Book Review – The Idiot

So this was the book that I started first this year. It was the book for a book club that I joined recently. And I have to admit that I think this was the kind of thing that I needed to start off 2020 with. There’s a lot to be said about starting off the year with something pretty simple and this book is pretty simple. There’s a lot going on in the book, but there’s also not a lot going on. It’s just the life of a college student. I’ve been that before, so this book felt a little bit like returning to those days. Of course, I didn’t take the classes that Selin took. I didn’t have the life that she had, but there was a feeling to it that felt like nostalgia.

Because of how this book’s story works, I’m not going to be having a spoiler-free section. Half the fun of this book is reading it yourself and remembering your own life as you’re diving so deep into the thoughts and life that Selin has.

So let’s jump into it.

The ‘mundane’ aspect of this book isn’t boring, but rather something that I found incredibly fun. I’m usually not down for creative non-fiction or fiction that’s more realistic, but as I’ve been looking at my life at the beginning of this year, I’ve found myself looking back again and again at the life that I had before this and the places that I would like to be again. Of course one of the things I missed about college was the easy way that days just went. There wasn’t a lot that I had to focus on besides my classes. That same sort of flow came through in the book where days and weeks and sometimes months just bled together. Time didn’t have the same kind of importance as it does at other points in my life.

Really my favorite part of this book is that it’s just about exploring the relationships of the characters involved in the book. The time spent on those scenes, even if it doesn’t really lead to the next step that Selin takes, it shows you about those people in the book. You learn about the quirks that they have and what really make them them. In a way, this book feels like I’m meeting friends again. I’m learning about the ways that they behave and the ways that they’ll talk to me. I know that Svetlana will probably want to drag me to something new and exciting, but she’ll be a good friend and go to things I want to go to too. I know that Ivan is going to hang out for a long while and talk about things that might go over my head a little bit.

The relaxed nature of this book was the opposite of the normal books that I’ve gone to escape from whatever has been plaguing my mind. But this book did a good job of keeping my head away from thoughts of my own life because of how invested in Selin’s friends and life. In a way, it was more effective. I would read small chunks of it and then think about the life that Selin was living what might happen next. I was just as excited when Ivan sent emails. I would reread the sections, thinking about what kind of messages I would have sent if I was in a similar situation to the two of them.

And on top of that, it had me thinking about my college life and everything that I was doing during those years, the life that I lived and what I could bring back from that time in my life. And ultimately, I think this book was great for me as a person. Not that it solved any of the problems that I was facing, but it made me rethink my life and what I wanted to do. It’s been a good thing to do here, in the last year of the decade (since in my book, 2021 will be the actual beginning of the decade, not 2020). Regardless, I’m still young at 25, but I’m getting to a point where I should probably be looking forward more than just at the now. And this book reminded me that the now and the past and the future are all important in their own ways. I mean, I already knew that, but sometimes you just need a book to yell at you for a second to make you remember that there’s a whole life out there that you need to be living.

Although I already had goals for writing this year, it was while reading this book that I really wanted to commit to all of these things that I wanted to do. I stopped looking at the things that I should probably be doing based on what friends and family have told me. I started relooking at all the things that I said I wanted to do. All the things that I had said during college. I mean I’m only 25. College wasn’t that long ago really. But what’s the point in going through the day to day if I’m not chasing something that I’m proud of?

And maybe at the end of the day, whether or not the book was here to tell me a story or just show me a glimpse of a life, I found my way back to the life that I wanted to live.

Book Review – Harley Merlin and the Stolen Magicals

And we’re back with another one of the Harley Merlin books. This is the third in the series. If you aren’t at the third one and are considering the series, I would recommend it, but I would also suggest that you go back and check my first post on the series. Just because I liked it doesn’t mean that you will.

Onto the review. As this is the third one, I think you’ll have an idea of the pattern that we’re going to follow. I’m going to hit my overall feelings and anything that I think is relatively non-spoiler and then we’ll move onto the spoilers, but it will be very clearly marked.
This book? Pretty dang good. I liked it more than the second book in the series. I liked parts of it more than the first book. There are parts of it that I am not excited about and that I’m not really all that interested in entertaining. But I didn’t write this and it isn’t under my control, so I won’t be surprised by the fact that I can’t change anything. I won’t be surprised by the fact that I will disagree or not like some of the directions. But I appreciate almost everything about this book and its place in the series.

This book picks up with the main characters looking for the missing children that they had tried to protect in the second book in the season. Overall, the book actually felt pretty comfortable. I know that that’s a weird thing to say. It has found its pace and its way of sharing everything that works best with the characters. It’s hit its stride, is the phrase that I was actually looking for. The balance of the character’s lives and the plot feels off. There’s only relationship growth for the sake of the story, not just for the sake of the characters. It’s a little bit of a weird thing to nitpick on, but I was reading “The Idiot” by Elif Batuman at the same time as this where 90% of the story was about the relationships of the main character to the world and people around her. The story didn’t always feel like it had a point, just an interest in showing that life was happening.

The pace of this book doesn’t allow for that, so sometimes it felt like relationships were only moving forward because of something else in the world that was forcing them to be that way. This leads to no scene feeling wasted, but with the scenes not always feeling like they mattered in the long run to me.

I would say read this book, despite any criticism I have about it.

SPOILERS

So one of the biggest things in this book was the idea of Harley’s powers. It came up time and time again, especially after her bracelet was destroyed. Of course, the topic of Harley’s power isn’t new. It’s been a constant topic throughout the series and it will continue to be a major sticking point since it seems like she’s incredibly powerful, but that’s what concerns me. The further we go and the more power we see Harley wielding, I am so worried about how much power Harley is going to end up having.

I don’t like overpowered characters and in a world of magic, Harley is overpowered. She is the kind of character that I would have imagined myself as when I was younger. And I don’t hate that. But I worry about what it means to keep writing these overpowered women. I don’t want younger people to think that this is what they have to do to stand out. They don’t have to be a master of all to make themselves special in this world. Focusing on the things they love and being good at just a handful of things is important. And the overpowered YA protagonist is never going to be a good example to me.

Another thing that I’m still having some issues with is the fact that the world still feels so small. Even with the knowledge that our characters can go through portals to tons of other places, the world still feels insulated and small. I’m not sure if this is purposeful because of the way that the magical society operates within the larger world, but I have no sense of the scale that magicals really have on the world based on the way that this whole story has played out so far. I’m hoping that there will be an expansion of that world based on everything that’s happened so far and when the consequences of their actions reach more of the real world. However, I haven’t read the next book and there are 9 books in Harley’s story. So will the next one that lets us see more of the world or will it be the next next one? Who’s to say. There will be a moment where we see the larger world, but it hasn’t started for me yet.

The plot of this particular step in the series felt a little bit all over the place, but I can see the point of this as the building up to the next installment and the next step that happens in the larger plot. Without the time spent on all the little pieces such as Raj’s djinn and the animosity in the relationship between the covens, the next steps in the story might not make as much sense. That’s just how it goes.

Overall, I’m still going to read more of these books. I still don’t think of them as high literature of course, but the story is fun and I like the larger cast of characters a lot.

Book Review – The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Let’s start out very plainly. Yes, I did read this because of the TV show version of The Witcher. However, I did buy the book in early 2019 long before I knew that the show was going to happen. I didn’t know how long ago the books had been written and I had never played the games, but I decided that I wanted to read something that was also a video game. It was just one of those moods. Also, the book was used and roughly $4. That did not hurt either.

Now the story of Geralt exists in three forms: books, video games, and a TV show. The way that the story started out does really lend itself to being translated across platforms and mediums. The story relies on the relationships between characters rather than the larger plot (at least in this book), so the way that the story hops around from this moment and that place can work well to story missions in a game or different chapters and scenes in a book and a show. This story is really that one hit that will work across all those mediums.

But the fact that the first stories of Geralt came out decades ago and are going strong now is incredible. I love it so much. I really did like this book. The spoiler-free (for TV show and book) review of the story is that I loved how small the scope of the stories felt. The short stories that make up the novel are just scenes in the life of Geralt and the people that he interacts with. And I love that. Instead of the grand plot and overarching themes of epic fantasy, this epic fantasy feels contained and smaller. There’s still a whole world out there, but we’re here for Geralt, not for the whole world. And that kind of attitude is my favorite thing to read. The contained story feels much more involved than a larger epic where you’re keeping track of cast after cast. Sure, there’s a lot of characters here too, but it’s not as massive as it could be for sure. I am definitely going to read more of these books and see what other shenanigans Geralt and his cohort get into.

SPOILERS AHEAD

So one of the things that I know a lot of people I talked to were curious about were the differences between Book Geralt and Show Geralt. And honestly, there isn’t much. You do not have the same scene where Geralt himself confesses to a lot of his past to Iola. Instead, you get most of the same information as Geralt goes in and out of consciousness on the back of a cart. I think that’s the main thing. Instead of seeing that Geralt himself can really talk about his past, we are just shown the snippets. Granted, its better for TV to show us rather than tell us, but I thought that there was an importance in letting it show that Geralt wanted to talk about it, even while he wanted to stay away from his future. I would compare these two to the video game, but I haven’t played the games. I also believe that Show Geralt and Video Game Geralt will likely be much more in line with each other with the book being the odd one out.

However, the most interesting part of everything going on with this show is the fact that it has really been one of the bigger high fantasy stories to make a splash. A lot of people have been comparing The Witcher to Game of Thrones, which I don’t like for a couple of reasons. Game of Thrones while, still fantasy, wasn’t high fantasy in the strictest of terms. It played the same court games that you would see in high fantasy, but it wasn’t exactly that. I believe it’s been called a fantasy/alternate history book. I think that fits it better. Witcher, on the other hand, is full of creatures and races and magic that makes it feel much more high fantasy. But I thought the return of something so high fantasy was incredibly interesting.

2019 wasn’t a great year for me personally. For the world, it was also a little bit rough. At the end of the year, I think many of us were wanting something that would keep us distracted from what happened throughout this entire year. There’s been a lot of bad in the world. And while there has also been good, getting a chance to run away from all those negative feelings is also important. Fantasy, in my experience, has been the best for escapism. I don’t think it’s a fluke that The Witcher did so well on Netflix or why so many people have returned to the game or that so many people have ordered this particular book.

“The Last Wish” was the last book I read in 2019. It wasn’t exactly the escape I needed. But it was a good escape and it lasted me for the season, just as long as I really needed it. We’re already in 2020 when this review gets posted. But I hope that your 2019 ended right and that your 2020 is ending optimistically.

2020 will be a year where I don’t make promises to write to you. I’m going to be doing half a dozen other things. I’ll post when I can. I’ll try to spread out the content that I create so that there isn’t a huge hiatus during the year. Here’s to 2020, a year that will be better than last year, but only if we let it.

Book Review – Mage Against the Machine by Shaun Barger

So I love sci-fi/fantasy. It’s my favorite overarching genre, but there’s something about trying to combine technology and magic that really gets me excited when I read a book. It’s not something that people do very often because combining magic and technology in the same world requires a lot of balancing that can be hard to get right. When I was at the library, I saw this book and first I snickered at the title and then I grabbed it and checked it out. I had been trying to get another sci-fi/fantasy book too so it all worked out in the end.

The biggest trope of sci-fi/fantasy that is about combining magic and technology is that they can’t easily exist in the same room. This book takes a slightly different twist on that (which I won’t spoil), but I did appreciate it a lot. The most common form of this trope is where technology can’t work in a place of magic and magic can’t work well in places full of technology. I have personally conflicted feelings about that kind of trope because I feel like technology and magic could work together as long as the right approach is taken.

But we’re here to talk about this specific book. “Mage Against the Machine” is a great book that tackles sci-fi/fantasy in a good way. I didn’t personally like or truly connect with all of the characters, but the world that was built around them was interesting enough to keep me immersed in the world. You spend your time with two characters, one from the world of magic and one from the world of technology (another trope for sci-fi/fantasy) and each has their own journey to go on. Nik’s journey is quite a ride full of ups and downs that I questioned every step of the way. Jem’s journey is the one I admired more, but it was just as tumultuous as Nik’s, even more so at times. I liked the book, I liked that I didn’t like the characters all the time or understand why they were doing what they were doing. Overall, it was a book that I would read again and any further books in the series, I will go and find.

SPOILERS AHEAD

So on the spoiler side, let’s talk about our unlikable and slightly unreliable narrators that I really appreciate. An unreliable narrator is a tool employed in some written works, but it takes some real skill to make it work in a way that makes sure that the reader still likes the book. In this case, you also have to work with characters that do things that you just want to yell at them for. Nik’s many blunders made me want to throw the book across the room. Jem’s strange conflicted nature and the way that her mind was warped by the use of random uses of the VR technology to mess with her made me want to yell.

But at the end of the day, this is why the characters felt real to me. I wasn’t dealing with just the plot of the story. I was dealing with people that just happen to be fictional. There’s a deepness to them in the fact that I can’t always anticipate what they’re going to do.

The other major part of this story was how magic and technology were handled. Obviously, this book deals with an apocalyptic sci-fi future where those that had magic turned around and hid behind shields that normal people can’t penetrate and even the magical people behind the wall couldn’t get through unless they had the right skills. The fact that it was a self-imposed separation is different. Obviously, we don’t have all the information about how technology and magic works, but it seems like the two can play together. Even in other versions of this, the way that magic and technology work doesn’t always mesh together in the way that would make sense. They repeal each other like magnets. I can understand why that trope exists, but I have been trying to find a book that puts them together well. So far, this book seems like it.

There’s still a lot of work to be done for this genre, but “Mage Against The Machine” was another book in the list of books that I think tackled the idea of actually merging sci-fi and fantasy in a meaningful way. I was super happy to read it. There are other ways that this can be accomplished, but I like the way that this book turned out and the way it did. Good book. It was a great one to end 2019 with.

Book Review – Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire

Rosemary and Rue by Seanan McGuire is the first in a series of books that center around an urban fantasy fae series. I grabbed this book because I had desperately wanted something short, something fast, something fun to have in my to-read pile. I picked it up a while ago and started reading it recently. It took a little bit of time to get around to, but I got to it and I don’t regret it at all.

As with the other book reviews, we’re going to start with a spoiler-free overview and then dive into more details about the story later on in the post. Let’s just start with whether or not I liked the book.

The short answer is yes.

The long answer is that I was looking for something along the lines of the Dresden Files and the Iron Druid series. There was a very specific literary itch that I had been feeling at the time (and it came back again when I was looking for a new book to read from my pile) that caused me to grab this book. I also grabbed a couple other books that aren’t exactly high literature and have many books in the series to keep me entertained for a while. And Rosemary and Rue scratched that itch.

It gave me a strong female lead, magic running rampant in a contemporary setting and a look into what a modern magical world might be like. There was a lot about the first book that I loved and I’m wondering how other books in the series might compare to this first one.

So the answer is yes that I liked what I found. But of course, just because it hit the spot, doesn’t mean that we can’t look at it a little bit more critically. Like other books in this modern magical genre, there’s a certain grit to it that is very specific. There’s a certain coarseness to the language, to the worlds that are painted. This isn’t necessarily bad, it just means that there are fewer instances of beautiful language and more direct and to the point descriptions of the world that the character is in.

Of course, I like that. It’s roughly how I write too, although I’m usually not writing urban fantasy of any kind, so it’s a little bit messier to deal with.

Would I recommend this book to you? Unless you were looking to scratch the same itch that I was, likely not. There are many other infinitely better books to read and unless you were looking for some like this, then yes, 100%, I would be recommending this to you as soon as the question was out of your mouth. But it’s not a book that works for everyone and that’s fine too. It’s a rather quick read as many in this genre tend to be. I don’t recall how many volumes are in the series, but it took up a lot of space at my local bookstore.

SPOILERS AHEAD

When it comes to books of this type, there’s a lot of details that are going on in this first book and I’m certain that the rest of the 13 book series is going to have a lot of details that are going to fight for attention. In this first book, we get the idea of the courts and some of the people at the edges of the courts that are participating in the politics of the region. Of course, a lot of the interactions are limited because of the fact that Toby is focusing on what the curse was forcing her to focus on. But you can still get quite the picture of the different parts of the court in the local area.

But I hated that the curse drew us away from anything that would have allowed her to really connect with all of the characters that were around. There were some characters that I wish could have had longer and weren’t killed for the sake of being killed or to push the plot just a little bit further.

However, the twist of who had done the killing was really well done. I didn’t expect it. I was still looking for the details of another party, but when the reveal came, I could only sit back and nod. It was a good twist. It was a well-deserved twist. If I keep talking, I’ll spoil too much (because I still want the twist to remain a little bit of a surprise for those who haven’t read the books yet).

Book Review – The Dream Thieves

Here we are for round 2.  The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater is the sequel to the book The Raven Boys.  This review will contain spoilers for the second book after a point.  There will be a warning there, so please don’t read past the spoiler warning if you don’t want to be spoiled.  I will create a shorter, spoiler-free review first so that you know my overall feelings about the book, but it may contain spoilers for the first one.  But if you didn’t read the first one, why are you reading the review of the sequel?  Anyways.  On to the reviewing.

This book picked up a little bit after the sacrifice of Adam for the ley line.  It also picked up right after the info dropped that Ronan had brought Chainsaw (the raven) out of his dreams.  Obviously with that info and the title, this book focuses more so on Ronan’s story and how he fits into this larger world.  I did not hate this choice.  While Ronan wasn’t flat in the first book, he didn’t get as deep of a review by the first book.  He just didn’t need to be looked at that deeply.  But I’m a sucker for giving characters their own arc and time and that was what happened with Ronan.

With that in mind, I almost felt like this book went a little bit too far in exploring the characters.  I like to watch characters live their own lives, but when you’re just coming out of a book that was moving at a steady clip and the sequel slows down, it’s just a little bit disappointing.  I dragged my feet through reading this book.  But just when I was starting to feel like I wanted to take the book back to the library early, there was some action.  And by some, I mean a lot.  The last 100~ pages, maybe less (I’m bad at estimating where things happened in the book), were so jam packed with stuff that I felt like I had gone through whiplash.

Pacing-wise, I didn’t like this.  I felt like it was just so slow going that we needed that action earlier.  There were moments of it, but they felt so far and few between during the actual reading.

At the end of this, you’re left on another cliffhanger that I am very much interested in.  I have put the third book on hold so that I can read it.  But I am definitely going to put a couple of books between this one and that next one.  I need a mental break to see if I’m ready to go back into that wonky pace.

SPOILERS

So let’s talk about my favorite things that came out of this book.  Obviously I love the development of Ronan as a character.  He went from the wild child to a wilder child to understanidng what it was that he was brought into the world with.  His role as a Greywaren is still mysterious, but the fact that he has a real role and isn’t just able to pull things out of his dreams as a fluke is fascinating to me.  Obviously since he is featured in the story, he was going to have some sort of important role, but Ronan the person and character doesn’t scream that he’s going to be able to commune in his dreams with a mysterious force that will allow him to pull things into reality.  There are still tons of mysteries around this power, but the way that it fit into his character arc was amazing.

Another part that I wanted to talk about was the continuing arc of Adam as a character.  His arc has been in the background of the last book as well with his feelings for Blue, his family’s situation and where he was going to wind up in the world, and how he sacrificed himself for the ley line.  He has been on a rocky road since the beginning of the first book and the events of this book don’t let him really have a place to settle until the end.  Him being the “Magician” (whatever that is) came upon really suddenly at the end.  I’m interested to see what comes of it, but I’m worried that Adam will have a series of being given a new name and then the responsibilities not being explained to him or ever really needed until a much later point.

But also man did I feel for Adam during a lot of this.  He got kicked when he was down again and again, but it was good to see him find a place to belong.

And finally, Gansey and Blue.  I mean, we knew this was coming.  I didn’t expect them to mention Adam during all of this.  I also don’t really see exactly how it fit correctly.  I’m interested to see how the relationship develops, but it feels too fated.  It feels like there was no reason for it to happen and yet every reason for it to.  And that might be intentional.  I guess that’s what the next book will be about.

I’m very conflicted by this book.  There were a lot of very good movements in the story, but there are portions that I have problems with.  I don’t know.  At the end of the day, I can’t expect a piece of art out of every book that I read.  Right now, this series and this book are on the fence for me.  Like I said, I’m getting the second book at a later date to read.

Good Night

 Oh boy. So we’re at the end of NaNoWriMo. It ended yesterday. Did you win? Did you play at all? What did you do? How did you do?

I am 100% exhausted now that NaNoWriMo is over. That’s why you’re getting this post on a Sunday afternoon instead of the regularly scheduled Sunday morning. I didn’t even have time to think about writing more yesterday after I crossed that finish line and finished up what I was doing for NaNoWriMo. And I even immediately turned around and started working on other things that I needed to get posted today elsewhere. I just had a lot of stuff going on all at once.

Heck, I still have a lot going on, but I am so relieved to be done with NaNo that I’m getting a cold. My body has given up a little bit. I can’t blame it. I’ve been running on very little energy for the last month. I’m not going to take a complete break from writing blogs and things, but I may stop these life update ones until we’re back at a point where I am actually a living person. That’ll likely be next year at this point.

Well I am going to keep this post short so I can go and take a nap. Good work everyone.