Friday, April 29, 2016

Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel // unfortunately i sleep out of boredom

25733990 A girl named Rose is riding her new bike near her home in Deadwood, South Dakota, when she falls through the earth. She wakes up at the bottom of a square hole, its walls glowing with intricate carvings. But the firemen who come to save her peer down upon something even stranger: a little girl in the palm of a giant metal hand. 
Seventeen years later, the mystery of the bizarre artifact remains unsolved. But some can never stop searching for answers.
Rose Franklin is now a highly trained physicist leading a top secret team to crack the hand’s code. And along with her colleagues, she is being interviewed by a nameless interrogator whose power and purview are as enigmatic as the provenance of the relic. What’s clear is that Rose and her compatriots are on the edge of unraveling history’s most perplexing discovery—and figuring out what it portends for humanity. But once the pieces of the puzzle are in place, will the result prove to be an instrument of lasting peace or a weapon of mass destruction?

Okay, just look at that synopsis. Giant metal creatures! Political intrigue! Possibility of aliens! Badass female scientists! It looks like the perfect recipe for an epic and thrilling book.

Sadly, it really disappointed me. Why?

The novel is written in an interview format (interspersed with some letters and diary entries), and the interviewer is anonymous. It got really difficult to differentiate between the characters - they all sounded the same! None had distinct voices. It was so hard to get a good grasp on each character's personality when you were just getting all the information from interviews that all sounded like they were of the same person.Displaying IMG_1604.JPGDisplaying IMG_1604.JPG

Literally the only person whom I could differentiate clearly from the rest of them was the interviewer, and not just because his text was bolded. He actually had a distinct speaking style - more formal and distant and official. But we don't really find out a lot about him anyway. He seemed the coolest of them all.

The plot started out very intriguingly, with a lot of questions to be answered, and I was excited to get those answers. Well, the story quickly got a little (that is to say, VERY) confusing. I know it's the first of a series, but there were questions in the beginning that totally weren't answered in the end. When I started, I was forgiving of the confusion - new book, new worldbuilding - but by the end I had more questions than answers. The first book is supposed to set the stage for the series, and yet I didn't feel grounded enough in the world to be comfortable in it.

Once I stopped following what was going on, it just got boring. On Goodreads (where I actually do star ratings but don't take them very seriously), I was planning on giving it a three-star rating, if the ending was satisfactory (for a book one in a series, obviously), but it wasn't, so my rating slid down to two. The conclusion didn't feel conclusion, and even though I like cliff-hangers as much as the next guy*, even a book with a sequel should have some kind of resolution.

*meaning I hate them from a feels standpoint but love them from a literary standpoint.

In general, the book felt flat to me. You know how there's that storytelling mountain? The one with exposition, development, climax, resolution? Yeah, this book felt about as mountainous as a speed bump, except for one scene in the climax that, yeah, was pretty enthralling, I admit. :-)

Okay but it couldn't have been all bad, could it? No, there were definitely good points.

Firstly, as I mentioned, it's written in interview format, and I will ALWAYS be excited when a book has an interesting narrative structures. I love when authors experiment with that sort of thing, and it makes it feel fresh.

Also, I really liked the concepts behind the science fiction - monsters! aliens! actual science! As a nerd, I'm always appreciative when there are other nerdy characters (hello Rose Franklin! Is your name a nod to the real-life scientist Rosalind Franklin who discovered DNA? I think so!). The book references actual research and I just loved how sciency it all was. 

The idea behind the novel was super fascinating, even if it wasn't executed in the best way. I could see this becoming a pretty good film, actually. And a lot of people give it really good reviews, so I'm probably just the weird odd-one-out. So if you think you'd like it, give it a try! 

Thanks to Random House Publishing for the advance copy! Sleeping Giants came out April 26th and is available in bookstores now!

Have you read Sleeping Giants? What did you think? Do you like unique formatting/narrative styles in novels? And can you recommend any other super science-nerdy books?

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Mini-Reviews: Scandinavian Murderousness in Novel and TV-show Form

So if you've been reading this blog for at least the past month, you will know that I'm living in Denmark for the semester. It's awesome! It's adventurous! It's cold! (But I'm a Chicagoan I can handle this)

Because I am practically Scandinavian now, obviously, I've been reading a lot of Scandinavian fiction. (The English translations of course - I'm not THAT Scandinavian yet.) And because Scandinavia has some of the lowest crime rates in the world, of course their authors like to write about DEATH AND MURDER AND GORE. You know, to bring in some excitement.

Also, have you seen Norwegian forests? Icelandic mountains? Danish foggy roads? Those places are just ASKING to be crime scenes in novels. 

But yes, Scandinavia is known for it's crime fiction for a reason. They have some of the best crime novels and TV shows in the world, and I'm taking a class where we read the best. So I thought for today's mini-reviews I'd share three that I've read so far. (And down at the bottom are some bonus TV-show recommendations because I want to get you addicted.)

(Warning, this is a long post. But I'm really into this stuff now.)

The Snowman by Jo Nesbo - Norwegian

9572203 Oslo in November. The first snow of the season has fallen. A boy named Jonas wakes in the night to find his mother gone. Out his window, in the cold moonlight, he sees the snowman that inexplicably appeared in the yard earlier in the day. Around its neck is his mother’s pink scarf. 

Hole suspects a link between a menacing letter he’s received and the disappearance of Jonas’s mother—and of perhaps a dozen other women, all of whom went missing on the day of a first snowfall. As his investigation deepens, something else emerges: he is becoming a pawn in an increasingly terrifying game whose rules are devised—and constantly revised—by the killer.

This one was the first Scandinavian novel I ever read, and whoa was it a good introduction. Let's talk about this magnificent whirlwind of a plot first: it just kept going in so many directions, with so many unanswered questions, and so many red herrings,* but it was never confusing or overwhelming. Masterfully done.

*Red herrings are sadly not a delicious Swedish dish, but instead misleading clues that actually lead to nothing.

When I finished reading it, I was in love, I was sure I would give it at least four stars (not five, because the writing was good but not great - maybe it was a translation issue, but I never like the sharp, constantly short sentences of adult contemporary thrillers). But then we had class discussions, and class discussions, I now realize, can change your opinion of a book a lot.

I pondered the novel beyond it's grabby and fantastic and truly excellently crafted plot, and found: disappointing female characters. It's not that the book was blatantly sexist, just slightly, unobtrusively, dare-I-say normally so. (I wrote an essay on it, so I'm not going to expound here.) Basically, the lady characters that you THOUGHT were going to become epic and strong and good and feminist ended up becoming tropes.

But that totally didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel. I loved reading it, it was just my post-reading-analysis wasn't as satisfying as it might have been. And I still totally recommend you read it (and according to my Danish host mom, his other novels in the series have the ladies playing a less one-dimentional role, so maybe it was a one-time-thing). So if you want a good eerie Scandinavian read? The Snowman is a good place to start.

I give it 4.01 snowy stars.

Jar City by Arnaldur Indridason - Icelandic

When a lonely old man is found murdered in his Reykjavík flat, the only clues are a cryptic note left by the killer and a photograph of a young girl’s grave. Inspector Erlendur, who heads the investigation team, discovers that many years ago the victim was accused, though not convicted, of an unsolved crime. Did the old man’s past come back to haunt him?

As the team of detectives reopen this very cold case, Inspector Erlendur uncovers secrets that are much larger than the murder of one old man--secrets that have been carefully guarded by many people for many years. 

So if The Snowman ruled in plot and fell apart with characters, Jar City ruled with characters, which made up for it's fine, but not 100% gripping plot. It also won with its empathy and understanding towards the plight of women rape survivors having to report the rape to the police, and how they can be dismissed as attention-seeking or confused or hormonal, and just disbelieved in general. You want a feminist male writer? Indridason is your guy. (I also wrote an essay on this, by the way, and my final paper is going to be comparing Jar City with The Snowman and their perspectives on the female character. Do you understand now why I adore this class?)

But even though I said the plot didn't wholly grasp my attention, and even though the writing was satisfactory but not fabulous (maybe translation issues again?), Jar City still had a worthily crafted plot with enough eeriness and intrigue to keep me happy. And the characters made up for what the plot lacked. Here are things you cannot find in this book: (1) Sexy ladies being sexy just because they're ladies. (2) A police department without a super-smart lady in a top investigation position. (3) Misogynists who are not portrayed as anything other than extraordinarily disgusting. Here are things that you can find in this book: (1) A fascinating and eventually satisfying relationship of a father and his adult daughter. (2) A victim who is actually a villain. (3) Minor characters who have full well-developed personalities.

If that is something that appeals to you (which is should), I highly recommend you read this book.

I give it 4.12 stars.

My Soul to Take by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir - Icelandic


A grisly murder is committed at a health resort situated in a recently renovated farmhouse, which turns out to be notorious for being haunted. Attorney Thora Gudmundsdottir is called upon by the owner of the resort - the prime suspect in the case - to represent him. Her investigations uncover some very disturbing occurrences.

This one is my favorite so far, as you can see by the rating. And I think it was because of the writing. Finally, a thriller novel with pretty writing! And it had humor too - lots of snark between our main character Thora and her boyfriend/investigation partner Matthew. Their relationship was so perfect.

She pointed at a little brown mound of dirt close to them. "What's this?" she asked, going to look at it. 
"Is there no end to your powers of detection?" said Matthew. "Look, you found some dirt."
I mean, aren't they SO CUTE and the PERFECT DETECTIVE TEAM? I love them.

Really, considering that the ending came as a bit of a shocker (in perhaps a not so good, didn't really see the plausibility of it, way), and that the plot was much tamer than the two books above, perhaps I shouldn't have rated it so highly. But THE WRITING and the ICELANDIC EERINESS and the CONVOLUTED FAMILY HISTORY (incest? child murder? neo-nazis?) made me amp up my rating a bit. Because despite what my class consensus was, I loved this book so much and I want to read more of her stuff.

I give this book 4.53 eerie Iclandic night sky stars.

And now, we move on to...
My professor for Scandinavian Crime Fiction is Danish, and yet she insists that Danish crime novels fall short when compared with other Scandinavian writers. BUT, in terms of crime shows - the Danes are unarguably at the top of the game. 

(Also it's lovely when you get to watch TV shows for homework.)

Forbrudelsen (The Killing)

Do you want proof of how good this show is? BBC aired it with English subtitles and it became SO POPULAR in England and the Brits were so proud that they were addicted to a foreign show. It's that good. 

The unique things about Danish crime shows is that it's not one case per episode, but one case per season instead. Imagine 20 episodes of the same case! Every episode ends with a cliffhanger, there are so many side stories to explore, and all the characters are fully fleshed out and so real. 

Also, Scandinavian equality means super badass female lead. She wears jeans and sweaters and ponytails; never is her appearance discussed in a derogatory way; I think she's gorgeous, but that's never the point. There's romance, but not between her and her co-detective, they both have their separate family lives. If I compared her complexity to that of Sherlock Holmes, it would be a worthy comparison (though she's not really sociopathic - she's just rather tunnel-visioned). Oh, if for nothing else, watch it for her. 

(Also, a note: Watch the original, not the US remake which is not as good stay away stay away)

The Bridge

This one is super cool because it is actually half Danish and half Swedish. It involves a body being found on the bridge between Denmark and Sweden - exactly half is in one country, and half is in the other. Who gets the case? Turns out that the two amicably rival countries have to work together. It's a study in cultures on top of a murder mystery. They actually speak both languages! (In the poster, the Swedish detective is on the left and the Danish detective is on the right,) 

This idea is so fascinating that it's had two different remakes - one between US and Mexico, and one (called The Tunnel) between the UK and France. I haven't seen those, but I want to!

The Swedish detective in this one is also a super good female character. It's also implied she has some form of Asperger's, but never actually specified. I just love how these shows make every character so well-rounded and realistic - I CANT GET OVER IT.

But where can I watch these things? You ask. I am not in Scandinavia! 

Well, I'm 99% sure UK Netflix has the first season of the original Danish The Killing available. I... don't know where to find them in the US.  (And, weirdly, Danish netflix does not have Danish The Killing, only the US remake. Why?)

If I find out where to get them in the US (because my addictions must be satisfied even after I leave Denmark), I will let you know! 
I also found this useful post that may help you.

Go and watch and be addicted! 
Also, tell me what is the eeriest crime novel you've ever read... 

Friday, April 15, 2016

Guest Post: Not a Poet

As a nod to April being National Poetry Month, I invited Michael Taeger to talk about his adventures as a prose writer reading (and writing) poetry. Enjoy!

While I’m not a poet, I am a writer. And as a writer, whenever I hear advice about writing that sounds plausible, even if it’s outside of my comfort zone or nominal area of interest, I pay attention. So when Andre Dubus III, author of The House of Sand and Fog, gave a reading and Q&A in the summer of ‘14, I listened to what he had to say, hoping for insight. After his good-not-great reading, someone in the crowd asked him what he read. Normally a boring question with boring answers, he said, “Every night before I go to sleep, I read from a book of poetry.”

Well, I thought. That’s unexpected.

He went on to explain that while he isn’t a poet, he reads poetry because it engages dormany areas of his brain; that poets string words and phrases together in ways that make him pause and think about the universe; that his creativity, sparked by poetry, continues into his prose-writing. While he never neglects his other reading, poetry is his reset button.

A couple months later, Abigail Thomas (author of Safekeeping) gave a lecture and reading that I attended. again, an audience member asked for her reading habits. She said, “I always keep poetry on my nightstand.” She went on to echo many of Dubus’ words, about creativity and imagery and soft reset.

When Pulitzer-Prize winning novelist Michael Chabon gave a lecture to my MFA program in early 2015, I raised my own hand. “I’ve been hearing that a lot of prose writers read poetry regularly. Do you keep that practice?”

I probably don’t have to write down his answer. He reads poems for the same reasons that Dubus and Thomas do; because poetry operates on a different level than prose. It is sentence-level writing, devoted to nothing but imagery, ideas and sounds. Reading good poetry is weight-lifting for the brain.

Maybe I should give it a try.

Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to read more poetry: 10 (or so) complete books since April. It’s been a success, one that’s made me excited to continue. Traci Brimhall’s book of post-apocalyptic poetry, Our Lady of the Water, made me second-guess what poetry can do and and former Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s Splitting an Order, made me cry through painfully honest, deceptively simple language. I can’t remember the last time a book evoked tears or reconstructed my entire perception.

In addition, I discovered that apart from personal gleanings, poetry affected my writing as well. Now, I’m not suddenly an entirely different writer, but I pay more attention to imagery and structure than I ever did before. I am more attuned to, and value more, interesting phrasing and unusual metaphors.

It’s obvious that other authors do the same. Go back and read All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy or One Hundred Years of Solitude by Marquez. The cadences and sentence structure of those brilliant novels is poetry. The prose lilts and elevates and turns around and around, forcing the reader to keep up with the journey. Besides telling a story, those novels are devoted to and in love with words.

On my nightstand right now are half a dozen books of poetry, carefully interspersed with works of prose. I’m currently reading Scarecrone by Melissa Broder, Anna Slesinski’s book of erasure poems Eating the Sun, and Bruce Wayne Sullivan’s bartender poems, Reflections from the Other Side, along with my normal fare of classic literature, graphic novels and sci fi/fantasy. And I have a stack of others up to my knees that just hasn’t made it to the table yet.

I’m still not a poet, but I’m more complete as a writer. And maybe I’ll be a poet someday. It’s always possible. 

Michael B. Tager is a writer. He is the author of the fiction collection "Always Tomorrow" and "Pop Culture Poems," a poetry chapbook (Mason Jar Press). He is currently writing a book of memoir told through essays about video games. He likes Buffy and the Baltimore Orioles. Find more of his work online at

(Also, if you are interested in having Michael guest post for your own blog, connect with him on twitter @ideosinkrasee)

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Top Ten Tuesday: My Favorite Bookish Twitterers!

I'm linking up with Top Ten Tuesday, which I realize I haven't done in a while. Well, we're back! And the topic this week is 10 bookish people to follow on twitter!

I am on twitter a lot. Like an unhealthy amount. But it's for a good reason - there are SO many awesome bookish people who also spend a probably unhealthy amount of time on there too! So I thought I'd share with you some of my favorite twitterers (tweeters?) so that you can join in the awesomeness. The first three are authors who just rule the twitter game, and the rest are bloggers.

(Of course, I have way more than 10 awesome twitter favorites. If we've chatted on twitter, you are probably one of them! But because of the limits of being human, I could not make a list to infinity, so I just had to settle with ten.)

Lauren DeStefano
1. Lauren DeStefano @LaurenDeStefano

Okay, I confess, I haven't read her books yet. But her tweets are just so GOOOOOOD, that means her books must be too, right? She tweets about the struggles of writing, the glory of cats, and general bookishness. I LOVE IT SO MUCH.

Maggie Stiefvater
2. Maggie Stiefvater @mstiefvater

Okay obviously Maggie Stiefvater is the queen of authorly twitter because she is the queen of everything. Just go follow her. Don't ask questions.

Shannon Hale
3. Shannon Hale @haleshannon

Shannon Hale tweets about writerly life and her family and adorable kids - but also a lot about sexism in the publishing world, and what we can do to combat it.

whitney atkinson

4. Whitney @whittynovels

So this girl makes me laugh out loud sometimes. But she's not just on Twitter, she's on tumblr and Vine and YouTube too and on ALL of them she is JUST AS FUNNY. HOW IS SOMEONE THIS GOOD AT SOCIAL MEDIA.

Cait5. Cait @PaperFury

Okay but Cait is just fantabulous and if you don't know that already, what are you doing with your life? (Her instagram is superb too, if you were wondering.)

Faye Kirwin
6. Faye @Writerology

Only recently have I discovered the magical thing that is #storycrafter chats, hosted by the lovely Faye. Every Sunday (at 2pm CST? I think?) writers gather to discuss some aspect of writing. My first one was a role playing one which was SO FUN and I was hooked.

Kat is lovely and fun and just so nice and I like her lots. Also she's doing Camp NaNo and has recruited me as her personal encourager, so if you follow her maybe she'll be encouraged? :-P

Katie Nichols

8. Katie @SherwoodWriter

So Katie might have been possibly my first writer-friend on Twitter and she is just splendid. Also if you want to talk about anything dragon-related, she's your girl.

Cassie the Weird9. Cassie @CassietheWeird

Just looking at that twitter avatar, you know that Cassie is absolutely hilarious and fun. She is always great to chat with and has a fabulous sense of humor. 

Annie Hawthorne
10. Annie @annie_hawthorne

Annie is quite possibly the absolute sweetest little cinnamon roll I have ever met on the internet. :-) (I hope you don't mind me calling you that...? I mean it as a 100% compliment!) Also she shares excellent writing snippets. 

Now it's your turn! Tell me in the comments what other epic accounts I should follow on twitter! And go follow the lovely people I mentioned, if you haven't done that yet :-)

Monday, April 4, 2016

March // Amsterdam + Barcelona + Copenhagen

Do you like my little alphabetically ordered title? Those are the cities I've spent my March in, mostly Copenhagen, obviously, though I spent a GLORIOUS Easter in Barcelona, and a weekend earlier in the month with my friend who lives in Amsterdam. 


Because of my crazy travels (and multiple exams! study abroad is actually real school!), I didn't get to post a lot here. Though I DID post a TON on my travel blog, which you can check out here at Seeking Souls. Usually when I'm not here, I'm over there. And travel is NEARLY as good as books.

So because I've had such a lively, un-book-bloggly month, this recap is going to be scandalously short. In book life, I've been reading a lot of Scandinavian Crime Fiction for my class (lots of reviews to come!), and running around flailing in terror at the awfully high prices of books in Denmark. 

In writing life, I've been writing a kind of Draft 0.5 of #SlavicNovel - I realized that since I didn't have the ending plotted out, I couldn't just push through with a Draft 1. But I had so much written already, so it's not a Draft 0. But starting at a certain point, I started writing in a Draft 0 style, with lots of {insert magic item here} and [somehow they escape... with the bone? or without it?]. So that's why I'm calling it a Draft 0.5. It's almost done! 

Because of this, I'm not doing the April Camp NaNoWriMo. Maybe I'll join in the next round? We shall see. Good luck to all participating in April! 

Ummm... so that's literally all I have for you this month. I was super uninvolved in the internet world, which was actually good because that means I was super involved in my real world travels. 

Tell me about your month! Are you doing Camp NaNo? If so - tell me about your project! I will cheer you on from the sidelines - wooooo woooo wooooo