap up; in the FAQ at the end of the novel, Walton owns up to writing this with the idea that everything is happening at the same time.*
At any rate, this type of artistic sensibility, while being appreciated, would work better in another medium - such as the picture wall envisioned above. What hinders the performance of this type of everything-happens-at-the-same-time sort of book is that a book is not an everything-happens-at-the-same-time sort of medium. A reader picks it up and expects some sort of plot running left to right (or right to left, depending on which country you live in).
Walton ran into this problem as the story went on - the reader gets the sense of what she is trying to accomplish, but the complete effect would require having the book uploaded directly to the brain. She used tenses throughout that attempted to convey everything was happening at the same time. Even further, Taveth,the main character, is a woman who can see the selves of others throughout time - i.e., she will look at a 14 year-old and see both the baby he was and the man he will become. This adds to the idea that everything is happening at once, but in the end there is still a story, and it still moves in a mostly linear fashion. The novel is sort of a slave to linear time, just one that jumps around quite a bit more than the usual.
Actually, it is only after you finish the book that it accomplishes its goal - you can remember in retrospect the entire story as fluid pictures in your mind.
But that is enough of examining the structure of the book. If you find novels that flit about to be exasperating, you can pretty much stop reading this review now and move on to another book.
If you are still reading at this point, congratulations!
The actual plot in Lifelode is really quite good. It is based in a world where the gods live in the East with a concentration of yeya (magic), and where time moves faster and yeya depletes as you move west. In the center of this land is Applekirk, the ideal pastoral farm town. The novel has much of the daily life of Applekirk, including some wonderful descriptions of mouth-watering foods. Enter Jankin, scholar from the west and Hanethe, who left Applekirk as a teen to go east and who now returns as a great-grandmother years later with a secret.
That is actually all I can tell you about the actual plot without giving anything away...If I have to leave you with one sentence to describe this book it is this:
A giddy pastoral with lots of good food and odd descriptions of time.(less)