Book Review- The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Hello Blogland!

As promised, I finished The Magicians Tuesday night, and Book Club met last night to discuss. It was another thin showing for the Clubbers, with only three of us in attendance, but the conversation was lively, and surprisingly on topic. The Magicians gave us a lot to talk about.themagicians

Now, I’ve been thinking about how to handle this review for a couple days now, and I’m warning you, it’s going to be different. Instead of blathering on in excruciating detail, as per usual, I’m going to talk more about the book’s effect and feel. There are simply too many subtle, crucial details throughout the novel to sum them up here in anything close to a satisfying way.

So, this book review isn’t likely to be as spoiler heavy. I feel safe in saying you can read on without concern.

So, a few things to know up front about this book. Many critics tout it as “Harry Potter goes to college” or “Potter for adults”. I find both of those sentiments to be grossly generalizing of each series. Really, the only thing these books have in common is a male protagonist, a group of devoted friends, and a magical educational institution. Quentin has nothing in common with Harry, and though Alice could be a parallel for Hermione, she’s too much of her own character to really make that connection stick.

Another thing to understand about this series is that, though magic is clearly very important, it is by no means what this series is about. As far as I can tell after reading the first book, this series is about battling the constant ennui that is the side effect of unrealistic expectations.

A friend explained it as if Narnia and Harry Potter had a 90s crack baby.

So, through what seems an odd set of circumstances, Quentin is accepted to an elite magical college called Brakebills. He has intense classes, and he’s of course a brilliant student, or he wouldn’t be there. But, the actual rules and definitions of magical study are left to the reader’s imagination. Very little time in scene is spent in classrooms.It was nice, and a bit strange. I expected to see more of the day to day grind of magical coursework. Instead we’re given brief glimpses of awkwardly dexterous fingers and snippets of archaic languages woven into spells. It’s all very vague.

Quentin’s time at Brakebills takes up a HUGE portion of the book. Over half of the book is spent following him and his small group of friends through their school days. But, eventually they graduate and leave for Manhattan. It’s not until they’re there, in the last 150ish pages, that the story really unfolds.

And it’s right about then that I absolutely hated Quentin.

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Jason Ralph as Quentin in The Magicians on SyFy.

And it’s something that I really liked about the book. You see, you don’t hate Quentin at the beginning. You think, things will get better, he just needs to live a little. And the story goes on, and nothing is ever really good enough for him. He has spurts of happiness, but he always ends up spiraling back down into this all-consuming dissatisfaction. And in Manhattan, he hits rock bottom.

As much as I hated Quentin, I loved that the book could make me feel that way. Because I really hated Quentin. A lot. And I continued to hate him until about the last 20 pages. Up until then I vowed that I wouldn’t read the next two books in the trilogy, because I didn’t care what happened to the little jerk. But, by the time I closed the book I knew I had to read them.

So, really, serious applause needs to go to Lev Grossman for toying with my emotions so masterfully.

Some other things to mention if you plan to read this book. It’s weird. It’s not a bad weird, but some things happen that seem very strange, and they get glossed over until the very end when everything comes together in this neat, blood-soaked bow. Also, it deals with very adult themes. It’s a coming of age story wrapped in a magical version of reality, and Quentin deals with depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual relationships. And he doesn’t have a great track record with his decisions. He consistently makes bad decisions in a very realistic, if magical, unforgiving world.

But, it also does a fantastic job of making the protagonist realize that he’s not the hero of this story. I think that might be the weirdest part of this book. We follow Quentin. He is the main character, but he is not the hero. He’s not the one who saves the day, in fact, he’s usually the one that fucks it all up. And when he finally realizes it, it transforms him.

I don’t know what Quentin will be like in the next book. Maybe all this growth will finally make him ready to be the hero. Or maybe he’ll continue to let depression and anxiety destroy him from the inside. I don’t know. But I know that the formula for the first book can’t be followed in the second. So I’m curious to see how Grossman handles the next installment.

I should pick up Magician King sometime in March; my reading is pretty booked until then.

I hope you enjoyed this different take on a review. It’s not as long, which is probably a good thing, and it doesn’t really spoil anything, which is also probably good. I enjoyed The Magicians, and I would recommend it to others. It was nice to see the different interpretatthemagiciansalternateions that the Clubbers had of it.

Also, the series has been turned into a television show, premiering January 25th on SyFy. If you don’t want to wait, you can stream the Pilot episode now at SyFy.com. I haven’t watched it yet, but one of the Clubbers did, and she approved.

Now I’m off to get a smidgen of homework done before work. I’m currently reading Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones. I should have it done before Bands of Mourning releases on Tuesday, and so should have a review out before then too.

As always, you can follow my reading by following me @BZelwen on twitter, adding me (HIMluv) on Goodreads, and of course by checking the “What I’m Reading” page.

Thanks for reading!

 

BZ

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Brain is Melted…

It’s been a long time since I’ve read something that wanted to melt my brain. This Witchcraft class might be the death of me. It’s interesting subject matter, but the textbook is so… dry. Also, writing papers is so freaking boring.

Thesis statements? Elaborating on quotes to further hammer my point into the reader’s brain, as if they can’t make conclusions of their own? I hate it. I always have. And it’s exactly why I’m an English major.

Anyway, first week of homework is done for that class. Tomorrow will be a mad dash of reading and quiz taking in my other class in order to make time to finish The Magicians in time for Wednesday’s Book Club meeting.

Tonight’s plan is to read as much as I can of the novel, then eat dinner and watch Howl’s Moving Castle with the husband.

So that’s pretty much all I have to say. Things are calm today. Sundays are my one day off a week, and I share it with Trevor, so we do chores and make food. Easy days.

I’ll see you soon Blogland, most likely tomorrow or Thursday. Sometime this week I’ll have the book review for The Magicians up. Have a good week!

 

BZ

Book Review- Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

I read Howl’s as the last Book Club title for 2015. I’d meant to read it for years now, and finally managed it.Howl's moving castle

I have to say, I’m so very sorry that I put it off for so long.

Howl’s Moving Castle is one of those stories that is more than a simple book. There’s magic, in the literal sense, since Howl is a wizard, but the story itself is told with such whimsy and an air of old fables that reading its pages makes you feel, instantly, as a child.

Sophie is one of three sisters, and as the oldest, she’s doomed to a boring life inheriting her Stepmother’s Hat Shop. Turns out, that’s no so terrible, since Sophie has a knack for hats. She sits and sews and molds them, talking all the while, and the hats sell like mad.Sophie_H

On her way to visit her sister, she stumbles into a handsome young man who immediately shows an interest in her. This terrifies the timid Sophie, and she hurries on her way. She soon forgets the man as she talks with her sister, and then returns to her lucrative hat business.

But, all that changes when the wicked Witch of the Waste visits Sophie’s shop, and after a dissatisfying purchase curses Sophie into an old woman.

As an old woman, Sophie decides that the only person who might be able to help her in the slightest is the dread Wizard Howl. He’s renowned for eating the hearts of young, beautiful women, but Sophie figures she has nothing to fear from him now, wrinkly as she is.

Grandma-sophie So she sets off to find his moving castle, encountering a lopsided scarecrow on the way, which she rights as she speaks kindly to it. Once inside the castle Sophie meats Michael, Howl’s teenage apprentice, and Calcifer, the demon that lives in the fireplace.

Surely, by now, you understand that this novel has whimsy leaking out of every line.

Anyway, Sophie makes herself at home, and promptly strikes up a bargain with Calcifer. He has entered a contract with Howl, which he wants out of. If Sophie finds a way to negate the contract, Calcifer will help her out of her own curse.

The details are sparse, but the accord is struck, and Sophie uses the excuse of the filthy castle to convince Howl to let her stay. And so she stays, cleaning and listening, learning as much as she can of Howl and his life in the castle, hoping to find some hint as to his and Calcifer’s agreement.

But, as time goes on, Sophie finds herself thinking less and less about curses and pacts, instead living day to day in the castle, taking care of its residents. This includes the Wizard Howl, who is far from the terrifying Casanova his reputation would have her believe.

book HowlPart flamboyant magician, part petulant man-child, and part awesomely powerful wizard, Howl is endearing in the way only the truly irritating, yet good-natured can be. In turns a hopeless romantic, an arrogant fool, and a shockingly relatable man, Howl is a fascinating character. And as the tale goes on, Sophie and the reader alike find themselves less interested in the supposed plot than in the life that is living in the moving castle.

This is intentional on the part of Ms. Jones, by the way. The plot seems to melt away as characters are developed, arguments are had, and frustrations slowly give way to affection. By the time all the pieces come together, you’ve forgotten why you’re even there.

Without spoiling too terrible much, the ending of this book is fantastic, and made me cry. All the odd ends and wayward bits turn out to have been entirely on purpose, and perfectly placed. It’s only revealed to the reader in the last five pages or so, and it’s very whirlwind, but it all ties together with a flawless red ribbon.howls moving castle

Howl’s Moving Castle is a fairy tale. A glorious fable to be read to little ones as they drift off to sleep. Or to be cherished by adults who still foster some sense of childlike wonder in their hearts. This is a book that I must own, and that I will revisit multiple times over the course of my life. A reminder that not all magic is bright and flaring, and that there are all kinds of love and devotion.

This story reminded me very much of Stardust by Neil Gaiman, though it was published over ten years before Gaiman’s own romantic fairy tale.

This is probably my shortest review yet, but honestly, there’s nothing about this book I could say that would truly do it justice. Read it. Please. If you have any appreciation for whimsy, wonder, and romance, you won’t be disappointed.

 

BZ

Book Review- Hush, Hush by Becca Fitzpatrick

Hello Blogland!

To say Book Club met last night would be generous. Two of us met, and I was the only one who read the book.

Needless to say there wasn’t much discussion happening. But, I promised a book review, and I’m not deferring it for a whole month.

So, let me preface this by saying that Hush, Hush is not my typical reading fare. Usually there’s magic, and swords, or some sort of weaponry, and though I never shy away from romance, it’s rarely the focal point of the stories I read.
hush hus.jpg

So, the entire concept of Hush, Hush is that angels are real. Which has me immediately interested. There are angels, and we learn there is a hierarchy within their society, Archangels at the top, Angels of Death somewhere in the middle, and apparently Guardian Angels falling low on the totem pole.

And where there are angels, there are those that have been disgraced, those whose wings were stripped from their shoulders, and who fell from grace. Quite literally, Fallen Angels. These creatures walk the Earth, appearing as humans, but are immortal. They don’t have physical sensations, and so can never truly join in the human experience.

But, when an Angel sleeps with a human, it creates what’s called a Nephilim. These are also immortal, but are much closer to being human. They have interesting abilities but have no affiliation with God or the Devil (both of whom are conspicuously absent from this book).

Being Nephilim sounds rad, right? Oh, except for the fine print that says that, for two weeks during the Hebrew month of Chesvhan, Fallen Angels will assume control of your body so they can party it up like humans.

Talk about awkward.
vulnerable

Anyway, the main character is 16 year old Nora Grey. She seems a reasonable enough teenager at first. Focused on school, one good friend, but socially capable. She’s likable, at least initially.

And then we meet Patch, the mysterious transfer student that Nora gets paired with in Biology. Really, at this point, I have to wonder how many biology teachers are responsible for teenage romance.

And that’s really my biggest problem with this book. It’s riddled with clichés and tropes. Now, that doesn’t necessarily make a book bad, if its aware of its hackneyed status and is poking fun. But Hush, Hush isn’t so tongue in cheek. In fact, it reads like someone took Twilight, and instead of Vampires went with Angels. Over protective boyfriend fully assembled.

So why did I keep reading?

Honestly, because Patch is a really good character. He’s interesting, complex, and probably the only one in the entire book that seems fully fleshed out. I want to know more about him and his world. If Fitzpatrick had written this for adults and completely developed the angels and their hierarchy, then followed Patch on his quest to become human, it would have been a great book.

Instead, for unknown reasons, Patch, an immortal Fallen Angel, has fallen for a 16 year old girl with a sliver of Nephilim blood.

Puke.

Anyway, he’s mysterious and gets into trouble often. But Nora is inexplicably drawn to him. Yet again, a hapless female child is “meant” to be with some overpowered immortal being. And, so far, there’s no apparent reason as to why.

So, as the story continues, Nora has a string of close calls, and she thinks it’s Patch’s doing. But she continues to talk to him and find herself in situations where they’re alone. Because she’s sixteen and dumb, I suppose. There’s no other reasonable conclusion.

But, it turns out that Jules, the love interest of Nora’s best friend, is a Nephilim sworn to Patch. Basically meaning that come Chesvhan, Patch gets dibs. Well, Jules knows that Nora is very distantly related to him, carries his Nephilim blood, and if he kills her, Patch will become human, which is what Patch wants. This will also keep Patch from possessing Jules every year, and make him vulnerable to Jules.
nephilim

So, Patch’s original plan, before he ever really knew her, was to kill Nora so he could be human. That’s why he enrolled at her school. Honestly, don’t question it, it just makes your face scrunch and your head hurt. Just shrug and keep reading.

But, he gets to know her and he falls for her and yadda yadda. So, instead of letting Jules kill her, Nora tries to jump from the rafter of her gym (she was being hunted by Jules so it wasn’t just some whimsical suicide attempt. At least there’s that.), but Patch saves her, unable to let her die for him.

And that gives him his wings back, making him her Guardian Angel.

A little convenient, but all right. Patch dispatches (hehe) Jules, and they go about their lives. Until book 2! Which I’m currently reading and generally disliking.

Now, I do want to say that I didn’t hate this book. It’s… it’s like watching a movie and thinking, “wow, this is terrible. Like really bad. But, dammit, I’m having such a good time.”

That was my exact experience with this book. Plus, Patch is a compelling character, and the dialogue is pretty good. I laughed a lot, not just at the corny bits either.
crescendo

But, I am having a hard time with the second book, and am only continuing because I need to know what Patch is up to. I don’t really care about Nora at all. It’s the dark lurkings and secret nature of the world of Angels that has me turning pages.

Anyway, thanks for getting this far. You should be hearing from me soon, with a review of the sequel, Crescendo.

Until then Blogland!

 

 

Book Review- The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Hello again,

I want to start by acknowledging that this book carries a lot of weight with a lot of people. It’s resonant and revered. And if I’d read it when I was sixteen it would have been one of those books that shaped me. It would have reached in and stirred me up, leaving me different by the time I was through.
Perksofbeingwallflower1

Almost ten years too late, it still had an effect, just a much smaller one.

I do want to say that, in general, I’ve been sort of raw around the edges lately. I think it’s mainly because of Shadows of Self, and how much that ending hurt me. But watching Attack on Titan, barely sleeping, and constantly bouncing between my two jobs and school assignments has me frayed.

Music helps, but it hurts too. Songs like Hozier’s Work Song make me cry while I drive to work. And I’m not sure if, at the end, I’m relieved or ashamed. Probably a little of both.

Anyway, Chbosky’s only novel is disarming in its straightforward and genuine narrator. Charlie writes a series of letters during the course of his Freshman year of high school to an anonymous recipient. There he shares his experiences and struggles as he tries to “participate”.

You see, Charlie is pretty… well… fucked up. His best and only friend killed himself over the summer, he has anger issues, and seems overly sensitive, crying at the drop of a hat.

But, the letters show us his efforts to be a good friend and learn how to interact with people, especially the opposite sex. You can’t help but to love Charlie, and you fall in love with Patrick and Sam because, through Charlie’s eyes, they are perfect. Infinite.

Now, without giving away the biggest part of the book, just know that this book is pretty dark, and it depicts teenagers doing all kinds of things that adults think they shouldn’t, but in reality they do. Experimenting with drugs, drinking, gambling, sex. You name it, Charlie knows someone who’s done it before.

I think it’s Charlie’s innocent narration of such dark events that makes the novel so striking. And it’s the same thing that makes the beautiful, bright moments so unforgettable.

As I mentioned before, this was a selection for Book Club. I was the only one who genuinely enjoyed reading it. I read it in two days, taking my time to absorb Charlie’s simple yet striking prose. The other Clubbers struggled to pick it up, and had to fight to finish it in time.

It was also interesting, because two of us really identified with Charlie, mainly because of his incredible introspection. His attention to details and feelings hooked me, because I’m that way, and was even more so as a teen.
The-perks-of-being-a-wallflower

But, one Clubber said she had a hard time reading the novel because she found his intuitive introspection unbelievable, especially for a sixteen year old. Which then floored the two of us who really “clicked” with that aspect of Charlie’s character.

One girl, though she identified with Charlie, was super angry at the end of the story. Angry at how all those around Charlie never noticed, never bothered to ask him, or offer to help him. That they took his presence and his giving nature for granted.

Whereas, come the end of the story, I didn’t feel that way at all. I just felt sad. Not upset, not numb, or raw. Just pure sad. Which was kind of nice. Feelings are often so convoluted, mingling together and confusing me. To have one true, unbastardized emotion at the hands of a paperback was freeing.

I think it’s amazing that a 213 page novel could be so different to each of us.

I don’t want to paint this book in too dark a light. It is heavy, to be sure, but there are a lot of light, happy moments too. And because of the dark themes and subjects, those happy moments are really bright and important.

I will say that I think a second read-through would really be a benefit, because you could read between the lines of all his letters, knowing the ending, and find the truth obscured just behind them.

Anyway, thinking it all over again is making me sad. And not in that pure and freeing kind of way. I think I’m too raw now. There’s too much other stuff knocking around in my brain to leave enough space for pure, sad thoughts.

If you want resonance, if you want a poignant story that will cling to you, but you don’t want to be happy about it, then I suggest you give The Perks of Being a Wallflower a chance.

I’m grateful that I did.

BZ

Book Review- The Princess Bride by William Goldman

All right, I’ve found a couple minutes between reading and writing assignments, so here I am.

My limited free time has found me absolutely obsessed with Dragon Age: Inquisition. This is technically my third playthrough, but my second one only lasted 6 hours before I got bored and deleted it. I didn’t like the decisions or the back story. Humans are so boring, especially in a game that holds so many Elven secrets. So, now I’m over 60 hours into my Dalish Elf mage playthrough, and I’m romancing Solas, because I like sobbing in my spare time.

"Our Love Can Endure" by Mae'thnial Mahariel
“Our Love Can Endure” by Mae’thnial Mahariel

I’m not sure I’ve adequately conveyed my level of obsession. Phone background? Solas picture. Fan Fiction? Following nine different stories all about Solavellan (the name my particular brand of shippers have given the romance between Solas and the Dalish Inquisitor, Lavellan). A playlist has been made, chock-a-block full of sad/angry/confused songs that more or less scream, “WHY?” I’m even a member of a fan page on Facebook. I’ve got it bad.

And I regret nothing.

But, when I’m not gaming for hours at a time, I’m still reading, and so, let’s discuss The Princess Bride!

Princess Bride

Now, this will be an easy review because if you’ve seen the movie, you’ve read the book. I’m not kidding. Most of the dialogue from the film is verbatim from the book, which made it a fantastically fun read. Book Club, of course, loved it.

There were some added scenes, like more fleshed out backstories for Inigo and Fezzik, and though I loved them, I can understand why they were condensed in the film.The book is a little disorienting because the narrator speaks directly to the reader, telling how his father read the story to him as a child, and once he revisited it as an adult, he discovered that his father cut out all the boring bits to tell a tale of “True Love and High Adventure”.

Now, I made an attempt, back in 2011-ish, to read this book, and for whatever reason, was unable to finish it. I was worried as I reopened it that I would succumb to the same problem, and be faced with the hard truth that The Princess Bride, a most beloved film, was based on a boring book.
The Princess Bride

I’m glad to report that the book is anything but boring. I loved it, and now cherish it on my bookshelf, glad to keep it safe there and in my heart.

I know this is a short review, but really, if you’ve seen the film (and if you haven’t, I say this: Inconceivable!) then you’ve read the book. That said, if you love the movie (and if you don’t, I say this: Inconceivable!) please, please, please read the book. You won’t regret it.

Now, this was a Book Club read, which means we’re down to three books left. Next up: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. We have a short month between meetings, so we opted for the shortest book remaining on the list.
Perksofbeingwallflower1

I’m still reading a ton for school, though I’ll admit I didn’t finish Martian Time-Slip. I made it about 40 pages, but the slow story just couldn’t keep up with my Dragon Age addiction.

Moving Mars, by Greg Bear is doing much better, thanks to a shaky romance that reminds me just enough of Solavellan that I can read it with rapt attention.

Anyway, I just wanted to pop in, say hello, good work today, sleep well, I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.

Oh, wait. I’m not the Dread Pirate Roberts…

BZ

A Fortnight with the Princesses

It’s actually kind of cold in our apartment. I dislike it.

I just finished reading A Princess of Mars, and I have to say I was thoroughly impressed by it. When one keeps the publishing date in mind, the story is really quite spectacular. My typically modern tastes and experiences with Science Fiction and Fantasy made the first few chapters of the book difficult for me. There are a lot of clichés and conventions, which in 1912 were groundbreaking, but are know fairly boring, and even irritating.

And I had a hard time letting go of those irritations. But, once I did I couldn’t put John Carter’s story aside. I loved the simple world building, and the overly generalized characters. Descriptions were quick and often straightforward, leaving nothing to the imagination, and personalities were told to the reader instead of displayed.

And yet I was thoroughly enthralled, and I plan on reading the other two stories in the original trilogy. I have to know if John Carter makes it back to Mars, and if Dejah Thoris and their unhatched child yet live!

But, before any of that, I have to start reading The Princess Bride. And Sunday I’ll start reading The Martian Chronicles. And if I can squeeze in a novella from The Kingkiller Chronicles, that’d be greeaaat.

Anyway, I just wanted to swing in and keep you all posted. I’m going to get ready for bed and start reading the next Book Club book. That meeting will be here before I know it…

Have a great night, Blogland!

BZ