This is an honest and important book. I don't think I could do it justice in a review except to say that I strongly urge you, all of you, to read it,This is an honest and important book. I don't think I could do it justice in a review except to say that I strongly urge you, all of you, to read it, and think about it, and whether you agree or disagree with Vonnegut's opinions on war and government and America and life, give them some thought, and think about your own opinions as well. Also, this is an incredible quote: "And on the subject of burning books: I want to congratulate librarians, not famous for their physical strength or their powerful political connections or their great wealth, who, all over this country, have staunchly resisted anti-democratic bullies who have tried to remove certain books from their shelves, and have refused to reveal to thought police the names of persons who have checked out those titles. So the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries." ...more
I've seen a couple of reviews use the word "melancholy" to describe this book, and I think that is the perfect term. It's a book about victims of circI've seen a couple of reviews use the word "melancholy" to describe this book, and I think that is the perfect term. It's a book about victims of circumstance, of privilege and loss, and the bitter, tragic unfairness of life. But this isn't a melodramatic book; my previous sentence is more melodramatic than the entirety of the novel. It's subtle, meaningful, and the prose is beautiful and rich with metaphor and symbolism. I did have difficulty following the plot at points, with its circular, non-linear storytelling, but I appreciated the style choice. The title is particularly appropriate; although there is mention of a God of Big Things, it is the small things, the moments, the fleeting thoughts and feelings, that dictate the paths taken by the characters in their twisting, intertwining lives. ...more
Sometimes posthumous works are a bad idea. Often, there's a reason that an author never published the work, and often that reason is because it wasn'tSometimes posthumous works are a bad idea. Often, there's a reason that an author never published the work, and often that reason is because it wasn't very good. While that may be true of a few of the stories in this collection about war and its effects on the world and on humankind, there are far more gems than there are duds. Some are nonfiction, some are fiction, some are illustrated. War, and particularly Vonnegut's involvement in World War II, is a focus of almost every one of his novels, but here it is a particular central theme, not so much the battles themselves as the people in them, the psychology surrounding them. Like most of Vonnegut's works, they are funny, full of his biting wit, but they are also mournful, almost wistful. Two of my favourites are The Commandant's Desk, about a Czech carpenter but also about the nature of occupation, and Wailing Shall Be in All Streets, an account of Vonnegut's experiences in Dresden. ...more
**spoiler alert** I know that this third installment in the series is very divisive. Some people loved it, some people hated it. So it goes. I persona**spoiler alert** I know that this third installment in the series is very divisive. Some people loved it, some people hated it. So it goes. I personally think that Mockingjay isn't quite as good as the two books which precede it, but I still think it was a fitting ending to the trilogy. Collins captured the horror of war—the way people change, not always for the better, the fact that people do things they would otherwise be completely against out of fear or desperation or because they think it is their only choice, the idea that sometimes the "good guys" are just as bad as the bad guys and that sometimes the real "good guys," the people you want to protect, are the people getting caught in the crossfire. When I first read this book, I found myself getting angry at Katniss, at Gale, at Peeta, for not acting the way I thought they should, but this time around I thought—would I do differently? I'd like to think so, but I can't be sure. Perhaps I wouldn't have the chance, but only because they are far braver than I could ever be so I wouldn't have gotten that far to begin with. Anyway, I thought that the exploration into the creation of Panem and the relationship to District 13 was interesting and twisted and powerful, and the way each side used propaganda and media was very fascinating to me. I was Team Katniss all the way, of course, but apart from that I often found myself torn about who to root for, and I think that is fitting and realistic. In the end, I found myself angry, but not at the book, or at the characters (although I wasn't always on board with what they were doing, but I liked that they had obvious flaws), just at the whole idea of having to make those choices, of being responsible in the way Katniss, Peeta, everyone was forced to be, and at the society that put them in that position. Overall, I definitely had some issues with the book, mainly that I thought some of the deaths were just to add to the body count rather than having any real place in the plot. However, I was satisfied with the way it completed the trilogy.
Two notes about the end and the epilogue: I don't know if this is a common theme but I've seen one or two people annoyed with the way the trial happened of screen, and one or two more annoyed with the epilogue because they think Peeta forced Katniss into having children. I have to say I disagree with both of those issues—I think the trial occurring offscreen was perfect because it emphasizes that Katniss was really just a pawn to the adults. All of her successes, as we are reminded early in the books, all of the times she made people love her, are things that she did unprompted, independent. It makes sense that they would want one last chance at trying to decide her life for her, rather than letting her interfere and be the mockingjay that she is. Frustrating maybe, but unsurprising. As for the children, well, some years had passed. Obviously not everyone wants children, but as her main reason was that she worried for their safety, I could see her coming to terms with the fact that the last Hunger Games had occurred and changing her mind. I do wish she had had more of a "choice" with Gale being around for her to decide between him and Peeta, but for me I always thought she would be with Peeta in the end so it didn't have enough of an impact to really bother me. But I always liked that Katniss was the focus than the focus being on her decision between Peeta and Gale—it kept the love triangle for being unbearably love-triangle-y and it made sense since they obviously had much more important things to do than worry about who was kissing who. ...more
As soon as I started reading this book I knew I wasn't going to be able to stop until I finished it. I ended up staying up late to keep reading (and tAs soon as I started reading this book I knew I wasn't going to be able to stop until I finished it. I ended up staying up late to keep reading (and then even later so I could stop crying—believe me, I know I'm a particularly weepy person but even if you aren't, you'll want a box of tissues handy for this one). This is the third book of John Green's I've read and this one was definitely the best of the three. Unlike the other two, The Fault in Our Stars had a female protagonist, 16-year-old Hazel. Hazel was diagnosed with Stage IV thyroid cancer at age 12. Although an experimental medicine stopped the tumours in her lungs, it isn't a permanent cure, and Hazel lives with the knowledge that her time on earth is shorter than most people's. When she meets Augustus Waters at a cancer support group, they immediately hit it off. Amidst medical emergencies, conversations about life and love, and a visit to meet Hazel's favourite author in Amsterdam, the two develop a relationship.
I really liked the second book by John Green that I read (Will Grayson, Will Grayson) even though I was lukewarm on the first (Looking for Alaska), but even so those two books both had elements of MPDG-ness (perceived by me or perceived by the characters) that pulled me out of the story, made me remember that these are characters. In contrast, Hazel and Augustus (despite often saying things that it's unlikely any teenager would ever actually say), seem fully-realized. They aren't defined by their illnesses, they're not stock tropes of "Cancer Kids," and yet their sickness isn't dismissed either. Death isn't graceful or heroic or pretty, and Green never acts like it is. At the same time, his characters recognize that there are good days, and reasons for optimism, and nothing is either fully doom and gloom nor completely rainbows and sunshine. Hazel and Augustus are both pretty pretentious, but, well, some teenagers are. Hazel's characterization occasionally fell flat for me (She didn't like V for Vendetta because it's a "boy movie"? Really?) and I think overall Green is more successful with male characters, but then again she also wants to "set the world record for number of episodes of Top Chef watched consecutively," which is something I can relate to.
Plot-wise, there were some twists that I saw coming a hundred pages away (apologies twitter for the accidentally spoilery tweet when I figured out the author subplot near the beginning of the book—and although I enjoyed it I think the book would have worked just as well if not better without the Van Houten storyline as a whole), but it didn't dull the emotions I felt when I actually reached the events in question. As you would expect, not all is happily ever after, and as I said you will probably cry, but the sadness isn't emotionally manipulative. I think it's just a result of the subject matter; almost all of us has some sort of a personal connection to cancer, and Green definitely captures the way it affects the lives of those who have fought it and those who care about them (one of my wishes for the book is that it would have spent more time on Hazel's relationship with her parents, but I did love what we saw of them). Overall, I thought this novel was excellent and I definitely recommend it. ...more
Note: This novel deals explicitly with eating disorders, depression, and self-harm. I definitely recommend it, but if you might be triggered by any ofNote: This novel deals explicitly with eating disorders, depression, and self-harm. I definitely recommend it, but if you might be triggered by any of these things, you might want to look for some more detailed information about the book before you decide to read it.
I have always thought that Laurie Halse Anderson is one of the best young adult fiction authors for the way she writes about some of the issues that face teenagers: sexual assault (Speak), crime (Twisted), and somewhat lighter issues like college (Catalyst). She never sensationalizes these issues or victimizes her protagonists, and she treats the subject matter realistically and with respect. The same is true of Wintergirls, which focuses on Lia, a young woman struggling with anorexia and the loss of her friend Cassie from bulimia. In her afterword, Anderson writes that she was inspired to write the book after readers wrote to her about their experiences with eating disorders; I think that in itself is an indication of the sensitivity with which she tackles difficult subject matter, that readers would feel inspired to share their own struggles. And I think this book, while not my favourite of her works overall, is the best since Speak when it comes to discussing the complex, conflicting emotions that teenagers, particularly young women can feel in a difficult situation. Anderson writes in a way that allows us to see that Lia has a struggle, but we are never meant to judge; it never falls into the trap of "Well, if she just tried harder, she'd get better," even when she blames herself. The writing style of the book was very poetic and a little bit uneven at times, but it also reflected the mindset of its protagonist and delved deep into her thoughts and emotions....more
In 1917 five French soldiers court-martialed after being accused of self-mutilation are subjected to a horrific punishment which is later covered up bIn 1917 five French soldiers court-martialed after being accused of self-mutilation are subjected to a horrific punishment which is later covered up by officers and witnesses alike. Several years later, Mathilde, the fiancee of one of the soldiers, begins a search to discover if her fiance is still alive. Equal parts mystery and romance, clues and truths are frequently revealed in an epistolary style through the letters of former soldiers and their families whom Mathilde contacts for information about those times in the trenches. At the same time, we learn of her own history and character, and the story of her romance with Manech, called Cornflower by his comrades.
I saw the film version of this book a few years ago (starring Audrey Tautou and Gaspard Ulliel, and directed Jean-Pierre Jeunet who also worked with Tautou on Amélie) and I loved it. I like it even more than the novel, to be honest, but I enjoyed reading the book almost as much. The prose is very lyrical, and the different characters' voices create a complex story featuring many different backstories and motivations. The protagonist Mathilde Donnay, in particular, is a strong, smart, and imaginative woman who is determined to find out the truth of what happened during the war to her fiance and his companions. Although the book dragged a bit in some places, when it seemed as though Mathilde had reached yet another dead end, it was as a whole a compelling mystery as well as a beautiful romance....more
The third and final story in the Demon's Lexicon trilogy is from the point of view of Cynthia "Sin" Davies, a dancer at the Goblin Market who is cauti
The third and final story in the Demon's Lexicon trilogy is from the point of view of Cynthia "Sin" Davies, a dancer at the Goblin Market who is cautiously allied with Nick, Alan, and Mae to stop the magicians, while also competing with Mae for leadership of the Market. While she also has to take care of her younger brother and sister and deal with financial worries, the others have problems of their own—Mae with her brother (Jamie, who sadly had a much smaller role for much of this book, although it fit the plot) joining the magicians and Nick and Alan with the promise Nick once made a demon. Sin was a little bit more of an outsider at the start of this book than Mae was at the start of The Demon's Covenant (the second book, which was from her perspective), so it was nice to get some more insight into her strengths and insecurities and feelings. I think she might have been my favourite of the three "narrators," particularly for the background information she gave about the Market and its history and participants. The plot was also better managed than in the previous books; while they were, I felt, slightly rushed toward the end and a little bit lacking in closure, this novel drew the plot out over the course of the story for a dramatic conclusion featuring a number of twists and turns and surprises from all of the characters. But the plot didn't take away from the character development at all—instead, it added a lot of reason as to why Sin acts the way she does, showed the depth of Nick's love for Alan (and vice versa, although that had been well-conveyed in the other books as well), demonstrated how brave and smart and wonderful Mae is, and so on. Overall, I loved this book. The first two were good, but this one was really, really great.
Yes, this is a book about a man going back in time to change the course of history. It's not the first, and it won't be the last. There is a plethoraYes, this is a book about a man going back in time to change the course of history. It's not the first, and it won't be the last. There is a plethora of media covering the alternate history that would have occurred had Hitler been killed before he could become the leader of Germany, and another plethora speculating the opposite: what if Hitler and the Nazis had won World War II? Some stories are more serious while others are more of Quentin Tarantino's farcical Inglourious Basterds ilk. And Hitler's rise to power is far from the only event altered in such stories. Harry Turtledove wrote a novel in which the Confederacy won the Civil War, and Newt Gingrich one where the south at least won at Gettysburg. Alan Moore's graphic novel Watchmen speculates on a United States that won the Vietnam War. Even fictional history has been changed, from Back to the Future to Doctor Who.
In most of these stories, the time-traveller doesn't go back in time just to make a small alteration to the historical record; it's usually some big event or, as a character in King's novel calls it, the watershed moment. In 11/22/63, as the title indicates, it is Kennedy's assassination, and high school English teacher is Jake Epping is the one sent to stop it. Epping steps back in time through a wormhole in a local diner and finds himself near Derry, Maine in 1958.
Note: Derry is a fictional town in Main that, along with Castle Rock (which surprisingly does not get a mention in this book) serves as the setting for many of King's works. However, readers with sharp memories may notice that Derry in 1958, specifically, was the backdrop for another of the author's novels, a fact that becomes obvious as Epping meets two young children named Ritchie and Bev, and talks to them about their fear of clowns. This connection may lead readers to believe that there will be a far more supernatural element to the novel than there actually is, but it does add a creeping suspicion of some underlying evil beyond even the fantastical concept of time travel and alternate realities.
Anyway, Jake Epping goes back and, as you would expect a man in 1958 who plans to assassinate an assassin in 1963, does his best to lay low—first in Derry, then in Florida, and finally in a little town in Texas, where he goes back to teaching, and even meets a nice girl with whom he can settle down for a while. As you would expect a man in 1958 who plans to assassinate an assassin in 1963 who also happens to be in a book written by Stephen King, all does not go as planned. As the day grows closer, time and reality twist and tangle until the novel reaches it's thrilling conclusion.
Well, okay, thrilling might be an overstatement. Anyone familiar with his work knows that endings aren't Stephen King's strongest suit (Under the Dome, anyone?). However, this book was engrossing up through the very end, and definitely one of his stronger finishes. But enough about the ending—you don't really want to know if Jake Epping manages to stop Oswald, do you? So let's back it up and talk about the worldbuilding.
Unlike some of his endings, the worldbuilding in King's novels is rarely lacking. As I mentioned, he created not one but two towns and populated them with enough well-developed characters and minute details that you'd think you remember them from passing through on some family vacation in Maine. He created an entire universe for The Dark Tower and beyond that has slipped references and connections to the series in many of his other novels, linking their worlds together. The setting of 11/22/63 isn't as fanciful as Mid-World, but once again Stephen King fills his novel with a real sense of place—tiny facts and characters who round out the world he has created.
The plot is equally compelling focusing not only on the bigger picture of a plot to kill the president's would-be killer (complete with speculation on what butterfly effect type repercussions it may have) but also, again, on the little details. On the school play at the school where Epping—now under the alias George Amberson—teaches in Texas. On the life of a man Epping met back in 2011. On the mysterious, "yellow card man" and on Glenn Miller's "In the Mood." In many alternate history books, the change occurs near the beginning, with the rest of the story exploring the fallout. In this novel, it is about the lead-up, and while that day in Dallas is still the climax, it is not the only event of importance.
I always have difficulty ranking books, so I don't want to put this in my Top Five Stephen King Books, or my Top Ten, or whatever (although I suspect it would make the latter list and perhaps even the former). How could I compare 11/22/63 to The Dark Tower or Different Seasons or Needful Things, some of my other favourites? But I would definitely say that this one is a favourite, and one I'd certainly read again (which I think is high praise for an 800+ page book). If you like history, or time travel, or tearing the fabric of reality, 11/22/63 is for you.
I read the first story in this collection, "A Temporary Matter," for my Science and Philosophy of Sex and Love class this past semester. I don't thinkI read the first story in this collection, "A Temporary Matter," for my Science and Philosophy of Sex and Love class this past semester. I don't think there was a single person in my class who didn't admit to crying while reading it. As much as I loved the story, I was hoping that all of the rest wouldn't be so terribly sad or I would probably just cry through the whole thing (and I certainly wouldn't be able to read it with other people around). Luckily, not all of the stories were so heartbreaking, but they all had a really lovely undercurrent of bittersweetness, which I liked a lot. The prose was absolutely beautiful, and I loved how rich the descriptions were whether of India or America or a character's mannerisms or clothing. My favourite story in the collection was "The Third and Final Continent" in which a young man comes to the United States and boards with an old women while waiting for his new wife to join him in the country. The theme of starting a new life and getting accustomed to changes with trepidation and hope was really powerful and it was absolutely beautiful all around. ...more
A Home at the End of the World is the third book of Michael Cunningham's I've read, and the first one I really had an emotional response too. Even witA Home at the End of the World is the third book of Michael Cunningham's I've read, and the first one I really had an emotional response too. Even with The Hours I could recognize the beauty of the prose and the depth of the characters, but neither The House nor Before Nightfall really stuck with me the way I suspect this one will. The novel is the story of two boys, Bobby and Jonathan, who are something more than friends, not quite lovers, as close as brothers but drifting apart and coming back together as they grow up. As adults, they are joined by the eccentric Clare, and their odd family unit deals with love and relationships, children and parents, life and death. The novel is told from various points of view—mainly Bobby and Jon, but also Claire, and Jonathan's mother Alice—and spans from Cleveland in 1974 to NYC in 1982 (at the start of the AIDS epidemic) to a house in the country sometime after that, and to Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, and across the United States at some point in between. The whole novel is about some people making connections with other people, some people unable to make connections at all. There's a loneliness about the tone that's really heartbreaking, and it makes the moments where the characters do actually seem to find each other even more powerful, and then again heartbreaking when they are torn apart. My favourite character in the book was definitely Bobby—he's an enigma, the most lost of all of them but also, I think, the most certain of the life he has found himself in. But I did love pretty much all of the characters. In the end, this was a really compelling and beautiful novel that I think will stay with me for a long time. ...more
In Bright’s Passage, the debut novel by singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, World War I veteran Henry Bright, leaves his West Virginia home with his newborIn Bright’s Passage, the debut novel by singer-songwriter Josh Ritter, World War I veteran Henry Bright, leaves his West Virginia home with his newborn son to escape a forest fire, accompanied by an angel who possesses Bright’s horse to guide him in his travels. The novel is not laid out chronologically but with multiple parallel timelines; alternating chapters tell the story of Bright’s time in the war, where he meets the angel, of the year he spent with his young wife before she died giving birth to their child, and of the present, where he takes orders from the angel whom Bright is not certain that he trusts.
For anyone who has heard Josh Ritter’s music, it is impossible to read “Bright’s Passage” without comparing it to his songs, but the similarities between the novel and the music mean that fans of his work are sure to enjoy it in this different medium. The prose of “Bright’s Passage” echoes the sparse, lyrical nature of his best musical work, such as the storytelling songs on 2005’s “The Animal Years” or his most recent album, “So Runs the World Away.” It creates an atmosphere that fits the long, arduous journey that Bright must make. The content is also familiar. Josh Ritter’s music often features angels, particularly those of questionable morality, as also seen in the novel.
In the story’s weaker moments, it almost seems like Ritter tried to stretch a five minute song into a nearly two-hundred page book-- occasionally passages grow heavy with unnecessary description. Luckily, these moments are few. In most instances, the longer passages serve to make the reader feel as tired and world-weary as Bright himself. Bright’s Passage is tightly written overall, a quick read that nonetheless delves deeply enough into Bright’s past to create a character who is stubborn, headstrong, rational, and yet just faithful enough to trust the creature who claims to be an angel and tells Bright he has a destiny to fulfill.
The flashbacks to Bright’s time serving in the trenches in France during World War I are the best of the multiple narratives that weave in and around each other throughout the novel. The amount of research that Ritter put in to ensure historical accuracy is evident, and the war-torn landscape and the low morale of the soldiers create a stark, realistic background for Bright’s introduction to the angel and the start of his journey.
Despite the fantastic element of angel possessing an animal and talking through it, the focus of Bright’s Passage is not on fantasy but on feelings. Henry Bright struggles with the morality of war, and with the effort to fit back into his pre-war life upon his return from Europe. He suffers from PTSD and from grief over the loss of his wife, but is forced to move forward in order to take care of his child. As a somewhat unreliable narrator, his doubts and fears battle with his determination. The angel—who is never given a name—remains aloof and unknowable throughout the story, making the humanity of Bright’s struggles even more realistic in contrast to the angel’s other-worldly nature.
There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about Bright’s Passage: it is not the first story to feature the post-Great War time period, angels, talking animals, journeys, or moral conflict. And it certainly isn’t the first novel to be written by a folk-rock musician; Ritter joins the ranks of Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and numerous others who have attempted to translate their storytelling abilities from song to page. What makes Ritter’s novel worth reading is not its originality, but its emotion. The novel is a promising first look at a writer already known for his storytelling abilities in another medium, and the book will certainly gain him new fans as well as appealing to those who already love Josh Ritter’s music.