Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie [3.5/5 stars] (May Review)

So last month I dunno what happened. Just the one book, it seems. I was in a bit of a slump.

3891951

Revenge is a dish best served cold. It will leave you cold long before all of it is meted out. This is the story of Monza Murcatto, Serpent of Talins, great warrior mercenary of the Grand Duke Orso.

Maimed in betrayal, Monza sets out to get revenge on the seven men that betrayed her and so lies a bloody, darkly humorous adventure across the country of Styria.

The book takes place during political upheaval, helped in part by Monza and her band of misfits. The politics were in general interesting but I think their late introduction hampered the story a bit, perhaps in part because the perspective characters weren’t enmeshed enough in them.

Abercrombie’s experience in television is clear as each part is episodicso it keeps its focus but it overall felt a bit frayed because it was doing the work of multiple books. This could be two books of stuff. I respect the commitment to the standalone, though, don’t get me wrong. I think the number of persons for revenge are too numerous but maybe that is part of the point—revenge is never as satisfactory as you think it is up conception.

Characters were the usual Abercrombie flavour—idiosyncratic, violent, and not heroic, a blend of old (from The First Law trilogy) and brand new*—the best of the new going to Friendly, hands down. Abercrombie seems to like inversions of tropes and characters. What’s interesting is the idea of character regression contra to standard-fare character progression. That’s very Abercrombie. Very Grimdark. Nicomo Cosca sums this philosophy (?) up well by saying people change for the better or worse, but sometimes they change back. There’s a brutal tragedy inherent in this world that makes the character’s journeys heartbreaking. Good characters get corrupted and don’t get what they might deserve. Sometimes awful people do. The world itself is extremely grey and bleak. It makes it exciting and upsetting in near enough equal parts.

There are some character revelations that are haunting and sad, adding to that emptiness that I almost entirely attribute to Joe Abercrombie.

I will be revisiting Abercrombie again but not soon. He is not easy emotionally. No idea how I got through The First Law trilogy so quickly. Oh wait, because they’re fucking excellent.

*Did you know that this is not the first time Monza has appeared in The First Law canon? This is the first time Monza is a perspective character, hell even her first appearance, but she gets an offhand mention in Before They Are Hanged. Finding that out, I can see the overarching story that Abercrombie is telling across multiple books that really fleshes out the world. There are seeds of things to come and I can’t wait for more.

Advertisements

April Reviews

Another month, another batch of literature. Mostly comics ahead since April was Infinity War month and my brother is also on a crusade to make comics a staple of my literary diet.

First up, Clint Barton’s Hawekeye.

Hawkeye Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon written by Matt Fraction, art by David Aja and others [4/5 stars]

16002136

 

Everybody’s least favourite Avenger is an interesting guy. Good at heart but a bit of a mess. Sometimes he just wanders around aimlessly, not even pouring the coffee in his mug correctly. But he can’t stand injustice, and that will make him jump headfirst into action. This is what makes him a hero. Captain America is clearly an influence for this:

“Cap … he makes you want to be better”

I rated it 3 stars initially but an extra star for Aja’s brilliant art that adds to an ultimately very human tale. What it lacks in the hyper detail common in comics, it makes up in incredible structure: from the colours to the panels. It invites the eyes to follow its lurid journey. Seriously, the characterisation is interesting enough but the art is truly brilliant. It’s hard to describe but there are few times when Hawkeye nocks and then shoots an arrow and the flow of these motions is great. It’s very difficult to describe and is emblematic of optimised artistry that you need to see it in action.

A good thing for individual books over the crossover comics: you get better characterisation. Clint and his partner Kate Bishop have great (non-sexual!) chemistry and there are some real laughs to be had at their sort of dysfunctional family sort of relationship. If you’re looking for a character-led superhero story, look no further.

 

The Dragon Reborn by Robert Jordan [4/5 stars]

7028429

Gotta read The Wheel of Time, baby! A worthy sequel to the brilliant The Great Hunt and I’ll give you one reason: Matrim Cauthon. Mat spent the first two books ill (for Plot reasons) so it’s not until this episode that we get a glimpse into his character. The loudmouthed, gambling, hero the cast don’t deserve is a treat. It leads me to wonder why he waited two books to have Mat properly introduced, y’know? But Jordan is the master of “Things That Don’t Seem Important But Definitely Are” so we’ll see.

Jordan made an interesting step in this book: have the main character have a goal that is specific to him but not have him as a featured perspective. Rand has very little “screen time” and that gives room for other characters like Mat, Perrin, and Egwene to develop, to the book’s credit. Rand’s absence drives the plot and adds a much-needed dynamism to the book, if the plot points are bit clumsily handled. Rand is absent until essentially the end, seen only in the occasional glimpse and dream. For me, this reads like the twin of the former book, The Great Hunt which begins quite slowly but speeds up to explore various different avenues leading to an explosive finale. There were some nice twists along the way and the worldbuilding remains stellar if there are some character missteps (I was always on the fence with Egewene but she is definitely worse in this book).

With this, I will be taking a short reprieve from The Wheel of Time. Baby.

Infinity Vols. I & II: written by Jonathan Hickman, art by various [4/5 stars in total]

 

So of course in the week leading up to my viewing of Infinity War, I read the comics! (I was basically told they were mandatory reading by my brother in his continual efforts to make me read more comics.)

So Jonathan Hickman has the impossible task of uniting Marvel’s mightiest heroes against their (so far) mightiest threat: the Mad Titan Thanos. This is done to mixed degree. The first volume felt very fragmentary and the sweeping scope was interesting but frustrated clarity and made continuing almost not worthwhile. I would rate it raw a 2.5-3 stars (out of 5), with a bump of a star for the gorgeous art. The second volume ties the threads together much more satisfyingly in some genuinely moving scenes to a pretty shaky but deserved 4 out of 5 stars.

The Thanos in these comics is the Thanos that has been teased and shown in snippets across the MCU but wholly differs from the film version, which is the better presentation, for me personally.

As a relative noob to comics, I wouldn’t recommend this either. A lot of this relies on pretty deep knowledge of the comic universe. Hickman in general does a good job but there’s so much lore that it requires a good search to understand if one is unfamiliar with the wider continuity. Some people are fine to do that but I am not, in general.

Note on reading habits: I’m going to need to curate my reading habits more. My comic habits are being largely shaped by my brother who hands me what he’s read but I think I need to look into stuff for myself. He has an income so that is part of the reason why this is, so this will serve as a sort of note for when I start having one too. I want to read non-superhero stuff. I think that’s what I need to reignite my passion for the medium.

 

 

 

March Reviews

I thought I was behind in my reviews but I’m about on time, roughly.

The amount of books I read per month is really fluctuating, huh?

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas [4/5 stars]

32613366

It’s hard to articulate the complexity of my thoughts and reactions to this so if you want a fuller picture of that then I suggest you read the complete review over on my Goodreads. In short, the book follows Starr a sixteen-year-old black girl who is witness to police brutality—worse yet to someone she knows and cares for.

The book’s themes are of the difficulties and nuances of being black—how one must be on their “best behaviour” around white people in order to not illicit rejection from them—that while are specific to Amercian neighbourhoods are also universal (I was pleased and refreshed when I recognised some of what Starr had to go through was similar to my experiences), as well as the importance of family and trust. There’s some very robust social commentary which is made all the impressive for being a debut novel.

The prose is spare and the dialogue realistic and energetic and the world and characters are well realised if potentially straying into the cliché.

While it’s an excellent read I have two major quibbles:

1.) It’s a touch too long. There’s special focus on family being very important so normalising black families being lovingly together is important for dismantling harmful stereotypes about them (like the absentee father, for example). Be that as it may, it does explore some of the family activities in exhaustive detail which bogs down some story elements. I understand that it’s supposed to be the case that while our protagonist Starr has been witness to, and continues to experience, pretty bad things, she ultimately is part of a normal loving family. I just think if Thomas spent a little more time with the plot elements, it would have landed better. Which leads me to my second quibble.

2.) Not enough plot elements. There are some excellent and poignant scenes (the initial police interview come to mind). About mid-to-late book, there is an important event that Starr has to partake in but the majority of it happens “off-screen” so to speak and I felt it cheapened the experience, to be honest. If you could redistribute elements of the book—rather than embellish or diminish—then I would say take away from the family hangout stuff and divert it to these crucial bits that play well into the thematic ambitions. It’s inconsistent because there is an excellent part towards the very end that does play into those but it feels a tad wasted.

So while it misses top marks, it’s still a brilliant and important read. A frayed masterpiece.

Speak by Louisa Hall [3/5 stars]

28510606

I’m at a bit of a loss with this one. I liked this book quite a bit. Kaleidoscopic narrative set across multiple centuries? Check. Great unpretentious prose? Check. AI and various philosophical implications of  building it to sophistication? Check and check. Interesting cast? Eh …

The characters are by no means bad but neither do their journeys interest or excite. The book is just over three-hundred pages and it took me about to the halfway point to figure out why it was taking me so long to get through it. The answer: I’m very indifferent to the characters.

The book is about the various lives that are connected, including Alan Turing, as they contribute to the build of a sentient robot called a babybot (which are eventually outlawed—not a spoiler). On a different level, it’s also about interpersonal relationships, and how perceptions and the language we use can both weaken and enhance relationships. Turing’s parts were a consistent high point for me. I suppose there were a few ways in which I identified with him.

This book is victim to a not uncommon problem in sci-fi: giving up on the character beats in order to serve the thematic aims. That might be fine for some, and again they aren’t bad but they weren’t the best, but I couldn’t get on board with it. The book is interesting but hasn’t left me with a great deal which is a damn shame. Ah well, on to the next stuff!

 

February Reviews

Our shortest month flew by and disappeared—mostly unnoticed. But I still managed to squeeze in four books. A month of good reads hemmed in by really great ones. First up …

Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley Beaulieu [4/5 stars]

32560713

Sequels are pretty tough. Especially if your first book is well-received you have to continue on a story that captivated while doing something new entirely to retain interest without becoming stale, not to mention continue to attract new readers who this might be their first book*.

The story picks up right after the end of the great climax of Twelve Kings with our protagonist enacting her vengeance. From there, the world of the Shattered Sands continues to unfold as more intrigue and mysteries continue. There is some exciting and genuinely disturbing scenes in this and Beaulieu tells his story with beautiful prose, and with a subtlety that hints at a much larger tale (this is 2 of a projected 6). My gripes with the structure of Book 1, namely with the amount of flashbacks, are gone and in exchange we get a lot of forward momentum. Perhaps a bit slow overall still but enjoyable nonetheless.

I’m a sucker for some blood magic and you get blood magic in spades. Also, I don’t know what it is but despite the magical creatures and magic itself alongside gods, the book feels really grounded. It’s probably Beaulieu’s attention to building up the world which is rich in culture, myth, and legend; it just breathes with life. Çeda continues to be an interesting and complex protagonist and I kind of like that I don’t know the entire scope of the series though I have some suspicions. I think after book 3 I’ll have a clearer picture. Speaking of which, that’s out really soon. I can wait though, lol.

Next up!

*I’ve really got to get into the head of people who read from a sequel first.

Great House by Nicole Krauss [3/5 stars]

10717095

Oh man, where do I even start? This is one of those “should’ve worked” books. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good book. The skill of Krauss’ prose and her sharp insights are what constitute the rating of this book. But the structure of it is uninviting.

I came out of this book drained. This should have been the kind of book for me—about memory and relationships, in particular loneliness—but I had a difficult time with it, often having to push myself to finish. “It’s only 300 pages,” I’d tell myself. But that felt like I was wrestling with a literary behemoth.

The book is about many things and nothing—the most mundane things ever, which isn’t a problem for me. But the fragmented structure was … rough.

The POVs have a strong connection with writing or the writing process but the various stories are told in a very fragmented and honestly distracting way. The various POVs are linked by a giant desk which seems to hold a emotional value that matches its physical size. At some point the characters either possess or have their lives affected directly by it. I’m certain I didn’t pick up on some of the subtleties and the smaller connections with the POVs beyond the desk but it was slow going.

Part II is the shortest and the conclusive part. Incidentally, it’s the most satisfying. Krauss’ elongated prose is eliminated and there’s an economy to the pace and exploration of ideas. The talk on Jewish diaspora was some of the best writing in the book, for example. I kind of get that, when linked with Krauss’ points on diaspora, the structure’s fragmented style is kind of the point—that home isn’t a place, not anymore, but each person connected to it carries a fragment—but I struggled. I really did. I feel like I should make concessions but this was about my experience of it, which was laboured, so I will extend none.

Honestly, when I was reading it, I found myself missing Stone Arabia, which deals with memory much better. My review unpacks it better as it’s a layered and moving read, like this was trying to be but sadly failed to. I really want to like Nicole Krauss but this wasn’t the book for me.

Five-Star Billionaire by Tash Aw [3/5 stars]

20512697

This is another “I should’ve loved it”!  That’s two books now that I’ve come out empty. There are flourishes of quality but I have a sort of yawning gap where satisfaction should lie. I don’t know if I’m to blame or I’ve just been unlucky in my picks twice in a row.

The set-up should have been a great one: five immigrants from Malaysia go to Shanghai to make their fortune. Big city dream! Disappointment and dissatisfaction abundant! You could argue that this is the life that Aw wanted to present but it was kind of frustrated and laborious. Like Great House, there are some fascinating insights and some real wisdom but I ended up feeling very detached from the characters for some reason and I’m unsettled that I don’t know why. By no means a bad book, though.

 

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin [4/5 stars]

38462

A brief and lyrical novel about the growing turmoil of a man who loves another man and denies that part of his reality and the tragedy that ensues as a result. At first I thought this was a story about a man who is punished for denying his true sexuality. But it’s actually a book about a man who cannot love and seeing that new perspective is what makes this quite slim book all the better. Loneliness and longing are the core themes in this and it’s a glorious read. It’s fairly haunting too. There was a very sad scene about mid book which made me feel as empty as our narrator. Great reading.

 

The days are moving so quickly that I didn’t realise I’d read four books last month! What productive reading year this is proving to be!

January Reviews

One month down. A long month, and many books read. *cracks knuckles* This’ll be a long one, folks; let’s get stuck in.

Black and British by David Olusoga [5/5 stars]

34734068

I am extremely biased. While book reviews tend to favour fairness over strict objectivity, I have to say that my ability to be objective is likely compromised. This book’s title is me. This history is me. My ancestors, the nation I belong to, the reason I am sat where I am today is contained within. It is a fragment of my reality that is distilled in 600 pages. It’s hard to convey the significance of such a thing but this is definitely the kind of book I’ve always wanted. So what is it?

Withhold your judgements and take a journey through time detailing Britain’s relationship with black people across the course of history. This isn’t just about slavery or Windrush although the two feature in the story—and how could they not?—especially the former, it’s about the large tapestry that begins in the Roman Empire, continues across many decades, merchants, nobles, royals, slaves, workers all. This isn’t just my history though. This is history for us all—particularly us Brits. Jarring, heartbreaking, fascinating, quietly impassioned, this is recommended reading for anyone.

One quibble: Olusoga rarely quotes figures, instead favouring them in words (forty-thousand five hundred and thirteen instead of 40,513, for example) which can be cumbersome and resists the eye. I’ve no idea if this is a history academic thing but it’s not enjoyable and is especially annoying in the latter parts of the books where complex figure do appear. I imagine the size of the book meant that figures were a later addition and there was not enough time to revise the earlier manuscript. I don’t know the exact reason but I need to state it.

Slade House by David Mitchell [3.5/5 stars]

30840877

Come one, come all to Slade House. Who knows what wonders await will await you? A new love, a great party, new friends, perhaps?

As much as it probably stands fairly well alone, I would call this a companion book to The Bone Clocks which was published a year before this book as it has some of the same motifs and plot elements as it. I maintain that to get the full richness of Slade House is to have read The Bone Clocks before but it could stand easily on its own … until the end. I think this feels like an expanded “deleted scenes” and those who have read both will know what I mean.

One of my biggest criticisms of The Bone Clocks was the overuse of Fantasy Terminology in turgid monologues. The smaller real estate of this volume means that this is mostly gone and what we have is a much more streamlined piece.

There’s a lot to like but it can’t reach its heights because in some ways it makes you wish that a.) you are reading The Bone Clocks or b.) it was longer overall. But oh well, still a nice bit of fun. Mitchell still has got a great use of voice and as usual is full of interesting ideas. It makes me wonder about his next literary venture which I am eagerly anticipating. Moving on!

The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan [4/5 stars]

1231807

OH YEAH, GOTTA READ THE WHEEL OF TIME, BABY!

I’m convinced that this series will be the death of me. It’s equal parts great and laughably bad. I say this with endearment (look to the rating): a sizeable increase of presence and characterisation of the female characters 90%+ of whom are in love with Rand al’Thor; a deepening of the world in fascinating, creepy, and exciting ways … slowed by awkward pacing and poor chapter construction (reams of Rand, one of Nynaeve, MORE RAND, one Really Late chapter starring Perrin for events that happened through Rand’s eyes one hundred pages before). I could go on but you get the picture. The annoyances are profound. Jordan has the ideas and some of the execution but some crucial aspects like the skill of his prose and characterisation is genuinely lacking. But damn is it really good when it’s good. It’s a huge improvement from the more overall clumsy first volume, especially since its length is smaller, too.

One of the hilarious things is the amateurish nature of the descriptions across the book: he loves to beat you over the head with physical descriptions of characters we’ve been following the entire book. “The gaunt man who was gaunt looked out with his eyes that popped out of his gaunt face … Did I mention that he was gaunt? I think I forgot that bit.” No Robert you got it. We get it: Perrin is large but gentle so feels uncomfortable with his muscles. Show us in his movements—let him hunch his shoulders more, avert his eyes, be non-confrontational. These are aspects his character delivers but is cheapened by the constant description of his Immense Musculature™. The prose that has genuine flourishes—“[speak] without embroidery” was a personal fave because it had me muttering “Ooh that’s good. I like that.”—of quality becomes much more laboured as a result.

Of Sand and Malice by Bradley Beaulieu [4/5 stars]

30986419

A brisk and exciting story to whet the appetite between books in the Shattered Sands series. I bought this to show support for an author I respect and damn am I glad I did: it serves as a sort of prologue to the second book (which I am set to finish very soon). While I don’t think it’s a necessary read, it does add a lot of depth to a story going ahead, even though it’s set some years before even the first in the series.

For the main books, Beaulieu likes to intersperse the present with significant events in the past and something tells me this is built out of some of those scenes. What we get is a great little book. I think you could read this before any of the core books but I would especially recommend you’d read it between books one and two.

Freakonomics by Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner [3/5 stars]

27282321

Our final book for January.

The premise can be referred to in shorthand as “unconventional wisdom”: challenging prevailing ideas and revealing new ways of perceiving the world. It’s a light and pretty fascinating book but not without fault. An example of one of my major issues is with the positing of IQ. Now it’s not a focused topic, rather built in to their discussion of another, but considering their aim is challenging conventions that are misrepresented and taken for granted, the overall dubiousness and non-holistic nature of IQ should be held with a greater deal of scepticism since it measures specific types of intelligence, which in turn feeds perceptions of what intelligence is/looks like. That, strikes as quite hypocritical. I’m willing to posit that it’s human error but that’s pretty sloppy.

I do owe the Steves a bit of a debt though—they helped me rationalise my goals with their awesome podcast—which is why I was quite entertained throughout, but it’s not without its flaws. A perfunctory glance at Goodreads reveals it’s quite polarising. Go in with an open mind and make your own decision. Good book overall, though.

December Reviews

I predicted wrong; I only managed two books last month. Sometimes things take longer to read than you realise.

The final books of 2017 were as follows:

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan [3/5 stars]

1111608

What am I doing reading The Wheel of Time (TWoT)? I’ve been curious for years but now here I am. Sweet Mother Goddess, here—I—am. Whenever thinking about or discussing it, I’m reminded of my brother’s friend who says “Gotta read The Wheel of Time, baby” and it makes it more fun.

So what did I actually think? It was good but could stand to lose a few hundred pages because there are genuine flourishes of the brilliance I was promised from this series scattered throughout but not enough of it together. In my Goodreads review I described it as the “pilot” of TWoT replete with Tolkien pastiche, awkward names, clumsy writing both in the prose and dialogue department, and an uneven pace. I stand by that characterisation. It’s not always the case, though, which is kind of annoying: there are some bits of this that are actually engaging (Shadar Logoth, some bits on the road, the ENDING) but a lot of it is slow and meandering, giving me flashbacks to my own drafts. That hits to the heart of it: in parts it reads like a draft (which again feels like a pilot of a show, in that in needs to hit certain parts to establish the world and characters so that it’ll get picked up, and this book is all of the world, some of the characters. Man this is gonna be a long haul).

But there’s something to be said of the world which is the big selling point of the series: it’s interesting if awkwardly told. The history is fascinating, cool things like Ogier exist, and magic is pretty cool (there are two sides—essentially the two sexes of magic—with the male side being corrupted so any man who uses magic will eventually go mad unless he has his ability blocked-off—or “gentled”. This means only women who are magi have access to the power untainted and they pull a lot of strings in the world, the scope of which is still being unveiled). I liked the cast, if not of all them were developed enough. The three main boys were given a fair bit of room (except maybe Mat) to develop while we didn’t get much from the women, barring Moiraine (who, alongside Lan, her sort of sworn swordsman I adore). So in sum: a good, not great beginning to a *sighs* 14 volume epic. It’s annoying looking back on this because its sequel is almost twice the book it is but more on that next month. It’s awkward and slow, but fuck I enjoyed it.

The final book of 2017 is:

Civil War: written by Mark Millar, with art by Steve McNiven, inks by Dexter Vines, and colours by Morry Hollowell [4/5 stars]

91714

You know the film, now read the comic that it was based. The two are distinct enough properties that you needn’t consume one before another.

This comic a serious but not too deep stories exploring the potential cost of being a superhero. Some dark material within with some good character beats (there are clearer arcs over the House of M which had glimpses), fights, and some good art. With a sprawling cast, I’d be surprised if anyone that wasn’t a super fan knew everyone involved, but more surprised if you didn’t know the main players (Iron Man and Captain America, for one). Good stuff. I personally wouldn’t recommend it as your first foray into superheroes but it can be a pretty good intro, definitely a good continuation of the various stories involved.

November Review

It seems that my book amount has steadily decreased to one. I hope this isn’t a trend but I think these past couple of months have been outliers because of NaNoWriMo (which I won!) coupled with big books that I’m reading right now have slowed me down. I’m aiming to top the year off with three books and currently on track for that.

Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo [4/5 stars]

 

35116827

Another month, another job for the Dregs in the conclusion to the Crooked Kingdom duology. And what an end: heists, heartbreak, and heroics (?) are aplenty this time around in a crystallisation of the strengths of Bardugo and her Grishaverse.

The flashbacks are still here, though! They’re good bits of character depth but they’re overlong and distracting. Not as bad Six of Crows‘ mind, but still noticeable. Characters—new and from the past trilogy—rub shoulders, shining alongside the ever-expanding world.

When you’re having so much fun it’s hard not to feel sad to be parting with them all. Hopefully they’ll be back in time, in some form or another. If not in their own story, perhaps someone else’s. At the very least, more books in this universe as the world is slowly building in interesting ways that I’d love more follow-up on. Bardugo continues to grow as a writer and we’re the richer for it. Recommended.

 

October Reviews

Autumn deepens but stays warm and busy, bringing this month’s readership down to only two. But that is not a problem! I also have to apologise for the lateness of the post: I’ve been busy doing NaNoWriMo and that swallows more time than you give it credit for. I did win again though, so there’s that. But I’ll talk about that in another update.

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline [4/5 stars]

This was a fun, yet flawed adventure playing on a nostalgia that I don’t possess for a decade I never lived in. I’m a bit younger than the intended fanbase—I didn’t grow up in the 80’s—but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment too much.

2044. The world has gone to shit and the only pleasure that people worldwide can enjoy is an immersive MMO (massive multiplayer online) game, accessed through VR headsets. The book follows Wade Watts in his hunt for the Easter egg that the game’s creator left, which will allow the winner access to his fortune of a significant amount of billions of dollars. (The creator had a love for the 80’s since they grew up then, and part of the hunt is understanding his obscure interests so 80’s fever has swept the world.)

The world is quite detailed in the beginning so the book does suffer a bit in its pacing. It’s not too much of a problem because in general it adds a certain enjoyable richness.

Also, I’m not sure if it was intended to be so easy. I was talking to my brother about this and he raised a good point: it felt very objective-led, like a game. Fascinating, that. What I mean is that everything Wade wants, he gets. Without spoiling it, it could be argued that Cline is structuring the book like a game, which are designed to be able to be completed [*waves hands* “Me~eta~a”] but convincing book it does not make. If I step back and allow it to be “a bit of fun” it holds up, except that too is unsatisfactory when some other spoilery world-grounding elements are introduced, which remind you actually this shit is not a game. So the objective-led aspects undermine the more serious parts to some extent.

That being said, look at the rating! It’s fun, and geeky in all the right ways. The prose is simple and smooth and the general pace is pretty good, especially towards the middle and end. But I don’t think it has a lot of revisit value. Maybe I’m too young to really love it and I think that’s partly to do with the fact that the 80’s was not my childhood. Ah well, if you like video games and anime and are looking for a good read, you’d could do much, much worse.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari [3/5 stars]

 

Don’t be alarmed by the three stars. I had a lot of fun reading this: it’s smart and funny, just like Aziz Ansari, who’s turning into a bit of a cultural virtuoso: actor, writer, screenwriter (of some incredible TV), comedian … I dig someone who wears a lot of hats. Makes other generalists like myself feel at ease that one can find success in multiple things. But back to the aims of the book!

Unfortunately, it was not quite the sort of book for me. Not that I wasn’t showing up for a distillation of modern romance; no, that’s what I got this book. It’s more that the sum of its parts equalled everything I already knew about dating in the modern age, barring perhaps information about places like France and Japan, which were fascinating and the most enlightening to me. I recommend anyway but if you only read those bits, it’s worth it.

Basically, it’s well-researched, well-written, very funny, but if you already have a few intuitions—or better yet, direct experience—about dating in the present day in comparison to before smartphones and such, you’ll have already known about 70-80% of the book’s material. It’s not a bad thing if you genuinely don’t know but my appetite is only whetted by the end of this book, not sated. For non-fiction I really want to mostly learn more vs. what I already know and this sadly didn’t deliver.

September Reviews

Summer has wound to an end and autumn opens its arms, nestling us in its embrace. Leaves blush in the growing cold, and the season of jumpers and pumpkin spiced—blahblahblah cozy descriptors (I do genuinely love autumn tho it’s very Branded™ now). Adventure, mystery, and robots awaited me in September, that glorious young autumn month.

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo [4/5 stars]

29975820

My relationship with this book has come full-circle after nearly two years: I went away and read the Grisha trilogy, took a break, and have returned. I have to say it was not disappointing.

Six teens are put to an impossible task: a prison break from the most secure place in the region. Six of Crows is a brisk and wonderful book with a fun and interesting cast, set in an intriguing world. We’ve moved away from the palaces, courts, and Good vs. Evil to the much more morally grey criminal world. Set in the same world as the Grisha trilogy (two years after book 3, I believe), but in a different country, one most certainly does not to read the Shadow & Bone trilogy to read this duology. There are polite Easter eggs for those who have but it won’t detract from your experience because extra-textual references are kept to a minimum: this is a story with a different cast, although we do get some added depth to the world, perfect for someone who likes links between texts.

Despite it’s many successes, it does suffer a bit from the length of the backstories. They’re illuminative enough to give depth and motivation to the characters, but they are quite long in a fair number of cases which makes the forward motion of the plot judder a bit. Not too disjointing, but significant enough*.

Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Collection, Book 1, written by Brian Michael Bendis, illustrated by many [4/5 stars]

35065809

Picture this: Spider-Man is your favourite superhero, rubbing shoulders with Wonder Woman and Batman. Since 2002 there have been 6 Spider-Man live-action films with three different actors. You know this story all too well. And yet, you still get emotional over Uncle Ben and Peter’s story.

Brian Michael Bendis is the guy who’s everywhere in comics. Most of my brother’s comic collection has his name printed on it. He’s responsible for some of the most iconic “event” Marvel comics like Secret Invasion, House of M, as well as a shitload of other Marvel superheroes. He’s also the co-creator of Jessica Jones. There’s a reason for this: he can write. Bendis, alongside the artists, have managed to make teenage Peter Parker’s tale still feel fresh and emotional, despite it being so familiar. One advantage of the comics over the films is that it can take its time building character relationships which, again, it does well.

Art: the art for me was interestingly exaggerated which made action scenes punchier. Two gripes, however: 1.) The sexualisation of Mary Jane was uncomfortable reading, considering she’s a child (they’re fifteen when this begins). A fairly sedentary teenager with an athlete’s body read almost more like parody than problematic but still, not super cool with that. 2.) The inks are bit heavy for my taste.

Other than that, this was great reading. Comic collections like this are really good to build reading confidence in a slump. I’ll be sure to move along through Spidey’s Ultimate Collections.

The Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov [3/5 stars]

41811

Last but not least: The Caves of Steel. 

I must admit, I was fairly disappointed by my first foray into Asimov. I became interested in this because I was to use it as research for a project I’m working on. From an entertainment standpoint it was … fine?

The set-up: a futuristic Earth where there are tensions between humans and extra-planetary Spacers are rife. The two communities are separated: humans cloistered in their caves of steel, large networks of urbanised area inside and homogeneous instead of how we know them; the Spacers meanwhile are in their own domed communities free from the disease-carrying humans. A robot Spacer is teamed with a human police officer to investigate the death of a (fleshy) Spacer.

Sound good so far? Unfortunately, despite the real and clear animosity the humans have for robots, as well as the philosophical discussions of the nature of reality and the relationship between humans and androids, it was kind of boring. That’s a shame, considering the towering influence that Asmiov possesses. Perhaps I started in the wrong place. The philosophy makes it worthwhile enough but that can’t mask a fairly by-the-numbers detective story, which might be fine if that’s what you want.

A personal note:

I met Leigh Bardugo at a signing a couple of years ago. She was touring the UK alongside Brandon Sanderson and Bradley Beaulieu (I recommend Twelve Kings by him). I was there for Sanderson but I had chance to talk to all three in turn and I found Bardugo to be immensely charming and friendly. The conversation was enjoyable despite having lost my voice. Hearing her read and speaking to her had me sold: I bought the book that night and got her to sign it. Because of the amount of people in the queue for signing you had to pre-plan what would inscribed within, but I manage to finagle a different inscription per author. Here’s what she decided on:

DSC_0352
I can’t remember if I said to her that I wanted to be an author, but this has always been polysemic to me: I’d lost my voice when we met and would undoubtedly get it back; more poignantly, though, I would find my literary voice and become an author. This is an Important Inscription so take note, everyone, because I will keep talking about it.

 

August Reviews

A wild graphic novel appears! I had every intention of reading graphic novels again (my friend very kindly bought me a collection of Watchmen) but I was always intimidated by the size of the universes that comics have built. Especially Marvel, which has a continuous universe since inception. But my brother and I got digging and we found a list for where newbs can get stuck in.

I had a stint where I collected Japanese comics so now I’m turning my attention back to superheroes. Soon I want to look into non-superhero comics (got my eyes on you Saga.)

Okay, without further ado, August:

Every Day is for the Thief by Teju Cole [3.5/5 stars]

18216649

Huh. I put this as four stars but in retrospect it just misses it. Why? There’s no plot or characterisation to speak of. What we get instead is essentially an observers brief foray into Nigeria, in particular Lagos which is interesting as it is shocking. The prose is spare with a gently burning passion. It read more as journalistic writing than fiction, which is pertinent because some people have stated that it reads as a thinly-veiled “fictionalisation” of Cole’s own story: a man who left Nigeria for America as a youth and is revisiting it later in life. I don’t mind too much, especially with the short chapters interspersed with some of Cole’s photos.

So overall, good writing and subjects, no real sense of character—I barely remembered the narrator’s family, for example. That’s a bit of a deal breaker for me, sadly.

House of M: Written by Brian Michael Bendis [4/5 stars] (Full credits through THIS link.)

105973

Like superheroes? Like crossovers of various Marvel properties? Want a good plot and art? This is the book for you. I’m going to have to withhold a more detailed analysis/breakdown for when I’ve read more comics to compare the style to: obviously the rules are going to differ to novels, with obvious visual advantages but some storytelling deficits.

This is a collection of the eight stories that make up this arc in the Marvel Universe. For a newbs first foray into Marvel after about 15 years, I enjoyed myself quite a bit and did make me want to see what’s after this. Have a peek.

The Silver Tide by Jen Williams [4/5 stars]

25863014

And so comes to an end a story of friendship and adventure. This book demonstrated Williams’ growth as writer which keeps rewarding readers with more fun, being the vision of what a final book should be, and what I imagine she hoped her first book to be. This one deals with time but in a way that keeps the concept surprisingly fresh.

So long, Black Feather Three. A touching and wholly “right” ending to a solid series. I’ll be definitely sure to check out Williams’ next trilogy (starting with The Ninth Rain, the book that put Williams on my map). Probably starting when book two drops next year.