I'd like to say right off that I think one of the hardest things for writers to write good children characters. It's the kind of thing that everyone assumes is the easy, but the fact is, it's really hard to put ourselves back into that mindset and to remember that outlook and how we prioritized our lives way back in the day.
Often, writers make the mistake of putting children into their stories that, for all practical purposes, are really just miniaturized adults. They speak just as intelligently, are just as rational, they act the same way, do the same things, they're just shorter. Often, you will end up with what I refer to as the "Juno syndrome" where, while it can be amusing, you have a kid who always manages to come up with the perfect, most succinct zingers every time and always has some kind of witty cultural reference and never seems to stumble over themselves. It's an idealized version of what we see in reality and again, while it can be entertaining, it can also get tiresome.
The other direction authors often mistakenly go in is to make the children overly-simplistic, the kids have no substantive contributions to the story, they barely seem able to form a complete sentence other than to beg for the adults to save them. They are there to create problems for the big people.
As a writer, I think you can tell when an author loves their characters, is invested in them as if they were hovering over them, peeking over their creator's shoulder while they write. In my opinion, McHugh has reached a sort of freaky, upper level connection with the characters in her story to the point where I can imagine her office packed with any number of fictionalized kids and adults, screaming at her for attention. She breathes life into this story in a way that is rare to find and always a treat to read, regardless of whatever your genre preferences might be.
In Darla, McHugh has created a character that is dynamic and interesting and while I don't pretend in any way to really know the mindset of a young, pre-teen girl, I read the prose and I feel like I am hearing the voice of a child. Not the perfected cartoonized version of a child, not as simple fodder for the story, but as a genuine, three dimensional, real child. It brought me back to a lot of the young adult books I would read in grade school, living along with the day-to-day exploits of the protagonist as she deals with the dramas of her life and underneath everything, the ultimate and slow transition into adulthood.
The switch from grade school into middle school or junior high (whichever it was for you) is an understandably awkward time for everyone. It's the tipping point where your childhood really starts to end and you take your first steps onto the road towards adulthood. Friends, long present start to fade into the background and for the first time, you find yourself lost in a really big pond with a bunch of other fish that you can't help but see as predatory. McHugh brings to life the difficult social hierarchies of childhood, trying to be genuinely good for your parents while at the same time trying to fit in and make friends however you can. She nails the inherent conflict on sibling rivalry, growing up with the person you see as one of your greatest adversaries that you can't help but love anyway. You can't help but laugh at the fumbling, awkward attempts at intimacy and I love watching the imagination of the younger mind at work, seeing mundane objects of the universe of the book being molded into exotic, spooky props to fill the coffers of local legends and ghost stories.
Why should you read Darla Decker Hates To Wait? The real question is, why shouldn't you? It's a great, perfectly paced book that reminds you of what it was like to read books because they were fun, because they were entertainment. According to the author, this is her first attempt at this genre but I think you would be hard pressed to know that unless you were told. I will look forward to future books in this series as well as checking out some of the rest of McHugh's body of work.
Click here for the Kindle version of Darla Decker Hates To Wait. For more information on the author, click here to check out her Amazon author page.
So when it comes to the traditional structure of the trilogy, I have always been a fan of the middle portion of the story. Sure, dramatic conclusions are gripping and fun. And we all love the back-story of the characters and getting introduced to everyone in the first installment, but I think that the second act is where the meat of the drama really lies. Often, this is where things just go downhill, our heroes are put to their ultimate test. This isn't the big heroic ceremony with Han Solo and Chewie getting medals put around their necks, while Luke has a retrospectively awkward moment, sort of flirting with his sister. This is Luke, hanging off the bottom of Cloud City, about to lose his grip, missing a hand, and dealing with the realization that he now has a lot more Daddy issues than he did upon waking up that morning.
Lost Gods is the second book in the Summoners series, so if you aren't familiar with the first, you might want to check out Minor Gods and come back to this one later. You can see my review of it HERE. There are no spoilers ahead, but I am writing this review with the assumption that you have some basic knowledge of the events of book one.
The book picks up shortly after the conclusion of book one. Josie Day, newly discovered mask maker, is being pulled in several different directions at the same time. Despite the fact that the Earth Goddess' mask was broken, she is still unaccounted for. Josie also receives information that suggests that her sister as well as the tribe itself may be in even more danger than anyone had previously imagined. The tribe's eye enlists Josie to start repairing their ancient masks so that they can be equipped to fight the inevitable conflict.
The problem is that Josie's attention is being divided, as her obsession over the identity of the Fire God begins to grow out of control. She has a suspect in mind, and despite the fact that the world is coming apart around them, she continues to be more focused on her broken heart, than on the needs of her community. Her relationship with the friends who care about her becomes more strained as it becomes a race to see if Josie will hear the call to action before it's too late.
There are a lot of things I think that Yates does well in this book. First of all, I love it when you read a series in which the characters evolve and grow as the books move on. The Harry Potter series is a perfect example of this, as the young, bright eyed children we see in book one are a far cry from what we see in book seven. With Lost Gods, we have pretty much the same cast of characters as book one, but their relationships are definitely changing and the dynamic gives the book a fresh feel, not like we're just seeing book one, rehashed and repeated. Yates does a fantastic job establishing the now, much more complex and messy triangle relationship between Josie, Judah and Russell. The rivalry between Russell and Judah comes through clearly on the page and adds an interesting element as Josie tries to maintain friendships with both of them.
I love how Yates takes the harder route with the hero that she creates. It's much easier to write a hero who always does the right thing and is always self-sacrificing. In Lost Gods, we get to see Josie hurting, reeling from the loss of someone, and trying to figure out how she is going to deal with that loss. The tribe is in serious trouble, attacks happening all over the world. The Earth Goddess also has a new god working for her, one that is even more ruthless and violent, and even though Josie is in a unique position to help, we often find the Fire God absorbing her every waking moment. Yates does a beautiful job establishing the dramatic irony for the reader, who gets to watch Josie trying to identify her Fire God, knowing full well who the culprit is.
With so many books, you can immediately spot romantic connections that are inevitably coming later on down the road. Yates' strength is that when things happen in the book, they feel like logical extensions of the emotions of the characters being driven by events of the book, as opposed to just being expected conventions of the genre.
I am a big fan of this series, despite it being somewhat off-genre for me. When it's good, it's good. Yates does a great job taking the story as it started in the first book and upping the stakes. One of my favorite parts of this book is how the villain of the series is able to have such an impact on the book despite not being actually present for very much of it. She creates a great air of mystery that compels the reader onward and when you get to the last page you find yourself looking around for book three. What more could you ask for?
For more info on the author, go to amyates.com.
Growing up, I would say starting in Junior High until late in high school, I was a huge Tom Clancy fan. I burned my way through pretty much every book in the Jack Ryan series, giving each book at least two or three reads over the years. As I grew older and the premises of the books began to grow more and more outlandish, I eventually dropped off the train and called it a day. As readers, it's natural and I think, almost expected that at some point you are going to grow out of love with things, your interests shift towards other areas.
When Red Rabbit came out, I was intrigued because instead of continuing the Jack Ryan franchise, this book is actually set in the past, events taking place between the books Patriot Games and The Hunt For Red October. I was excited at the idea of getting back to the time period when this character became such an integral part of my childhood. I thought it was a great idea for Clancy to sort of get back to his roots, instead of trying to perpetuate this lumbering franchise that had grown a little bit to bit for its own good.
At the start, let me just say one thing that I was impressed with, I thought it was great that after so many years and so many books, Clancy was still able to capture the time period that the book is set in. He was still able to find the voice and perspective of Jack Ryan at that young age, when the franchise was still new. He also did a great job of capturing that era - when you consider the inherent nature of the "techno-thriller", it was impressive that he seemed able to return to that era of technology and make it seem both historically authentic to the reader while being fresh and new for the characters.
I gave this book three stars so clearly there were some aspects of the story which I didn't like so much. In no particular order:
First of all, I found the decision for the plot to be a little strange. Briefly, the story is centered mostly around a small ensemble of characters. Jack Ryan, newly hired analyst for the CIA, has just moved to London and is trying to acclimate there, as well as come to terms with his somewhat meteoric rise through the ranks of the agency. The book also follows a pair of CIA agents stationed in Moscow who are the new handlers for one of the agencies top sources, code named CARDINAL (sound familiar Clancy fans? CARDINAL) The other key character is a Soviet intelligence officer who happens to become aware of a growing plan within the KGB to try and assassinate the pope. The officer, bothered by the prospect of the murder of an innocent priest, decides to defect, using his knowledge of the impending attempt as a bargaining chip.
What I found curious about this was that (as I said before) chronologically, the book falls some time before The Hunt For Red October. So that means that now we have Red Rabbit, The Hunt For Red October, followed by Cardinal Of The Kremlin - three books all dealing with high ranking Soviets defecting to the West. I would have thought that Clancy could have kept the plot centered around the assassination attempt while leaving the defection aspect out of it. It often seems like he goes out of his way to demonstrate how much better he thought life was in the west compared to the Soviet Union which is kind of related to my next point.
I got a little tired of the constant asides that were basically trumpeting American ingenuity and character. I can understand where that comes from with the books that were written during the peak of the cold war but as this book was written in 2002, I thought he could have toned it down a little. One example is actually not related to the Soviet Union, but with Jack Ryan's wife, Catherine as she adjusts to a new country and tries to figure out her role as a doctor in London. This could have been interesting, but instead, almost every scene ends up with a dull tirade going on about how amazing Johns Hopkins is and how lazy the British doctors are and how terrible socialized medicine is for patient care. Clancy makes his feelings on the subject pretty clear as he seems to use his characters to voice his opinions and it got to the point in the book where I didn't want Cathy to be in a scene because I was tired of hearing about how we do things "back home at Johns Hopkins". Ultimately, the plot goes nowhere and I don't think it adds anything to the book.
In the end, my biggest gripe about the book is that it's just kind of dull. I actually considered giving it a two star rating but my intellectual curiosity was stimulated just enough to bump it up to three. There is never any real danger to the book, there's a lot of hand wringing by various intelligence officers and there is a lot of debate about the best way to handle things and decisions that have to be made, but in the end the book is pretty much a really long string of conversations that take place in which one character is perpetually explaining something to the other. The book is mostly exposition and there just isn't any suspense. The events of the book are dispatched in routine order and I kept expecting some kind of hiccup in the plan which would create some drama and tension but it never happened and in the end, the actual coverage of the assassination attempt takes up very little of the book.
If you have never read a book by Tom Clancy, don't start with this one. It isn't at all representative of the rest of his work. I would actually recommend reading it last, even though you would be out of order. There are a lot of Easter eggs in the book - characters who will be more important in the franchise later on down the road. There are even a few references to John Clark. But beyond the references that will make you smile if you are conversant in the Tom Clancy universe, there just isn't much here. A lot of verbiage without very much substance.
I have been wanting to get around to this one for a while now, as I am a fan of Mur Lafferty's podcast. Last summer I downloaded as much of her catalog as was available on iTunes and burned through them and as such, when you have a person's voice in your head for so much time like that, you start to feel like you have a personal connection with that person, even though you have never met. As such, when she made the announcement of signing her first pro book deal I was happy and excited for her achievement.
The tone of the book is pretty much what I have come to expect, and I found it enjoyable to read throughout. The protagonist of the story, Zoe, has moved to New York City to look for a fresh start in her life and ends up falling into a publishing job with a rather unique company. The publishing house specializes in putting out tour guides for monsters.
I should point out lingo that Walter Sobchak would appreciate, "monster" is not the preferred nomenclature. Zoe discovers that there is an entire society living and thriving right under everyone's noses. Known as the "coterie", they have restaurants, taxi services, special tunnels under the city, any number of ways to help each other exist under the watchful, sometimes judgmental eyes of mainstream society. On a side note, I can't help myself from mentioning this. Earlier this afternoon I was looking something up on dictionary.com and what just happened to be the word of the day? Coterie. It's defined as "a group of people who associate closely."
As Zoe is trying to keep her wits about her and make her way through this new culture, she is quickly drawn into a chain of events that puts herself, along with the rest of the city at risk as her past rears its head and takes a bite at her.
I love a book with a good, strong female protagonist. I love it when writers break free from what I like to call the "Buttercup syndrome". For those of you who may not be conversant in The Princess Bride, you can also get a glimpse of what I'm talking about with Wendy Torrence, in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining.
Basically, the point is that the only reason she's in the story is to look pretty, get in trouble and scream a lot. And if I can stave off anyone who might be putting my skull into their crosshairs - please let me clarify that I think that the blame for Wendy being such a worthless character goes mostly to Kubrick, not Shelly Duvall.
In Shambling, Lafferty does a fantastic job creating a character that is strong, independent, intelligent and brings her own game to a number of decidedly dangerous situations. She doesn't back down and throws down some pretty heavy punches of her own. At no point in the book did I find myself wondering when Zoe was going to be saved. Really I just found myself wondering how she was going to get herself out of this situation, which is how I think real protagonists should be written.
I think that the best part about this book is Lafferty's ability to take such fantastical subject matter and present it in a way that is completely believable. You find yourself believing that there really could be a sub-culture of vampires or zombies or incubus (incubi?) out there trying to live out their lives in peace. Her research was top notch and she did a great job making the story fresh and entertaining. It is tightly written and paced, with dialogue that looks great on the page. Zoe has a great wit to her, a good, biting sense of humor that still stays reasonable, not straying off into Juno-esque super-powers of sarcasm and witty references.
This is a fun book, you won't be disappointed. I strongly encourage you to seek it out and lend your support to a great artist. And if any of you out there are writers, I also highly recommend Mur's podcast for fiction writers, I Should Be Writing. There is also a follow up to this book, titled Ghost Train To New Orleans. I plan on getting to that before too long and who knows, maybe this will be the beginning of the Shambling Series starting right in front of our eyes.
Specter Of The Past is the first of a two-book series and is the continuation of Timothy Zahn's Grand Admiral Thrawn Trilogy.
When I was in Junior High I was given a copy of Heir To The Empire, the first of the Thrawn Trilogy and the launching of the Star Wars alternate literary universe. I was blown away. Remember that at this point there was no such thing as episodes one through three. If you wanted to see the Star Wars films you had to be lucky enough to catch them on cable or you had to get them on VHS. It wasn't like Star Trek that already had probably hundreds of different books. New Star Wars stories was a big deal.
I'm not going to take time going in to the story of the original Zahn trilogy. You can look it up. I ripped through the books and went on to read several of the Kevin Anderson books as well. Star Wars was a part of my life again.
So I was understandably excited when I saw that Zahn was putting out two new books. Of course I had to get them.
Specter Of The Past is a decent and entertaining book. One thing to remember is that even though I still love Star Wars, as a reader it's impossible to not see things differently at 37 years old than I did when I was 13. Also, it's hard to not look at the books with the slight glint of bitterness surrounding my disappointment with the new films.
Specter picks up ten years after the events of the Thrawn Trilogy. The forces of the Galactic Empire is again on the ropes, scrambling to hold on to what power they have as the new republic continues to fortify their position as the officially recognized government. Acknowledging their position of weakness, the Admiral in charge of Imperial forces has decided that the time has come to seek terms of surrender.
A small splinter group decides to act against this plan and news begins to spread that Grand Admiral Thrawn himself has returned from the dead to once again attempt to return the Empire to total power. The republic itself is also starting to fracture from within as old grudges start to pull allies apart.
The story is fine, it moves along reasonably well but one problem I have is that the real substance of the story doesn't move forward very much. At the end of the book, the Empire's scheme doesn't seem to have progressed very much and while the internal fracturing within the new republic is the more compelling part of the book, even this doesn't go very far. There is a lot of innuendo with not so much revealed, almost as if they were stretching to fill two books.
Another problem I have is that there seem to be many references to other Star Wars books besides Zahn's original trilogy. While I appreciate that an effort has been made to preserve a more consistent continuity between the books, I also wished Zahn had limited his references to his own books. It doesn't prevent you from understanding the story but I also would have liked knowing what was being referenced.
It is a Star Wars book and Zahn writes it well. He does a good job capturing the voices of all the classic characters and much to my appreciation, Han and Leia's children play a pretty minor role in the book. The action is well described with just the right balance of space opera with military sci-fi. Zahn excels at describing the equipment and the concepts and weapons of the Star Wars universe without it feeling overdone or forced.
Timothy Zahn is good at writing Star Wars. If you are looking for a relatively quick read, something to enjoy on a weekend or a trip, this would be an excellent choice.
My main motive for reading this book was for research but I also thought I could benefit from getting a peek into the mind of someone who suffers from this affliction. It's one thing to talk about the effects and hypothesize about how a person's life could change so dramatically but its something else entirely to hear about the actual experience form someone in their own words.
As someone who has suffered from Tourettes's Sydrome for most of my life, I felt like I could relate at least on some levels. Certainly I knew well the feeling of social stigma. I am intimately familiar with the feeling of not being in control of your body, of needing to perform some random physical act on such a fundamental level that even though you are fully cognitive of the fact that what you are doing makes no sense, you can't calm your obsessive need to do it; to shake your head back and forth, jerk your shoulder to the side or make a noise that no on can understand.
There are other levels and aspects of schizophrenia however, that I could never hope to understand and only serve to trivialize other people's experiences by trying to do so. The Quiet Room is a short book, one that you could probably read in a weekend but the efficiency of the writing is such that it doesn't take very long to really experience the terror of what some people have to live with on a daily basis.
The book is an account of the life of Lori Schiller. It is set during various periods of her life from the onset of her symptoms as a teenager, through adult years dealing with the successes and failures of medication, depression, suicide attempts and drug addiction to her eventual ability to get her disease under control and make her able to work towards helping others who have to deal with this illness. The book consists of essays written by Lori but also by close friends as well as her parents so you get to see the outside perspective as well as Lori's internal thoughts and dialogue. One of the most heart wrenching parts of the book for me, even as a new parent was late in the book, when things for Lori had gotten so bad that her parents both seem to come to an agreement that if medication didn't start having a more dramatic affect on the disease, that their daughter might actually be better off dead.
Lori's own descriptions of the voices in her head were especially disturbing, the experience of constant exterior voices telling her that she was ugly, that she was going to die, that she should kill her doctors before they got the chance to kill her. It was hard to read about her gradual descent into depression and how she grew more and more detached with the world and allowed herself to be used first in her attempt to get more drugs but then probably because she just stopped caring about being alive anymore. So often we take for granted the silence inside our own head, it's frightening to think that our base, unacknowledged emotions could be turned against us and verbalized as hostile forces trying to break us down, to point out our fears and flaws. She describes hearing nothing but gales of laughter directed at her and occasionally talks about visual hallucinations as well. What kind of a life can one lead when you can't even trust your own senses?
In the end, Lori is able to turn things around through the right medication as well as support from excellent doctors and a supportive family, but it does go to highlight the question of what happens to people who don't have access to these things. I would recommend this book if for no other reason, than it is healthy for us as human beings to get a better look at the burdens that other people have to carry around with them. It makes us better people, more appreciative of our gifts in life when we get a peek into the lives of people who are genuinely suffering. It is heartbreaking and emotionally difficult to read but it is also important as a part of being human.
One note I wanted to make is that I listened to this on audiobook and the sound quality is quite bad. It sounds like an old analog recording that was transferred to digital but if you are an audiobook consumer and audio quality is something that is important to you, then you might want to give this book a pass. Seek it out at your library or purchase a physical copy. On the other hand, the book is less than three hours long so you don't have to put up with it for very long.
I came across this audio clip online at some point. It is intended to be an audio approximation of the kind of auditory hallucinations that schizophrenics hear on an ongoing basis.
The clip itself is pretty simple in its construction but if you consider the lifestyle of having something like this playing non-stop, it's pretty disturbing to listen to. Grab some earphones if you have them handy to enhance the experience.
So I'll be completely honest, when I initially heard that this book was being written, I scoffed a little. I might have even rolled my eyes and made some comment about opening up the cash register and making even more money off an old concept. Can you really blame me? The Shining still stands as possibly one of, if not the greatest supernatural horror book ever written and while much has been written about King's dissatisfaction with Stanley Kubrick's interpretation, the film also stands in an elite category of movies that continues to remain popular through the generations. How could the author possibly follow up on a book that has meant so much to so many readers? Can you add more to the fifth symphony and expect it to hold up?
Needless to say, I went in to this book with fairly low expectations and this was despite that fact that while many talk about the decline in King's books over the years, I have continued to be a fan of his writing.
Basically, what I am trying to say is that I was completely blind-sided by how much I enjoyed this book.
First off, I should say that I don't consider this to be a sequel in the classic interpretation of the word. Websters defines a sequel as "a book, movie, etc., that continues a story begun in another book". I think that there is a distinction between books that are sequels and those that are simply part of a series. Goldfinger was the second Bond movie in the series, it was not a sequel to Doctor No. Star Trek IV was a sequel to Star Trek III, but Star Trek V was not a sequel to Star Trek IV. Follow all of that?
For those of you who are conversant in King's catalog, I would say that Doctor Sleep is to The Shining as Black House was to The Talisman. As with Jack Sawyer, we get to see Danny Torrence, (now just Dan) living as an adult, dealing with the struggles of being an alcoholic as well as the literal ghosts of his experiences at the Overlook Hotel. As with Black House, the book is loaded with various Easter Eggs and references that reward the reader for being familiar with the first book. You will definitely enjoy Doctor Sleep if you have first read The Shining, but the story itself pretty much stands on its own.
In Doctor Sleep, Dan is living in New Hampshire working with the elderly at a Hospice. He has developed the unusual talent of helping the patients who are ready to pass on by making the transition faster and smoother. For this reason he has been given the nickname, Doctor Sleep (and we have a title!) As the book begins, he comes into contact with a young girl named Abra (on a side note, thanks to her name I had the Steve Miller Band running through my head pretty much the entire time I read the book). As it turns out, Abra has the ability to shine also, but is even more powerful than Dan ever was.
Abra has caught the attention of a roving community of parasites, named the "true knot." These things are sort of like vampires but not really. They are immortal and are able to achieve this by absorbing the life energy of children like Abra, who possess the ability to shine.. Dan reaches out to Abra and decides to help her which leads to an eventual climactic confrontation at a campground controlled by the true knot, located in the mountains of Colorado on the grounds of the former Overlook Hotel.
The story itself is pretty straight forward, King's talent for creating great characters is really what carries his books in my opinion. I thought the pacing of the book was really great and he did a good job creating some scary moments in the book, although there really wasn't a chance for the book to hold a candle to The Shining.
My one main complaint, and it is probably the reason why I would give this book four, instead of five stars is that the ending is a little bit predictable and ultimately I thought a little anti-climatic. There isn't as much danger to the characters that you felt in the first book. At one point, Abra is kidnapped by one of the leaders in the true knot but even this plot point is resolved fairly quickly. So while I would have liked seeing the characters having to sweat it out a little bit more, even that wasn't enough to detract from my overall enjoyment.
One thing that fascinated me about the book was how much alcoholism played such a central role. On one hand, it seems like a logical extension from the first book in that Dan would have likely inherited his father's alcoholism as well as some other personality issues, in the same way that Jack Torrence would have inherited such things from his father. It's interesting to compare the two books in terms of how different generations dealt with alcoholism, whether it be through AA or by just white knuckling it. I was surprised to see so much detail about the rites of AA in terms of the slogans and what goes on at meetings - mostly because my limited understanding of AA as an organization is that they really don't like the publicity. The "A" is there for a reason, after all.
In all, I thought King did a great job allowing the spirit of the first book to infest the second but still creating a story that held up on its own. If I had to choose between the two, I would definitely pick The Shining but I was very pleasantly surprised by this book.
When the miniseries adaptation of The Shining was made in 1997, I figured that King had finally exercised his disappointment of his experience with Kubrick but clearly the story has stayed with him. I suspect that considering how the entertainment machine works anymore in this country, a film adaptation of Doctor Sleep will not be long in coming but I for one, hope that it never does. Not that it doesn't have the potential for a good movie but I think it would just muddle things. In the author's note, King makes a point of stating that this book is intended to follow the events of the book, and that the novel represents the "true history of the Torrences". To follow up that sentiment by then turning Doctor Sleep into a movie would just confuse the issue. Would the movie be a sequel to the book? Would it ignore the events of Kubrick's film? I don't know but my opinion is that the story is best left within the physical pages of the book and of the imagination.
If you are looking for a good, entertaining read, look no further. It was a reminder to my of why I love Stephen King as a writer and will continue to treasure every book we are lucky enough to receive.
I have not read very much of Vonnegut's work but I feel confident saying that after this read, I will definitely be pursuing more of his catalog. The story of Hocus Pocus is simple and straight forward, so much so that the reader should probably be warned that the book does not follow the traditional plot that one would expect to find; there is no buildup of tension, no plot development, no climax or denouement. The book is written in an autobiographical format but in a way that I think most of us would write the story of our life if we were left at a desk and whatever paper was available to write on. We would scour our recollection for vivid memories that are important to us and dedicate them to paper in whatever order they happen to come in.
The main character of Hocus Pocus, the narrator who spends most of the book detailing his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam as well as his post-war experiences as a teacher at a private school and following that, at a prison. His story weaves in and out of these events, doubling back and jumping forward to the point that at times you lose track of where you are and what he is talking about but I find the narrative voice of the book to be so rich that even moments like that don't seem to bother me vary much.
I should say that in general, I am not a huge fan of the first person. I find that it tends to be very limiting in terms of how much of the universe of the story you are privy to. Additionally, you are constantly at risk of misperceiving certain events because everything you are being told is coming from the "mouth" of the narrator. In some stories, this can be effective but much of the time I feel like I am too much in the head of one character and oblivious to all the others.
In this case, the voice of the narrator is so engaging and fascinating to listen to, that I find myself at times enjoying the book even though I'm not entirely sure why. It's like having a college professor who is so far over your head that you understand a fraction of their lectures but you show up at every class regardless, just for the pleasure of hearing them speak. In the book, he has a number of lines that made me laugh out loud, not the least of which were the equivalents to cursing that he uses throughout the book. Just to list a few:
“Any form of government, not just Capitalism, is whatever people who have all our money, drunk or sober, sane or insane, decide to do today.”
“I am not writing this book for people below the age of 18, but I see no harm in telling young people to prepare for failure rather than success, since failure is the main thing that is going to happen to them.”
“Despite our enormous brains and jam-packed libraries, we germ hotels cannot expect to understand absolutely everything.”
“Just because you can read, write and do a little math, doesn't mean that you're entitled to conquer the universe.”
I am normally not a fan of the use of repetition but I think he does it splendidly here and has really created a unique voice with an outstanding use of self-deprecating humor and satire. It is so good that it would have kept me reading even if the book had been four times longer. It was a pleasure to read this book and I'm sure that it will go back into the rotation for another go-around before too long. After all, the book made me laugh like hell.
I enjoyed this book although I do have mixed feelings about it. At a basic level, it's hard to not give a high rating to a book that has so much depth and attention to detail and is part of a fictional universe that has clearly been given a great deal of attention and love. Jordan has created a group of characters that are all unique and interesting in their own rights and bring a lot to the story.
There are also things that drive me a little crazy about the book.
One thing that I think is lacking and a big reason why I couldn't give it five stars is that there doesn't seem to be a particularly clear overall narrative picture. I read through chapters and scenes and got through them fine but then at some point I would realize that I couldn't really explain what was happening in the book. It seems like the story is perpetually captured within the scene that you are reading but there isn't any indication of where the story is going or how the characters are planning on achieving their goals. For most of the book, the characters seem to be just questing off into the void without any real clear idea of what they are doing which in a way to me felt like a nice metaphor for the reader as well.
Another technique Jordan employs a great deal is the use of repetition. Now it is entirely possible that this is affecting me more due to the fact that I'm listening to the audio book and therefore am forced to engage with more of the text. Regardless, it is frustrating to hear so many phrases repeated so many times, to the point where it feels like any time a character speaks, they come up with a reason to say things like, "Blood and Ashes" or "Fortune prick me" or "Burn me". One character in particular tugs at her braids so frequently throughout the book, I'm kind of surprised she didn't actually yank them out.
One issue sort of related to the repetition issue is the completely anemic, pathetic excuse for cursing from the characters. Now I suspect that the author likely didn't want to use a ton of profanity because he wanted to book to be appropriate for younger readers. Also, looking back to the nineties, I think that the more PG rated fantasy was more the norm, as opposed to the grittier, George RR Martin style writing that is more popular today. It isn't like I expect the characters to be dropping F-bombs every five minutes but when he repeats what constitutes for cursing and calls so much attention to it, I find that it becomes old and annoying fast. It makes the characters feel like they lack emotional depth.
It probably sounds like I didn't enjoy the book at all.
One thing I think Jordan does really well is maintaining disparate story lines as the characters are separated from each other into smaller groups for most of the book. He manages to make all of their stories pretty compelling and interesting to read, then by the end of the book everyone is brought back together in satisfying fashion. The main character from the first two books of the series is barely present here, as he makes the decision to go off on his own in pursuit of what he sees as his destiny. The more secondary characters get to shine in this book and I like that aspect as well.
The Wheel Of Time series was woven into an extremely intricate world so massive and long reaching that the author didn't even survive to see its completion. I am compelled to read on, although I have certainly read my fair share of bad reviews as the series goes on. It clearly isn't for everyone. Regardless, throughout this book I would have to say that I enjoyed the read. The descriptions are done well, the dialogue is great and the book is paced pretty well, even though the narrative can be a little myopic at times.
After a break while I give my brain some time to reset I will move on to book four and we will see how I feel about the series at that time. Until then, read on!
I will be completely honest up front and say that young adult and paranormal romance don't generally pop up on my radar. Nothing against the genre, it just hasn't been something I have been interested in. There are times, however when something is done so well and is so effective that you enjoy it regardless of the genre. Good writing is good writing, regardless of the form. I don't generally care for country music, but I like Johnny Cash. I don't really watch very many westerns but put Clint Eastwood in a serape and I'm on board. I might not be a fan of the YA genre, but I am definitely a fan of A.M. Yates.
There are two things in particular that Yates seems to excel at. First, she has a remarkable eye for character and for developing a point of view that is incredibly vivid and original. Her character's voices come through the text loud and clear and it is a pleasure to just sit back and listen. It's always a treat to see a writer take such an interest in their characters. So often in books, you have an ensemble of people who are really just different variations of the protagonist. In this case, all of the characters take up their own unique space and add different, but essential elements to the story.
Second, Yates has a great ability to create a world that is somehow completely fictional but also familiar. I find myself often thinking about Tolkien in reference to his world building ability. When I read the Lord of the Rings, I never feel like I'm reading about a fantasy universe that the writer is making up. I feel like somewhere out there, I could find a library of actual history of Middle Earth, as if it was a real place that Tolkien just happens to be the authority on. With Minor Gods, there is so much attention to detail; so many different little things about the universe of the book that come up and are communicated to the reader in such an enjoyable and natural fashion. She plans out and develops the world of her story to staggering levels of detail.
The book is paced brilliantly and there is just the right amount of narrative proximity to the protagonist to give us as the readers great insight into her frame of mind throughout the story. As the first book of a series, this does exactly what it should be doing, namely introducing us to the primary players and end the book leaving us wishing there was another three hundred pages and searching for the second book, which the author was generous enough to have ready for publication as well.
I can't recommend this book enough for anyone looking for an enjoying read. It is always nice to find books that are both entertaining and smart and Yates has nailed that target dead center. I was privileged enough to be a part of the support team for this book as a beta reader and I believe strongly in this author. Give the book a try. I bet you won't be disappointed.