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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-02-09 01:36
The Terror, by Dan Simmons
The Terror - Dan Simmons

I love feeling like I've been taken on a journey when I read, and this book spans years, multiple character perspectives, and the wasteland that is the arctic. I wouldn't call it a "saga," but by the end I couldn't believe where I ended up given where I started.


The Terror is based on the lost Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage in the 1840s. Given evidence later found at the sites where the expedition was known to have been, all the crew likely died, from scurvy, starvation, and lead poisoning, in addition to ailments like tuberculosis (not known to be contagious at the time) and pneumonia. Yet most remains were never found, while others were amazingly well preserved in the ice.


This means that going into the novel, you know most or all of the characters will die. But you can't help but get attached to particular characters, to hope for their survival, and to lament their deaths. I had to pause my reading a few times because I was so upset at the course of events.


Simmons invents around the known facts, his chief invention being a monster that hunts and kills many of the crew, on the ice and even on their ships. You don't know exactly what this monster is; the characters mostly assume it's a polar bear, but it's too clever and malicious. The monster has a mysterious connection to an Inuit (Esquimaux) girl who's been taken in (or imprisoned) by the crew. By the end of the novel, all is made clear, and the most surprising thing is that the monster is less an invention of the author's than it would seem.


In addition to the "heroes" of the story, there are definite villains. In particular, one caulker's mate who is referred to as a "sea lawyer." He sows discord, is manipulative...and fucks other men. For a time it concerned me that those traits were associated with one another, given a history in pop culture of gay characters being villains. But later two other queer characters' perspectives are explored, a younger and older man who were in love, had a relationship on shore, and are now good friends who rarely get to see one another during the voyage. For me this mostly counteracts the idea of queerness as associated with villainy.


My only other concern with the storytelling was Captain Crozier's "second sight," which felt like it came out of nowhere. I know we're supposed to assume that his alcoholism for much of the story has blocked it, but some sort of foreshadowing would have been appreciated (though I wouldn't rule out the possibility that I missed some).


This book was suspenseful, funny, sad, violent, and thrilling. Above all, I thought about the actual human beings who made the voyage and died on the ice looking for something they only accidentally may have found.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2015-05-05 20:24
The Stand - Stephen King

My favorite part of this gigantic King novel is the beginning: seeing how the superflu wipes out humanity and how the remaining characters survive and come together. After that, things got dicey for me. So much time is spent in the Free Zone that I wondered what was happening in Vegas, and when we got to Vegas in the last part, things were already falling apart. There's such a build up of some storylines that I think it was hard to make them pay off (perhaps the slimmer version of the novel worked better in that regard). Nadine's story in particular ended rather abruptly, and she was one of the more fascinating characters. In addition, Flagg is felt to be such a huge threat, but in the last part his power is already fading, and you know things will basically work out all right. I suppose pacing in general didn't work for me in the second half. By the end, what unfolds feels anti-climactic, and Stu and Tom's journey home dragged.


The other central beef I had with the book was the characters. I can't say I had a favorite or cared overly much for particular characters. Women in particular are generally given short shrift and stereotypical roles. I liked Dayna, the spy, but she's killed off quickly. Otherwise, the game ends up being in the hands of men, whose characters develop noticeably over the course of the narrative. I wish more post-apocalypse stories resembled The Walking Dead, where women aren't relegated to being only mothers or victims.


There were moments and sequences where I was thoroughly engaged, excited, horrified, frightened, but not enough for me to love this book. I don't read as much King as I used to, but I always wanted to read this one. I'm glad I finally did despite not liking the book as much as I'd anticipated.


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text 2015-03-11 18:39
Reading progress update: I've read 8%.
The Stand - Stephen King

I'm basically familiar with the plot and characters from seeing the miniseries, but, big book that it is, I'm enjoying getting to know the characters better and the slow rollout of the story. I just felt like reading something huge and fun, and The Stand is fitting the bill.


I have to say it's unsettling how frequently the n-word pops up, though.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2014-07-25 16:33
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
Anna Karenina (Signet Classics) -

I love the feeling of accomplishment after finishing a huge book, not to mention one from the literary canon I'd hoped to read for a while. Even better is finding out said book is pleasurable and earns every bit of praise and prestige heaped on it.


This book had me from page one and never lost me. Though its title names a single character, the novel encompasses two families, essentially, which intertwine. Matthew Arnold (I think?) said Anna Karenina was a piece of life rather than a work of art, and though I don't find the two to be mutually exclusive, I see exactly what he means. The narrative spans years and both the formation and dissolution of a few relationships (namely Anna, her husband, and her lover, Vronsky; Levin and his future wife, Kitty; Anna's brother, Stepan, and his wife, Dolly (Kitty's sister)). Characters cheat, they get married, they separate, have children, witness loved ones dying, and, in Anna's case, die themselves. It's such a full book.


The novel sets up a contrast between the passionate relations of Anna and Vronsky and that of Levin and Kitty, who get married and have a child and are surrounded by and help family. There's also Stepan, who continually cheats on Dolly (the book opens with that fact and with Anna reconciling the two--temporarily). Levin has a spiritual awakening (this is how the book ends, after Anna has killed herself), so there's a privileging of spirituality in life and love.


Still, the great tragedy owes a lot to the different ways men and women are treated in society when having an affair (which continues to this day). Vronsky can still go out among Russian society; Anna cannot and loses friends--it's even frowned upon to visit her or receive her, especially if a woman. As the end of the book nears, she and Vronsky are constantly at odds, and I found myself upset with Anna's jealousy and mood swings. At the same time, what can she do? Her feelings are natural, and you do feel Vronsky's attitude has changed. They've trapped each other.


I had no favorite characters, and that's a compliment. I cared about everyone and understood everyone. Tolstoy is amazing at portraying the inner life of people; no one else I've read has captured it the same way. That's saying something. I've read a couple of his shorter works ("The Death of Ivan Ilych" and The Kreutzer Sonata), and now I can completely imagine undertaking War and Peace.

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text 2014-05-30 02:36
Reading progress update: I've read 271 out of 923 pages.
Anna Karenina (Signet Classics) -

Part II complete! Ch-ch-changes. Or, characters trying to change (mostly Levin and Kitty) and struggling. Anna, Vronsky, and Anna's husband (Aleksey Alexandrovich) are entrenched. Hoping for more of Stiva and Dolly next. Still wowed by Tolstoy's powers of observations in particular.

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