Tag Archives: adult

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (and Word Count)

theoceanattheendofthelaneby Neil Gaiman

This is typical Gaiman: the nightmarish landscapes and events are always presented with a reassuring glow of beauty that makes the scene and the story much less horrifying. Rather, it becomes purely entertaining. A bit of chill here and there and things mostly work out — except that there is always that trademark tinge of melancholy – like a lonely tinkling of a music box that plays a haunting and unfamiliar tune, slowly coming to a pause. The book reads like an expanded short story and I think it probably would have benefited from being a short story, rather than a novel (which even though meets the “novel” length requirement, reads more or less like a novella, with such a local setting and a tight plot time frame.)

Did I enjoy it? Definitely. Did it sweep me off of my feet? Not like some of his other work did in the past. However, since Gaiman proclaimed that this is as close to an “actual account” of his childhood as he could manage, the readers do get a glimpse of this creative writer’s mental landscape and the psyches that bring us illuminating stories.

I got a bit curious about the definition of novels, novella, etc. by length, and found this list on the Nebula award:

  • Short Story: less than 7,500 words;
  • Novelette: at least 7,500 words but less than 17,500 words;
  • Novella: at least 17,500 words but less than 40,000 words
  • Novel: 40,000 words or more.
  • At the author’s request, a novella-length work published individually, rather than as a part of a collection, anthology, or other collective work, shall appear in the novel category.

Source: http://www.sfwa.org/nebula-awards/nebula-weekend/faq/

On the same site, I also found an article about the definition of “a word”:

“So, years ago, publishers set up a standard definition: a word is six characters (including spaces).” — more detailed explanation and rationale for this can be found here:

http://www.sfwa.org/2005/01/what-is-a-word/

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Dune

duneby Frank Herbert

I was much more impressed with the book during the reading of the book than after having finished it — largely due to my expectations of having something transcendent, something heart-felt, something truly world shattering that the journey might have led to than what actually transpires at the end.  I definitely liked the world building, the presentation of technology and training of various warrior/assassin types, and the drawing upon non-Euro-centric traditions in constructing the beliefs and social structures within the world of Dune.  (And the Sand Worms… are such cool Desert Dragons!)

With such a rich and realized world, in the end, the book is just a fairly standard story of a hero that’s born with amazing abilities who cannot escape the paths set up for him and who walks all the way to the end as destined and even though losing a few precious things along the way, there seems to be little to no effect on his person. Much of the plot is propelled and explained away with mysticism and basic political maneuvering. At a certain point, I muttered, “Paul’s better not succeeded in accomplishing this as he has planned…” — but, as always, he did. He managed to achieve all that he set out to do, from outwitting enemies, to changing the ways of a tradition, to earning back trust easily from his old pals. Yes, he did lose a son in the whole process — but his reaction? They would be able to create more heirs and the heirs will inherit the world.

The volume ends as the two generations of concubines having a short exchange where Paul’s mother assures Chani (his true love but not the proper empress) that even though they would never have the title during their lifetime, they will be remembered in history as “Wives”!! Woop-dee-doo! What an achievement!

Granted, it was created in early 1960s and perhaps Herbert was not trying to question science or future worlds as harshly as we might these days — I still couldn’t help but putting a 2013 lens on it.

I know I will not be reading the sequels any time soon.   I searched and read some book summaries of the two sequels — it seems that the question of lineage and political power play are even more centralized in the next two books. Definitely not too exciting for me!

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Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

farfromthetreeby Andrew Solomon, read by the author

This book took me 40 days to listen — the audio book version is about 42 hours long.

There were days that I just couldn’t get myself back to listen to the next segment because the emotional exhaustion experienced in a previous segment prevented me from delving back into the book — mostly because some of the personal stories that Solomon reported are incredibly intense and affecting.

My reaction toward the book changed several times through this long journey: at first, I was just in awe and was glad that I got to learn something about situations that I don’t have personal experiences with — that I learned about Deaf Culture and the polarized opinions on whether deafness should be cured; about families with Little People and the historical and medical aspects of Dwarfism — and the perils and blisses of “cures” such as limp lengthening procedures; about children and adults with Down Syndroms, their defeat and success and what researchers are still finding and what life is like for so many of them…

Then, my relationship with the book changed slightly, listening to the chapters on DS, Autism, Schizophrenia, and Disability.  Even though the conditions described differ from chapter to chapter, some recurring themes emerge. Mainly we are shown (and told) by Solomon repeatedly that just because two people or two families have the same “problem” does not mean that they have the same views and reactions on the situation.  Indeed, it’s proven over and over and over (yes, there are a lot of repeating patterns in the book, both in the reporting and the reflecting from the author, although there were always new expressions to say the same thing) that each and every situation is inherently complex: there are the matters of the illness (condition,) the matters of the economics, the matters of the societal views, and definitely matters of the heart: the heart of the parents and the children.  I complained a bit then about how each chapter seems to repeat itself… and was reminded that perhaps very few readers of this tome would have gone through the book the same manner I did.  The way Solomon put together the book allows for essential information and themes to not be lost even if a reader only reads one or two chapters.

I settled down then and became more open minded to the worlds of Prodigies, Rape victims and their children, Criminals and their parents, and Transgender people.  I don’t know whether these chapters were better put together or whether my mind was more willing to appreciate them. Nonetheless, I found myself constantly finding revelations and new information worth learning in these final segments.  They let me consider situations and hardships and joys that I NEVER contemplated.  Yes, I felt like I was made a slightly “better” person by sharing the author’s empathetic and compassionate views and by being more educated about situations that I didn’t really understand before.

The final chapter of Solomon’s personal story of fatherhood (3 families, 5 children, fathered by himself and his partner for others and for themselves) serves as a wonderful and hopeful conclusion to a heavy — in all senses — book.

Since the reports are so thorough and the stories so well told, there might be an illusion that after reading this book, one could feel quite an expert in the ins and outs of these various conditions and their ramifications.  I cautioned myself to not “just take Solomon’s words for it” since even though I found myself agreeing with him a LOT, I don’t really know enough about anything presented here (socio-economic, historical, societal, medical, ethical, etc.) to judge the book’s validity in its entirety.  Did I learn a WHOLE lot about all these conditions?  I sure did.  But to me, there is an even more important added value: Solomon’s book is a great reminder for me to pay attention to wide angles on many issues and to consider the multitude of outcomes that changing of one or few small factors could cause.

I am so glad that I got to experience this book this summer.  I hope some others do too!

There is a full website with rich content that one can explore, too: Here – http://www.farfromthetree.com/

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Room

room by Emma Donoghue

I definitely was expecting a slightly different book after hearing about it from many students who were enthralled by the book, describing it as a “psychological thriller” and very creepy.  It turned out to be more about the process of socialization of a semi-feral child and the power of persisting maternal and familial love.  The strength lies in the author’s deft encapsulation of the inner and exterior voices of a five-year-old (super intelligent) child.  I do question the utter success of the escape and the short time it takes for both the boy and the mother to adjust / readjust to the Outside — with the understanding that this is not a psychology textbook but an author’s imagined world.  I listened to the audio book version and the voice actors are simply superb!  

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Smoke and Mirror

smokeandmirrors
by Neil Gaiman – read by Neil Gaiman

This is a short stories collection from 1998.  As I love Fragile Things and especially love how Gaiman reads his own tales — he is quite a voice actor, changing his tones, inflections, accents — all dexterously and effortlessly and all quite fitting the characters, the advantage of having the author (who is a good storyteller) reading the stories.

I did not love all the tales — not even most of them.  Of the 31 tales and verses, I think I only really enjoyed about a dozen or so.  Something felt lacking — quite a few seem to be character sketches or exercises in painting imageries and building atmosphere, for something bigger and more complete — but not deep or polished themselves.  I often enjoy Gaiman’s somewhat dark or even brutal (and honest, perhaps?) depictions of sexual acts in his writing for adults.  But, I found myself slightly appalled by certain gratuitous passages, shaking my head, gently whispering in my mind, “Neil, you did not have to resort to this — the story itself is strong and intriguing enough…”  — but, of course, many of these stories were meant to be slightly pornographic (light erotica) — I just didn’t quite prepare myself for so many of them being this way.  Now I’ve listened to it once, I’ll be able to go back and pick out the tales that I want to listen to over and over again (like quite a few of those in Fragile Things) and also figure out why some of the stories did not work for me the first time.  (They might grow on me upon repeat listening.)

 

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The Lost Symbol

lostsymbolby Dan Brown

I’m so happy that 1. I didn’t spend time reading this book.  Instead, I listened to it on audible.  It was LONG, but at least I was walking, or washing dishes, and didn’t spend my otherwise precious reading time on this.  Paul Michael, the reader, is quite adroit and I enjoyed his voice and inflections — and the subtle but effective switches between characters.  But, I cannot say that I enjoyed the book as much as its reader’s voice.

At first, I was somewhat intrigued by the exploration of Symbology, Free Mason history, and some supposedly high-tech science research on harnessing human consciousness…. but it all turned out to be just like Dan Brown’s other books: inserting very elementary knowledge of all these fields and channelling such knowledge through supposedly learned experts in each field to “explain” away the twisted plot and connections between events.  The bottom line, however, is that many many words are repeated and wasted to tell a potentially intriguing story that simply didn’t not live to that potential.

(For example: why would Langdon be forced to wear a blindfold to go to the “secret” place and experience pages of claustrophobia and doubts when the destination turned out to be somewhere he completely recognized — and should be recognizable by millions?)

Also, perhaps I’m just too jaded a reader for this — I completely predicted and guessed the identity of the villain a couple of hundred pages before it is revealed in the story.

The only bits that I enjoyed were the gruesome descriptions of tortures and deaths!

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The Magicians

magiciansby Lev Grossman

I have several different layers of reactions to this book.

Started reading it when it was first published and didn’t quite manage to get too far.  I was sufficiently intrigued by the premise and the tone (smart and snarky and somehow languish as well — there’s a definite “drawl” in the sentence delivery here) to pick it up again and finish it this time around.  And gosh, how much I HATED parts of the book!!!

Good things first: Grossman definitely knows his fantasy tropes and knows how to subvert some of the conventions.  Magic isn’t easy.  Magical lands can really hurt/kill you.  Being a magician might not be as glamorous as one think.  And he definitely delivered some cool inventive magic powers in the book.  I love the transformation from human to geese, the various elemental and physical magic spells and powers, and the time/space travel scenarios, among many other minor and interesting magic tricks.

But.. but… but…. Quentin is SUCH A BORE. Such an angsty whiny little man that I simply couldn’t muster any compassion for him and his predicaments.  The constant search for happiness and the disappointments, the high school and college romantic affairs that turn out to be just petty relationship drivels.  And Alice as a super-magician was just a convenient device so she could save the day and sacrifice herself so that Quentin can somehow have a revelation (a bit too little too late) at the end of the tale.

Grossman managed to create a really unattractive fantasy book that makes me want to cry… in making sure that the readers realize that magic and the fantasy world is Real and is Hard and is Dangerous, he also made sure that much of the charm of a great fantasy novel is destroyed by his words.

Upon discussing this book with my teen readers, though, I realized that perhaps it’s just me being a middle aged reader who is tired and sick of anything dealing with relationship conflicts. These high school readers sense and fantasize about all those college romances as  something to ponder and to look forward to and to experience in their near future.  So, those quarrels, sex partnering, betrayals, loyalties, etc. add to the attraction of the book, not diminish it.  I heard that the sequel is better.. should I continue??

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Batman: Arkham Asylum (15th Anniversary Edition)

batmanaa by Grant Moorison, art by Dave McKean

To some readers, namely my 12-year-old students, this book is a total disappointment.  It has the brand name Batman on the title.  It IS a sort of origin story — of the Arkham Asylum which houses many infamous villains, including the Joker, of the franchise; and it does have segments with Batman in them.  But, they feel somehow cheated because there is almost no treatment of the fight scenes during the Hide and Seek game on the Asylum Ground.  A couple of pages, with McKean’s signature dream-like artwork hastily showing Batman  dispensing of all the Asylum inmates, are all they got out of these fight scenes.  And as super hero comics readers, they were not satisfied.

I felt differently.  As a McKean art adorer, I enjoyed all the panels, both the really detailed close-ups and the dream-line distanced treatments.  And I am totally ok with not “watching” longer sequences of the fights.  I enjoyed the psychoanalytically inspired (albeit superficially so) back story of Doctor Arkham more than my students.  However, I won’t say that this is one to highly recommend to either Graphic Novel enthusiasts or novices.

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V for Vendetta by Alan Moore art by…

5805V for Vendetta
by Alan Moore
art by David Lloyd

I really appreciated the intricate storytelling and some of the truly dark moments in this complete collection of the V stories. It’s great to finally know what this classic graphic novel is about and to have read something by the famed Alan Moore. At the same time, I’m not sure that I bought all the philosophical and political views underpinning the characters and the plot line: it seems to run too straight and too narrow down one singular line and everything worked out all according to V’s plans. That said, it is a rewarding read that demands quite a bit of focus and now I have to ponder hard about the ending: is it a brilliant treatment or does it too abrupt and unresolved? I’d love to hear others’ opinions on the series’ ending…

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February 8, 2013 · 6:20 pm

Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore

Finally finished it… and after 545 pages (in the ARC) I want it to keep going… so the wait begins, again, for the next installment.

How does an author touch one’s heart so profoundly? What did she do that’s just right? The pacing is perfect – without much battle or fight scenes. I knew the general direction that the story must follow and felt rewarded, rather than bored, when the story arc falls neatly where I anticipated — but, also surprised along the way with many little bits and pieces that Cashore masterfully inserted into the story to make it even more intriguing and the world even more realized.

The book is, though, filled with so much sorrow that one can almost not bear reading through. I hope young people (14 and up?) will not be as horrified as us older readers by Leck’s astrocity on his victims and his forced accomplices. I am amazed at the sympathy I felt toward him — the pure evil embodiment through the 3 books — and how damaged a mind and what a torture chamber that mind is for himself.

Glad to see the other beloved characters from Graceling and Fire and can’t wait to see what the next, culminating kind of story Cashore will bring us.

And — Kristin, please don’t worry about publishing the next book right away. We can wait. And if you are having trouble telling the next story, go do something else. Go write something else. Go present your insights on Fantasy world building, on character development, on capturing emotional truths, etc. to the world. Thank you so much for a most affecting story!

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Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson

I absolutely enjoyed the many separate pieces in the book — thinking that each chapter can be treated as a short story since there is always a beginning and an end and not too much set up is needed to comprehend most of them. There are some really intensely gory and cringe-inducing scenes and a couple tales border on horror. Some are heart-warming, too.

One thing that I couldn’t quite get over, though, was the unevenness in keeping to the rules that the author set up for himself: That, supposedly, each piece in the book is a “translation” of something the “narrator” gathered from a massive electronic archive with audio, video, text, etc. — recorded history of various participants in the Robot Uprising and the global warfare afterwards. However, instead of using a 3rd person, observational tone, Wilson chose to tell many of these heroes’ stories from a first person point of view — EVEN if the recordings themselves are from an exterior angle. (And I just noticed that the first few stories are more in keeping with this framework — some stories are from a third person viewpoint while others are supposedly “narrated” by the participants themselves as interviewees or writers, etc. — but that consistency gradually fell apart and at the end there is a lot of “I” and how “I” felt even though the gathered records couldn’t have provided those perspectives.) And some of the voices are not quite in keeping with the characters themselves — or at least, not quite distinctive to be discernibly different from each other, even though some of these characters are drastically different in backgrounds and should probably have different tones. — Although I guess I can accept it because many of them are told from the reporter/archivist’s “voice.” (However, then why are they told from the “I” perspective?)

Still, I can see many readers enjoying the stories and gobbling up the scenes with relish!  And, I am so enamored with the cover design!

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Daytripper

Daytripperby Gabriel Ba & Fabio Moon

I really enjoyed the lyrical atmosphere and some of the intense scenes in both the text and the art and am glad that the final chapters tie the whole narrative structure together. Of course, because if this tidy conclusion, the narrative ceases entirely to be original or fresh with the previous segments being but the potentials of a person’s life as experienced in the “land of fate and possibilities.” The magical realism quality becomes but possible, but not true, device. That is mere quibble of an otherwise string of very strong and moving narratives. Highly recommended!

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The Well of Ascension (Mistborn, #2)by Brandon Sanderson

Feeling quite reluctant to write something about this book because I was annoyed as I read (slowly since it didn’t pull me in as the first volume did.) But, I have to keep a record and now am writing a brief note on it: Sanderson does not seem to trust that the readers would remember details from earlier in the same book so there is an unnecessary amount of recaps that just distracted me from enjoying the plot line. I thought most of the device to hide crucial information from the readers was effective but also quite obvious. Besides, although I understand that Sanderson didn’t want to follow the fantasy hero novel tropes to have a huge and triumphant payoff at the end of the novel, especially since this is the middle volume and, hopefully the victory will eventually come at the end of Book 3, I was quite disgusted by the “trickery” and the demoralizing defeat at the end of this arc. (And this is from someone who usually appreciates an author’s realistic rendering of events, even in a fantasy novel with powerful magical beings.) I have to wait for a while to read the final installment and it had better be worth my time then!

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Days Gone By: #1 of The Walking Dead

Days Gone Bye (The Walking Dead, #1)by Robert Kirkman

The first installment in the long series focuses mostly on the relationships of the living with the backdrop of extreme hardship of the zombie plague. I imagine that that will be the flavor for the rest of the series. The author does a great job capturing the characters’ traits and presenting the interplays between characters with conflicting interests. The tension is high, the dialog realistic, and the artwork is well executed. Now I have to read the rest of the series!

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Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Goby Kazuo Ishiguro

This Science Fiction reads like a lulling memoir, from a young woman’s view point, who had an almost idyllic boarding school / well-run orphanage experience growing up. The book is full of anecdotes about her friendships with two classmates and their somewhat odd and entwined past. Since I knew that the book is SciFi and there are enough hints and clues embedded in the incidents, I was never surprised by the way the story progresses.

Yes, like many readers, I was questioning “how is this possible?” and “how can they just take it and take it and no one rebels?” For me, that is what differentiates this alternative history/scifi from many other of genre that treats this topic: the young people who are inculcated since birth of their “uses” in the world would not question the system and would not want to organize anything remotely like a movement to gain rights for themselves. They donate, they care, and then they “complete.” For this, I greatly respect and admire the author.

Did I absolutely love the book? Not exactly, since it is perhaps too quiet and introspective, and the too minute examination of characters and their motivations is too “well done” (and thus dry and tough, not quite juicy and supple) to my taste. I wonder if this is told from Tommy’s point of view and how he might have acted if he had different encounters and friends at the “school.” That said, I believe this is definitely a great conversation starter and a worthwhile read.

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Good Omens

Good Omensby Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

This is just a total delight to read. I marked pages and wanted to record all the humorous metaphors and turn of phrases. Two ingenious literary minds worked seamlessly together to create something that I’d like to just flip to any random page in the future and get either a chuckle or be amazed again. This book makes me want to memorize quotes!

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The Witch’s Boy

by Michael Gruber

This is a highly nuanced book, although toward the end the “message” is a bit too spelled-out for my taste. I kept feeling that this is not a book for children, but a cautionary tale for adults who plan to raise children of their own: the do’s and the don’t’s, through fantastic settings, vividly portrayed magical characters, and fairy tale re-envisionings. I’m not sure how well received this tale might be to a young reader who had not already loved the high fantasy genre or had not been familiar with the original stories. To me — it is entirely satisfying, being a mother, a fairy tale lover, and a fantasy fan.

What’s so remarkable of the book is Michael Gruber’s finely honed, poetic and yet not at all sappy tone. I thoroughly appreciate the talent and craftsmanship of his writing!

 

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World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War

World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks

Although I thoroughly enjoyed many many aspects of this book, including its relentless social commentary about our current world and the author’s ability to present a global scene of one disaster that affects everyone on earth, and many of the scenes are haunting and affective. There are a few things that I thought are less successful:

Once in a while, you kind of “hear” some interviewees’ own voices but most of the time, you are just reading the reports from one person and that person is not very good at faithfully capturing the voices he encountered. Instead, most of the segments have the same sentence structures and choices of words or ways to present ideas so there are not the kind of oral history authenticity that one expects and thus lacks refreshing varieties. After 1/3 of the book, you feel like you’re being “droned on.”

The “plot” lacks an emotional arc — it follows a chronology of the war and at the very end some of the characters reappear to give their final says about WWZ but those words of wisdom pack little or no emotional punches. And the book just ends. When I finally finished the last page (after reading it quite slowly for something that’s supposed to be gripping,) my reaction was a plain, “Good, now I can get on to another, more exciting book.” The irony is that in the Introduction, the reporter/narrator specifically claims that he compiled these stories for their emotional values and that this book is not his but those who he interviewed, and how he has “tried to maintain as invisible a presence as possible,” while the whole time you cannot quite get to the emotional core or authentic voices of the interviewed.

I do understand that it is extremely high calling to tell a story via so many voices and Brooks achieved quite a bit in this audacious, imaginative, and oftentimes enlightening, book.

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Surrogates

The Surrogatesby Robert Venditti

I had high hopes and maybe it was my fault hoping for a really gripping read accompanied by high-level artwork. It turned out to be something of a dud. There is definitely the seed of a great story but it never quite blossomed and the hastily presented resolution is dissatisfying to say the least. The crude artwork is without raw energy often associated with such style and the Surries, perfect and sleek and are such an improvement of “vanilla” humans, do not to be so. I believe the stale look of the panels is largely due to a fairly-uniformed Photoshopping process. Too bad.

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Tales from Outer Suburbia

Tales From Outer Suburbia by Shaun Tan

This book reminds of a third grade project that my daughter did: to write a short story that accompanies one picture from Chris Van Allsburg’s The Mysteries of Harris Burdick. In fact, on Van Allsburg’s site, there is an entire section dedicated to stories from “readers” of the book inspired by the images in the book.

Outer Suburbia has that same absurdity, the same eeriness and outlandish qualities that constantly surprise and delight the reader, even when we feel slightly uncomfortable with what we read and see. It is at times unsettling and other times deeply moving.

I am not sure that this is a book just for children or teens. It seems to me that it is very much a book made to just express the artist’s imagination and to satisfy his own storytelling needs — which, ultimately, benefits the readers who would appreciate this kind of short vignettes. My favorite stories/images are: Eric, No Other Country, Alert But Not Alarmed, Make Your Own Pet, and strangely my top choice: The Nameless Holiday.

The entire book design is so amazing as well. I remember the sense of thrill and awe when I first discovered the Griffin and Sabine trilogy by Nick Bantock. This one comes close.

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