The Passage by Justin Cronin (book review *SPOILERS*)

Happy Monday!

Spoiler Free Summary and Review:

This book should come with a warning: “Buckle up, this book will grab you by the FUCKING throat. Read at your peril.”

I read a lot(1) however it’s not often when I pick up a book that gives me problems, as in when I start reading the book I have such a strong compulsion to continue reading that I start stealing time from other things like sleeping or coursework(2).  That being said, I should say that this book is less of a page burner from page 1 but more of a shadow slowly stalking up on you until about page 241.  At the time, I didn’t realize it until about page 315 that I was screwed.

the passage

Cronin isn’t messing around with the “Something is coming.” subtitle.

At 963 pages, The Passage by Justin Cronin is a physically daunting book and it’s ambitious. The story takes place over the course of 97-1008 years depending on how you count, the setting spans most of the United States west of the Mississippi from New Orleans LA to Southern Oregon, and there are about 9 core characters.  This both works for and against the passage.

It can be exhausting keeping track of that many characters and the first and last part of the book has several separate story lines to keep straight.  Some of the characters and story lines I found more interesting and while nothing in the book is boring, some story lines felt jarringly interrupted by switching gears to other story lines.  However for the majority of the book when all the character arcs are plaited together it transforms into a tour de force of action, drama, intrigue, science fiction, fantasy, Gothic horror.  Highly recommended.

Footnotes:

  1. I average a book a week/300 pages.
  2. I lost 2 solid days reading 648 pages.

 

**SPOILERS BELOW**

Continue reading

A Joke for Book and Dog Lovers (Literary comic #3)

20170113_191214

“Woof” obviously.

Pardon my typo, I was in a rush (as you can tell from the sketchy lines), It was supposed to read “What did the dog say to the book?” “Nice Tale”.

I like making up original “Dad Jokes” for the amusement of my friends.  Feel free to borrow it.

All the Pretty Horses (book review)

Happy Monday!

all-the-pretty-horses

I have been looking forward to this review for a while now.  My first taste of McCarthy was when I saw the deeply disturbing but fantastic 2009 movie The Road staring Viggo Mortensen previously known for playing Aragorn in Lord of the Rings and the star role in A History of Violence.  It would be years before I actually picked up my first two McCarthy books, two for one deal at a second hand book shop got The Road and All the Pretty Horses, and what excellent purchases they were.  Sadly I may have to re-buy my book collection since I’m in the process of beginning the naturalisation process so I can be a full UK citizen and I did not realise how steep the shipping and handling over seas is!  However I did bring some of my books, All the Pretty Horses being one of them.

Setting: 1949, San Angelo, Texas => Mexico

Three Sentence Summary:

  1. John Grady, our main character, has lost his grandfather and the novel opens with a viewing of the body and the news that the ranch he lives on will be sold.
  2. John and his friend Lacey decide to ride their horses south into Mexico in search of fun and work and pick up another companion, reluctantly, a young outlaw calling him self Jimmy Belivins.
  3. John and Lacey loose Belivins at some point and ride further south in to the Mexican landscape eventually finding work but the trouble Belivins got into catches up to John and Lacey who are put into prison and narrowly survive long enough to be bailed out when Lacey decides to ride back to Texas and John tries to find the girl he fell in love with on the ranch but ultimately gets revenge on the corrupt officials who imprisoned him and his friends, reunites with Lacey, and then rides off into the sunset.

Review:

This story is a seriously sad one.  Some main themes include isolation, loneliness, being “the stranger in a strange land”, and loss.  John Cole Grady, over the course of the book looses his grandfather in the beginning which also means that his family is selling off the ranch something he was deeply attached to, later John Grady falls in love with a young woman living on the ranch, Alejandra, whom he will later be forced to never see again, after him and Lacey are arrested they reunite with Belivins only to witness him being walked off and executed off the record, by the end of the novel John Grady’s father dies along with the longtime family caregiver (his mother has been out of the picture for a long time), and it’s somewhat implied by the ending that the strain of the journey on the friendship between John Grady and Lacey ultimately breaks them up leaving John Grady with no more ties and no home to ride off alone into the sunset with his horse and Belivins bay horse.

Continue reading

The Ocean at the End of the Lane (Book Review)

Happy Halloween!

ocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane_us_cover

For the record, Halloween is my favourite holiday and in celebration of the creepy-crawly holiday I’m reviewing a book about children, deities, and monsters: Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.  (WARNING POSSIBLE SPOILERS)

Three Sentence Summary

  1. A man drives around in the rain in England going to a funeral but instead takes a detour to the farm house at the end of the lane from his childhood home and begins remembering back to his childhood about the residents of the farmhouse and the strange events revolving them.

  2. The main body of the narrative takes place in the narrator’s childhood memory about how a miner came to rent a room in his parents house and ends up committing suicide over money issues which allows a monster thing to come into the world and gift people with money in unpleasant ways, one of those unpleasant ways happens to the narrator when he wakes up with a coin lodged deep in his throat and tells his neighbors, three ladies of sliding scale ages, about this which then results in a hunt to banish the monster however by happenstance the monster is able to make a wormhole in the boy’s foot and the next day manifests as the boy’s new awful nanny.

  3. The monster turned nanny does a lot of weird and bad things to the family but mostly directs her malevolence towards they boy who is the only one who can sense that there’s something wrong with this woman-like-thing and tries to confine him to his room in order to keep him safe/alive because he serves as a doorway back to the other world if she needs it however ultimately the boy escapes and runs to the sanctuary of the farmhouse and the three ladies extract the worm hole from the boy and summon carrion bird-monsters who eat other monsters and…existence, apparently…and they want to eat they boy’s heart as well since it still contains some of the nanny-monster-thing still however the youngest of the three ladies sacrifices her self to save the boy and takes a long nap in the ocean at the end of the lane.

Thoughts and Analysis

This is my third Gaiman book.  The first one I read was Neverwhere, the second was American Gods, and now this one.  I have to say up front: I’m not in the Gaiman cult fan club.  I’ve generally enjoyed his books in the same way I enjoyed taking calculus: I enjoyed it but I wouldn’t do it again.

One thing I really enjoy about Gaiman novels is how rich they are with mythology and mystery, frequently he blends a mix of gods and monsters borrowed from history and imagination and creates a backdrop that feels like a dark modern fairy tale.  However what I don’t enjoy about Gaiman’s style is everyone of his main character protagonists feel so flat and forgettable almost to the point where I feel like the narrator is more a vessel in which to deliver the story rather than pushing the plot along. However given how the book ends, it is heavily implied that the carrion birds ate most of the boy’s heart, the emotionless blithe that composes the boy grown up personality makes sense.  The guy’s missing a heart, of course he’s nonchalant, bland, and ultimately boring.  This emotionlessness in the narrator makes it really hard for me to care about the protagonist (I feel like that’s almost too strong of a word to describe the narrator, he’s not a good guy or a bad guy or lovable or hate-able he’s just a place holder) and the really sad things that happen to him.

 

Favourite Quotes

“As we age, we become our parents; live long enough and we see faces repeat in time.” p6

“I helped her put the flowers into the vases, and she asked my opinion on where to put the vases in the kitchen. We placed the vases where I suggested, and I felt wonderfully important.” p33

“My bed was pushed up hard against the wall just below the window. I loved to sleep with the windows open. Rainy nights were the best of all: I would open my windows and put my head on my pillow and close my eyes  and feel the wind on my face and listen to the trees sway and creak. There would be raindrops blown onto my face, too, if I was lucky, and I would imagine that I was in my boat on the ocean and it was swaying with the swell of the sea.” p60 (1)

“It was the kind of cloudy night where the clouds seem to gather up light from distant streetlights and houses below, and throw it back at the earth.” p79

“Oh, monsters are scared…That’s why they’re monsters.” p112

“If you have something specific and visible to fear, rather than something that could be anything, it is easier.” p138

“A story matters…to the extent that people in the story change…[but] I was the same person at the end of it that I was at the beginning.” p170 (2)

Overall score

The brevity of the story, under 200 pages including epilogue, and the mythology tidbits helps the score however ultimately the flat characters and plot driven story cancel out the bonus.  Since I didn’t mind reading the book but wouldn’t re-read it (I might end up donating it before leaving for England) nor do I feel comfortable recommending it to anyone who’s not already a Gaiman fan I can only give this book a middle of the road 3 out of 5.

Footnotes:

  1. In one of my old apartments I used to have this massive walk-in closet that had a window and I would sleep in the closet under the window and it was really wonderful when it was raining because the rain would blow in but because of the blinds and the bug screen the rain drops wouldn’t ever be more than mist.  I miss that room sometimes, the closet.  I named that room “tallow” after reading The Slow Regard of Silent Things.
  2. I think this is one of the axiomatic reasons I generally have no desire to re-read Gaiman books: his characters don’t change. Like at all.  They’re just listless people at the beginning where some pretty awful things happen to and they experience some otherworldly struggles however they them selves are the same exact people at the end as the beginning which makes me feel like there wasn’t a reason to tell the story in the first place.

 

The Alchemist Review

the alchemist

Hey guys, good to be back. It has been a crazy week and Monday was this perfect storm of ridiculous stuff. The Hitchhiker’s Guide Review series will begin next week.

“Now for something completely different”, is exactly how I felt transitioning from reading the Hitchhiker’s series to this little book. These books are literally as different in content as they are in physical printed design choices. The dark humour and lengthy discourses Adams uses to populate entire galaxies are in contrast to the near reverent tone graceful minimalism that Coelho implores in his travel adventure story about a boy, a Shepard, from Spain who dreams of travel and one day decides to have a gypsy interpret a reoccurring dream he has been having. She interprets his dream as a calling for him to find treasure and thus begins his quest to find his “Personal Legend.”

This book is a strange read because it utilizies heavily with abstract-to-the-point-of-cliche concepts (the heart, love, happiness, personal purpose, over coming adversity in the face of something great, learning to reach our potential, talking animals/spirits/forces) and yet does it beautifully. I might have rolled my eyes once during the entire book and that was about this bit with the main love interest uttering something like

Ever since I was a child, I have dreamed that the desert would bring me a wonderful present. Now, my present has arrived, and it’s you.”

Fatima to Shepard (100)

However regardless of that, Coelho builds this surprisingly gripping story that feels like an travel adventure of epic proportions regardless of how pedestrian the vast majority of the events are(1) and how relatively small the scope is(2). The story being told feels less like one of relatively modern realization(3), but one more closely in line with that of the mysticism of mythology or fantasy of fairy tales giving it an intensely evergreen-timelessness.

These praises are not given lightly nor are they given for free. As beautiful is Coelho’s poetic prose and intensely empowering the language is, this is a prime example of an author who’s work I can only read in small chunks and may never finish a collection of his stories. These type books work great as pallet cleansers between the dense, emotionally challenging, and sometimes labourious stuff I generally enjoy reading.

Everything being taken into account, I can confidently offer this book a solid recommendation.

3.9/5

Rating System:

5/5 – reserved for my top favourite books. There’s only five right now.

4/5 – I really liked this book, I will likely re-read it at least once, and will be actively recommending it for a while.

3/5 – I liked the book. If I bought/traded for it, no regrets. I may recommend if it comes up in conversation or is particularly suited for a friend.

2/5 – I did not care for this book. I will likely complain about this book while reading it. I will not recommend this to anyone, I will not re-read this book for non-reference purposes, and I will sell/donate/trade it away when it is next convenient.

1/5 – I have a special place in my heart for books this abysmally bad. See these are the kind of books that inspire me. They remind me “if this piece of crap can get published, so can anything I write”, which is one of the motivating factors in working on my novel(4).

Thanks for reading, if you read this book (given it’s popularity, seems probable) and want to share your thoughts, please feel free to leave a comment below. Most comments are appreciated.

Footnotes

  1. sheep herding, selling sheep wool at market, working at a crystal shop for a year, traveling the desert, reading books, getting water, asking for directions
  2. southern Spain to Egypt, it’s only “the other shore of the strait” (28)
  3. 1988
  4. and will become one of my mantras while seeking my first publishing house and fighting off the waves of insecurity the rejection letters bring.