This book--and most high fantasy in general--falls outside my normal comfort zone. I gravitate to stories that are short on political philosophy and bThis book--and most high fantasy in general--falls outside my normal comfort zone. I gravitate to stories that are short on political philosophy and big on messy human emotion—high fantasy is often too "underpowered force of Pure Good stomps out gigantic Evil of Evilness" for me, but M&I manages to be much more complex than that, and I'm glad I read it.
This novel's biggest strength is that it cleverly subverts many of the established fantasy tropes and manages to avoid many of the clichés that tend to make this a difficult genre for me. Yes, the story starts with a young wizard at a magical Academy, but that's barely a prologue, and soon it's apparent that this character is not going to be the plucky young protagonist we expect--if he's even the protagonist at all. Other characters soon steal the stage, and our expectations are challenged at every turn. The author isn't afraid to give a cute and likeable character a grisly end, or set up awkward love triangles among the least-appropriate of rivals. Meanwhile, some great character interaction is all complicated by the fantasy-equivalent of WMDs--can they be used, will they save the world, and so forth. Heavy stuff.
The world of Ahmbren, while it includes elves and orcs, is a well-realized and unique world in its own right. It's also complex--maybe too complex for a casual reader like me. There are a lot of "mechanics" to process, and as I said before, I gravitate to messy human emotions and intrigue first. Sometimes the world-building went over my head, or seemed to go on just a bit long. The small-scale, interpersonal scenes are done well, and there are enough cinematic action sequences to keep things moving most of the time. And world building. Did I mention that yet? There's plenty of world-building too for those who love it. :)
As a reviewer, I hate the kind of reviews that summarize plot, but it’s definitely worth addressing in broad strokes here. There's a large cast of equally-important characters. Three people must become living gods to save the world, while potentially losing themselves in the process. A flawed paladin tries to shepherd them to their destinies, but a few inconvenient human issues--politics, trust, lust--complicate matters.
I don’t have a lot of experience with fantasy or indie fiction, but reading Myth and Incarnation was a lot of fun. If you have any leaning toward either of those, I strongly recommend it. ...more
I must have read this book twenty times throughout the 4th-7th grades. I remember my mom getting excited when I read it for the first time because andI must have read this book twenty times throughout the 4th-7th grades. I remember my mom getting excited when I read it for the first time because and telling me it was her favorite of the series. She was right, and it's my favorite too. Trying to remember through the nostalgia of childhood is difficult, though, but I have always been comforted by the book's idea of life and the afterlife. And when my mom passed away, I liked to think of her being able to run without tiring in a place like the New Narnia, and how we'll meet again there. I didn't pick up on the obvious religious message as a kid...if anything, this is the book that seems to break down a lot of the barriers of there being only one "exclusive" religion, just people who live good lives. (Unless you are poor Susan, whose interest in lipstick and men has apparently doomed her for eternity? Really??)...more
Goethe's Faust is one of those rare classics that you feel good about reading and that you actually enjoy reading--well, I did anyway, to the point whGoethe's Faust is one of those rare classics that you feel good about reading and that you actually enjoy reading--well, I did anyway, to the point where my husband was laughing at my eagerness to "go snuggle up with some Faust" as he put it. An accurate observation. But that doesn't mean this is an easy read. I had the good fortune to get my hands on an outstanding edition translated by Walter Kaufmann, who through a mix of rigorous work and sheer genius managed to impart the rhyme, rhythm, and meaning of the original into English version. The edition is laid out with the German text on the left page, and the English on the facing right, so that that I could read the German and let my eyes flick over to the English side during the denser, more poetic sections to make sure I hadn't missed anything important.
I think most of us have encountered some version of the old "sold my soul to the devil" trope, but how many of us know the original story (ok, there were many versions of Faust/Faustus before Goethe put his spin on it, but still)? This isn't as dull or tragic a "tragedy" as most of us have somehow been led to believe. The story and language are earthy and funny, especially the devil-incarnate Mephistopheles who can draw wine from a table. The titular Faust himself is naive and silly and dangerously ambitious, but his love for Gretchen is touchingly real, if misguided, and you just want it to work out, knowing there's no way it can... But I think what surprised me most about Faust is the moral ambiguity in this story about making deals with devils, which on the surface sounds (morally) pretty cut and dry (I hear Marlowe's version adheres to more Church-approved messages). Goethe himself was not a religious man, and it's clear from the choices he makes as a writer that, in his view, good and evil are messily intertwined.
I can't recommend this book and this edition highly enough.
**I should mention that this translator included all of Part One, and judiciously chose to summarize most of the more rambling and esoteric Part Two: only Acts 1 and 5 appear in full, and from the introductory explanations, I think it was a wise choice.**...more
I finished this one (as an audiobook) this morning at 8:30, driving in my car in broad daylight, the hair on my neck sticking straight up and with gooI finished this one (as an audiobook) this morning at 8:30, driving in my car in broad daylight, the hair on my neck sticking straight up and with goosebumps all up and down my legs. I actually couldn't bring myself to listen to this book after dark. At all.
Usually with your run-of-the-mill haunted house stories there is some secret tragedy that the characters discover, something that is "causing" the haunting. This one doesn't have anything like that, though Mrs. Montague provides a parody of this need to explain the unexplainable: "something about a nun. A walled up nun. A nun walled in alive. You wouldn't believe how many walled up nuns now haunt houses..." Psychological horror is so much more effective and scary (I think), and now I want to go discuss this with someone else who has read this, to see what they think about the end (I LOVED the end)....more
I moved through this one slowly because the story is told through footnotes on a poem. Lots of flipping back & forth, lots of poetic turns of phraI moved through this one slowly because the story is told through footnotes on a poem. Lots of flipping back & forth, lots of poetic turns of phrase to sink your teeth into. I went in with trepidation, but enjoyed it a lot. Despite the high degree of "metafiction-ness" it's still a compelling story with more than a little humor. And even...slapstick? Who knew?
I get the feeling that Nabokov is the kind of guy who loves to lead readers on merry snipe hunts, especially the detail-oriented ones who go in searching for symbols and hidden meaning and authorial intent (as if there is one correct answer) and he mocks that with the poem and footnotes here. Some of the best humor stems from the footnoter completely missing the point of what he's supposed to be commenting on, or going off on random tangents all his own. It's pretty great.
And then there's the question of "what really happened" with regards to a murder and a deposed king and mistaken identities. I bet (view spoiler)[there isn't a right answer, and that Nabokov loved to mislead all the merry hunter/readers in his interviews on this one, just for kicks. (hide spoiler)] It'll drive you crazy or leave you scratching your head at any rate. Worth the ride, though.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
*Note* I received an advanced readers' copy of this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program.
I first encountered Paleolithic humans and Neand*Note* I received an advanced readers' copy of this book as part of the Goodreads First Reads program.
I first encountered Paleolithic humans and Neanderthals in 7th grade, in the pages of Jean Auel's 1980 novel The Clan of the Cave Bear, a sexy (and often not so sexy) portrayal of a time period in which fiction, as far as we knew then, was about as accurate a depiction as the scant archaeological tracings we'd unearthed. (I'll have to go back and read it again to see how her view of cave-people stacks to modern science--I hear it's held up rather well!) If you're like me and haven't kept up on your paleo-archaeological blogs since your Clan of the Cave Bear days (ha ha), allow me to blow your mind. First, if your ancestors hail from Europe, or Asia, or the Americas...you probably have Neanderthal DNA.(!) Did you just feel your skull for brow ridges and an occipital bun? I did. Add to that the discoveries of fossil remains of two different species (sub-species?) of humans--one found as recently as 2012--who may have lived alongside modern humans until as recently as 13,000ish years ago and...well, you'll agree we have a lot of intriguing reading to catch up on. It's worth pointing out that this thirst for knowledge is built into our genetics as well, just another small part of what makes us uniquely human.
Chip Walter's recent book is certainly timely, providing a wide-angle discussion of what it means to be human and alive in the 21st century, while our prehistoric brethren are reduced to fossils and a few measly drops in the ocean of our DNA. The most recent studies and data are all in evidence here; fossil records of prehistoric people are still notoriously scant, but scientific advances such as the ability to genetically map a tiny bone shard is enough to tell us that a Denisovan finger bone found in a Siberian cave belonged to a brown-eyed, dark-skinned girl, or that Neanderthals may have included fair-skinned and red-haired individuals. Or that, based on tooth wear, that Neanderthals grew to adulthood a few years earlier than Homo sapiens.
I dig all this newly-gathered scientific evidence, though I still struggle a little more with scientific theories of prehistoric thoughts and culture because the evidence for them is slim to nonexistent. One section of the book describes a scientist's intricate model of Neanderthal language which, he claims, was musical, tonal and choreographic, based solely (as far as I could tell) on a model of their (comparatively) undeveloped vocal cords. The scientist's creativity fascinates me (creativity is another hallmark of us humans, and Walter spends a thought-provoking chapter wondering why this is, and how creativity came about, and why Neanderthals didn't paint in caves but Cro Magnon humans did) but I couldn't help myself as I started to come up with my own alternatives for Neanderthal language. Tongue clicking? sign language? Without a time machine how could we know? Does it matter if we know, or if we speculate all day long? As humans, is it possible NOT to speculate?
The book as a whole is aimed at curious hominids such as myself, and tries to answer--or at least encourages the reader to think very differently about--the "why are we here? Why are ONLY we here?" questions from various approaches. This book isn't just about ancient history and science, it also deals with the development of human psychology from instinct-driven creatures to self-aware individuals who are creative, who make decisions, and who identify with the voice in their heads as belonging, somehow, to them. Walter's voice is wry and appealing, and he can even slip in sly references to Tralfamadorians and the Princess Bride that illuminated and amused (me, at least). From discussions of our strangely long childhoods and lifelong playfulness to the development of language and morality, there's a little bit here for everyone, though I'll resist breaking this review down by each chapter because it's already on the long side! 190 pages seems like a small space to try to tackle so many big thoughts, but I would argue that this book serves as a fantastic, thought-provoking & readable introduction to paleo-archaeology that draws from the most recent science out there, and is a good jumping-off place, if you like, for further reading. There are plenty of worthwhile footnotes and references to help point you in the right direction. I even forced my husband to watch Cave of Forgotten Dreams with me just so I could visually and emotionally absorb some of what I was reading. Though I've since found that the archaeological field appears to be fraught with conflicting theories (when humans first left Africa is one of the big scientific battlefields, it seems), I felt that the author fairly presented evidence of those conflicting sides, yet didn't seem to have a particular agenda. My biggest beef, honestly, is with the fossil record itself; it's such a tease to have bits and pieces of it made available to us, yet with little hope that we will ever, for certain, be able to fill in the gaps of prehistory.
One final, gratuitous word: Neanderthals. I've always suspected they were maligned and misunderstood, as Victorian-era science often had that effect on its undeserving subjects. The chapter on our Ice-age cousins (and possible paramours?) lays a lot of that archaic thinking to rest. Anyway, I'll be haunting those paleo-geek blogs in the near future, as I can't wait to see what the next decade of archaeology reveals!...more
This is one of the weirder novels I've tackled this year -- I had actually put this one off for a while because it seemed liThe feels -- all of them!!
This is one of the weirder novels I've tackled this year -- I had actually put this one off for a while because it seemed like a daunting read -- and turned out to be one of my favorites, what with the dissonant clashing of grit and (literal) Hollywood romance. The setting in an Argentinian prison is unusual, as are the characters, prison-mates who I couldn't help but picture as Peter Lorre and James Dean (umm...yeah, I'll just leave you to match them up). There's also a weird clashing of format -- mostly pure dialogue, with occasional internal streams of consciousness and the occasional prison report. Nothing is spoon-fed to the reader, but as the bigger story faded in, I found myself emotionally moved and at the edge of my seat. The only thing I haven't figured out (yet) are the weirdly placed Freudian footnotes. There seems to be something deliberate and tongue-in-cheek about them. I guess I'll need to sleep on it. ...more
Author Fountain cleverly juxtaposes US Army culture with NFL football, resulting in surprising heart and pathos for what you'd think would be a very m Author Fountain cleverly juxtaposes US Army culture with NFL football, resulting in surprising heart and pathos for what you'd think would be a very macho book. Billy Lynn and his surviving Bravo squad are home from Iraq for a two-week "Victory Tour", having become both Silver Star recipients and YouTube heroes. After making an appearance at a Dallas Cowboys halftime show they'll be sent back to Iraq for another eleven months, but hopefully not before signing for a big movie deal with a Hollywood producer.
There's a sly undercurrent of commentary throughout the novel on American commercialism and how the troops are (or aren't) valued, but I never found it preachy. One of my favorite scenes takes place in the Cowboys football team locker and adjacent multi-million dollar equipment room. There's a palpable, awkward dissonance between players and soldiers that's masterfully portrayed. Happily, despite the kitsch of the set-up, the novel works well as a novel. The characterization and pacing are solid, the writing clever yet rarely overcooked. Billy's "romance" with the cheerleader is hilarious, and juvenile, and poignant all the same. The Bravo squad feels real, their culture spot-on. These guys aren't portrayed as sentimental heroic ideals, despite the Time article and Silver Stars. They're still mostly adolescents and messed-up ones at that. Somehow I couldn't help but like them anyway.
The novel still captures many of the usual war-story tropes--guilt for a dead squad-mate, the sergeant/seer, PTSD, general young male bullishness & inanity--yet does so in a thoroughly 21st century way. Despite what one of the studios interested in making Bravo's movie might think, this isn't a story that could be told in Vietnam or WWII. Without the kluging of "nina-leven", "currj", multi-million dollar football franchises, celebrity-studded half-time extravaganzas, YouTube, iPhones...this novel wouldn't stand. But here we are, and it does. An excerpt from page 234 of the novel actually describes itself pretty well--just be sure to duck before the irony hits you in the face and knocks you out:
[It] is a rat-bite fever dream of soldiers, marching bands, blizzards of bodies bumping and grinding, whoofs of fireworks, multiple drum lines cranking go-team-g0. Destiny's Child! Drill grunts! Toy soldiers and sexytime all mashed together into one big inspirational stew....more