Month: May 2014

Bout of Books Day 4 (Thursday)

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So, I’ve been doing alright with my Bout of Books 10.0 Challenge.

When I started, I set out to read:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Let Me In by John Ajvide Linqgvist
and
Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

I was able to finish up The Assassin King by Elizabeth Haydon. I wanted to make sure I read it to give me some context for the ARC I have for her upcoming book. I was finished with it by the end of day one.

I then started in on McCarthy’s The Road and have really enjoyed it. That same day, I read a novelette by R.J. Palacio, The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story.

Day three, though, was a slow one.

Work was hard and I wasn’t able to get anything read. I came home exhausted and read a total of 30 pages. I was pretty uninspired to read.

I did pull out a graphic novel, though. I finished the first half of Manifest Destiny Vol 1. It’s a pretty campy story about Lewis and Clarke. It features buffallo headed men and plants that turn humans into zombies.

Today, I’m getting into Let Me In . I’m almost a hundred pages in and it’s starting to roll. It’s a better feeling.

Let me know what’s up with you. What’s going on in your Bout of Books challenge?

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Review: The Road by Cormac McCarthy

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Title: The Road
Author: Cormac McCarthy
Publication Date: 2006
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

This book hit a lot of powerful notes. It focuses solely on the journey of an unnamed father and son. They’re travelling south in an attempt to escape the harsh, post-apocalyptic winters. The world has fallen apart, murderers are everywhere and food is extremely scarce. They scavenge together along the road during their journey and the father is waning both in health and spirit.

One of the things that McCarthy does very well is show the desperation that the father is feeling. He’s desperate to protect his son, to keep moving, to find shelter and food. The father is especially desperate to keep his son hopeful and good, despite his own negative influence on his son.

The son is consistently empathetic. He’s never known a world other than the deathly end-of-the-world one in which they now live. However, he’s a good soul. He has no real tolerance for force or violence and seeks the good in others. His father consistently reminds him to be vigilant, less trusting than he is. The son can’t seem to stop searching for good people.

The contrast between the two characters is striking.

There is some gore, but I didn’t find it overwhelming. That’s probably just me, though. McCarthy’s world is so barren that people resort in some cases to some very violent and disturbingly intentional cannibalism. In some cases, humans have been trapped or hunted by others. If this isn’t something you can deal with, be warned, but it isn’t overly graphic or detailed.

McCarthy does show: sometimes life is so bad that you wish you weren’t alive.

The only part I was disappointed in was the end. I enjoyed the end up until the last bit where others become involved. It wasn’t a bad ending, but I thought it was too easy and I couldn’t help but think that none of the danger posed by others seemed prevalent or to stay in the characters’ minds.

McCarthy’s narrative style is presented in short paragraphs detailing the events as they happen. The dialogue is unmarked and there is a serious, though intentional, lack of punctuation. I thought this lent quite a bit to his story. It allowed him to transition between scenes and the present and past easily. The lack of punctuation may have been distracting if it weren’t so understated. It read more like you were listening in to the conversation than like you were reading it. I liked that aspect in particular.

Rating: 4
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Road-Cormac-McCarthy/dp/0307387895/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1400114781&sr=8-1&keywords=the+road
Book Depository: http://www.bookdepository.com/Road-Cormac-McCarthy/9780330447546

Book Review: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio

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Title: The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story*
Author: R.J. Palacio
Publication Date: May 13, 2014
Genre: Children’s Fiction

When I finished Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I didn’t love it, but I did like it. I thought the characters were surprisingly complex for a children’s book and that the character development was well handled. Wonder had a good sense of timing and humor, and Palacio dealt with some very touchy subjects well. The only real exception to this was Julian, the antagonist.
Julian was cruel to August in the book and Palacio made a point of showing his mother as an enabler. Unfortunately, Julian is rather flat as a character, even in his own novelette.

The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story

I thought Palacio did a great job of showing complex family dynamics in Wonder, but it didn’t transfer over to The Julian Chapter. Julian’s family is your archtypical Upper East-siders. His mother is a hovering busy-body who thinks that her child’s every cry is a mandate for fulfillment. His father is stern, but distant. He even has a grandmother in France.

Julian’s story begins by explaining that from a very young age Julian has been terrified of zombies and other creatures with malformed faces. He’s had to see a therapist and has only recently recovered from it when August comes to school. Julian is instantly thrown backwards into nightmares.

I know that Palacio is doing this to make Julian’s fear more sympathetic. It didn’t come across very successfully. It was drawn in such a manner as to make Julian come across as a brat rather than a kid who has been haunted by nightmares. Part of this is because of the lack of actual struggle we see and part of it is because of the way Julian’s voice is written.

For most of the other characters in the Wonder universe, the characters go in depth about their worries and emotions. Julian’s story doesn’t get this. We are told that he’s sent to see a “feelings” doctor and that he often had to be taken home at night when he saw scary movies. We don’t hear how he actually felt during those times. We aren’t told how the panic felt or what the embarrassment must have been like. We aren’t told how relieved he felt when the nightmares finally went away or how he eventually came to embrace horror films. Though it is a children’s story, and we should expect some simplification, it lacks the empathy of Palacio’s other narratives.

Palacio compounds the problem by making Julian blow it all off when he’s talking about it. There’s none of the candidness that makes the other narratives resonate.

Julian’s story doesn’t give much credence to his mother’s influence on his behavior. Multiple times throughout the story, we’re told that his mother tries to alter the world around her to be how she wants to remember it (She even alters the skies in their vacation photos so that she’ll remember them blue). This should have some serious effect on a kid. Palacio doesn’t show how this has rubbed off on Julian, potentially contributing to his anxieties, or how it continues to change his behavior, rejecting the undesirable.

The rest of his family, with the exception of his grandmother, who has a very interesting and detailed backstory, really doesn’t seem to interact with any of Julian’s growth or current existence. Though his father shows promise, that falls through, and he has a weird role reversal with Julian’s mother in the last few pages that made no sense.

Overall, there were some good points. Namely, the time Julian spent with his grandmother was well done. The rest left something to be desired.

Rating: 3
Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/The-Julian-Chapter-Wonder-Kindle-ebook/dp/B00IBZ5YKW

* The copy reviewed was obtained courtosey of Random House Kids and Netgalley.com

Review: Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentlemen Bastards #2) by Scott Lynch

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*This post contains SPOILERS for The Lies of Locke Lamora. For a full review of the first book in the Gentlemen Bastards series, go here.*

Title: Red Seas Under Red Skies (Gentlemen Bastards #2)
Author: Scott Lynch
Publication Date: 2007 (MMP available in 2008)
Genre: Fantasy

For Fans Of: Brent Weeks, Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson

I have to say, the second book in the Gentlemen Bastards series is an improvement on the first. Though I thought The Lies of Locke Lamora was a fun, fast-paced book, it also had quite a few flaws. The sequel has more distinctive voices, a more nuanced and well put together plot, and far more emotional connections for its characters.
Read the rest of this entry »

Spotlight on Graphic Novels: Chew #1

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Chew #1 is available on ComiXology electronically or in print form here*. 

After a Bird Flu outbreak, the Constitution was amended. Now chicken is illegal. Tony Chu is a vice cop for the Philly police department. He’s sent in to examine D-Bear, a chicken smuggler with an underground chicken restaurant. But Tony is a cibopath and can see visions through the food he eats, and there’s more than just chicken in the soup.

Image

Highlights:

  • There’s a really great color palette in this series. Going back and forth between eye-catching color and muted, dark tones, the pages are stunning.
  • The artwork catches exaggerated expressions and has  a great sense of humor and timing.
  • The sense of humor extends to the writing and storyline. It’s funny enough to think about some guy walking around and seeing into people’s lives just by eating, but the characters all have humours names and proclivities. For instance, Tony’s brother is named Chow and went on a tirade about the chicken ban on national television.

Chew is funny and has a lot of room for growth. Be warned it’s pretty graphic as far as gore goes. It’s not for the feint of heart.   

*Amazon recently acquired ComiXology, but ComiXology’s current electronic viewing system is optimized for the comic. I don’t know if Amazon’s has been updated to host at the same quality. 

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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Title: Cinder

Author: Marissa Meyer

Publication Date: 2012

Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction

I was hesitant to read this book when I got it because (1) I’m not a big YA reader, and (2) I find fairytale retellings a very precarious type of story. This being said, I liked Cinder quite a lot. It was a fun tale that didn’t overplay many of the elements that could have made it terrible.

 

I enjoyed the dynamics between many of the characters. Cinder’s relationships with her step-siblings and Ito, the family’s android, were, if not complex, at least fully-formed and not driven solely on artificial hatred. I think it was a wise move for Meyer to build a positive relationship between Cinder and Peony (the younger step-sibling). Not only did this give the story a catalyst that was believable via Peony’s illness, but it also made the rest of the family seem far more sympathetic, if not likable.

 

The characters avoided being caricatures. There was quite a bit of flatness still in the side characters. There was a lot of room for growth in both the older step-sister and step-mother. I was kind of disappointed that this wasn’t there (In fairness there was little emotional growth for the characters overall).

 

The world that Meyer built was interesting. Much of the world is built in the international politics as opposed to the science fiction of it all. I enjoyed that. I’m a political science junkie and find the account interesting.

 

I wasn’t thrilled with all of it. It seemed unlikely to me that the world would treat cyborgs as property. It seemed more likely that there would be a type of Lunar second class before that happened. People’s loved ones don’t stop being loved ones simply because they had an operation. It’s more likely that there would be xenophobic tendencies first.

 

The plot was enjoyable, if not always as complex as I would have wanted. There is a point when explaining the Lunar monarchy and the Lunar royal family that Meyer hints that something may have been the case. It was an *easy* plot point to make. I was almost convinced that she wouldn’t go for it. She did and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t disappointed.

Regardless, I thought that it was a fun read with a lot of fun character interactions, a solid sense of plot-pacing, and a sense of humor.

Rating: 3.5

 

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Cinder-Book-One-Lunar-Chronicles/dp/1250007208

Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Cinder-Marissa-Meyer/9780312641894

Review: The Ophelia Prophecy by Sharon Lynn Fisher

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Title: The Ophelia Prophecy

Author: Sharon Lynn Fisher

Publication Date: April 1, 2014

Genre: Science Fiction

Overview: Asha is one of the few remaining humans on Earth. She was born in an isolated colony called Sanctuary, a lone outpost in the desert where humans can live safe and free from the transgenic organisms that have taken over Earth, a human and mantis hybrid breed known as the Manti. When she wakes up without her memories next to a Manti, she is captured and taken to the Manti capitol. There, she learns that the world is not how she thought it was.

World-Building: The Ophelia Prophecy is set in the future after genetic engineering has been embraced by humanity and led to humanity’s downfall. Artificial Intelligence exists, but only for the Manti, the dominant race. Humanity has been relegated to one lone colony. The world isn’t terribly complicated. Despite what would seem to be total incompatibility (Mammals genetically altered to have mandibles, extra appendages, or wings), the world otherwise is relatively unobjectionable.

 

Perhaps the only things that were truly off-putting about this world were the lack of any apparent bugginess in the main male (the romantic lead), the way that information for humanity was limited to a single source (apparently no independent computers or information sources were preserved?), and the naivety of the human residents of Sanctuary.

 

Character Development: The characters were very flat. Their personalities didn’t really grow as much as Fisher would announce that a character had reached a new point of enlightenment and was now different without actually showing the growth. This wore me a little thin. None of the character’s motivations seemed to really actually motivate the characters and their actions were often disconnected from how they were supposed to be motivated or typically act. In particular, Asha’s constant escape attempts and then her self-proclaimed trust in her captor.

 

Plot: The plot was fast-paced, but not very memorable. Things were constantly happening. The ways that the subplots were drawn had some high points (mostly the underlying political tensions in the Manti capitol).

 

Rating: 2.5-3.0

 

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/Ophelia-Prophecy-Sharon-Lynn-Fisher-ebook/dp/B00EGJ3RBK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1399332415&sr=1-1&keywords=the+ophelia+prophecy

Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Ophelia-Prophecy-Sharon-Lynn-Fisher/9780765374189

 

Review: The Falling Woman by Pat Murphy

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Title: The Falling Woman*

Author: Pat Murphy

Publication Date: 1986

Genre: Fantasy

Overview: When Diane’s father passes away, she reaches out to her estranged mother, Elizabeth, a renowned archaeologist on a dig in Mexico. Diane arrives at camp unannounced and not having seen her mother for over 15 years. Elizabeth is less than thrilled. The longer Diane stays, the more she worries that Elizabeth may be as crazy as her father claimed. Elizabeth walks for hours on end speaking in Mayan to figures only she sees. Maybe it’s the jungle or maybe crazy is catching, but Diane starts to see the ancient Mayans, too

Character Development: It was interesting to see how Elizabeth adapted to Diane’s presence, especially as the end drew closer and the Mayan presences began to threaten her. I thought Elizabeth grew into a more fully fleshed character at that point, willing to be vulnerable. Diane, I thought, was largely static, but showed some strength of character, particularly in the last third of the book.

Plot: The plot was slow-going and was, at times, lost in the descriptions of Mayan history. It wasn’t overwhelming, but Murphy did her homework and it showed, especially when it came to the calendar. The plot picked up a lot about two-thirds of the way through and the Mayans were an interesting and compelling presence. It was a bit sad to see the mother-daughter interplays and parallels.

The story did lean a bit on on the heavy-handed side with it’s lectures on cultural relativism (note: not moral relativism, per se). Murphy lightened up on it after a while, but it was present.

Rating: 3.5

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Falling-Woman-Pat-Murphy/dp/0312854064

Book Depository Link: ??

 

*There is a scheduled reprint upcoming and the review copy was obtained via Netgalley.com prior to its release.

Review: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

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Title: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay

Author: Michael Chabon

Publication Date: 2000 (Read via Trade Paperback published in 2012)

Genre: Literary Fiction

Overview: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay focuses on two cousins: Sam Clayman, a young man from Brooklyn, and Joe Kavalier, a refugee from Czechoslovakia. After arriving in Brooklyn and escaping the confinements of the Ghetto during the German occupation of Prague, Joe is left adrift. His only companion is his cousin Sam. Feeling helpless to do anything against the Nazis, the two fight the only way they can–by telling stories and drawing. They create a nationally acclaimed comic book series.

For Fans Of: Helene Wrecker, Michael Chabon, Eli Wesel, Hannah Arendt

World-Building: Chabon shows a side of the 1940s that we rarely see in fiction. He examines those who want to fight but cannot. The society he builds upon is fairly carefree, the artists’ world. He writes very introspectively.
Chabon does a great job of infusing the history of comicbooks and pulp fiction into his story without seeming overwhelming or pedantic.

Character Development: Sam Clay and Joe Kavalier both struggle throughout the book. Joe remains largely stunted by his inability to assist his family despite having come into enormous wealth. Sam continues to live quietly out of rejection for what he fears to be a life that would see him persecuted by those around him. Neither seems to find any solace in this path.

Joe’s tensions build until he can’t stand it and he runs away to war. It’s not surprising that he comes back different. He doesn’t want to acknowledge his inability to affect change on a grand scale. This leads to some questionable decision making on his part. Sam, who stays behind (He had polio as a child and wouldn’t have been accepted even if he had gone to enlist), suffocates his desires and accepts the responsibilities that Joe left behind.

The two characters grow together. It’s a little strange, then, to see how little they are drawn to one another by the end. I liked how Chabon handled their responses to their situations and, for the most part, the contrast in their personalities. I was less than thrilled to see how little they thought about one another or considered one another in their choices by the end.

Plot: Both characters were spurred by death and unfulfilled desires. The misery that surrounds them stems largely from their lack of acceptance of their motivation, but also occurs largely because Chabon wants it that way. The story contained large sections of emotional and motivational examination, but was often followed by enough plot to keep it moving. It did read slowly at times.

Many plot points, especially later ones concerning Joe, seemed to be largely there to burden the character rather than keep the story moving. At times this meant that they were written in without much foreshadowing or pretense.

I’m not sure how I feel about the ending. In many ways it seems very fitting. Chabon leaves ends loose. This isn’t because they couldn’t have been tied, but because their lives and stories aren’t really over with the end of the book. On the other hand, I was surprised not to have more of a backlash for some of their earlier decisions.

Rating: 4.5

Amazon Link: http://www.amazon.com/The-Amazing-Adventures-Kavalier-Clay/dp/1480537209

Book Depository Link: http://www.bookdepository.com/Amazing-Adventures-Kavalier-Clay-Michael-Chabon/9781841154930