051. Review of GAME OF THRONES by George R.R. Martin. SPOILERS ABOUND.

I’m not really into writing reviews for each book in a series, but since this is the first novel, I will definitely do so — my comments for the other ones will be much more abbreviated (hopefully). Also, warning — SERIOUS, SERIOUS SPOILERS. I am not kidding.

Game of Thrones was something I wanted to read for some time, but it was so damn long that I never really got around to it. Finally, I obviously did. And I don’t regret it one little bit.

Of course, the book has its problems. The names, for starters, are unwieldy, and even Martin himself, I’ve heard, has trouble keeping them safe. I do understand completely that he’s trying to create a world, and in many high-born families, names are repeated over and over again due to tradition. This works in real life, but is very hard to pull off well in a book, because with such a huge volume of characters to begin with, there are too many repeated Jons, Roberts, Eddards, and Brandons. There are also too many names that are similar in sound: Jory, Joffrey, and Jorah come to mind, as do Varys, Viserys, and Aerys. I understand he was trying to build a world in which lineage and honoring via name is important, but in a book, it’s more important to distinguish characters from one another than it is to build a namesake chain.

Another problem is POV. I actually love the way the book is structured — a chapter given to each POV character in third person, jumping around from setting to setting. But the POV distribution is terribly uneven. The POVs in Game of Thrones are as such: Ned, Catelyn, Bran, Jon, Arya, Sansa, Tyrion, and Dany. Now, the problem I find with this is that the POV is heavily weighed towards Starks, and in fact, the only non-Starks are Tyrion and Dany (and technically Jon, but I consider him part of the family even if he IS a bastard, because he has the same viewpoint and up until a point, lived with them. Dany and Tyrion are the only two people who share a different “viewpoint.” What I mean by that is this: The Starks are loyal to the Starks. The Starks all fear and dislike the Lannisters and are loyal to the king. In the beginning of the book, every POV character except Dany & Tyrion are in Winterfell. By the middle of the book, Catelyn, Bran, and Jon are in the North and Arya, Sansa, and Ned are in the South. Only Dany is in a different location, and Tyrion may be in the North or South, but his perspective at least differs, in terms of philosophy and in terms of familial ties, to the Starks and Jon.

This is a problem for me for two reasons: 1) The book is too heavily weighted on the Stark side, and makes it feel like Dany and Tyrion are the odd ones out and 2) it takes literally FOREVER to get back to anything that Dany is doing. The same thing is true for any character, because it’s not like Ned narrates every chapter, but the problem is that Dany is the ONLY window into what’s happening in her area of the world, whereas when Ned is not speaking, Sansa is, and when Bran is not speaking, Catelyn is. I felt that the POV distribution was too uneven in that sense, and either Martin needed to up Dany’s parts a little more, or he should have included a second POV from her area of the world. I fear that in the next few installments, this problem will extend to Jon as well, because he’s now embarking on a very different sort of quest, and his setting and storyline will be like Dany’s: different than all the others. One POV character has already died, so he’ll have to be replaced, and I hope dearly it’s by Robb, but the problem is that will still leave for a highly uneven distribution. Alas.

Okay, problems aside: this book was highly addictive. Those are literally my only two issues with this entire book. The prose was good (I guess? I have no idea, I wasn’t even paying attention — and that should tell you a hell of a lot), and the characters (except Sansa. Dear god she needs to not narrate and also die) are engaging and interesting. Of course, I have my favourites (see: Robb, Tyrion, and Dany), but I don’t dislike many characters — at least from a writing perspective. What I mean by that is yes, Joffrey is a horrible human being, but I think he’s a good character. I do hate some characters and want them to die, but the only one I find really unengaging is Sansa, and unfortunately she gets a whole freaking POV. Sigh. The story is really well written, and the concept and world is totally immersive. Martin has a way of pulling you in, and then you get to an end of a chapter in the South, and you want to know what happens next — but then he takes you back to The Wall, and something else interesting is happening there. Sure, you itch to find out what’s going to happen in each storyline, but I didn’t feel that I was being cheated and kept from knowing things — no storyline was vastly more interesting than another. Of course, I’m particularly partial to Dany’s storyline, and I’m dying to know about the Others, but I also wanted to know what was happening in Catelyn’s journey, and how Ned and his daughters were faring in Lannister central.

The last thing I want to touch upon here is character death. I was shocked to find out who died. From a reader’s perspective, I was weepy and horribly mad, but from a writer’s perspective, I was totally appreciative. Here is a man that is not afraid to kill his babies. And he’s not doing it to piss off the reader, nor is he doing it for fun. He’s killing off characters that need to be killed for one reason or another, and isn’t shying away from the hard, cold truth of reality; that no matter how great or evil a person is, they will die eventually, and sometimes the people you love won’t live, and the people you think deserve death will still be sitting around long after the good ones are gone. So am I upset that Ned, Drogo and Lady die? Yup — you bet. Am I pleased Viserys kicked the bucket? Sure. But I think Martin knows what he’s doing and he’s doing it beautifully.

I’m terrified about the death toll in the upcoming books, but I have to read. I just do. And you should, too.

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048. Review of Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

I’m a big fan of Kelly Link. She’s beyond imaginative, a unique and very talented writer, and I feel, sometimes, as though the essence of my writing and hers isn’t that much different. I absolutely loved her second collection, Magic for Beginners, and although I liked some of the stories in Stranger Things Happen, as a whole it didn’t have the same sort of impact that other book had for me.

I particularly loved “Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose,” “Flying Lessons,” “Vanishing Act” and “Survivors’ Ball, or, The Donner Party.” But some of the others fell short to me. And even some of the stories I rather enjoyed had some of the same pitfalls I noticed in Link’s other stories when I first read Magic. One such pitfall is Link’s inability — or refusal — to wrap up most of her pieces. Not to say that everything should be neat and tidy with no loose ends, nor should everything work out perfectly and be completely comprehensible, because, as Link is clearly trying to show us, life isn’t that way. And if stories are meant to echo life, they can’t be that way either.

In some of Link’s stories — and in fact in a lot of them, particularly in this collection — it’s very hard to grasp the essence of the plot or of the story she is trying to tell. And although I don’t believe endings should be neat, I do think that the reader should be left with questions — not gaps in understanding. And sometimes, here, I felt that I simply wasn’t able to find the connective tissue or the point hidden underneath all those lovely words and brilliant ideas. I think sometimes, whether or not this is the truth or the way it’s conveyed to the reader, Link’s ideas are great but not quite complete. Half-baked. In the best way, possible, of course. I think some of her stories are novels and novellas yearning for expansion, and others are in need of pruning.

Some of her stories are delightfully odd, some of them are bafflingly bizarre. But I enjoy them. I get a feel for her characters, except when she deliberately makes things too confusing, like in “Louise’s Ghost” or “The Girl Detective.” I think if Magic for Beginners was fabulous, this book, her first book, was the work of an unpolished artist who hadn’t yet learned that there is a difference between keeping a mystery and an air of wonder about a story and deliberately withholding information that could help clarify the end result.

But more often than not, you get the point. There’s a feminist angle, a whole lot of fantastical elements that are meant to be enjoyed as much as they are to inform about some aspect of society or life.

I love Link. I really do. And I recommend her to anyone who thinks fantasy is stale. But I don’t know if I would recommend this particular collection in whole. Magic is my go-to, and it will remain that way.

047. Six Resolutions for the New Year

Now that we’ve hit the fourth day of the new year, it’s about time I wrote down my resolution and goals for all to see.

1. Finish my novel. This is a pretty big goal, but it’s a doable one. Originally, following on the heels of National Novel Writing Month, I’d thought I’d be able to get my first draft done by the end of December. That didn’t happen. But my goal of finishing my novel (not just the first draft, but the revisions as well) and beginning to send out to agents by the time I head to New Zealand in September still stands.  My goal is to really finish the first draft by February, edit until May or so, and then write a query and send out over the summer. It’s my main goal this year, and I think I can do it if I buckle down and follow some of my other resolutions.

2. Write every day. This is something that practically every writer resolves to do. I’ve resisted it so far, because I don’t believe that a writer must write every day in order to be successful. One of my favourite authors rejects this idea completely. But the fact of the matter is that over the past few months I’ve really failed to write as much or as diligently as I need to. And in order to ensure that I do better with this, I really need to try to write every day. I know that for me, writing the same novel every day will be a nearly impossible feat. If I force myself to do it when I really, really feel I can’t, it will come out muddled and awful, and that’s not my goal. My goal is to write well and often — I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity. So my goal instead is to write something every day: whether it’s a blog post, an entry for Brigits Flame, a random scene, backstory, or part of my novel. My goal now? To try and write my novel three or four times a week, with at least 1000 words done per day. It’s a doable goal, and as I grow more comfortable with the plan and the routine, I’ll increase the writing time and the word count.

3. Read a book a week. I want to try to read for at least one hour every day, but I think more importantly is reading at least one book per week. It’s less rigid than giving myself a length of time I must read per day, but it will certainly ensure that I’m reading (or rereading) at a good pace. Because as a writer — and as someone who wants to be an agent or editor — it’s absolutely essential that I continue to read with as much passion and interest as I write. I’d also like to vary my subject matter, alternating rereading books to choosing new books in a variety of genres — not just fiction, or even the genres of fiction I tend to gravitate towards. I will, of course, write reviews as well.

4. Go to the gym more. I want to go three times a week. Not twice. I really want to get into better shape, and going to the gym three times a week will really help with that — especially since it’s going to start getting too cold to simply walk everywhere instead of taking the bus or the T.

5. Cook more, cook differently, cook healthier. This seems like three resolutions, but for me, it’s only one. I love food. I am an enormous foodie, and I’ve been getting more interested in cooking because of this. This year, I want to make at least one new and interesting recipe a week, whether it’s a three hour roast, a simple but tasty soup, or a complicated and exotic Thai recipe. In the past, I’ve shied away from buying “strange,” expensive, or specialty ingredients for a variety of reasons. Some of them, like, say, squid, I have no idea how to cook properly. Some things, like duck, are too pricy to get on a regular basis. And lemongrass is only good for a couple of cuisines. But I think it’ll be worth it to, at least once a week, try something brand new, and at least once a month, get a more … expensive and “impractical” ingredient to work with, just to change things up. Because let’s be honest — pasta’s tasty, but it’s hardly the healthiest meal option. But if I can find ways to cook pasta with different sauces, different garnishes, etc. that may be a bit healthier, it’ll be great.

6. Save money. I’m not good at this. I’ve gotten much better about making coffee instead of buying it from Peet’s or Starbucks, and I don’t eat out too much. But I still eat out more than I should; I still spend more at bars than I ought to. I still buy things that I don’t really need, even if I’ve really done a good job at cutting down the frivolous spending. But I need to get much better at this — whether it’s getting cheaper items on menus, forgoing a latte and sticking with plain coffee or tea, or simply not purchasing things I don’t actually need. I think it’s doable — if a bit difficult.

So these are my resolutions for the new year — and hopefully, I’ll be able to stick with them.

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