The fire that was ready to rage at the end of the first book seems to have died to smoking embers at the beginning of this second installment. Katniss...moreThe fire that was ready to rage at the end of the first book seems to have died to smoking embers at the beginning of this second installment. Katniss, Peeta and the audience all pick up right where the train dropped us off, in a District 12 that, despite the distraction of the Capitol's celebrations for its victors, remains, on the whole unchanged. Katniss is hunting, with little else to take up her time, Peeta is baking and painting, Haymitch is still drinking, and things are familiar; perhaps not good, but at least familiar. This monotony is where the book drags for me. Perhaps I'm just on the journey enough to feel the lag of this beginning. Maybe the high provided by the first book needed to have the drop of the beginning of this second book to make what follows possible. For me, as the first book seemed to hit the ground running, it, in my mind laid a blueprint, and though the end of this second installment almost runs up to meet you and push you off of yet, another cliff, there isn't quite as much expansion on this world of Panem as I had hoped.
Catching Fire traces along the same lines of The Hunger Games, forcing Katniss and Peeta, once again into the arena. The plotting of this novel certainly run deeper than The Hunger Games goes, granting us a clearer view of the motives and perhaps deadly consequences, but not much more. While the character development of The Hunger Games evoked emotion, there is no Rue to save this turn in the arena. The introduction of Finnick Odair and Beetee are the high points, in terms of character, and even they are held at arm's length. By the time the Games finally began, I was almost eager with anticipation, because it's clear that these action sequences, these moments when Katniss has to be on her guard are where Collins shines as an author. The pacing immediately picks up, engaging that page-turning, edge-of-your-seat emotion again, and the imagination of Collins, the chief Gamemaker, for all intents and purposes, is impressive giving a slight twist to the arena this second time around. The last third of the book makes up for the lag in the beginning, and while the end is enough to make me glad I picked up the series after the third book had already been published, negating my need to wait (I was never very good at waiting anyway) it feels like there might have been some room for expansion, some moments of development that could have been that simply were edited out to make the need for a third installment even greater.
Katniss also didn't seem quite as sharp as I remember her being in The Hunger Games. There seemed to be a lot more over-thinking going on and obviously incorrect assumptions being made on her part. As a result there were several "Come on Katniss...Don't Be Stupid!" moments I uttered as I read, wishing that she'd just have some tracker jackers to release or some more tree rats to hunt so that she could be thinking clearly once again. But perhaps these are just the musings of someone who isn't, perhaps, at the core demographic for this series. Peeta appears to make all of the right and rational decisions, leaving Katniss, who in the first novel seemed resourceful and reliable, almost floundering and dependent. As someone who was thrilled that this series might introduce the world to a teenage female heroine who cared about more than whether or not her boyfriend sparkled on a sunny day, I was disappointed to read the "No matter what I do, I'm hurting someone" line on page 120, seemingly putting the focus of the books on the idea of the love triangle, instead of what is clearly a much much larger picture. That's not to say that the 17-year-old that I still feel I am sometimes isn't kind of in love with Peeta.
With Catching Fire, the good news is that I feel like I'm heading somewhere, the bad news is I'm not sure I'll like it more than where I've been. If the last few pages of this book are any indication, we're certainly in for a bumpy final act, and even though I may not have loved this one as much as the first, I understand the need for it, and am thankful that it's still a book that makes me feel like I've evaporated in this world and am now, or at least, when reading, stamping my passport to Panem. I'm not certain that it's a place I'd like to visit, but then again, maybe that's the entire point of The Hunger Games, maybe it's about time we start deciding what the future will look like. While that task might seem a little too difficult for most of us at this moment, we only have to wait the moments that it takes to open Mockingjay to find out what kind of a future Katniss will find.(less)
The best thing this entire series has going for it is that it is, literally, compulsively read-able. I flew through The Hunger Games and after despera...moreThe best thing this entire series has going for it is that it is, literally, compulsively read-able. I flew through The Hunger Games and after desperately grabbing up what felt like the last two copies in the world of "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay" I had every intention of finishing within the weekend. But those are lofty goals and, I know it sounds crazy, but around the middle of "Mockingjay", I was simply burned out. I had the literary equivalent of a brain freeze. But I don't consider that to be a terrible thing. I just needed a break. If I had perhaps taken more time between the second and third books, I might have actually finished even faster. That being said, when i picked up the book with 142 pages left, at 11pm last night, I didn't end up turning out the light until 2. That's how these books work on you. A chapter is simply not enough. I have some slight issues with the direction that Katniss took, I kind of wish that she had been a little more like Johanna, a little more like the Katniss from the first book, but that being said, I was not disappointed with this novel as the summation of a truly interesting trilogy. It's warnings of the future, it's pleading that we look at ourselves and our destructive path and attempt change, it's simple love story, all of them worked for me. There might be some who balk at the gore, and I myself probably wouldn't want a 10 year old reading it, but I do think it necessary that the true nature of war be put on display. It is an ugly, horrific thing, and we should be frightened of it. We shouldn't necessarily be promoting the idea that it's all as it is in video games with night-vision advertisements and the belief that an "army of one" is all you really need. In the end, what we really need, and what Katniss discovers, John Lennon already gave us. All we need is love, but some archery training probably never hurt anyone either. Mockingjay(less)
**spoiler alert** The fall always makes me want to re-read this book, and after the fourth time I'm still amazed at how ridiculously, emotionally atta...more**spoiler alert** The fall always makes me want to re-read this book, and after the fourth time I'm still amazed at how ridiculously, emotionally attached I am to this series. This final installment is certainly the one I've read the most, because it's quite simply the most fulfilling ending that I could possibly imagine. By now, most people should realize that, although Harry's adventures are certainly kid-friendly, they're just as much for adults, and nowhere is that point made perfectly clear than in this, the darkest of all of the books; and yet, that blazing white light at the end of the tunnel is difficult to ignore. For me, although the ultimate showdown is the inevitable one between Harry and, of course, Lord Voldemort, it's not really about them. We've had six books to work out where we stand on those two. Heck, by the end of the first book, we all knew who to root for. No, this book is, for me, as much about Ron and Hermione, and all of those who have supported Harry throughout the books, as it is about our main hero. Everything that has been simmering beneath the surface, pushed to the back burner in response to the need to focus on the larger picture, suddenly boils over in chapter after chapter with each character finally reaching their full potential. It's a rare thing indeed for a series of seven books to maintain not only a devoted fan base, but a growing fan base, a feat that would not be possible without such deep character development and there are plenty of payoffs here. And why do we connect with the characters so much? Because they reflect a bit of ourselves back to us, the way any truly satisfying literature does. Jo Rowling (hopefully it's not too presumptuous to call her by her first name) has created a complete world that is so accessible to an audience because it is as similar as it is different. And while the differences are fascinating and intriguing, the similarities are even more important, because they are, in reality and in analogy, the heart of the matter. It's the emotions that have driven this series, and it's those emotions that compel us through those final chapters when it seems like, perhaps, all hope is lost. I'm amazed at how often I tear up, at the same parts, time after time, but honestly, that's why I keep coming back. If I didn't wipe my eyes during the scene where Ron is desperately crying out for Hermione as she's being tortured by Bellatrix, if I didn't hold my breath as Harry falls through the Pensieve to find out about Snape's true intentions, if I didn't grab five kleenex as Harry's parents, Lily and James, and Sirius and Lupin appear to Harry in that moment he needs them before he accepts his destiny, well without those feelings, I'd be empty and Rowling makes it pretty clear what happens to those who are empty, yeah, I'm talking to you Riddle. This is a series full of adventures and mysteries, battles and secrets and yet, more powerful than all of those, is love. I read this book to not only remind myself just how enthralling this series is, but to regain a little bit of hope when the real world sometimes seems to be a bit scant. (less)
**spoiler alert** I've been a fan of John Grisham for a while. I had no business reading The Client at 12 and The Pelican Brief at 14, but I did and I...more**spoiler alert** I've been a fan of John Grisham for a while. I had no business reading The Client at 12 and The Pelican Brief at 14, but I did and I consumed every word of them so quickly it was almost as if I was afraid if I didn't read them immediately the words would disappear and the story would be gone forever. I still count The Pelican Brief as one of my go-to favorites to re-read. Unfortunately, my initial reading of The Confession, has forced me to reconsider whether I actually still think Grisham is worth the praise, or if, perhaps I've been overly-kind to him as a result of nostalgia.
To me, The Confession is not as good as either of the two mentioned above, and there are several reasons for that impression. While it's probably always been the case that Grisham certainly tends to stick with the things he feels most comfortable writing about (law, racism, politics, religion, crime) much of Grisham's previous work didn't seem to frame it's story as a slave to it's inspiration. What I mean is that although somewhat predictable, a lot of the previous work felt somewhat organic, in the sense that the story came first. That doesn't feel like the case to me here. In The Confession, Grisham's agenda is abundantly clear, re-iterated over and over again to literally drum it into your head (if you read the book, you'll know why I chose the verb 'drum' there) and that notion of writing around a specific idea truly seems to cause the characters, and the story, to fall flat more often than not. It's abundantly clear that the death penalty is an issue close to Grisham's heart and while the passion is clear, it almost felt that it was written without hesitation, resulting in some sloppy moments. The Confession felt to me like a "best of Grisham" combined with an op-ed piece. Attempting to take the death penalty and (sorry to employ the word again, but it's necesary) literally turn it into a black and white issue seems counter-productive to me. It's overtly obvious, and the sour note that the end hits, while perhaps sometimes realistic, almost nullified the book and the argument for me. The very end felt like a great, big literary "well what more can I say" complete with a throwing up of your hands in a sign of resignation.
Grisham's voice is so overly present that it sometimes seems to drown out that of the characters. While it is certainly a book dealing with a real-life dilemma, and I'm sure, based on some real life accounts, the fact is, this is being sold as a work of fiction. Within that parameter, the character is still the most important, and while there is, what seems to me, an over-abundance of characters, they're all held at arm's length. Grisham often reverts to the third person, never really allowing the reader to get too close. Everything happens in such a whirlwind of time that it's difficult to connect with any of them. The stereotypes are surprising for a novel published in 2010, but perhaps that's just because I've never lived in Texas.
I do have to say though, that the second part of the novel "The Punishment" really did get the pages turning and I found, even as I was holding out my own hope, I was both surprised and, in an odd way, impressed by Grisham's decision about how the story of Donte Drumm was concluded. Grisham did surprise me there, and yet it worked better than any alternative. If only the third part of the novel, "The Exoneration" hadn't become so jumbled at the end that it felt kind of like watching "The Return of the King". If you haven't seen that movie a) Why haven't you?! and b) it has several different "endings" before the ultimate ending, quick wrap-ups that show what each character is up to, but none of which are quite as fulfilling as the previous 500 or so minutes in which the characters have really been shelled out. It felt like I was reading a laundry list of "where are they now?"
I would never say a John Grisham novel was bad, maybe I COULD never say one of them was "bad" but this one certainly seemed the least cohesive to me, at least in a while. Usually the entertainment factor is so high that it overrides any formulaic or literary issues I have, but with this one I felt like I could also constantly hear my own head uttering objections, not to the statements necessarily, but just to the way they were delivered. It's a solid enough outline, with an important discussion at the heart of it, and hopefully it does help to open a dialogue, at least among those who have read the book, but I can't put it at the top of my Grisham list. It's certainly worth borrowing from the library or from a friend though and seeing how you feel about it.(less)
There's a reason I still love having tangible, paper books. No, it's not the extra weight in my purse or that I think I look cooler when I'm reading a...moreThere's a reason I still love having tangible, paper books. No, it's not the extra weight in my purse or that I think I look cooler when I'm reading an actual book, turning actual pages in public places (alright, yes, it's a little bit that reason) but I love feeling connected to the words on a page. I like knowing that I can highlight and write in margins and leave my very own, albeit small, mark in a better, more inspiring piece of work. I like the thought that my notes and ideas and the quotes that I love will now, forever, if you use pen, be a part of the work. And now, my copy of Cloud Atlas is branded for life as my own. I'm pretty pleased about this. In an odd turn of events, last night I happened to see Midnight In Paris, a film that I would consider a film for writers. In much the same way, this is a book for writers. It's equal parts inspiring and jealousy-inducing and it's rich and velvety. You can just fall into this novel, get lost inside its characters and its prose and, most of the time, allow the chair your sitting on or the bed your sitting up in to disappear completely, escapism at its finest. No easy feat considering that there are 6 worlds to land in and 6 characters (kind of) to adjust to. What took me aback was just how quickly and smoothly the transition between characters (and worlds) happened; within the mere turn of a page in fact. One moment you're on a late nineteenth century boat, baking in the Pacific sun, the next you're in 1920s Belgium, and all the time that's passed is a moment. The novel's form is unlike any book that I've read. Beginning in the late 1800s and working through, generation by generation to the distant future, then circling back around again, a beautiful loop is made through time, about time. It's all cyclical in the end, isn't it? The decisions we make today create the future, and yet, the future will, at some point, be someone's past. It's all fluid and changing, and the only thing that gets in the way are our meaningless, meaningful lives. None of us are born knowing we'll be the one the future is reliant upon and none of us knows which one holds the keys to the past. Oh what a tangled web, indeed. Mitchell even plays with the idea of formats within formats, sometimes opting for first person accounts, sometimes third person, sometimes journal entries and sometimes epistolary techniques are employed. Though thankfully, rarely more than one at a time. The only thing tying all of these worlds together, in the book, is the subtle hint at the idea of reincarnation. We've all been here before, and yet, it's always a new world we come back to. The stories read as vignettes, in a way. Snippets of life that are as much about modes of communication as they are about humanity and technology and the combined impact on the environment at large. Often, it's not a particularly comforting view of the world, and yet, there's always something familiar for the audience to root itself in. Sometimes it's just an idea, sometimes it's a character, but always, the undeniable universality of being human is on display. In a way, each story deals with a theme too: trust, love, isolation, fear, morality, and survival, and entire paragraphs could be written on the analysis of those, but I'll try not to delve too deeply here. Suffice it to say, there's a lot going on. And even with all of this, what kept everything moving, for me, was simply the beauty of Mitchell's phrasing. It wasn't just that his ideas were infinitely worthy of discussion, but that he was able to envelop them in such a way that sometime re-reading was desired, not demanded. Each of Mitchell's characters has such a distinct voice, a language that is familiar to only them and their time, that even given just one sentence from each, I'm almost certain that a reader would be able to match them. And yet, sometimes it was this distinct voice that caused me pause. I got hopelessly led astray right at the peak of the temporal arc, finding it difficult to follow along with Zachary's story. The language took some getting used to, and I found that for me, my enjoyment of reading it waned slightly, and I was beyond thrilled to learn that i would be going back to Corporacracy and Sonmi-451. As was bound to happen some stories are more interesting than others (I took a keen interest in Frobisher, Sonmi-451 and Louisa Rey) and found that some of the characters even became more interesting the second time around, and yes, I'm looking at you Timothy Cavendish, but on the whole, to not recommend this book based on a few, personal preferences would be to allow people to miss out on what very well might be one of the most unique and exciting books I've read in a very, very long time.
Overall, really a 4.5, but since Goodreads is only set up to handle more decisive minds, I'll take the low road, mainly for difficulty level, but to some people, that might be the draw.(less)
Let me put this simply: The Phantom of Pemberley might very well be one of the worst books I've ever completed. I've never been the kind of person who...moreLet me put this simply: The Phantom of Pemberley might very well be one of the worst books I've ever completed. I've never been the kind of person who could simply give up on a book. I figure that there are plenty of things in my life that I procrastinate on/don't follow through with that I can't add books to that list. Books are usually a nice, engaging form of distraction, at the very least, a minor form of obsession when they capture me at the right time with the right story or style. The Phantom of Pemberley was severely lacking in all aspects. Before we get into all of that though, I feel, for some reason, like I should explain the thinking behind me even picking up such a book. I was wandering around one of the two major book retailers remaining in business and, despite my already lengthy to-read list, I was insistent that I wanted something new. I should have just turned around and walked out, but really, who does what's best for them? No, instead I found myself slowly picking up the book solely on the mention of the word "Pemberley", clever marketing as such a title probably works on the vast number of Jane Austen fans in the world. The idea of the growing number of Jane Austen fans is really a separate discussion in and of itself, but I would venture to say that the number of "sequels" and "inspired by" novels with the aim of imitating or making money off of Ms. Austen's style are almost a sub-genre all by themselves. I've read a few that have been successful, by my standards, like "Mr. Darcy's Daughters" and, let's face it, when the Seasonal Affective Disorder starts to kick in in early January, sometimes you just want something comforting, and so I fell for the old "you like Jane Austen, you'll like this" idea. I was duped, or perhaps, I duped myself. At the outset it seems like something that should be entirely appealing. The summary on the back claims to be written in "Regency style and including Austen's romantic entanglements and sardonic humor". It states that it's a "suspense-packed sequel to Pride and Prejudice". It basically reads like it should be what happens when Austen meets Agatha Christie. What's not to like about that?! On second thought, don't answer that question. The inherent problem in all of these kinds of novels is that, well, they're not written by Jane Austen, and so, as much as someone might attempt to copy her style, they're not her with her nineteenth century sensibilities. What ends up being churned out by Ms. Jeffers, the author of The Phantom of Pemberley, is some horrifying cross between a romance novel and a sub-par mystery, with full snippets of Pride and Prejudice ideas and dialogue bandied about as if it were an original take. It's not. I feel like, in the reading elitist part of my soul, this is the kind of book that Jane Austen subtly mocked in Northanger Abbey. It's not gothic, perhaps, but it is overly romanced. I find myself in a quandary. I consider Pride and Prejudice to be one of the greatest love stories of all time, mostly because it's not simply about love. It's about all of those things that go on in life that conspire against love happening. It's funny, it's embarrassing, it's real. None of that exists here. It's decidedly unrealistic, although it is embarrassing, to me, that I've read it. I suppose my biggest gripe is that Elizabeth and Darcy have somehow been morphed into the uberest of uber-couples, not only in love, but living solely for one another. It's ridiculous, in a way. These are actual quotes from the book:
Of Darcy: "Without Elizabeth in his arms, he felt bereft of life-she had imprinted herself on his soul" (p.240) Elizabeth speaking this time: "We have an undeniable connection- a oneness that spans the universe"
Are you kidding me?!?! The Elizabeth Bennett that has always existed in my mind would read lines like this and laugh. "Imprinted...on his soul"?! That's some Twilight crap. Not to mention the fact that on at least one occasion I marked the use of the word "totally" as in "I had totally forgotten" (p.177) Really? "Totally"?! As in "that dress looks totally awesome on you"?! When did the Darcys move to Sun Valley? (less)
**spoiler alert** I'll start off by saying this. My review is one short of five mainly because I'm angry. I'm angry at the things that happened, I'm a...more**spoiler alert** I'll start off by saying this. My review is one short of five mainly because I'm angry. I'm angry at the things that happened, I'm angry about the characters that are still wandering around Westeros with nary a mention of them, and I'm angry that I have to wait for the next installment. I am indeed in a foul mood. That being said, the sheer fact that I care enough to be that angry, that I'm invested enough in characters to commence crying, is a testament to Martin's storytelling. It's also going to be a great struggle to walk the fine line of illustrating the high points of the book without giving too much away because this one, even more than others, despite the separate nature of the 4th and 5th books, sees worlds coming together and partnerships being made that, honestly, I don't think anyone saw coming. The fun is realizing those for yourself. Before I continue, let me say, if you haven't read the previous 4 books, or if you're not really familiar with the source material, nothing you read beyond this point will make any sense to you. I'll be speaking of sigils, The Seven, names like Targaryen and Mormont, so if none of these mean anything to you, it's best to bail out now. A Dance With Dragons, picks up essentially where the third book, A Storm of Swords leaves us, covering some of the same time period as Feast For Crows, but starting off on the opposite end of the character spectrum. Where Feast For Crows revolved around the Greyjoys, Dorne, Brienne and Sansa, Jaime, Cersei and Sam (mostly) this one focuses much and more (sorry I've just been dying to use that phrase) on Jon, Dany, what's going on at Winterfell, and everyone's favorite half-man, Tyrion. Here's the quick recap: Dany is in Meereen, Tyrion is fleeing across the narrow sea after having just given his father the worst case of indigestion ever (Pepto-Bismal does NOT list arrow quivers alongside the vomiting and diarrhea it claims to soothe) and Jon is Lord Commander at The Wall, a job that is only slightly more difficult than being Michelle Bachman's campaign PR manager. The kingdoms are askew, with nothing tying them together besides marriage pacts and promises of land and lordships, an environment that only benefits schemers and sellswords, who, in most cases, are one in the same. To use the term "mercurial" seems to be an understatement. The phrase most often thrown around in A Dance With Dragons are the words of House Targaryen, "fire and blood". Winter is no longer coming, it's here and it's pissed. In Meereen, Dany must deal with several armies who want to see her dead, infighting amongst her own, and of course, growing dragons, all the problems a world leader would normally have to face. For the most part, I found her storyline blander than in the previous books. She's so politically-focused this time around, and let's face facts, Dany is no Cersei. She's too just and too inexperienced, at least by political standards, and from the outset the audience can see that this is going nowhere good in a hurry. It's a painful, drawn out process of, often aloud, wondering "WHY?!". Jon faces similar inexperience issues at The Wall. Having been maneuvered into the Lord Commander position by Sam, he falls back on his Winterfell training and his Stark standards of honor and duty. We all recall how well those served Definitely Headless Ned. Having seen Sam's journey in the previous book, we know that Jon sends Sam away early on, with Gilly and Aemon, essentially forcing the brains of the operation to set sail. Not to say that Jon isn't intelligent, he is, and he's thoughtful, but he's not necessarily savvy. More than once he returns to Ygritte's mantra, and as a reader you begin to agree with the red-headed wildingling that, in fact, "You Know Nothing Jon Snow". And finally Tyrion. Wonderful, stubborn, witty Tyrion. He's the character we all know Martin pours the most of himself into. He's always the best part of every book, and a major part of the reason I had such a tough time with Feast For Crows. Tyrion is simply trying to survive. He acknowledges he's on the run and can no longer be considered a Lord of Casterly Rock, but that certainly won't stop him from being Tyrion. Survival mode brings out the best in Tyrion, who, despite his wishes, doesn't seem to be made to be complacent. His journey is by far the most intriguing, with the most interesting pairings and most high-voltage revelations. I would feel too terrible if I gave away more than that. Beyond these three major characters, there are the introductions of several additional characters, who hopefully will be sticking around for quite a while (I kind of quickly grew attached to a tag-along dwarf named Penny), but as any of the fans of the series know, pinning your hopes on a character's long-term situation is an emotionally unsatisfying action. If Tyrion really wanted to make his gold back, he should have become a bookie in Vegas taking odds on Martin character survivals. As a reader of the series from about three and a half years ago, later than many, earlier than some, I had been anticipating this installment with the rest of the rabid fanbase, and (foolishly) expected more satisfaction than I received. I am fully aware that there are still two more books in the works, but I hoped some of the previous stories might have had those loose ends ties, instead of still fraying in the wind. It was not to be for this fifth book in the series. What we get instead are players that are more defined, a chess board that finally seems to be set, and a looming ending which could still go either way. As someone who appreciates a nice bow to wrap up my gifts, this uncertainty is unsatisfying, despite the fact that I recognize its necessity. A Dance With Dragons does define itself in the series though, not just from sheer density but also as the one in which two themes seemed to be emerging simultaneously. The first theme, and Martin almost beats you over the head with it in this book, is identity. All of our characters now, well, at least all of our main, point of view characters, are finally past struggling to define themselves and have clearly chosen the path they will travel down. It's almost as if this is the book where the evolution ends and the only thing left to do is figure out who is fit to survive, which is always easier said than done when Martin is the judge, jury and executioner of the characters. The second theme, one that's always been around but which I found exceedingly prominent in this book, is the notion of religion. All of the readers know that each different area of Westeros has its deities. The North and Beyond the Wall have The Old Gods and their Weirwoods, King's Landing has its 7 and its Septs, the Iron Islands have their Drowned God and the Red Priests have R'hllor, but I feel like the emphasis was stronger in this book. While the first 3 novels of the series focused heavily on the physical act of war, it looks like these later books will have to deal the war for men's (and women's) beliefs. The writing style itself is not altered dramatically from previous books, although I do feel like the descriptive nature was enhanced. There were moments where I just wanted the plot to move ahead at a quicker pace, but honestly, what would ASOIAF be without knowing exactly what kind of rodents on sticks they sold in the fighting pits? If you've stuck with it this long, you'll continue to stick with it. Enough surprises, of all kinds, happened in this book, that, despite a fleeting notion that I wanted to give up, I know I can't. I find Martin's storytelling to be addictive, and I can only go so long before needing a fix. Overall, better than Feast For Crows, but still lacking the pounding momentum of Clash of Kings.
It's been a very long time since I have stayed up to finish a book. Probably the last time it happened was with the final Harry Potter installment, an...moreIt's been a very long time since I have stayed up to finish a book. Probably the last time it happened was with the final Harry Potter installment, and before that, in my teens, it was probably a John Grisham novel, and most likely The Pelican Brief. That being said, it's just turned 2 am and I've just finished Soulless, and was delighted the entire way through. I've put myself through a rigorous year of reading, so far, not in the number of books but in the kinds of books that I've chosen to pick up. Engrossed in lengthy series books, like A Dance With Dragons, and serious novels like Cloud Atlas, I needed a brain reset, and badly. I needed something quick and fun, and the first of the Parasol Protectorate was just that. The heroine, one Miss Alexia Tarabotti, is a mischievous, intelligent, strong-willed character, much in the vein of Lizzie Bennett and Jo March, and as often as possible, refuses to take "no" or "you can't" as an answer. She is set in a re-imagined world of the 19th century, where science-fiction has trumped the fiction part and Hyde Park is filled with dirigible balloon rides and steam-powered carriages. The bustle of Victorian gowns can still be heard (and seen) but "supernaturals" (vampire, werewolves, ghosts) are common knowledge and have acclimated to society, as much as acclimation is possible. Part romance, part mystery, the story unfolds with easy, steady momentum and never lacks for interesting phrasing, or straight up fun use of vocabulary. When reading about the author at the end, it's unsurprising that one of her first influences listed is Jane Austen. Soulless reads like a steampunk reimagning of Pride and Prejudice, and, I have to say, the brooding, mysterious werewolf Lord Conall Maccon is what I would imagine the perfect supernatural hybrid of Mr. Rochester and Mr. Darcy would be, except furrier. Alexia's family, her nerve-prone mama, shallow sisters, and unconcerned stepfather, are all caricatures of characters from novels most of us have already read, but for some reason, with this book, that familiarity is satirical, and results in more of an appreciation for a nod & a wink at the style than an anger at unoriginality. In fact, the entire book is filled with such flamboyant names and ideas, that it's difficult to do anything but simply sit back and enjoy. I couldn't give it more than three stars, because essentially, the story is fluff. It's the literary equivalent of that 55-second roller coaster ride. You pretty much know what you're going to get, but you still enjoy the 360 degree loops and sharp drops all the same. It's not challenging, but it's so much fun that it almost negates any sort of criticism that could be put upon it. Essentially, it just made me want to sit down and have tea with the author (Gail Carriger), Alexia Tarabotti, and Lizzie Bennett and gossip about the world the way that only intelligent, colorful, interesting, albeit females, can. Bring on the scones and the next in the series!(less)
My mother taped a movie off of some network tv channel forever ago called Same Time Next Year starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. That film had a si...moreMy mother taped a movie off of some network tv channel forever ago called Same Time Next Year starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn. That film had a similar premise to this novel, a premise that could have easily been hokey: a story told on the same day, over 20 years, detailing the lives of two people. But when it's done as well as David Nicholls has done it, the hokiness quickly gives way to genuine emotion and attachment to the characters. I'm not denying that there's a gimmick attached to this book, the time capsule aspect (for lack of a better comparison) is bait that you either bite or you don't, but what's amazing is that this quirky idea doesn't dominate the focus of the novel; it's just simply the vehicle through which an even more detailed portrait of the characters is drawn. By freeing himself of the conventional ties of storytelling, Nicholls has created a deeply intimate, thoughtful, and ultimately moving character study. Oh no, is my hopeless romantic starting to show? Beginning on the night of their graduation in 1988, Dexter and Emma, have a one night stand on what turns out to be the most important night of their lives. Dexter is everything that a leading man should be: handsome, mostly intelligent, witty, and seemingly unattainable or un-trainable, depending on how you look at it. He's rakish and rebellious and all of those other R-adjectives used to describe men who possess a self-confidence that borders on arrogant, but with enough good sense to pull themselves up, just before going over the cliff, well at least some of the time. Emma is his opposite (of course). Bookish, whip-smart, attractive, but not attractive enough to incur the jealousy of other women, and more deserving of happiness than she actually believes herself to be. On the 15th of July, every year for the next 20 years, what is presented are glimpses of a relationship that, despite both Dexter and Emma's best efforts, stands the tests of time. I realize that "tests of time" is a terribly banal turn of phrase to use here, but in this instance, it truly does fit. Through vacations, weddings, affairs, divorces, children, and sometimes just plain stubbornness, what emerges is an authentic look at the relationships that change people, the relationships that change us. While the two characters sometimes seem a bit stereotypical, and while this is, at its heart, a romance, with Nicholls beautiful prose and realistic approach to situations, it turns in to much more than your mother's beach chair companion. By the end of the novel, it should be plain that the title does not simply refer to the chronological set-up of the book, it also refers to that often-used answer that most of us give as an excuse for putting off the things that really make us happy; you know, we'll get to it, one day, I mean there's plenty of time right? What Nicholls so wonderfully captures are moments, snapshots of moments, the idiotic, angst-filled, anger-fueled, awkward, hurtful and, sometimes, just plain happy moments that create situations and reactions that we, as mere humans, cannot guess the repercussions of. Even, as a reader, although we think we're trained to know who belongs together and how things will end, just like life, the book takes some unexpected turns. While sometimes feeling stretched, the situations never really feel forced or completely impossible. The characters don't always get what they want and the most convenient path is often the one that Nicholls refuses to take as an author, which is refreshing. With a novel entirely focused on two characters, the dialogue and banter better be good, and here it really does shine. The descriptions are never over-wrought, and while it's not exactly re-inventing the wheel, this kind of feels like the literary equivalent of outfitting your wheel with some nice, expensive chrome rims. I mean, if I was in a fight with someone I would probably ask David Nicholls to write my comeback quips for me. There is enough realism in this to make the down moments not only relatable, but even uncomfortable and yet, despite the turbulence, there's something that seems a lot like optimism at the core of it all. I hesitate to call Dexter or Emma a hero/heroine because they're not really. They're just people, with flaws and worries and problems, hopes and dreams, and boring jobs to fill the time in between. They have no superpowers, they don't seem to possess anything remarkable, except their friendship, and when you really stop and think about it, friendship really is a remarkable thing isn't it? And that seems to be the point that Nicholls is making. While the normal tangent of a romance is discarded here, what cannot be overlooked is that it's the details that make a character; the little things, the moments that most people think of as throw away instants, that really count. While the big picture, the next year, the next five years, the future, is always the main focus for people, that constant delaying means that time is simply slipping away, melting into the mundane repetitiveness of every day life, but even in that routine, there might be a moment that we should latch on to. Sometimes our hopes let us down, our dreams crumble, or our hearts break. But if we're lucky, that won't always be the case and as Nicholls proves here, all it takes is one day, it might have even been today and you just haven't realized it yet. (less)