The Easter Parade

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If there were an NCAA style tournament for the title of “Most Depressing Author”, my money would be on Richard Yates. You’d probably get great odds considering how under appreciated he is. To his credit he’s not writing about world hunger, two teens with rare life ending diseases, or the death of a pet. His novels tend to deal with what most people would consider their aspirations. Getting married and having a family. Owning a house in the perfect neighborhood. Making good money at a job you spent a good portion of your life going to school for. These are goals for most people. Yates takes those goals and molds them into the bleakest periods of his characters life. His books are not for the happy go lucky. But god dammit is it good writing.

Sarah and Emily are sisters from a splintered family. Their parents divorced  while they were in grade school. From the start you know it’s going to have lasting effects into their adulthood. Sarah would grow up marrying the first person she has sex with. while Emily goes through men like I went through tissues in high school (disgusting, I know).

The story is told through Emily’s point of view, with periodic updates into the lives of her mother (named “Pookie”) and sister. Pookie is never the same after her divorce. Over the course of the book she goes from depressed single mom to delirious grandmother. Sarah seemingly has the perfect life. A successful husband. Three healthy boys. A house with the white picket fence that every girl yearns for. But it’s not long before those proud talking points at parties wear off. Her husband beats her throughout their thirty year marriage, two of her sons show her no respect at all, and she doesn’t ever leave that “perfect” house of hers. It’s more of a prison when you think about it. Not to mention her failed writing career and the slow depreciation of her body.

Emily, in my opinion, had the right idea all along. She went to university for four years, sleeping around as she pleases. While her sister resides in the suburbs, Emily has the pleasure of living in the greatest city in the world. She’s looked upon favorably by her superiors at her job, in the world of advertising no less. Neither of the sisters were destined for a fulfilling life, though. As the years go by so do the men in Emily’s life. Each one predictably leaves her, whether after a year, or ten. And as much as she wants to be a strong, independent woman, the thought of being alone terrifies her. That sweet apartment in the city eventually becomes a home for her sorrows and the older she gets the more expendable she becomes in the workplace.

Yates seems to have a simple message. Alone or together, life is one depressing marathon. The pursuit of happiness is a worthless endeavor. I can’t imagine any optimist ever enjoying this novel, or any of Yates work for that matter. Whether you’re a cynic or a believer there’s no denying the man has talent. Call me pessimistic, but I don’t think we’ll ever have another author like Richard Yates.

 

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Watership Down

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What a treat it is to find a book like Watership Down. Richard Adams wrote for the child in me while simultaneously exploring mature themes. If you told me a book about nomad rabbits would teach me more about being a leader than a John Wooden autobiography, I’d slap you square across the face. But it’s true! It’s not all eating carrots. Well, there is some of that. Watership Down is the story of courage during the unknown, facing down animosity, and putting others before yourself. Yes, with rabbits.

A group of rabbits decide to leave their warren when one of their own, Fiver, has visions of doom and gloom. He doesn’t know exactly what will happen, but the queer buck insists on leaving. Fiver and his brother Hazel, along with Bigwig the ex-military rabbit, and a few others, set upon a dangerous journey. They all put their faith in Fivers visions and Hazel’s leadership.

On the way they encounter other rabbits, mice, foxes, cats, dogs, rats, birds of prey, birds of the sea, both friends and foes. During the hard times Dandelion, the fastest of the bunch, tells stories about rabbits past. Specifically the trickster, El-ahrairah. It’s those accounts that are my favorite parts of the books. I could relate to being told tales of Robin Hood when I was younger.

The story is simple yet flowing. You can tell that Adams lives in England. He paints a beautiful picture of the English countryside. His most impressive feat is the way he breathes life into these characters. These rabbits. As I said before, look no further than Hazel for a course on leadership. The ups and downs, the pros and cons. With Fiver there is a magical element implemented into the story. He is the rabbit who has the mysterious premonitions of bad, and good. Then there is Bigwig. There’s a part of the story where he infiltrates a hostile warren. From his perspective you understand what it is to put your faith in someone, while also not letting down the people you care about. He has some of the most courageous acts in the book, and the end will not leave you disappointed. Maybe a little teary eyed, but that’s never a bad thing.

As over used as magical is, there’s no other way to describe this book. It’s right up there with Lord of the Rings as one of my favorite journeys. I might even appreciate it more just for the sheer simplicity of it compared to the Tolkien’s fantasy epic (rabbits moving to a new home/saving Middle Earth), yet I’m still as moved.If you’re in the market for a book that will inspire, hop no further.

 

“The Broken Eye” – What Middle Book Syndrome?

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It’s no secret reading is my favorite hobby. Day and night, shine or snow, it doesn’t matter. My preferred genre of books is fantasy, and to be specific epic fantasy. There’s nothing better than four to six thousand words focused in one world, with characters evolving every step of the way. It’s a glorious journey. There is, however, a drawback to this format. The middle books are almost always the worst of the bunch. The story drags or there’s no growth to the characters. The pacing may be off. Anything could go wrong. When you write such an ambitious story, over x amount of books, there will inevitably be garbage in the middle. It’s certainly not always the case, but there is a sample size. Personally I can think of The Wheel of Time, Mistborn, The Lord of the Rings, Thomas Covenant, the last few books of A Song of Ice and Fire. It’s all personal preference, but there is a stigma out there. I’m glad to inform Brent Weeks fans, this is not the case in his Lightbringer series. Weeks goes three for three as The Broken Eye may just be the best in the series yet.

The Blinding Knife left off with Kip as Zymun’s captive, Gavin now Gunner’s slave, Karris as Mrs. Guile, Liv still with the Color Prince, Andross more powerful than ever, and the after effects of the Battle at Ru on generally everyone. It was a cliff hanger that nearly destroyed me. We catch up with all of the characters except most notably Liv. She only has maybe three or four chapters in the whole book. I was actually fine with this, as I never thought her POV chapters were the most interesting. Scenes with her father were missed, though. We do get one great scene between the both of them, and it’s worth the wait.

Kip is where the majority of the story comes from, though there are about seven different characters who have POV chapters throughout the book. We really witness Kip coming of age. He gets in better shape, accumulates more confidence, and is slowly beginning to understand the responsibility he bears. He realizes how alone he is without Gavin, and at the same time that he isn’t truly alone. That didn’t make sense, but it kind of does. He doesn’t have Gavin to save him from the dangers abound, he is aware of that now, but there are people who care about him. He’s not truly alone, but he is responsible for his life and others. Kip, to my joy, becomes less of an annoying, self loathing  child. He’s no Thomas Covenant on the irritating hero scale, but he was close. He still pokes fun at himself but it is toned down.

Gavin’s role is significantly reduced in book three. Not as much as Liv of course, but we are used to seeing him all the time in the last two installments. And make no mistake, this is not the Gavin of old. As we know, his powers are vanished. Clearly due to the Blinding Knife. He is now just a mortal man. Superman without his powers. It’s the most vulnerable we’ve ever seen him and it’s hard to watch. The mighty has fallen, and oh how far he fell. Have to say though, he was my favorite character to read about in the book. I can’t wait to see his rise back to the top in book four, or if in fact he rises to the top at all.

The character who I would give the “Most Improved Award” if this were a sports league, would be Teia. I ate her chapters up, and there are many. She is a vital part of the story now as we find out how powerful paryl really is. Being able to draft paryl is like hitting the assassin jackpot. And that’s pretty much what Teia is turning into. Her story arc introduces us to one of the more intriguing characters in recent history, Murder Sharp. Yes, his first name is Murder. Weeks did a wonderful job with Teia and she’s just as big a character as Kip going forward.

Overall there weren’t many big battle scenes. Everything happened more on a personal level, save for a long escape scene near the end of the book. Certainly nothing like the Battle at Ru. There’s plenty of politics, though. It’s so much fun to see Kip and The Red go at it. Equally as beautiful are the conversations between Karris and The White.

If I had any complaints, it’s how at times it felt a bit repetitive. All of the Blackguard training specifically. But hey, when you write a book over six hundred pages it’s bound to slog from time to time. Other than that, The Broken Eye was near flawless. As usual, Mr. Weeks leaves us thirsting for more. Get excited for one of the best cliffhangers in recent years. We find out who is the real puppeteer (supposedly), discover a whole new side to a character, and finally, return to an all too familiar place. “Color” me excited for The Blood Mirror!

“Timeline” – I Should Have Watched Back to the Future

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Timeline seemingly offered everything I could ever want in a novel. It was written by Michael Crichton, who isn’t the most prized author out there, but The Lost World is in my top ten. The plot revolved around time travel. I’ll watch almost any movie, no matter how awful, if they have to go back in time to save someone or something, without changing the course of history. And on top of that, the characters would be time traveling to the middle ages. I’ll forever have a love for knights in armor and fair ladies. Unfortunately my expectations were just too high. The book was a let down, and while enjoyable, it was definitely forgettable. It’s been two days and I’ve already forgotten what happened.

As always, Crichton does incredible work when describing the technical aspects of complicated ideas. In this book it was the concept of time travel. It’s actually going to a different universe, not exactly traveling in time. It has something to do with quantum physics. Most other authors would make that subject completely boring, and while I retained barely any of it, I did enjoy myself when reading.

The ones who have this technology are your typical shady big business. They allow a professor to go and test it out. Unfortunately he gets lost in during The Hundred Years War, and they recruit his assistants to go in a get him. They’re mostly all historians. You have the one character Andrè, who has been in love with the time period his whole life. He knows all the different languages, can shoot a bow, proficient in broad sword fighting and jousting. Right from the start you know he’s going to be of use when they all go back in time. Kate is your typical hard nosed tom-boy character. And Chris is the good looking, but oft heart broken regular guy. If I had to choose, he would be the main character but it fluctuates between those three nicely.

In the end it was like eating junk food. You get that instant satisfaction, but you regret it after and wish you’d have eaten a banana. The characters were decent. I particularly liked André, but the dialogue was sub par and minimal character development. Chris had the most growth as a character. The ending was definitely rushed. Everything just happened to work out in their favor the last twenty minutes. I understand it’s hard to end a book, but after reading The Way of Kings my expectations were sky high.

Expectations were my problem. I had this book on my “to-read” list for so long, putting it on a pedestal it never belonged on. You go in with the proper excitment level and Timeline will be a good read. I’m sure there’s much better Crichton work out there. Two of which I can vouch for—Jurassic Park and The Lost World. Hell, I’d even put Pirate Latitudes up there. Okay maybe not.

If you need a quick fix then check this book out, but don’t let it be your first introduction into the time travel genre. There’s so much better content out there.

“THE WAY OF KINGS” – The WAY to write epic fantasy

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You need to be a certain kind of crazy to read a thousand page novel. You’d have to be even crazier to write one. And to write one worth reading? Crazy, but as I found out, not impossible. As of yesterday, I am finished The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson’s introductory book to his Stormlight Archive series. A week from now will be the four year anniversary of its original release date. What all fantasy fans are asking, and what I asked myself post reading, is what took so long? It wasn’t the sheer size of it. I’ve read The Stand. Twice. The uncut version, too. The fact that it’s the beginning of an unfinished series didn’t bother me. A quite long one at that. I’m in deep already with ASOIAF, The Kingkiller Chronicles, and The Lightbringer Series. What it boiled down to was one, lingering thought. I’m not totally sold on Brandon Sanderson.

To be fair, I had only read The Mistborn Trilogy (plus Alloy of Law). And while I enjoyed reading them, there was just something about his books that didn’t stick with me. I’m always in favor of darker toned fantasy books. Nobody will likely top George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie. Their work will stick with me forever. But Sanderson had two things distinctly going in his favor.

1. The man is a magic system savant. Allomancy was a joy to read about. Sanderson introduces his magic from the get go, but subtle enough throughout his book that you don’t even realize how familiar you’re becoming with it. It’s so in-depth and thrilling that I couldn’t help but yearn to experience it in real life, or at least in video games (wish granted?).

2. I want to know what happens next. His characters may be light, the prose not on the same level as Rothfuss, and in general not as violently graphic as the grim dark group, but damn he writes a fine story. Never once have I contemplated not finishing one of his books. Not even you, The Well of Ascension.

After four years of pondering, and a trip to Loncon 3 just last week, I decided to take the plunge. I really needed an epic fantasy to read. I wanted something gargantuan. Immerse me in a world, any world. Sometimes real life bears down on you hard, and in those times, it’s nice to be able to take a journey. I decided that journey would include Kaladin Stormblessed, Dalinar Kholin, Shallan Davar, and most importantly, Brandon Sanderson.

We are introduced to Roshar, the land full stone and plains, with a beautiful assassination. Really. Read the first chapter before you die. It’s one of the best action sequences I’ve ever read, up there with the first time we meet The Bloody Nine. The Assassin in White kills the king. This has a lasting effect throughout the world. Obviously. I mean, he kills a king. It severely changes the lives of a few characters we meet. One way or another, these people are put in positions of leadership. To the core, that’s what TWOK is about. Being a leader, or what it is to be a good leader. A decent person.

Kaladin questions the leaders surrounding him. LIghteyes. The Almighty. Himself. What constitutes being able to lead people? Can everyone be saved? Can you protect while killing? Our these leaders noble? What is nobility? Why does one keep failing? Failure. I can’t remember a character failing so many times as I have Kaladin Stormblessed. Sanderson does a wonderful job at building his story. We see him at multiple times in his life, witnessing him retreat into apathy, succumbing to so many personal blows. Kaladin must overcome so much, and not a page is wasted. It’s a long road for the young darkeye, but it’s the reason I’ll be meeting him step for step.

Ah, the honorable high prince Dalinar Kholin. The brother of the murdered king from the first chapter. All his life he’s been a military leader. He’s the Blackthorn, it’s what he does. But now that his inexperienced nephew is king, everything seemed to have changed. He’s been having wild visions during high storms, leading to rumors about his mental stability. He’s been reading, a hobby mostly used by women. The one who used to wreak havoc on the battlefield now talks of peace and an end to the war on the Parshendi, those responsible for his brothers death. The question comes up, is this man fit to lead us? Has old age crippled him? Will his weakness, in mind and spirit, lead to our city’s demise? The other high princes can sniff blood and they certainly go for the kill. Can Dalinar keep his honor while fending off these predators, domestic and foreign? It’s a joy to read and I suspect none were disappointed when the time for that answer came.

Shallan Davar is a princess who traveled to become an understudy to Jasnah, the dead kings daugther. Jasnah happens to be considered the brightest academic in all of Roshar. It would truly be an honor for Shallan to study with her as an apprentice of sorts. But is that all there is to Shallan’s story? She is torn between doing a duty for her family or actually learning from the smartest woman in the land. I’d have to admit her story arc was the least interesting to me. Although Sanderson does a wonderful job at writing women. Not that it should matter, women are people just like anyone else. You should just write PEOPLE. But far too often do I come across male writers who have trouble writing from the female point of view. Sanderson is just one of the best I’ve read at doing it.

Sanderson’s world building is in top form in TWOK. The Shattered Plains is so desolate, and so, well, epic. The creatures are described with such flourish that when pictures actually came up courtesy of drawings from the characters, they were spot on from what I had envisioned. Roshar is clearly a world hardly explored in this first book, but from what he did paint he did expertly. The cities have distinct feels, as well as the different races. It’s a dark, but beautiful world he’s created.

The only complaints I’ve read amidst the thousands of positive reviews are that it starts off incredibly slow. And well, yeah. The book is a thousand pages long. I went in knowing you need time to build up the world, acclimate to the magic, meet the characters. Just know that when you’re three quarters through the book you better have a clear schedule, because you’re not putting that book down for anything. When it kicks into high gear I couldn’t contain the goosebumps from coming. Especially a scene near the end, that had me cheering, crying, laughing, almost throwing up, all at the same time. Those who have read it know what I’m talking about.

Those moments are why I read. Especially fantasy. I love grim dark and all it has to offer. But there is a time and place for epic fantasy. Sometimes I need to throw on the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. Who doesn’t get gooesbumps when Aragorn gives that speech to Legolas and Gimli? That’s why I read (and watch) fantasy. Those moments. And The Way of Kings delivers one of the all time “Goosebump Moments”.

I have a signed copy of Words of Radiance sitting in my room. It will be read. But I’m going to give it time. When I’ve read a great book I like to let it settle in for a while. This was the beginning of the journey that is The Stormlight Archives. And as they say, Journey Before Destination.

The Last Door Stands Always Open

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Nothing compared. Not the wait for Breaking Bad’s final season. Nor the twenty miserable years before becoming a “man”. Hell, not even the two hours stuck in traffic while having to take a massive…you know. There has been nothing more excruciating in my life than the two year wait for Joe Abercrombie’s new novel, Half a King.

Abercrombie last published a book back in 2012, the fantastic fantasy/western Red Country. Financially it’s the best work he’s done so far (although I’ll always be partial to The Heroes. That book is a masterpiece as far as I’m concerned). After topping the New York Times bestseller list, Abercrombie seemed to be on top of the world. Fans were clamoring for the next installment in the world of The First Law. It was then that his collective fan base went into the spiraling depression that I have succumbed to these past two years. First he informed us he would be taking a well deserved breakRed Country had burned him out and he needed time to think, read, relax, etc. And then came the bombshell. Joe Abercrombie went soft. No more grit. Good riddance grim-dark, good afternoon….Young Adult? Joe freaking Abercrombie is writing a novel in the same category as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games? Say one thing for Mr. Abercrombie, say he’s full of surprises.

To be honest, I wasn’t as skeptical as many of his devoted fans. I think it’s incredibly exciting when an author takes a leap of faith, attempting something out of their comfort zone. After reading those blog posts he absolutely has a point. Six (pretty massive) books in seven years. Red Country lived up to every expectation, but I admit it felt a bit overdone. Now, is that because I read every single one of his books back to back? Perhaps. But I’m not going to deny I needed a break from Abercrombie after his western tale. This coming from someone who considers himself an Abercrombie super-fan, a borderline stalker really.

I was more depressed that I had to wait two years for his new project. Now I see how selfish this was. Especially considering what all my brethren over at the ASOIAF Fan Club have been going through all these years. Book depression was heavy, but after a few months I started to feel something. Excitement. Yeah it was two years away. But it was something new from Abercrombie, and I mean new. It’s like wondering how Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant would mesh. Or any weird combination in the sports world. Joe Abercrombie and Young Adult? Never in a million years would I expect to see those two in the same sentence. Well let me tell you folks. Bryant and Paul probably would have led to disastrous results, but the Abercrombie Young Adult child Half a King is championship caliber.

The book centers around Prince Yarvi, the crippled second son of King Uthrik. His left hand is mangled, useless, forcing him into a life with the monastery. Luckily this suits Yarvi just fine. He may not have the skills to be a great warrior, but his mind allows him to excel at this field of work. In Abercrombie’s world, and ours equally, life never sticks to your plan. King Uthrik and his first born are both tragically murdered leaving Yarvi as the King of Gettland. My day is ruined when my parents inform me we are going to my cousin’s birthday party at the last second. One can only imagine how hard Yarvi’s head was spinning after such news.

Not everyone is happy with Yarvi’s ascension to the Black Chair (eerily simliar to a certain popular fantasy seat…). The twists start sprouting right from the start, forcing Yarvi to grow up faster than he ever imagined possible. If you enjoyed Best Served Cold  you will take to his new book well. The revenge factor is heavy throughout, but it is able to separate itself from his previous revenge story as the book goes on. While I won’t add spoilers to this review, I will say, as in every Abercrombie book, the ending gives you a slap in the face. I even tried to see it coming but Joe was too good.

Is this book Young Adult? It is with reluctance that I say it is. Although I think there are deeper themes in this than you would see in most Young Adult literature. I can assure you there is no love triangle. Yet when you write in this genre the main focus will always be a coming of age story. I mean, that’s what we do at Yarvi’s age. We grow, we mature, we experience. None of us are the same as our teenage selves. As played out as that trend may be, it’s just a natural progression for young adult characters. We face hardships, big and small, and learn from them.

The biggest reason for holding Joe Abercrombie in such high regard is the way he paints his characters. He doesn’t always have the most captivating story ( the trilogy dragged at times), but it’s his characters that always suck me in. Now we don’t meet him until almost a hundred pages in, but Nothing is one of my new personal favorites. He’s no Whirrun of Bligh, or Glokta, but he’s like a Logen Ninefingers LIght. A Diet Bloody NIne if you will. And I’m fine with that. Characters like The Bloody Nine aren’t meant for young adult readers. Let’s have them work their way up to that monster.

And really, this book was just a light version of Joe Abercrombie. It had less pages. Less sex. Gore. Cursing. But it doesn’t make it worse. It’s also a leaner, faster read. Never once did I slog. We are always in Yarvi’s point of view, which I found refreshing after reading so many books, like A Song of Ice and Fire for example, that throw a million POV at you. Half a King is the perfect fantasy summer read. It’s light and fun, but with darkness etched in the corners. You won’t feel self conscious for reading a Young Adult novel because it won’t feel like one, even though it would fit the bill compared to The Heroes. In Yarvi’s world, Nothing boasts that steel is always the answer, and it seems that way. But I can tell you that in this world, for Joe Abercrombie, the decision to write this book was not only the right answer, but the only one.

Half a King (Amazon)

Women Cut the Deepest: Sharp Objects Book Review

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Sharp Objects is Gillian Flynn’s first novel (the second one I’ve read. Gone Girl being the first), about a thirty something year old woman assigned to a murder case in her hometown. The synopsis didn’t interest me all that much, but after enjoying Gone Girl so much I had to see if her talent was blip or trend.

Camille Preaker is one of the more self loathing characters I’ve ever read. As someone who bathes in self loathing daily, I loved every second of it. The book is all in first person, so you get your fill of Camille. She’s sent to Wind Gap, her hometown, to report on the recent murder of a child. Her boss suspects it may be related to a killing one year prior. Camille is hesitant. She has some bad memories of Wind Gap. Mostly regarding her distant mother, the gossipy teenagers, and memories of her hurting herself (in multiple ways), among other things. The murders are secondary to Camille’s battle to stay sane. Nobody’s past is perfect and hers farther than most.

Flynn is known for her dark themes. There were no shortages of disturbing scenes and images in this book. Whether it was the murdered children, cutting ones self, the verbal assault on young adults, or just the depressing aura of the town, this book left me in a somber place. By no means is that a bad thing. I want to feel something when I finish a novel. If that something is a depressing, lump in my stomach feeling, then so be it. That’s when I know I’ve had a good read.

The book ends with an even better twist than Gone Girl. Hopefully Flynn can keep up with these endings (although it’s probably impossible). Heaven knows I’ve read my fair share of books that disappoint when they try to wrap up the story. Not only does this author deliver, but she shocks and surprises, in the best of ways. Here’s to hoping her next book takes me to even darker places.