Categories
Fiction Literary Fiction

Struggling Through the Classics: Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

Well – my dad is going to scoff at this one but I was so flabbergasted at Zorba the Greek for having retained popularity that I actually did some extensive research on what the heck I was supposed to be getting out of the book.

The main ideas that I originally took away were 1) Crete is pretty 2)the author really didn’t like women at all 3) the narrator learns how to live a little 4) EXISTENTIALISM, yay, and 5) I did pick up on the Apollo vs Dionysus ideology because that’s not an entirely uncommon theme in Greek writing.

So – my gut reaction though is that I just did not care for this at all.  They were such dicks to the widows and I can’t figure out how a 65 year old survived for so long with absolutely zero impulse control 😂

That said – ok, let’s break it down and I’ll share what I really didn’t understand, what I learned, and what my ultimate takeaways were

Bookish Quick Facts: 

  • Title: Zorba the Greek
  • Translator: Peter Bien
  • Published: 2014 translation through Simon & Schuster, originally 1946
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: I am coming in neutral but honestly. *throws hands up* I’m a terrible Greek apparently

Here’s the synopsis via Am*zon:

A stunning new translation of the classic book—and basis for the beloved Oscar-winning film—brings the clarity and beauty of Kazantzakis’s language and story alive.

First published in 1946, Zorba the Greek, is, on one hand, the story of a Greek working man named Zorba, a passionate lover of life, the unnamed narrator who he accompanies to Crete to work in a lignite mine, and the men and women of the town where they settle. On the other hand it is the story of God and man, The Devil and the Saints; the struggle of men to find their souls and purpose in life and it is about love, courage and faith.

Zorba has been acclaimed as one of the truly memorable creations of literature—a character created on a huge scale in the tradition of Falstaff and Sancho Panza. His years have not dimmed the gusto and amazement with which he responds to all life offers him, whether he is working in the mine, confronting mad monks in a mountain monastery, embellishing the tales of his life or making love to avoid sin. Zorba’s life is rich with all the joys and sorrows that living brings and his example awakens in the narrator an understanding of the true meaning of humanity. This is one of the greatest life-affirming novels of our time.

Part of the modern literary canon, Zorba the Greek, has achieved widespread international acclaim and recognition. This new edition translated, directly from Kazantzakis’s Greek original, is a more faithful rendition of his original language, ideas, and story, and presents Zorba as the author meant him to be

I think the most informative part was Peter Bien’s forward.  I’ve never thought about what Greece was doing during the world wars, but apparently Kazantzakis was living on a beach starving and then his wife showed up? Ok.  I don’t know, I can’t imagine this setting except that he was envisioning a better time with plentiful food and lively company

The book confused me from the get go which was a bad start.   I couldn’t figure out that the friend at the start was Stavrandakis, not Zorba, and eventually I Googled and was like “ooohhh”.  It’s hard because the author never named the friend at first, or the narrator ever.

Zorba was the YES GO LIVE AND DO THINGS person, while the narrator was intellectual, stuck on books, and trying to write one.  I never understood his Buddhist fascination but I think he was trying to write a book or dissertation on it, and was mentally freed afterwards.  Zorba was a more visceral person and brought the narrator out of that intellectual/mental prison he was in.

The book took on the theme of extremes, and the end was to try to find a happy medium between living EVERY moment and self limiting.

The scenery and descriptions were my favorite part – I was too young in Greece to really remember it but the descriptions put me right back on a beach in Crete.  The setting and also atmosphere of hospitality just felt so real it made me truly want to go back.

Zorba loved food, women, music, dance, except he was like the ultimate example of objectifying women, and they killed that poor widow for what, rejecting a man? Holy cow, mixed feelings.  The aging process was so different between Zorba and “Bouboulina” that I picked graceful aging out as a theme.

I had to research what else because my intuitions stopped there.  The Buddhism part – the narrator was removing himself from material things but trying to find a deeper meaning … and Zorba was all about material things.  Again, finding balance

Freedom was another big theme that I missed.  Zorba just wanted to be free to live the way he wanted – finding new experiences and seeing where the wind, his nose, and his d!ck led him – I saw that part but didn’t connect it to the larger ideology.  The narrator wanted to find his freedom and Zorba was definitely instrumental in bringing that out

Nietzsche – I am not even going here.  I’m not a philosopher and have little to zero knowledge in this area so I’ll rephrase what I said above – EXISTENTIALISM, yay

…… That’s the summary of the academics that I remember.  There is a lot of joy throughout the book and my main takeaway was to find the beauty and awe in small things.  Don’t rush things, enjoy, and be open to new people and experiences. I definitely remember the Greek hospitality too which shows up constantly.

All in all – I would read it if you want to read the classics, but be ready for all the philosophical elements and (even for me who is bothered by like absolutely nothing) infuriating treatment of women.  The movie is quite good though

Categories
Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance (Book Thoughts)

*** Editing this post to say that I just did a 10 second Google search to see what the author has been up to recently, and it’s a bit of a total barf fest. I hope he stays true to wanting to help people though.  I also now have an idea of why he was inserting so many figures and facts in there (see bottom paragraph), he was probably already planning a political run.  Anyway – my experience with the book stands and damn if I’m going to delete it even though Vance turned into a giant 🍆

I found a copy of Hillbilly Elegy shortly after it came out, and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. I wasn’t too interested in how political people were making the book at first and I think that was a mistake since it seemed to me like an awesome story of someone who overcame poverty & trauma, family, and upward mobility.

The first thing I liked was how right in the introduction Vance frankly outlined what he was trying to do with the book, said what his own biases were, and put his own lens into perspective for the reader.  He also explicitly states that he is focusing on a small geographical area, and while I get that he offended a lot of Appalachia with some of his portrayals he never claimed that the book speaks for everyone

Anyway, I’ll hit the good, bad, and odd below

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Hillbilly Elegy
  • Author: J.D. Vance
  • Publisher & Release: Harper, June 2016
  • Length: 272 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ frankly yes, understanding that some things have changed since 2016

Here’s the synopsis via Am@zon:

Hillbilly Elegy is a passionate and personal analysis of a culture in crisis—that of white working-class Americans. The decline of this group, a demographic of our country that has been slowly disintegrating over forty years, has been reported on with growing frequency and alarm, but has never before been written about as searingly from the inside. J. D. Vance tells the true story of what a social, regional, and class decline feels like when you were born with it hung around your neck.

The Vance family story begins hopefully in postwar America. J. D.’s grandparents were “dirt poor and in love,” and moved north from Kentucky’s Appalachia region to Ohio in the hopes of escaping the dreadful poverty around them. They raised a middle-class family, and eventually their grandchild (the author) would graduate from Yale Law School, a conventional marker of their success in achieving generational upward mobility.

But as the family saga of Hillbilly Elegy plays out, we learn that this is only the short, superficial version. Vance’s grandparents, aunt, uncle, sister, and, most of all, his mother, struggled profoundly with the demands of their new middle-class life, and were never able to fully escape the legacy of abuse, alcoholism, poverty, and trauma so characteristic of their part of America. Vance piercingly shows how he himself still carries around the demons of their chaotic family history.

A deeply moving memoir with its share of humor and vividly colorful figures

I think Vance accomplished his goal and shared a story of a way of life that many Americans are not (while unfortunately many are) familiar with, although the political, social, economic landscapes have now changed during Covid.

What I took away was …

1} His family story, the biography. I loved how his great grandparents, grandparents, and parents all had to overcome generational poverty and trauma to find their own way.  Some succeeded, some didn’t.  His grandmother is absolutely fierce (but not without flaws) and I wanted even more MawMaw stories.

2} Regardless of class, region, economic status, race, a lot of us can relate to having to get past our parents’ choices and the situation we are born into.  Vance dealt with parental domestic abuse, utter insanity, drug use, alcoholism, rotating men in the house, and never had a stable home life except at his grandparents.  His mom actually was going to kill him once. His sister essentially kept them afloat.  Let’s take a minute, applaud the sister Lindsay, and appreciate how hard this makes a kid’s prospects even without poverty involved

3) Can’t argue that America (post covid is another story, another universe, so much worse) relies heavily on welfare and government funding.  I totally agree with Vance that at least part of the solution is targeting at risk youth with the social, emotional, and financial support that they need, plus the safety and sense of optimism to succeed.  I can’t even begin to think of how to unclusterfuck America right now but I’d love to see how Vance feels about this now in 2022

4) I touched on it above but google the ACE score and see if you have experienced any of the acute childhood events? Do they affect you today? I think the real story is how Vance managed to overcome these generational traumas and functions like a successful human with a wife and family.  He even helped his mother still, after everything

5) A lot of success is habitual, mental, and learned behaviors

The only thing I considered truly weird was that this is largely marketed as. Memoir, which is great.  I loved the biographical elements.  The thing is that Vance also threw in facts and data to push his narrative at times … which is great but makes it less memoir and anecdotal ish and more about the author being “right”. Just odd.

Overall – I would recommend book or audio equally, from the except Vance sounds like a decent narrator

Have you read it? What did you think??

Categories
Adventure Science Fiction

All Systems Red (Book Thoughts) by Martha Wells

Ahhh I had to restart the novellas before reading Network Effect. I know they don’t really affect the full length book but it feels right and they are quick reads (or listens).

For those unaware, The Murderbot Diaries is a series of 5 novellas and one full length novel set prior to those events, about a security bot who hacks itself and would rather watch tv dramas then do its job.

It’s snarky, at times funny sci-fi that reads more like adventure fiction as the actual science is pretty limited.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: All Systems Red
  • Series: The Murderbot Diaries #1
  • Author: Martha Wells
  • Punlisher & Release: TorDotCom – May 2017
  • Length: 160 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ☀☀☀☀ sure for scifi/adventure fans!

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

A murderous android discovers itself in All Systems Red, a tense science fiction adventure by Martha Wells that interrogates the roots of consciousness through Artificial Intelligence.

“As a heartless killing machine, I was a complete failure.”

In a corporate-dominated spacefaring future, planetary missions must be approved and supplied by the Company. Exploratory teams are accompanied by Company-supplied security androids, for their own safety.

But in a society where contracts are awarded to the lowest bidder, safety isn’t a primary concern.

On a distant planet, a team of scientists are conducting surface tests, shadowed by their Company-supplied ‘droid ― a self-aware SecUnit that has hacked its own governor module, and refers to itself (though never out loud) as “Murderbot.” Scornful of humans, all it really wants is to be left alone long enough to figure out who it is.

But when a neighboring mission goes dark, it’s up to the scientists and their Murderbot to get to the truth.

I really love Murderbot.  There is absolutely Nil for world building which is where I perpetually dock a star, but the action, plot, mystery, snarky characters, and AI ethical struggles won me over pretty quickly.

As in most novellas, the plot and action move quickly.  We get what we need about The Company and the function of Security bots, while the rest is characters and banter and action.

I enjoyed the plot too, we get plenty of danger and an added mystery / who dunnit as well.  Murderbot might prefer not to interact with humans but it surprisingly is quite good at it’s job, when while epically half-assing it

It’s hard not to like Murderbot as a character too. It just rolls it’s eyes and snarks at the humans – but lord forbid someone tries to kill the humans because then it’s all NO YOU WONT HURT MY HUMANS!! Mensah and the others are interesting too, in the glimpse we get some complicated crew dynamics as they deal with their terrible situation ( and rogue SecUnit).

I love the moment when MB is like – These are my humans! I also appreciate Murderbot’s sentiments towards humans, AKA it’s favorite quote time – because honestly I relate to the not caring parts 😂

Yes, talk to Murderbot about its feelings. The idea was so painful I dropped to 97 percent efficiency

 

As a heartless killing machine, I was a terrible failure

 

I don’t know why, because it’s one of those things I’m not contractually obligated to care about

 

I was the one who was supposed to keep everybody safe. I panic all the time, you just can’t see it, I told her. I added the text signifier for “joke.”

All in all – definitely check out Murderbot if you like snark and adventure and quick reads.  I will add that All Systems Red won a boatload of awards in 2018 – The Hugo, Nebula, Alex, AND Locus! For all that the Hugo and Nebula have given into the PC crowd, this book wasn’t terrible. Murderbot has no sexy parts (I picture an amorphous Ken doll) and identified as “It” – which makes blessed sense to me – but otherwise the book is not terribly PC and the awards are well deserved in my opinion!

Categories
Fantasy

The Killing Fog (Book Review) by Jeff Wheeler

I read The Grave Kingdom series back in 2020 as ARCs, and found that oddly enough the first review never made it into my blog!  Now that I am trying to organize back content I definitely had to rectify that situation.  I am back writing this based on my Instagram thoughts and notes from my reading journal!

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Killing Fog
  • Series: The Grave Kingdom #1
  • Author: Jeff Wheeler
  • Publisher & Release: 47 North, March 2020
  • Length: 413 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⚡

Here is the synopsis from Amazon:

The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of the Kingfountain series conjures an epic, adventurous world of ancient myth and magic as a young woman’s battle with infinite evil begins.

Survivor of a combat school, the orphaned Bingmei belongs to a band of mercenaries employed by a local ruler. Now the nobleman, and collector of rare artifacts, has entrusted Bingmei and the skilled team with a treacherous assignment: brave the wilderness’s dangers to retrieve the treasures of a lost palace buried in a glacier valley. But upsetting its tombs has a price.

Echion, emperor of the Grave Kingdom, ruler of darkness, Dragon of Night, has long been entombed. Now Bingmei has unwittingly awakened him and is answerable to a legendary prophecy. Destroying the dark lord before he reclaims the kingdoms of the living is her inherited mission. Killing Bingmei before she fulfills it is Echion’s.

Thrust unprepared into the role of savior, urged on by a renegade prince, and possessing a magic that is her destiny, Bingmei knows what she must do. But what must she risk to honor her ancestors? Bingmei’s fateful choice is one that neither her friends nor her enemies can foretell, as Echion’s dark war for control unfolds.

The Plot: This is an Asian based fantasy where a young girl is training to become a warrior after watching her family be slain by an invading band. The book starts on a sad note and introduces an interesting tale of magical weapons, ancient curcses, martial arts, political maneuvering, lost kingdoms, and devious dragons.

I believe this is Wheeler’s longest book and also the most slow burning of all of them.  There is a lot of magic and world building to introduce (and a LOT of characters and martial arts) although I found the last 25% to be quite rewarding.

The Worldbuilding: I think the world building is the strongest element.  Each Kingdom has a unique flair, with smells and foods and attitudes unique to the problems and geography of the region.  I enjoyed this and it becomes important in later books as these regions and their rulers are brought back later on.  I think the histories, lore, and general atmosphere of the book were quite cohesive and added a lot to the read.  There is language and symbols used too (with a glossary – thank you)! Looking up the words can slow the pace down a bit but I found it worthwhile and learned soon enough.  My only thing is that if anyone is listening on audio (I am not) this might become hard.

I do love Wheeler’s descriptions of settings and buildings and even climate too, everything about the environment is fused into the action and creates a very strong world build.

For more on the world and aesthetic:

Grave Kingdom

The Magic: I honestly don’t remember how much is given in The Killing Fog about the Grave Kingdom and the Death Wall, but it is as if a wall separates the world from the spiritual realm.  The magical weapons, curses, artifacts, and of course dragons! all add to the action

The Characters: I saved this until last because Wheeler’s biggest weakness as an author is introducing child characters.  Owen and Evie (Kingfountain) Ransom (Argentines)  Lia (Muirwood) – despite having tons of kids, Wheeler just does not do kids well.   They end up with incredible character arcs while the initial presentation simply never hits home – so – my advice is give Bingmei time if she doesn’t ring true at first.

That said – Bingmei is introduced as a young girl who is motivated by revenge after the murder of her grandfather and devastation of her family’s quonsoon.  She is presented as a bit of a blank slate, then grows and learns quickly as she has a bit of a destiny attached to her and is thrown into a role of sacrifice vs savior, with huge decisions that no one ever wants to make.  Her growth and character arc  is one of the high points of the series

The other members of the group (I don’t remember individuals) all had unique personalities, struggles, and abilities too.  I enjoyed the banter and how many fierce women there were, including the leader of the fighting school! There is a male counterpart who becomes Bingmei’s travelling companion (and friend – my favorite, a friend and supporter without a romantic interest)!

I can’t talk much about the romance because it comes with a different character in later books, but, there is one dashingly tragic rebel Prince who was total book boyfriend material.

Random things: another big check for the clean, more wholesome content I come to expect from Wheeler.  Issues – the fight scenes got a little repetitive by the end, I was joking singing “Wheeler goes kung-fu fighting”!  Bingmei also has an innate ability using smells that is cool, but doesn’t seem to fit with anyone else’s magic or abilities so it threw me off.  The length and pace dragged a bit although ultimately paid off, resulting in this being my least favorite Wheeler book to date. It wasn’t bad by any means but I do not recommend starting his books with this series!

For fans of found family, crews, discovery, atmosphere, tragedy, magic, new worlds, legends, strong women and more – definitely check out The Grave Kingdom trilogy!

Categories
audiobooks Biographies, Memoirs, Nonfiction

When You Are Engulfed in Flames (audio thoughts) by David Sedaris

Continuing my simultaneous quests to read outside my lines and pick up random popular authors that I haven’t read yet, I turned to one of the many essay collections by David Sedaris.  This is his sixth, and while I heard that some of the earlier ones were more funny, I thought a “recent” collection might be more pertinent to today’s issues. Whether or not that is true, it was interesting to “throwback” to some of the things happening “back then” without today’s lens!

It is HARD to pick nonfiction these days when there is so much of it out there. I first heard the Sedaris name on Bojack Horseman, as his sister Amy voices a prominent character, and she seems like a hilarious person and decent actress.

Having gone to the Van Gogh exhibit recently and almost purchased a tote with the painting on the cover of When You Are Engulfed in Flames on it, i thought “hey this will be a good place to start”

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
  • Author: David Sedaris
  • Publisher & Release: Little, Brown & Company – June 2008
  • Length: 336 pages
  • The Audio: self narrated by David Sedaris, 9 hours from Hachette Audio

I think it is a little bit hard to rate humor because everybody has a different sense of humor.  While I have a feeling that Sedaris’ personality won’t go over well with the 2022 “woke” crowd, I personally find him funny and admire the way that he can make everyday embarrassment into something worth reading about.

If you are looking for a lighter read with funny observations about life and personal experiences, Sedaris seems like a regular go-to for many people and I would certainly read & listen to more of his writings.

I laughed the most when Sedaris was *convinced* that his husband wanted a human skeleton for Christmas, when his mother – in – law had a worm in her leg with a penis-shaped head, and, at the many mistakes that happen when the literal translation of languages leaves something to be desired.  This happens a lot between Japanese and English and we see the best of it as Sedaris tries to quit smoking by immersing himself in Japanese culture

There is also some heavier commentary on his early drug and alcohol use, getting out of the closet, and many things that he probably wasn’t laughing at at the time but now can reflect back on and find the story to tell.

The audio is great too, I think he is a great orator and kept it interesting. The live recording portions were of good quality too.  Why was Sedaris sitting mostly naked in a urology waiting room? Well – you’ll have to read to find out

Categories
Fantasy Horror

Redemption (Book Review) by T.R. Slauf

I finally read Redemption, the second book in the author’s Legends of Lightning series! This is embarrassing considering that I not only had an early copy but the Kindle preordered too, so this is a disclaimer that I absolutely suck.

Redemption picked up not too far after the end of Hidden Realm, with Esther and the other Huntsmen reeling over Oisin’s loss and the Queens dealing with their own problems.  Overall this was a stronger book and it was awesome to see the growth between the two novels

((Book 1 review))

((Author interview))

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Redemption
  • Series: Legends of Lightning #2
  • Author: T.R. Slauf
  • Publisher & Release: Self, 11/02/21
  • Length: 374 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ for dark fantasy and twisted fairytale fans!

Here is the Synopsis via GoodReads:

Esther escaped the horrors of Castle Rose, but at a cost. Believing her lost guide is still alive deep in the bowels of Adam’s dungeons, she aims to save him, but the other Huntsman are not so sure he’s alive… Desperate to rescue Oisin, Esther makes tempestuous allegiances with dangerous foes. Walking a fine line between enemies and allies, life and death, she rages war against the monsters of the Hidden Realm.

Esther’s journey continues in this heart wrenching sequel as she navigates the politics and grudges of ageless Queens. By night, she’s haunted by what she’s seen fighting in a war that was never hers. What she’s done to survive in the Hidden Realm will haunt her forever and she’s terrified of losing herself in the darkness without a star to guide her. Will Esther be able to save Oisin and the lands before the shadows of her mind overtake her spirit?

I definitely liked Redemption more than Hidden Realm.  Now that the story is more streamlined, the plot and action felt stronger and the characters had believable arcs.

Esther had to deal with the PTSD from the torture, separation, and worse from her imprisonments.  It was also interesting to see how the soldiers responded to war that hadn’t seen battle before.  One particularly affected character – I could have sworn it was a nod to the Venture Bros henchmen 21/24 dynamic, but the author said no – it was particularly grisly though.  Trauma affects people in many ways and this book took a deep dive down some dark paths

I think the character (and world) building got a big, necessary boost too.  With more background on the Queens and politics, personalities, alliances, and a bit more history, tbe plot was carried a long way.

I liked spending more time with the Queens to see how truly twisted they are. A few personalities and developing characters surprised me and kept the story interesting.  A lot of things actually kept it interesting, such as betrayal on more betrayal, political maneuvering, an exploration of various forms of fanaticism, and meeting more magical creatures.  T.R. got creative with the torture too – this wasn’t splatterpunk but definitely grimdark

After a chat with the author, let me give Indie authors a piece of advice: so I was reading the Kindle version and felt like the book needed a solid proof-read before the final went out.  There were up to two typos on some pages and honestly it was enough to throw me off a tad.   This is now the second time an author told me that they spent good money on an editing service. I think that all the people do is run the manuscript through a spell check, without reading for context or grammar or other non spell check errors.  The result makes me think that 1) these services should be ashamed of themselves and 2) authors would be better off using a private editor with good references, or even asking a friend with a critical eye.

Now, that said – I did dock a star for readability affecting immersion at times, but, I would still 100% recommend for fans of dark fantasy and twisted fairy tales! As I said it was a much stronger story than book one and had many hard but important themes to unravel.  You will hurt for these characters!  Personally I can’t wait for the next book, this ended on a ridiculously suspenseful note!

Categories
Science Fiction Thrillers

Dark Matter (Book Thoughts) by Blake Crouch

I can’t believe February is more than half over already! I took a little break from ARCs recently and spent some time catching up on books from the late 20-teens by popular authors.  I almost always have a physical, ebook, and audiobook going at all times, and without a digital ARC due soon I have been taking advantage of the Libby app to try some new authors.

Recursion by Blake Crouch was hugely popular on bookstagram when it came out, but I thought the synopsis for Dark Matter sounded more interesting and grabbed that one first.  What an absolutely thrilling book, a mix of sci-fi, thriller, multiverse, and love story without being a romance. I would fully recommend the book to pretty much anyone interested, and definitely want to pick up more books by Crouch.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Dark Matter
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Blake Crouch
  • Publisher & Release: Ballantine Books, July 2016
  • Length: 352 pages
  • Rate & Recommend:  Yes for fans of thrillers, multiverses, and thinking about life’s big questions

Here’s the synopsis (taken from Amazon:

A mindbending, relentlessly surprising thriller from the author of the bestselling Wayward Pines trilogy

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. Hiswife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

Dark Matter is a brilliantly plotted tale that is at once sweeping and intimate, mind-bendingly strange and profoundly human—a relentlessly surprising science-fiction thriller about choices, paths not taken, and how far we’ll go to claim the lives we dream of.

Take another look at the last paragraph of the synopsis, because it is absolutely 100% accurately what the book is about.  Jason is put against impossible odds to get back home to his family.  Travelling through dangerous alternate universes, getting closer and closer – he must discover what exactly HOME means to him in order to get back to that place

Dodging freezing storms, a deadly plague, murderous versions of himself, watching his wife die over and over in other universes . . . then as he gets closer, and closer, Jason must truly reconcile the choices he has made to come home.

I liked the Daniela character too, she doesn’t get that much page time but projects a confidence and determination no matter which life she is living.

I can’t say much more without spoilers but the pacing is FAST.  There is only one place where the science gets a little deep, and otherwise it is a very accessible sci-fi thriller.  There is plenty of danger and real stress on the characters, I never really knew who was going to live or what the outcome would be.

It was impossible not to read this one over the course of a long weekend!

I definitely recommend for adult fans of thrillers, multiverses, and hard life questions!

Categories
Fantasy Literary Fiction Paranormal

Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (all the things I learned) by Salman Rushdie

The only thing I knew about Rushdie going into this read was that 1) his eyebrows are terrifying and 2) about 30 years ago he really, really pissed off the Ayatollah enough to receive a death warrant. I knew that he was known for magical realism and I thought a book about Djinn would be a fun place to start – plus Ursula LeGuin plugged the book, and it pays tons of homage to Scheherezade and the 1001 nights (see title).

I expected a stuffy old idealist, which meant that while reading I was shocked by the humor and strangeness mixed in with the idealism and colorful characters, sex and profanity, giggles and terrible acts and general ridiculousness found on the same page as much more serious themes and topics.

I watched a talk and Q&A that Rushdie did, mostly about his new book at the time called Quichotte, and he is HILARIOUS.  Brilliant clearly but also giggling about not wanting certain presidents in his fucking book, and he actually joked that thirty years later, only one of the two men (Rushdie vs. the Ayatollah) are alive, so things must have worked out.  I was laughing truly, he is a delight to listen to.

So what did I learn? Don’t assume an author is a stuffy old dude until you read something they write and hear their thoughts on their work.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: Two Years Eight Months and Twenty Eight Nights
  • Series: N/A
  • Author: Salman Rushdie
  • Publisher & Release: Random House, September 2015
  • Length: 304 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐ ⚡ I don’t think I would tell people to read this book of his first

Here’s the synopsis:

In the near future, after a storm strikes New York City, the strangenesses begin. A down-to-earth gardener finds that his feet no longer touch the ground. A graphic novelist awakens in his bedroom to a mysterious entity that resembles his own sub–Stan Lee creation. Abandoned at the mayor’s office, a baby identifies corruption with her mere presence, marking the guilty with blemishes and boils. A seductive gold digger is soon tapped to combat forces beyond imagining.

Unbeknownst to them, they are all descended from the whimsical, capricious, wanton creatures known as the jinn, who live in a world separated from ours by a veil. Centuries ago, Dunia, a princess of the jinn, fell in love with a mortal man of reason. Together they produced an astonishing number of children, unaware of their fantastical powers, who spread across generations in the human world.

Once the line between worlds is breached on a grand scale, Dunia’s children and others will play a role in an epic war between light and dark spanning a thousand and one nights—or two years, eight months, and twenty-eight nights. It is a time of enormous upheaval, in which beliefs are challenged, words act like poison, silence is a disease, and a noise may contain a hidden curse.

Inspired by the traditional “wonder tales” of the East, Salman Rushdie’s novel is a masterpiece about the age-old conflicts that remain in today’s world. Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights is satirical and bawdy, full of cunning and folly, rivalries and betrayals, kismet and karma, rapture and redemption.

I think the last line of the synopsis says everything.  The main issue for me is that the book was set another 1000 years in the future, so the first and last parts of it read like a historical textbook on the Djinn and an old war.  Not that this is a bad thing, but it caused me to switch over to the audio as that kind of literature gets into my brain easier when someone else is telling the story.

After a history of the Djinn, we meet Dunia, and then generations later we meet the descendants of her children. Many of these are described in the synopsis.  This was the highlight for me as things got quite strange.  For example – how does someone floating higher and higher off the ground take a crap once things start getting too splashy? Is a gardener capable of being a hero? Will the power destroy or drive mad or save it’s recipients when their Djinn blood is awakened?

“Bawdy and satirical” is an understatement an overall I liked those parts.  I didn’t love how he made religion the scapegoat of the dark Djinn, he pretty much dismissed a ton of people as sheep and clowns, but there were also some interesting ideas about God so who knows where he is really coming from.

The 1001 night war was a good idea, and I liked that he kept circling back to the storytellers.  Other themes obviously included repressed idealism, common heroes, how good and bad can originate much from the same place, and … right at the end there is a great piece on how history chooses it’s heroes and writes them accordingly

He also echoed a sentiment I have been feeling recently where people are so focused on immediate results (including in stories) that longer books and journeys aren’t appreciated so much anymore

One quick note on the narration – I love Indian accents, and Robert G. Slade did an awesome job.  The cackling comic book Djinn roughly quoted as saying “come get me mothafuckaaa” was one of the many, many things I thought he did well.  A large portion of the book also took place in America, and I think he has a great range of accents and voices to offer.  It was a no-frills audio and I think it was the right move for me to switch over

Overall: I think everyone should read at least one Rushdie book at some point, but the historical text parts of this one were a lot less interesting than the present tense chapters.  I would not recommend starting with this book.  I am personally going to try Quichotte next, but Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses (the one the sparked the Fatwa) I believe are his two most popular.

Categories
audiobooks Fantasy Fiction

The Magician King (book thoughts) by Lev Grossman

Well I definitely couldn’t stop reading at the end of The Magicians, so here are my thoughts on The Magician King! So many series have a second book slump and I was absolutely floored that this sequel was even better than the first.

Bookish Quick Facts:

  • Title: The Magician King
  • Series: The Magicians, #2
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher & Release: Viking, August 2011
  • Length: 416 pages
  • Rate & Recommend: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ yes for fans of modern/contemporary fantasy

Here’s the synopsis from GoodReads:

The Magicians was praised as a triumph by readers and critics of both mainstream and fantasy literature. Now Grossman takes us back to Fillory, where the Brakebills graduates have fled the sorrows of the mundane world, only to face terrifying new challenges.

Quentin and his friends are now the kings and queens of Fillory, but the days and nights of royal luxury are starting to pall. After a morning hunt takes a sinister turn, Quentin and his old friend Julia charter a magical sailing ship and set out on an errand to the wild outer reaches of their kingdom. Their pleasure cruise becomes an adventure when the two are unceremoniously dumped back into the last place Quentin ever wants to see: his parent’s house in Chesterton, Massachusetts. And only the black, twisted magic that Julia learned on the streets can save them.

The Magician King is a grand voyage into the dark, glittering heart of magic, an epic quest for the Harry Potter generation. It also introduces a powerful new voice, that of Julia, whose angry genius is thrilling. Once again Grossman proves that he is the cutting edge of literary fantasy

I will do my best to keep this spoiler free.

So you guys know that I loved The Magicians. There was no sophomore slump in this series as Quentin, Elliot, Josh, and newish characters Julia and Poppy now have to save Fillory (and the entire multiverse) from the end of all magic.

First off – I loved Poppy.  I would have paired her up with Quentin any day and she taught him a lot about optimism and perspective.  Quentin finally identified “home” and was willing to fight for it.  I loved when he embraced his sorcery and role. He learned what it takes to not only be a King, but a hero, and was willing to sacrifice everything for Julia at the end.  Even if he had known the price I think he would have said yes.

That said, I am probably the only one but I don’t sympathize with the Julia story.  She had it rough but she should have dropped it after failing the Brakebills exam.  When she got a second chance to return to normalcy and rejected that too – she made her choice.

The book got absolutely brutally grimdark towards the end as the hedgewitches essentially got what they asked for when knocking on the gods’ door. They endangered magic everywhere and were just idiotically out of their league.  I would have liked to know more about why the Free Trader Beowulf clan members weren’t chosen for magic school to begin with, what was the test really looking for?  They were so smart yet didn’t seem to consider the consequences of their actions

Their journey was interesting both  philosophically and from a religious standpoint. It was fascinating to follow their train of thought on religion as an objective study, translating to magic ….. but … I have to wonder what exactly they were thinking, to go from not trusting anyone to setting up a huge summoning which a total stranger presented! For being such geniuses they really did not think their plan through, and then the world went grimdark.

No spoilers but it takes a lot to make me cringe, and I was cringing.  I read an interview where Grossman stated that he thought the most broken people made the best creative works, and translated that into magic for the story.  The characters make so much more sense now.

All in all: I loved this one.  I liked the hedgewitch magic theory vs. religion, even if their levelling system was stupid.  I liked Quentin’s character growth.  I liked the humor.  I liked Josh’s comeback.  The magic was huge, dark, and wild in this one.

Mark Bramhall is once again a fantastic narrator as well.  I think with the humor and swearing and inflection, so much inflection, the audio narration brings a lot to this book.  I liked closing my eyes and envisioning Quentin storming the watchtower.  The end was wonderful too.  I think he does a great voice for Elliot, Josh and Quentin, and brings a lot of excitement and sorrow where appropriate.

Here are a handful of my favorite quotes:

“You didn’t get the quest you wanted, you got the one you could do.”

Grossman took a bit of time exploring what it is to be a hero

“Maybe this was one of those times when being a hero didn’t involve looking particularly brave. It was just doing what you should.”

Probably Quentin’s single biggest moment of character growth. Gosh I loved his protectiveness towards Eleanor and Benedict

“You’re saying the gods don’t have free will.”

“The power to make mistakes,” Penny said. “Only we have that. Mortals.”

An amazing bit on the gods – what is greatness if they can’t love their creation? Magic!  Quentin loved magic, he deserved it! He would fight for it!

“It’s true,” Eliot said. “Statistically, historically, and however else you want to look at it, you are almost never right. A monkey making life decisions based on its horoscope in USA Today would be right more often than you. But in this case, yes, you were right. Don’t spoil it.”

Elliot’s story ARC warmed my cold little soul in this one too. He’s found his place, his assertiveness, he’s taken charge of his home, and he’s as hilarious as ever.

The only other thing too is that I really love both alternate cover editions, I don’t just like TV covers but look at Julia! It’s beautiful

Screenshot_20220131-191503

That’s enough rambling, in a few weeks I’ll have my thoughts posted on the final installment of the trilogy!