Grendel by John Gardner

Grendel by John Gardner

grendelGrendel is the ill-fated monster from the ancient story, Beowulf. This is his tale.

There are very few details shared about Grendel in Beowulf. I thought that this story would be an opportunity for the reader to get to know him.

Unfortunately, we spend most of the time in Grendel’s mind, circling endlessly around the ideas of time, brutality, nature and the meaninglessness of existence.

I wanted to know more about Grendel’s mother, but there was very little about her.

John Gardner wrote her as some kind of void-filled slug monster: “Behind my back, at the world’s end, my pale slightly glowing fat mother sleeps on, old, sick at heart, in our dingy underground room. Life-bloated, baffled, long-suffering hag. Guilty, she imagines, of some unremembered, perhaps ancestral crime. (She must have some human in her.) Not that she thinks. Not that she dissects and ponders the dusty mechanical bits of her miserable life’s curse.” pg 10, ebook.

Not like Grendel does, endlessly.

“I understood that the world was nothing: a mechanical chaos of casual, brute enmity on which we stupidly impose our hopes and fears. I understood that, finally and absolutely, I alone exist.” pg 17, ebook.

I think that was the biggest reason I didn’t enjoy this read. I believe every moment in life is, or can be, filled with purpose, meaning and happiness. Grendel falls on the exact opposite end of the scale.

In that way, Grendel is one of the biggest downers you could ever read. He believes that life means nothing. He acts and kills from this empty center.

Out of this morass, the one part I kind of enjoyed was Grendel’s conversation with a dragon in its hoard.

The dragon lives for millennia and sees the world from a view so wide that it is almost outside of time. Again, there’s a nihilist bent to his view, but the dragon brought a weird bit of humor to an otherwise bleak story.

“Don’t look so bored,” he (the dragon) said. He scowled, black as midnight. “Think how I must feel,” he said.” pg 43, ebook.

Yeah, think how I must feel. All I wanted was the story of Beowulf from a unique perspective and what I received was a vague feeling of depression about the meaninglessness of it all.

Thanks for reading.

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Demon, Volume 1 by Jason Shiga

Demon, Volume 1 by Jason Shiga

demonAn edgy, simply-drawn comic about a man who tries to commit suicide, but keeps waking up alive. There’s an unexpected twist and lots of blood.

In the author’s own words: “From the suicide depicted on the first page of the story to the climactic bloodbath three volumes later, Demon is my gleeful homage to the lurid and pulpy entertainment rags that make up the detritus of our childhoods.” From the foreword.

I see what he was trying to do. It just wasn’t for me.

For Jason Shiga, this was a very personal work: “Ultimately, Jimmy is me. When he leaps in front of a semi-trailer, it’s really me who secretly wants to do that. When he acts in a deliberately amoral and antisocial manner, that’s me, too.” From the foreword.

Shiga warns readers from the start that Demon is crass and graphically violent. And, it is.

Oh well. Next book!

Thanks for reading.

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

The Art of Asking; or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help by Amanda Palmer

theartofaskingAmanda Palmer is an extremely talented artist who has done it all- from performing in a punk rock band to posing as a statue on the streets.

I can see why readers are passionate about this book and the author. She just didn’t strike a spark for me.

Memoirs can drag on and become self-indulgent and ridiculous. I feel like that was a problem with The Art of Asking.

The tipping point for me was when she formed The Dresden Dolls with her friend and said (I’m quoting from memory here since I was listening to the audiobook): “I finally had the strongly emoting band I’d always dreamed of” or something like that.

I realized, I was strongly emoting on this book, but not in a good way.

I understand her internal struggles in forming a relationship with Neil Gaiman must have been difficult for her, but her “should I date him, he’s older and richer and more famous than me” just came off as silly and very first-world problems.

I get that she loves her fans, her art, her lifestyle- but it just come together to make a read that I enjoyed.

My apologies to her fans. If it helps, my favorite parts of the audiobook were the songs she put between some of the tracks. Those were actually pretty awesome.

And the over-arching theme of The Art of Asking was good too.

Society isn’t comfortable with asking. We don’t know how to do it, don’t feel comfortable with it and it prevents people from making the art that they were born to make.

You can get that part of this book by watching Palmer’s TED talk. Maybe you should do that instead of reading this.

Here ’tis: https://www.ted.com/talks/amanda_palmer_the_art_of_asking

Thanks for reading.

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) by Mark Lawrence

Prince of Thorns (The Broken Empire #1) by Mark Lawrence

princeofthorns**Warning: minor spoiler in the last paragraph of this review. Read with caution.**

Prince of Thorns is about a boy who becomes a monster on his way to becoming a man. There’s some fantasy twists in it, but that’s the main story.

I wanted to love this book. But, sadly, the title character is simply unlikeable. And, the role of women in the book is either sex object or nothing.

“Two hundred dead farmers lying with their scythes and axes. You know, I warned them that we do this for a living. … I gave them that chance, I always do. But no. They wanted blood and slaughter. And they got it.” pg 1, ebook. That’s the very first page, folks.

And all of this cynicism and blood thirst is from a 14 year old. Sure…“There’ s a reason I’m going to win this war. Everyone alive has been fighting a battle that grew old before they were born. I cut my teeth on the wooden soldiers in my father’s war room. There’s a reason I’m going to win where they failed. It’s because I understand the game. pg 19, ebook.

Mark Lawrence tries to use a magical reason to explain this adult reasoning from a child, but it didn’t work for me.

“We wrap up our violent and mysterious world in a pretense of understanding. We paper over the voids in our comprehension with science or religion, and make believe that order has been imposed. And, for the most of it, the fiction works. We skim across surfaces, heedless of the depths below. … Until that moment when something from the cold unknown reaches up to take us.” pg 205, ebook.

If you want dark fantasy about a band of thieves, may I recommendThe Lies of Locke LamoraIf you’re looking for an epic fantasy about humankind being the pawns for something greater than ourselves, try Gardens of the Moon As for Prince of Thorns, if you must read it, borrow it from the library. Because then, like me, you can give it back, only have lost the time it took to read it.

Thanks for reading!

A God in Ruins (Todd #2) by Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins (Todd #2) by Kate Atkinson

godinruinsEven though Kate Atkinson took readers back into the beautiful world that she created for the Todd family, this story wasn’t nearly as enjoyable as Life After Life.

This time, the story focused on Teddy. It is told through the mixed up timeline that I’ve come to expect from Atkinson. We get to see Teddy’s relationships, family and inner thoughts.

It didn’t have the magic of Ursula’s story, in my opinion. In Life After Life, I was enthralled. For the majority of A God in Ruins, I was not.

I was surprised that I liked very few of the characters. Viola, in particular, was awful. I realize that that is partially the point, but still- it’s hard to appreciate the story when you don’t like most of the major characters.

The writing was still lovely, but I didn’t connect to this book the way that I did with the other one. I’m rather disappointed actually.

Thanks for reading.

Joan of Arc: A History by Helen Castor

Joan of Arc: A History by Helen Castor

joanofarcThe review that I’m about to give Joan of Arc: A History has nothing to do with the historical accuracy of the book. On the contrary, I found this to be an extraordinarily well researched and cited biography.

Unfortunately, that mega-effort did not lend itself to a readable or enjoyable book.

The general idea behind Joan of Arc is sound. Helen Castor wanted to present Joan’s story in context with an extended history of France for years before and after her appearance on the world stage.

In that way, she thought that the legend of the woman could be separated away from the reality. The reader could appreciate the main players, the attitude towards spiritual visions, the belief of divine will in war and the monarchy, and capture the overall general flavor of the time period.

It was a good premise, but it just didn’t work. Maybe this was a doctoral thesis that Castor tweaked a bit and published? It reads like that.

Why is it that experts on topics are rarely able to translate that interest and depth of knowledge into stories that the general public would enjoy? I love medieval history, especially the backgrounds of the handful of female figures who made it into print during that period. This should have been right up my alley.

Joan of Arc: A History read like a school textbook- the dull kind.

Actually, it reminded me of translating Livy’s History of Rome from Latin into English during college. It should have been fascinating stuff as he was writing about a particularly exciting period in Roman history when Hannibal was crossing the Alps to invade. But, sadly, Livy got caught up in listing endless details, particularly the size and shape of the elephants. Through description after description, the pace of Hannibal’s army slowed to a trickle and then it turned into a snooze-fest.

That also happened in this book.

If you enjoy scholarly research to the point that you just have to have it and nothing else will do, read this book. If you want history to come alive and punch you in the face, pick up something (anything really) by Margaret George or Bernard Cornwell.

I particularly liked The Memoirs of Cleopatra or The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers. George may not have the exacting research standards of this biography, but her historical fictions are informative in addition to a delight to read.

I received a free copy of this book through Goodreads First Reads. Thanks for reading!

Authority (Southern Reach #2) by Jeff VanderMeer

Authority (Southern Reach #2) by Jeff VanderMeer

authorityThe mystery of Area X continues with an FBI agent’s entry into the Southern Reach. What’s going on? Why can’t anybody remember anything? Why is everyone so antagonistic? And why does everything smell bad?

Rarely have I been so disappointed with a book as I was with Authority. The first entry in this series is a gripping, psychedelic adventure that reads like a nature-gone-wild acid trip. This book, on the other hand, is like going to work with a punishing hangover. You don’t know what’s going on and everybody is pushing piles of paper at you.

“A shadow had passed over the director’s desk then. He’d been here before, or somewhere close, making these kinds of decisions before, and it had almost broken him, or broken through him. But he had no choice.” pg 18. On and on it goes. No answers, only confusion and bewilderment. I honestly thought, up until the very end, that something mega-cool was going to happen to make up for all of the so-so stuff that had happened so far. Unfortunately…

I also got super excited anytime Area X was mentioned, sort of like passing an old fling on your way to a funeral. Take this passage: “But the truth did have a simple quality to it: About thirty-two years ago, along a remote southern stretch known by some as the “forgotten coast,” an Event had occurred that began to transform the landscape and simultaneously caused an invisible border or wall to appear.” pg 35. Yes! And then we were immediately back into the boring office work/politics stuff.

“You’ve heard of the Southern Reach?” He had, mostly through a couple of colleagues who had worked there at one time. Vague allusions, keeping to the cover story about environmental catastrophe. Rumors of a chain of command that was eccentric at best. Rumors of a significant variation, of there being more to the story. But, then, there always was. He didn’t know, on hearing his mother say those words, whether he was excited or not.” pg 71. And that, my friends, is pretty much the whole book. Let me save you another 250 or so pages.

I exaggerate. A bit. It’s just that I’m incredibly disappointed in the turn this story took. I suppose I’ll read the last one in this series because I’m a completionist, but that is the only reason.

Thanks for reading!