The sequel to Ursula Vernon's Jackalope Wives is nearly as good. It feels a little more pat than it's predecessor and a little more fan-servicey. If nThe sequel to Ursula Vernon's Jackalope Wives is nearly as good. It feels a little more pat than it's predecessor and a little more fan-servicey. If nothing else, Grandma Harken is a well-written and nuanced older female character -- a demographic largely missing from speculative fiction....more
I think this book may be better titled "Harry Potter is a Terrible Dad," but that would break the grammar of the titles, I suppose.
That being said, tI think this book may be better titled "Harry Potter is a Terrible Dad," but that would break the grammar of the titles, I suppose.
That being said, this was the right book for this time in my life and my current relationship with Harry Potter. I'm a little younger/older than Harry -- Harry himself was born two years before I was, but the series didn't become widely available in the US until I was 17, so 6 years older than Harry. Nonetheless, I mostly felt about the same age and facing the same trials and tribulations -- I read about OWLS and NEWTS in between college finals, and rooted for Ron and Hermione around my own engagement. And as a teen, the exploratory world-building was right up my alley.
And on the flipside, a book focused on an older, more harried, Harry is right for me right now. The more introspective tone about setting priorities and how much to force people to live the life you wish they would was also right for me right now. Yes, I wanted the nostalgia of a real Harry Potter book, but this was good.
I felt less certain about the return of the time-turners -- Rowling herself has said their inclusion was a mistake in the initial series and was quite adamant that they were all destroyed. On the other hand, if they had to come back this was the right time and the right purpose. I liked that the use of the time-turner helped highlight all of the additional possible futures in the face of years of internet speculation of what the future of the potterverse may hold....more
I loved Shine Shine Shine, so I jumped on this when I found it in our local little library. In conclusion, I think Lydia Netzer basically can only wriI loved Shine Shine Shine, so I jumped on this when I found it in our local little library. In conclusion, I think Lydia Netzer basically can only write one book. Also, I'm pretty sure I will happily read that book as many different ways as she would like to write it. The book is this: quirky and star-obsessed scientist(s) -- in Shine Shine Shine an astronomer; here a pair of astrophysicists -- face obstacles in their love for each other, but are just too quirky to really integrate with the rest of society. The conclusion is a light, but deep-hearted, geeky romantic comedy formula that seems to be just my speed.
I was worried the premise of (view spoiler)[the mothers setting up their children to be soul-mates (hide spoiler)] would turn out to be twee, but the twists it took from the back cover saved it, in addition to the other plot elements. I liked that Irene and George were full characters with personalities and goals beyond their romance and the quirkiness.
This isn't a perfect novel -- George and Irene's respective initial significant others are pretty one-dimensional and seem to exist for comic relief alone. A bizarre narwhal-filled interlude is cute but unharmonious with the rest of the novel. It's clear it was Netzer's pet scene (and she says as much in the afterword) and she couldn't quite pull it out even when it was clear it wasn't working.
Lydia Netzer may only write one book, but, in my foray into literary fiction I've learned that 90% of literary fiction is the same retread "modern novel" over and over and it's very dull. So I'll take her repetitive, but geeky, quirky and fresh novel as many different ways as she wants to write it.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
Man, this book was overwritten. I think Horn must have intended it to be exclusively read by high school freshman literature classes. In fact, I belieMan, this book was overwritten. I think Horn must have intended it to be exclusively read by high school freshman literature classes. In fact, I believe that to such an extent, I feel a little bad about not writing this review as a five-paragraph essay. "How could that be a bad thing?" You might ask. Here's an example: Horn wanted to do a modern retelling of the story of Joseph and Judah. Great, fine. Classic stories have meaning in our time and all that jazz. But Horn worried that we might not get how clever she was being. So she named her Joseph character "Josephine" and her Judah character "Judith" and had them literally go to Egypt. The Tamar stand-in? "Itamar," of course. We're too stupid to catch anything less on-the-nose. (By the way, this lead to a hilarious and bizarre passage in which we were supposed to believe that a character whose last name is "Ashkenazi" -- to contrast her husband, Mr. Mizrahi, of course -- convinced an entire room of people that she wasn't Jewish, without pulling out a fake name.)
At times, it seemed that Horn was so hellbent on literary cleverness that I completely lost track of what she was even trying to accomplish. The Mizrahi/Ashkenazi naming quirk mentioned above, for instance, or why asthma is a recurring theme.
The central concept of the book -- do literal memories help us, or simply accumulate like sacred trash in a Genizah, was possibly interesting, but again dealt with in such a heavy handed way. The computer program to accumulate memories is called genizah, leaving no doubt to the reader what Horn what the reader's opinion to be and then layered with the additional stories of Rambam and Solomon Schecter and their interactions with the Cairo Genizah.
All in all, the extremely clumsy writing was so distracting that I got barely anything out of this book, but for the group that sent it to me, the PJ Library, a charity encouraging the modern Jewry to retain ties to their Jewish roots, that's probably right up their alley. I was shocked when I realized it actually was picked up by a formal publishing group outside of the Jewish world; I have no idea who else would read it.
Finally, I feel the need to be consistent in my complaining about the use of non-English languages, even though in this case, my Hebrew comprehension is good enough that it didn't personally affect me. Non-English languages should be used in English books only to set tone. If important information is conveyed it should be translated into English. Obnoxiously Horn walked all over that opinion: she both had important conversations carried out in transliterated Hebrew (which also, ugh! Those of us who understand Hebrew understand, so if you're going to be that obnoxious, go all the way and just use Hebrew characters) and then totally banal things unnecessarily translated, like "'sweetie', he called to her in Hebrew"...more
This is a beautiful nugget of a story. It captures the setting of the southwestern desert beautifully and mixes it with what feels like such a traditiThis is a beautiful nugget of a story. It captures the setting of the southwestern desert beautifully and mixes it with what feels like such a traditional faerie tale in a truly unique way. I'd never heard of Ursula Vernon before, but I'll seek her out in the future....more
I didn't realize it was possibly to be simultaneously deeply self-indulgent and also selfless, but that's what we have here. I just can't in good consI didn't realize it was possibly to be simultaneously deeply self-indulgent and also selfless, but that's what we have here. I just can't in good conscience recommend this book. It's selections of introductions to other works, speeches, verbal introductions and other miscellany. Two objections stand out: firstly, few readers will be familiar with all of the works discussed (or even a majority). It's quite dull to read an introduction to a book that you have never read and don't have access to, quality of writing notwithstanding. Secondly, in general, a collection of essays always wants for strong editing, especially when the topics of the essays are overlapping. In one case this was done, but in the others there are numerous redundancies -- sometimes entire paragraphs lifted from one to the other.
That said, if you look at this as an encyclopedia of Stuff Neil Gaiman Recommends, it becomes more useful -- I know I will seek out several of the introduced books here.
Finally an extra star entirely for the moving essays about Diana Wynne Jones. I have long found their friendship extremely touching. Gaiman has never wavered in his admiration of her and even when his fame far outstripped hers he advocated for her.
It says a lot of good about Neil Gaiman that he used this fame-backed ploy to talk up his own favorite books, regardless of their own fame. Nonetheless, it is a fame-backed ploy....more
It's tricky to say what I thought of the denouement of the Fairyland series. Indubitably, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her OwnIt's tricky to say what I thought of the denouement of the Fairyland series. Indubitably, The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making is one of the best books ever written and it sets a standard by which nothing can compare, if purely because the novelty was part of the charm. Still, Valente is probably the most inventive, logophillic writer in the current generation. And she loves her characters with a deep intensity. But, The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home feels more like a museum of Fairyland than an actual story. We go on adventures so that Valente can show off her cleverest, most beautiful creations one last time and love her most favorite characters again, but it feels distant. The stakes, which should feel serious, feel terribly shallow (and they are -- the worst that will happen is that September will go home, which in theory will happen eventually anyway. Even when Saturday starts losing his memory, the story is so busy skipping around to Pandemonium and Maude and Lye and September's Shadow and Death and...that it never really focuses on the tension that something bad is happening.
So yes, it's lovely, and yes I will finish the series (I skipped book 4 -- the Only Buying Books in Proper Bookstores and Not the Internet thing has fulfilled its deep nostalgic purpose -- in my ongoing search for the 4th book, I stumbled on this one instead (in Kramerbooks when I should have been catching the metro to NIH for a very boring symposium) and since the whole point is to restore the deep appreciation for books because they're hard to come by from my youth (and, yes, supporting locally owned bookstores), reading series out of order seemed apropos.) but it's not the paragon of speculative fiction that its predecessors were....more
There's a lot to explore in the field of autism, and Silberman did a yeoman's effort for a complete layperson. There are so many misconceptions -- sucThere's a lot to explore in the field of autism, and Silberman did a yeoman's effort for a complete layperson. There are so many misconceptions -- such as the idea that "autism" is a single diagnostic entity, or that there is some explosion in people with autism, or that vaccines (or GMOs or gluten or the pseudoscience du jour) causes autism. So the idea that there could be a book to systematically explore autism and related topics was deeply appealing. However, this is not that book. Silberman's work is so uneven that it's hard to even analyze as a single volume. There are very intently focused parts (mostly, the history of Asperger, and the way in which he isn't a Nazi) and very shallowly explored parts. The use of illustrative individual case histories is helpful, but with such a shallow lens, people blend together.
Some key topics that Silberman touches on will be very interesting to people who have not been previously exposed to the issues: the fact that the autism spectrum is and has always been a spectrum; the intrinsic nature of autism to the personality of autists and the embracing of autism by many adult autists; the idea that "autism" is not necessarily a disorder, but that in many cases is a personality style that could be embraced and that the increased incidence of autism is almost completely accounted for by changing diagnostic criteria. Most of these topics have been widely explored elsewhere, and perhaps the most interesting: neurodiversity, is giving only glancing treatment by Silberman. Overall, the history portions were interesting and well done, and the rest would have benefited from more exposure to the topic....more
I guess the best thing I can say about Divergent is that it's not quite as dumb as I thought it would be. In conclusion, not everyone is only Brave, SI guess the best thing I can say about Divergent is that it's not quite as dumb as I thought it would be. In conclusion, not everyone is only Brave, Smart, Kind, Selfless OR Honest, it's just that everyone agrees that only one of those choices is the highest priority, except for Mary Sue Tris (and (view spoiler)[Her mother, her boyfriend and a bunch of other random people (hide spoiler)]) who wants to be selfless and brave. Also, these are very narrowly defined, so if you want to be Selfless, you have to be so selfless that you don't even look at yourself in a mirror or wear anything other than gray and if you want to be brave you have to engage in physical combat, live in a compound built of precarious ledges, jump on to moving trains and get tattoos. There is no other way to be brave. Also, apparently society fractured this way to prevent violence and murder never exists anymore because...reasons.
So, yes, super dumb premise. I did like the idea of people self-segregating into value-based societies that are more important than vertical relationships, though. It was kind of fun to explore and I wish it had been filled out a little more to discuss in parallel the way that the internet and class distinction is segregating people by political belief in actual real life.
Also, the book was readable and fast-paced, even though kind of nothing happened. But I won't be moving on to the next book (unless I also find that for $2 at the used bookstore): I found none of the characters to be more than caricatures and I don't have a lot of faith that the world building isn't going to sucl.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
What a satisfying, scientific tale. Walter Alvarez of the eponymous "Alvarez Hypothesis," the hypothesis that a large impact caused the mass dinosaurWhat a satisfying, scientific tale. Walter Alvarez of the eponymous "Alvarez Hypothesis," the hypothesis that a large impact caused the mass dinosaur extinction could have written many different types of books about his work. This is a deeply humble book that seems to be equally about How To Do Good Science as it is about the deeply fascinating scientific work that Alvarez has done.
The story is just so freaking cool -- both the human and geologic aspects. How could we possible understand what happened to the planet 65 million years ago? Alvarez, as a postdoc, sets out to Italy looking for evidence of plate tectonics by measuring magnetic drift, as anticipated if a plate shifted rotationally. Instead, he finds that the magnetic data from his region is too poor to pick up such subtle changes and he can only detect magnetic reversals. Then he realizes that the particular region he picked happens to have other clues in the rock bed (forams) that can be used to date magnetic reversal events, which has never been done before. However, forams were living organisms, and in the process of using them for dating, they noticed an abrupt boundary of absence of large forams, consistent with a mass extinction. Each step along the way is so nicely laid out -- not the way the lay public views science: hypothesis, easy test, confirm results, new hypothesis, the end!. But the real way: totally different hypothesis, interesting observation, new hypothesis, accidental discovery, new hypothesis, need to invent a brand new assay, and endless repeats. To do their work they ended up inventing new ways of performing neutron activation analysis, blowing up the conventional geologic belief in uniformism, rather than catastrophic events and discovering potentially periodic impacts on the earth (the downside to an old book -- the 1997 view of the Nemesis star has largely been discredited, but the discrediting was nearly a decade of work for the astronomy community and has led to new interesting hypotheses about the solar system)
Alvarez is deeply humble about his role in all of this, instead highlighting the many multidisciplinary collaborations he was engaged in with his work. That's another great facet to the book, to hear about all of the geologists, astronomers, paleontologists, archeologists and oceanologists involved. He also discusses the false roads they go down (they only discovered extraterrestrial material in the first place because they had a hypothesis that a nearby supernova was responsible for the mass extinction, a theory they nearly published due to bad data) and circles back when the evidence that pointed them one way later gets solved by something else -- like the shocked quartz that suggested an oceanic impact, which were later explained by secondary impact from debris. Finally, in what turns out to be a prescient move, instead of criticizing his main rival, who believed in a volcanic theory of extinction, Alvarez confirms that there is evidence to support the involvement of volcanic activity at the Declan traps in the extinction event, which would not become part of the mainstream wisdom until 18 years after the book was published.
There are only two major downsides to this book: one is the first 33 pages of front matter about the story as we know it and how science works is relatively dry -- Alvarez should have jumped in with his personal story and then circled back. The second is that 19 years have passed since publication and new discoveries have been made -- read with google handy!...more
On the one hand, Gladstone has created something entirely unique, here: a magico-legal thriller about apotheosis set in a steampunk theocracy. So far,On the one hand, Gladstone has created something entirely unique, here: a magico-legal thriller about apotheosis set in a steampunk theocracy. So far, so good. I love a lot of the little touches: the Seril/Justice story in particular is extremely well-done, as is his handling of the workings of magic. I found the wry humor in several parts charming. Gladstone's characters are a little thin, but well-loved and the ensemble cast overall works well. On the one hand, the ruse of "character X is so naive, I have to tell them about setting point Y" is over-used and very obvious; on the other, it gets the reader up to speed quickly on the (really lovely) world-building.
However, there are some books one can only get through on a plane. This is one of them. Gladstone shifts perspectives approximately once every 2-3 pages and it's completely jarring. This is especially true because there is so much world-building that the reader has to keep in mind, that to remember "OK, she's using the Craft for which she needs her special knife and blah-glyph and there are clouds, so it will be less powerful" for long enough to get back to the scene where that information is relevant is difficult.
I *might* read more books from the series, but only if the perspective-shifting is substantially better -- it's too bad, because it does overwhelm the otherwise good writing....more
It's January, and I'm already off my fiction/non-fiction schedule, but it's OK: I have an excuse! I have writing a major grant and I need something waIt's January, and I'm already off my fiction/non-fiction schedule, but it's OK: I have an excuse! I have writing a major grant and I need something warm, comforting and relaxing to support me through and I've been saving Enchanted Glass for just such an occasion. Enchanted Glass is the last book that Diana Wynne Jones wrote before she died, and DWJ is, of course, my favorite.
In the process of reading this, I ended up enumerating all of the DWJ books and plots to one of my friends, which I think helped me appreciate EG -- it has several of the key themes of her life's work: Andrew's memories of childhood are fuzzy; many adult authority figures are untrustworthy -- not that they don't believe in magic, but that they're straight malevolent; people are embodiments of mythical or fictional characters (in this case, Oberon -- cleverly calling himself "O. Brown", Titania, Mab and Puck.) It's nostalgic and it certainly filled the niche I was looking for.
On the downside, it felt raw to me. Plotlines drop, which I can't remember from any other DWJ book; there are some very jumpy parts and the beginning drags somewhat. Fans of DWJ will overlook it, but objectively, unfortunately, it's not that good....more
The first thing to say is that I'm someone with a relatively hypoplastic sense of humor. Very little makes me laugh out loud, and I usually find the iThe first thing to say is that I'm someone with a relatively hypoplastic sense of humor. Very little makes me laugh out loud, and I usually find the idea of comedy kind of intimidating, because I never know if I'm finding it as funny enough. But even for someone as humor-stunted as myself, Yes Man is quite funny. Ever wonder what would happen if you said yes to the random pan-handlers, and spam e-mailers and signature-collectors and advertisements and dozens of other offers we're bombarded by? The idea is so simple, and Wallace has a beautifully dry sense of humor.
The other promise -- that I would find Yes Man insightful or thought-provoking -- didn't pan out, though. As a woman trying to make my academic career work I get the opposite advice, all the time: "Learn to say no." And Wallace did nothing to convince me that I shouldn't be working harder on not stretching myself too thin. Would it be fun to spontaneously go to Singapore? Yes. Can most people handle the major work, family and financial consequences to more spontaneity? Probably not. I had a lot of second-hand anxiety about Danny's financial straits when reading...maybe for independently wealthy mid-twenty somethings emulating this experiment is possible, but for the rest of us, taking out and using dozens of credit cards is more nightmarish than a life lesson.
Finally, the first half had an affected naivete that was neither interesting, nor convincing. We all know Nigerian princes offering millions of dollars is a scam. Say "yes" if you feel you have to, but it's tedious when you pretend to believe that there is anything real to the situation.
Overall, I found the book light and fun, but I was happy it was him and not me....more
You know how sometimes the end can completely ruin the rest of a book? It's like that, only in this case, it's really the entire second half slowly prYou know how sometimes the end can completely ruin the rest of a book? It's like that, only in this case, it's really the entire second half slowly prepares you for the way the ending is a fizzle.
I started Find Me knowing that it's ranking on goodreads was awful. But it sounded so freaking cool, that I had to do it anyway. In fact my to-read notes were: "A woman immune to the impending amnesia-plague uses it as a chance to rewrite her life, but supposedly it's terrible?" As billed. OK, that's not fair: the first half was far from terrible. In fact, while I don't think even the first half would have wide-based appeal, I thought it was fantastic: just a touch of surrealism, beautiful language, The central discourse --the interconnection of current self and the people we've been in our lives; how memory matters (or doesn't) and whether we choose to be who we are or are shaped -- was interesting and I felt van den Berg really had a lot of new ideas on this well-worn topic and certainly a new way of showcasing. A side note on "beautiful language:" I think there's a fine line between "lyrical" and "purple prose" and often the more beautiful the language is purported to be, the less I like this book; van den Berg steers well-clear of this problem. She is a master of English. Her sentences are gorgeous, thought-provoking and clear. They build her story, rather than detract from them. It's honestly the only reason I finished part two -- she's truly superlative.
The second half, though, is rough. It's basically a travelogue through the post-apocalypse, although just how apocalyptic is kind of unclear. The problem is that without a solid plot to support everything else, the surrealism and existentialism become overwhelming and repetitive. This part both drags and is actively painful to read. I kept hoping it would get better, but it doesn't: it just ends, all of a sudden, after completely abandoning narrative and leaving a very surreal passage. I'm not even totally sure what happened in the end....more
This book is some brilliant ideas executed quite poorly. In trying to be a literary thriller, Descent really succeeds at neither genre. Nonetheless, iThis book is some brilliant ideas executed quite poorly. In trying to be a literary thriller, Descent really succeeds at neither genre. Nonetheless, in this failure, which is his debut novel, Johnston brings some rather unique ideas.
The bad news first: this is yet another abduction/serial sexual predator novel. Why is this even a thing that exists? Also, stranger abduction practically never happens in real life, which makes the profusion of novels on the topic extra strange. But further, this novel doesn't really spend much time on the abduction. I came to the novel having seen it compared to Gone Girl, so I thought it was a mystery and tried to read it as such -- paying attention to all the details. Unfortunately, that way lies utter madness: there simply is no conclusion to the vast majority of storylines. Why is Grant missing two fingers? Who was the alleged rapist that grabbed a ride with Sean and whatever happened to him? Why was Sean also called Dudley? What happened to Angela after Faith died and was the story she told the real story of the drowning? None of these questions have clear answers, except maybe the first (he was drunk, the end.) and the last (yes, apparently, as billed.) Even the idea of this novel as an exploration of a family after tragedy falls flat as Angela's story gets dropped completely after only two chapters, and Grant and Sean's stories don't really come together until they settle in with the Kinneys. Finally, as many reviewers have already noted: you can either feature multiple timelines or multiple narrators, but not both, especially when you refer to your protagonists only by gender 95% of the time.
The good news: there are so many cool ideas here. Johnston really wanted to look at the shockwaves of tragedy and the idea of vignettes of separate coping mechanisms had potential. I loved the idea to make it seem like the story of the "every-man" by referring only to characters as "the girl" or "the boy" and this was one of the most successful themes as it carried through also into Caitlyn's dissociative episodes in which she was watching someone else narrate her story. Johnston is also very into the idea of good luck, bad luck and religion as a result of experiencing bad luck, and this came through strongly, if heavy handedly, with nice parallelism with the story of Angela and Faith as well as the Kenney brothers.
Overall, a fairly weak and not very enjoyable novel, but an ambitious one. I will definitely consider reading his second effort....more
My terrible internet ate my review of this book (thanks, Comcast. I hope Catherynne Valente reinvents you as a horrible, inept beast-thing.)
Valente tMy terrible internet ate my review of this book (thanks, Comcast. I hope Catherynne Valente reinvents you as a horrible, inept beast-thing.)
Valente takes this moment to take a hiatus from the plot and September. It's an odd choice in the penultimate book of a five book series. It works in that by backing off to a new character, she recaptures some of the wonder and joy that makes the Fairyland series so special. And by sticking her Changelings into the Real World, Valente gets a chance to play with a different kind of fantasy, which is a great deal of fun. But I must admit I was less invested for the absence of September. Also, great swathes of this book feel quite rushed; it reads more like a novella than anything else.
The summation of my opinion is of course heavily swayed by Valente's bottomless imagination, which is still on full display here, with a post office staffed by Benjamin Franklins, delivering changelings; every type of tree imaginable, a knitted combat wombat and much more. Valente is a true master...but, as much as it pains me to say it, the early parts of the series were better....more
Let's recap briefly: Rainbow Rowell wrote a book (Fangirl) about what it was like to be a Big Name Fan and in order to capture this experience she madLet's recap briefly: Rainbow Rowell wrote a book (Fangirl) about what it was like to be a Big Name Fan and in order to capture this experience she made up a fictional Harry Potter series, which the protagonist of Fangirl wrote a fanfic about. Then, Rainbow Rowell decided to actually write this fictional Harry Potter series, which is Carry On. Meta'ed out yet?
But, honestly, this kind of makes sense, because the Simon Snow snippets were the best part of Fangirl. Rowell is nothing if not wicked clever, and it shines the most in the way that she used the fact that everyone knows and understands Harry Potter to include huge swathes of background in a couple of paragraphs, which gave her inversions and subtle changes context. One of the coolest feats of literatures someone's pulled off in awhile, but I was worried that it was not particularly sustainable in a stand-alone novel.
Good news, bad news? The way in which Harry Potter provides a context and background to Carry On is probably the strongest part. The whole book exists in a dialogue with Harry Potter and the two most interesting themes of the novel grow from here: 1. Doesn't it kind of suck to be a mage in a magical/muggle world? The way HP is set up, you can only be a wizard if you're a wizard (you don't get the basic education required to be anything else.) What if you want to be a doctor or a mathematician or a chef in a big restaurant? Suck to be you: wizarding world or bust. But in the HP world, no one discusses this. Rowell actually explores this concept and how much magic destines people. 2. If you're a mage in a magical/muggle hybrid world, and you get to go to magic school, the rest of life is a downhill slog of hiding and never being around your people. Another thing Rowell does great is evoking the culture and community of teenagers and it's really on show here: the sadness of graduation is clear in a way that Rowlings did not succeed at. 3. I love the loyal opposition. That you can be boyhood enemies and play kid games, but if there's going to be a war and its going to be real, how does that change and mature your enmity. Because so much of childhood opposition is the loyal opposition: the person you depend on to antagonize you and play the foil. So, cool. This part is fun.
Bad news: The book reads like Harry/Draco fanfiction. Not that I read fanfiction (only pro-singularity propoganda, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.) But still. So still some good news, in that those of us who have spent the last 14 years and 7 books growing to love the Harry Potter characters will be invested off the bat. But on the downside, very little actually happens. Literally, the first 20% of the book is HarrySimon wandering around HogwartsWatford looking for Baz. The majority of the rest is Simon and Baz mooning at each other. Also, it reads to me like Cath actually wrote it, i.e. that it was written by an 18 year old girl: Is falling in love with your sworn enemy actually a thing that happens in real life? Just one minute you're fighting and the next you're swooning and then a second later you're "snogging"? OK... Also, I talk a lot. I think in words. I need to talk to process my thoughts. My friends get sick of hearing me think out loud. Both the thinking and the talking. I get told "most people don't think that much; they just do" a lot. In Rainbow Rowell's world, I am both basically selectively mute and impulsive. Her characters talk about everything always and at length (usually sounding like self-important teenagers in their word choice and punctuation.) I have never in real life met someone who articulates quite so many thoughts, and definitely not a 17 year old boy who does so.
Finally, despite having read approximately 20 pages of Baz's thoughts on Simon's hair, I still have no idea why they actually like each other in anyway. (Besides the hair. It seems easier to have your boyfriend wear a wig than to date your sworn enemy because he has nice hair.)
So, in conclusion, its a fun romp, with interesting commentary on the world of Harry Potter and school fantasy in general, and it's the only book you'll ever read that's a fictionalized version of a fanfic of a fictional novel, so there's that....more
Here's the thing: the first third of this book is absolutely swoon-worthy. I loved Cath's entry into cOh, Fangirl. I almost hate to write this review.
Here's the thing: the first third of this book is absolutely swoon-worthy. I loved Cath's entry into college. So much resonated so well: The slow development of a friend, then a couple friends, then a whole social world. Her fear of the cafeteria. The way that casual acquaintances such as that-friend-of-my-roomate can insidiously become close friends. The way that casual acquaintances can become all of a sudden close friends through platonic one-night stands. The juggling of the academic expectations with all of the other life expectations that blossom in college. All of these things Rowell depicts so well and the nostalgia was so strong and so sweet. My only criticism of this first third was that to be true to my experience, I would have loved to see fandom depicted in Cath's real life: my undergrad timeline with regard to Harry Potter was slightly different than Cath's with Simon Snow (Order of the Phoenix came out between my sophomore and junior years, Half-blood Prince the summer after undergrad and Deathly Hallows on my first call of medical school) but nonetheless, being a Harry Potter fan and an all around geek was a major part of my in-person social life in undergrad. Despite this small criticism, though, I was a major fan(girl) of the first third -- easily one of the best college-life books I've ever read.
Then, everything changed -- yucky romance plot! To be fair, I adore epic platonic stories; I crave platonic relationships in literature; I'm basically the inverse of a shipper in that I was deeply, personally invested in the platonic relationship between Cath and Levi. Deep, important platonic relationships between (straight) men and women are almost never depicted in literature, so when they are and they're positive, I horde them. Therefore, I wanted to cry when Rowell put them together, and my love for Fangirl never recovered. After my adoration for and identification with the Cath of the first third, I literally felt personally betrayed by their relationship. And when I recovered from that emotional reaction, I still felt that the last two thirds was lacking the magic of the first.
-Reagan is basically the best character ever. Nuanced, assertive, abrasive but caring -- basically the person I wish had been my undergrad roommate. She is virtually absent after her reaction to Cath and Levi getting together -Levy is just not that interesting as a romantic interest. He's too perfect and featureless. -Wren frustrates the heck out of me. Not the character, but her depiction. It is so shallow -- she reads like an Afterschool Special on the risks of drinking. Not interested!
I did like the Simon Snow bits, and I really enjoyed the snippets of Carry On, Simon. I love the technique of snippets of a book within a book, left for the reader to fill in the details. Also, after some discussion with Jon, I liked the way that Cath's major writing assignment was dropped for hundreds of pages to jump in again and punch her in the face -- my anxiety about its absence was a pretty visceral recollection of what having a major assignment like that was like in my own life. Probably not a pleasant writing technique, though.
I can't help but recommend this to people -- the first third was so freaking good, but don't be me! Stop at page 150 and imagine how amazing the rest could be....more
I almost gave up on this book when I realized that there was (view spoiler)[magic (hide spoiler)]. It seemed like cheating -- I loved Broken Harbor foI almost gave up on this book when I realized that there was (view spoiler)[magic (hide spoiler)]. It seemed like cheating -- I loved Broken Harbor for its grittiness and realness and I was worried that would be lost in The Secret Place. But it turned out that for me, the key to really getting Tana French books was embracing the magical realism here. The mental gymnastics I had to do to reach a place where magical realism was okay for me in her books led me to realize that there's a flavor of magical realism in all her books. Not literally, of course, but her books are to traditional murder mysteries the way that magical realism is to traditional fantasy: they aren't about murder, they use crimes as a lens to reflect upon the traits in real life that are difficult to explore in pure "literary" fiction.
And in that context, French is a genius. The Secret Place uses its central mystery to explore the tight friendships of teenage years, and how empowering and close they can be. The four main characters are depicted perfectly, achingly nuanced -- almost like someone that I've known and drifted away from myself. The overall effect was one of extreme, almost overwhelming nostalgia, so much so that the ["br"]>["br"]>...more