Wednesday, September 30, 2015
I was excited to return to the Sanderson world of the Mistborn trilogy- set 300 years in the future from the final events in Hero of Ages. Our main character Waxillium Ladrian is a rare Twinborn, which means he has Allomantic and Feruchemical powers. The former allows for metal manipulation, while the latter allows him to become lighter and heavier at will. He was originally from Elendel, House of Ladrian, but left the city to be a lawman in Weathering (the Roughs). His trusty deputy is Wayne, who has special magical powers of his own. Years later he returns home to run Ladrian mansion and assume city duties in the wake of his Uncle's death. At the heart, there is a mystery that arises dealing with phantom railcars and kidnapping of women and other resources.
I did enjoy the dynamic between Wax and his friend Wayne, even if some of the humor between the two fell flat. The problem with this book for me was one of the female leads, Marasi. She felt contrived and convenient for the circumstances. While she was able to shoot a gun, she was still depicted as weak for most of the narrative. Therefore, she didn't feel empowered to me. She was a law student, so some of that was useful in presenting urban planning and the psychology of crime facts to the story. The most irritating element was the frequency with which she is described as "blushing", or even "blushing furiously". It must have been over 30 times, I lost count. Sanderson even addresses this in her internal monologue- with some comment about how she realizes she needs to stop doing it. Unfortunately, it didn't take away from the nuisance of the constant references.
If you haven't read the Mistborn trilogy, this book would still be feasible with the attached glossary for magical terms. However, you would miss a lot of passing references to the Lord Mistborn, the Survivor and his religion, Terris traditions, and groups of people (such as the Koloss and Ironeyes). Basically, I wouldn't recommend. While I liked being back in this world briefly, I felt a bit letdown. However, if you are looking for a fast-paced action/adventure and don't mind characters that are a touch underdeveloped and have some stereotypical behavior, this book would be a fun, quick adventure.
Saturday, September 26, 2015
I went into this with a bit of trepidation. I have a bad track record when it comes to vampire novels. The Sookie Stackhouse books and Twilight were a struggle for me. That, combined with the positive hype from YouTube, made me nervous. Quite pleased that this was a total blast! I love the character of Alexia Tarrabotti- an assertive spinster who is well-read, enjoys her tea and a good meal, carries a Parasol, demands proper manners from her male companions, and just happens to be Soulless. Being Soulless means she can neutralize those with an over-abundance of soul, namely werewolves and vampires. The relationship she develops with a werewolf was one of my favorite narratives throughout the story, and I usually don't like romantic elements in books. I appreciated how cheeky Carriger was with her supernatural creatures- infusing witty humor into most of the story. Tarrabotti's family was such a funny crew, and I loved the inclusion of Queen Victoria. Also, Gail Carriger's author blurb is fantastic and worth a look! Overall, this was super fun and there was a great setup for the other books in the series. I look forward to reading Changeless soon!
I enjoyed this book immensely! This was a fast-paced thriller with a great premise and structure. The reader follows two sisters, Rose and Sylvie, who live in the Tower Motel in Northern Vermont in the 1950's. Sylvie is the charismatic one, having aspirations of living in Hollywood and being an actress in Alfred Hitchcock films. Flash forward to 1989, and we follow Amy (Rose's daughter) and her two friends (also sisters) Margot and Piper. The hotel has long since closed, and they spend their days wandering around the property- roller skating in the empty swimming pool and goofing off in the old rooms. The last time period is modern day, where Margot and Piper find out a horrible crime has been committed on the property. This forces them to re-evaluate their childhood spent at the hotel, and investigate to figure out the sinister connections between unexplained events.
I read this in a few hours one afternoon and a couple hours the next day. The transition between the time periods was seamless, and never left me with that all-too-often feel of "I don't want to switch to this section, I want more time in this perspective". I loved that McMahon acknowledged Psycho and wasn't trying to deny the connection between both creepy motels. There was enough substance to keep me guessing, and the perfect balance of reality and magical realism to make the story eerily believable. I liked how it explored the relationship between siblings and friends, particularly how those bonds can be fractured and the extent of loyalty. The Winter People was a fantastic late season ghost story last year, and McMahon has grown even further with this book. I recommend for anyone looking to get out of a reading slump, and particularly for a spooky Halloween/Fall read. Also, I got to hear her speak and she's just super cool and an awesome person. So that's nice too:-)
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
This book is incredibly popular, constantly discussed on blogs/podcasts/Youtube. I fear I won't have anything productive to add to the discussion, but here are just a couple thoughts. The first chapter, with it's famous "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again", immediately sets the tone. I was captivated by the atmospheric and beautiful descriptions of the estate from page one. The one recurring thought while reading this is how timeless the story felt, and thus how appropriate that it is a classic.
The characters in this are strongly developed and wholly original. I will always remember Mrs. Danvers, Maxim, the second Mrs. De Winter, Frith, Robert, Favell, and even Jasper the dog. I loved how Manderley was a character even as an inanimate object, and Rebecca was incredibly present through remembrances, even in her physical absence. The second Mrs. Maxim De Winter (whose first name we never find out) serves as the narrator as she struggles to acclimate herself to this place and emotionally distant man. The reader feels immense frustration with her indecisiveness and timidity, especially since she realizes this shortcoming, and is still powerless to speak up- even in the most mundane situations. In escaping her role as assistant to an older lady, she simply landed in another bad situation. The dream of life at the estate certainly didn't match the reality.
The twists in this were fantastic. I hate to be another one of those bookish people who compares suspense novels with a twist to the recent phenomenon by Gillian Flynn, but this book seems like it could have been the Gone Girl of it's day quite easily. I look forward to a book group discussion of this read, as well as watching the Hitchcock film. There will be certain iconic scenes I will be on the lookout for. Highly recommend to anyone who enjoys romantic suspense and beautiful writing.
On the night of a production of King Lear, popular actor Arthur Leander unexpectedly falls dead. What follows is a swift flu pandemic that decimates earth's population in a matter of days. The reader follows a young girl Kristen Raymonde, who was present on stage and witnesses Leander's death, through her journey to adulthood with the Traveling Symphony- a collection of actors and musicians who put on plays in passing remaining cities and towns. The caravan they travel in bares the slogan "Survival is insufficient", from a Star Trek episode. The narrative is also told through other perspectives, both before and after the apocalypse...from the paramedic who tries to assist Arthur on stage, to Arthur's friend and confidant, to a librarian in a small town trying to archive events. We even hear from two of Arthur's ex-wives.
There is no shortage of post-apocalyptic fiction. While some are literary and diverse, most focus on why the apocalypse occurred, are often action/adventure based, and deal (appropriately) with finding food and basic survival. Mandel briefly addresses these necessities, but mainly highlights the need for humans to retain artistic expression in some way to make life worth living. The very title of the book relates to a comic book that forms meaningful connections throughout the novel. Humans need stimulation through cultural means of plays, music, books, art, poetry...anything that can connect us in the face of tragedies. It is a way of feeling less lonely, whether there are people around or not.
The most poignant moments in the story (for me) were the sections detailing with what people take for granted in today's day and age. Not only that, but what would we most miss? It forces you to take stock of your life- and evaluate the most important pieces that make up the whole. I appreciated the nuances of human existence, the connections Mandel made among the characters, and the notion that the important parts of life are made up of accrued small moments and coincidences, not big events. Really pleased I got to this one...you should too! Mandel is a gifted writer and I'm glad her book has received acclaim.
Thursday, September 10, 2015
In this first installment of a Young Adult Fantasy trilogy, our main character Katsa has an extreme talent for killing. In this culture, anyone with an inherent gift and eyes of two different colors possesses a "Grace" and is known as a Graceling. Katsa despises that she is under the employ of her uncle Randa, King of the Middluns. Her assigned tasks include punishing those who have bothered the king in any way, whether that be removing fingers or being an executioner. Wishing to use her gift for combat in an honorable way as well, she embarks on covert side jobs to protect and free oppressed peoples in other kingdoms. Upon meeting Prince Po, a young man also Graced with fighting skills, her life changes in unexpected ways as she discovers more about her abilities.
I really enjoyed this. It's been on my TBR for awhile, and I was happy when it was chosen for me to read by my BookBuddyAThon partner, Felica. This fulfilled one of five challenges in a readathon I participated in on YouTube, particularly reading a book your friend gave five stars. I really liked the world building and the characteristics of the seven kingdoms, as well as the strong female lead. She reminded me a lot of Lia from Kiss of Deception by Mary E Pearson, in that she rebelled against the life set out for her.
I preferred Po a bit more than Katsa. Along with her gifts, her level of angst and bad temperament could be grating (even though this was resolved by the middle to end of the book). While the Graceling talents could feel convenient for the situations sometimes, I liked the progression of the story-and it was incredibly well-paced! Po is so well-drawn because Cashore makes him seem genuinely humbled that Katsa's talents are often superior, and he's refreshing because he doesn't feel threatened. Other authors attempt this, but often I think it feels forced.
This was a great story, quite jealous at the selection of wonderful YA options available for teens today. I've always been a voracious reader, but would have been more so at a younger age with this kind of diverse content. Two thumbs up!
Monday, September 7, 2015
What would you do if you knew the world was ending in two years? What preparations would be made to ensure a genetic legacy through the survival of a few? "Send the best and brightest to space" Stephenson says. This is the most visionary and epic book I've ever read. A mysterious "Agent" from space has broken the moon into fragments that are colliding with each other at an alarming rate. Scientists have studied these fragments from afar and agree that in a few years there will be a White Sky (cloudy debris whiteout), followed days later by Hard Rain...which will effectively be trillions of meteors striking the earth for centuries, decimating every living thing and turning the Earth into a molten wasteland.
The book is divided into the before, the handling of the catastrophe (political and engineering wise), and a period 5000 years in the future where the seven space races are trying to rebuild planet Earth for habitation. This is an insanely oversimplified explanation, but the process of building structures for survival is one of the incredible parts of the reading experience- so I don't want to detract by sharing details of the journey.
The majority of the book deals in heavy technical science. The attention to detail is fascinating, even though by the middle I was feeling a bit worn out with some info-dumps. There was a particular 10 page section that could have just said a thermal shield fell off and wasn't protecting some vital material on the spacecraft. Those instances were frustrating, and felt like a chance for Stephenson to show off what I'm sure was an incredible amount of research...but it still didn't detract from my overall enjoyment.
Due to the apocalyptic nature of the book, the story focuses more on the "How" and "Why" than the "Who". These people need to solve the most serious problem imaginable.You will not find heavy character development, even though there are a few set characters we follow through 2/3 of the story. I think Stephenson is more than capable of developing wonderful characters, but for the purpose of this book it needed to take a backseat- with the human capital being discussed in terms of reproduction and genetic traits instead of extensive social backgrounds and relationship drama. I still thought there were nuanced characters, and even humor- but it certainly doesn't dominate the story line. These nerds in space have a job to do, and they are on a bit of a schedule. This is obviously a depressing time, and the characters have achieved victory if they've simply advanced the space station and surrounding arklets in some way (even when succumbing to radiation poisoning, equipment failure, or a million other accidents).
I recommend to anyone who loves science, world-building, problem solving, and doesn't mind a long narrative where the character development is secondary to an epic main plot. I think Stephenson is fantastic. Seveneves was incredibly memorable and I can't wait to read more of his work.
Isabel Moore, in her early forties, is an elementary school teacher in Milwaukee. Her best friend has died, she is recently divorced, and her adolescent daughter is going through the usual angst with life. Basically, Isabel is sad and trying to pull herself out of depression. This is not a plot driven book, the main events are laid out right at the beginning and the rest is a focus on Isabel's internal struggles and some poor discussions she makes in an attempt to pull herself out of her mid-life crisis. The decisions aren't overly destructive, just a bit insensitive in that she tries to use other people to feel better, and causes a couple scenes with old friends when they try to move on with their lives. I really liked the interactions with Isabel's mom, as it shows our parents have been through some of our own experiences and can help put things in perspective.
While the events she experiences are sad, I was only slightly sympathetic with Isabel's character. Sounds bad, but I didn't even like the enigmatic and wild friend she was mourning either. I just didn't connect, except in some instances with raising girls and the heartbreak that can entail. All of the men present were wishy-washy and meh too, with a few points awarded to Isabel's ex for being a good dad. Due to the disconnect, I didn't feel invested in the story.
The writing was quite lovely and there were some nice quotes. However, the narrative just felt a little recycled and stale...like a story that has been written time and time again. I understand it's because these are common life experiences, especially for women who might want to start over. However, I've read novels that spoke to me in a more interesting and nuanced way. One such book with an unlikable protagonist is the teacher from Claire Messud's The Woman Upstairs (strange parallels even though that character was unmarried and without children). She made you cringe but there was this draw to find out more and become invested in her life. I feel bad, but don't think this book will be particularly memorable in a few months.
Friday, September 4, 2015
I'm a huge animal lover, owning four hairy mutts and two cats. Upon hearing of this release, I squealed with delight. I was even more pleased to find out that Cameron will be an author present at the Books on the Nightstand podcast reader retreat known as Booktopia, held this September in the beautiful Petoskey, Michigan. Surprisingly, it took me awhile to get into this one. It might have been the prehistoric time period and necessary setup that felt a bit textbook-y Luckily, I forged on and after 100 pages felt invested in the various tribal and wolf perspectives. I love the idea of receiving some historical information via a fictionalized narrative.
I quickly became grateful that my life doesn't consist mostly of survival through food acquisition. Cameron's story is a plausible version of how wolves and mankind formed relationships in this brutal landscape. Hearing the details of hunting teams and the roles of men vs women was interesting as well. I found the tribal structures to be surprisingly organized, and the nomadic lifestyle a necessary, if inconvenient, part of their lives. Limited food sources and constant moving must made for some lean people, no gyms necessary indeed. The
Unfortunately, this rough existence was still fraught with relationship turmoil, tradition vs. following one's heart, and the angst of pack leadership. The fight for Hunt Master was rough, but nothing compared to the brutality of the women, particularly the council mother. The character of Albi is one of the best villains I've ever read. The most poignant parts of the story were those talking about the wolf pack and their rituals, specifically when tracking prey or in mourning. Just when the camaraderie and bonding is heartwarming, the fights for dominance help remind you that they are animals.
This ended up being one of my favorite reads of the year so far. I loved the structure, although I'm not sure the brief present day sections added value to the story except some modern speculation. I think Cameron could have provided his additional thoughts in the Afterword and it would have been just as effective. This fictionalized account had all the elements I love in a story...soap opera drama, history on an unfamiliar era (Upper Paleolithic), incredible amounts of suspense, amazing characters, an appropriate ending (although I wanted the book to go on and on!), animal elements, and truly memorable scenes. There is some rough content due to the brutality of the time period, but this was the predator/prey reality of this existence. Highly, highly recommend!!