Wednesday, April 8, 2015

2015: Another Man’s Moccasins (Walt Longmire #4) – Craig Johnson

After a disappointing third book (Kindness Goes Unpunished), Craig Johnson delivered an amazing follow-up in the series. We’re back in Wyoming. We’re back to our people. Peripheral characters are back in the line-up, and we have a few new people as well. Walt is a much better character in Wyoming than he was in Philadelphia. Also, Johnson was able to take pieces of a story I didn’t like and bring them to the table in Moccasins in a way that I could appreciate.

We have to deal with the fall out of the Walt-Vic rendezvous. We have to deal with Cady’s injury, and how that led to the relationship with Vic’s brother. These things set up a fine story, although we really don’t know much about how Michael and Cady’s relationship is going, because of the intensive nature of the case Walt worked on in the book. And this is where Johnson excelled – Walt’s past intersects with his present. Vietnam comes not only back to Walt’s mind, but shows up in his county.

It is no secret that Walt was in Vietnam; it’s just never been important until this installation. Through flashbacks of his time entering into law enforcement in Vietnam, we see not just glimpses of the old Walt, but also the old Bear and how even then they looked out for one another. Whereas Bear always seems to have been Bear; Walt appears to have matured quite a bit since the war. His natural intellect and strength are both found four decades apart, but his understanding of complicated matters has radically changed. He navigates things now that his younger self could not have done.

The shifting action from Vietnam to Wyoming was not as jarring as one might expect. The parallels between the situation and the case are not the strongest, but they do inform why Walt does what he does. The further Johnson develops the character of Walt the more it reinforces certain parts of who he is. Walt is a simple, educated man. However, he understands things that are quite complex. I think that is why Johnson relies so heavily on the chess metaphor throughout the series. Walt can see the board, but not quite as well as he can see the heart and the landscape. Also, his weekly chess match with Lucian helps unlock the case he works on.

Even with all of these things, my favorite part of Moccasins is this idea that Walt is better friends with the dead than he is with the living. The Native American spirituality that hangs around in the background is brought up again here. This time two men say that they see the spirits that surround Walt. One is Crow, the other is Caucasian (the people...not the spirits). This idea of spirits hanging around Walt is pretty fascinating, especially in that it is more a spiritual sense than a weird mystery type of situation.

Well, that and the other favorite thing was this quote: “I am not sure that confusing your mother with the timer on an electric coffeemaker denotes a great deal of mental stability.” Great. Classic writing.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

2015: The Warden and the Wolf King: Sea Dragons. A Desperate Quest. And the Final Battle for the Shining Isle. (The Wingfeather Saga Book 4) – Andrew Peterson

The Wingfeather Saga is now complete.  Peterson went unconventional with four books instead of the standard trilogy. All of the main characters are here, and there is just so much going on that it is hard to understand how all the pieces are going to tie together until all of a sudden it is wrapped up and Peterson thanks you for reading his series.

The Warden and the Wolf King is by far the best of the series. There are certainly some cliché moments that I will try and avoid for the sake of not spoiling anything. But even in the clichés, there is this understanding that there is no other way around it. The things that happen have to happen and they change the course of events in the books. In that regard it is easy to forgive Peterson. He at least did a great job of using those types of events to his own means and advantage.

The first thing I liked about this particular book was the structure. There are four distinct sections based on the four locations where action takes place. Instead of chronology what we have is the story of a region to its completion. That is a nice change of pace. Certain characters appear in-and-out of certain places because they are integral to the story, but overall you feel like the story of each locale is complete.

In this story each of the main characters really becomes who they were supposed to be. Where they were frail or weak, each of them becomes strong and determined. This is most seen in Kalmar who  as you can suspect from the title becomes the king he should be.

Instead of spoilers, let me comment on one thing that Peterson did a pretty good job with, and that is his incorporation of religion and spirituality. I say pretty good, because books 1-3 are scant with details, but book 4 hones in on the message. That made parts of his religious take frustrating. The Wingfeathers do not seem much the religious type until book 4. But in reality…who is?

Most people seem to understand this whole God thing better in the midst of things, not just in day-to-day life.  Religion comes to play in the end because for these people it really is what comes out of them. They are people of faith, not people of doubt. When the pressure was applied what emerged was an understanding that the divine was real. They may struggle against the divine or think that the Maker was doing things backwards, but they nonetheless believed the Maker was real.

And instead of presenting God in some black-and-white descriptions Peterson allows his characters to experience faith in the terms that Christians do. Characters say, “I don’t know how, but,” and “I know I will know what to do when the time comes,” as opposed to saying things like, “This is the truth no matter what and if you don’t believe you will die.” In other words, they deal with faith not rules and that is nice.

Wingfeather did not become my favorite series, but it did become a series I would gladly read again. It is wistful, it’s fast-paced and above all a story that both you and your kids can enjoy.

2015: The Slow Regard of Silent Things – Patrick Rothfuss

The Slow Regard of Silent Things is quite frankly an odd little book. I called my friend Byron to talk about it since he had read it previously and was the one to tell me about it. We not only discussed the book’s oddity, but Rothfuss’s defense of the book in an author’s note. Byron’s take on that was, “He’s basically saying if you don’t get it you’re not enlightened.” And I can certainly see that. What I got from the author’s note was, “I know this book doesn’t follow conventions, but I like for some reason…and so do a lot of my writer friends.” And that should tell you what type of book this is; this is the type of book where you start off talking about an author’s note about the book instead of the primary text itself. This is that kind of book.

So, beyond that, what type of book is this; where does it fit in my current reading? Let me start by saying this book concerns one of the characters from the Kingkiller Chronicles, but it really doesn’t have much of anything to do with the importance of the story (at least as far as I can tell…and I think it would be a stretch for Rothfuss to make this an important part of the storyline). This book is about Auri. She is the odd lady who lives under the university, not the warrior from book two (that is Tempi). She has a special relationship with Kvothe, and as Slow Regard reveals, she really is this odd little creature of a woman. She has problems, but she know she has problems. She does thinks in odd ways, but those ways are nonetheless orderly. And she above all understands and controls her world.

One of the reasons I connect with this book, is because it regards the relationships of inanimate objects. (Wait…you connect with that? Yes! Yes, I do.) As a kid I was always making sure my toys were with the right toys and that they had a good time. I name my musical instruments and cars and apologize to my current car when I do something stupid. I think there are lots of us who do those things. Sure, I know that this thing has no soul and no emotions, but sometimes when things like bad oil or gas affect the way my car runs, it seems like it has emotions. I’ve seen certain cars that seem to be temperamental. They only start a certain way, or do some other such thing.

That is Auri’s world. She is organizing the Underthing and has to make sure that everything has its place. She moves things from room-to-room and understands the relationships of that candle to that gear, and that piece of moss to the carpet. But the thing is she is also incredibly intelligent. She can do things like make her own candles, provide food for herself, make soap and basically understand how to keep things as they should be. So in that sense it was quite an interesting book, even if it is really odd and unconventional.

2015: The Monster in the Hollow: Sneakery. Betrayal. And the Deadly Secret of Chimney Hill. (The Wingfeather Saga, Book 3) – Andrew Peterson

Book 3 of Wingfeather was by far the slowest paced book so far in the series…except when it wasn’t. I finished one book I started after Wingfeather simply because this was a slower build-up, but moreso, because The Bark of the Bog Owl and A Wise Man’s Fear were really captivating. Had I known what the ending of The Monster in the Hollows would have been like, I might have shifted the order. The ending was so good I skipped books I was already reading to launch into the final book The Warden and the Wolf King. What I enjoyed most was the Tolkien-style launching into multiple stories at one time. Much of the story has surrounded Janner, but for a few brief chapters we started following Sara Cobbler. Just the small departure showed that Peterson was able to risk the formula for the development of the story, which I greatly appreciated.

Another enjoyable piece of this work was playing on the book title. Often times the book title can be cleverly found at a distinct part of the novel. Here it is played with throughout. Who or what is the monster? Is it that person? Is it this thing? Just when you are settled into your understanding of the monster it shifts because the basket your eggs were in just slowly unraveled…which is messy because now you only have your hands or maybe the bottom of your shirt to carry your eggs in.

The long, slow build-up of tension in the Green Hollows eventually led to a great ending by Peterson. He gives you puzzle pieces that you may have discounted as random facts until you start piecing together the ending. Oh that quirky thing that such and such character can do…yeah, it’s important and not trivial. Oh…that thing that you know happened, and you hated it…well, it was for a much bigger purpose than you ever could have anticipated. Without giving too much away it is fair to say that this is the emotionally satisfying and heartbreaking book of the series so far. It also holds a lot more angst as Janner grows into his identity and the other characters make similar strides.

One thing that I found difficult, although, if I were to be honest helped me understand Kalmar a little more were a few illustrations in the book. The illustration of Janner was a bit frustrating, but to see just how wolf-like Kalmar was helped inform the story. When kids tease him, and people gawk at Kalmar you begin to wonder just what he looks like. Seeing him illustrated helps you understand, “Oh my. You are basically a wolf that can walk on two legs.” This reminded me of my friend Julia when she told me she did not want to watch the Harry Potter movies. She had in her head a distinct visualization of the character that she did not want to adjust…I get that now.

My friends the Webbs told me that Wingfeather would become one of my favorite book series. After the first book I doubted, after the second I still doubted. After the third…I am starting to change my mind and look forward to the conclusion of the series.

2015: Kindness Goes Unpunished (Walt Longmire #3) – Craig Johnson

Kindness is easily the weakest of the first three of the Longmire series. Johnson weaves this crazy net of people. The problem is…they’re in Philadelphia…and I suspect that we’re going back to Wyoming for book 4 after a little bit of recovery time for Cady Longmire. In a sense this was a terrible introduction to the main touchpoint of Walt’s life…his daughter, and seemingly only remaining family. Although the story moved to Philadelphia for this book we still have Bear and Vic making important appearances. But some of the other characters we know are just given a brief “they still exist” line in the book.

I think Johnson understands murder as the primary source of crime material. Maybe that has something to do with the genre, maybe it has something to do with Walt. In this edition, Walt goes to Philadelphia with Bear. Bear has an art show, Walt needs to meet Cady’s new man. The problem is, the day he gets there (SPOILER ALRET) Cady is involved with an accident that is no accident that lands her in the ER. Vic’s family takes care of Walt. Bear of course helps,  but is busy with his own ventures.

So, in comes a new series of characters from Philadelphia. Most revolve around Vic. Her time on the force left their mark on everyone…also her dad is a big wig. The story boils down to this: lots of murders, and lots of “Walt you shouldn’t be doing anything, but you’re doing things. Stop doing things. Things will get you in trouble. Why aren’t you killed because of things?” So, in that sense we now have the trouble of a Wyoming sheriff being out of jurisdiction when it comes to his daughter’s attack.

What did I like about Kindness? Bear. I liked Bear. He is the steadfast character who Walt needs. I really like Bear. In case I am not clear yet…Bear is like a verifiable mancrush. Bear. BEAR!!!

Vic’s mom is also a great surprise. She is the perfect foil and companion for Walt in this novel.  Her brothers are also pretty great. I don’t really care about much else from this Philadelphia story except for one tidbit, but I’m gonna warn you to stop reading right here if you don’t want a MAJOR SPOILER!!!

Okay…you’re still here, so guess what…Walt and Vic have sex. That caught me way off guard. It also surprised me how Johnson wrote about sex. I suspected that if he ever approached the topic of Walt and sex it would be more inferring than, well, wowzers writing a steamy little love story what enough descriptors that you know HOW they are having sex. So…that happened. I think it will be interesting to know how that plays out back home. Does this mess with Walt? Does it mess with Vic? Does anyone else know or even need to know? I think it is one of the best plot points for the series to come out of the book, along with what I assume to be Cady moving home (since she appears in the television series).

So…that is Kindness. Will I still read Book 4? Most certainly. They just might get bumped from a small let down here…and because I am starting a doctoral program and need to start on those books!

2015: A Wise Man’s Fear: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day 2 – Patrick Rothfuss

As entertaining and engaging as I found The Name of the Wind, A Wise Man’s Fear actually surpassed it. The scope is larger, the long introduction of Kvothe is unnecessary, so the story can unfold a little more quickly. The second book in the series actually guides you in the direction of better questions to ask than the first. It is easier to know which characters to invest in, and you begin to see change and growth beyond Kvothe himself.

Rothfuss is a talented writer no doubt, and from what I have gleaned outside the books he really enjoys the community of his readership. He is till touring A Wise Man’s Fear and his third book, The Slow Regard of Silent Things, which focuses on Auri instead of Kvothe. He is promoting the work of other author’s in the same vein of writing; and he has a mind to make positive change in the world. I think in that regard I forgive the wait for the final book of the series knowing that it will be far in the future.

What makes book 2 stand apart is some of the self-awareness of Kvothe. He understands things about himself that inform the text and story. When he reflects back he has a “little did I know” care toward his own actions. This book also introduces readers to two new cultures within the book. The handspeak of the Adem is a reminder of our own world that we make all share humanity, but culturally we can be light years away.

The Adem are such different people; different than Kvothe, who is Edema Ruh; they think him a “whore,” because of the way he uses and shares his words. Whereas as a culture, they have no problem with sleeping with whoever they want, whenever they want to. And also for all the advanced thought and understanding they have of the world they do not believe that men are involved in the production of children and mock Kvothe for such belief. I think this is where Rothfuss shows intelligence in his writing. Too often the thoughtful, meditative culture is seen as far superior to all other cultures. Here however they are short-sighted and mistaken about important, even elementary things.

As I mentioned above the second book leads to important questions that are different from questions I might have asked after the first question. Although we are still left wondering what king he killed, we are also now wondering at Denna’s patron, what happened after the University, does Kvothe become an arcanist and much more. As I mentioned above it will be a long while before these questions are answered. However, I look forward to the way Kvothe tells the tale. I also look forward to learning more of Bast and the Chronicler as their pasts have mysteriously been silent. I don’t know that I will read this entire 1,000 page book again before the next book, but doubt that I need to as the story Rothfuss has begun was told so well that I remember it quite well.

2015: The Bark of the Bog Owl: The Wilderking Trilogy – Jonathan Rogers

I have mixed feelings toward The Bark of the Bog Owl. In one sense I obviously enjoyed the book since I devoured it quite quickly. The other part of me just found the storytelling a bit lacking and even heavy-handed. Part of this has to do with it being a children’s book, another has to do with being a rather dramatic telling of the story of King David from the Old Testament, albeit a very loose telling. I think one of the more difficult things to swallow with Bark is the incongruence of pretty archaic lifestyles and tanks. Where did the tanks come from?

Those kinds of thing really get to me in a story. Whenever a world is established you tend to know the rules that accompany it. If the story is modern you know the world is like you are currently experiencing. If the world is future you know the writer is freedom to do all sorts of crazy things. If the story is Victorian they need to follow through with certain conventions. But then Rogers introduces tanks, or at the very least cannons to the biblical world. That was just strange.

It is also strange for a 12-year old to be a nearly unflawed hero. Aiden just does not really make mistakes and I don’t get that. I also don’t get how his brothers just jump from railing the guy about being the king to honoring him as such. There are other leaps too as this group of people all of a sudden aid their normal enemies without any warning. There is some allusion to why they did it, but it is not well explained.

These are the things that bother me with Bark. It’s not that the story isn’t compelling…it is. It’s not that overall his writing is sloppy…it’s not. It’s simply that Rogers ignores certain conventions that readers take for granted and you have to stop in the middle of a story and ask, “How did they come up with the technology for tanks, let alone the technology to transport the tanks to an island, and how did a 12-year old figure out how to destroy them when a whole ton of adults were thinking, ‘Oh no…we’re going to die!!!’” That makes for difficulties to give a ring endorsement.

All of that said, will I read the second book? Yes. I believe I have already even purchased it. Rogers knows how to retell this story in such a way that I know generally what to expect, but have no idea how he is going to present it or bring about solution. So far we have the prophet proclaiming him the king and we have Goliath gone. That is where we leave off. I look forward to battles, and Bathsheba and Jonathan, and the mighty men, but don’t know exactly how Rogers will bring those things about, which is to his credit that he is not just going to lift the text and try to present it as fresh. This is where Rogers surpasses a lot of “Christian writers” who do not display the originality that he does.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

2015: Death without Company (Walt Longmire, #2) – Craig Johnson

Unlike the introductory novel, The Cold Dish, Johnson is now working with some established characters. Sure, there are plenty of new people to introduce, but the core of the first novel is back: Walt, Vic, Ruby, Ferg, Lucian, the Bear, Dog, they’re all here. The new novel plays with the idea that this many murders in this little time means maybe it is time for Walt to retire. This is a small county in Wyoming, the least populated as well. Yet, here we are a few months removed from the action of the last book and there is another murder investigation. Most people seem to think it is actually a matter of old age, but Lucian claims this is murder. And as a favor to the old sheriff Walt actually investigates.

What I like about Death without Company is that the characters are consistent. There are no new surprises coming our way as readers. Walt is very Walt. Bear is very Bear. Ferg is very absent. Lucian is very ornery. This is not a scenario where the characters are doing something that seems uncharacteristic. Vic is not all of a sudden this sweet lady trying to get some guy’s attention. Ruby is not all of a sudden withdrawn. It makes for a stable universe. Johnson wrote these characters to be consistent. The world may be changing, but the characters are the same. Also, a few people are introduced that might be easy to draw in in the future. You have doctors, people who do autopsies, the staff at the nursing home. There are plenty of people that you now know that Johnson can draw upon in the future, which is important if there are going to be a lot more crimes in the series. You can’t claim to have a small population with murders every week. You eventually run out of people.

I also like that the theme of Walt's healing remains present. Henry isn’t harping on Walt to get in shape, but at one point Walt laments that he wishes he had been running more lately. There is another lady interested in Walt. Walt's house continues to be repaired. The themes from the first book carry through and are not just left hanging out in space. The relationships between people are real. There are also a couple of new characters introduced that can bring some depth to the story. Sancho and Double Tough seem like interesting contrasts to Walt, Vic and Ferg on the force. Lana, if she stays around is a really interesting character. In other words Johnson is not doing too much too fast, but letting Durant unfold while presupposing that Walt has been here most of his life. It is also interesting to finally meet Cady, Walt’s daughter. She barely figures into the story, but she is back home.

Finally, I love the way Johnson plays with mysticism. It is really an interesting take to have a White man communing with Native American spirits in a way that is typically not seen in popular culture. I look forward to seeing how this plays out in the future. Overall, I really liked the book. I plan on reading the third in the series. As I look ahead, Johnson’s novels are well liked by critics and fans alike. That is promising as I agree with their assessments.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

2015: North! Or Be Eaten: Wild escapes. A desperate journey. And the ghastly Fangs of Dang. (The Wingfeather Saga Book 2) - Andrew Peterson

Like I did with the first books in each of these series I started Books 2 for Longmire, The Wingfeather Saga and The Kingkiller Chronicles at the same time. Unlike the first time it was the Wingfeather Saga that captured my attention causing me to complete it first. The great part about finishing it was that this week Betsy and I are hosting the Webb family, who introduced me to the series. The first night they were in we all sat around saying which actor we thought should play each character. It made Betsy want to read the series.

What I love about Wingfeather is the fast-paced action. There is swift movement from conflict to conflict. What I hate about Wingfeather is the fast-paced action. There is swift movement from conflict to conflict. With Lord of the Rings and Chronicles of Narnia there is time for reflection, both for you and for the characters. In Wingfeather the characters learn on the go. Which, seeing that typed here makes me realize, that is more like us. We learn on the go in our busy lives. But it seems much easier to sit, go through seasons of inaction and learn from our success and failures.

What else do I like about Wingfeather? I like the primary team of characters. I like that there are characters that pop in and out of the story. Unlike Kingkiller where you do not know who to invest in, if the person has a name in Wingfeather it is worth remembering. You never know when and where they might show up again. I also like that characters you think you know have these backstories you might never guess. You know the characters, but you find out things about them that may surprise you that they did, but you can totally believe.

Again, like the first book I have to say that I love the healing power of music in the series. I also like the importance of story and memory. These are the threads of so many societies, yet overlooked by a culture that likes facts and consumable information. There is something unlocked in stories and songs that evoke emotive response to diffuse situations. That is not something that you see a lot these days, or at least I don’t.

The second book was quite a bit stronger than the first and I look forward to reading books three and four. The Webb kids let me know that there are new characters to look forward to, but luckily the conversation was so fast that I don’t remember who they are or where they might creep up. I don’t know if Peterson is someone that matured as a writer as he went, or if his intention was to write for someone like his daughter where themes could grow and deepen as she aged. Either way if the next two books grow in the same way, they should be outstanding.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

2015: Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith - Barbara Brown Taylor

First, let me state a couple of disclaimers:

I am not at a crisis of faith
I am not planning on leaving the Church
This book isn’t massaging some deep-ridden angst (well, maybe it is, but like THAT)
This book isn’t what it seems
Some of you would love this book

Okay. Now that is out of the way. I loved Leaving Church. It was a slow read. It’s one of those books like Becoming Human by Jean Vanier that you just have to read something and mull it over for a while. I probably highlighted this book more than I did the rest of the books I have read this year combined. Granted, this is a theology book, not fiction, so that lends itself to that.

What else do I say? I read this book after reading the blog of Jonathan Martin. He mentioned Leaving Church a few times. As I was trying to read a little more diversely this year, and as I had a gift card to Amazon I ordered the book. It took me a while to connect with Taylor. That is not because of her style; she is actually quite pleasant to read. She is this odd combination of being breezy and heavy at the same time. She swings her pen and you feel a breeze that both cools your face and pushes you back at the same time if that makes any sense whatsoever.

So, what is Leaving Church about? If I had to sum it up I guess I would say, an autobiographical critique of the way that vocation often destroys good people. Taylor was and is someone who loves God. She is someone who is incredibly gifted, particularly at teaching about things such as God and religion. She is someone who does relationships really well and did ministry for nigh on 20 years. But she is also someone who nearly lost her soul to the Church. I know that is a bold statement, but that is what I get from reading this work. Taylor, a woman who learned to connect with God with her back on the grass in a field in Kansas, found her way through college and seminary into serving God in His Church, only to find that the way that we approach ministry in the confines of the Church actually caused her to lose sight of God and instead live in a world that presented checklists for what pastors do. She lost her true self and became less human by becoming a pastor and found herself again when she finally entered a different vocation.

Taylor’s critique is poignant. She writes the experience that so many of my friends have had. The Church has become a systematized beast instead of a symbiotic gathering of mismatched people that somehow grow to love God and each other. I think that is something that needs to be considered from all sides, and Taylor’s book is a great place to start that discussion.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

2015: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness: Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree. (The Wingfeather Saga Book 1) - Andrew Peterson

I was talking with my friend Matt Webb about my plans for reading this year. He told me to stop whatever I was reading and read the Wingfeather Saga. He said it would be the best thing I read this year. And though that did not turn out to be the case, it was a pretty good little book. I like the way Andrew Peterson plays with words; I like the way that music has power; I like the way that unlikely characters have unlikely pasts that have put them in unlikely positions and unlikely relationships.

Peterson followed many of the rules that you are supposed to with a good fantasy series. We have a parent who is a dead, we have someone at risk so they have to leave home, we have a hidden treasure, we have named and unnamed villains. We have all of these things that produce a mystery as to what the heck is going on and why this story should interest us at all. When I read the story I thought it was written by a 9 year old. I think that persuaded me to keep pressing through what were some childish types of storytelling. It turns out he was in twenties, but just writing a youth fiction novel.

The reality is that the book is a little like Harry Potter, it grows. The language and the themes mature and it is a different novel at the end than it was in the beginning. The ending actually makes me excited to begin the second book, and the characters are living more into who they were called to be than they ever knew they would be.

I think what I like most about the series is that the hero(es) are not these robust, confident men and women that stumble into great destinies. These kids actually have a lot of help and for all but the last pages of the first book they have no idea who they really even are. In that regard you tend to get annoyed with certain attributes, but you slowly realize, or maybe remember, your heroes are 9, 11 and 12. So young! This isn’t the teenager or even young adult awaking to realize that they have been wasting life. These are school-age kids, not even to puberty yet who find themselves in the midst of something they could not survive without others.

The Wingfeather Saga is something that interests me now. It is also interesting to now realize that the writer is also a musician who produces music that gets played on the Christian music stations. I think that may open up some interesting themes in the future of the story.

2015: The Name of the Wind: The Kingkiller Chronicle: Day One - Patrick Rothfuss

 The third book I finished this year was the first in Rothfuss’s series The Kingkiller Chronicles. I started it about the same time I started Longmire. I finished Longmire and started reading Sherman Alexie and both of those just hit their stride before The Name of the Wind. That said, it was absolutely worth the set up to get to the story that Rothfuss had to tell. The book itself is about unfolding the true story behind the legends of a man named Kvothe. The concept is pretty fun. A storyteller has encountered the one man who can actually set the story straight.

The voice switches between Kvothe telling his story and the interruption of daily life surrounding him. Once Kvothe begins telling the story, I would like to say that it takes off. But the truth is the early part of his story, like the early part of any of our stories is not enthralling. There are big important things that happen, but this part of the story was just setting up for the important things to come. Where Rothfuss excels here is having Kvothe reveal insight that comes upon reflection of his life. He can see where certain things prepared him for next stages. He can also see where he was wrong and the influence of relationships looking backward.

One of the difficult things for me as a reader was that Kvothe remembers so many details that there are a lot of names of people. In most of my past reading anyone with a name was worth remembering. That certainly is not the way of things here. It is hard to figure out who exactly is worth remembering and why. I found myself investing myself in characters that just disappeared. And although that is a bit annoying, I guess, reflecting on it…that is part of life. We invest our lives into people that simply go away.

I will say that from the outset I expected to enjoy the book, but held in my mind I might be disappointed. My brother-in-law Tom told me I needed to read the book. Others said it was really good. I tend to have a predisposition to be disappointed in things that others like. I think it is the side of me that wants to be snooty and pretentious. But the problem is Rothfuss is a good writer. My BIL and my friends were right. This is just a well done story. Once you figure out who to invest in the story, it starts to take shape a little more.

This particular book is probably my favorite of the new four books I have read this year. That said, I will probably finish some other books I have going and maybe read a quick Longmire book, before I finish and start the next book. I think I want time to just sit with it and be ready to let myself be immersed in the story when the time comes.

Monday, January 12, 2015

2015: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian – Sherman Alexie

One of the things I was committed to in 2015 was to read more diversely. I am pretty niche – high fantasy and theology. But even within those genres I still read relatively few women and probably fewer who aren’t white. I became aware of Sherman Alexie as the screenwriter for the film Smoke Signals. I had thought several times that I might want to check out his writing, but never seemed to find the time. So, in that context, I picked up The Absolutely True Diary of Part-Time Indian not knowing it was actually Young Adult fiction.

Now if you know me you know I actually like some young adult fiction. There is a lot of good stuff in that category these days. From the Hunger Games to Harry Potter and from what I hear Divergent and Eragon, there is just a lot to celebrate there. How does Diary compare to these books? I think it holds its own. Sure, there is no magic like Harry Potter, sure there is no survival like Hunger Games, and sure there is no whatever it is that Divergent and Eragon do.

What you have instead is this comedic portrayal of Arnold Spirit, Jr. who discovers that in order to leave the cycles of poverty and despair at the Rez, he has to leave the Rez for school. The diary however is not just comedy, but does a great job of describing the plight of Native Americans stuck in alcoholism and poverty, because they were set up for failure. Beyond that it also has deep emotional resonance. Without giving anything away there are moments that you are pained for Arnold; Alexie writes in a way that you want to reach out and grab his shoulder and tell him that everything is going to be okay.

Alexie is equal parts prophet and comedian in this work. Everything is told in the words of a 14-year old who is probably a little too mature for his age. But because of his relentless optimism and tenacity he takes on some of the worst situations imaginable. What I like about this story though is that things change him; they do not defeat him, but they mark a change in the way that he understands life. There is growth over the course of this one man’s freshman year of high school.

So, who she read this book? Probably anyone who wants a good laugh or enjoys young adult fiction. Maybe those that really enjoy stories about first nation characters. I personally think that it would be best for those who just want to love a character for a weekend. I somehow read it in a weekend, because I just wanted to know how Arnold was going to tackle the next thing. And that was a very good thing!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

2015: The Cold Dish (Walt Longmire, #1) – Craig Johnson

Oddly the first book I finished of 2015 was not in fact theology or high fiction, but the first in the Longmire series. It was surprisingly well written. I mean that in the sense of having never been a fan of crime books/movies before. Walt Longmire is a great protagonist. Standing Bear is a great number two, as is Vic. Johnson did his job by surprising me with the murderer (I told you it was a crime book!). Although I had seen the first episode and remembered specifically it was not two people that they wanted you to believe, I could not remember exactly who it was.

What The Cold Dish does well is set the scene for the series. But it could have stood alone without much trouble. The history adds up. These are real people. There are real expectations for them. I think I appreciated a lot of the banter and development strictly because I am from a small town. I know what it’s like to know everyone and have an inkling of who could pull off something like a 500-yard shot down to 10 people. In that regard I really enjoyed the book.

Johnson did however make me wonder about the Native Americans in the book. I do not know many Native Americans. I don’t know that this captures them well in their speech patterns and stoicism. I don’t know that it does a good job of capturing their mysticism. But it certainly makes for fascinating story.

I found myself already recommending this book to a couple of people and that was even before I finished it. I think the way that Johnson writes is the perfect combination of descriptive, narrative, action and pause. I didn’t feel rushed to read it, but I enjoyed reading it. As the book carried on, I wanted less and less distraction to finish it. In that way it is a great story. You want to know.

In one crucial scene, even though I knew the end (because I had seen the TV show) I knew how it would turn out, but I still felt the tension that Johnson intended. That is good writing. To know, “Hey this is how that turns out” and to still wonder “Maybe they changed it from the book…because this HAS TO HAPPEN,” is a pretty remarkable feeling.

Overall I could see myself picking up the entire series. It is that well done. I think the exploration of Henry’s four-prong plan – Fix your house, fix your body, get you a woman and find you some spirituality will probably remain a focus through the series. The spirituality is already the interesting portion to me in terms of the Spirits that are already guiding Walt.

Not a bad start to the year.