It's not uncommon to hear well-written books described as having a great sense of place. Evocative descriptions that make the setting feel real, lived...moreIt's not uncommon to hear well-written books described as having a great sense of place. Evocative descriptions that make the setting feel real, lived-in, and deeper than just a backdrop for the story. This book has something beyond that. It's not just that it gives you a wonderful sense of place, but also a sense of identity. You're left with a lasting sensation of what it is to be both in Colombia and Colombian (well, at least to be Colombian in Vasquez's generation). It's not the whole picture, by any stretch, but it makes a mark that sticks with you. It's been a few days since I finished it, now, and it's like a bit of gristle stuck in my teeth. I get echoes of the sensations I had when reading at seemingly random times, along with a compulsion to sit and chew on it until I can move on. It's easily one of the best things, if not the best thing, I've read this year. (less)
There are plenty of reasons to like this book. A good strong female lead character would be enough to make interested. A good blending of Shinto mytho...moreThere are plenty of reasons to like this book. A good strong female lead character would be enough to make interested. A good blending of Shinto mythology, Japanese tattoo, and a dieselpunk-y world would have been enough (Yes, I know it's referred to as Japanese steampunk in a lot of places, but this has a lot more of an early 20th-century feel to me, I think). Turns out though that the whole book is even better than just a few cool conceits and components, though. It was a really solid story, if easy enough to guess the outcome, but well executed nevertheless. It was a really enjoyable read, and while I won't rush out to buy the second book in hardcover, I'll definitely pick it up in paperback.(less)
This book was the second piece of Gaiman's work I've ever read, and the first that wasn't blended together with Pratchett. I pecked at it last night b...moreThis book was the second piece of Gaiman's work I've ever read, and the first that wasn't blended together with Pratchett. I pecked at it last night before I slept, just looking for a taste of it, and then picked up this afternoon again when I walked to the diner for lunch.
I know it's tangential, but bear with me. That diner is a comforting place to me; it's filled with sensations that aren't quite memories, but the cousins of memories for me. It's a way to be home again in a place I love but don't feel rooted. It's a place I can sit and relax, but am always present in. Which is not a bad thing, mind you.
But today it became a different place altogether. I sat in a perfect spot at the counter that caught the sunlight full-on from the street, thought I'd read this book, and fell into it instead. Every time the waiter came by to ask a question and check on me I was pulled out for a moment, but fell back in almost right away.
It was the loveliest two hours I've ever lost sitting at a diner counter. It's a story that already feels warm and broken in, and that I know will become part of the others I go back to when I feel unmoored. It's one of the stories I can see myself passing on to others, hoping it helps them feel the way I did this afternoon. It's one of the few times I've ever had to speak some of the words so I could feel the shape of them, and I knew I'd read the whole thing to someone close to me one day. And more than all of those other things, it made the part of me that wants to write beautiful things start aching again.
So my recommendation is this: You should get this book, and ideally you should get a copy you can hold and pass along (though it will be just as lovely as a collection of bits if you prefer). You should find a warm, comforting space to sit for a few hours, preferably touch of nostalgia for places you can't go to anymore. And then just sit, fall in, and enjoy.(less)
When I bought this book, it was probably a mistake. I was in the middle of getting ready for my exams, and considering I had finished the first read t...moreWhen I bought this book, it was probably a mistake. I was in the middle of getting ready for my exams, and considering I had finished the first read through before my exams were done, I may have made some...less than ideal time management decisions.
And perhaps the best praise I can give Brent Weeks is that a couple weeks after I finished this book, and was heading home for the holidays, I decided a second, closer read was the best way to spend the train ride. And I regret nothing.
There are time-worn tropes in here that fit like old shoes, but enough twists that I didn't see coming (and I usually can see 'em coming), that it kept me on my toes. The world feels flushed out, there's more dimension to the cast than you usually find, and the inclusion of an intriguing game for whatever reason always grabs my attention. But even beyond that, Weeks does something impressive for any author (let alone some of the fantasy work I've read). He makes the political philosophy issues actually worth chewing on a little. It's no bludgeon, and while you know who the "bad guys" are, nobody looks rosy in this one. It's a difficult trick to pull off, and he did it pretty well here while you're spending more time with the different worldviews in conflict.
But, like I said, best thing I can say? I read the whole damn thing at a time when I probably shouldn't have, and then turned around and read it again a couple weeks later.(less)
In the interest of full disclosure, it would have been quite difficult for a book involving Scottish punk-rock fairies playing fiddles in New York and...moreIn the interest of full disclosure, it would have been quite difficult for a book involving Scottish punk-rock fairies playing fiddles in New York and generally stirring up shit to not entertain the hell out of me. But that said, Millar does a pretty bang-up job with this one. It's light and easy to read, but does a pretty good job of lampooning some of our less admirable personal traits that tend to come out in cities like New York. But it's never pedantic, and its manic nature is a real pleasure to read through. I'm not sure what else to say about this one. Just trust me, you should give it a read.(less)
I'll have to confess that I find reading books meant for "younger audiences" to be really enjoyable. When that kind of book is done really well, I sta...moreI'll have to confess that I find reading books meant for "younger audiences" to be really enjoyable. When that kind of book is done really well, I start to see myself passing it on to other small children, or doing readings in the children's section of a library (hopefully such places will continue to exist as I get older), and there's a weird extra level of enjoyment that comes on top of the general pleasure I get from reading good stories.
Philip Pullman's trilogy does a pretty masterful job of treating its audience like...well, not really like adults, but rather like intelligent, thoughtful people. It's not often you see younger characters written well, or who succeed at things the adults around them can't do. Often young protagonists make use of some ineffable "spirit of youth" to do things that the adults around them no longer can. But here, Lyra and Will are actually just showing time and again that their youth is no barrier to their abilities. These are two tough, strong people, who happen to be under the age of 18. And for a younger reader in particular, there's a whole lot of inspiration to be found in young heroes who are smart enough and strong enough to solve problems the adults around them cannot.
It really is a wonderful story, and it does a good job of letting its bigger characters grow while keeping the plot moving apace. I really only have two quibbles, and they're ultimately pretty minor.
First, to some extent Lyra and Will reinforce some unpleasant gender roles. Will is the strong, silent type; playing it all close to the vest, and stepping up to protect those around him who need it. And Lyra is bright, but part of her skill is in her "storytelling," or often flat-out lying, which is...well, potentially troublesome. But they both work together, and grow out of the stricter archetypes they can sometimes resemble, so I didn't mind all that much.
Second, the thinly-veiled allusions to organized religion, and the Catholic Church in particular, struck me as somewhat heavy-handed at times. Which is not to say the Church hasn't earned its fair share of heavy-handed bludgeoning, mind you, but there were moments where it started to feel less a part of the story and more a way to make a statement. That being said, if you want to show your readers the dangers of allowing tradition and the voices of those who've come before to tell you what is true and what is good, especially when you don't question them. We should all be skeptical (though not cynical), even though we sometimes seem prone to trying to break younger folk of that habit. It's hard when the things you've let become status quo get questioned, and harder still when you don't have a good answer for those questions. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be asked. And it's nice to know Philip Pullman will have some part in encouraging more and more readers to think for themselves and ask those questions anyway.
Plus, polar bears in armor. What's not to like? (less)
I finished this book not sure whether I'd finished it because I felt compelled to, or because I'd enjoyed it. There's not a great deal of story here,...moreI finished this book not sure whether I'd finished it because I felt compelled to, or because I'd enjoyed it. There's not a great deal of story here, it's mostly style and satire with a bit of narrative to hold the whole mess together. And while it's always nice to see an author be straightforward and use alternative interests and sexuality as major plot points, here the sheer number of it all started to feel a bit like throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks (which, come to think of it, probably describes at least one fetish that either is in or is alluded to in this book).
The best I can say is that I gave it a three at first, but the more I thought about it the more I realized I kind of enjoyed it, and bumped it up to four. I don't know that it's for everyone, but it's a quick read and it has a sense of humor that will grow on you if you let it. And if you fancy Godzilla a bit more than you're comfortable admitting...well, let's just say it looks like you're not alone.(less)
There are a few different categories I tend to file new books away in these days. There are the ones I enjoy when I read, and will gladly chat about o...moreThere are a few different categories I tend to file new books away in these days. There are the ones I enjoy when I read, and will gladly chat about over drinks for hours at a time. They're delightful tales that get filed away on a shelf and will start to fade pleasantly in memory. Years later, I might pick them up again, and feel that moment of recognition when you hear a voice or see a face you remember, but can't place where you recognize it from. This story is not one of those.
There are stories that burn brightly when read, and then fade over time. They strike hard in the moment, but a little time and separation highlights the cracks and seams running through it. The story had its moment, but they're remembered more for the way they forced you to think on them and come to a different conclusion. Those books get their own shelves, harder to find but saved to be shared with a person in need of that kind of impulse. This story is not one of those.
There are stories that reach in and tear out a piece of you. The ones that may not always be enjoyable but grab you by the throat and toss you around. Stories that don't leave you wanting more, or with a pleasant glow, but with a lingering ache like they punched you square in the diaphragm. Those books get a special, high shelf. A place of respect and visibility where they will have to draw their own readers, and I will pass them on reverently with a word of warning and a few more of encouragement. But this story is not one of those.
This story is one that has its own life to it. Stories that worm their way into me and demand to be revisited. They don't live on shelves, but on end tables, desks, and in backpacks. They're stories I will gladly give others to read, and more often will press into their hands whether they ask for them or not. Stories that I want to remember when I'm old and can spend my days telling stories to people I love without the need to keep my eyes in the book. American Gods is that kind of story.