If there's one thing that the fantasy genre does better than any other, it's making me believe that there's a sliver of a chance that magic might stil...moreIf there's one thing that the fantasy genre does better than any other, it's making me believe that there's a sliver of a chance that magic might still exists in the world. Some of my favorites in this genre are the ones where these rich, sprawling worlds are tucked away within our own--the kinds where if you just kept your eyes open, maybe you'd find a hidden entrance to somewhere mind-bogglingly amazing. A secret city underneath London where misfits and mystical beings populate the sewers? Say no more. I'm sold.
Admittedly, I'd heard a lot about Neil Gaiman before I picked up Neverwhere at a bookstore a few weeks ago. Most of it very good. And I have to admit, the premises of his work always manage to catch my ear. But it took ages before I actually read any of his stuff (I blame the movie Stardust) until I bought American Gods last year on lark. I loved it, proceeded to pick up Good Omens and enjoyed it immensely. So, with that, I had somewhat high expectations for Neverwhere.
I probably shouldn't have. That's not to say I disliked it. Quite the contrary, I liked it quite a bit. Neverwhere is the story of Richard Mayhew, an ordinary man with an ordinary job and a controlling fiancee who ends up rescuing an injured girl and falling through the cracks into the underground city of London Below. The premise is great, London Below is great, the characters are for the most part, quite likable and fun. But I couldn't help feeling something in the equation was a bit off.
And then I found out that Neverwhere was originally a mini-series for the BBC, and that the novel was an adaptation of sorts where Gaiman got to expand and elaborate on parts of London Below that got strangled by budgetary constraints (and that, is why 99 percent of the time, books are better than their TV/movie counterparts--you can't put a price on imagination.) All of a sudden it was like a light got switched on in my head and everything made sense.
Neverwhere reads like TV show. It's what I imagine a TV show or a movie might look like put into words. I guess, the opposite, if you will of all those movie adaptations of books. In some scenes, I can even imagine where the screen fades to black or where the music might swell at a particularly dramatic moment. For me, it wasn't a major turn-off. Far from it. It was just a bit…strange. But judging by the clips of the TV show I found on YouTube, the book is still much, much better.
It probably didn't help that Neverwhere is also somewhat of a love letter to London itself. I've been to London a grand total of once, and am nowhere near familiar enough with it to appreciate all the clever puns and references Gaiman peppers into fictional world of London Below with. It didn't detract per se--after all books are all about traveling to places you've never been in the comfort of your jammies. But I don't think I got the same kind of enjoyment someone familiar with London might have. Plot wise, the story was alright though I didn't love the primary villain, who I felt was overshadowed by the more sinister, yet quirky henchmen. In general, my main gripe was that the world of Neverwhere was more exciting than what was happening in London Below. At the end of the story, I couldn't help but feel as if it were still somehow unfinished. It was like catching a glimpse of a fascinating world, but having to leave it too early.
But to be left wanting more is, in my opinion, a good problem. I'm usually not a fan of sequels, but I can't help hoping that one day Gaiman might revisit the world of London Below.
After years and years of waiting, it's finally here. So, does "A Dance With Dragons" live up to the hype and anticipation?
In short, yes and no.
Where...moreAfter years and years of waiting, it's finally here. So, does "A Dance With Dragons" live up to the hype and anticipation?
In short, yes and no.
Where "A Feast For Crows" focused on the characters in the south and King's Landing, "A Dance With Dragons" primarily focuses on where we left Jon, Tyrion and Daenerys at the end of "A Storm of Swords." Their chapters take up a good 2/3 of the book, with Reek chapters making up a majority of what's left. The first 60 percent of the book runs concurrent with "A Feast for Crows" before moving forward in the timeline (which also heralds the return of many "Feast" POV characters). "Dance" features some of Martin's best writing yet, and really showcases the complexity of the world Martin has created in his head.
"Dance" is a sprawling affair, with much of the book happening outside the borders of Westeros. However, while Martin adds a wealth of flavor and richness to the world of Slaver's Bay, Pentos and the Free Cities, it doesn't make up for the lack of action. Dany's chapters were immensely disappointing, save for a few moments here and there. After watching the HBO series and remembering how strong her storyline was in the first book, I found the endless setup in Dany's part to be rather disheartening. Similarly, while Tyrion's chapters were very entertaining and for the most part, a joy to read, certain plot reveals struck me as rather contrived. As a whole, I felt that the portions of the book taking place across the Narrow Sea to be a lot of set-up with little payoff.
Conversely, the chaos in the North was some of the best plotting and writing Martin has done since Swords. Jon's chapters at the Wall were by far the best in the book, and Martin even managed to make Bran interesting for the first time since Jaime threw him out the tower. Reek's chapters, while intensely disturbing, were also immensely enjoyable.
However, as the book drew to a close and the cliffhangers kept piling, I found myself rather frustrated. The "Gut Punch" moment this time around felt as if it were a mere shadow of the "RW" in "A Storm of Swords." This time around it felt like it was force-jammed in there; whereas "RW" was a bold move, this time it feels as if Martin was just trying to get a reaction and in the process, potentially rendering an entire storyline as absolutely pointless (but we'll have to wait until Winds of Winter to find out for sure...) Though he almost makes up for it in the epilogue, which is superbly written and a great ending to the book.
All in all, I loved "Dance" but had my fair share of concerns. My main problem with "A Dance With Dragons" was that unlike "A Storm of Swords" it was just one depressive revelation on top of another followed by chapter upon chapter of setup without many hoo-rah moments to balance it. I'm sure this means "The Winds of Winter" will be ridiculously amazing (though I'm not sure how Martin will manage all those POVs...). I just hope this time the wait won't be nearly as long. (less)
Slow to start, Margaret Atwood's "The Blind Assassin" eventually builds up to a satisfying pay-off for those willing to power through the first half o...moreSlow to start, Margaret Atwood's "The Blind Assassin" eventually builds up to a satisfying pay-off for those willing to power through the first half of the book. "The Blind Assassin" is a complex tale of two sisters, written in a nested story format that alternates between a pulp science fiction novel written by one of the characters and a memoir, peppered with relevant newspaper clippings.
As with most non-linear story structures, it takes quite a bit of exposition before the story-threads can come together; but when they do, it makes for an enjoyable second and third act. As a result, the second half of the book reads at a much faster, enjoyable pace. Atwood is a superb writer, and really gives a unique voice to Iris Chase; when reading, you really get the sense this old woman is sitting next to you and telling you the story of her complicated life. My one complaint was that Atwood really seems to love specificity in her vocabulary, and long descriptive paragraphs. For instance, I had no idea what a dulcimer was (or any of the types of upper class furniture Atwood names)so I ended up having to look them up on Wikipedia--which totally took me out of the setting.
As for the "twist": It's not the most mind blowing twist there ever was, but it is well-executed. The observant reader will undoubtedly be able to pick up clues throughout the narrative. So while it may not come as a surprise, the story molds together quite well at the end. In that sense, "The Blind Assassin" is reminiscent of Nabokov's "Pale Fire", though since this is written primarily in a memoir format as opposed to an academic poetic analysis, I felt there was more storytelling, less squinting and deciphering.
Overall, "The Blind Assassin" is an enjoyable read, though I can't really fault those who give up halfway. At 544 pages, its a longer-than-average read, and while I thoroughly enjoyed it, I'll put it this way: Those who hated the ending to LOST, would probably hate the ending to "The Blind Assassin" too. (less)
Gabriel Garcia Marquez has a gift with a pen. With a simple turn of phrase, Marquez is able to whisk readers away to the hot, sticky Latin summers whe...moreGabriel Garcia Marquez has a gift with a pen. With a simple turn of phrase, Marquez is able to whisk readers away to the hot, sticky Latin summers where rabies remains uncured, and exorcisms are not limited to horror-movie fodder. Short and sweet, the book explores a torrid romance between a young eccentric girl accused of demonic possession and the priest sent to oversee her exorcism. While “Of Love and Other Demons” is sometimes criticized for its brevity, it seems as if it belongs in a collection of South American myths and should probably be read as such. Here, Marquez explores the same themes of some of his more well-known books (“A Hundred Years of Solitude” and “Love in the Time of Cholera”) such as class distinctions in South America, love as a broader metaphor, and the Church, but the focus remains on protagonists Sierva Maria and Cayetano Delaura.
Describing what makes reading a Marquez book so enjoyable is always a difficult task, but I would have to say it’s his hypnotic story-telling ability. You forget that it’s absurd for an entire village to contract insomnia or for two people to share the same symbolic dreams. His books are steeped in a thick cloud of delicious romanticism; it’s pure escapism at its best. Overall, it’s not as satisfying as “A Hundred Years of Solitude” and it didn’t move me as much as “Love in the Time of Cholera” did—but I don’t really think that’s what Marquez was trying to do. Nevertheless, it was thoroughly enjoyable and for the Marquez beginner (or skeptic), it would probably serve as a good gateway book into his more lengthy sagas. (less)
The most fascinating thing about Milan Kundera’s writing style is his ability to seamlessly thread together fiction with snippets from his own life. T...moreThe most fascinating thing about Milan Kundera’s writing style is his ability to seamlessly thread together fiction with snippets from his own life. The result is a deeply personal, insightful book fused with philosophical musings on the nature of both laughter and forgetfulness set against Kundera’s own experiences (and forgetfulness) of the Prague Spring Revolution in 1968. While jumping back and forth between fiction and semi-autobiographical passages can, in the hands of a lesser author, be jarring, the prose in “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” is fluid, poignant and smooth. His style is relatable while writing about complex ideas, and here, Kundera offers a clear roadmap to where the book is leading up to. Like Vonnegut, it’s nearly impossible to read a Kundera book without looking up at the clock and marveling at the number of pages you’ve managed to fly through in the space of a couple of hours.
As with most works of fiction following this sort of episodic structure, consistency is hard to pin down. Tonally, the book is pitch-perfect—but some picking-and-choosing is inevitable as dictated by a reader’s personal interest. While I found nearly all the sections to be enjoyable, Tamina’s struggle to remember her dead husband, Kundera’s own recollection of his days spent as a fraudulent astrologist, and his section on the untranslatable “litost” were the highlights of the book.
Readers should do themselves the favor of disassociating the book with “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” before reading lest expectation leads to disappoitnment. There are definite similarities between the two books, however, “Laughter and Forgetting” delves much deeper into Kundera’s own personal story, and is thus imbued with a stronger undercurrent of political dissidence. Tamina comes the closest to being a real protagonist (fictional or otherwise) in the book, but like Tim O’Brien’s “The Things We Carried,” the characters mostly serve as a metaphor for Kundera to hash out his own thoughts on the principal themes of laughter and forgetting. The same could be argued for Sabina, Tomas, and Tereza—but its much more obviously so here.
All in all, a solid read for those with existentialist or philosophical readings. Bonus points to those interested in Soviet-occupied Europe, Prague or Czechoslovakia in general. (less)