Sunday, November 30, 2014

Mini Reviews from July - November

Be prepared for a long post. I have resigned to the idea that I won't be able to blog about every book I read any longer. I haven't had enough time to mull over and reorganize my thoughts on every single book I read over the past four months, but I did make some notes that I want to share on the blog. I abandoned Goodreads sometime in August and I'd rather keep log of my reads here on the blog than there. I have skipped the summaries, linked to Goodreads, you can hop on over to read about the plots. Each of these books is worth a try, even though I haven't rated them all the same (I've turned stingy with my ratings of late, 3 is for a pretty good book.) Six of my stand-out reads from July to November, here I go:

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman ... 5/5
genre: urban fantasy fiction

There is a review on Goodreads of this book, a great review about how Gaiman understands and uses magic and fantasy. Neverwhere is the perfect fantasy, the kind that reestablishes and transcends your idea of the genre. (Does that make any sense?) It is the kind of book that makes you giddy with its earnest detailing. But I love Neverwhere the most for how intensely literary it is, how it fits in with my new postmodern obsession. Because I just reread American Gods, I found myself comparing the two. Where American Gods is bogged down by symbolism, Neverwhere has weaved it subtly but inextricably into a wildly entertaining narrative. The book feels complete. It's a history that Gaiman has given us a fleeting glimpse into. I am convinced the characters and the illusion are real to the writer - he knows what happened before and after the book, and has let us in on a part of his secret knowledge. A must read if ever there was one.

The Fault In Our Stars by John Green ... 3/5
genre: young adult fiction

I knew going in how much of a hit or miss read The Fault in our Stars was going to be. And I didn't totally love it, as I had predicted, for either of two reasons - not because it was too sad, or made me cry. But, a) Because, I just didn't get it. I don't think it had the intended effect on me, because all I felt was: that didn't have to happen but I knew it was going to happen, anyway, so, while it was very sad, what could I have done but wait for it. b) If this was the intended effect and it was supposed to make me feel something, like understanding the inevitability of death or appreciating life more, it was a stupid effect. I do know the nothing we can do against fate and all this did was remind me. I didn't feel terrible at the end, I didn't cry (it's not like I never can, I cried when Marley died, and he was a dog.) The book built up to something huge that it failed to deliver. There were parts of the book that were truly moving and filled with hopeful humour that got lost in the overreaching philosophized ending.

genre: contemporary literary fiction

I have spent the last three months reading more recommendations than ever, because it's too annoying to risk a dull read when you have so little time to spend with books. The best sort of recommendations are the smaller books - so that if they do turn out to be not-your-type, you don't owe anyone the courtesy of trudging through seven hundred odd pages - and this was one of those. A quick strange read, this book is succinctly described in its blurb as a "portrait of marriage." Can something be laid back and intense at the same time? That's how this book feels. With little over a hundred pages, it is a breeze of a read. I wouldn't call it a short story collection, but it has the meandering often disconnected feel (plot-wise) of one. But the author writes with a cool cutting precision. She serves you dollops of wisdom that seem to come out of nowhere and in a dubiously uncaring tone. It's genius writing. Also, masterful characterization.

genre: alternate history, fantasy fiction 

Stephen King is right - when isn't he? - this book is terrifically entertaining, if not much else. It has one of the best beginnings I have ever read: the discovery of a dragon egg and the question of who becomes its aviator provide at once a thoughtful glimpse of the social structure of Novik's England and plant us right in the middle of action. The points of view of the dragons, Temeraire in particular, will make fascinating read for pet-owners. But it's not just the dragons and their relations to the masters that add intrigue to the book - the fast war scenes with dragon armies and the descriptions of training sessions and such are very exciting. The descriptions of war strategies, the references to Napoleon bring to mind Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell but it's a pale likeness. Read the book to have fun, enjoy a new kind of world, and you'll love it. But it won't meet any more expectations. The next time I have a few hours to kill, I'll give the sequel a try. (I rarely read series, so this is saying something.)

genre: anthropology, philosophy, non fiction

It was at one of my two libraries back home that I found myself reading more non-fiction than fiction. I stumbled upon A General Theory of Magic by Marcel Mauss, and it left me completely intrigued. I read later than Mauss is a well known and widely criticized French sociologist - the best kind. So of course, I had to read The Gift when I found it at my university library. The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies is a book that explores the social, legal, religious and economic reasons that lead to the web of conventions and obligations associated with the exchange of gifts. It makes an endlessly interesting read, if you're prepared to take some judgments and conclusions with a pinch of salt, and refuse to be intimidated by the complicated academic writing. It's also hilarious in its sincerity, and presents ideas that can be very useful, if wielded correctly. Paraphrased from the introduction:

Charity is meant to be a free gift, a voluntary, unrequited surrender of resources. Though we laud charity as a Christian virtue we know that it wounds. The whole idea of a free gift is based on a misunderstanding. A gift that does nothing to enhance solidarity is a contradiction. According to Marcel Mauss that is what is wrong with the free gift.

genre: mystery, adult fiction

Don't say it, I know I'm crazy that I never got around to writing about this, I've just been too busy. The Silkworm is an amazing read, though (and I feel bad admitting this) not quite as held together as The Cuckoo's Calling. It's in the theme that this novel falls strikingly short of Rowling's usual best, for me. The Cuckoo's Calling dealt with a glitzy paparazzi-infested world, which her success surely brought Rowling uncomfortably close to. But the sequel deals with something that Rowling must know all too well: literary circles and the publishing world. And I feel that Rowling can't quite keep her personal voice out of this book. It reads too opinionated and sceptical in places that I'd rather it had stayed objective; an otherwise invisible narrator seems to adopt a scathing tone when commenting on self-publishing, for instance. But of course, the book is also brilliant on so many levels. The plot is daring, the characters are wicked, and through each of these Rowling seems to warn us not to assign her a comfort zone. As for the delicately beautiful partnership between Cormoran Strike and Robin, I have no words. This is not a series you want to miss out on.
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Have you read any of these? Or are you planning to rush to Amazon to buy these? Because you should. But in the meanwhile, I could really use some advice on time management. Do you blog about all the books you read? I discovered that a blogger I read makes notes for reviews while she reads. How do you ensure the blog survives?

10 comments:

Divers and Sundry said...

I haven't read these.

"The best sort of recommendations are the smaller books" I'm still drawn to those massive fictions books, but as I get older I'm becoming more appreciative of the smaller ones for the reasons you mention. I feel more free to try a book on for size if it doesn't look like a life-long commitment.

Delia D said...

Neverwhere was lovely, I liked it better than American Gods.
I haven't read any of Rowling's books after Harry Potter. Not sure if I should.
His Majesty's Dragon sounds like a fun book.

On time management: if I can't write individual blog posts for each book, I just put them together like you did. And I try not to give myself a hard time over it. Sometimes I fall off the wagon and don't post for a while, but I always come back. A strict schedule is not for me, I'm afraid. :)

Priya said...

Divers and Sundry - Try a book on for size, I couldn't have put it better.

Delia - As long as you come back. :) I do think you should maybe give these mysteries by Rowling a try, they could surprise you.

DMS said...

I have had The Fault in Our Stars on my shelf for two years. I want to read it, but I am worried it is going to make me cry too much. You did a great job on these min reviews. :) Thanks for sharing!
~Jess

Priya said...

Jess, that's what I was afraid of too. But don't let that stop you from reading the book!

Delia D said...

Hi Priya,
If you found that copy of Lolita and decided to join the read-along, feel free to use the badges on your blog.
Looking forward to your review!

nishitak said...

Those sound like great books. I want to try both Galbraith and Naomi Novik, they bouth sound great.

I've read Neverwhere and I liked it a lot, but not loved it. I think it is something between Gaiman and me that while I enjoy the books a lot, they never leave any lasting impression on me.

Priya said...

Nishita - I've noticed a lot of people say that about Gaiman. I'm not sure any of his other books provided me with a lot more than entertainment either, but Neverwhere really did.

ebookclassics said...

Great reviews! I have been wondering about the Dept. of Speculation the most because I thought it might a good short book for a readathon, but the premise sounds interesting too.

Priya said...

ebookclassics - I can't decide if Dept. of Speculation would make a good readathon read, there is barely any story to speak of. But you're right, it is interesting.

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