The Magicians

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The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
Rating: ⭐️⭐️
Thoughts: Definitely a Lot of Good Parallels for Fantasy Fans; Too Much Exposition; Narnia Spoof; Really Hard To Get In To, But Wrenching Once You Do; The Story Doesn’t Start Until The End

I was really excited to read Lev Grossman’s series because I’d heard it was like a “Dirty Harry Potter” and as a thorough Harry Potter nerd, I really looked forward to passing my judgement. Outside of a few joking references, though, The Magicians has nothing to do with Potter, but a lot to do with The Chronicles of Narnia.

Grossman was clearly creating a Narnia spoof, and with good reason, but I couldn’t help but feel like he didn’t actually get to the plot until maybe the last 150 pages of a 400 page book. The protagonist, Quentin, gets invited to a magic college early on, but then we spend the entirety of the first half of the book learning next to nothing about Quentin’s school, but rather passing his way through time through a series of large time-gaps and exposition. Characters are plucked from nothingness only to be tossed back in (and occasionally repeating the process). It was as though Grossman had gotten the idea into his head of a magic college and then married the idea when, in fact, the college had almost no significance to where the story was going other than that they thereafter (and somewhat feebly even) knew magic. I’m not even sure why the first half of this book exists.

Basically, the first half of this book is prolonged exposition scattered with a smattering of actual scenes that seem to take on no real significance. What is the point of Welters? for instance. Or the whole South Pole thing? If you’re looking for a book about a magic school, this is not it. You get very little from Q’s time there.

The strongest point of this book is definitely the coming of age aspect, which I felt didn’t really shape up until quite late as well. Quentin, of course, has a lot of growing up to do. I like that Grossman puts his character through the ringer, that he has him make almost catastrophic mistakes, that his personal life is in shambles. I’m tired of this genre of writing having everything work out so perfectly. Quentin’s life gets messy and not everything goes well. That’s a hard lesson for him to learn, but a lesson so quickly left out of Young/New Adult literature. I definitely enjoyed that theme abutting the Narnia-spoof.

Honestly, I didn’t love this book. By the time we FINALLY get to Fillroy (the Narnia-esque land), it’s a bit rushed to me. I hated most of Quentin’s friends. I hated the way Grossman tossed around characters, the way I always seemed to know less about the character’s lives than what was happening, and–most of all–I hated all the exposition. Is it so wrong to want to be in a story, rather than hearing about a story? But I did like the adult themes, the way he clearly dirties up a typically innocent cannon, the way he could create issues out of one’s grasp.

But honestly, I didn’t get into it until the end. It was hard slugging for a long time there, waiting merely for the inevitable Fillroy plot to finally manifest. I’m probably not going to be reading on, albeit I’m a bit curious and angry about a curveball that’s mentioned entirely without comment, as if it’s perfectly usual, at the end.

SPOILER

Seriously? Where did Julia just come from? YOU CAN’T JUST DO THAT!

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Percy Jackson

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Percy Jackson (series)
Author: Rick Riordan
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Thoughts: Definitely Cute; I Was A Little Disappointed With The Conclusion; Entertaining, But Not Exactly Insightful; Worth A Quick Read

In my quest for entertaining Young Adult and Middle Grade fiction, it was only natural that I would feel compelled to read the Percy Jackson series. Probably one of the most successful series since Harry Potter, there isn’t a household of school-aged children I enter that doesn’t have a copy of this series.

While an enjoyable take on Greek mythology, modernized, and an entertaining, action-packed read, I wouldn’t say this series will change your life or anything. It’s cute. Percy is endearing, but it lacks any enduring philosophy for future generations.

Annabeth, Percy’s best friend, is a little bit annoying, if not overly-unrealistically-intelligent, I sometimes found her a little too perfect to buy. Her role in the final book, The Last Olympian, is a little bit frustrating, if not downright sad. Why make apoint of making this girl so great, only to turn her into somewhat of a moody brat in the last book? I know Riordan was aiming for a bit of a jealousy aspect, (why do we always have to have a love triangle?!) but I couldn’t help but feel it was all a bit contrived.

I think the part of this series that frustrated me the most was the strange way time is spaced between each book in the series. Sometimes Riordan picks up again in the strangest spots so that I can’t help but feel like I’ve missed something (and perhaps I have, Riordan produced a strange array of marketable work to promote the movie franchise. Sad to see that interfere with his work, but who can blame him? It’s the business). I felt like, at the beginning of almost every book, I had no idea where or what we had suddenly just picked up.

But Percy himself is redeemable enough for the whole series. He’s clueless and somewhat dim-witted, but he’s exactly what I’d expect from the narrative of a Greek hero. A lot of courage, and very little understanding. Some of his quips are pretty sweet, funny in almost a laugh-out-loud way. If I were still 14 I would definitely have had a little crush on him. He’s a good kid and a great role-model sort of character.

So, cute and entertaining, mixed with a Disney publisher, I’m not at all surprised this book has done as well as it has, but, in all honesty, I’m no die-hard fan. Not sure yet if I’ll bother with Riordan’s other series in the Camp Half-Blood franchise…

We Should Never Meet

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We Should Never Meet
Author: Aimee Phan
Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️
Thoughts: Excellent Writing; Kind of a Downer; Frustratingly Ambiguous; I Wish I Knew More About These People

So I grabbed Phan’s collection of linked short stories off a shelf at my favorite used book store in New Orleans (she’s the director of my writing program so I felt I needed to read it before classes began) and carried it around with me for a month before I could finally bring myself to read it. Something about it just seemed like it would be a painful read, but I was surprised to learn the opposite. Each story was fluid, gliding into each other and these people’s lives.

Set both during and in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, the book explores, through various persons related to the event, Operation Babylift (an American intervention to immigrate orphans left in the wake of the war–mainly those children with American parentage) and the lives of the orphans related to it as they grew up in America. So clearly this was going to be a fraught topic: babies, war, American foster system and orphans. It’s a rough subject, but Phan doesn’t make things too wrenching. She isn’t trying to punish the reader, but rather give them this brief glance into the window of those affected’s lives.

I think, though, despite Phan’s seamless writing style, I couldn’t bring myself to love this book. She builds some frighteningly tense situations (the scene with Bac and Vinh in “Visitors” is wrenching) and then, at the last minute–right before the climax, takes you out of them. I felt a bit cheated to never hear the end of Bridget’s story, only left to assume the worst of her. The final story was, to me, the most flat and a bit of a bitter note to end on. And as for the various characters left behind in Vietnam, I craved more knowledge of their lives. What happened to them in the war. The worst is the terribly vague opening, effective in what it never says, but I felt most connected to Nan and then you never even learn the details of her situation and she’s never heard from again.

Overall, it’s a fast read with an interesting, lesser-known perspective on the Vietnam War. Worth a read, you may learn something, but overall, it won’t be replacing any favorites on the shelf.

Book Review: Cuckoo’s Calling

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Review of Cuckoo’s Calling
Author: Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)
Thoughts: I Guessed The Ending, Not My Genre, Good Beach Read, (Sadly) No Harry Potter

I read a quote recently about Rowling’s writing style that described her as an average writer but a spectacular storyteller. I have to agree whole-heartedly. When you really technically break her style down, it’s unremarkable, lots of cliches, dreaded adverbs, basic sentence structure. But Rowling is probably the best story teller of a generation.

I read Cuckoo this week out of obligation and curiosity. I felt I owed it to the childhood version of myself to read every word Rowling has written because she’s changed my life, but, in all honesty, I was unenthusiastic. Noir/Mystery is not my genre, but I stole this from my senile grandmother and I had to get it back to her before she noticed the theft so… I read it pretty quickly.

I think what bothers me about Mystery is how formulaic it is. But the end of Cuckoo there’s really only two characters it could be (even Rowling’s narrative admits that to you), and, based on the genre, clearly she would go for the more shocking of the two. No one ever picks the guy they suspect all along as the bad guy in the novel. So… I called it.

As for Strike… I like him in his charmingly-gruff way, his whole tough guy routine, refusing to admit to being crippled. But I couldn’t help but think that Strike has been done before. I think, in honesty, Robin is the real gem in this novel. Aside from a cliche fiancé with a jealous bone, Robin is just a good woman. She’s feisty and smart and, mostly, fairly average. There’s a push for a romantic connection with Strike (obviously), but I find it weirdly feeble. I think it’s Rowling herself that loves Robin. She’s the Hermione of Cuckoo (the Rowling then, by extension). She’s the unsung hero.

So… I’ll say it’s worth a read if you need an easy read, but I’m not sure I’ll be following Strike to The Silk Worm.

Book Review: What’s all the Fuss About Divergent?

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Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Rating: Two Stars
Thoughts: Readable, but not life-changing; Another dystopian romance; I’m just not buying it (Literally)

I felt compelled to read Veronica Roth’s Divergent, mostly because I’d heard rumors that there was a rape scene and, well, when a book sweeps through the YA world, a young girl gets curious.

Roth has a very matter-of-fact way of writing, nothing unusual for her genre, which made for a quick, action-packed read. The premise is a bit thin (strong/fearless means you must be fairly dumb and cruel; intelligent means you must be greedy; caring means you must be meek? She doesn’t even talk much about the other two factions, at least not in this book) but enough to keep the pages turning even without much historical justification for this world. Her protagonist, in my personal opinion, was fairly lackluster though. The draw of seeing a young girl capable of great physical feats was done better in The Hunger Games, and by a more compelling narrator, too (and I’m not even a huge Hunger Games fan).

So what, I wondered, as I eagerly (yeah, I’ll admit it) flipped the pages of this book looking for the answer, had everyone so up-in-arms about this book?

Four, of course. It may be just me, but does anyone else find it a bit sad that the only thing that keeps young girls reading are feeble, unrealistic romantic connections? I liked Tris more before Four became her white knight. And I never quite saw what was so special about him, too. I mean, the boy hardly ever speaks. If she’s so badass that she’s top of her murderous, selfish class then why does she even need a protector?

But I’ll admit I was into it all until the ending. This books packs some biblical allegory with a tough punch, but Tris watches both her Mother and Father die with little more than a page of mourning and we’re supposed to believe it’s Four that she just can’t stand to kill?

How did we go from a girl remarkable for her ability to conquer her fears to a sniveling love-bug, making out on a train in 2.4 seconds? Serious thought: Has anyone ever witnessed this sort of teen-love in all these novels in real life? And while we’re at it, why are the intelligent people the bad guys? And if they’re so smart, why do none of them question this whole murder-plot except Tris’s brother, who has to be told to do so?

So I’ll just say, not worth the hype, but still worth a read if some 16-year-old loans it to you, but I won’t be seeing the movie or reading on. Sorry, Roth, but more power to you (Good luck with all the money!)!

Return of the Blog and Announcements

I had every intention of abandoning this blog as silly and useless. A wasteful dredge on my time, but I’m feeling isolated and sentimental about my move to San Francisco in two weeks so I thought, rather, I’d take this opportunity to shift the focus of this blog in a whole new direction just in time for my move.

So, alas, I am back.

Let me start with the new focus of my blog. I’d like to get a more set schedule going here with a bit more structure and a lot less chatting about my day. My day was boring, don’t worry. Writing is probably one of the least exciting physical activities of all time. A lot of type, type, bang head against hard objects sort of thing.

Anyway, the travels have subsided, blah blah that’s my personal life, who cares?

So what I’m thinking is this. When I’d originally planned this blog I wanted it to be a very collaborative platform for young writers to express… well, whatever they felt about writing. But I don’t know any young writers so it became more of a personal journey that went fairly awry.

Anyway, I still like that idea. Young writers, if there is anything you wish to share, even just word-vomit about how your mother doesn’t understand you, please feel free to message me or post in the comments. I’d love to make this a collaborative venture, if anyone is interested.

In the meantime, you’re stuck with only my writing ventures. So until I make friends, I’d like to set up a schedule of postings that go like this:

Mondays: A personal look at my own writing progress. Where Elysium stands or any of the multitude of projects I’ve been working on (or are soon to begin as my MFAW program nears a start).

Wednesdays: Actual content. This can be anything from a piece of fiction I’ve written to an interview, heck, maybe even some entertining literary analysis (yes, that’s a thing). Basically, anything pertaining to writing I can generate.

Saturdays: Short book reviews. I know this sounds incredibly dull… there are so many book reviewers on this site, but I assure I read a lot of very diverse books (from children’s lit to things I found in my grandmother’s garage) and I’m actually fairly scathing and snappy. That means absolutely no book summaries and plenty of spoilers. Hopefully, It will be fun. (Bear with me, ok?)

Sporadic: Rants and raves and (since I’m an egoist) lots of tales of personal woes, I’m sure. I’m a very whiny passionate person.

And that’s the new schedule. I’m hoping to find a groove here…

The good news is that I may or may not have finally finished Chapter 18 in Elysium today. I may finish this thing one of these days…

But I swear to god, if you even think the word “editing” I will punch you.