Book Review — The Spark by David Drake

The Spark
The Spark and Ulysses were this month’s TBR jar picks!

So I received The Spark in a Page Habit box a few months ago and it was an unexpected but pleasant surprise.

David Drake was born in 1945, he’s a Vietnam War veteran and he’s known for being a major author in the military science fiction genre. The Spark is the first book that I read by Drake and I really enjoyed it!

The Spark is a take on an Arthurian legend, if you are familiar with the tale, you’ll see plenty of parallels, but the differences are what really caught my attention. First is the world where this story takes place. It is a world that has many towns and cities connected by a Road. The world is divided into Here and Not Here, two sort of parallel universes that connect or overlap in certain places, one of them being this Road that connects everything. There are artifacts from the Ancients (which seem to be today’s world since there are references to umbrellas, projectors, and weapons) that only certain people are able to fix and make work again, these people are called Makers.

“Since I’d come away from Beune, everything I’d seen was people in pyramids, somebody at the top and everybody else scrambling to get on top instead. Or at least to get off the bottom” — Pal

So, Pal is our main character, he’s a young man from a small town that’s not exactly governed by the Commonwealth but Pal’s dream is to become a Champion of Humanity (Pal’s also a Maker!). The Champions are selected at Dun Add, a city where King Jon rules the Commonwealth. The story begins as Pal arrives at Dun Add after traveling through the Road with the help of his dog Buck (people can’t see well in the Road and must see through the eyes of their animal companions in order to travel safely).

Truthfully, the part that I was dreading the most was that of the romance. Of course there must be a maiden in distress that needs saving! However, even though there was a woman who needed help finding her sister, there was no romantic love there! Even the one who might be Pal’s main love interest is not even considered so by him until perhaps the end of the novel. I liked this because it wasn’t the usual “Oh, they saw each other for the first time and now they are in love and will get married tomorrow after they slay the dragon” deal. Women are portrayed as individuals with purpose and their own dreams and desires. They aren’t always nice and pretty and princess-like, they are raw and real and troublesome too.

Then there was the violence. There are certainly deaths and some gory parts that stand out in my mind even days after reading them. Drake is really good at describing the battles and the fighting, he gives us enough detail to know what’s happening but not too much that we are overwhelmed.

“You can’t spend all the time thinking about how to stay safe and still live what I’d call a life” — Pal

So all in all, this book had a variety of interesting characters, three different adventures all rolled into one, and it was entertaining!

I don’t know if I’ll like other books by David Drake, but I now know that he can tell a story without going for the usual tropes and cliches that one tends to find in this genre. If I come across another of his books, I’ll likely give it a try.

Have you read any of Drake’s books? Which one should I read next?

Book Time Travel — March

It’s time to go back in time and see what I was reading in years past during the month of March, where they good books? or not so good? Let’s take a look!

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Two excellent books by Asian-American women authors.

2017 — The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston

I remember noticing this book from a list of books that President Obama recommended. A few weeks later I found it at the thrift store and it just seemed like fate that I should read that book at the time.

It’s a beautiful book that portrays the different ways that a woman is a woman, one shaped by her culture, by her obstacles, by her family. It portrays the strength of women, our intelligence, and the way that we face our past. The book is also beautifully written, Maxine has this ethereal writing style that just creeps into your mind and evokes images that will haunt you for a while after. If the imagery is strong that’s only because those are the feelings that the women in her stories have, feelings that I found very familiar.

I believe this book helped me discover new sides of myself, and which came at a point in my life when I was ready to explore them.

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Books + Tea = Joy

2016 –The Love That Split The World by Emily Henry

This was a book I got in an Owlcrate box and I found myself happily attracted to the cover. When I read it I was really divided as to if I liked it or not, thinking back I know I did enjoy the story but do remember being confused with some of the writing choices made while trying to portray time travel and parallel dimensions. (Any book that attempts time travel is bound to be confusing right?) I think what this book left me, two years later, is the sense of the inevitability of accepting the things that have already happened. Especially the ending of the book is just so emotional and I was very much attached to the characters so I do also remember thinking about the books for days after finishing it.

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Since I lack a 2015 book, here’s a picture I took that month while stuck in traffic in Mexico City.ย 

2015 — I didn’t read anything in the month of March of 2015! And that was because I was preparing for a big exam for my PhD program. That exam was scary so I worked on it very hard and I passed! You could say I was reading for my exam but somehow I don’t think that’d be as interesting hahaha. My reading habits definitely picked up after the exam happened in April so I suspect that these posts will get a bit more interesting after that point. We shall see!


Anyways, I’m starting to think that these posts might point to certain books that I could probably donate to the library or something… In that sense, The Love That Split The World, although it has a beautiful cover, shall be put in a pile for donation.

Do you donate books after you read them if you decide that you will not read them again? This is the first time I really feel like donating a book without purposely looking for books to donate. One thing is for sure, it’ll help create space in my bookcase! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Book vs Movie — Annihilation

Hi all!

In this episode of Book vs Movie I’ll be talking about Annihilation, written by Jeff Vandermeer, and the big screen counterpart. I won’t be giving too many details because both the book and the movie are incredibly hard to explain. But, you’ll get it if you’ve read the book and/or seen the film.

Jeff Vandermeer is called the “King of Weird Fiction” since his works lie something between speculative fiction, fantasy, and horror. His most famous works are the Southern Reach Trilogy, and Annihilation is the first installment of this trilogy. This trilogy focuses on an expedition to a place called Area X, a place in the United States, where nature has taken over. Scientists are sending people into this area to investigate, but either they don’t come back or if they come back they die of cancer not many weeks later.

Screen Shot 2018-03-03 at 21.11.25Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer

The book is definitely very strange. It evokes a mood reminiscent of gothic literature at times, at others it’s more like a stream of consciousness that leaves you at best dizzy or at worst sleepy. It’s a book that reminded me of the frog in the pot of water, one that doesn’t realize it’s in trouble until it’s actually almost dead and there’s no way out. This book creeps up on you just like that, eventually you realize that there’s no turning back and you just have to keep on reading, even if no clear answers are offered in the end.

“Some questions will ruin you if you are denied the answer long enough”

So the book might not be the most enjoyable but it was definitely thought provoking. We follow four scientists who are never given names besides their specialties: Anthropologist, Surveyor, Psychologist, and Biologist. There’s a theme of the beauty and the power of nature, which rebels agains the humans after enduring the pollution, deforestation, and other abuses that it has endured for so long. The book doesn’t give a reason for Area X really, there’s no explanation of the origin, but there are some clues when the Biologist has flashbacks to her childhood, as she studies a microenvironment that thrives in the midst of the urban city. Also as she goes out of her way to find these small patches of nature in other parts of the city. The vision that the Biologist brings to the world is very important in the book and is the anchor that kept me reading.

Annihilation_(film)

The movie adaptation of Annihilation was directed by Alex Garland,ย who has been mostly recognized for his achievements in screenplay writing and his film Ex Machina.

Unlike the book, the film starts out by explaining the origin of Area X: a meteor. This immediately takes out the possibility of the changes in Area X being caused by nature reacting to human acts. Additionally, the characters are given names and our Biologist isn’t an expert in the transition of one microenvironment to another, she’s a cell biologist, specialized in cancer. The film focuses on an alien world that’s come and started interacting with ours in ways we can’t quite understand. There film is not only creepy, it’s outright gory, with bodies opened up and things crawling inside them. The film achieves the wonder of this alien world though, the beauty and the power in ways that the book lacked. The film is well paced even if it felt like they forced the expected Hollywood-esque plot as an attempt to make it less psychological and more explicit. There’s a heavy reliance on the Biologist’s, I mean Lena’s, life before the expedition, her life with her husband, even an affair! What does that have to do with Area X?

But honestly? I did enjoy both the book and the movie for different reasons. I loved the psychological thriller part of the book and I loved the visuals of the film. You could say that I loved the depth of the book while the film simply reflected the beautiful cover that made me buy the book. The plots of the book and the film are not very compatible so they can’t be compared. But they do complement each other.

Final verdict: It’s a tie! They even out because a bit more than half of the book was just boring, and only until the end did I get hit with all the complex themes and social commentary that Vandermeer was going for. Then the film was great visually but completely lacked depth of characters and plot that the book provided. The film had beautiful moments (and beautiful deaths!) all the way through which the book lacked.

What do you think? Which version of Annihilation did you like best?

PS. The next Book vs Movie that I’ll review is a movie that comes out at the end of this month, can you guess which one it is?

 

 

February Book Bites

February was a slow reading month, but I did enjoy the three books I got to read! There were some pretty memorable bites as well. Lets take a look:

IMG_20180301_201140692.jpgFirst I read An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon. This book is a science fiction novel that I acquired through the Page Habit subscription box for the month of October of last year. Solomon takes us on a trip on the HSS Matilda, a spaceship that has been traveling towards the Promised Land. People have left their world to go on this ship because their planet was dying. Now, they are separated by class and gender and are trying to survive the trip to this Promised Land when things start to go wrong. You can read a full review here.

  • Favorite Bite:

“Chemicals plus chemicals makes magic” — Aster

  • Perspective Rating: 9/10 I loved that we got a very original point of view, even if at times I didn’t fully connect with it I believe that it’s very valuable.
  • Emotional Rating: 5/10 I really wish I could have connected with the main character more. But every time that there was an emotional scene, she would change the topic. Even though I understand that it’s her own personality, for me it was very frustrating.
  • Bites Rating: 7/10 It had some great and poetic parts, but it wasn’t as much as it could have been.
  • Overall Rating: 7/10 I really enjoyed this book, but it left me wanting more from the other character’s points of view. I will look for more books from Rivers Solomon for sure.

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I stayed on the science fiction track and read Annihilation by Jeff Vandermeer. When I bought this book it was purely because of the cover but when I learned that it involved women scientists going into a strange place called Area X, I was even more intrigued. The story is actually slower than I expected, told from the point of view of the Biologist, who is also an unreliable narrator. It’s very slow for the first 100 pages or so and then it picks up near the end. I’m working on a post where I compare the novel to the movie adaptation so that should be posted in the next few days.

  • Favorite Bite:

    “We were neither what we had been nor what we would become once we reached our destination” — The Biologist

  • Perspective Rating: 7/10 It’s hard with this one because even though it is an interesting perspective, of a scientist who looks at things very pragmatically, there was little depth. I wanted to be able to go deeper into some of her insights but that was masked by the way that the story was told.
  • Emotional Rating: 6/10 It was very hard to empathize with the main character when she was so dull and unreliable most of the time. Near the end things got better in this sense but it was still lacking for me.
  • Bites Rating: 4/10 There were some pretty passages but not very often.
  • Overall Rating: 5.66/10 Yikes! I’m telling you that it was slow! That was my main issue, even though the psychological thriller is there, it got boring so that wasn’t good. I am still curious about the next installment of the trilogy so I’ll probably read that if I come across it.

IMG_20180301_201108753.jpgFinally I read Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett, another installment of the Discworld series. This was such a great book! It’s a take on Macbeth from the point of view of the witches, and it references quite a few other Shakespeare plays. This one is a tad more bloody than others, as well as more cheeky at times. The characters we follow are Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and Magrat. Pratchett manages a very clever novel full of interesting characters, from a violent cat to Death itself, and Hwel, a dwarf with all the inspiration to write plays like no one has seen before. Simply fantastic.

  • Favorite Bite:

    “It is true that words have power, and one of the things they are able to do is get out of someoneโ€™s mouth before the speaker has the chance to stop them” –Wyrd Sisters

  • Perspective Rating: 8/10 Pratchett has the ability to place you in someone else’s shoes without you really realizing that it’s happening. Here we get a few different perspectives on the aspect of destiny and fate. It’s inspiring and eye opening while making you laugh at life for a bit
  • Emotional Rating: 7/10 I didn’t connect too much to the characters but when Death showed up I was just over the moon! I also love Greebo, the cat, and Hwel, a writer who really is a slave to the words.
  • Bites Rating: 8/10 It had many great quotations, but not all over the book.
  • Overall Rating: 7.66 Another great Discworld installment, I can’t wait for the next one! ๐Ÿ˜€

One thing that these three books had in common was the nature of, well, nature. Nature as a sentient being that can revolt on the humans when they decide to ignore it completely. Nature as a group of beings that evolve so that they can survive the harm being done to them by humans. Or lack of Nature and the effect that it has on humans. Each of these books teaches us to appreciate and take care of all living beings, be they animal, plant, or human. I loved these books for this message and for how they all seemed to group together to make that message seem even louder.

And so, even though this month was a tad slow, it was still a good month of reading. I am still reading Equiano: The African but I am taking my time because it deserves to be read a bit more closely. I am learning so many things about slavery and the world in the 1700s! Hopefully by next month I’ll be able to include it in the wrap up. I’m also still reading The Goldfinch with the book club and that will also be done by next month’s wrap up.

I read 3 books, didn’t buy any books, so I’m down to 100 books left in my TBR! XD

How did your reading go in February? What was your favorite book of the month?