A Lyrical Reimagining; Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time

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A Lyrical Reimagining; Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of TimeTitle: The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
Series: Hogarth Shakespeare #1
Published by Hogarth
Published: October 6th 2015
Genres: Fiction, Retellings
Pages: 273
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
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Goodreads

Jeanette Winterson’s The Gap of Time is a modern reimagining of William Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. None of the names or situations in Winterson’s novel reflect those from Shakespeare’s play, but thematically it felt very Shakespeare. I remember reading A Winter’s Tale forever ago in my Shakespeare course in undergrad. What I remember  from that reading of the play are themes of family and jealousy, and those themes are heavily prevalent in Winterson’s reimagining.

While at times I thought the story felt a little too contrived, I recalled that Shakespeare’s plays feel the same way sometimes too. They’re constructed to explore a certain aspect of humanity, and that construction must be tight enough for a staged production with a wide audience. Some suspension of belief must be used. Everything in Shakespeare’s plays happen for a reason, and I think Winterson worked with that well. It’s also incredibly poetic and felt like I was reading an amazing dream.

I read this in a single day. Something about it was so engaging that I literally could not put it down. I like that; Shakespeare’s plays can be read in one sitting.

Hogarth, a division of Penguin Random House, is publishing a series of books (The Hogarth Shakespeare) written by critically acclaimed authors reimagining and reinventing Shakespeare’s famous plays. Winterson’s The Gap of Time is the first. Coming in 2016 are Howard Jacobson’s The Merchant of Venice, Anne Tyler’s The Taming of the Shrew, and Margaret Atwood’s The Tempest. I am so looking forward to Margaret Atwood’s! You can read more about the series and the other authors participating at Vintage’s website!

This book was provided to me by Blogging for Books for review. All opinions are my own.

A Disjointed Dystopia; a review of Howard Jacobson’s J

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A Disjointed Dystopia; a review of Howard Jacobson’s JTitle: J by Howard Jacobson
Published by Hogarth
Published: September 1st 2015
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 352
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Blogging for Books
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Goodreads

You are no different today from who you were a year ago, a month ago even. What’s changed is how you appear. How you appear to yourself and how you will appear to the world. It’s all illusion. Identity is nothing but illusion.

J took forever for me to read. FOR-EVER. Partially because I’ve been in a weird state of mind, but mostly because of the book itself. It’s touted as dystopian fiction reminiscent of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s Brave New World, but it just falls flat. I wanted to know more of WHAT HAPPENED, IF IT HAPPENED. I think I got spoiled by Atwood’s Maddaddam trilogy in which she does reveal the backstory to everything throughout the course of the trilogy. J just trudged on disjointedly. Had it been about one hundred pages shorter, it might have been more engaging, but there were too many offshoots of irrelevance that distracted me from the main story at hand and left me disinterested for weeks at a time. Jacobson can write, however, and there are several sections in the novel that left me rereading more for the sake of grammar and sentence structure than for the story itself.

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As an aside, I still haven’t figured out what the “qualifications” for a Man Booker are. Either I should research this, or read more nominees and winners (which I should do anyway). I also think I’m getting tired of the whole view of “identity” from an older white male’s point of view, which is probably another small reason I didn’t personally get much out of this book.

REVIEW: Armada, by Ernest Cline

 

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REVIEW: Armada, by Ernest ClineTitle: Armada by Ernest Cline
Published by Crown Publishing
Published: July 14th 2015
Genres: Science Fiction
Pages: 349
Format: Hardcover
Source: Blogging for Books
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“Kill or be killed. Conquer or be conquered. Survive or go extinct.”

Armada is an anomaly. On the surface, the book seems to be a good follow-up to Ready Player One. When I think about it more, though, the more I realize I didn’t care about any of the characters in the book itself. I like having something and someone to care about. The pacing, the style, and the references are all great fun and incredibly engaging, but I felt as if there was a significant lack of depth in character development among all of the characters. Reading Armada was like reading a mashup of all of the great 80s video games and science fiction movies without having any substance or heft, like Cline’s saying oh hey, look at all of these cool and sometimes obscure references I can throw in~~~ One can certainly write a novel with all of those cool references and still reveal some character development.

While I was reading it (and weirdly unable to put it down), all I could think about was: of course Zack Lightman is a video game wiz at this new/old-fangled Starfighter/Starcraft game, of course his dad’s not dead, of course his parents hook up again before the big battle scene, of course his dad dies at the end, of course his mom has another kid. I would have liked to see more of a reaction from the characters, especially Zack, about the alien invasion and how it affected each of them, but it was all surface level revelations. And there was so much deus ex machina that could have been avoided by avoiding writing oneself into otherwise inescapable plot lines. The more I think about it, the more I would have liked to see things from the perspective of Zack’s “manic pixie dream girl,” a trope I am tired of seeing in fiction generally geared toward and advertised toward young male readership.

Reading it was like eating awesome candy. It’s going to be gone in a moment, and you aren’t going to get any value from it. Already, I feel as if Cline is writing himself into a very narrow niche. There is only so much one can do with 80s references before it becomes too repetitive and too trite. There is only so much one can do with these mashups before it becomes disengaging.

Cline, however, has a great writing style. I couldn’t put Armada down. It was only after the fact that I was left feeling super disappointed. I want to see Cline’s style and voice exploring other galaxies – original galaxies – and developing more rounded and believable characters in the future. I know he’s capable of it. Ready Player One certainly showed it. I’ll certainly read whatever Cline writes next. I just hope it has more depth.

I’d still recommend Armada to people, though, even if I came away from Ready Player One with high expectations. It’s fun. It’s accessible. It’s a great summery, beachy science fiction read. I just wanted more.

On Not Finishing Books, and Other Things

Lately I’ve been really aware of how many books I want to read and the limited amount of time I have in which to read, so I’m getting better about setting aside books if they aren’t grabbing my interest or if something about them annoys me. And to be clear, 95% of these DNFs are ones I’ve borrowed from the library because I was hesitant about purchasing them in the first place so I don’t feel bad about not being able to finish them. There are a few that I’ve bought that I’m like, ugh, I can’t finish this, but thankfully those are few and far in between. I’m already thinking I need to stop using the library and actually read the ARCs, review copies, and unread books I’ve bought that are just sitting here.

The Fold - Peter Clines My most recent DNF is Peter Clines’ The Fold. I remember enjoying Ex-Heroes a few years ago, and when I heard about this recent release, I found the idea intriguing and the cover pretty fabulous. Unfortunately, I’m sort of tired of the adult white male mastermind who can do just about anything, remember just about anything, and have no apparent faults within the first hundred pages sort of trope. So, by the time this perfect Sherlock-esque mastermind, Mike, figures out that the people who made this Door to travel to alternate timelines had no idea what they were doing, I was bored. This wasn’t interesting to me at all. And I was kind of sad, because I love Sherlock-esque characters when done well, and I love time-hopping science fiction. Ultimately, what made me set the book aside was Mike’s ability to rewatch entire movies in his mind before he falls asleep – that movie being Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It’s a dated pop culture reference already. Ugh. Maybe I’ll give it another go in a few months when I’m not all about female representation in sci-fi, because I might’ve been more interested in this one if the characters didn’t come off as trope-y cardboard standees.

Ugh.

In better news, I’m doing really well on my reading challenge. There were a few days I barely made it over a hundred pages of reading, but I’m averaging out to be more than two hundred a day!

REVIEW: Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard

Red Queen - Victoria Aveyard

“Anyone can betray anyone.”

TITLE: Red Queen
AUTHOR: Victoria Aveyard
PUBLISHED: 2015
PAGES: 383
FORMAT: Hardcover
SOURCE: Library
RATING: 3/5

SUMMARY: Mare Barrow’s world is divided by blood — those with red and those with silver. Mare and her family are lowly Reds, destined to serve the Silver elite whose supernatural abilities make them nearly gods. Mare steals what she can to help her family survive, but when her best friend is conscripted into the army she gambles everything to win his freedom. A twist of fate leads her to the royal palace itself, where, in front of the king and all his nobles, she discovers a power of her own—an ability she didn’t know she had. Except… her blood is Red.

To hide this impossibility, the king forces her into the role of a lost Silver princess and betroths her to one of his own sons. As mare is drawn further into the Silver world, she risks her new position to aid the Scarlet Guard—the leaders of a Red rebellion. Her actions put into motion a deadly and violent dance, pitting prince against prince—and Mare against her own heart. – from the book jacket

REVIEW: Victoria Aveyard’s Red Queen has been getting a lot of hype in the last several months either on the bookstore front, the book bloggers’ front, and more recently with Elizabeth Banks reportedly to direct the film. I finally got Red Queen this past week when it finally came through the library for me (ugh, holds and hold queues and self-imposed book buying bans, but yay, free books!). Once I got it, I put everything else I’ve been dabbling in reading on hold. I’ve been through a weird and frustrating reading slump this year, so I’m literally about to do anything to keep myself reading, including writing about what I read! That’s more for another post.

I liked it.

It didn’t wow the socks off of me and it didn’t disappoint me, which is why it gets three stars out of five instead of anything less or more. I just want more? I’m so happy there’s a sequel coming out next year, because I feel as if Red Queen is just a setup for so, so much more. It’s a lot like Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass in the sense that the first novel in the series/trilogy is all about setting the stage for the real action. I don’t know what my real opinion about Red Queen and the other two books in the trilogy will be until they come out. I’ll have more of an I love this!! or an It’s just okay. opinion once the second one comes out, I think. I tend to read trilogies as cohesive narratives rather than individual books.

Now that I’ve finished it and have thought about it for most of the day, Red Queen draws on a lot of popular tropes and themes in popular fantasy and YA fiction, and that’s okay. There are threads of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, themes of Cinderella (the title had me hoping for an Alice in Wonderland vibe, but alas), X-Men mutant abilities, and the dystopian society of The Hunger Games woven in the narrative. While that might seem stale to some, I liked it. I thought it was an engaging, entertaining read. It sets the stage for more intrigue and drama, and that’s good because I want more.

The biggest issue I had with it was the love… square? Maven is by far the most interesting, Cal is sort of boring, and there’s not much I really gathered from Kilorn (and that’s probably because I started this book when I couldn’t sleep at about three in the morning, so the first few chapters are a little fuzzy in my memory). I’m hoping that this love square is happening just because Mare hasn’t been out of her Red world much and because she’s still figuring herself out in the midst of everything. And it’s not the main focus of the book. It’s sort of a plot point for the climax of the narrative, but it doesn’t overshadow anything else.

Overall, I enjoyed it! I’m looking forward to more (and I think I’ve said that about three times now, oops).