Reviews

Traveler by L.E. DeLano: Review

Where to start? I have pretty mixed feelings about this book. It took me a while to get into it and it wasn’t until the last few chapters that I really got invested.

There may be some minor spoilers to follow so beware.

Traveler caught my interest partly by its title (I love traveling so the title immediately caught my eye), and partly by the concept behind story. The novel follows Jessa as she meets the mysterious Finn and learns that the reality she exists in is only one of thousands¬† of realities (or more), and she’s one of the talented few who has the ability to use mirrors to travel between realities and influence events, thus her title as Traveler.

The concept behind this is pretty good, but I found through most of the book that it was not explored to it’s utmost potential. I felt like there were a lot of aspects and possibilities behind the mythology of Travelers, as well as the mysterious Dreamers who direct their activities, that DeLano left unexplored, and that was only one of my frustrations with the book. The two biggest things that bothered me throughout were the use of so many YA tropes, and Jessa’s apparent complete lack of curiosity.

There are a lot of things in this novel that you will have seen before. For instance the ‘girl meets mysterious guy, to whom she is mysteriously attracted, only to learn that she has a mysterious power that she has to use to save the world’ trope so often seen in YA fiction these days. The premise of the story kept me reading even though I was almost instantly frustrated with the book, and I am glad that I stuck it out because the ending finally caught my interest. Although I still think there is a lot of work to be done to make this a really top notch series, I will seek out the sequel whenever it should be published, which won’t be for some time

As far as protagonists go Jessa isn’t exactly the most original. In fact, thinking back now I can’t think of any aspect of the character that really hooked me, or that I found particularly interesting, the only thing that makes Jessa’s story worth reading is the circumstances of her life. But the thing about her that frustrated me most was that she never seemed to ask any questions. As Jessa began to learn about her role as a Traveler there were so many questions that she should have asked but didn’t, or at least not for a long time after I felt they should have been asked. True, most of the questions that I wondered about eventually got answered, but I feel that someone in Jessa’s position should have tried to find the answers much sooner rather than just waiting for them to be handed out to her when they were convenient. Honestly, I spent a good portion of the novel thinking that the concept of Travelers and alternate realities was woefully underdeveloped and the reason my questions weren’t being answered was because the author didn’t even know the answers. Fortunately that wasn’t the case, but it definitely colored my perception of the novel most of the way through. I don’t want to give any serious spoilers, but lets just say that these weren’t questions that might just not have occurred to Jessa but questions that, without the answers to them, her role as a Traveler makes absolutely no sense.

Ok, so that was a lot of bad stuff about the novel, but there is good stuff too, I promise. The alternate reality concept really is very interesting and has a lot of potential. Delano explores a few different realities during this first book in the series and they are quite interesting. By the end of the book I actually was starting to get invested in the characters and what would happen to them, but, to be perfectly honest, the best part of this book was the way it ended. Delano has set up a lot of potential for following books in which his mythology, multiverse, and characters will have a lot of room for exploration and development. So, I would not recommend this book in and of itself, but, as the start too a potentially good series, I would suggest giving it a try, though you might wait a while for the next book in the series to come out before trying it. All in all a 2/5 with potential for the future.

Reviews

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater: Review

I am constantly astonished that no one within my immediate range of acquaintances has read this book (except for the ones I practically forced to read it). This book is way up there near the top of the list of my favorite books ever, though it’s exact place various with the times.

There’s so much good to say about The Scorpio Race that I don’t even know where to start. I loved this book for a lot of reasons, not least because it is complete within itself. These days I seem to have a hard time to finding good, stand alone novels. It seems like every time I pick up a book I get to the end only to find that I have to read two or three more installments to find out what happens. Now don’t get me wrong, I love series as much as anyone. More story to love right? But sometimes I get frustrated with how long they drag on. Sometimes I just want to read a book and and have a real conclusion at the end, and Scorpio Races does just that.

The most distinguishing feature of this book, and the thing that most strongly endeared it too me, is the wonderful mix of realism and fantasy. In the novel Maggie Stiefvater brings to life an incredible little island, the only place in an otherwise realistic world where the powerful and magical water horses appear. The water horses are the only magical element in the story, and yet they are not out of place, but rather serve to transmit a sense of the fantastic and magical to all of the otherwise ordinary surroundings.

The story itself is a coming of age tail that follows Puck Connolly, a teenage girl who is struggling with tough family circumstances at an already precarious age. But Puck doesn’t let that her hard life drag down her spirits. She has a tough attitude and wild heart that make her instantly likable and makes you cheer for her as she recklessly enters herself into the Scorpio Races.

The Scorpio Races are the main event on the island. It brings tourists and racers from all over the world to witness the unique event every year as the wild and carnivorous water horses begin to emerge from the sea. Riders risk their lives to capture and tame these wild, fairy horse, all to compete in the deadly competition. The water horses are not meant to stay on land you see, and the race, that takes place only yards from the ocean, is as much a struggle to keep your mount from plunging into the waves and drowning you as it is a competition with the other riders. This is the competition that Puck daringly, and foolishly, enters, with her tame, grass eating mare. No one recognizes the foolishness of her decision more than Sean Kendrick, our other protagonist.

Sean is an orphan, living and working on a ranch that breeds the dangerous water horses. He has an affinity with the wild horses that no one else can match, he understands them in a way no one else does, even better than people at time. He too is entering the Scorpio Races, despite his own fathers death in the races years ago. As Puck remains resolute in her determination to Race despite all of the dangers, it draws her and Shawn together in a most beautiful way.

And that’s another thing I love about this book. I find that in a lot of YA novels the romance tends to get way over done and is so full of drama that by the end I almost don’t care whether they end up together. Not so in Scorpio Races the friendship, and eventual love, between Puck and Sean is so sweet and sincere and completely lacking in all of that overdone, can’t live without each other, heart pounding, jealousy inducing, teeth grinding, frustrating romance that I see out there nowadays.

I could go on, there is so much good about the novel, it’s so understated yet powerful and it leaves you thinking about it long after you’ve put it down. In short, The Scorpio Races is pretty much everything I look for in a novel, and I would highly recommend that you read it if you haven’t already. Need I say that I would absolutely rate this 5/5?

Reviews

Tin Star by Cecil Castellucci: Review

I found Tin Star at the library one day while I was there picking up some holds. The title caught my attention and the synopsis hooked me, I picked it up and brought it home. I was excited about it because it looked like a fun short read and that was something I was really looking for at the time. It turned out to be one of those novels that keeps me enthralled throughout, but leaves me a bit disappointed in the end.

Tin Star tells the story of Tula Bane, a teenage girl who’s mother decided to relocate her two daughters to a new human colony out in the galaxy. We first meet Tula as her ship is making a pit stop on the way to her new home world. Tula, who at first was skeptical about her mothers plans for space colonization, has become excited about the prospects ahead of her, not least because she’s fallen under the spell of the charismatic Brother Blue, the man responsible for the colonizing mission. Little does Tula now that Brother Blue has more nefarious intentions than any of his fawning colonists could ever have imagined. She learns his true nature far too late after he leaves her beaten half to death on the space station.

The concept is fascinating. In Castellucci’s version of the universe human’s are new to the space exploration scene, and not very well liked by the majority of other species out there. So what is a naive human teenager to do to survive on a remote space station, orbiting a depleted planet, with no resources, no way back to Earth, and no family to look after her? She toughens up and learns to survive by whatever means necessary.

As I say this concept is fascinating, unfortunately, Castellucci does not make the best use of it. She has so much material to work with, so much she could do with the unique universe and culture she has dreamed up for Tula, but throughout the novel Castellucci focuses on all of the wrong elements, skipping time and summarizing Tula’s experiences, rushing through the most character driven scenes where it would have been most interesting to have more detail. The best parts of the story, at least to me, get lumped into summarized sections and then fall into the background. The focus is placed almost entirely on the plot and this causes the story to lose a lot of the emotional impact that it could have had if Castellucci had focused more on the character building elements instead of just using her characters to further the plot.

There was just enough good stuff in this novel too keep me eagerly reading, but not enough to leave me satisfied when I was done. In the end, I think Castellucci missed the mark with this one, but if she could ever be prevailed upon to rewrite it with a greater emphasis on characterization and how Tula learns to fit into her alien life I would pick it up again in a heart beat. Final rating 3/5.

 

Reviews

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: Review

There will be some spoilers in this post.

This is a book that I had been meaning to read for a while, and I ended up finally reading it in a kind of unusual way. Cloud Atlas had made it’s way onto the list of books I intended to check out from the library immediately after my return from volunteering abroad. So imagine my surprise when, as I was languishing away for a week in Antananarivo waiting for my flight home, and rapidly running out of reading material with which to pass the time, another girl in my dorm room at the hostel happened to have it, and also happened to be finished with it and looking for something new. Long story short (sort of) I traded Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, for Cloud Atlas and couldn’t believe my good luck.

Okay, on to the actual book. David Mitchell’s story telling kept me riveted from the beginning. The story structure was one of the most unique and fascinating things I have ever read. it worked like this: the first half of the book told the first half of the stories of a succession of people beginning with the earliest in history and working forward to a distant future. Then, in the middle of the book. we come to the story that takes place farthest in the future, and this is the only story told straight through during the course of the novel. Upon the completion of this mini story, we begin working our way backwards through time, receiving the second halves of each of the other stories, until we finally reach the end and the conclusion of the first story.

As I said this is a fascinating story structure, and the most interesting part is the way each story influences the next, but the most engaging part for me is the way that the whole book doesn’t really come together until you start reading backward through time, finishing the stories, and really seeing how it all happened and what all the connections are. I had so many “no way, I totally get that now!” moments reading the second half of the novel, it was thrilling!

Alright, enough about the structure, what about the story? I actually can’t say too much about the story without giving away so much of what makes reading Cloud Atlas enjoyable, so I won’t go into detail. I will say though that each character and mini story was quite unique and interesting, but, at the same time, I didn’t particularly enjoy any of them. The thing that made this book good for me was the structure, and the feeling of discovery and connection that you get when it all comes together. To be honest I had a hard time liking most of the characters and a lot, in fact, I might say all, of the stories were thoroughly depressing, and sometimes quite gruesome. If I hadn’t been so desperate to find out how it all came together in the end I may not have finished this book at all. However, I think that without the dark and depressing nature of the stories the satisfaction of finding out how it all come together would have been lessened. Books don’t always have to be happy, I mean, if they were all rainbows and butterflies all the time they wouldn’t be nearly so good or worth reading.

In the end my feelings about Cloud Atlas are quite confused, but I think that might be one of the signs of a book well written. I loved this book for the structure and how it made me think and discover. I was less thrilled with its dark themes, but those themes are a big part of what made the structure work. Therefore I’ll give this novel 4/5 stars, detracting one for the depressing material. I highly recommend reading Cloud Atlas (but only for mature readers), and then I recommend finding someone else who’s read it because I think it would make wonderful material for a book discussion.

Original poetry

Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata

is floating through snowflakes

drifting to earth

from the grey cover of clouds

and alighting on the old,

wooden, upright piano that

stands with keys bared

on the edge of a city park

 

and if you close your eyes

the snow freckling your cheeks

becomes moon beams brushing

your skin as you watch

a couple waltz in a moonlit glade

until they burst through the leaves

to run and frolic about

the forest

Reviews

Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami: Review

There are few things that leave me more ashamed of myself than not finishing a book once I’ve started it. It feels like giving up, or like abandonment, depending on my feelings toward the book. This was definitely a case of giving up. Kafka on the Shore was highly recommended to me by someone that I knew during the time I lived in Madagascar. I was reading a book by a Japanese author at the time, and she noticed and went on to tell me that Kafka on the Shore is one of her favorite books, and also by a Japanese author. Having enjoyed both books by Japanese authors that I had then read, and also being a fan of Japanese manga, anime, and television dramas, I got really excited to read Kafka on the Shore and it was the first book I put on hold at my library when I got back to the U.S., but I couldn’t even make myself finish the book.

Kafka on the Shore has a very interesting plot, and characters that really intrigued me. There was all kinds of craziness happening, stuff that intrigued me and made me want to find out the truth and how everything connected. But the, in my opinion, subpar prose kept me from enjoying the story the way I wanted to, and the contrast between the compelling plot and poor writing just made it worse, because I kept expecting it to get better and it never did.

I recognized a lot of elements in the story that were reminiscent of my favorite aspects of Japanese storytelling, for example, the unique kind of magical realism that you see in some manga and anime, or some Studio Ghibli movies particularly come to mind. Those elements were what kept me reading as long as I did. I mean talking cats pretty much have me sold, but in the end it wasn’t enough. There was so much good there though, and the essential elements seemed so promising that I wonder whether my problem is just with a poor translation. So I’ve got a few questions for anyone out there who is familiar with the novel. Do you know if there’s a superior translation out there, or are they all pretty much equal? Would it be worth it to give the novel another try? Maybe I just need to try it again now that I’m no longer in the throes of severe jet lag. I don’t think I can accurately rate this novel since I didn’t finish it, but I’d love to hear any thoughts that you might have on it, so leave a comment below and let me know what you think of this novel and whether I should give it another try!