Book Review: Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel García Márquez

Every year I try to read at least one book that’s considered a literary masterpiece. Anything that ended up as an Oprah’s Book Club pick as well as a author that won a Nobel Prize should have been a magical choice. It’s true, there are lots of fascinating things going on in this book, but the story itself is actually kind of messed up.

There are some books that aren’t meant to be taken literally, and this is one of them. Woven through the pages are extensive symbolism and metaphor layered over metaphor which when peeled back and examined are quite insightful. But, I personally struggled to resonate with any of the characters or situations.

The Story

As told by an omniscient narrator in a nonlinear fashion, Love in the Time of Cholera follows the lives of Florentino Ariza and the woman he falls into unbreakable love with, Fermina Daza, and also to some extent, the man Fermina ends up marrying, Dr. Juvenal Urbino.

Throughout the course of the book we get to see Florentino’s obsession with Fermina and how it plots the course of his life. It determines where he lives, what jobs he takes, and how he interacts with other people. Because he feels fated to not love anyone else, he never enters into relationships with other women for love, but only to satisfy the pleasures of the flesh as he waits for Dr. Urbino to die.

Fifty years and 622 affairs later, the fated day comes when Dr. Urbino does indeed die. Florentino, now an old man, seeks his prize of Fermina’s hand and heart, only for her to brutally reject him. Undeterred, he writes her letter after letter while she’s grieving the loss of her husband. Finally, the two come together and take a journey by boat that they intend to stay on forever.

If you are looking for metaphor, look at the title. Love in the Time of Cholera. While yes, the actual disease of cholera is running amok in the background of the story, often leaving piles of bodies that our main characters witness, the book actually makes the argument that love itself is a disease that people are infected with. At one point it says that the symptoms of unrequited love are the same as cholera. Florentino is one sick, sad man.

My Review

I really do try hard to find things that are either interesting or entertaining in any book I read. Love in the Time of Cholera had plenty of lovely prose and description, layers of depth and symbolism, and a sense of otherworldliness. But, the story itself, being a 60 year failed love story, didn’t scratch any of my literary itches.

The style of writing makes the story itself hard to follow. The chapters and scenes jump around the timeline with no clear reason to the order in which things are told. As I was listening to the book, I might have missed textual clues that might have helped here. As it was, I was never confident what time period the characters were in, and as such, it made it impossible to gain any sense of rising tension or maintain a solid conflict to solve.

And … I continually struggled to remember who was who when it came to the characters of Florentino and Dr. Urbino. They both had a love for Fermina, but they had wildly different attitudes and tastes, so half the time I kept thinking one was the other and being really confused.

My Recommendations

Some people love this book and rate it among their top 10 reads of all time. Many people like me became frustrated with the lack of a clear conflict and storyline. Should you want to try reading it, I recommend not to use the audiobook version if possible, and to also read a brief synopsis beforehand. Trust me, there are no surprises in the book to spoil, so you’ll be able to enjoy the writing more by having a better idea of the structure from the start.

As this is a literary book, and technically magical realism although I fail to really see it, it’s intended for adult readers. There are plenty of adult situations, complex story lines, and frank discussions of casual sex. For all you working toward your degrees in literature, there is plenty to unpack in there so from an academic standpoint, you could do worse.

But, if you are reading to simply enjoy a nice book, I’d go elsewhere.

I rate Love in the Time of Cholera 2/5 stars for failing to have a satisfying conclusion, lacking compelling conflict, and being hard to follow.


Thank you for joining me as I shared my review of Love in the Time of Cholera today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this article and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, joining my Facebook group, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: Folded Notes From High School by Matt Boren

I picked up this quick read off of a recommendation and for the life of me I can’t remember exactly where … I’m thinking it was a writing group and we might have been talking about character voices. No, this isn’t a fantasy book. It’s an epistolary novel, meaning that the entirety of the prose is composed of letters, or in this case, folded notes. There are zero magical elements, mythical characters, or even speculative circumstances.

Sometimes it’s good to branch out… And sometimes, not so much. There were lots of good things in here but there were also things that made me a little nuts.

The Story

Tara considers herself practically perfect. She’s the best actress, on the cheerleading squad, and, like, super smart. She’s got a really good BFF who’s a bit more down to earth named Stephanie. Her big goal for her senior year is to score the lead in the school play, Grease. In the mean time, she also tries to give advice to a new freshman, Matt because her jock boyfriend thought it was a good idea.

The remainder of the story consists of Tara not getting what she wants, then lying to herself and the world that someone or something is plotting against her. She refuses to take responsibility for anything that happens and has no problem blaming what happens to her on literally anyone who has hurt her in the past. We see her impact on her friends as they write each other notes.

As we reach the end of Tara’s senior year, we see her desperation to get what she wants pushes her to take some fairly drastic actions.

The book blurb says it all, “Tara Maureen Murphy is any high school’s worst nightmare, bringing single-minded ambition, narcissism, manipulation, and jealousy to new extremes.”

My Review

To be fair, the writing itself was well voiced and I had no problem believing that this was High School in 1991. In fact, it was so close to my high school experience with bullies and brats, that it was almost uncomfortable to read.

If you’re going to write a story where the main character is meant to be a manipulative narcissist, then you have to have that character earn a surprising but inevitable fate. I wanted Tara to come out of this story having learned the error of her ways and grow as a person, instead of digging deeper into her self delusion.

In this story, we do see Tara get a small comeuppance from Matt who she played emotional ping pong with going from loving to hating to loving again depending on which of them scored roles in the school’s plays. Tara is really a jerk to Matt, who is portrayed as a sweet but not stupid kid who refuses to play her games. When he finally caught her in a massive lie that hurt him and his friends, he “accidentally” let hundreds of incriminating pictures blow across the neighborhood.

But, that’s the only karma she gets – which felt kinda lame.

My Recommendations

Folded Notes from High School contains miles of teenage angst and hormones. As such, there are more than a few oblique references to intimate situations, but no depictions there of. Trigger warning: The point of the book is to show how one girl emotionally manipulates everyone in her path, so those who have experienced this type of manipulation might want to avoid reading. There is some course language, but no violence.

For readers 14 and up.

I rate this story 3/5 stars for failing to have a rewarding arc for any of the characters.


Thank you for joining me as I reviewed Folded Notes from High School today on the blog. If you enjoyed reading this review and would like to see more, please consider connecting with me by either following the blog here on WordPress, liking my Facebook page, or subscribing to my newsletter. As an added bonus, newsletter subscribers receive free books, stories, and special offers every week.

Book Review: The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill

When it comes to book recommendations, I always take them with a grain of salt. What might be magical and wonderful for one, might be lame and boring for another. So, when someone recommended The Girl Who Drank The Moon, I was hesitatingly hopeful.

And, it was wonderful. Sweet, yet profound. Childlike, yet complex. After the year I’ve had, my heart wasn’t quite prepared for it.

The Story

There is a witch in the woods and she demands a sacrifice of a baby every year or bad things will happen. Or, at least that’s what the people living in the Protectorate have been led to believe. They are only half right. There is a witch in the woods, but she is the embodiement of love and selflessness. Every year she collects these abandoned babies to prevent them from a more gruesome fate and every year she feeds them starlight until they shine before she finds them loving families on the other side of the forest.

Then, one day, she feeds one of these babies moonlight which gives them incredible magic. Xan, the witch, can’t stand the thought of giving this particular baby away and instead chooses to raise the baby as its grandmother. Back in the protectorate, the mother of this child is so grief stricken that she goes quite mad and is taken into the Tower to be tended to by the benevolent sisters. She has magic as well, although in her mental state can’t quite understand what it is or what she can do with it.

Meanwhile, there is a boy, Antain, who is destined to be a part of the Council of Elders in the Protectorate, except he really would rather not. He was there the day that the child was taken. He watched the mother as she climbed into the rafters to keep her baby safe only to have it stolen from her anyway. The sight haunted him so much that when he grew older, he feels compelled to visit with the mother, if only to make sure she’s being well cared for. What Antain doesn’t know, is that there are darker forces at work that feed on the sorrow of the protectorate and it is those forces that demand the sacrifice.

As the child, Luna, grows, it’s clear that she has too much magic and too little understanding to use it safely. Xan is forced to lock the magic away until Luna turns thirteen and is old enough to learn how to use her magic for good. This comes with a terrible consequence, Xan starts to fade away and her own magic begins to dry up.

The story sweeps into a climax when Luna approaches her thirteenth year at the same time that Antain and his wife realize that their own child will be the one sacrificed to the witch. Antain vows to kill the witch, none other than the kind Xan, to save his child. The mad woman, also drawn to her child’s magic, escapes the tower to go find her. None of them are prepared to face the real villain, the one who has kept the Protectorate in sorrow, who is coming right on their heels.

My Review

I know I’ve said this before, but I adore a story with lovely language. The Girl who Drank the Moon uses language in a way that’s both poetic yet simple enough to be accessible to all readers. The story itself is the same, while there are multiple story lines to follow, there’s never any question about what’s going on and why. Each point of view character has their own unique voice, and it’s very clear what the stakes are.

What I loved the most was that since the reader understands what’s happening so well, when all the pieces start falling together, there is a huge emotional rollercoaster of worrying about what might happen and how hard it will be for all the characters involved. When you can get behind a story enough that you start worrying for the characters, that’s when you know that you are well and truly immersed.

My Recommendations

For those of you who light a lighter fantasy with lots (I mean lots!) of heart and just a slight hint of dystopia, The Girl Who Drank the Moon is a great choice. There is no offensive language or any inkling of intimate situations, and while there is some peril, there aren’t depictions of violence. I’d recommend it for all readers ages 12 and up, and also younger readers who are okay with keeping track of multiple storylines.

I rate this book 5/5 stars for being lovely, well balanced, and made me feel all the feels.


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Book Review: Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaiman

How perfect is this? A book by two of my favorite authors which was later made into a TV series starring two of my favorite actors. It’s like a gift from the universe specially made for me. And even better, it’s pretty amazing.

The Story

There is a lot going in in Good Omens. We have three distinct story lines following the key players. First, there’s main story of how an angel and a demon are trying to prevent the apocalypse because frankly life in the 20th century is everything they’d ever want it to be and they would rather not see it end.

Then, there’s the story of the boy who is supposed to be the Antichrist and bring about the apocalypse.

There’s also a thread of the story as we watch the four horsemen of the apocalypse organize themselves and set things into motion.

Lastly, I’m going to lump together the characters revolving around the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, a book of prophecies which is distinct from other books of prophecies for one reason alone – It’s 100% accurate, this includes the descendant of Agnes, Anathema Device (best name for a character, ever) Newton Pulsifer, and Witchfinder Sergent Shadwell.

We see the book in three main time periods; the events surrounding the placement of the baby Antichrist into a suitable family; the key points of the boy’s growing up when both the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley work to ensure he’s given a proper education so when the time comes for the apocalypse, he’s ready; and then the time when the apocalypse is supposed to happen.

Like I said, there’s a lot going on here.

My Review

The one thing that I always find delightful in Pratchett’s books is his use of distinct and likable characters. We see loads of this here. The cast is absolutely massive in this book and yet each character is built in such a way that they walk fully formed off of the page. Take the demon Crowley, for example. He could have been played like a stereotypical villain and not been anything more than that. Instead, we have a man who loves his vintage Bentley (even if every cassette he tries to play in it in time turns into a Queen album), raises houseplants like children (which he sacrifices regularly to threaten the others to grow better, he is a demon after all), and created the M25 just to annoy humans.

Then, we mix all these amazing characters into a story line that’s both so complicated and yet so simple which screams iconic Gaiman.

It’s a hard combination to pull off and yet, for me, was 100% successful in creating an delightful romp through something running just parallel enough to the truth that it can be enjoyed first while reading, but also again as you think about all the bits and how they fit together.

Recommendations

If you’re already a fan of Pratchett and Gaiman you’ll already know that they both love to walk on the edge of the acceptable and explore what is considered right and wrong and why. That said, if reading about the Antichrist as a very real person, and worse, a child, makes you a little squeamish, then this whole book might be a little too much for comfort.

Age recommendations – I’d stick this one to adult readers and the older teenagers they let play. Besides the playful religious overtones ranging into the questionable at times, there only a sprinkling of curse words, I think f*^# is said once, and the violence and romantic content is present but subdued. The reason I recommend older readers is that the story won’t make much sense without context and life experience.

I rate Good Omens 5/5 for its excellent characters, delightful unlikely situations, and the most unusual of friendships.


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Book Review: Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor

Beautiful prose, an amazing story, fascinating characters, Strange the Dreamer delivered an experience above and beyond my expectations. When a fellow writer, who also loves all the pretty words, gushes about a book, you know you have to go read it. A huge thank you to Candace for recommending it, you can go check out her review here.

The Story

Lazlo Strange, an orphan child raised by monks and librarians, possesses an unusual passion for a legend that most dismiss as a fairy tale. He dreams of a place called Weep, an unusual city held under an unusual curse – anyone who speaks or thinks the name of the city experiences a feeling of dread paired with the taste of ashes. But, unlike other people, Lazlo remembers a time when the town had a different name, a beautiful name that filled the mind with wonder and butterfly wings. He also remembers the day when that name was stolen from him.

It is this theft that drives him to study everything there is to know about Weep. He hopes that one day he can find that name that once filled him with so much delight. As he grows older, it is this study that gives him a unique understanding of the legendary city. When a delegation from Weep visits his city seeking adventurers and scientists, Lazlo feels compelled to go with them – and despite his lack of real skills, is allowed because he knows stories. The leader of this delegation, none other than Eril-Fane the Godslayer himself, seeks the best scientists to rid Weep of the floating citadel shaped like a massive seraphim who’s outstretched wings prevent sunlight from reaching the city.

When Lazlo reaches Weep he encounters a strange blue girl in his dreams named Sarai. Lazlo doesn’t know that this is a marking of the cursed godspawn and the two of them instantly form a bond that is beyond friendship. His glorious imagined vision of Weep fills her with such delight that she can’t help but want to be part of it and the man who envisioned a world filled with so much joy and magic.

Naturally, none of this can last. Every element that brings Lazlo and Sarai together will be challenged. Eril-Fane wants the citadel which is Sarai’s home, destroyed. One of the scientists, Thyon Nero, is determined to undermine Lazlo’s every step. Minya, Sarai’s sister, wants Eril-Fane and all that dare threaten the citadel including Lazlo, dead, and wants Sarai to do it using her godspawn power over dreams.

Does anyone get what they want? In the way that only a truly masterful storyteller can manage it, the answer is both yes and no. I won’t elaborate further. No spoilers for you. But, if you’re dying to find out, here’s an amazing synopsis that covers literally everything.

My Review

This book blew me away. I’m a huge sucker for gorgeous prose and metaphorical language, not to mention amazing sensory detail, so all the poetic phrases were indeed welcome. In fact, I loved it so much that I immediately sought out the sequel, Muse of Nightmares.

With fantasy titles there comes an expectation of a complex storyline. While Strange the Dreamer has a complex story, the reading experience doesn’t feel complicated. The story alternates between Sarai and Lazlo’s experiences and as they draw closer together, the experiences draw closer as well. The main conflicts are always clear in the characters mind so as readers we know not only what that character wants, but why it’s important.

What does feel complicated is how the prose is assembled. While most fantasy titles published today stick almost exclusively to third-person limited, where we witness the story through the eyes and experience of the main character in third-person, Strange the Dreamer swings in and out of omniscient. This is usually frowned upon, mostly because when done poorly it’s jarring and distracting – and it’s almost always done poorly. For Strange the Dreamer, it feels right. We flow from one character’s thoughts to the next and the technique in Taylor’s hands gives the prose a very appropriate dream-like feel.

The characters were expertly created to be not only unique and well constructed, but unusual enough in each of their motivations to give the story multiple layers of interest. There’s not an ordinary character in the entire book, and that’s impressive for an epic of this size. In addition, the settings were also crafted with the same amount of care making them not only unique, but supremely interesting as well.

So yeah. I’m kind of in love.

My Recommendations

This book is still in YA fiction, but it reads much older than that. The recommended reading age starts at 9th grade, and I agree. There’s just enough adult themes and yearning that it might be harder for younger readers to relate with. There’s no swearing, minimal and appropriate gore, and it does tease at nudity, but never actually gets there. The kissing scenes do get quite descriptive, but don’t progress to anything more.

I mentioned gorgeous poetic prose throughout the book. This might make it harder for those who struggle with metaphoric language to enjoy the story, simply because everything is drenched in it. It also slows down the pacing enough to frustrate those who really want to see what happens next. For me, this wasn’t a problem because the beauty of the journey was just as rewarding as getting there.

Also, if you don’t like fantasy because there are elements that are hard to believe, you might struggle here as well. All significant story elements are anchored in entirely speculative elements. However, all of the motivation is strictly tied to realistic emotional responses which humanizes the unfamiliar and makes it all easier to digest.

I give Strange the Dreamer a rare 5/5 for excelling in all critical storytelling elements and doing it beautifully.


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Book Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

This book has been on my “to be read” list for ages and I finally got my hands on it. There has been a lot of hype about it in my writer circles, so I was eager to see what all the fuss was about. Initially, I thought that this might be a steampunk story with a Cinderella twist because of the original cover – a woman’s foot in a high-heeled shoe that was transparent enough to show that the foot was mechanical inside.

Nope. Not steampunk. Not even close.

The newer cover which is a much closer fit to the elements of the story.

The Story

Cinder, is a gifted mechanic, which is good, and part cyborg, which is bad. As you can guess, she’s the Cinderella in our story and has a nasty stepmother as well as two sisters, one who’s kind and the other who is cruel. There is a ball, and a prince, and a lost foot, and even a special vehicle that get’s Cinder to the ball. But, there’s no fairy Godmother.

The other part of this story, strangely enough, is an Anastasia story. There is a lost heir to the Lunar throne, one who, if found, could remove the current wicked Lunar Queen and restore justice and ensure peace between Lunars and Earthens.

And then, there’s the world the story is built within. In this Cinderella story, we are taken to the future where there is a pandemic running wild with no cure. Yeah, I didn’t see that one coming either. Guess I should have read the back cover blurb… Oops. The story is set in New Bejing 126 years after World War IV.

All of these disparate elements come together in a cunningly woven story where Cinder is driven to desperate measures to escape her situation only to find she’s not only needed, but a vital part of solving a much larger issue.

My Review

This was a fun romp through an interesting and well-constructed futuristic world. Meyers has put a ton of effort to weave together fantastical ingredients into a realistic gritty world. Cinder takes the Cinderella role and pushes the boundaries further by first, being really good at something unexpected, and second, wanting something else than to go to the ball and be with the prince.

Part of the fun in this book is seeing how the Cinderella trope is turned on its head and which parts of the story remain faithful. Instead of cute cartoon mice, we have a spunky android helper who’s obsessed with fashion and Prince Kai. Instead of a pumpkin carriage, we have an old gasoline powered car that Cinder fixed herself as an escape vehicle to be able to leave the city, where hover cars couldn’t go. And instead of a huge search to find a missing shoe, Cinder loses her cyborg foot, revealing to the prince that she’s not quite human.

There are a few things that irritated me personally. Meyers doesn’t shy back from letting people who are important to main characters die. There are three instances where we as the reader are teased along that there might be a cure to save these people and it’s all a matter of beating the ticking clock. In most stories, one of these will survive in a dramatic scene where the cure comes at the last possible second. While I see why Meyers chose to not follow the traditional footsteps, as it makes for a much more devastating loss for Cinder, but as a reader I don’t like to be led along to then be robbed of a successful rescue.

The earlier cover with the high-heel shoe and reveal of the cyborg foot.

Recommendations

This makes for a great young adult sci-fi. It’s got lots of action, some tasteful romantic leanings, quite a bit of angst and drama, and great world building. Yes, there are some mild descriptions of blood and injury, mostly relating to the plague like pandemic that’s riddled through the story, but they aren’t excessive or over the top.

For those who love adaptations, this one does a solid job taking the Cinderella story and elevating it to something with more stakes.

I enjoyed Cinder and give it a 4 of 5 stars for being thoroughly entertaining but doing a few things that misled the reader in an annoying way.

Book Review: The Fork, The Witch, and The Worm, by Christopher Paolini

The full title of this book is as follows (this is important later, so pay attention):

The Fork, The Witch, and the Worm: Tales from Alagaesia, volume 1: Eragon

Pretentious much? Not only does this title promise that there will be more of these, but from differing characters as well. This book is a tiny thing, especially when compared to the other Paolini books. It’s slightly bigger than my hand and the text and margins inside are both abnormally large. The publisher wanted this to look longer than it actually is. I don’t know about you, but that feels a lot like lying to the reader. Not cool.

The book itself looks for all the world like it should be a novel – meaning a single cohesive story. It’s not. I should have read the title closer where it said “tales” as that was the only hint that this book is actually an anthology. This makes lie #2 in my book. If you read the title page and acknowledgements, you learn that Paolini’s sister wrote the second of the three stories.

The Witch part of the story, “On the Nature of Stars,” is hers and her name isn’t mentioned anywhere on the cover. Rude.

Do I have strong feelings about this? Yes. Yes I do.

The Story…?

There are three distinct short stories within this book and each one is named in the title. The first, “A Fork in the Road,” centers around a young girl who has been bullied and ends up telling her story to a stranger enjoying the fire at her parent’s tavern. The stranger ends up being something more than he seems and gives the girl a fork while teaching her a lesson that even the littlest things can make a difference. It’s a nice little story and has one of the main cast of the Inheritance series playing the role of the stranger, which isn’t revealed until the end.

The witch part, “On the Nature of Stars,” is a bit stranger. It takes the characters of Angela the healer and Elva, the girl Eragon inadvertently cursed, and fills in a chunk of the story where they go off together. So … it’s fanfiction. We get to see Angela get her own point of view, which is a nice change, and we see an effort to make things better for Elva, which was something I always thought should have happened in the original story. This story is one of the better bits of the book. Well done, Angela Paolini. Yes, Christopher borrowed her name when he wrote the character of Angela the Healer initially. I find it almost too on the nose that Angela, the writer, chose to dive deeper into that character. But that’s just me.

Then, there’s “The Worm of Kulkaras” which the scene depicted on the cover. I had high hopes that this would be an awesome dragon story. And … it’s not. The story is about Ilgra, an Anointed Urgal (they are the one’s with horns) seeking revenge after a dragon killed her father then took up residence on the nearby mountain.

These three stories are connected by a narrative led by Eragon himself as he works to make Mount Arngor the new home for the surviving dragons and to protect their eggs. Each of these stories are presented to him to help him cope as he struggles with the pressures of leadership.

My Review

I wanted to love this, I really did. I wanted to be able to fall into the story, or stories as it were, and relive a taste of the larger story contained in the Inheritance Cycle. Instead, I found the forced construction of having Eragon trying to fit these three stories into his narrative uninspired and clunky. He starts the story overwhelmed and tired and being a bad leader because he can’t take a break. The random stories are forced on him to teach him how to be a better leader, kind of, and he feels magically better for having experienced each one, even though we don’t really see him internalize anything. In the end, he’s a calmer, happier person but hasn’t overcome anything major other than being bad at managing his own time.

As for the three stories, the one that captured my imagination the most was the one written by Angela. There is an otherworldly quality to the descriptions and how the story unfolds as we are seeing the world from a character who has always been a bit of a mystery. The writing is evocative, the danger and stakes meaningful, and the characters interesting.

The other two short stories didn’t leave much of an impression. The main character of “A Fork in the Road” is a whiny girl who was forced to do a mean thing out of peer pressure and lost a friend for it. From the start, this isn’t a story I’m super interested in. I was supposed to get some lovely magic and wonder and instead I got a story that teaches young people to be brave by winning a barfight with magic and a fork.

As for the dragon story. Sigh. I get what Paolini was trying to do by writing it in a new voice to match the storytelling cadence of the Urgals, but it was downright irritating. Each sentence followed the same construction of using a prepositional phrase before completing the thought.

Literally. Every. Single. Sentence.

Sidenote: When I was a younger writer, I thought that particular construction made the words feel more important and artsy and tended to use it far more than anyone should. Several years and multiple editors later, I’ve learned better.

That, and I felt cheated by the climax. The story spent way too long building up to one ending and then pulled a rabbit out of the hat by throwing in something the reader had no idea was a threat. There was some nice action there, but the main character gets cheated by not getting the thing they wanted or the thing they actually needed. What she got instead was for the dragon to not think she was nothing, which was never an explored theme of the story.

My Recommendations

If you love Paolini and were hoping for something that broadened his created universe, this might book will leave you frustrated. There’s just enough there to tease at a few cool possibilities of something, but it left me wanting. For those diehard fans, the places it connects with existing characters were nice, but not substantial and not nearly enough.

As for it being an interesting fantasy book, if you hadn’t read the other Eragon books, the interconnecting narrative doesn’t have enough substance to stand on its own and the short stories aren’t super compelling.

It’s clean and the violence is typical for a YA fantasy.

I give The Fork, the Witch, and the Worm 2/5 stars for failing me on so many levels but having a few nice bits of writing.

Book Review: Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, by Greg Mckeown

This is my non-fiction pick for the quarter and it definitely met expectations. It seems that for many, doing more and being increasingly busy is a fail proof way to find success. The ideas inside this book argue that this philosophy is not only wrong, but it can actually prevent success. It comes down to a forest and trees problem. If you are too caught up in the trees, meaning meaningless or unproductive tasks, it’s all too easy to not see the forest, or the big picture. For someone who constantly feels that push to do more, this is a welcome message.

What is Essentialism?

Put simply, essentialism is a conscious effort to pare down efforts and activities so that you spend your energy only on projects that are meaningful and help make progress towards a goal. This means only taking on projects and assignments that make sense for you both personally and career wise.

Mckeown uses the example of life being like a well-organized closet. When a closet is cluttered and full of clothes that we don’t love or don’t fit, it’s hard to make decisions on what to wear. It’s hard to find what we need. Facing that mess is daunting. To organize a closet that’s stuffed to the roof with needless items requires lots of decision making and time. Items that are no longer needed must be disposed of. This requires time and planning or they might end up in bags somewhere else, like the basement.

Once the closet is clean, it is so much easier to see what is available and what we need to replace. Less time is made daily on deciding what to wear leaving more time and energy for more important tasks. However, a system needs to be put in place to maintain this clean space or in a matter of months, the closet will be cluttered and need to be cleaned out again.

We must regard our lives much like a closet. If we know exactly what our style is, and what fits us, it’s easy to choose the outfits and activities that work for what we are trying to achieve. This is the same as making smart goals that are measurable and on a time table. If we don’t know what we are trying to achieve, then it’s impossible to decide what activities and efforts will get us there.

By learning what is essential for us personally, we can easier choose what we need to do, or need to say no to. Often saying no can be the hardest part. However, with time, being clear on your needs and being understanding of the needs of other can only garner more respect.

My Review

This was a timely message for me. I suffer from “got to do everything” syndrome and very rarely say no to projects unless it clearly doesn’t fit my schedule. Reading the different examples of successful people who employed these ideas helped reinforce the idea that more isn’t better and quality is always better than quantity.

The book is well written, insightful, and full of great examples. Like most non-fictions, it does tend to repeat itself to emphasize the main points and themes. This comes with the territory and is expected, so I can’t fault it. Since I was listening to the audiobook while doing mindless chores, the repetition was helpful.

Recommendations

For all of those overachievers out there who are killing themselves to get ahead, this is a must read. It teaches the importance of prioritizing efforts and being mindful of the big picture, which is extremely helpful for those who always find there is too much on their plate.

This book was intended for business people and those who are working to get ahead in their careers or entrepreneurial endeavors. Which means that those of us not working in a corporate atmosphere might not relate to the majority of the examples, myself included. I don’t work in a corporate environment, but I do manage lots of details and schedules and am working to elevate my writing career one task at a time.

This book might be super frustrating for those of us who can’t be in charge of their schedules and plans, such as full-time parents with young children and babies in the home. That said, there are some important ideas that are beneficial to them as well, such as finding mindfulness in each task and being present.

I give Essentialism 4/5 stars for reminding me that there is power in simplicity.


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Book Review: Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman

I have a love hate relationship with Neil Gaiman’s writings. I love how he uses language to create an otherworldly sense of place and characters that are always far more than what’s happening on the page. But, many of his writings do nothing for me. With each new book, I start reading with the hope that this one will scratch my Gaiman itch. Sometimes those hopes are dashed.

So it was with reluctance that I picked up this collection of his shorter works. With so many different offerings, I knew there would be several I would truly enjoy and then there would be others that I probably wouldn’t like at all. And.. I was right.

This is also why it’s taken me the better part of a year to finish reading all of them. After each disappointment I’d put the book down as if I were punishing it. When enough time had passed, I’d pick it up and give the next story a try.

A sampling of my favorites

Instructions

This poem holds tiny pieces of other stories I have grown to love. There is an element of mystery and whimsy as the poet instructs the reader along a cryptic journey giving very specific instructions that feel as if they are meant to either enchant the reader or keep them from harm. The further into the poem the reader ventures, the deeper they find themselves in a wondrous land of fairy tale and magic.

As with many profound tales, this poem wanders itself into a circle and the reader finds themselves back where they started, only changed.

Goliath

I feel this story is inspired by the Matrix, but one that feels more faithful to how being a consciousness living in the confines of a computer program might work. Our main character is literally larger than life, a Goliath of a man. Throughout his life, he experiences odd shifts where he knows something has changed, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. With each shift, he becomes more convinced that his life is nothing more than a sham covering up something much deeper and darker than he can imagine.

When the truth comes for him, he’s ready to face what real life looks like and take up the duties he has been training for since his “life” began.

Sunbird

As someone who loves experiencing culture through food, this tale of rare Epicurean delights was as fascinating as it was delicious. The aptly named Epicurian Club has set out to consume the world’s rarest delights, ranging from extinct species to all the different beetles of the world. They go to great lengths to challenge their tastes and stretch their palates. When the mention of the rare and exquisite sunbird piques their attention, they make plans to travel to Egypt to try it. Needless to say, the so called sunbird has a few mythical qualities of its own that makes this story even more delectable.

My Review

This isn’t the easiest book to simply sit down and read through. As with many Gaiman stories, the enjoyment of reading comes from paying attention to all the subtle details that rise to the surface or are brushed past in the narrative. This level of reading intensity makes it hard to find uninterrupted time to enjoy each work the way it was intended to be read, that is, slowly and with attention to detail.

Personally, now that I’ve read Gaiman’s shorter works, I can see why I favor his novel length stories better. If I’m going to invest that kind of time and attention to a story, I want to experience it for a long time and dive deeply into these characters and conflicts. There is always so much going on that it feels like the shorter works don’t do these stories justice.

Recommendations

If you love a story that stretches your thinking and challenges reality, you’ll find several works in this collection that will fill that need. While these all are speculative fiction, they swing back and forth from science fiction to fantasy, often capturing elements of both in tandem. There’s also a healthy dash of elements of folklore stirred in for even more depth.

However, this isn’t for light reading by any stretch of the imagination. Nor is it a book for younger readers as the subject matter tends to dive into deeper topics and there is coarse language and graphic descriptions.

While in the end I’m glad I gave the collection a try, I would be hard pressed to recommend it to anyone but those who already like Neil Gaiman’s writings.

I give Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things 3 out of 5 stars for stretching my thinking but not scratching my literary itch.


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Book Review: Verses for the Dead by Preston and Child

This is a year of trying lots of new things, including authors I hadn’t read yet. I’d heard of the Pendergast novels off and on for ages, they are one of those staples of genre fiction that have collected a wide fan base and end up being referenced at writing conferences. A friend of mine had enjoyed the books and we needed a fresh read for our very casual book group so we chose the most widely available title in the library system, the 2018 release Verses for the Dead.

The Story

This book is very much a murder mystery. It starts with the discovery of a human heart found on a gravestone in Miami along with a cryptic note signed by a Mr. Brokenhearts. Enter Agent Pendergast, FBI. He’s got a remarkable track record when it comes to the tricky cases, and this murder is shaping up to be exactly that, tricky.

However, he’s unpredictable and tends to do things in unorthodox ways that leave a body count higher than what his superiors are comfortable with. For this reason, on this case he’s forced to accept the unthinkable–a partner.

The mystery unfolds as our duo work together to piece together the clues. Their murderer follows a bizarre M.O.: He cuts out his victim’s hearts and then leaves them on the graves of suicide victims. If Pendergast can’t find the connections between the victims, he’s sure more women will die in the same horrific way.

Through many twists and failures, we watch as Pendergast works through the case in a way reminiscent of Sherlock, finding the tiniest clues and using them to track down the killer.

My Review

As someone who doesn’t read a lot of mystery novels I can’t say if the pacing of this one was intentionally slow and methodical, or if it was just a slower read because clue hunting, while interesting, isn’t exciting. The way the different ideas came together, and the way it truly took a team of experts to help the case along, made for interesting reading. And, there was an action-packed danger-filled conclusion, so I can’t complain too much.

There is a reason these books are popular. The writing is solid and clear, the characters fleshed out and interesting, and the different settings vibrant and lifelike. There is always a sense of more going on than what happens on the page, especially with Pendergast’s character, which leaves the reader eager to see what else they can learn about him.

While most of the books in the Pendergast series are flagged as standalone reads, there is a lot of backstory about Pendergast himself that I feel I’m missing. I’m considering reading more, if only to learn more about him and why he acts the way he does.

Recommendations

If you like murder mystery, this is a solid one. A word of warning for the squeamish, there are graphic crime scene descriptions, autopsies, and naturally, a few murders witnessed first hand. There is also a reasonable, but not overwhelming amount of swearing. The clues are not super obvious at first, but like any good mystery start clicking together as the story moves forward only for there to be a subtle twist that changes everything.

If you tend to need things that feel like they’re moving and making progress quickly, this might be a frustrating read. Everything Pendergast does is methodical and deliberate so even when he’s rushing, there is still a sense of calm and stillness. This makes it all the more exciting when his feathers do get ruffled during the thrilling climax, but for some that might not be enough.

I give Verses for the Dead 3/5 stars, a solid read but at times too slow and deliberate.


Thank you dear reader for stopping by! If you’d like to be notified of future posts here at JodiLMilner.com, be sure to ‘subscribe’ using the handy links. Or, even better, sign up to be part of my mailing list and get a signup bonus of one of my short stories for free.

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