Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson

ElantrisHoly cow, has it really been eight years since I first read this book? It was definitely long overdue for this re-read, and this time I got to make a bunch of other people read it for book club! I love this power.

Eight years ago I was taken in by the first sentence — “Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.” This year? Same. Is that not a great sentence? Is Brandon Sanderson not a master of sentences? Ugh, so good.

I’ve explained the story pretty well in my first post about this book, so I’ll let that all stand and talk about how this holds up to a re-read. Spoiler: pretty well!

It turns out that I retained only the vaguest of details about the book, except for the one big reveal about why Elantris’s magic stopped working, so it was pretty much like reading the book for the first time. Except, of course, that I am a different person now, and so the constant sexism toward women, and, conversely, the Sarene’s constant commentary on the backwardness of Arelon rankled. Did Sarene have to be an underestimated and ignored component of Arelon society to achieve the books results? Probably not! Also, I’m not not a fan of stories where the characters are witty and smart and have answers for every problem thrown their way (see: everything Sanderson and John Scalzi have ever written), but it becomes tiresome after 600 pages to keep reading things like, and then Sarene was witty and smart and had all the answers, and so did Raoden, and then Hrathen used this against them, but it’s cool, Sarene and Raoden just invented better answers.

That aside, the plot is still really well done and the ideas of government as rule by the wealthy or rule by religion are almost creepily relevant today. I found myself drawing more than a few parallels between the power-hungry characters of the book and certain political figures who have recently come to power. Oh, politics. You never change.

I also still love the world that Sanderson built for this story, with its weird magic Aons and familiar world religions and strangely small footprint on what I presume is the Earth. Sanderson has written a couple of other stories meant to take place in the same world, but what I really need is a book about Dreok Crushthroat and maybe one about Fjordell before Wyrn Wulfden.

Probably the thing I liked least about this re-read, and this is a really weird thing, is that my husband listened to the book while I eyes-read it and it turns out that all of the proper nouns in the book are pronounced VERY DIFFERENTLY from how I think they should be pronounced. I would hear Scott listening to the book and be like, who the heck is Ay-hane? Oh, Ahan. And See-in-ay-len? Oh, Seinalen. Darn your vowels, Sanderson!

But hey, if you eyes-read it, you can do like my book club mate and just give everyone names like Bob and George and not even worry about it!

Recommendation: Totally worth a read, especially if you need a book where the good guys win. (Spoiler?)

Weekend Shorts: Mitosis and Nancy Drew

I’ve got two very different stories to talk about today — one a delightful interlude to tide me over until a sequel, the other a horrible travesty upon my childhood. Which to talk about first…

Mitosis, by Brandon Sanderson
MitosisOh, let’s start with the good. I like good. I like Steelheart. I like this story, which starts with our good friend David really super extremely excited about… eating a hot dog. I mean, I get that he hasn’t had one in ten years, but… a hot dog? I’d be more excited about, like, pizza, although I don’t really like Chicago-style pizza… this is not the point! Although, pizza, yum.

Anyway, there are hot dogs eaten and also we find out — spoilers if you haven’t read Steelheart yet, which, go do that now — that the Reckoners have managed to more or less reclaim Chicago, although they can’t do much about that steel everywhere, and also that David is being called “Steelslayer” and given all sorts of credit for defeating Steelheart. So of course another Epic, this one aptly called Mitosis, shows up in Chicago demanding to speak with David to find out what really happened. We learn a little bit more about the Epics and their powers and weak spots, and we get a decent setup for the upcoming Firefight, and all and all I am entertained.

The Demon of River Heights, by Stefan Petrucha
The Demon of River HeightsAaaaaaaaaaaaaah. So you may remember that ages ago I partook in a Nancy Drew Challenge in which I was going to read all of the 56 original (well, “original”) Nancy Drew books, except I only made it to 11 before I was like, I think I can predict the next 45 just fine, thanks. But I read and loved all 56 as a kid, as well as all eleven billion of the new Nancy Drews that were out in the early nineties, so I couldn’t help myself when I realized that this graphic adaptation existed in my library. Please, help yourself and avoid this!

For one, this graphic novel suffers from the all-too-common GIGANTIC BOOBS problem, with even sporty George sporting a rack larger than mine. I’m not sure the artist understands the audience for Nancy Drew stories. Secondly, it suffers from the same predictability as the original series, except with more explosions. Thirdly, it was published in 2005 and is a ridiculous time capsule of mid-aughts technology, you know, when smartphones were this crazy new thing that had yet to take over the world? So Nancy drives this hybrid car, which she keeps forgetting to put gas in, and also keeps losing cell phone reception, which, fair. But then George has this fancy not-iPad with “wifi and cell-phone dial-up” that, I shit you not, she uses to look up how to fight a bear while Nancy is FIGHTING A BEAR in the MIDDLE OF THE WOODS. So there’s that, and actually that’s just a few pages in so if you want to pick up the book just to enjoy Nancy punching a bear in the face I think that’s probably totally legit. I can only imagine what will happen in the rest of the series, because I am NOT reading any more of it. (Unless you tell me it’s awesome, then maybe.)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, by Jonathan Safran Foer

Extremely Loud and Incredibly CloseI think my in-person book club has contracted “Annoying Child Narrator” disease. Before this book we read The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which had an overly precocious child narrator, and before that we read Room, which has a very young narrator who mostly acts his age and is therefore, to me, annoying. The narrator of this book is not really precocious so much as very self-important, and he actually reminded me of Ignatius from A Confederacy of Dunces, which you may recognize as a bad thing.

Soooooooo this was a bit of a long read. I had a feeling it would be, so I read it primarily on a plane, where I would have nothing better to do. On the plus side, it’s not very long page-wise — there are 326 pages, but there are also pictures and weird parts with no actual story on them, so it’s probably more like a 275-page book. On the minus side, I probably understood about half of those pages.

I should probably note that this is sort of kind of a September 11 novel, and my book club did discuss this on said date, and that I have a very limited connection to the events of That Tuesday. I was in high school in Ohio, I didn’t know anyone who knew anyone in New York at the time, and so I didn’t come into this novel with any sort of pre-conceived emotions. I imagine if I had, this might have resonated better. Please tell me if that’s the case!

Okay, so, anyway. This book is about a kid, Oskar, whose dad died at the World Trade Center. His dad was also very into puzzles and setting puzzles for Oskar, and so when Oskar finds a mysterious envelope with a key and a last name on it, he sets off to find the person the key belongs to and solve this final puzzle from his dad. His search takes him alphabetically to all of the households Black in the NYC area, and he meets new and interesting people along the way.

And you know, if this had been the whole novel, I think I would have liked it a lot. I like a good quest, and I like also a probably doomed quest, and for all that I found him a bit pompous, I could empathize a little bit with Oskar and his search for truth.

But there’s also this other part of the novel, which consists of, I think, a letter to Oskar from his grandmother and a diary of some sort written by Oskar’s grandfather. Both of these recount how the two met and married and unmarried in a very very weird set of circumstances, and they’re both really strange in different ways. The letter is written a very straightforward way, with an… explicitness that I would not put to paper for anyone, probably not even in my own personal diary, and especially not in a letter to my grandchild. The diary, on the other hand, is baffling in that it is the notebook of a person who does not talk and so it gets interrupted by pages with just a few words on them (used to ask questions and answer them) and it’s also maybe got some pictures in it, though they’re not clearly part of the diary, and it’s just… it’s weird. Very weird.

Sometimes I don’t mind working for my novels; there are a few books out there that I know I’ll read again just to figure out what the heck was going on (right, Mr. Peanut?). But I am also interested and invested in those novels, and I just don’t feel that way about this one.

However, a lot of my book club people quite enjoyed this book and/or its movie adaptation, so if you’re thinking about reading it, give it a try!

Rating: 6/10

Y the Last Man, Books 5 and 6, by Brian K. Vaughan

Ring of TruthI read the first four books of this series, um, a while ago, and I was so disenchanted by the fourth that I didn’t make a concerted effort to find the next one. I would wander by the graphic novel section every so often, see books 6-10 but not 5, and go on my merry way. But then the universe was like it is time for you to read these and so a shorter while ago I found these two books practically jumping off the shelf and into my bag. You don’t argue with the universe and its italics, people.

Girl on GirlI still didn’t bother to read them until right before I had to give them back, though, because I am stubborn. And… well, now I’ve read them. I certainly wasn’t as creeped out by them as by Book 4 up there, but neither did I find them particularly exciting.

In Book 5, Yorick meets a bunch of ladies, confronts some emotional demons, confronts a probably-no-longer-demonic sister, and does some really really stupid stuff that somehow manages not to go badly for him. Meanwhile, Dr. Mann may or may not have figured out the whole man-alive thing, 355 kicks some serious ass, the aforementioned sister plays at kicking some ass, and Yorick’s girlfriend shows up just long enough to get kidnapped or something.

In Book 6, basically the same stuff happens except that there are also pirates and ill-advised sexytimes and a literal boatload of heroin.

So here’s the thing about this series: I definitely want to know what happens. I want to know how Yorick survived, I want to know what’s up with all this secret-political-cult shit, I want to know who gets to live happily ever after. But I really don’t want to expend any more effort finding out.

Part of this is the fact that in every book there are like eight million things going on — I didn’t even mention the ninja or the Amazons or the Israelis above — and most of the plotlines don’t do anything more than remind you that they exist and probably set up something that’ll happen in a future issue but at the moment I would like to focus on what’s going on in this issue, thanks. I don’t know if this would be better or worse if I were reading this in issue form, rather than the trade collections.

The bigger thing, though, is that I am just so over Yorick. If I have to watch him run into ostensible danger to save some lady or other at which point the lady is saved and the danger is disappeared, or especially if I have to watch him walk around in a gas mask to hide his Last Man status only to have the mask ripped off for one reason or another and then the only repercussion is that he has to tell some surprised woman his whole life story… it’s not appealing to me, is what I’m saying.

Luckily, the husband is totally willing to expend the effort to finish the series, so one of these days I’ll know how it goes. Even more so if the rumors I hear about a movie or a TV show come true; those are the kinds of things that appear on my Netflix queue when I’m not paying attention. 🙂

Recommendation: I’m giving this series a pass, but if you’re more forgiving of this odd-to-me, possibly normal-for-comics pacing and plotting, I say go for it.

Rating: 5/10 for the both of them.

The Penultimate Peril and The End, by Lemony Snicket

Normally I would do two separate posts for two separate books, but then there would be two short and boring posts about these books, and I promised to be more generally awesome this year, so you’re going to get just one slightly longer and hopefully slightly less boring post about these books.

Okay, so, the Baudelaires. When we last left them, they were eating some horseradish. Mmmm, horseradish.

The Penultimate PerilIn The Penultimate Peril there is less horseradish, but more AWESOME LIBRARY, so this is a good trade here. This book takes place in the Hotel Denouement, or the tnemeuoneD letoH as it actually says on said hotel, and this building has nine floors and a basement whose rooms are arranged in Dewey Decimal order, which is just fantastic. I had fun trying to guess what numbers Daniel Handler would pick for the various characters’ rooms, which is extremely nerdy but I am totally okay with this. Anyway, library shenanigans aside, this book introduces some new characters (particularly a second set of twins who are actually triplets) but mostly does a roundup of all the surviving characters from the previous books, the conceit being that they’ve all arrived at the hotel to take part in a trial of the Baudelaires. The idea is that they’ll get exonerated of all the stuff they’ve been blamed for but haven’t done, but the orphans have done plenty of bad things themselves (like using disguises!), so they’re not sure they’re really on good footing, here. And then of course completely ridiculous things happen and the trial is disrupted and then the orphans set the hotel on fire and end up out to sea. As it goes.

The EndAnd so then in The End the Baudelaires wash up on a coastal shelf that is inhabited by a sort of utopian community, whose members are only not quite as stupid as the rest of the Baudelaire’s world in that they can recognize and dislike Count Olaf, who has washed ashore as well. But unfortunately they are all boozed up beyond belief and also completely bogged down in stupid stupid rules, and so they are of no help to the Baudelaires in either staying safe on the island or getting off of it. And then the Medusoid Mycelium shows up again and bad things happen and good things are prevented and more people die whether you want them to or not and then there is an epilogue and then I am like… sigh.

While we were listening to these Scott kept mentioning that Handler must have been being paid by the word because he just gets so incredibly repetitive and tangential and loses track of the plot quite often, and I was like, “Nooooo it’s awesome just enjoy it” but secretly (or, well, not-so-secretly), I totally agree. I enjoyed the heck out of this series when I read it, but I think I must have skipped over these parts or just blocked them from my mind, because damn, those passages are super boring.

I really loved the beginning of this series, but the end is just not the same at all and I’m finding myself really recommending against reading these last books. But I also can’t figure out where you should stop reading the series, because all of the books have their excellent parts that are totally worth it. So maybe you could just skim through the print versions and read the good parts and not the bad parts. You’ll finish in a few hours that way. Or, you could read the series to a member of its target audience, i.e. short people, and then their enthusiasm for the repetitiveness will make you smile instead of bang your head against the wall.

Ratings: Really a 7/10 for both, but PP gets 8/10 for library awesomeness and TE 6/10 for awful awful epilogue

Pretties, by Scott Westerfeld (12 May — 13 May)

Pretties is the second of Westerfeld’s crazy dystopian series, following Uglies, which I read last month. So, you know, there are spoilers if you haven’t read that other one.

In this go, Tally has turned herself pretty and is, in fact, a total pretty-head. She’s about to be voted into a clique called the Crims, short for Criminals, which Shay (now her bff again) is already a member of. But on the night of the vote, Tally runs into a Smoky called Croy that she vaguely remembers knowing once and who promises to leave her a note before he and the other Smokies run away from Special Circumstances.

The note, which Tally finds with the help of the lead Crim, Zane, is the one that Tally wrote to herself in the last book. It also includes two pills for curing the operation. Tally is too nervous to take them herself but won’t let Zane risk his life, either, so they each take one just seconds before the Specials break into their hiding place.

Now cured, Tally and Zane set to work on getting as many Pretties as possible to realize the ridiculousness of their situation and to breaking out of New Pretty Town. It sort of works, sort of doesn’t, and Tally finds herself in all sorts of trouble all over again. Whoo!

I love how fast these books go and how incredibly engaging they are, and you know I’ll be rescuing Specials from the library just as soon as it comes back.

Rating: 7.5/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld (15 April — 17 April)

Oh, YA brain candy. Fun!

Uglies is a dystopian novel about a world where everyone surgically becomes pretty (or at least, conforms to specific ideals of beauty) at the age of 16 so as to eliminate silly things like not liking people ’cause they look funny. Of course, up until that age the kids are known as Uglies and have the aforementioned ideals beaten into their heads. Lovely. Who wouldn’t want to become Pretty after all that?

Well, some people. Like Tally’s new friend Shay, who, even after Tally espouses to her the wonders of Pretty-ness, runs off to find an enclave of people who have avoided the surgery. Shay leaves behind a note in case Tally wants to follow, but that note ends up in the wrong hands and Tally is forced to go after Shay if looking Pretty is to be in Tally’s future.

And then, of course, there’s adventure and commentary on society and it’s all really fun! I read most of this book in one sitting because I just had to know what happened next, and even predictability and the giant cliffhanger ending didn’t peeve me like such things usually do; I’ll just go grab the next book and devour it, too! Excellent.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak (1 March — 5 March)

-sniffle- I really wasn’t sure about this book. I’d heard good things, but when I picked it up and started reading I was a bit put off by Death’s narrative style. Yes, Death is the narrator. Of a Holocaust book. Oh, joy. And Death spouts off about colors for a chapter, and it’s symbolic, sort of, but it didn’t make a lot of sense while reading it. Death also cuts in all the time with weird, bolded pronouncements like

* * * HERE IS A SMALL FACT * * *
You are going to die

That’s on the first page. I was a bit concerned. But then, as I read some more, I got used to the intrusions and even started to appreciate them. That fact seems almost appropriate to this book.

Anyway, I said the book was about the Holocaust, but it’s not, really. It’s about a young German girl who is sent to live with a foster family during Hitler’s reign, and how she grows up amid the tumult. She makes friends, she gets into fights, she steals some books (obviously), she helps hide a Jew, and she generally becomes a fine young woman. Of course, bad things happen all over the place. To paraphrase Death, an admission: I cried for the last 50 pages. It’s not a happy book, and it took a bit to really pull me in, but it is a very very good book and you should read it.

Rating: 9/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge, Orbis Terrarum Challenge: Australia)

Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson (9 February — 11 February)

This book was awesome. The end.

Okay, okay. But really! Awesome! I was drawn in from the first line of the first chapter (not counting the prologue, because that was whatever): “Prince Raoden of Arelon awoke early that morning, completely unaware that he had been damned for all eternity.”

Indeed. Raoden has been taken by the Shaod, which used to turn random people of Arelon into the supposed gods of Elantris, but which stopped doing that ten years previous and now turns its victims into perpetually decaying (but never dying) hulks of flesh. Raoden finds himself thrown into Elantris, now little more than a prison where gangs fight over the ritual food newcomers bring (everyone is very hungry, though they don’t technically have to eat) and every injury, no matter how slight, lasts forever. Instead of becoming crazy like many Elantrians, however, Raoden chooses to make a better life for those inside and see if he can’t find out what caused the death of Elantris in the first place.

Meanwhile, Raoden’s betrothed, Sarene, arrives in Arelon a week before her wedding, but only just in time for the prince’s funeral. Oops. Sarene, whose political marriage is still valid due to a fancy clause in the contract, decides she’s still going to do what she set out to do, which is keep Arelon and her home of Teod protected from those who would destroy them.

Also meanwhile, those who would destroy Arelon and Teod send out a priest called Hrathen to pave the way for the conquerors — those of the religion of Shu-Dereth. Hrathen is to convert the Arelenes within three months or the people will face death. His carefully laid plans start to unravel, though, with the influence of Sarene, Raoden, and a religious zealot called Dilaf who is out to destroy Elantris.

So there’s a lot of story here. But it’s all really well told and all of the pieces Sanderson gets you curious about tie together at the end quite spectacularly. There were a few things I found extraneous and rather deus ex, but I will forgive those because everything else was so, well, awesome.

Rating: 9.5/10
(Chunkster Challenge, Support Your Local Library Challenge)

The Big Over Easy, by Jasper Fforde (29 January — 30 January)

Oh, Jasper Fforde, you’ve done it again! This is the first book of Fforde’s Nursery Crime series, which first shows up in The Well of Lost Plots and exists in tandem with the Thursday Next universe.

The conceit here is that nursery rhyme characters are real but don’t know they’re from nursery rhymes, and that they now get prosecuted for their crimes (they are, of course, Brothers Grimm versions).

So when Humpty Dumpty is found dead and cracked at the bottom of a wall, it’s up to Detective Inspector Jack Spratt and Detective Sergeant Mary Mary to find out whodunnit and why. Was it suicide? Was it one of Humpty’s hundreds of ex-lovers? Was it, perhaps, Solomon Grundy (born on Monday), who is poised to absorb the failing Spongg footcare dynasty into his own chiropody company, Winsum & Loosum?

Of course, the unpublished Spratt is having a hard time with his case because he’s not a Guild member. His cheating upstart former partner, Friedland Chymes, is, and he’s ready to steal this case any way he can to get a new story in Amazing Crime Stories and have even more accolades heaped upon him.

Oh yes. It is that ridiculous, and that awesome. Each chapter begins with an excerpt about other nursery crimes or the Guild of Detectives, and there are so many references to nursery rhymes that it could be a bit overwhelming, but it’s not. I also like that Fforde has trotted out all of the mystery genre traits (I did take a course on mysteries, after all!) and used them well. If you don’t mind a bit of fancy with your murder mystery, I would heartily suggest picking up this book.

Rating: 8/10
(Support Your Local Library Challenge)