This is my favorite post-apocalyptic novel, bar none.
In fact, it felt like this book was written just for me. The characters were lived-in and three-...moreThis is my favorite post-apocalyptic novel, bar none.
In fact, it felt like this book was written just for me. The characters were lived-in and three-dimensional, the plot intense but perfectly paced, and: AN ORCHESTRA! I just can't pass up a book featuring an orchestra. (view spoiler)[A much more spoiler-y reason is that the story also features a tremendous amount of hope. Looking at my other recent post-apocalyptic reads, the hope was always theoretical and this theoretical hope only showed up at the last moment. Station Eleven is a story of hope, of the fundamental goodness in humanity, and its emotional depth is visible throughout. The ending is one of the most uplifting I've read all year. (hide spoiler)]
The novel starts out with intensity and rapacious foreboding, and then suddenly it's all in the past — the collapse has happened, times have changed, the roughest eras left behind. You flit between character perspectives and piece together connections using paperweights, dogs' names, and comic books. There's a lot of portentous weather, some understated humor, plenty of Shakespeare allusions that make me wish I cared more about Shakespeare, and a handful of mostly accurate instrument stereotypes (go cellos!). The story gets darker as it goes along, especially when it returns to the time of the collapse, but it never feels hopeless and moves between storylines frequently. (view spoiler)[Perhaps the emotional highlight for me is when they reunite with the lost cellist — but that's not fair to Clark, to the town to the south, to finding Sayid... there are so many emotional highlights. (hide spoiler)]
What makes this book stand out is that it doesn't fall into the cycle of gratuitous adversity that drag down so many similar stories. It's not all rainbows and unicorns, but it's not completely lacking in them, either (ok, I meant figuratively). I mean, there's not zombies, and even better — a favorite moment — one of the characters vocalizes that thought. At least there aren't zombies. It's not like that.
Station Eleven is the book for anyone who loves the cultural groups they have joined — orchestras, theater crews — and the act of performing for others out of pure enjoyment. This is the book for anyone who appreciates it's not all about survival. This is the book for anyone who can't get enough post-apocalyptic fiction. This is also the book for everyone else.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)
[I picked up this book solely because of the author -- she was a professor of mine back at Washington University in St. Louis. So, I admit the review...more[I picked up this book solely because of the author -- she was a professor of mine back at Washington University in St. Louis. So, I admit the review may be a bit biased; I enjoyed her class.]
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp is a classic tale of the Old South, a literary novel that in many ways reflects the time period it is written about. The Florida and North Carolina landscapes are richly described and fully realized pieces of the narrative, and a wide cast of characters exposes many sides of the Great Depression -- at least from the perspective of the wealthy. I thoroughly enjoyed the immersion in Southern society, as the story presents a beautiful portrait of an age only my grandparents could have known. (well, they were in Cleveland. but you get the idea)
Admittedly, I'm not a frequent reader of books about teenage girls, horse camp/boarding schools, and the Great Depression; I'm not sure this is the first book I would choose to get away from the usual. From my perspective, it felt like a few parts were slogs -- please! not another horse scene! But I suppose I knew that was coming when I picked it up.
The larger issues, to me, were in the plot and characterization. It was hard to get into the protagonist's head, so as to root for her and to understand her motives. Additionally, the story doesn't seem to really move anyone forward and bring closure to anyone; I was disappointed in the way it ended, and wanted something better for these families.
While this wasn't my favorite, I'm sure there are plenty of demographics where this book would be a hit. For me, it ended up as more of a "meh".(less)
As a fan of Pessl's first book Special Topics in Calamity Physics, I was eager to get my hands on Night Film. I wasn't sure what to expect, but suffice to say it's nothing like her debut novel.
I was hooked almost immediately -- within the first twenty pages. The prologue and first chapter set a very high bar in this novel, though the rest isn't as suspenseful. The story draws you in quickly, and you can get consumed by the intense creepiness early on. I was drawn into Scott's life, a deeply flawed man that we alternate between cheering and anguishing over. His two sidekicks quickly slip from annoyances to personal friends, and I could hardly stand to leave any of them, even for a minute.
This novel is impressive in so many ways. It starts with a vibrant yet ominous New York City that holds much of the action. The characters are well-drawn and never two-dimensional. The mystery is handled incredibly well, too; it's almost diametrically opposite Lost. The writers there could learn a thing or two from Marisha Pessl on how to handle a mystery. (Not to mention, this would be awesome as a miniseries)
The novel also explores a number of intriguing topics. Risking spoilers, I will say that the exploration of supernatural occurrences is handled very well. What should you believe in? How much proof do you need? The nature of celebrity and isolation is also explored, and how that affects one's public image. And the ending… the ending is better than I could have imagined. There were times I doubted that I would get a satisfactory resolution, but there's no need to worry.
I've lately been throwing 5-star ratings on everything, but a book that kept me so enthralled can't be given anything less, despite its egregious abuse of italics. This is easily one of my favorite books of 2013 so far. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a great thriller.(less)
As soon as I started this book, I knew I was going to hate it. The second-person was constantly grating, the "self-help" introductions to each chapter...moreAs soon as I started this book, I knew I was going to hate it. The second-person was constantly grating, the "self-help" introductions to each chapter flippant and vaguely insulting. What shoddy gimmicks! Not to mention, I'd seen this story before: Kid grows up in a poor village, pulls himself out of the gutter, falls in love, ends up with all the trophies. That's a staple storyline I'd read ten times since last Tuesday. But, alas: I was trapped on an airplane, the book was short, and I couldn't seem to sleep.
Luckily, the story moved fast and the spare prose was admirably consistent and readable. The bizarre second-person became more comfortable, the "self-help" paragraphs still kitschy but less jarring. I just couldn't escape the feeling that it was going nowhere. If nothing else, I told myself, I had one more book against the reading challenge.
The tears caught me by surprise. It's hard to start crying on an airplane, with so many people so close. People invading personal bubbles; playing Monster Truck Rally on their tablets; coughing, sneezing, snoring. Yet, here I was, probably the only one on the plane to fit in the category "sobbing". What had just happened?
By the last page, there's no question -- Hamid is a master, and manipulated the novel's structure to leave you utterly vulnerable, disarmed. The gimmicks I had dismissed were my own undoing, and the variety of emotions that poured down during the final chapters brought out memories and feelings I was unprepared to handle, especially at 30,000 feet. If the plane had landed at the same time I closed the book, I might have jumped to the front of the line to buy a ticket home that very evening, taking the red-eye back for one more hug from those close to me.
This short novel packed the biggest emotional punch of anything I've read this year. I was shocked by how decisively my expectations were demolished, how effortlessly it captivated, enlightened, and loved. There is a great deal to unpack here -- you'll re-examine your job, your family... security... environment... government... it's a cacophony of little punches. If you've ever made a hard choice about your future -- if you've ever worked too hard, loved too long, or missed too much -- this book will mean something to you.(less)
Since my only other experience with Pynchon was his epic Against the Day, something like five times as long as this, I was unsure what to expect from...moreSince my only other experience with Pynchon was his epic Against the Day, something like five times as long as this, I was unsure what to expect from this book. While not having the same sprawling scope or historical fascination as that novel, there is still plenty of mystery, humor, and paranoia. Even though it required more concentration than many of the novels I've recently read, it was a beguiling tale that I was eager to dive into.
If you're a fan of Pynchon, mid-century contemporary literature, conspiratorial mysteries, or (especially!) stream-of-consciousness novels, you should check this out.
There's also a whole separate topic about how I really need to read more mid-century literature (50s, 60s, 70s). I was shocked at the use of "groovy" in a completely serious context. But that's a discussion for another day...(less)
This is one of those books where I can't help but want to talk about it afterwards. It has been some time since I've read a book that provides so much...moreThis is one of those books where I can't help but want to talk about it afterwards. It has been some time since I've read a book that provides so much to think about afterward.
The structure along was enough to intrigue me; I am attracted to unconvential novels in this regard, even if it they can be gimmicky. I thought the six novellas were less tied-together, and had more dubiously-connected symbols, than I would have preferred. The stories, though, were stirring and heartfelt, well-written, and I found myself deeply engaged in each world.
In my mind, the book is a ziggurat. At the cusp of the downward trip, the end of the center-most story, I was depressed, and thought the book could be concluded there. Having knowledge of the dystopia ahead, I felt there was little point in returning to the other storylines. In the end, though, I'm glad it did. Ending at that point would have made for an even darker story, where nearly every storyline ends in defeat and/or death; happily, we were able to find a few more positive marks on the way down.
The book resonates as being liberal and anti-corporate, with strong collectivist and anti-slavery themes. I often don't see themes in books, and yet, by the top of the ziggurat, I could have precisely delineated them. Then, Mitchell hits us with them again in every story on the way down, a tiresome bludgeoning at times, until landing us in the thesis on the last page: "For the human species, selfishness is extinction."
I have not read a book with such an emotional intensity in a long time. The premise I found rather tired at first -- the whole "walking journey" thing...moreI have not read a book with such an emotional intensity in a long time. The premise I found rather tired at first -- the whole "walking journey" thing -- and it took some time for me to really feel interested in Harold's progress. If I hadn't heard such good things about this book, I may have made the tragic mistake of stopping at page 40 forever.
It's shortly after that point that Harold began to seriously contemplate his history with Maureen and David, and it was there that the heart of the story was revealed. The difficulties of raising and connecting with children is explored so deeply here that I could have learned a few things just through reading. (view spoiler)[Then, of course, the many emotional hits at the end of the book are devastating, one after another, until you can barely keep reading. The major reveal was the first time I've been brought to tears by a book in a long time. (hide spoiler)] The emotional depth here is incredible. I felt so connected to Harold and Maureen by the end of the book that I could have known them my entire life. At the same time, it felt so instructive for what I do not want my retirement to be.
If you're looking for a remarkable narrative, characters you can't help but empathize with, and plenty of personal introspection, this is the book for you. It's definitely one of my favorite books of the last few years.
This is a beautiful book. Even in translation, the skill and care that went into every sentence is obvious. The book was able to wring out so many emo...moreThis is a beautiful book. Even in translation, the skill and care that went into every sentence is obvious. The book was able to wring out so many emotions that it could be hard to continue at times. There was so much to savor and explore in this book.
The story being told here is a traditional one, but it had the feeling of a story that can be told again and again and retain the magic that made is so special the first time. There were a few times when it descended to cliché, but those didn't really detract from the storytelling. The book also tended to tie itself up in knots with extended backstory, but I found that it didn't interfere with the story either. I'm sure there were some plot holes, too, if you looked hard enough, but I decided not to. I very much enjoyed losing myself in post-war Barcelona.
Carlos Ruiz Zafón is a powerhouse of Spanish literature, and I can see why. This is a book I could have read straight through, and I very nearly did. Highly recommended for fans of historical novels, love stories, and everyone in between.(less)
My first thought about this book was: The commas are all wrong.
There were many parts of this book that I thoroughly enjoyed. The scenery and western f...moreMy first thought about this book was: The commas are all wrong.
There were many parts of this book that I thoroughly enjoyed. The scenery and western feel to the book were done well; I truly felt as if I were reading a true account of 1850s California. (though the parts in San Francisco seemed unusually relevant to our own time...) The plot moved mostly quick enough, and the book's length was quite appropriate.
The part of the book you notice, though, is the tone. The main character's first-person narrative is written in such a reserved, unemotional, deadpan manner that it really takes some adjusting to get used to it. Once you do, though, it almost forces you to explore those feelings yourself, and to try to figure out what you think the character should be emoting. I have some thoughts that perhaps the main character fits somewhere on the autism scale, and that adds a new depth to the story; at times, it reminded me of Of Mice and Men.
Really, I just felt it was a very strong book; not one I would call a "favorite", but still one I was happy to have read. The first western I've read in a very long time.(less)
I realized how much I was enjoying this book when, immediately upon arrival in San Francisco, I suddenly HAD to buy it so I could finish reading. (Mos...moreI realized how much I was enjoying this book when, immediately upon arrival in San Francisco, I suddenly HAD to buy it so I could finish reading. (Most of my fiction usually comes from libraries... this was unusual.)
This book does many different things, and does them well. (I could have done without the gratuitous zombies, but thankfully that part is passed over quickly) It's very literary, and the style takes a bit of time to get used to; once that's settled though, it gets down to adventure, conspiracy, steampunk, and random bits of sci-fi and philosophy to round things out. It's great fun.