Monthly Archives: July 2015
Even to the most die-hard sic-fi/fantasy/mystery/genre-loving readers and writers, its necessary to occasionally read a novel that is simply real. Real characters, in a real setting, dealing with real life issues. If you can convey the truth of human nature with crisp writing and clear intuition, the plot doesn’t matter, it will be a great story! These real stories (especially if they’re fictional) are the ones that nurture the soul in a way no genre fiction can.
Driftless by David Rhodes nurtured my soul.
Driftless dives into the lives of several characters, their stories interweaving like any small-town neighbors’ would. Rhodes builds each story with quick glimpses, each chapter jumping into the perspective of another character. We view the life of a lonely cripple who bets it all in hopes of finding new life; a mourning farmer who finds new love; a female priest that experiences the truth of the world; and my favorite story, a young family who finds themselves in the middle of a giant milk corporation scandal. Weaved into these stories are dog fights, car chases, deadly snow storms, and musical adventures. Although the story is largely philosophical and descriptive, these short bursts of adrenaline offer a great balance.
Nothing if not beautiful, the writing is descriptive and meditative. Lengthy at times but also heartfelt and comforting. Here are a few glimpses into that beauty…
Like primeval cathedral bells his mother’s voice called…
The color of the [cougar] impressed him…this kind of bright black. It drew all other colors to it, like water to a drain. The animal possessed a darkness even beyond black, with two glowing eyes as yellow as stars.
Gail, in her red coat, and surrounded by a sea of flowers, looked like a cardinal in a spring apple tree.
For more, check out my previous blog, The Outstanding Similes and Metaphors of David Rhodes.
Many of the short chapters in Driftless hold their own miniature but full stories. A few sections could be read out of context and still satisfy a reader. Its a beautiful thing that takes a talented writer. These stories help the reader feel fulfilled even when the long, slow plot seems exhausting at times.
I strongly considered 5 stars but the slow pace of the novel made me drop. If I was the editor I wouldn’t cut a single chapter, but still, the slow pace was a bit of drawback.
Presented by EpicReads! These are just my favorites, click on the link above for more!
A heartfelt tale that brings its readers real Dominican-American culture and history, as well as fictional struggles of an overweight nerd that feel just as real. Junot Díaz’s first novel mixes magic realism, comics, and sex-obssessed young men into the all-so-important family history of our main character, Oscar. Díaz’s novel questions how our family history molds our present as well as what is means to be an American. And in Oscar’s case, the two questions are endlessly interwoven.
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao has been named the best novel of the 21st Century so far by The Guardian and was listed as one of 11 21st Century Books Our Kids Will Read in School.
Narrator – Far from the story, Yet close at heart
I love the conflicting personality of the narrator. He is a typical, cocky, sex-driven college kid who tries and fails to hold a relationship with Oscar’s sister. Yet, he sees something in Oscar, something he can’t properly explain, that makes him befriend Oscar, when others seems disgusted by him.
The narrator, Yunior, is also an outsider with a distant yet curious view of the family. Most of the book is written in a “3rd person” perspective because Yunior was not present for most of the action. The parts he is present for are clear 1st person perspective. A tricky balance that Díaz pulls off well. Still, like any 1st person narrator, the reliability comes into question.
Junot Díaz balances the big and small, the love and hate, the real and magical, the American and Dominican with intricate precision. We view stories of many different time periods, in drastically different settings, and hear from different voices.
“It is Mr. Díaz’s achievement in this galvanic novel that he’s fashioned both a big picture window that opens out on the sorrows of Dominican history, and a small, intimate window that reveals one family’s life and loves.” – New York Times Book Review
A truly wondrous book that I recommend to all and I fully support teaching this book in schools. Why didn’t I give it five stars? Because it just failed to pull at my heartstrings. I was unable to relate to the characters, their struggles, the setting, therefore I didn’t get emotionally attached to this book.
The Story of Owen follows a teenage boy following his family tradition of slaying dragons. Set in a modern world, where dragons feed on carbon emissions, E. K. Johnston weaves the history of dragons into the history we read in our textbooks today.
Surrounded by normal high school kids, Owen finds himself somewhere between being an outcast and a celebrity. The narrator of the story, Sibohan, is Owen’s best friend and a musical prodigy. Together the duo, along with Owen’s famous family, wants to change the way the world views dragon slaying.
Things That Worked For Me:
- History – Johnston incorporates a lot of history (real and fictional) into the story. This is a great choice by the publisher, who focuses on educational-based children’s books. The history, although long-winded at times, was interesting and appropriate for the story. Johnston does a great job of weaving the story’s fictional history into the history we believe in our world. Its a great way to sneak a little history lesson into your child’s fun reading!
- Another creative twist of real life and fiction is the fact that these dragons feed on carbon emissions. We know its a danger in our world, but image if every time you drove a car or worked at a factory, you had a serious chance of being attacked by a fire-breathing dragon.
- Rural Canadian setting – The setting worked well for the story, keeping the reader grounded to reality in an unrealistic world. Growing up in rural Minnesota, the setting was familiar to me but also differed in interesting ways.
- Music, Dragons, History – What a mix!? The narrator is a musical prodigy and her best friend is a dragon slayer…where else will you find a duo quite like that!?
- Characters – Johnston incorporated a good mix of characters. Some are quiet and reserved, others are loud and outgoing. Some are athletic, others musical. Some past their prime, others growing into it.
- Dragons in a Modern World – Just plain cool.
Things That Didn’t Work For Me:
- History – Ironically the thing I liked most about the book (the interesting mix of real and imagined history) is also my least favorite. The history lessons, with a great mix of real and fictional, made my head feel like a bong getting hit over and over and over again. Especially in a book aimed for children and young adults, the story needs to move quick; the author can’t afford to waste a single page with useless backstory and, unfortunately, Johnston wasted much more than that.
- Over Simplified – Emotions were often over simplified and saw drastic, unexplained changes.
- Too Slow – Even at the height of action, the story moved too slow. This could have been helped by staying in the present and avoiding long “what might happen now” explanations.
Overall, I give The Story of Owen 3 stars.
The Story of Owen is a series. If interested check out the second book in the series, Prairie Fire.