Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Number 26 is Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger. I (surprisingly) enjoyed her first book enough to give her second one a shoot.

Yeah, Sophmore Jinx happening here all right. Did not like this book too much at all.

It wasn't that I was expecting the same sort of thing from this book as her first, but I sure didn't expect to really not like ANY of the characters here. Well except for poor ol' OCD Martin, he was really the most sympathetic character of all.

Because the other characters? Twins Elspeth and Edie, twins Valentina and Julia, and poor grieving Robert? Man they suck. They're weak and manipulative and kinda downright stupid in a few cases.

Overall, this is a ghost story, and yes, ghost stories can be about a malevolent ghost, which I think is the case here, but its a passive-agressive malevolence, which just gets boring once you realize where it's going.

I also expected more out of her use of the cemetery next door. It's like she tossed it in just because she felt she needed something 'gothic' as she was trying to write a ghost story. It really didn't lend to the atmosphere though.

I found the ending rather depressing overall, not because I cared enough about these characters to feel bad on their behalf... actually, I'm not even sure why I found it depressing other than there seemed to be so much wasted potential in this book, where it could've been a powerful tale of loss and grieving and relationships, but as the characters were so thin and unlikeable, I didn't feel any depth to their emotions for the most part.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Number 25 this year is Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist. (Side note, I've read more Swedish books this year than I've ever read before in my life. That's right, a whole 2!)

It's been a looooong time since I've read a good vampire novel. In fact, I'm not sure I remember when it was I last read a good one. But this is a damn good novel. Centered around Oskar, a lonely, bullied 12 year old boy, and his new friend and next door neighbour, Eli. Who just happens to be a vampire.

I don't want to go into this book too much because I feel there's so much too it. Loneliness, brutality, loyalty, the cruelty of children and the cruelty of a predator, child abuse... it's all there. And yet despite all the ugliness, there is a strange beauty to the friendship of Oskar and Eli.

It's also a truly creepy vampire novel, which just makes it all the better. Eli is a fascinating creature, but she sure has hell doesn't sparkle. Thank the gods.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Number 24 this year is Wizard's First Rule by Terry Goodkind. I picked this book up because my one cousin is a fanatical Goodkind follower, and so, even though I'd been... ehn about reading his books in the past, I thought I would pick this one out of the library and see what A is so devoted to.

I'm afraid I'm still not sure...

I wanted to like this book. I truly did. In fact, I did, for about the first quarter of it. I liked the main characters, Richard Cypher and Khalan, and I liked the supporting characters, and I liked the mystery, and the world building (the part where they cross the boundary was really, really well done).

But eventually I felt it just sort of devolved into cliche and pointless subplots. It became unrelentlessly bleak. Now, I know that bleakness is something that goes with a lot of high fantasy, afterall they're often dealing with end of the world scenarios, but skilled writers (be they fantasy or not) can balance the bleakness, whether with lightness of humour, or lightness of the characters succeeding in a task. Tolkein was particularly good at this, and I've always though Kay excelled at it as well. But Goodkind doesn't. He heaps impossibility and obsticle after obsticle onto the characters that after awhile I just wanted them to get the hell on with it. Some of these obsticles drew out into completely unneeded, undesired subplots that really didn't have anything to do with the main plot (even though they supposedly did). The one sado-masichistic-torture plot really just had me thinking... uh why? I don't need torture porn in my fantasy thank you very much (yes, I also know rape is a common theme in fantasy. Even my beloved Fionavar Tapestry gives into that trope. But at least there there was a REAL purpose, and the character rises above it and gets revenge in such a magnificent way. In WFR, well, there just seems to be some Stockholm Syndrome going on. Ugh).

I wanted more out of this than I got. The reluctant hero was cliche. The love story was cliche. The SOOOOOOO evil badguy was cliche (as were his SOOOOO evil henchmen), the hero's unreveled-until-the-last-minute-but-not-really-a-surprise parentage was a cliche. There are some interesting ideas burried in this book, but perhaps if Goodkind had slowed down and not thrown eveyrthing thing but the kitchen sink at his characters (and perhaps written less soapy dialogue), then maybe those interesting ideas could have shone through a bit more.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Oh dear, been awhile again... Number 23 is Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. This book, discovered in my in-laws basement, is supposed to be rather autobiographical, and I think I can see that even though I know little of Maugham's life. The nearly whimsical tone of Razor's Edge isn't here, even though both novels deal quite a bit with the theme of finding oneself. But while I was fine with the journey in Razor's Edge, I found myself impatient with Philip Carey's journey to find something to do in his life.

Philip didn't have an easy life, born with a club foot and orphaned at a young age, he was sent to live with his childless uncle (a rural pastor) and aunt. The uncle is a rather stern man who has no idea what to do with a child. The aunt, loves him completely, but she doesn't so much inspire love from Philip (she does seem to inspire his pity though) and seems to have no idea what to do with him.

Philip doesn't seem to know what to do with himself either. He hates grammar school (he is of course, bullied about his club foot) and develops a rather prickly personality in defense of the bullying. He decides not to go to university, but rather go to Germany and study there. He returns home, tries accounting for awhile (hates that and quits before he's fired pretty much), decides to go to Paris and be an art student, loves it but isn't quite good enough, returns home and decides to be a doctor, goes about it hap hazardly (he invests in South African minds, but of course the Boer War makes that a non-venture), is broke, finally completes his doctorate and becomes a doctor and retires (and marries) to practice in a small town.

This is all fine and dandy because sure, sometimes it takes young people a long time to figure out what they want to do with themselves, but Philip's attitude is just so... annoying it was hard to get past. When it comes right down to it, I didn't like Philip as a character. He's one of those characters you just want to shake and yell "Get on with it!". He comes across as ungreatful, spoiled, and rather callous. But I must admit, when he gets his heart broken by a woman even more callous than him, I didn't feel good about it, more like 'gods he's so stupid...'.

And I didn't really like the ending. It feels like Philip 'settled'. That he gave up his dreams to just be a doctor and be married to a girl who (for some bizarre reason) loves him and to have a quite life. I'm not sure what dreams he gave up, because I was never really sure what he was striving for, or if he was striving for anything. I guess I just wanted the ungreatful little bastard to sound like he was happy with his chosen life, rather than resigned to it.