Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Book Review - Finn: A Novel

I fell in love with the writing of Mark Twain in Junior High and High School. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was always one of my favorites, not only because of the fun adventures and outrageously ridiculous humor but also because of the great depth and thought of the story filled with so many layers and nuances of historical social dynamics and beliefs. As a result very naturally intrigued by Finn: A Novel, a new novel telling the story of Huck's father "Pap" Finn.

The book follows the life of Pap Finn (mostly just called "Finn" in the book as he never receives a true first name). There are a few scenes and recollections about his youth but mostly the novel focuses on his adult life in the time leading up to Huck's birth and the years that follow until the ultimate discovery of his death as outlined in the original novel by Twain. The organization of the chapters was occasionally disorienting with limited indication of timing since from one chapter to another we may jump forward or backward in time by a handful of years. It was only significantly disorienting once or twice but when it did happen I wondered as to the intent of such jumps other than perhaps to help the reader feel as unsteady and flailing as Finn was in his own life.

The tone, language and literary styling of the novel are impressive. The book is well written. In some regard there seems to be a desire to imitate Twain's rhetoric and uphold the 19th century language of the previous novel. But the tone and content of this book necessarily result in stylistic differences that make this a much darker novel even in the moments of levity. 'Finn' has some scenes which are indeed laughable but the tone makes them tragically funny as opposed to the laugh-out-loud humor of 'Huckleberry.'

We are given scenes outlining the strained relationship between Finn and his family members. Finn's father looks at Finn with absolute disgust and hatred that has gone on for years. Finn's brother provides token olive branches where he can but is limited by a need to remain in the good graces of his father and society. As a result, Finn is left to his own devices. His broken family life sends him into the world with a spiteful attitude and a feeling that everyone is out to get him and that the only person he can count on is himself. Fortunately Finn is capable enough to find odd jobs and thus scrapes to stay alive...but only barely so. And as his vices increase, his ability to survive diminishes.

Books Read in 2015

For the past few years (2014, 20132012, 2011, 2010, 2009) I've had a goal to read and review a bunch of books over the course of each year.

My goal had been to average a book per week and end up with 50 books read and reviewed at the end of the year. I usually don't include smaller books (early middle grade, picture books, etc) unless I feel really strongly about them. For the past couple of years I've dropped well below my 50 and I'm starting off 2015 already a couple of months behind. Still, I'm going to try and catch up and at least get some books read and reviewed in coming weeks/months.

  1. Dauntless
  2. The Darkling Child
  3. Trouble is a Friend of Mine
  4. Finn: A Novel

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Book Review - Trouble is a Friend of Mine

This book was initially pitched to me as a cross between Veronica Mars and the BBC series Sherlock. Enjoying both shows, it sounded fun and requested the book. As the title "Trouble is a Friend of Mine" suggests, the narrator (a teenage girl named Zoe) has a tendency to get into trouble. More to the point, "Trouble" truly does become one of her friends in the character Digsby. He becomes the literal representation of Trouble popping up in her life.

The book starts with a few paragraphs of flash-forward of Zoe in front of a house filled with explosives and her conflict about whether to run back inside and help Digsby or run to safety. The book then flashes back to the moment she first met Digsby and explains how they get to know one another and the various forms of Trouble and mystery they uncover and stumble upon.

From the initial meeting between Digsby and Zoe I had to wonder about Zoe's character. She's skipping school one day and Digsby shows up on her doorstep with very cryptic comments that come off as stalker-like and definitely creepy. Instead of being totally freaked out and calling the cops or talking to her mom, Zoe feels a little confused but largely shrugs it off and then just sort of accepts that Digsby is becoming part of her life as he shows up time and again. Granted, Zoe has a troubled relationship with her mother but she's a smart girl with normal nervous tendencies so it felt odd that she didn't even mention Digsby to anyone.

Saturday, June 06, 2015

Book Review - The Darkling Child (Defenders of Shannara - Book 2)

So I've basically been a Terry Brooks fan for life...or at least since 7th or 8th grade when I first read the "Sword", "Elfstones" and "Wishsong" of Shannnara. Since then I've read nearly all of his novels only missing a few here and there when life got in the way. As such I have a certain sense of loyalty to Brooks and to the Shannara world in general. I really liked his sort of "origin" stories where he wrote about magic in "our" world and the end of our world followed by the creation of the world known in the Shannara stories. It was a fun weaving of stories and a nice change of pace.

That said, with his past few novels, Brooks has returned to his core worlds of Shannara fantasy and magic. This latest book, The Darkling Child is a stand alone novel that takes place 5 years after the previous novel, "The High Druid's Blade." It involves some of the same characters but introduces new characters and new dangers. At its heart, the book has the same main villain as its predecessor, the sorcerer Arcannen. After having his plots foiled and his world turned upside down in 'High Druid's Blade', Arcannen has spent the past five years essentially hiding out and rebuilding. What his exact plans are unknown (other than an overarching goal of eventually infiltrating and either taking over or destroying the Druid Order). New plans are set in motion in this book when the Federation discovers Arcannen's location (in the same village where some other outlaws and pirates are hiding out) and they send a force to destroy them. Arcannen escapes the resulting destruction but vows revenge on those who destroyed his village.

The new element in this book is a teenage boy named Reyn who happens to bear the ancient power of the wishsong (it's never explicitly said but I presume Reyn is "the Darkling Child" of the title...though perhaps it could be argued that Paxon may still be a darkling in development). Arcannen learns of this power and seeks to subvert and use Reyn for his own purposes. The druids sense the wishsong magic and send out Paxon Leah (the "High Druid's Blade") and a druid emissary to discover the bearer of the magic, determine any risk and decide what is to be done. Paxon is especially interested in this new wishsong magic since his sister, Chrysallin, was discovered to have the wishsong in the previous novel and the implications of that discovery are still unclear to everyone involved, especially Paxon and Chrys. Thus Paxon undertakes the mission out of loyalty to the Druids but also as a mission of discovery to try and determine the risks and needs of his sister and figure out the path they should take.

Monday, June 01, 2015

Movie Review - Tomorrowland

In case you didn't see my super mini review on opening night, it consisted of a picture of the movie tickets, my own Tomorrowland pin and the words "loved loved loved loved loved it!" For those who know me and know the general gist and history of this movie, the mini-review shouldn't have been too surprising. I've been anticipating this movie for at least the last 3-4 years when initial rumors started becoming more concrete. Even with the slow filter of hints and rumors, the overall plot stayed fairly secret until fairly recently. With all that build up and hype I knew I would either completely love this film or it would suffer from an inability to live up to my expectations and be a total flop.

Glancing at some of the negative reviews I have to agree that there are some holes in the plot and some definite imbalances. I agree with the people I've talked with that I would have loved to have spent more time in the idyllic version of Tomorrowland and experience more of its shiny fun. Still, I can see a distinct risk in presenting TOO MUCH time in the utopian bright and wonderful Tomorrowland. The idea of Tomorrowland is a place where boundaries are truly pushed...a place where technology and innovation have taken huge leaps. By showing us just a few brief moments, the audience gets a sense of the grandeur and awe that's been created without spending so much time that we start to see beyond the smoke and mirrors. It allows more to be left to the imagination of the viewer which means the viewer will criticize their own personal interpretation of futurific leaps rather than those of the director (which could quickly become dated or look cheesy).