October 10, 2013

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats


Jan-Phillipp Sendker's The Art of Hearing Heartbeats was a wonderful read.   The author (and the translator--this book was originally written in German) paid careful attention to all of the lyrical language in this novel, which at times reads almost like poetry.

Also--and this says much more about me than it does about the book, I'd imagine--I was astonished when I realized that the author was male.

Julia, an adult woman whose father vanished mysteriously several years ago, travels to Burma after finding a letter he'd written to a Burmese woman.  (Incidentally, a letter he'd never sent but nonetheless raised questions about his background and where he may have so suddenly disappeared to.)

Once she arrives, she meets a man who recounts the story of her father--Tin Win--from the time he was born until the time he left his native land.  It's a hauntingly sad story in some ways and a wonderfully joyful one in others.  There's abandonment and there's blindness and there's learning and there's love.

In the end, there's also reconciliation.  Julia comes to understand the man she knew as father as well as the man he was before he became her father, and in the process also has some small realizations about her mother (who only has a brief and bitter appearance in the novel to tell her daughter that she doesn't want to know anything that's discovered about her father).

It was an engrossing but calming read, one I found myself easily falling into.  I was sad to see it end for more reasons than one.

You may want to read this one with a tissue.

October 8, 2013

Steelheart


Have I posted several book reviews today so that there wouldn't be two Sanderson novels reviewed back-to-back?  Perhaps.  Or perhaps I'm just posting in the order that I read the books.  Maybe it's a bit of both. Where do I begin in reviewing Steelheart?  Let me start with my one complaint.

The metaphors.

Our protagonist, David, works under the assumption that there's a certain amount of art to badly executed metaphors.  Let us be clear right now: in this particular regard, he's deluded.  The bad metaphors are not only excessive they are very, very bad.  And though I thought maybe there were fewer metaphors over the course of the novel, a good friend indicated I'd probably just come up with some sort of coping mechanism for my poor, poor brain.

That said, I liked everything else about this book.  It takes place in a dystopian version of Chicago.  An entity called Calamity has somehow moved near Earth and as a result, some people have become Epics--basically people with superpowers.  Except here's the catch: these superpowered people all seem to be pretty universally superevil.

David is motivated to kill our eponymous character--should he figure out how--because this particular evil Epic killed David's father.  He joins up with what amounts to a resistance movement in order to accomplish this goal, but not without a fight.  Because in Sandersonian fashion, he sort of...stumbles into one of their operations.

And David is obsessive about this goal of his: he has gathered information about all Epics, all of their weaknesses (because they all have one which can be exploited because otherwise how could any of them ever die?), and their connections to each other.  He's kind of a teenaged evil-superhero-geek.

Various difficulties arise with life on a team, as they are wont to do, as do questions of what might happen after an assassination that would throw a city into chaos.  To which Sanderson says at the end of the novel: hey look, there'll be a sequel!

The ending is and isn't a foregone conclusion with a few surprises thrown into the mix that will make for interesting continuing reading.  Particularly since it challenges assumptions that are presented as nigh unto set-in-stone when the novel starts.

It's a quick read.  In spite of the metaphors.

In the Land of Invented Languages


So in the course of my everyday life, I listen to podcasts.  They keep me occupied, they provide food for thought, and many of them recommend books.  I decided to read In the Land of Invented Languages after several different podcasts mentioned the book.

And I'll say this much: I kind of want to be friends with Arika Okrent.

Okrent's book provides an overview of various made-up languages and the reasons they were made up in the first place: she details a faithful search for a universal language to that most famous of languages basically invented to be used on a TV series.  (You know, Klingon.)

It's a lot of information and in the hands of another author, it easily could have been dry sample sentences and explanations of how other languages work.  But Okrent humorously examines not only the roots of the languages, but the often idiosyncratic (and sometimes borderline crazy) personalities who create them, as well as the deep love of language that motivates this kind of undertaking in the first place.

Okrent's acknowledgement of herself as an unabashed nerdy, mnemonic-loving overachiever serves only to make her that much more endearing.  In some of these arenas, she wants not only to learn but to excel at some of these languages.  And it's hard not to want her to, even though you'll know she'll be judged a bit.  (Spoiler: in the end, she decides she's okay with that.  Except how much of a spoiler is it if it's a bit obvious throughout the whole book?)

The Dream Thieves


Let me warn everyone in advance: like its predecessor, Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves ends with the type of cliffhanger that will make you say: "What the...really?  You chose to end it THERE?!"  I suppose how bad that is depends on how impatient you are.  (Patience isn't my strong suit.  Stiefvater, write faster...please?)

As you make recall, we learned at the end of The Raven Boys that Ronan had basically pulled his pet raven from his head.  If you haven't read that book, then sorry.  But that's not really giving away much.  This book primarily follows Ronan as he tries to negotiate this new power and realizes two things: first, his father had the same power, and second, the power was always tied much further into their--his brother's and his--lives.

Meanwhile, the ley lines are behaving strangely as random power surges happen, and Adam doesn't know exactly how or what he sacrificed at the end of the last book.  He comes to terms with it all, after a fashion.

Blue, meanwhile, is thoroughly enmeshed in a teenage-girlish love triangle because she likes Adam but she's thinking more and more about Gansey.  And of course, she's working hard not to kiss anyone since there's that whole you'll-kiss-your-true-love-and-he'll-die deal.

And Noah, our friendly ghost, is moving in and out of visibility.

Also, there's another character who--like Ronan--can retrieve things from his dreams.  Not to mention that a hit man finds his way into town and basically into love with Blue's mother.

In other words, there's a lot going on this book.  Some of it--the titular dream thievery, for instance--gets resolved.  Some of it--(sigh) Blue's love triangleyness--sort of has a form of resolution.  And there's still a lot that will happen.

A word of warning: this book's language got a wee bit more salty in this second installment due, I feel, to which character (the saltiest) it chooses to focus on.