Monthly Archives: March 2017

Mistborn Hero of the Ages part one by Ben Weber

It has been a while since I have posted on the blog, this being because there was no time to type it up. It is not that I have not been reading, but I have just not been writing words. So for the second independent reading book I chose the sequel to the first book I posted about. This new book is Mistborn The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson. The book is based on the same characters as the last book, just now there is a ultimate power released and the world is about to end. Yada yada yada stuff like that. With all of this going on the tone of this book should really be dark and depressing. Cough cough like Barton’s posts cough. Though Sanderson does a writing technique that not only lightens the mood, but also gets the reader to laugh. This technique is humor.

As the readers of the blog you may be thinking “How is Sanderson going to slip in humor into a book about the world ending”. Well it is quite easy, because this isn’t your normal everyday chicken crossing the road humor. This is dark and dry humor the type of humor that if you’re not looking for it you’re going to miss the joke. For example, the scenario is the major kingdoms in the land are meeting together to talk about how their people aren’t going to starve. Normally in this situation I would feel very nervous about the outcome this is until this was said, “[Breeze] sat with Allrianne as far away from Cett as the tent would allow. Cett still had a habit of throwing things at Breeze: insults, for the most part, and occasionally knifes.” (Sanderson 106). When I first read this I skipped the fact that this was said. Then, since this was at the top of the page, when I got to the bottom of the page I realized what was said. This broke the tension with what was happening in the scene, but brought to life the funny quirks in the people in the room.

Another example of this is when Elend, Vin’s husband, and Vin are talking about the past and Elend says,”’Oh, come on. You have to admit that you’re unusual Vin. You’re like some strange mixture of a noblewoman, a street urchin, and a cat. Plus, you’ve managed — in our short three years together — to kill not only my god, but my father, my brother, and my fiancee. That’s kind of like a homicidal hat trick.’” (Sanderson 239). This scenario was not in a depressing mode, and was more blatantly obvious, but was still one of Sanderson’s style of jokes. Dan Michtom who is the person who suggested the book series to me showed this to me while I was reading the first book. Even though I did not understand the context I still enjoyed the joke and I’m sure you did too. All of Sanderson’s jokes are relatable, and that is why I think they loosen the mood so easily. Well I mean I hope that no one has killed their husbands god, fiancee, father, and brother, but you get that him telling her that she is a cat and odd is relatable.  In a world where large behemoths and slaughter are on many pages something that is close to home like a hat trick or insults make the world more relatable. When reading you are in a state of enjoyment this enjoyment and transfers over to the novel.

So going after Barton’s blog posts I finally wrote about the depressing parts of a world dieing. Well in my own way. Instead of talking about the depressing topics I talked about how the book dealt with the depressing topics. So far the book is really enjoyable, though long. I am excited to start the second half, and look forward to writing about it, and I have to encourage you once again to read Sanderson book even with its dark humor.

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An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

 

Part 1

In need of a new book, I asked my friend for a quick recommendation and she gave me this. I admit, having wanted to continue my Terry Pratchett marathon but not having time to order the next book, I had pretty low expectations going into this, but was pleasantly surprised. I cannot put this book down.

An Ember in the Ashes, at a glance, is yet another YA dystopian novel, but it absolutely does not read like one, and I cannot emphasize that enough. At every chapter, it has blown away my expectations. It throws the reader straight into the world without any intro, and does a fantastic job of building a complex world without pausing the plot. The story switches between the point of view of Laia, a teenage girl living in a community recently conquered by the Empire, and Elias, a 20 year old boy who is graduating as one of the most ruthless, elite lines of soldiers known to the Empire, but wants no part in it. Without elaborating and spoiling the plot too much, Laia, in order to save her family, goes undercover as a slave to the cruel and heartless commandant of Elias’ training camp.

This book is remarkable for a number of reasons, but mainly for its realism when it comes to war. While its intent is not to shock or horrify and gruesome descriptions and situations are avoided, nothing is sugarcoated. Laia’s fear and hardships as a slave are notably worse than the typical YA protagonist. Meanwhile, the soldiers are more or less realistically humanized- evil to varying extents, but still human with human motives and emotions. The organized resistance against the Empire is equally complex, as it is never quite clear what their methods are and how effective they are, or where exactly their morals stand. It is clear that many people who trusted the resistance have been hurt, however. Was their sacrifice for the greater good, or were they wasted? I look forward to learning more.

The only character who seems inhuman is the Commandant. Her cruelty extends over her slaves, students, and especially her son, and she seems to have no redeeming factors. Perhaps this is merely for an old-fashioned hero/villain effect. After all, throughout the book I feel reassured that neither protagonist will die, as they seem to have so much left to do. In the complexity and realism of the book, it does make for a nice, steadying factor, and who knows? It is quite possible I’ll learn more about her later. However, I wonder if there is another reason for her simplicity?

***Minor Spoilers below***

 

One element of the book that has been recently introduced is the presence of magical beings, and I very much admire how they feel part of the story and not like an add on, as their influence is hinted at throughout the beginning of the book. It has been recently been revealed that, MAJOR SPOILER: [the Commandant has been in communication with Ghuls, who are magical and evil creatures. I wonder if their influence is what turned her rotten to the core?]

***end spoilers***

I very much look forward to seeing how the plot evolves. There is much room for character development, as well as many aspects about their world neither the characters nor the reader have been fully introduced to yet. While the plot seems more or less set up for a happy, satisfying conclusion, the road to get there is still unclear. Romance also seems an inevitable part of the novel, but both Elias and Laia have more important things to worry about at the moment, which is refreshing. It is also unclear with whom the protagonists will end up with. They’ve had little interactions with each other, but do seem drawn to one another, although they each seem to have their own, separate love interest as well. Wherever this novel goes, I’m eager to continue reading.

 

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Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters

The first thing that strikes me about the novel is it’s modern day presence. The book is set in an alternate present where the civil war never occurred and slavery still thrives in many states. The racism and discrimination is still just as tenacious as it was in the 20th century, but the advancements in technology and the overall progressiveness of the contemporary world creates a whole new spectrum to observe human bias. The plot revolves around a young African American man named Victor who’s occupation is ironic in the most terrible way. He is a bounty hunter, searching around the country for blacks who have escaped their plantations. Victor was once himself a plantation worker as a child and his mind is still scarred with the pain, so one would think he would have sympathy for the runaways, but he has developed a hard shell of hate to cover himself from any outlying feelings.

Victor’s character development is masterfully created through Winter’s writing style and tone. Within the first chapter, I felt like I had known Victor and his struggle for years. Victor’s current assignment is to capture a runaway simply known as “Jackdaw”. Victor is given a file with a picture of the mans face and thinks to himself, “Jackdaw was a handsome man, almost perversely handsome, like when you see a movie star playing a tramp or a wastrel and the face is not so familiar but also so obviously well cared for, and it just doesn’t ring true” (Winters 41). It’s this kind of unique simile and writing that makes the novel so intriguing and enjoyable. It also continues the theme of judgment that constantly circulates through the pages.

Winters attempted a challenging task when he wrote this novel about the changing dynamics and attitudes towards race. The balance and complexities of the issue are not easily written, however in this particular piece Winters is able to convey his feelings on the topic with ease. In the interactions between characters, he creates tension and understanding a pivotal role in the progression of the story. Common stereotypes are played out among characters to show the divide between races, such as when Victor sarcastically says to a white man, “We got fried chicken and watermelon from room service” (Winters 55). Victor is sort of an outcast in the fact that he hunts other blacks down for money. He has a keen perspective of life surrounding race, but has no intension of changing or challenging the way things are. While sitting in a hotel, he describes a, “Young white mother with her black son, trying to live in the world. This world” (Winters 25). The boy then walks over to him and begins to read the newspaper with Victor, which prompts him to wonder, “nobody had told him not to talk to strangers. Maybe black strangers were ok” (Winters 26). The racial divide is prominent in the country and in Victor’s personal life, yet he has secluded himself from all caring.

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The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett part 2

Towards the end of the book, the characters face final challenges, and their newfound enemies are a commentary on hateful people who resort to scapegoating and violence out of fear. The way Pratchett writes the characters is fascinating and thought provoking, and it manages to be serious despite the whimsical humor going on around it. When the main characters approach a gathering mob, they hear the silence that comes when, “hundreds of frightened and angry people are standing very still” and then a voice sails over the cloud, questioning magic and the gods and calling for ‘cleansing.’ The narrator writes, “The voice didn’t believe in gods, which in Rincewind’s book was fair enough, but it didn’t believe in people either,” and then death appears on the scene. Rincewind tells him he must be having a good day, but death shakes his head. He tells him he understands the death of a warrior, young child, or old man, but does not, “understand this death-of-the-mind.”

The characters escape the mobs, and it seems the danger has passed, but in the final battle of the book they encounter a man possessed not by demons, but things described only as, ‘things.’ The things are far worse than evil, “People were craving order, and order they would get… All the demons in Hell would torture your soul, but that was precisely because they valued souls very highly…those empty eyes would trample and destroy without even according its victims the dignity of hatred. It wouldn’t even notice them” (248).

I find it amazing that in this strange and whimsical book, Pratchett can write such insightful and pointed messages about the real world. He shows the mobs as they truly are: ordinary people who, faced with fear and desperation, became very very dangerous and hateful. He comments on the terribleness of this, but makes a point that so much worse is when this violence and hate become institutionalized and impersonal.

I have a great admiration for Terry Pratchett, both for his fascinating stories with spectacular mastery of language, and now for his awareness of real world issues as well.

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The Light Fantastic by Terry Pratchett part 1

To preface this post: Terry Pratchett has become my all time favorite author. He could write a dictionary and I would read it cover to cover.

Now, granted, his plots are fascinating. In all the books I’ve read so far, the main character has been a kind of unlikely or accidental hero, being a fairly average person who picks and chooses where their* morals lie, tending to lie in the gray area. In The Light Fantastic, that character is a wizard (wizards being morally gray by definition) who was kicked out of wizard university due to reading the spell book equivalent of the bible and having a mysterious, potentially dangerous and very powerful slightly sentient spell jump out and nestle in his head. Somehow, he finds himself working as a tour guide to a rich but dangerously trusting man and nearly misses death time and time again.

As interesting as this plot may be, the true reason I love Pratchett is his remarkable mastery of language. Before reading his writing, I never imagined someone could craft such witty and funny, yet unexpected commentary without feeling forced or random. Likewise, his metaphors and similes have an almost musical quality to them, coming to life on the page, hopping into your head to not just painting a picture, but carving a sculpture. For example, he described a passing spell passing through someone “as light as a thought” and mentioned once a quiet sound, “like a mouse’s heart breaking.” 

Like I said, if Pratchett wrote a dictionary, I would pour over every syllable. 

The Light Fantastic is interesting and funny, but it isn’t really a story, more of an experience. The main characters are protected from danger by plot, and I would never imagine anything south of melancholy appearing on the page. Likewise, the only messages I’ve gotten from the books so far are to be open to new experiences and enjoy adventures such as the one the books take you on. Again and again, they explore the world Terry Pratchett creates, with the perfect mix of new and familiar encounters. Finally, the lack of chapters means that the story never stops, just like in real life.

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Boy 30529 by Felix Weinberg-Part 2

The second part of this memoir directly contrasts with the first part due to their differing tones and settings which cast a dark shadow over the entirety of the novel. This is sadly what Felix had to go through when experiencing these dark times in the concentration camps. I thought he was able to communicate this sudden transition from happy childhood days to the war in a shaky way, adding to the horrific, mysteriousness of his war-time experiences. He was able to show this through the changes in setting and tone. An example of this drastic refinement involved him, his brother, and mother being taken from their home and sent to a ghetto. This was the start of a many year journey where Felix was constantly at death’s door, as he jumped from camp to camp.

Due to his continuous fight for survival, Felix Weinberg taught me and most likely himself that you must not give up in times of adversity. This theme is present throughout many World War 2 movies and novels including my favorite, Saving Private Ryan. These two works involve characters going through hardships in order for a common goal which is ultimately to survive. This tests both the physical and mental sides of human beings.

This message is engraved throughout the entirety of Felix Weinberg’s memoir in his message to raise awareness for the obscenities of war. Not only were the treatment of citizens and prisoners-of-war awful (as stated by Felix) but also the setting of their imprisonment. Many of the camps where Felix was forced to stay such as Terezin, Auschwitz, and Birkenau were some of the worst places imaginable. Little food, disease, and groundbreaking labor were only a couple out of the many indecency’s present at these places of perdition. This is where the true amazement of Felix Weinberg’s experiences take place. Through his vivid imagery and word choice he was able to pinpoint the struggles of his period at these camps and show what constant torture and pain he had to undergo.

After his time at the camps (as you can see he managed to survive) he was able to reunite with his father who was living in England. This was a big surprise to me since after watching and reading many stories about World War 2 I expected for their to be a sad ending (in death). But ironically it was somewhat of a happy one. I guess this does come with a setback though due to the large amounts of deaths Felix had to experience throughout this ghastly war. Throughout Felix Weinberg’s memoir, he was able to use imagery, figurative language, and suspense to describe the horrors of the war. This is why I would rate it a 9/10.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Boy 30529 By Felix Weinberg-First Half

First Half

Boy 30529. Despite the vague, unassuming title this book is a narrative from the point of view of a Holocaust survivor, Felix Weinberg. So far in the first half of the book he has been able to capture his childhood and the events leading up to the concentration camps as times of both love and excitement which then transitions to sadness and despair. But in his childhood, Felix was able to capture the setting, his hometown located in Czechoslovakia and describe his many experiences from Saturday markets to his school days. The author was able to capture this in a happy yet, nondescript way. Also the fact that he referenced many cultural aspects of his former childhood home established thoughts of uniqueness. This is the reason why Nazi Germany goes to war with Czechoslovakia and many other countries due to their differences which is what Felix Weinberg describes intently.

Along with building up the setting of his memoir, Felix Weinberg used different characters to establish his tone within the story. He introduced his brother who was very essential to his short childhood and also his parents who treated him with love and care. They were very wealthy at this time so Felix along with his brother were given the opportunity to travel to various locations across Europe. This introduced unity within Felix’s family, one distinct aspect that became very important to him in the future. But at times throughout his childhood he proved to be very independent which is not at all surprising in my opinion. Mr Weinberg was able to contrast both his independence and family experiences as a way to show his varied personality. This proved to be very important in the future when he had to fully rely on his independence to survive in Nazi concentration camps.

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