I enjoyed but wasn't thrilled by the first two volumes of Saga, but I am glad I stuck with it. Not entirely surprising, the first two volumes felt mos...moreI enjoyed but wasn't thrilled by the first two volumes of Saga, but I am glad I stuck with it. Not entirely surprising, the first two volumes felt mostly like setting up the concept, introducing the characters and familiarizing readers with the world. Volume 3 is much more engaging and starts to fulfill the promise of the first two volumes.(less)
I'm not usually a big fan of writing guides as most seem to be geared toward novice writers but I had read some interesting things about Wonderbook an...moreI'm not usually a big fan of writing guides as most seem to be geared toward novice writers but I had read some interesting things about Wonderbook and decided to give it a try. It did not disappoint.
The first chapters are appropriate for beginning writers but VenderMeer moves quickly into more complex issues. Although some of the sections specifically deal with fantasy and science fiction writing, everything in the book can work on a more general level as well.
VanderMeer includes short essays from a variety of writers, including George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Lev Grossman, Karen Lord and Ursula K. Le Guinn, among others. All are interesting and appropriate to the sections they are included in.(less)
The Illearth War, the second book in Stephen R. Donaldson’s initial Thomas Covenant trilogy, picks up where Lord Foul’s Bane left off, at least in Cov...moreThe Illearth War, the second book in Stephen R. Donaldson’s initial Thomas Covenant trilogy, picks up where Lord Foul’s Bane left off, at least in Covenant’s “real” world. He is once again summoned to The Land and although little time has passed for Covenant, forty years has gone by in The Land bringing those characters closer to the doom promised by Lord Foul in the first book.
Once again, Covenant struggles with the reality of this alternate existence, initially not committing himself to help because he is not certain it is real. As with the first book, Covenant is a difficult to like yet intriguing character. In The Illearth War, Donaldson gives us another major character, Hile Troy, who has also been summoned to The Land, albeit accidentally. Because Covenant is difficult to like, having a second character with a more clear-cut sense of purpose is a nice counter to Covenant’s ongoing bitterness.
Part way through the novel, the plot goes off in two directions. Troy leads an undersized army into battle against Lord Foul’s forces. Meanwhile, Covenant goes off with High Lord Elana to discover a secret magic power that they hope to use against Lord Foul. As with The Lord of the Rings, these two stories are not integrated chronologically but told first from one point of view and then the other. One of my criticisms of the first book was its striking similarity to Tolkien’s masterpiece, so this narrative structure felt familiar. However, overall, The Illearth War is much more its own tale with the exception of a major plot point near the end of Troy’s story that will remind any fantasy fan of Tolkien’s Fangorn forest.
In reading other people’s reviews, I got the impression that Lord Foul’s Bane was the weakest book in the series and I have to agree that The Illearth War is a marginally better read. My biggest complaint is that the chapters involving the war itself were overlong and fairly tiresome. However, once Donaldson returns us to Covenant’s quest, the novel picks up again and brings the book to a fascinating conclusion. I do see myself picking up the final book, The Power that Preserves, in the near future.(less)
I had read Interpreter of Maladies several years ago and recall enjoying it. I did much more than just enjoy The Namesake. I was completely mesmerized...moreI had read Interpreter of Maladies several years ago and recall enjoying it. I did much more than just enjoy The Namesake. I was completely mesmerized by it. Lahiri’s writing style is deceptively complex. At first, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly special about it, but the small details she works in throughout have a cumulative effect that would never be apparent looking at any particular page, paragraph or sentence.
Lahiri writes in the third person present which simultaneously creates a sense of distance and a sense of immediacy as we watch the story unfold in the relentless now even though events date back to 1968 when we are introduced to the main character’s parents when he is still in the womb. We hear about how his parents first met, how their marriage was arranged, how the father swept his young wife away from her family in Calcutta for a new life in Boston.
The main character, Gogol, so named after his father’s favorite author who he was reading at the time of a near fatal train crash, resents this odd name and eventually changes it to Nikhil. Lahiri traces his life from his birth until his early 30s. In many ways, Gogol/Nikhil’s life is unremarkable; he goes to school, falls in love, goes to college, marries, begins a career as an architect.
However, two things make the novel special. One is that these events happen to a young man whose parents were both born and raised in Calcutta. Gogol/Nikhil struggles with creating his own identity in a country that remains mysterious to his parents. He often distances himself from them as he navigates his relationship with his heritage.
The second is Lahiri’s precise use of details, every single one of which rings true and deftly provides insight into a character or situation. The Namesake feels real; nothing is jarring or false. And because it feels so real, The Namesake makes the reader care deeply for its characters, makes the reader eager to find out what happens next. It is a quick, compelling and satisfying read.(less)
Reed’s novel is an emotionally engaging story focusing on one family as they navigate tragedies old and new. Vivvie Fenton lives alone in Florida, her...moreReed’s novel is an emotionally engaging story focusing on one family as they navigate tragedies old and new. Vivvie Fenton lives alone in Florida, her husband having died many years earlier and both daughters keeping their distance, one, Elin, having moved to Oregon, and the other, Kate, remaining local but not telling her mother where she lives. One day, Vivvie gets word that Kate is in the hospital and needs to pick up her granddaughters who she hadn’t seen in years. Elin, in an effort to escape her troubled marriage, drives to Florida to be with her family, although old tensions undermine this reunion.
The tale is prime material for sappy melodrama but, much to Reed’s credit, she skillfully navigates the situations and keeps the novel from slipping into cheap sentimentality. All the characters are flawed, often difficult to like, yet are completely sympathetic. The relationships among the main characters ring true. Reed generates a great deal of tension as events from the past constantly threaten to undo any emotional progress made by the three generations of Fenton women. The ending, while not necessarily surprising, avoids easy solutions and provides a complex and satisfying resolution.
There’s a deceptive simplicity to the novel. It features very few characters or locations and, with the exception of a handful of flashbacks, is told in a very straightforward fashion. These traits give the work an intensity that makes Things We Set on Fire a page turner. (less)
I had read Lord Foul's Bane a long long time ago. Other than the basic premise, I remembered little of the story after all this time.
Thomas Covenant l...moreI had read Lord Foul's Bane a long long time ago. Other than the basic premise, I remembered little of the story after all this time.
Thomas Covenant lives in the modern world (well, the modern world of the late 1970s) and suffers from leprosy. One day he travels into the main town to pay a bill, where people actively try to avoid him and discourage him from coming to town. At one point, he steps off a curb and is seemingly hit by a police car. When he wakes, he is in an alternate world, known as The Land, where he is is mistaken for the mythic Berek Halfhand, an ancient lord who had defeated the eponymous villain in the long ago past. He had been summoned from his home world by the ridiculously named Drool Rockworm. Lord Foul gives Covenant a threatening message to give to the leaders of The Land. The first part of the novel focuses on Covenant’s efforts to reach the leaders and the second part of the book focuses on a select group of adventurers setting off to defeat the great evil that has befallen their world.
If the structure of the novel sounds familiar, then many other aspects of the book will too as it is definitely derivative of The Lord of the Rings. For the most part, Lord Foul is an unseen evil who returns to The Land after many years. Rockworm is very Gollum like. There’s a council that decides what action to take and a magic ring that Covenant cannot wear without great anguish. That said, the world Donaldson creates is neither as sophisticated nor as rich as Tolkien’s masterpiece; however, that is probably an unfairly high standard to compare any fantasy novel to.
As I’ve found with many fantasy novels, the writing is often overwrought, as if saying in twenty words what one could say with two somehow makes a work epic. Fantasy readers expect fat novels, but it seems sometimes that comes at the expense of tight prose.
One of the most distinct and intriguing features of the novel is how unlikable Covenant is. He is not the typical hero. Having grown bitter over the years because of his illness and the way people have treated him, he lashes out at others and commits some unexpectedly vile acts.
I enjoyed the book more than not. I appreciated that Covenant was such an unusual main character and I was interested in finding out more about the relationship between the two worlds, although the latter is not much expounded on. Because of his accident, Covenant believes the world to be in his dreams and not real, earning him the name Unbeliever. His slow acceptance of his new situation was another unique aspect of the novel.
I was on the fence as to whether or not I wanted to continue with the series. However, looking at other reviews, it seems like the consensus is that this is the weakest book and Donaldson doesn’t really hit his stride until later. Considering that, I will probably pick up Book Two, The Illearth War, at some point and see how it goes.(less)
There's a lot to like about The Goldfinch but also a lot to dislike.
The opening is very intriguing and drew me in quickly but that is followed by a le...moreThere's a lot to like about The Goldfinch but also a lot to dislike.
The opening is very intriguing and drew me in quickly but that is followed by a less interesting stretch that follows the teenaged protagonist, Theo, through some overly dramatic and, yet, somewhat trite adolescent angst. The novel picks up the pace after that but the last third is a bit of a mess.
Throughout, much of what happens in The Goldfinch borders on the improbable. Too many coincidences. Too many things happen out of nowhere. I was able to suspend my disbelief for a while, but the last third of the book, beginning with an unlikely chance meeting between Theo and an old friend, strains credibility.
The other main problem with the last sections of the book is that they lack the drama that was so prevalent throughout the rest of the novel. The main resolution occurs while the main character sits in a hotel room. He only finds out what happens when his friends comes and tells him about it. And then they talk about The Point of all that happened. And then Theo returns home and sits in his friends shop and they talk about The Point of all that happened. And then the final section is Theo addressing the reader directly explaining The Point of all that happened.
Given all the hype surrounding The Goldfinch and all the high ratings, I have to say I was a bit disappointed. I hadn't read many new releases last year but The Goldfinch certainly pales in comparison to The Flamethrowers. (less)
Alexie's book typifies what I occasionally find to be true with young adult novels, namely, a narrator that sounds way too much like an adult trying w...moreAlexie's book typifies what I occasionally find to be true with young adult novels, namely, a narrator that sounds way too much like an adult trying way too hard to sound like a fourteen year old. I never felt the authenticity of the main character, so I never really engaged with the story.(less)
Rachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers was the last book I read in 2013 and my year ended on a particularly high note. Set in the 1970’s, The Flamethrower...moreRachel Kushner’s The Flamethrowers was the last book I read in 2013 and my year ended on a particularly high note. Set in the 1970’s, The Flamethrowers ranges from motorcycle speed records, to Andy Warhol’s New York art scene, to violent Italian worker protests, to a desperate escape through the Alps. It’s a dizzying and dazzling story told from the POV of twenty-ish Reno, a want-to-be artist who spends more time intrigued by other artists than by creating art herself. Then again, the novel raises questions as to the nature of art, so who is to say what of Reno’s actions are art and what aren’t.
Kushner vividly recreates a past era and lifestyles that feel immediate and present. She blends in some short historical passages that provide a deeper understanding of events.
With Reno, Kushner gives us one of the most compelling voices I’ve read in ages. Her curiosity, her willingness to try new modes of life, and her fascinating use of language all serve to create an intriguing character study. Reno’s actions are seldom predictable and her motivations are deserving of serious contemplation.
The Flamethrowers appears on many end of the year best of lists and deservedly so. (less)