Will's Reading List

I'm an academic librarian who lives in Colorado.  I like thrillers, spy novels, fiction about the domestic life, music, running, road trips, and geekery. Always up for a board game.


Attachments - Rainbow Rowell

A novel like a candy wrapper: easy to read, forgettable, and ultimately disposable.  The romance and predictable ending were nice, but the book suffers for its lack of depth.  The novel is probably 70% dialogue, and its setting's claim on 1999 is made through the constant noise of popular culture references.  If you change those references, you could have book set during any random period within the last thirty years.  In short, it seems like Attachments took as much effort to write as it did to read: minimal.  

The Daylight War

The Daylight War  - Peter V. Brett

The third in a series that starts with The Warded Man and The Desert Spear, The Daylight War turns the story's focus to Krasia and its influence (and often dominance) over the Northern "greenlanders."  Weight bestowed to Inevera's backstory is welcomed to bring this character needed depth -- a benefit given many of Peter V. Brett's minor characters here -- as it is both the fuel and the challenge of the Demon Cycle series to butt cultures based on Western and Middle Eastern fantasies (though the Eastern basis here still seems to stem from a Westernized derivation).  Brett encourages familiarity without stereotype, and isn't afraid either to fill the novel with sex and sexuality, and widely differing gender roles.  The result is a series geared toward fantasy fans that also treats them like adults, an accomplishment in the genre.  Finally, the conclusion here comes at fans from the highest peak -- Brett knows how to make his readers sweat for the next installment.  If you've been with the series so far, you certainly can't stop now.


Panic - Lauren Oliver

If you take a novel like The Hunger Games and boil it down, reduce it to its elements, sand off all the paint, you end up with something like this. Panic. Because if you think about it, Panic is The Hunger Games, reverse engineered. Gone is the elaborate make-up and ridiculous hair. Gone are the high concepts of political rebellion and wealth inequality, the elaborate clockwork of machinations designed to strip individuals of their human bond – all these constructs become false, burdensome, overelaborate metaphor. The Hunger Games is Panic which is, at its heart, a novel about young adults who have nothing, who expect nothing, and who know the world is designed to benefit people whom they will never meet but who most assuredly have more: more opportunity, more wealth, more chances. Panic is a story about us. About bored kids. Broke kids. Broke kids in love, for that matter, whose efforts toward romance are as unsteady as their steps into adulthood. And reading this makes us embarrassed for so loving the unnecessary drama that most YA allows. Because we are Katniss Everdeen only insofar as she is Heather. We shouldn't need so much dressing around the idea that we are a country at a loss of what to do with itself. That we have created so much distance between the possibility of change and its achievement that a game like Panic seems not plausible, but outright familiar. These are memories instead of fantasies, and Panic is a wonderful, brilliant novel with one simple ambition: to remind us who we are. We are the broke kids. The bored kids. Kids trying to feel. Lauren Oliver has never needed science fiction to explain how we work. We are more fantastic and flawed and aflame in our small ambitions toward happiness than the rules of science fiction could ever allow.

The Way Of Kings

The Way of Kings - Brandon Sanderson

After feeling disappointment with the drawn out ending to Sanderson's Mistborn series (I still can't seem to bring myself to finish the last hundred pages of book three), The Way of Kings reminds fans of how strong Sanderson's writing can be and how good he is at worldbuilding.  Centered around four or five main characters, with a secondary cast of dozens, the author has created a universe rich in detail--if sometimes a little heavy on the over-noble battlespeak of some of its male leads--that unsettles in its alien culture, but never loses focus or leaps so far to as to abandon the reader.  I genuinely can't wait for the next installment, and am adding this alongside series by Peter Brett, Brent Weeks and Pat Rothfuss as must-read contemporary fantasy.


Neonomicon - Alan Moore, Antony Johnston, Jacen Burrows

Oh, Alan Moore.  This isn't anywhere on par with Watchmen, or (my favorite) Miracleman, or even with The League of Extraordinary Gentleman.  This was, to me, kind of a mess.  The pacing felt awkward and the narrative kind of flat.

The Way We Fall

The Way We Fall  - Megan Crewe

This first part of what will (of course) be a trilogy, The Way We Fall is an epistolary novel that does a fine job building suspense throughout the early stages of a viral outbreak, at the same time creating vivid portraits of the personalities and relationships that populate the island.  The books seems lower on drama than the YA novels that dominate readers' attention, but this was well written, realistically portrayed, and genuinely interesting.  I had hoped for more moments reminiscent of Lord of the Flies (nothing comes quite close enough) but this was an enjoyable story to follow, with a promising end.


Requiem  - Lauren Oliver

Considering the number of loose ends Lauren Oliver had to tie in this conclusion to her Delirlium triology, the series finale is surprisingly satifying.  The resolution is enough to provide a sense of the genuine challenges that lie ahead for many of the primary characters, without Oliver attempting to create too unified an ending to make it feel forced or emotionally overwrought for the sake of conclusion.  And Requiem is no different than her other novels, as in each, the author finds ways to make characters stand out who in leser series might otherwise live only as genre-standards.  Why every young adult series needs to enage in a love triangle is beyond me, but in Requiem Oliver at least makes all the players' role seem sincere, and the choice for Lena genuinely troubling.  Taken as a whole, the Delirium trilogy offered a terrific experience:  enough emotion to propel an investment in the story, and a plot strong enough to give such an enjoyable cast a sttuggle worth their character.

Where She Went

Where She Went  - Gayle Forman

Where She Went reads like mix of the music of Nick Horby's About a Boy, the strength of character in Christine Siefert's The Predicteds, and, of course, the emotional maturity of the book's predecessor, Gayle Forman's If I Stay.  In it, musician Adam Wilde processes the haunting and inescapable reality of his relationship three years prior with cellist Mia Hall.  It's as Wilde processes his experiences since that time that the novel finds its truth: in Adam's irrational anger, his self-punishing logic, and his escape into artistic expression from family, friends, and work.  The novel is a fine example of presenting a thoughtful, complicated male character in the female-focused YA arena. But as with If I Stay, the novel avoids making these emotions, or Mia's justifications for her role in them, feel trivial or put on for show.  It is only because the highs and lows of the story are so believable that its ending feels legitimate, if somewhat abbreviated.  Books as emotionally sincere as this seem to find their readers at the right time, and that too elevates the experience of them.  But with or without any real-life parallels, readers of Where She Went can expect fine writing and sharp insight into how people operate when the complications of "adult" life find them all too soon.



The Desert Spear

The Desert Spear  - Peter V. Brett

After finishing the YA fantasy novel Graceling, Peter Brett's The Desert Spear was difficult to enter; the quasi-Islamic culture the first half of the novel centers on is jarrringly mysoginistic, so much so that it was difficult not to transfer those beliefs onto the author.  It's a mistake easily corrected as the novel returns to Tibbet’s Brook, and to its satisfying story arc, following multiple characters in battles for worlds both human and hellish.  Brett has a fine understanding of female characters, for antagonism between disparate cultures and the different sexes, and for regional dialogue.  The more I read of Brett's demon-infested world, the more I enjoy it.


Finally, three things about Peter Brett's writing become clear in this novel: he loves the word succor; he loves, even more, the word ichor;  he loves things dying by having their eyes poked out with sticks.  This novel is the second part of a series begun with The Warded Man.


Graceling - Kristin Cashore

Though it's sad to have to say it, Graceling offers readers a rare thing: one of the strongest, most independent, most original female characters available in the fantasy and young adult genres. Cashore's lead character Katsa is unburdened by convention (or reader expectation) and demonstrates beautifully how wonderful a novel can be when an author is uncompromising in her vision to create not simply an enjoyable, heartfelt novel, but one that destroys all the stereotypes of gender that fans of fantasy have come to believe. I loved this novel, and was tearful by it conclusion. Every young person in the America should be exposed to Graceling.


Nekropolis - Maureen F. McHugh A bleak romance set in a future in which, as in our present, the actuality is so much less than the imagining. McHugh is expert at capturing contemporary compromise and longing and recasting our continuing sense of isolation and loneliness into a world that the genre has led readers to believe can only be one of, if not institutionalized hope, only temporary incompetence. Her worlds are real because they capture humanity's weaknesses, and rather than gloss over these failures, they come to define a human experience that is less magical, but also perhaps more enduring: the struggle is permanent; those who struggle are not. It is harsh but not unsympathetic, and the reader leaves with a sense that the humanity, hard won in this future of dreams, is what centers us back to ourselves. Who else will hope if we do not now? Who will love if we, at this moment, refuse it? Rather than play a gotcha game that inverts the world we understand for an idealistic future, McHugh gives us only ourselves, and this familiarity laps at and erodes even the most distant imaginings until we come to understand the truth is in the reduction of all this movement to the base elements of human experience: hope, love, longing, and attempts to understand, however fleeting, more of who we are.


Legend  - Marie Lu

With a more coherent and more believable premise than, say, Veronica Roth's Divergent series, Legend establishes an Orwellian police state (something that feels akin to the society of Maureen McHugh's China Mountain Zhang), whose boundaries are defined no less violently. It's one of these episodes of violence that centers the moral system of Lu's world -- once this crime is committed, the lines are very clearly drawn. But it is an act that is hard to stomach, and that seems shocking even with romantic/violent predecessors like Divergent and The Hunger Games. Does it work to ground this created reality? Do the stakes from here on out seem more real? It does. They do. But it also demands that every other event reach that same level of realism -- the romance can't be stilted; the politics must feel genuine; the alternatives that the main characters fight for must feel, in short, worth it, otherwise the violence that Lu asks readers to go along with -- this one violent act in particular -- becomes theater with no real pain, and no real consequence, to make it seem honest. It short, it risks becoming a melodrama about revenge. I enjoyed Legend, but it's asked me to root for a certain kind of humanity after an extraordinarily inhumane act was displayed. I'm not so lovestruck as yet to follow blindly.

Miserere: An Autumn Tale: An Autumn Take

Miserere: An Autumn Tale - Teresa Frohock This standalone fantasy novel creates a world centered around tenets of European Christianity, but that is not to say this is a Christian novel, or should be read as one. Instead, Frohock uses this inspiration to craft an original kind of magic; its larger figures will seem familiar to Westerners, but the reliance on faith is no more mystic than that of any other fantasy world. The vision created within this frame is original, well written, and worth exploring. It took me half the novel to realize I wasn't being set up for an immediate sequel, which is something of a rare gift from novels these days, but Frohock's Woerld would be worth another visit, as the fantasy she has created is so deeply detailed and imagined that it is hard to forget after this first, brief go-round.

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I: The Pox Party - M.T. Anderson Rich and resonant language, a slowly unfolding story, and with an awareness in narrative reminiscent of [b:The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman|76527|The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman|Laurence Sterne|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1309202864s/76527.jpg|2280279], The Pox Party is mature enough to give pause to readers of any age as it presents the flawed morality of America's past in a way probably none of us would have imagined. Alternating between worlds of rank privilege and forced sacrifice, skewed knowledge and unblinking simplicity, Anderson's world is painful, uncompromising, and so poetically drawn that its architecture chimes with the bones of histories known and imagined, showing the founding of the country--however nobly reasoned or ornately dressed--to have never dealt with its questions of race. A brilliant book that I hope never relinquishes its roots--Young Adults should eat our history (and us) alive for how much we've boiled stories for them into something soft enough for adults to digest.

The Magicians: A Novel

The Magicians: A Novel - Lev Grossman A novel that seems like it could have been born as a wisecrack on the back of a napkin, The Magicians embeds tropes from multiple fantasy series, role-playing games, and films into contemporary New York college life. Yet the book somehow sheds its inspirations to create an adventure novel that makes the magic we view as a retreat back to childhood fantasy seem a dangerous, powerful thing. It's the weight that Grossman gives his subject -- however wryly cast in its popular frame -- that gives the story the gravity of adulthood. Suddenly the threats are genuine and the temptations of power within adult life actually damning. The consequences of our desire to see the world though the naivety of a childhood relived become palpable -- thrilling, but ultimately exhausting, washing off the youth of fantasy for the sadness of escape. Only the very end of the novel seems to abandon this altered reality, dipping a bit too far into its own mystique. But The Magicians offers a wild ride to get there: emotional, touching in its romances, and capturing all the awkwardness of newfound adulthood. It's a fantasy novel unafraid to show a darker, more earthy side, and it's a take on the genre that shouldn't be missed.

The Comfort of Strangers

The Comfort of Strangers - Ian McEwan Like the post-9/11 milieu that permeated [b:Saturday|5015|Saturday|Ian McEwan|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1348472398s/5015.jpg|2307189], and [b:Black Dogs|6871|Black Dogs|Ian McEwan|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320533114s/6871.jpg|2493679]'s Cold War spell well before it, The Comfort of Strangers feels like a political novel disguised as a social one. But whose politics? Is this McEwan exploding post-WW2 Europe? Is the lust here a parable, and if so, for what? What does the lovemaking between Colin and Mary say differently than that between Robert and Caroline if these were not characters but states? This is the rewarding frustration of Ian McEwan's work -- that it can seem more than it is because the lines of it are so clearly drawn. Never needlessly expositive or over-adorned with description, the world is so stark that it feels like parable even when its objective could be, as McEwan has explored many times before, examining love, or marriage, or sex, to lengths where this need for unity fails its human actors. So it seems not to matter if this novel of sex and power is also a novel of war, because in love, war is inherent: its demands are inhuman, devouring, inevitable. That is not so much history as it is human life. McEwan's genius is in painting one so well as to take on the shape of the other.

Currently reading

The Yellow Birds
Kevin Powers
Progress: 50/184 pages
The City Stained Red
Sam Sykes
Progress: 492/555 pages