My uncle wrapped his arms around me and began to speak quietly and deliberately. “Esti, Kinder. Yakov is dead. He will not be coming home. I buried hi...moreMy uncle wrapped his arms around me and began to speak quietly and deliberately. “Esti, Kinder. Yakov is dead. He will not be coming home. I buried him just a few days ago. With my own hands, I buried him.”
My mother sighed, and somehow her face relaxed, as though the blow she had been expecting had finally landed, and it was a relief to have it done.
I think, as much as I love young women bent on violence, that the mother might be my most favorite part.
Except, maybe the smoothly-integrated gay uncle is my favorite part?
Okay, here is the thing: this is really a great story.
There is a little too much plot in this one, but I really enjoy the characterization and it does a number of unexpected things. I like that Wells can...moreThere is a little too much plot in this one, but I really enjoy the characterization and it does a number of unexpected things. I like that Wells can translate her fantasy of manners skills to a series of books about, basically, dragons. This is a nice continuation of the stuff that made The Cloud Roads work, plus some character development! (less)
I'm a big fan of Martha Wells' other books, which are sort of genre-mixings, especially The Death of the Necromancer, which I think is a really wonder...moreI'm a big fan of Martha Wells' other books, which are sort of genre-mixings, especially The Death of the Necromancer, which I think is a really wonderful fantasy of manners action adventure sort of thing. The Cloud Roads is high fantasy, but successful books are about relationships anyway - it doesn't matter if the characters have wings or not (I guess it matters, but . . . you know). More specifically, there's a self-awareness (but definitely self-awareness, not cynicism) common to Wells' books that I also really appreciate. Moon, the protagonist of The Cloud Roads, is so inward-focused that it's turned him kind of dim sometimes - just because he's not used to thinking outside himself, or to creating actual relationships. This quality of self-awareness in the writing is also present in the characters, so you feel they have inner lives, that they actually think about the things that happen to them, rather than just . . . emoting for the sake of plot or effect (which can happen in the best books, and isn't necessarily a deal-breaker, but it's nice to have both).
Anyway, despite a fairly large serving of existential and romantic angst (because, I think, these things are handled quite matter-of-factly and not sensationalized), The Cloud Roads quite delightful and the world-building is interesting. Although it's not, whatever, "life-changing," it's thoroughly enjoyable and accomplishes what it sets out to do. Ideal for summertime.(less)
I liked The Magicians a lot. It could easily have been derivative or snide (and some of the press surrounding it was pretty snide about the points of...moreI liked The Magicians a lot. It could easily have been derivative or snide (and some of the press surrounding it was pretty snide about the points of origin, but the novel itself never wavered). But The Magician King . . . is a mess. There doesn't seem like any intrinsic-to-the-genre reason, although I know people complain about middle books all the time. Rather, the problems with The Magician King are problems specific to The Magician King.
First, Grossman does a terrible job keeping track of characters. People mostly drift along and in and out, and except for Quentin and Julia no one gets much depth. Okay, maybe this was a problem with The Magicians too, but that book was so intensely located inside Quentin's head that it mattered less - and anyway, there were plenty of vivid side characters pushing their way through, particularly Alice and Eliot. But nothing much happens with anyone introduced in The Magician King, so it's tricky to invest in the novel or the characters. Most egregious is the lack of any convincing relationships between the characters. There are a few groupings where everyone is meant to have deep and genuine feelings (I don't mean romantic feelings, necessarily, here) for their friends/lovers/comrades/etc - but that closeness, that depth never makes itself felt in the plot or in the language.
Second, much of The Magician King takes place in Fillory and frankly the world-building isn't strong enough or evocative enough to make you ever "buy" Fillory. Honestly, it's like the book doesn't want you to care about anything that happens in it. Grossman did such a great job making Brakebills seem like a real place - "real" isn't exactly what I mean, but he did a good job of that Hogwarts/Narnia/Pern/Hobbiton thing - and Fillory never gets beyond the surface stuff. The significance of Fillory to Quentin has always been clear, but what's it like now to be there? I wanted something more visceral, more affecting to read. But there's no connection in The Magician King.
Also, I know I am unusually vehement among readers of fiction for my dislike of split narratives, where one half (or third, or whatever) moves forward in the "present" of the novel and the other movies forward in the "past" of the novel. This always strikes me as ineffective and lazy, a way of communicating allegedly-important backstory (backstory is almost never that important! the parts that are important can be communicated in the present! that is why they are relevant) without having to look at it with a really critical eye. But Julia's story is embarrassing anyway - it really has no redeeming features, and hits home how poorly realized the female characters are in these books. (Alice was vivid enough in The Magicians, but we all know what happened there, so.) It's disturbing that, in a series of books about feeling like an outsider, women are still so consistently (and committedly! like, when you have to go out of your way to do it, there are some issues) Other, and usually are victims too.
Lastly, the narrative voice generally slipped from self-aware to self-conscious.(less)
1. I can't believe I'm rating this young adult novel more highly than a James Baldwin collection. What business do I have reading books.
2. No, but rea...more1. I can't believe I'm rating this young adult novel more highly than a James Baldwin collection. What business do I have reading books.
2. No, but really: Breadcrumbs is beautiful. I imagine I would have loved it at eleven, but would I have understood it? I mean, probably, I would - and it would be a great book to grow up on, to look back on later (like, in the first week of college, when you are feeling particularly unsettled and uncertain and wishing you knew what you were supposed to be doing or feeling). It's a basic enough story, grounded explicitly in the Anderson story.
Ahead of [Hazel], somewhere, was the white witch, who had a palace of ice with a heart to match. The Fates were afraid of her. Ben had tried to warn her away. Hazel was supposed to defeat her, somehow - though she could not even function in the real world. What was she against a witch? She couldn't even deal with fifth-grade boys. All Hazel could do was try not to think about what lay ahead, to numb herself a little bit.
Where Breadcrumbs comes into its own is not in the plot, but in the characters. Hazel is really a gorgeous character, even when she feels her pain too deeply to think very much about the world around her. It won't be a surprise, either, to say that I was very much like Hazel (though with equal parts Mean Girl Liz Lemon, admittedly). I liked, also, that Ursu doesn't skimp on the adults: all the adults present in the book are trying their best, and if they often fail . . . we can't really blame them. Things are really hard for grown ups, too.
3. It's kind of like The Magicians. If you liked The Magicians (like me!) but wish that everyone had been a little less self-obsessed, or that girls had more to do, then, well! Give Breadcrumbs a try. It also reminded me a bit of Brave: girls out of their depth, on a quest to save someone they love.
4. Oh, growing up!
Hazel had read enough books to know that a line like this one is the line down which your life breaks in two. And you have to think very carefully about whether you want to cross it, because once you do it's very hard to get back to the world you left behind. And sometimes you break a barrier that no one knew existed, and then everything you knew before crossing the line is gone. But sometimes you have a friend to rescue. And so you take a deep breath and then step over the line and into the darkness ahead.
1. Winter's Bone is the kind of short, elegant, and intense novel that leaves an indent in the reader's psyche. Woodrell throws you into the novel and...more1. Winter's Bone is the kind of short, elegant, and intense novel that leaves an indent in the reader's psyche. Woodrell throws you into the novel and its world, and the way he writes continues to put you off-balance - but he also entrenches you, entraps you. We accept this world until its rules (if not its values) become ours for the duration of reading the book. I don't want to call this "willing suspension of disbelief" because it feels much more complete than that. You're not tempted to step out of the novel into a more regulated, familiar world.
2. You do want to escape, though. I wouldn't call Winter's Bone a page turner, because it's really excruciating. I read the book gingerly, and I'm a dedicated fan of the "skinny trouble-maker gets to the bottom of this and also gets beat up a lot" genre (although usually in movies, not books).
3. Although I think Woodrell's style is effective, particularly as things get harder, stranger, and sadder toward the end, it is kind of . . . over-written. As a whole, it still works - obviously. But it nagged a little.
4. Reading this book, it feels like you should be making connections to, like The Iliad or something - but actually, I don't think there are any overarching comparisons to be made? I mean, you could definitely get archetypal on this novel, like, hardcore archetypal, but it's not like Woodrell's gone, "wouldn't it be clever of me to write The Odyssey in the Ozarks, I am so smart, look at me" either. (I realize this may sound like I don't like O Brother, Where Art Thou? which is FALSE, I freakin' love that movie. But Winter's Bone is more like Fargo or Miller's Crossing, anyway. I may love them more. Most.) Sometimes intensely introverted novels can feel bigger than they are (hence Ulysses, I guess? And Mrs. Dalloway?), even when they are tiny. And let's face it, this one is: but I love economy in fiction (I believe in the virtue of compression . . . but also of expanding to fill your container so, uh, my aesthetic priorities are sort of schizophrenic).
5. Speaking of Mrs. Dalloway, though, riiiiiight?
6. It's a little difficult for me to work out when the best time to read this novel would be, though. Not winter, that would hurt too much. Maybe summer, because you have a way out? Or spring, because that's the season of romantic friendships and weird families? That's totally a thing, ask M. H. Abrams.
7. Stop reading this review and go read Winter's Bone.(less)
It's difficult to speak or write coherently about the books in The Dark is Rising because for me, and for most of the books' readers, they come with a...moreIt's difficult to speak or write coherently about the books in The Dark is Rising because for me, and for most of the books' readers, they come with a heavy and significant emotional attachment. Certainly I look for different qualities in the literature I read now - especially in the sff I read now - but whenever I pick up one of these books (The Dark is Rising is my favorite Christmas-time reread) and open it again, my twelve year old self does much of the reading. These aren't exactly nostalgia picks, but they certainly carry a lot of baggage (nice baggage!) with them.
The ending of the series is sort of infamous, though - I know it really upsets some people when they grow up/when they first read it, and of course that's a completely valid response. But for me the ending has always worked because both Light and Dark are intrusions upon humanity, and the plot of the sequence is predicated on ridding the earth of both: if the Light wins, both Dark and Light go away (this is why you want the Light to win), if the Dark wins then they both stay there (this is why you want the Dark to lose). I think this revelation is withheld to make the emotional impact more powerful, but I think that choice also weakens the logical strength of the series a little. It's not immediately apparent that the aim of this whole thing is a withdrawal (although it is a pretty Tolkien-esque situation: "we have to destroy Sauron and the Ring so that we can leave this place, and men can have the world"). That is the goal though, that they leave the world to the beings who really belong to it, and who then get to make their own destinies/societies/whatever. I think free will is an underutilized theme in sff (although I guess it's implicit in a lot of young adult sff - The Hunger Games for example).(less)
You know the part in Sullivan's Travels that goes:
John L. Sullivan: I want this picture to be a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The pr
...moreYou know the part in Sullivan's Travels that goes:
John L. Sullivan: I want this picture to be a commentary on modern conditions. Stark realism. The problems that confront the average man! LeBrand: But with a little sex in it. John L. Sullivan: A little, but I don't want to stress it. I want this picture to be a document. I want to hold a mirror up to life. I want this to be a picture of dignity! A true canvas of the suffering of humanity! LeBrand: But with a little sex in it. John L. Sullivan: [reluctantly:] With a little sex in it. Hadrian: How 'bout a nice musical?
That right there is basically the way Orlando Furioso feels. Part of the book is Ariosto's political agenda (imposed upon him by the Este family). This is mostly the love story of Bradamante and Ruggiero (who are essentially superheroes) or the whole religious conflict thing (which is not very convincing). The rest of the book Ariosto devotes to sly jibes at the people he's supposed to be glorifying and dirty jokes. This is, unsurprisingly, more convincing and more fun, although the book is generally pretty fun: swashbuckling, mischievous, light-hearted. Given how much bloodshed takes place, it feels a bit odd to be so amused by Orlando Furioso, but then again Ariosto spends so much time going "These people are ridiculous! The only possible response is a double entendre!" that any other reaction is basically impossible.(less)
Moon-Flash intrigued me, and I didn't really expect it to although McKillip is one of my favorite writers ever. In a lot of ways, the book is very sim...moreMoon-Flash intrigued me, and I didn't really expect it to although McKillip is one of my favorite writers ever. In a lot of ways, the book is very similar to Susan Cooper's Seaward, a book I like very much (and a little more than this one). Unlike Seaward, Moon-Flash seems like its on the verge of postcolonialism, although I don't think it ever gets there. I may hunt down the second book, to see if that is what happens.(less)
Although Ice didn't really cohere for me, there were a few things I found really interesting:
1. It's an incredibly physical book. I don't mean that th...moreAlthough Ice didn't really cohere for me, there were a few things I found really interesting:
1. It's an incredibly physical book. I don't mean that there is a lot of sex, because there isn't - actually, it's kind of disappointing on the sex and gender front (I don't mean in volume! I mean in its positions on those issues). Rather, Ice is upfront about the enormous physical demands Cassie places on her body. The danger is real danger, and it's real physical danger. If you are looking for a book where the heroine's eyes freeze shut . . . this is the book for you!
2. The world-building is actually pretty neat (although the resolution is a bit pat and too well-telegraphed). I would be interested in reading something like a more straightforward fantasy novel using this kind of supernatural structure. Although (view spoiler)[I think the winds are underused. I might be more invested in the original fairy tale than most readers - I spent about 85% of the book going WHY HAVEN'T YOU TALKED TO THE WIND YET, WHY. WHY. Because that's what happens in the fairy tale! But here it takes forever and is only at the very end. (hide spoiler)]
3. Ice is really invested in the natural world. So is its heroine, and so is her Magical Bear. It's pretty cool. I can't vouch for the science though - I haven't had to think about science since high school, tbh.
So, there you are: three things I really liked about the book. It didn't work for me, overall, largely because of the prose (there's a little too much recycling going on) and because I think the pacing wasn't amazing, and because there were some really creepy parts that aren't resolved so much as hand-waved away. I feel like there should be a second book where everyone deals with their psychological trauma. "Fairy Tale Therapy." It could be a series! Someone call HBO.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
SO, this story is kind of ridiculous (and, obviously, I would have liked it more had it been about Philippe Auguste) but it's also incredibly vibrant....moreSO, this story is kind of ridiculous (and, obviously, I would have liked it more had it been about Philippe Auguste) but it's also incredibly vibrant. Nash has a very readable prose translation, and the footnotes indicate he also has a genuine affection for the work, which is nice. As epics go, it rates below the Odyssey, but above the Iliad and Virgil, and definitely above Roland and the Cid. I'd like to read Ariosto and Boiardo now, because (I know this means Cervantes will never forgive me) I think the romance elements were extremely interesting. Also entertaining.(less)
I really wish that Virgil depended less on Homer, because The Aeneid really suffers in comparison with The Odyssey (less so in comparison with The Ili...moreI really wish that Virgil depended less on Homer, because The Aeneid really suffers in comparison with The Odyssey (less so in comparison with The Iliad, although that is definitely a better poem). Mostly, I already knew the story through secondary sources (Lavinia, Dido, Queen of Carthage) which I like...more. Hmm! Um, my knowledge of Latin is non-existant but I think that Mandelbaum has a readable, fairly quotable translation.(less)
This is a much better translation/poem than The Iliad - certainly it feels more graceful and poetic. It's also more fun to read, because the character...moreThis is a much better translation/poem than The Iliad - certainly it feels more graceful and poetic. It's also more fun to read, because the characters are actually interesting and there's more than one sort of action. Odysseus is quite compelling and the women are much stronger and more interesting than in The Iliad.(less)
I like Alexie because he is the kind of writer that breaks you open and makes you laugh when he does it. I think that, in a lot of ways, he writes in...moreI like Alexie because he is the kind of writer that breaks you open and makes you laugh when he does it. I think that, in a lot of ways, he writes in a way that wouldn't normally appeal to me - he's sort of maybe very slightly the Kevin Smith of books, but only a tiny bit - and when I say that I mean the way he actually arranges words. And also all the first person narrators and the 1990s-2000s sense of his storytelling. But Alexie does make it work, and his stories are always more literate than I expect/remember, which since books about books (and also meditations on storytelling) are some of my favorites things, is good.
The sadness in these stories is always, always paired with redemption - but never in a fix it way, which is what saves them from giving easy answers to difficult problems. "What You Pawn I Will Redeem," the most-talked about story and which you can read on the New Yorker website, is perhaps the best example of this theme, but it runs through all the stories in the book (okay, "Lawyer's League" might be an exception).
I like "Flight Patterns," "The Life and Times of Estelle Walks Above," and "Do You Know Where I Am?" the best, I think.(less)
"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood and she lived all alone."
Beagle's novel is, by now, so thoroughly intertwined in my brain with the excellent anima...more"The unicorn lived in a lilac wood and she lived all alone."
Beagle's novel is, by now, so thoroughly intertwined in my brain with the excellent animated adaptation it's difficult for me to really pull the two works apart. Even though they are a bit different: there's much more humor in the novel than there is in the movie, and I think there's a kind of distance and self-awareness in the book that the film doesn't capture.
Of course, the poetry of Beagle's prose mostly goes missing in the movie, too. But that's okay: the movie has pictures! And they're quite lovely pictures.
Okay, but what about the book . . .?
I remember getting really annoyed when someone saw me reading The Last Unicorn and said, "oh, yes, it's a wonderful allegory." I suppose it is an allegory (of the "blackberry blackberry blackberry" type), but I suspect that's a reductive way of looking at it. The book engages with archetypes but Beagles is skillful enough that he doesn't just stop at invoking the archetypes. Forster said of Jane Austen that if her characters weren't all round, exactly, they were all at least capable of rotundity. And something like that is true here, largely, I think, because Beagle shrouds the whole thing in an air of melancholy. It's that melancholy that really makes the book, and it's quite an accomplishment because the proper note of melancholy isn't an easy one to hit. But Beagles does hit it, and holds it, and it's marvelous.(less)