Saturday, February 21, 2015

Beyond the Shadows (Night Angel #3), by Brent Weeks

Again...I don't know what else to say about this book that I haven't already said about everything else Brent Weeks has ever written. Complex yet brilliantly managed plot. Expertly paced. Three-dimensional characters with miles of depth. Intentionally chosen themes that continually weave in & out of each other & interact with the plot & characters (& various sub-plots & sub-characters) in a way that is almost artistic. Some of the most intriguing & well-written female characters I've ever read in a book written by a man.

Of course, when you're trying to wrap up ~1,000 pages of non-stop action involving dozens of characters & roughly 700 years of history, there's probably just no way to do it that is going to 100% please everyone. Like he says in the epilogue, there's a certain point in writing a long, complex series with lots of characters where it suddenly hits you that you made this mess, & now, somehow, you've got to clean it all up. I think the conclusion was well-written, though, & there was a lot of integrity about the way it played out for each individual character, & that alone makes it better than like 80% of the long-form fantasy I've read.

My only real complaint is that at ~1,100 pages, it's a bit short for an epic fantasy trilogy. In the epilogue Weeks talks about mercilessly slashing sections from all three books in order to make the story tighter and stronger (which clearly worked--there is not an ounce of fat anywhere on this baby), but because they're all such great and well-written characters, I actually would have been interested to delve a little more deeply into some of the supporting characters' side plots/back stories. (The edition I had included two such bonus chapters that he admitted he regretted cutting, and I thought they were lovely and would not have slowed the main narrative at all.)

In short: This is a great trilogy and Weeks is an amazing writer. If action-packed fantasy with really well-written characters (particularly kick-ass women) is your bag, don't miss it.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Cider House Rules, by John Irving

Fantastic. Can I give it six stars? To me, this is exactly what young adult literature should be, except it never will be, because the idea of teenagers reading books about other teenagers dealing with actual, real teenage issues in a way that is not soft-focus or whitewashed or pulling its punches makes a lot of adults really, really uncomfortable. I mean no, I would probably not give it to my middle schooler as there is some pretty frank discussion of sex, abortion, & rape/incest (& a fair number of f-bombs), but having taught high school for many years, I don't think it's in any way beyond what most teens in the say 15+ range can handle (though obviously all kids are different, so it's a bit of a judgment call).

In spite of the sobering topics that it treats, the book isn't really about those things. At its heart, it's an absolutely beautifully written story about love (friendship, romantic, parental), finding one's place/"belonging," rules (of all kinds--explicit, unspoken, laws, etc.), and who gets to make what kinds of decisions for who, based on what, and why. Beautiful, meaningful, and tragically sweet in a thousand different ways.

Seriously. I put this one up there with Uncle Tom's Cabin and the like--everyone should have to read it and that's just all there is to it.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison

The story of a sad, timid, eleven-year-old black girl in 1941 that explores ideas of racial self-loathing & its origins, as well as the broader idea of facing rejection for something you can't control and what happens when instead of pushing back against that rejection, you accept it as legitimate. Short, sad, and beautifully poetic (because, Toni Morrison, who remains one of the most captivating writers I've ever read).