narwhaltortellini

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Light Boxes: A Novel

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Why I read it: Randomly plucked from the library. It was short. It concerned hot air balloons, something that have always struck me as buoyant whimsical things well suited to fantasy/fairy tales.Pros: Inventive, original, weird. Prose sometimes more poetry-like than normal exposition. Didn't know it was going to be so allegorical, but liked how that grew into it a lot.Cons: More odd than anything else (“anything else” being things like “fun, sad, happy, engaging”). More weird than fairy tale-like. Unconventional structure interesting but didn't particularly add anything for me. Hot air balloons not as involved as I thought. Low on whimsy.Conclusion: One of those reads where my enjoyment comes mostly from marveling at the author's imagination than enjoying the work for what it is exactly. It'd make a really unnerving and very cool looking movie, probably directed by Terry Gilliam. Wouldn't want to spend long on something like this, but considering how short it was, it was nice for a change of pace. I wish I could read things with worlds and images this unique and inventive that also had the kinds of characters/prose style that engage me.
The Hunger Games

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Why I read it: Curious about its popularity. Heard it sort of had the character-driven-nature of Ender's Game with a bit of 1984 and Battle Royale mixed in, and who can't be intrigued by that?Pros: Intelligent, kick-ass (but not exaggeratedly so), well-developed female lead, her personal struggles and development through the story feeling just as if not more important than the physical plot happenings. (She doesn't move too, too far in this area, but an appropriate amount for a first installment in a series, I felt.) Interesting world, world building a bit explainey at times but never excessively. Very fast paced.Cons: I repeat, VERY fast paced. Good scenes one might look forward to came up quickly, but were over just as fast. Often aspects of the games/setup seemed engineered a little too perfectly to keep things going harrowing, fast and action-filled 95% of the time (whether that be throwing in some horrible disaster or parachuting in aid to some circumstance that would normally complicate the situation and slow things down). Supporting characters were mostly likable and serviceable, but simply did not have time to be made more complex or memorable with how fast the novel moved. Some elements of the novel felt like they might be building/foreshadowing to something, but gave less payoff than expected in the end.Conclusion: “Cons” here are more about my personal preference for good long meaty scenes and character development than actual flaws of the novel. Taken for what it is, it could probably still do with a little more development for a character or two outside the main (especially considering how much more heavily romance came into play in the latter parts of the story), and a little better payoff with some things, but it's still very solid overall. Even with my preferences I enjoyed it quite a bit and look forward to the next. I've no idea what direction the next novel will take, but now that Katniss is out of the heavily manufactured Hunger Games, perhaps I can even hope the plot of the following novels will feel less manufactured as well.
The Poems of Arthur Conan Doyle

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After being decently entertained but not overly impressed by the other couple Sherlock Holmes novels, I decided to give him one last try with this one since I'd heard it was the best. It doesn't really give any more of the main thing I was hoping for when starting these books—a more involved look into the personality and quirks of the potentially interesting Holmes—but it does somewhat get rid of one of the biggest problem I had with the other stories.After the initial setup, most of the unfolding of the mystery is seen through the eyes of Watson without Holmes around. That means there's no more Holmes standing around talking about how he thinks he's got the whole thing solved but can't tell us the answer for some artificial reason that is surely just the author not wanting to give everything away too soon. Without that little irritation to constantly pull me out of the story to see the author standing above me pulling the strings, the mystery was a little easier to invest in, and the whole novel as a whole just felt more solid.Still, rather than plots or mysteries, it's characters I tend to want to invest in when reading, and that's not really what these books are about. Thus I think I'll be ending my little endeavor to try Sherlock Holmes books. They aren't a bad read, but they aren't something that overly appeals to my personal tastes.
Luck in the Shadows

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At the time a slash fan and occasional reader of yaoi, Luck in the Shadows was my introduction to the genre of canon m/m romance. It also came to me at a time when I had just begun to grow disenchanted with cliché quest fantasy and partially introduced me to the sort of fantasy I would later lean towards (centering on complex cities full of intrigue rather than sprawling quests or wars).On my first reading, Seregil, the second main character, was perhaps a bit perfect but cool and charming nonetheless. Alec was duller but inoffensive, and by playing off Seregil he became more fun to watch. The romance (though minimal in this volume) was endearing. The plot clearly had its duller and slower points, but it usually stayed acceptably interesting just by virtue of involving characters I cared about.Even back then, I felt it to be clearly weak on many points. The clumsy info-dump world building was of particular annoyance. But at the time for me, it was also able to remain unmistakably fun and sometimes engaging despite the weaknesses. Now, after having read plenty more m/m, the mysterious magic of the concept is of course considerably lessened. And I wasn't sure what I'd think of this book which could very well have only been brought above dull mediocrity due to the rose-colored glasses the enchantment of canon m/m allowed me to see it through.And after reading it again, I still can't make up my mind. It seems I'll always be doomed to see this book through strong bias, either of the rose glasses of before or the ostensibly less clouded though very possibly too cynical way I looked at the book this time.Certainly, though, the book does not have many extra layers to better appreciate on a rereading. Much of the joy there was to be had the first time for me was in wondering how the characters would start to relate to one another and begin to have romantic feelings, and when I already knew, there wasn't a lot of artistry or originality put into the telling to make it worth seeing again. The main characters were as I remembered them (one charming and cool and the other bland) but more irritating this time around. Both are Mary Sues of a different sort. Alec the kind that seems plain but really has Hidden Depths and Talents (and catches on to absolutely everything ridiculously fast), and Seregil the more outright amazing and perfect kind. These things don't have to be so bad, but the author emphasizes the characters' wonderfulness in such a heavy handed way that had me frequently rolling my eyes at the transparency of it all.On the other hand, as the book goes on the author apparently decides she's made her point, she starts to lay off overemphasizing her characters' perfection. Once predicting the path of each scene was no longer as easy as guessing what turn of events would best glorify the characters most, Seregil and Alec became a little less predictable and a little less grating. Though the characters aren't terribly complex, the novel is still pleasantly character driven. The short intrigue plot also surfaces some time in the second half, and while nothing spectacular, it was one of the only things that surprised me by being just as pleasantly entertaining as I remembered it.As for the romance, as mentioned before, it is only grazed upon in this volume. What is there is (and if I remember correctly what is to come) is a generally sweet relationship with just a dab of tension caused by unrequited romantic feelings by one of the characters. Despite being for many the main attraction of the book, it's nothing striking or complex or original, especially when compared to the more detailed relationships of much m/m fiction...Only actually, upon my second read, the romance of this series is still one of the most distinctive things about it, and one of its biggest draws. Because personally, most of the m/m fiction I've read has romance as central or fairly central to the story. This lends to greater complexity in comparison to Seregil and Alec's relationship, yet I think there's something very pleasant about being able to read m/m romance where the story isn't *about* romance. And such a romance is likely particularly attractive for a slash fan, who is in fact normally used to the story they're reading or watching being about other things entirely, thinking of the possibility of romance as just a bit of side fun.There's something weirdly cozy and familiar about it to me, a sweet and slowly budding romance instead of the dramatic, wrought out romances of many m/m stories. Indeed, it's the sort of thing we see much more often in the romantic subplots of straight fiction. Cozy and familiar too the fantasy tropes and plot, I suppose. Eventually likable characters, a little journeying, a little thieving, a little magic, a little fighting. Still, while that kind of coziness can be welcome too, in a way, the execution of it all is often bad to lackluster. Either way, it's hard to call one's self a self respecting fan of m/m romantic fantasy without reading the Nightrunner series. But you may keep in mind it might not be so praiseworthy as it's often touted.
La Noche de la Bruja Muerta

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I'm not an urban fantasy reader usually. Though I could be wrong since I haven't read many, they bring to my mind stories that spend more time with hackneyed attempts at being hip, sexy, dark, hard-boiled, and unsuccessfully witty than they do building truly complex, interesting characters. I knew there must be some out there very worth reading, though (there's nothing wrong with the concept of urban fantasy itself, after all), and my friend wanted me to try this book.By 30 pages in, it fit so snugly into my idea of 'standard urban fantasy' that I was fairly sure I'd never like it. I pushed to page 100 to give it a fair chance, though, I can't say much changed during that time. The characters and world seem competently pulled together, but nothing stand-out that's going to make me enjoy a genre I'm usually disinterested in. The writing is also decent, if sometimes a little repetitive. The plot may have been about to start as I was quitting, but it hadn't really shown any signs of getting off the ground yet.There's tension in that the main character might be assassinated at any time, but of course we know she won't be, and there's nothing else much going on that these assassination attempts can screw with and complicate, so really I couldn't care less. All other tension is derived from the fact the main character isn't sure she trusts her vampire friend she's going to start living with, only so much of the prose when they're together is spent emphasizing how creeped out the vampire makes her that it gets very old very quickly.This book didn't get a ton of eye rolls from me like many have (except for maybe the part about how tomatoes played a large part in turning the world into a post-apocalyptic-urban-fantasy-ville. Was that supposed to be humorous? Because it didn't sound like it was...). I get the feeling it's just utterly standard urban fantasy fare (besides the slow plot in the beginning, which may pick up later). I guess one can take that as recommendation or dissuasion as they will.
The Knife of Never Letting Go

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I picked this book up mostly on the strength of the interesting and rather bleak sounding premise (A town of settlers contract a virus in their new home that kills off all the women and makes the survivors able to hear one another's thoughts. Meanwhile the town is slowly dying off and their last child, the main character, is about to come of age, but there's something they aren't telling him...) contrasted with a glace at the surprisingly humorous (and just plain good) first line. (Along with the review quote off the back claiming the rest of the book lived up to this first line.)In the end I enjoyed the book, but it wasn't as strong in some parts as others. There are some things this novel does exceedingly well with. The fantastic voice/dialect in the narration of the main character, the blunt humor that goes along with that, the sometimes creepy descriptions of the "noise" of people's thoughts, and the world-building that shows us the world/town the main character has grown up in before the novel. In these areas the book blows most all books I've read in recent memory out of the water, be they aimed at teens or adult.On the other hand, (without spoiling too much) the main character has to escape from his home town early in the book, and while the beginning stages of the escape were engaging, the narrative eventually devolves into nothing much but lots of running away from pursuers toward a far off goal. Occasionally a pursuer or two will catch up with our mains and give a big adrenaline-filled life-threatening situation, but then it's back to more of the same running. Even when the mains sometimes meet others along their path, friendly or not, it does little to mix things up.That's not to say the running is dull. The ability of everyone to hear one another's thoughts gives the chase something unique you won't find in other similar stories and ups the tension a lot. But the plot of the book just doesn't have the inventiveness of the premise, world building, and narrative voice. The humor in the narration (part of what made it so distinctive) also becomes less frequent the farther on you get into the book, and the world-building outside the main's home town is not as impressive. There are still secrets to be revealed about the world as the novel goes on, but after being drawn out so long (and never being terribly hard to guess) the reveals don't have a lot of impact and don't feel terrible relevant when the novel is just filled with running, anyway.Additionally, there's lots of out-and-out "evil" characters (including a deranged priest. I'm not even religious, and I still get tired of how often certain kinds of (often less than fantastic) stories use "very religious" as shorthand for "crazy"), and the sexual politics of the book are simplistic. Not surprising for a YA novel I suppose, but I guess the ambitious set up lead me to hope the novel would be more sophisticated in these areas more than I really should have.Even if the middle and end of the novel doesn't live up to its impressive beginning (be that the first sentence or the first 100 or so pages), it's still probably a better and more intriguing read than a lot of YA novels. Be warned, however, that the novel ends on something like a cliff hanger. I say "something like" because it's less like my idea of the usual cliff hanger and more like simply ending during the climax of the entire story arc. If you're not going to bother reading the next book like me, this will take a significant chunk of satisfaction from the experience.
Beyond Heaving Bosoms: The Smart Bitches' Guide to Romance Novels

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I only got 50 pages into this, and it was some time ago (I put it down intending to give it another try sometime...and just never managed.), so a full review isn't really fair here. But for whatever hearing about my experience is worth:I don't read stories quite like the ones this book addresses, but I do read romantic fanfiction and some gay romance, and imagined there'd be some similarities between it all. Plus I had a vague impression (from glancing at their blog I imagine?) these author ladies were intelligent and funny and the non-irritating kind of feminist. Initially I liked the snarky, proud, playful tone, but... so far as I read, that was a large part of what the book was. Information about romance novels in a snarky, proud, playful tone. While I could see the sense of humor working in blog entries consumed in small bits over many days, it wore thin on me reading in the book, even when I read in small doses. A lot of it is simply being exaggeratedly crass and blunt, which I'm not at all offended by but do get tired of.On the information side of things, I very well may not have reached the more interesting information considering how far I got into the book, but what I read so far was a decent history but not overly detailed or interesting outside the authors' snarky tone. In the end, I was still a little at a loss for what sort of understanding of romance novels the book was trying to give me. My feelings on the sense of humor aside, that IS something I should have been able to tell by 50 pages in. In the end these ladies may just be the sort best read in blog form.
To the Ends of the Earth: The Last Journey of Lewis & Clark

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Why I read it: I've always had a bit of fondness for Lewis and Clark, being two people in history who accomplished something by working equally and happily together rather than, say, killing or one-upping someone. And, ok, honestly, their close friendship seemed like slash fodder. Interesting it's about the end of Lewis' life rather than the surely more popular to write about journey west.Pros: Nicely character-focused adventure story. A lot of effort put into showing the dedication and respect Lewis and Clark have for one another. At times humorous. Was very engaged by the first part of this novel when Lewis was still in town, interacting with Clark and various antagonists, watching as the author built the image of him as a great man being dragged down by his flaws and circumstances, and observing what other characters thought of him.Cons: Despite biggest draw for me (and I got the impression one of the biggest interests/focuses of the writer) being Lewis and Clark's relationship, a lot of the portrayal of that is in them merely thinking about one another, since the two are apart for most of the novel. Though there's a political plot at work, story eventually boils down through the entire middle to little but Lewis being sick but journeying onward, Clark chasing him, the occasional attack or complication. I think perhaps we were supposed to be engaged by the character interaction/changing relationships , but this didn't entirely work as most characters were somewhat developed, but not to the extent they could carry the novel so entirely with little happening on the plot front. Villains were cartoonishly evil.Conclusion: I can't say if the characters came off as more complex in the beginning when I enjoyed it, or if their simplicity just didn't hamper the novel so badly when things seemed to be happening. The rest (mostly traveling through the woods) was readable. Overall the book was a bit of a let-down, but it leaves me curious if the author may have improved their character development technique in their next Lewis and Clark novel (set earlier of course), or if they chose a time in their history that could allow for a more eventful plot and thus better rounded novel.
The Persian Boy

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I found this novel very readable and well written, but not enough to my taste to be terribly engaging. It's something like a view of Alexander during this part of his life from the personal viewpoint of someone close to him. While with plenty enough (as far as I know/assume?) author-created material to be considered fiction, there isn't really a growing narrative in either plot or character development. There's a good bit of description of things that have been happening lately or musings of the main character without a lot of extended scenes (with actions and dialogue) written out.As far as the relationship in the story, it isn't quite what I'd call a romance. Once the main character meets Alexander, he becomes dedicated to him, falls in love with him, has his love returned, and endeavors to keep that love. The main character does little but wait for Alexander and report to us what has been happening in Alexander's life lately. While I can't fault the character himself for this (this way of life probably truly being the best option open to him) it doesn't make for the kind of story I was hoping for.I remember thinking something similar (that the story was not exactly what I was looking for but still well done for what it was) about the first book I read by this author, The Charioteer. On the other hand, I apparently still enjoyed The Charioteer considerably despite this. Unfortunately it's been too long for me to remember the novel well anymore and to say whether this difference in my reception of this other novel now is a difference between the novels or a change in my tastes over the years.Either way, while the main character here seems human and well developed, it is still more a story about Alexander and the adoration/devotion he inspires (and perhaps a little on the selfishness or immaturity of young love) than either a romance or even a story of the personal struggles of the main character. I may have only gotten 2/3 of the way through it, but my stopping was less being bored or fed up with the book than simply me figuring I may as well find something to read more suited to me.
The Hound of the Baskervilles

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After being decently entertained but not overly impressed by the other couple Sherlock Holmes novels, I decided to give him one last try with this one since I'd heard it was the best. It doesn't really give any more of the main thing I was hoping for when starting these books—a more involved look into the personality and quirks of the potentially interesting Holmes—but it does somewhat get rid of one of the biggest problem I had with the other stories.After the initial setup, most of the unfolding of the mystery is seen through the eyes of Watson without Holmes around. That means there's no more Holmes standing around talking about how he thinks he's got the whole thing solved but can't tell us the answer for some artificial reason that is surely just the author not wanting to give everything away too soon. Without that little irritation to constantly pull me out of the story to see the author standing above me pulling the strings, the mystery was a little easier to invest in, and the whole novel as a whole just felt more solid.Still, rather than plots or mysteries, it's characters I tend to want to invest in when reading, and that's not really what these books are about. Thus I think I'll be ending my little endeavor to try Sherlock Holmes books. They aren't a bad read, but they aren't something that overly appeals to my personal tastes.
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