The Amulet of Samarkand: Book One of the Bartimaeus Series (Spoiler-Free Review)

I don’t have any recollection of people discussing this series in the early 2000s. I only have vague memories of Bartimaeus’s face leering at me from atop a bookshelf at our school library in middle-school. I chose to read it only because I discovered it among my fiancé’s books from his childhood home. It left enough of an impression on him that he had decided to keep it (along with the other two books in the trilogy) all these years so I thought I would give it a go.

I have to say, I’m glad I did.

In spite of the fact that I’m obviously not in the age demographic this is targeted towards, I enjoyed this just as much as a child would. In fact, I think I enjoy it more as an adult than I would have as a kid. Much like Harry Potter, it doesn’t talk down to its audience, and I believe this is both to the book’s credit and its detriment.

The plot itself isn’t difficult to follow by any means, but some of the vocabulary used in this book might have gone over my head as a child and caused me to lose interest. Hell, I actually had to look up a few words up in the dictionary, especially the architectural terms, because I, a 26 year-old woman, didn’t know what a “cornice” was.

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Considering how much is going on in this story, the book handles world-building in an impressively clever way. Rather than doing massive exposition dumps, bits of information are sprinkled here and there, playing in the background of the bigger plot. It makes sense for this to be the case as Nathaniel, a 12 year-old boy, isn’t going to care about adult things that don’t directly effect him, and yet we, the readers, can ascertain what is really going on in the world these characters live in.

Speaking of characters, unfortunately, I found most them to be quite dull and one-note, especially those of the female persuasion. I’m not going to cry “sexist” because I don’t think this was done intentionally, but it’s worth noting. Mrs. Underwood in particular is criminally underdeveloped considering she has such a huge impact on Nathan’s life. I wouldn’t expect for her character to have an arc or elaborate backstory, but she seemed to have no personality outside of being a good person.

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That isn’t to say that all the characters were uninteresting, however.

I thought Nathaniel was a unique protagonist for a children’s book considering his moral code is significantly underdeveloped. While not a “bad person” per say, Nathaniel clearly has an ego and covets renown from his peers. He also falls prey to a lot of the same classist prejudices and narrow-minded beliefs many magicians hold. Prejudices he is not cured of by the story’s end.

It’s clear Stroud is playing the long-game when it comes to Nathaniel’s moral awakening and that suits me just fine. I always find it annoying when characters just intrinsically rebel against what they have been taught all their lives simply so the writer can portray them as being “special” right from the off. It’s much more realistic and cathartic for characters to change organically by having their beliefs questioned throughout the narrative.

As for Bartimaeus….I love him. I suppose the whole “sassy other-worldly creature” trope is old at this point, but dammit if I didn’t find him endlessly entertaining. His interactions with others of his kind are some of my favorite moments as you get a clear understanding of how “demon” culture works. I thought the bullet-points were a bit excessive in places, but on the other hand it gives the curious reader more insight all without bogging down the plot with unnecessary details.

I hope in the books that follow we will be able to dive even deeper into Bartimaeus’s past. I know that might slow down the plot a bit, but I found all the nuggets about his previous summonings and experiences to be interesting and I would love to hear more about it.

All in all, I enjoyed all the world-building, twists and turns, and spirit of this novel.

It leaves you with enough questions to keep you longing for Book 2, all without feeling like the entire things was just a set up for the sequel.

If you are looking for a fun, engaging read to ward off your quarantine blues, I highly recommend it.

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Schrödinger’s Author: Is the Writer Dead or Not?

 

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For quite a while now I’ve wanted to write a post about Roland Barthes’ The Death of The Author theory, but I’ve been conflicted on where I stand on the subject.

While it is obvious that a writer’s experiences, biases, and other factors greatly shape a writer’s work, I also believe that it is essential to divorce a writer from their written material.

My reasoning for this is manifold.

For one, if you don’t exercise this practice, you are going to miss out on a lot of good writing. 

This isn’t always the case, of course. I believe talented authors can often be quite charming people. Nevertheless, like is the case with many professions, the ones that are truly phenomenal aren’t always the most humble.

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This goes double for authors of yesteryear who undoubtedly hold (by today’s standards) a whole host of problematic opinions. There are some who believe we should remove books from school curriculum or from the cultural sphere because the person who wrote them is a bigot.

It’s a nice thought that we can wave a magic wand and eradicate all harmful figures and their influence from our past, but in actual execution this isn’t a realistic feat.

If we rid ourselves of every invention, scientific formula, or book, etc because the person who created them suffered from some moral failing, we would all still be painting cave walls by campfire.

The simple truth is that sometimes bad people can create great works of art and sometimes its necessary to concentrate on the product and not necessarily the person who made it.

There is also the issue of gate-keeping that has become prevalent in today’s literary circles. It would seem that writers are being barred from writing about certain topics and creating characters of different races, sexes, or religions simply because the writer isn’t a member of these groups. Or, if they are a member of these groups, they aren’t x enough to be talking about said groups.

While I’m all for encouraging writers of different backgrounds writing about their own experiences being a part of a traditionally marginalized group, I don’t believe shaming people for writing about people and cultures outside their own is going to lead to a positive outcome.

I’m also sure everyone is aware of the new trend amongst author’s to-erhm- “improve” their work by adding unsolicited tidbits that were not in their books in order to make them look more progressive.

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Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about.

By killing the author, we don’t have to take these things into account because the author is dead.

However, there is another side of this coin. 

In 2017 Poet Sara Holbrook decided to take a standardized test for middle-schoolers and found herself unable to answer certain questions….about her own poetry.

Apparently one of the questions didn’t even have the correct answer as an option. The test asked why she, Holbrook, chose to write the poem in two stanzas. The reason, Holbrook explained, was because she is a performance poet.

The breaks in the poem were placed there so she could take a breath.

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So does The Death of the Author theory apply here? Is she allowed to call this interpretation of her work b.s?

If you ask me, she is.

She is pointing out the issue with implying authorial intent that doesn’t exist, something I have long argued against. Sometimes the curtains are blue because the author wants to convey sadness, but sometimes the curtains are blue because….they are blue.

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After reading this article, I was forced to confront my previous stance on whether or not a writer’s intention should factor in to the interpretation of their work.

I like the idea of readers being able to derive their own meanings from stories, but occasionally they get what the writer meant so fantastically wrong it seems as though the author has no alternative but to step in and say “no, that’s totally not what I meant, you  idiot.”

Where does that leave us?

I’ve given it quite a bit of thought and I propose a compromise: Authors may give context to their work, expanding on themes and metaphors that may or may not be self-evident within the text….

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if an event did not explicitly take place in the novel (or supplemental materials such as prequels and short-stories within this universe), the event is not cannon. The same can be said for character attributes or relationships.

Think of the work of fiction as a painting in a museum. The artist is allowed to commentate on what they were trying to achieve with the piece. They are not permitted, however, to remove the painting from the wall and begin painting over it, adding bits that were not there before. They can only address what is there and the meaning behind it.

If the author says the character was LGBTQ but gives no evidence to this in the books– Not cannon. 

If the author says the main characters all died in the end but left the book on a cliff-hanger—Not cannon.

If the author says the zombies in the book were meant to represent the impending threat of climate change–Cannon.

If the author says the main character’s killing of the villain was a symbolic representation of them killing a part of themselves–Cannon.

Overall, I still believe it is more important to look at the story itself than it is the author that wrote it, but I realize it’s a much more complicated subject than I previously anticipated when first writing this post.

That being said, I’m interested in hearing about what you guys think.

Thanks for reading! 

How to NOT Suck at Reviewing in Five Easy Steps

To anyone that has read this blog for any length of time, it’s no secret I love reviewing stories in all forms of media.

It enables me to think critically and learn what makes a story fail or succeed.

I owe much of my growth as a writer to watching other reviewers discuss what they did or didn’t like in stories and, more importantly, why.

While I don’t claim to be a professional critic, I believe there are certain steps one can take in order to not suck at reviewing.

1. Know Thyself 

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Before you can judge something, it is important you have examined your own personal tastes and biases. These, as well as your own experiences, will influence how you digest media. 

I read a review on  Ford v. Ferrari in which the “critic” spent the entire article berating the movie for being about white guys and….that’s it.

She failed to mention anything about the writing, characters, lighting, cinematography, editing, music, or anything relevant to the story. I learned absolutely nothing about the film or whether or not I would have enjoyed it.

I felt like I was reading a diary entry by a moody teenager that was angry at her father rather than an actual review someone was payed to write.

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It’s fine to have opinions whether they be political or otherwise, but it’s important you are able to compartmentalize. You have to ask yourself if you dislike something because it is genuinely bad for the story/characters, or simply because of your own intrinsic biases.

2. Don’t Nit-pick

If you look closely you will find flaws in every form of fiction. Perhaps the writer described a character as having brown eyes in one chapter and then mistakenly refers to them as cerulean a hundred pages or so on. Yes, this was something the writer or editor should have caught in re-writes, but honestly it isn’t that big of a deal.

There are entire channels on Youtube dedicated to nit-picking *coughCinamaSinscough** and while they can be amusing to watch, unnecessary emphasis is placed on minuscule infractions.

Small things can add up over time, but if you are constantly hammering on things that are essentially inconsequential to the main story or details most people wouldn’t notice anyway,  you need to reevaluate.

Most people don’t care.

Or if they do, they don’t care that much. 

If a problem is big enough it will find you.

3. Don’t Be an Elitist Prick 

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Having a degree in the medium you are reviewing is a wonderful resource. You can apply what you have learned from your studies in order to give informed opinions. I’ve learned a lot about the art of storytelling from watching video essays and attending lectures by people who studied extensively in their respective crafts.

The issue is some use their education as a trump tool, believing that their opinion is greater than the unwashed masses because they own a piece of paper that says Department of English or Department of Film and Media on it.

The truth is most people don’t care whether or not you have a degree. They care if you can provide them with an interesting or humorous perspective.

While the average joe might not be as well versed in the arts, they are still capable of snuffing out what works and what doesn’t in a story. Remember, most stories aren’t for the elites. They are for the other 99.9% of people.

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4. Don’t Insult People Who Like What You’re Reviewing 

I recently watched a review of Joker by a Youtuber named ralphthemoviemaker in which he makes a huge mistake.

In this video, Ralph essentially calls everyone who enjoys the movie a moron. But he doesn’t stop there. In fact, most of his review seems to be directed towards people who enjoyed the movie and how dumb they are for not sharing his clearly more researched opinion.

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I will be the first to admit I have ridiculed many a property, so I don’t have a problem with him badmouthing the movie.

But insulting people who like it is an extremely bad move.

By doing so you all but guarantee your audience will disregard everything you say on the subject. Worse still, it will turn people who might have otherwise agreed with your assessments against you.

It’s not even an argument that can be supported with evidence.

Why are these people stupid? Because they like something you don’t?

Are people that like blue smarter than people that like pink?

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This brings me to my final point-

5. Remember It’s Your Opinion

I don’t believe all opinions are created equal. Some are weak and easy to refute when presented with enough evidence. However, it’s important to realize that there is really no one “correct” opinion when it comes to art.

In the end, art is just one big Rorschach test that is influenced by our unique experiences.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t express pleasure, disdain, disappointment or any other emotion that comes with examining stories. But we need to be open to other interpretations of the messages we consume and cognizant of how they may resonate with other people.

Thanks for reading!

Books, Writing, and Other Goals for 2020

Now that we’ve shucked off our ugly Christmas sweaters and vacuumed up all the tinsel, it’s time to create unattainable goals for ourselves!

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We do this pretty much every single year, or– if you’re like me– you’ve pretended to not come up with resolutions so that you aren’t disappointed by your inevitable failure.

However, now that we’re only a few days away from the swinging 20s, I think this year is the best year to get our lives in order.

So what are my goals?

Well, let’s review my previous failures.

This year I wanted to read 100 books!

…….I read 12.

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I mentioned in a previous post that I went through a reading slump where nothing seemed all that intriguing. I’m not sure if it was systematic of where my mental health was at the time, or if it I just couldn’t find anything on offer. Regardless, I hope to read a lot more in 2020.

So instead of  going for something overly ambitious like 100, I think I will dial it down to 20 books. 20 books in 2020. Not a bad idea, right?

As for writing….this year I made a resolution to finish at least 1 draft of my novel!

…..I-er- I almost finished an outline…?

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Yeah, that was terrible.

I think the problem was I gave myself way too much time to complete it. Life is hectic, yes, but I didn’t need 12 months for a first draft. If I had cut that down to three months or less, I might have been persuaded to hustle more….Or at all, really.

Lesson learned. I will give myself time, but not too much.

I will attempt to write at least half an hour everyday and finish the first draft by March.

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As of 2020, I would also like to be more consistent about uploading to this blog. Realistically, I won’t be able to upload everyday like you blog warriors do. Nonetheless, I’m hoping to post at least once every two weeks.

In the past I’ve obsessed over writing the perfect posts when, in reality, it probably doesn’t matter that much. I should do my best, but sometimes you just have to push that Publish button.

Hope you guys did better this year than I did.

Happy Almost New Year!

 

 

My Thoughts on the Long Wait for “The Winds of Winter”

After the colossal wash-rag that was season 8, people are growing steadily less patient with George R.R. Martin and his slow output. 

The newest installment of  the series, The Winds of Winter, has been in the works for nearly a decade now and people are chomping at the bit for a return to normalcy. They want to go back to a time when characters’ motivations actually made sense, dialogue was well written, and events were building up to a well-deserved climax.

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Fans after season 8

It’s obvious a book series as intricate as Game of Thrones would take a significant amount of time to create. After all, it’s hard enough as a readers to keep track of all the plot threads Martin has woven over the years, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to be the one weaving the tapestry.

Many have pointed this out in defenses of Martin, claiming fans are just being entitled brats, crying for their toys. Some have even gone so far as to write songs about it, notably John Anealio’s George R. R. Martin is Not Your Bitch. 

I, myself,  have experienced multiple creative dry-spells that have prevented me from writing. I currently have an unfinished fanfiction that has been languishing in limbo since 2018. In spite of my efforts to update, as many positive reviews have been requesting me to do, I have found it difficult to write something that will satisfy the modest readership I have accumulated over the years.

Martin experiences this same sort of pressure on an infinitely higher scale. Game of Thrones is a global phenomenon now. Not only is his creation loved by millions, he himself has become a household name. He’s become so well-known people dress as him for Halloween!

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Most writers salivate over the idea of achieving such a level of notoriety, but it comes at a cost.

Can you even conceive how monumental a task it must be to complete a series that has such far-reaching acclaim?

Having said all this, you might think I’m a Martin apologist who believes he should take however long he wants to create the best book he can possibly make. Considering how disastrous the final season was, the last thing readers want is a rushed product.

………..

But 8 years is too damn long, my guy.

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I sympathize with his situation.

But come on.

8 years?

8 years?!?!

It took Tolstoy 6 years to write War and Peace, a book over 1,200 pages long, and he had 10 children.

I can see a book this crucial to the series taking 3, or 4, or even 5 years to finish.

But not over 8. 

Martin isn’t writing Thrones in between 12-hour shifts at the sheet metal factory. Writing is his full-time job. He has been in this profession since forever.

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Look, in all seriousness, the root of the issue is he knows Game of Thrones is his magnum opus.

If he cannot deliver on the pay-off he has been building up to since 1996, he will never create anything this monolithic or culturally relevant ever again.

That is a terrifying prospect for anyone to comprehend.

But Martin knows the score. He’s been in the writing bizz longer than some of us have been alive.

The defenders are right, George R. R. Martin is not our bitch.

He is a full-grown man with complete autonomy and we shouldn’t expect him to perform for our amusement like a puppet on a string.

Nevertheless, he owes us the books he promised.

We are not greedy for holding him to his end of the bargain. 

Writing is a scary profession, especially when people start noticing you. While there are more people to listen and be inspired by your work, there are also more people to please. Fandoms, while often times accepting, can also be merciless in their critiques. Trying to placate such a large crowd is daunting.

But you have to write anyway.

Some people won’t be pleased with the way Martin wraps up the series. Unfortunately, that’s art. Some will like it, others won’t.

It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just needs to be finished.

Let’s face it, David Benioff and D.B Weiss set the bar pretty damn low.

Just about anything Martin writes has a 9/10 chance of being leaps and bounds better than that shlock of an ending the show cooked up.

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Game of Thrones: Book 1 v. Season 1

WARNING: THE FOLLOWING CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SEASON 1 OF GAME OF THRONES AND MINOR SPOILERS FOR THE BOOKS. 

Good news! I can consider myself a good nerd now that I have finally completed the first book in the Song of Ice and Fire series.

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That being said, I have many thoughts that I am wanting to share on the subject of both the first beloved now maligned TV series and the first book in the timeless saga written by George R. R. Martin.

In this post I won’t be going into the specifics on how the book and show differ necessarily (if you’re more interested in that, then watch this video series by The Dom). Instead, I will be discussing what I think worked best between the two in terms of story-telling.

Points to the show: 

Faces to the names 

George R. R. Martin has unquestionably made one of the most intricate fantasy worlds in existence, rivalling even the likes of J.R.R Tolkien in its density. Its packed to the hilt with lore and customs and people….

….and therein lies one of the issues in Game Of Thrones.

There are too many goddamn people. 

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I tried to read the first book before I started watching the series, but dammit if I couldn’t make it. There were just too many name to remember, too many notes that had to be taken.

It didn’t help that some of the characters had similar physical attributes, making it even more difficult keeping track of who was who.

Wait…is Jorah Mormont this old, white, bald dude, or is he that other old, white, bald dude?”

Converting the written word into a visual format allowed me to put a face to the name and has made my reading experience less confusing as a result.

Cersei

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While in some ways I appreciate the characters in the book more than in the TV show, I think Cersei proves to be an exception to this rule.

Cersei is not a POV character in the first book and so we are only able to see how she interacts with other POV characters a.ka. Sansa, Tyrion, and Ned Stark. While we do get a taste of how nasty and demented she is in the novel, we don’t see her in her more vulnerable moments like we did in the show.

There’s a scene in the first season in particular where Cersei asks Robert if there was ever a chance they could have been happy, to which Robert responds with a heartbreaking “no.”I thought this scene added more emotional depth to Cersei’s character, enabling the audience to see her as something more than just a cackling villainess.

Ned Stark 

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I love Ned Stark in both the novel and in the show. However, Sean Bean’s performance brings much more warmth to the character than existed in the book. For the life of me, I can’t recall a time where Ned laughed or cracked a smile outside of the show. I’m sure it happened, but for the most part he was ever the stoic Northerner, waiting for the next conflict to arise. In the show, there are more moments of levity and he actually lets out a chuckle or two. It makes him look more approachable and gives him sort of a Mufasa-isque quality to him.

Robb and Catelyn’s Grief

In the books, we don’t see how Robb and Catelyn react to Ned’s death immediately after they receive word of it. Instead the story flashes forward to when they arrive at Riverrun, heartbroken but not quite despondent.

In the show, however, there’s a truly  tear-jerking moment where they show Robb futilely hacking away at a tree with his sword and Catelyn going over to console him, promising they will have their revenge on the Lannisters.

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It’s a really sad scene and it shows how deeply Ned’s loss has effected them.

The Music 

This one might be considered unfair because a book can’t have audible music, but it is definitely a point in the show’s favor. The composer, Ramin Djawadi, does a fantastic job of creating atmosphere with his music. I have yet to hear a soundtrack that packs such an emotional wallop. Death scenes, action scenes, emotional scenes. He can do them all.

Those cellos have me swooning every time.

Here’s a free video on Youtube that contains some of the songs from the show. I recommend you check them out here or on Spotify.

Points to the book: 

More Lore 

One of the most obvious draw-backs of visual media is time. With each episode needing to be about 45 minutes or shorter, there isn’t nearly as much freedom to explore the world. I think the show did a pretty decent job cluing in the audience as to how Westerosi society operates, nevertheless, it was always going to be at a disadvantage compared to the book.

Point of View

There are very talented actors attached to Game of Thrones, but there is no substitute for being able to crawl into a characters mind and read their thoughts. The experience of reading is just far more intimate.

In the book, we see so much more about the world and we get small but satisfying tidbits about character’s pasts that make them all the more real. I think some of my favorite inclusions are Catelyn Stark’s ruminations on growing up in Riverrun. They were touching and added more dimension to her character, really driving home how out of control everything has gotten since her youth.

She is an outsider taken to a land much colder and harder than her childhood home. Their climate is different, their customs are different, even their gods are different. Nevertheless, she finds herself having to fight for this alien culture that she has never truly understood.

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More Fantasy

The book is pretty gritty in comparison to the traditional fantasy novel, but there is more of a nihilistic atmosphere to the show than in the book. I think this makes it more palatable for the casual viewer as fantasy tends to be an acquired taste, but I personally like the more fantastical environment the book creates.

Dany’s and Bran’s dreams in particular add a level of sinisterness and foreboding that don’t land quite as successfully in the show. We are shown the dream of Dany walking to the now destroyed remnants of King’s Landing, but there are other seriously messed up things she sees in the book. As for Bran, he has a dream towards the middle of the novel wherein  he has to learn to fly while an endless pile of bones looms below him.

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I can also appreciate the characters aren’t constantly saying “fuck” in the book. It’s not that I have a problem with the word, it just takes me out of the moment. I’m pretty sure “fuck” wasn’t a word in medieval times so when it’s used with reckless abandon in the show, it’s a bit distracting.

Aging down of characters

This might be considered a weird point in the book’s favor, but hear me out. The fact that all the kids are so much younger in the book makes the events that follow all the more tragic.

Can you imagine not even being in your teens and having all your family members murdered? Or, like in Robb’s case, having to take over for you Lord Father after he is held hostage and having thousands of people depending on you to be their leader?

To me, the aging down of the characters drives home the underlying premise of the novel: When we seek to destroy each other, we are also destroying our future a.k.a our children.

Conclusion:

So which do I think is better: the book or the TV show?

I think I’m going to give a cop-out answer and say I don’t know.

There are things I believe the TV show did better and things I believe the book did more effectively. Most of the shortcomings of either are due to their respective mediums and not necessarily a result of incompetence on either side…..

That won’t come until much later.

Normally, I can’t read the book after seeing a film or watching a TV show based on it, however, I don’t believe my having seen the show beforehand hampered my ability to enjoy the book series. In fact, the opposite is true.

So if you haven’t read the books but have seen the TV series, I recommend giving the books a read anyway. There are very well written and will hold your interest regardless if you know what will happen later on.

Sunshine Blogger Award #5

A special thanks to theorangutanlibrarian for nominating me for this award! I’m honored to be receiving it and I enjoyed making this post!

Here goes!

  1. Thank the person who nominated you and provide a link back to their blogging site.
  2. Answer the questions.
  3. Nominate 11 other bloggers and ask them 11 new questions.
  4. Notify the nominees about it by commenting on one of their blog posts.
  5. List the rules + display the sunshine blogger award logo on your site or on your post.

Where’s the best place you’ve ever been on holiday?

I’m not sure if this counts as a holiday since this was part of a study tour for college, but I would have to say the best place I have ever gone to was Ireland. There was so much natural and ancient beauty there it bewitched me from the moment we landed. My favorite place out of the trip had to be Tollymore Forest on our Game of Thrones tour where they shot a bit of the first episode. And they gave us cloaks!

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Do you have any favorite fictional (or non fictional) libraries?

Hmmmm I suppose I would have to say the first library I ever went to. There’s nothing special about it in terms of aesthetic or book choices (apart from the modest aquarium), but it’s the first ever library I’ve ever gone to which helped foster my love of books so it will always hold a place in my heart.

What is your guiltiest pleasure read?

I suppose that would be Twilight. I haven’t read it in over ten years so I don’t know if I would still like it or not, but I still remember it fondly. I maintain to this day that it’s the most over-hated book in existence. I think I will write a post about this eventually.

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What’s your most unpopular bookish opinion?

I found The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern incredibly boring.

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I know! I know! Dozens of friends have told me they love it, but I…I just don’t get it.

I’ve attempted to read it twice and each time I’ve been disappointed. The premise is intriguing and I liked the atmosphere, but there was too little happening for too long. I made it slightly over halfway through the second time before I gave up.

I don’t begrudge others for liking it, though.

Do you have a bookish pet peeve?

I have a few, but a deal-breaker for me is unnatural dialogue. I can deal with slow pacing, Maguffins and the like but if the characters sound like AIs that can’t pass the Turing Test I’m out. This is the reason I stopped reading The Man in The High Castle. I loved the idea behind it and was interested in where the story was going, nevertheless, the characters sounded so unrealistic and stilted that I couldn’t go on.

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Dialogue is one of the most important tools a writer has in their arsenal to convey a character’s personality and if you screw that up you might as well pack your bags and go home.

What book character gets on your last nerve?

Zoe Redbird from The House of Night series. When I read the first book in high school, I thought she was a pretty cool chick. She was nerdy (allegedly, the only evidence we have for this is her Spock hoodie), she liked Enya, she had a kick-ass name.

But then she started doing shady shit and her character took a turn for the worst around book three.

In essence, she became a Mary-Sue of the highest order; the girl literally every guy wanted to be with. People give Twilight a hard time for being a love triangle when this chick was in a frigging love pentagram.

EVERYONE IN THE BOOKS WANTED TO RIDE HER.

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Not to mention, no matter how many horrible things she did, she was always portrayed as the victim. She cheated on her boyfriend with a teacher, and when said teacher turned out to be a villain (imagine my shock), her friends berated her ex-boyfriend for giving her a hard time… for cheating on him!

Silly boy!

Everything Zoe does is right.

Everyone loves Zoe.

She’s naturally gifted in literally everything.

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It’s a shame because, from what I remember, the rest of the series was enjoyable. I just couldn’t deal with the main character anymore.

If you could wear any item of clothing from a book-what would it be?

Jamie Fraser’s kilt. No more questions.

Who could you rather kiss/marry/kill when the choices are Lord Voldemort, Sauron, and Iago?

I would kill Voldemort because there’s no way I’m waking up to that every morning. I would kiss Iago because he actually has lips and I would marry Sauron because he is the OP villain all others aspire to be.

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Sexy.

Who’s the best bookish baddie you’ve read about lately?

Most books I read don’t necessarily have a mustache twirling villain, but I suppose it would be Drood from Dan Simmon’s Drood. He’s the mysterious character which Dicken’s wrote his unfinished novel about before his death. If you’re interested in reading it, here’s a link.

Would you rather be the villain in a story of the hero? Why?

Conventional wisdom says I should choose hero because they are the victors in most stories. However, I think it might be fun to be a bad guy. Being a good person is exhausting and it’s so much easier to be an asshole. Plus villains usually equate to more complex characterizations and I’m about me some complex characters.

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Do you have any exciting reading plans?

I’m excited to be reading Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. I love, love, love The Paris Wife and her writing style so I’m pumped about this one. I also plan to tuck into My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante in the near future.

My questions:

  1. What was the most transformative reading experience you have ever had?
  2. What is a book you wish someone would write?
  3. Where is somewhere you really want to go, but have only read about in a book?
  4. If you could have a book re-written, which book would it be?
  5. What is a book you dislike that everyone else loves?
  6. If you had the power to bring any mythical creature to life, which creature would it be?
  7. Where is your ideal reading spot?
  8. What is the most disappointing book you have ever read and why?
  9. What is your favorite genre of book and why?
  10. If you could make one book required reading, which book would it be and why?
  11. What is your favorite bookish ship? (noncanonical and crack-ships are acceptable answers)

I’m interested in seeing what you guys come up with!

Sofi@ A Book. A Thought. Jennifer of OutofBabel.com dysfunctionalliteracy  TheInnerWorkings TheBookRaven  Anna @ My Bookish Dreams  By Hook or By Book Nut Free Nerd Bionic Book Nerd Jedi By Knight Adventures of a Bibliophile

Damn you, Outlander Series: Thoughts on A Dragonfly in Amber

WARNING: POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE SECOND BOOK IN THE OUTLANDER SERIES, A DRAGONFLY IN AMBER. READ AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION. 

My relationship with the Outlander series so far is mired by indecision.

There’s so much to adore about these books: the remarkable characters, the rich descriptions, the sexy-fun times, the action-packed storyline that constantly keeps you on your toes.

However, there are also problems with it as well. Problems that are often very difficult to overlook.

For example, the distinct lack of plot that seems to dog each story from the get-go.  Plenty of things happen, mind you, and there is conflict for days. Nonetheless, it just doesn’t always feel as if it is working towards something.

It’ll give A Dragonfly in Amber some credit in that it is a lot better than it’s predecessor at having some direction. The Frasers’ plan to stop Bonnie Prince Charlie’s rebellion counts as a plot…I suppose. Unfortunately, it’s often thrown by the wayside in favor of entertaining weird diversions that have nothing to do with anything. Hell, you could make trading cards out of all the pointless interludes these books dole out: random sword fights, Jamie being dared to piss into a bucket but then being unable to after suffering a trampling by a horse, some argument between Jamie and Claire about him getting horny over some hookers.

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Oh, speaking of Clarice and Jamie.

To add to my list of grievances, there is one exchange between Claire and Jamie that’s a bit too Freud-like for my taste. At one point, Clarice mentions to Jamie that she wishes she could –I’m not making this up, I swear– put him in her womb to keep him safe. 

Let me repeat that:

Claire wanted to put her grown, adult husband inside of her womb to keep him safe.

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Um… I haven’t had an overwhelming amount of romantic entanglements in my life, but that does not seem like a normal compulsion for someone to have. Especially not a compulsion that the layman would voice out loud to anyone for any reason ever.

Not to mention Jamie’s reaction to it is fondness bordering on indifference. Look, I know you’re used to her saying weird shit to you, what with her being a time-traveler and all, but that has to give you some pause, doesn’t it?

Pretty much any  sentence that could be formed in the english language would be less awkward than that one. If she said she wanted to shrink him and put him in her pocket that would be kind of cute. But her womb? Her baby-holder? Her Dutch oven? She wants actually put him in-

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It doesn’t help that they shared a quasi-incestuous moment in the previous novel. When Claire is trying to snap him out of his rape-induced depression, he literally calls her “mother” and she encourages him to come to her bosom and-

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Okay, moving on.

So, Captain Randall should be renamed Captain McGuffin as his only function seems to be to get things rolling again once the story has become stale.

No, really, he shows up everywhere they go: France, Scotland, your closet. I know he’s important since he’s the great-great grandaddy of Claire’s husband, but come on.

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What are the actual odds? They could be sitting on a park bench feeding the birds and all of the sudden weeeep a Wild Randall appears!

Randall uses Creep Attack.

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It’s super-effective!

Bearing all of this in mind, what nice things do I have to say about this book? Well, it kept me guessing, I suppose. Although I already knew they would lose the battle, you know, because the story began with Claire in the future having already been through-

Okay, good things dammit.

Claire’s reactions seemed quite a bit more realistic in this book than in Outlander. When she and a friend are set upon by rapists, she has a breakdown and doesn’t just shrug it off and shag her husband like she did in Outlander. There’s also a reference to when she murdered a 15 year-old soldier who was just trying to do his job, which had previously gone unobserved until this book. I found it pretty disturbing it hadn’t gotten much of a mention before since, you know, she committed murder of a child.

Uh….in spite of the many distractions, the pacing overall was a lot snappier than the previous novel and from the beginning it jumped right into the action instead of lolly-gagging around forever.

As usual, Jamie is wonderful in every way as is his inability to understand modern beauty standards such as waxing your private parts.

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The chemistry between the two main characters continues to be engaging and a joy to read about (at least when they aren’t going full Oedipus on us, that is). Truth be told, I think the story shines the brightest when it’s focusing on their relationship with each other. I appreciate the Bonnie Prince story line for giving these stories a reason to exist, nevertheless, I never found it as enjoyable as reading Claire and Jamie simply being in each other’s company.

Another point in this book’s favor is that Gabaldon doesn’t particularly romanticize the past (apart from, well, the actual romance, of course.) She is unflinching when it comes to describing the horrible living conditions and bleakness that comes with 18th century living. It’s not all fancy dresses and handsome heroes. There’s a sinisterness and hopelessness about it as well. I also appreciate the fact that none of her characters necessarily make it out unscathed. When they aren’t being raped (which happens quite often) they are being tortured, or captured, or dying. The pain they feel is quite real and, unlike in the first novel, isn’t glossed over as much.

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I was afraid after reading the ending of the first book that the horrible torture Jamie experienced at the hands of Captain Jack Randall was going to be brushed under the rug, however, I was pleased to learn that this was not so. Jamie’s experiences still haunt him and has a visible impact on who he is as a person. I’m grateful that his rape had a lasting effect and wasn’t just used as a plot devise to create more tension.

I loved that more of Clarie’s psyche was explored in this novel. In fact, the dream she had about being in Frank’s classroom while he was lecturing may have been my favorite part of the entire book, oddly enough. It just made her seem more three-dimensional as we don’t often hear that much about her past aside from the odd parcel about being raised by her uncle and such. I would actually be interested in reading a chapter or two dedicated to describing a scene that occurred in her formative years or during the War. We get a snippet here or there, but I’m always left hungry for more. We hear quite a bit about Jamie’s past, but not that much of Claire’s.

Overall, I enjoyed reading A Dragonfly in Amber even as I mentally criticized it. There’s just something about Gabaldon’s writing that sucks you in.

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I told myself in the past that I was going to give up on this series, but I don’t think I can bring myself to do so. Maybe it’s the romance, the fascinating historical backdrop, the characters, or Jamie’s sexiness. I don’t know, but whatever foibles this series may have, it’s still a damn enjoyable story and I don’t believe it will be long before I begin the next one.

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Thoughts on “The Terror” by Dan Simmons

WARNING: CONTAINS MILD TO SIGNIFICANT SPOILERS FOR THE BOOK. 

The Terror and her flagship, Erebus, are stranded in the arctic.

Their food source is contaminated.

Sickness is rampant.

Their ships have been ravaged by ice.

And no rescue is expected.

…….Oh, and, also, there’s an immortal polar bear demon that can only be appeased by allowing it or someone else to play another human’s vocal cords like a flute.

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What I liked: 

The characters. I thought Simmons did a pretty stellar job distinguishing between each crew member which is saying quite a bit considering how many characters there are in this thing. As someone who often struggles with remembering who is who in most stories (another reason why I have yet to actually read the Game of Thrones series) his repetition when describing each character and their physical features and rank was very much appreciated. While many other characters could have used a bit more development, I believe he did a good job of making them come alive, especially Crozier, the Captain of The Terror and Erebus‘s Goodsir, the anatomist who remains one of my favorite characters.

The attention to detail. It’s obvious that Simmons did a lot of research with this piece from boat geography, to describing an arctic landscape without just using the word “ice” over and over again, to the ranking system. It’s impressive to read. You actually feel like you’re there, freezing along with them. Before reading this book I had no idea how awful scurvy really is, not to mention the other illnesses the crew had to suffer through. And make no mistake, this book does not skimp out on the gross details or give the dying any sort of dignity. It reports on how they crapped themselves, screamed, bled and farted. While this can be tedious to read it does a fantastic job of conveying the pure hopelessness of their situation which made this piece all the more engrossing.

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Historically accurate attitudes. While it is a bit cringy reading bits where characters go on racist or homophobic diatribes, at the very least I can say that it is historically accurate for that time period and I’m glad Simmons didn’t try to politically correct the characters in order to make them more sympathetic or likable.

Crozier’s second sight. While I didn’t think all of his visions were strictly necessary I loved the reoccurring dream he had where he is forced to partake in communion with his eccentric grandmother. It painted a perfect picture of what was to come and provided the audience with beautifully creepy imagery.

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The surprise ending. I admit I nearly quit reading this book because of the sheer hopelessness of it all. I knew that it real life none of the crewmen survived so watching them furtively cling to life in what essentially would be an exercise in futility seemed like a chore. However, I didn’t give Simmons nearly enough credit and he ended things on a note I had not expected.  Turns out my favorite character, Captain Crozier, survived after all and made a family amongst the natives.

What I didn’t like: 

It’s too damn long. I’m not opposed to slow burns, but this book went on waaaaaay longer than it needed to. I, personally, think they could have cut out maybe 100 to 200 pages or so and it would have been just fine. I actually thought about giving up on this book just because it was such an uphill climb.

Not enough monster. At a certain point in the books, after the crews decided to abandon their ships and go it alone, the monster attacks just…stop basically. And for no discernible reason. I guess it’s because the story would be over with too quickly? I’m not sure but it’s absence is sorely missed and hard to explain. In fact the monster more often than not appears as a sort of McGuffin. If you look at the story itself you wonder if the book even needs a monster at all. It’s not as if the crew didn’t have enough problems already. I mentioned the starvation, the intolerable atmosphere and the spread of illness. Then again, I did like the creature and the mythos surrounding it so I guess I can excuse it.

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Some of the character perspectives are pointless. Not many of them, you understand, but I’m still trying to figure out where Simmons was going for when he wrote the part where one of the oldest shiphand was talking to a former lover of his about the chances of rescue and Darwin and whatnot. It wasn’t a badly written scene or anything, I just don’t see why it needed to be there. Especially when neither of the characters present for that scene had that much of a part to play in the grand scheme of things.

Overall opinion: 

So, in spite of this book’s foibles, I did enjoy it quite a bit and even consider it one of my favorites now. I’m hoping to sample more of Simmons’ work in the future and hope his other pieces are just as entertaining as this one.

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TL;DR: The Problem With Big Books

This may make me sound like a traitor to readers everywhere, but I am generally not a fan of big books, specifically ones that exceed 450 pages in length.

That’s not to say I don’t like any large books. One of my favorite books of all time, Gone With The Wind, is nearly 1,000 pages long. However, in recent years, it seems to me most of the thicker novels I’ve suffered through have been long purely for the sake of being long.

Unfortunately, I believe I know the reason for this.

Across the literary community, there is this presumption that if a book is large and takes ages to read then said book is deep and important and the reader should take it seriously. After all, so many classical works of literature boast a heavy word count.

“Why use one word when you can use twenty, my good man?” say the classic writers, smoking their pipes and not raising their ten plus children. “Why not add in a stock character and detail their entire lives even though they will ultimately have no baring on the plot whatsoever?”

I’m not saying I’m incapable of being patient and waiting it out, but you got to give me something book.

Don’t string me along for 300 plus pages just because I’ve become invested enough in the plot and characters to wait.

Don’t put in pages worth of padding just so you can disappoint me with a predictable twist and cardboard villains.

One of the most aggravating reads I’ve ever sat through was The Map of Time by Felix J. Palma, a hefty 720 page monster that took me over a month to finish. I stayed with it for so long because it had an excellent premise which the author got to…eventually. But in the meantime the reader had to slog through hundreds of pages of extraneous material that had no impact on the story at all.

Honestly, I have no idea how it got past an editor’s red pen of doom. The main character doesn’t even show up until the novel is almost halfway over. How do you even get away with that?!

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Then there was The Magus by John Fowles which was the most dense, pretentious, and mind-numbingly dull book I’ve ever read. Getting past the annoyingly self-congratulating attitudes of the main characters, the readers is subjected to page upon page of backstory that can be summed up in a paragraph or two.

(Sidenote: If you’re having difficulty sleeping, listen to the audiobook for The Magus on Youtube. I haven’t slept this heavily in years.)

That’s not to say a story should never be long, but there has to be some criteria, wouldn’t you agree?

I’ll answer my own rhetorical question with a non-rhetorical yes.

Here are a handful of justifications for writing a large novel:

  1. It takes place over the course of many years/months.
  2. There are multiple characters whose prospectives help increase the depth and overall quality of the story.
  3.  The story requires time devoted to explaining the world and how it operates to further engross the reader and create a feeling of realness.
  4. Extra time is needed to tie up loose ends.
  5. It is creating an atmosphere that will help with the climax’s pay-off.

If none of the reasons above are applicable, then I have no interest in reading it. I’m sorry, but there are hundreds of books out there that I could be enjoying and I don’t want to waste my time with a story that just wants to meander on forever.

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