The Historian - Elizabeth Kostova (Review)

Summary: Late one night, exploring her father’s library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a cache of yellowing letters addressed ominously to ‘My dear and unfortunate successor’. Her discovery plunges her into a world she never dreamed of – a labyrinth where the secrets of her father’s past and her mother’s mysterious fate connect to an evil hidden in the depths of history.

Rating: 2 / 5

Review: A contemporary gothic adventure novel that was on the NY Times Best Seller List with 900+ pages and a bunch of awards?? This shit has got to be good, right? Apparently not so. I didn't go into this expecting a masterpiece by any means. I wanted something reasonably exciting with vampires and action and suspense and a dark, fun atmosphere. I received very little of the above. I mean - when you look into the book it seems like it has a decent amount of passionate fans from Goodreads reviews to YouTube videos so this could just be a personal issue. For whatever reason The Historian and I did not mesh well.

The book is told primarily in a series of letters between the characters or in flashback sequences as a father, Paul, recounts his adventures as a college student after receiving a mysterious book with a woodcut of a dragon in the center, to his daughter. He soon learns his thesis advisor, Professor Rossi, is also in possession of one of these books, at which point the Professor goes missing. The rest of the book is primarily about his search to locate and save his mentor while traveling around Europe and Eurasia with Professor Rossi's long lost daughter whom he meets primarily by "coincidence". This was the book of coincidences. I'd say 90% of the plot moved forward because they just happened to meet so and so on the street or in a shop or in a restaurant and realized "OH WOW! You're involved in the Dracula mystery too! That's wild - lets all work together!!" The weirdest part is that Kostova seems to realize she is doing this and attempts to rectify it by having the characters comment on how strange of a coincidence it is. I thought for a while that she was setting us up for some amazing twist that would explain it all away. But no.

The letter format sounded unnatural and wholly not like a letter, while at the same time limiting the way the narrative was able to be told. I didn't see a benefit and I would have enjoyed the story more without it and maybe a letter included once in a while. The descriptions of the locations were beautiful which is the one positive thing I can say. It certainly makes you want to travel - but it seemed so bizarre how someone could be responsible for such lovely descriptive language while simultaneously creating such a dragging plot and dull characters.

Don't expect much action or vampires - I think altogether we come across 2 or 3, with Dracula included. At no point did they seem to be a genuine threat to the characters and I never found their appearances anything but frustrating because of how brief they were. Dracula in particular, who is introduced at the climax about 600+ pages in, is a huge let down and not given nearly enough time considering how long we spent searching for his lair.

Final Thoughts: Overall a meandering, unorganized, mediocre novel. Like I said - I realize there are people out there who really enjoyed it so I wish I could pinpoint the crowd that might get something from it but I'm really not sure? In general I would not recommend it, especially considering the ridiculous length. I'd love to read something with a similar atmosphere and plot that was more compelling.

Metropolitan Museum of Art


Some photos from my trip to The Met on my birthday this February. I enjoy going at least once a year - I feel it refreshes my mind and helps inspire me to be more productive.

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Neuromancer - William Gibson (Review)

Amazon Summary: The Matrix is a world within the world, a global consensus- hallucination, the representation of every byte of data in cyberspace.

Case had been the sharpest data-thief in the business, until vengeful former employees crippled his nervous system. But now a new and very mysterious employer recruits him for a last-chance run. The target: an unthinkably powerful artificial intelligence orbiting Earth in service of the sinister Tessier-Ashpool business clan. With a dead man riding shotgun and Molly, mirror-eyed street-samurai, to watch his back, Case embarks on an adventure that ups the ante on an entire genre of fiction.

Rating: 3.5 / 5

Review: Never in my life have I been this simultaneously impressed AND bored while reading a book! I had a lot of mixed feelings about Neuromancer which leveled me out at about a 3.5; because of the sheer immensity behind the concept, and no sexism to boot, I'm letting it fall just a bit over the halfway mark into the positive. This book is most well-known for its very in-depth, visual descriptions of a "cyberspace" that was conceived before the internet. Some even go so far as suggesting that this book potentially put the "concept" of the internet into the public consciousness which eventually led to its creation. Just from reading it (and doing very little further research) I wouldn't go quite that far - but there is an obvious correlation. I will always have a very strong sense of identity wrapped up in the internet. As a 90's baby my childhood development occurred simultaneously with the growth of the internet. I've spent a lot of time wondering how it must have felt to grow up without an innate understanding of this huge shift in the way the world works which is what made Neuromancer sound so interesting to me.

When I say I was bored, that's not to say that the book did not deliver on the aforementioned subject. To the contrary - Gibson's bizarre descriptions of the physical cyberspace his characters inhabit were interesting, to say the least. Despite being written before our current conception of the internet - Gibson's universe seems to have made a logical jump in such a way that it still could be a variation on our own future. Everything made sense in a way that ties in very well with the current state of technology.

The story follows a "cyber cowboy", Henry Case, a hacker who was recently laid off and has damaged his central nervous system making it impossible for him to re-enter the "matrix". He is contacted by another company and offered the option to have this damage fixed and paid for given that he agrees to work with them on a project. Henry eagerly agrees, wanting nothing more than to return to his fast-paced lifestyle within cyberspace. The story continues to follow Case as he works with his mysterious benefactors, along with his partner Molly Millions. I was grateful to Gibson for allowing Molly to unapologetically take on the physical, "kick-ass" role while Henry primarily remained safe at his virtual station. Too many stories (lets even think modern day television: Arrow, The Flash) feature the amazing male hero out in the field and the nerdy, brilliant female counterpart relaying information from a desk. To see someone immediately flip that dynamic before it became such a cliché was a wholly pleasant experience. No complaints a la Stranger in a Strange Land - I realize one was written in the 60's and one in the 80's but there's a stark difference in it's treatment of women only 20 years later.

Despite these many positives, I'd be lying if I said this wasn't a difficult one for me to dredge through. While I can admire much of what Gibson created, I found the story difficult to understand. In retrospect, I can follow the plot, but paragraph to paragraph I would get lost and have to re-read things before I could even figure out the location of a scene. Naturally the metaphysical aspect of the story doesn't make this any easier, but I think I've read enough sci-fi and magic realism to say that I'm pretty good at following that sort of thing. The characters personalities themselves were non-existent which was the stories biggest downfall for me. If you asked me what the defining aspects of Henry, Molly or any of the other characters were I wouldn't be able to give you any. The personalities held no distinction and I felt no emotion towards them. Nothing really stuck out at me as far as "the human experience" is concerned, and the more impressive technical aspects of the story were too complicated to really have fun with. Was there a moral? I'm not sure, but if there was I certainly didn't leave understanding it.

Final Thoughts: I probably wouldn't recommend this to most readers. If you love science fiction and cyber-punk is something you're into, it's worth a go. I know that's not the case for the average person, and while I stand by my 3.5 for what it did bring me, I would imagine a lot of people getting just as bored as I was.

I know this is a favorite for some people so I'd love to hear what you took from it in the comments!

The Wicked + The Divine - Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson (Review)

Amazon Summary: Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critically thermonuclear floor-fillers Young Avengers and Phonogram reunite to start a new, ongoing, superhero fantasy with a beautiful, oversized issue. Welcome to The Wicked + The Divine, where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you're immortal, doesn't mean you're going to live forever.

Rating: 4 / 5

Review: Welp, Image Comics has come through again and added a second MUST-READ series to my collection. I tore through the current issues this week and am now sulking while I wait for the next issue, along with Saga. I wasn't sure going in - the synopsis was so grandiose that it seemed like it might be easy to miss the mark. But Gillen and McKelvie manage to gracefully give the story a sense of playfulness despite the darker themes.

By making the Gods in this universe literal 'Pop Stars' the constructs of celebrity, and the power that naturally comes from it, is fascinating and well explored. In this way they are able to receive the public adoration that seems to be one of their main driving forces. The idea of entertainment & the media being revered as a modern form of religion pops up a decent amount in contemporary fiction. It reminded me in a very indirect way of Neil Gaiman's book American Gods which personifies these forces. I know it's a popular book, but I wasn't a huge fan. I found TW+TD explored these themes in a manner that was more engaging and not nearly as heavy handed.

There are a decent amount of PoC in the cast (including our lead!) as well as a trans character which was really exciting. The story itself isn't as tight as Saga (sorry, it's just my benchmark for A++ quality right now) and the world-building isn't as immersive but it's plenty interesting. To be fair - there's a LOT less material out right now (only 5 issues) and it has a great foundation to build the story off of. Occasionally the characterization was a little flat - I did like Lucifer but some of her dialogue was a little cliché. I enjoyed the book so much I almost feel guilty writing that, but it definitely crossed my mind multiple times. And there was one scene in particular at the Morrigan's show in the subway that went on for a few pages and I had no idea what was going on. Maybe it was just me, but something about the panels/dialogue confused the heck out of me. Art is a bit more of the same - it doesn't touch Fiona Staples (I don't think anyone does??) but I thought it was clean and engaging once I started getting into the story.

Final Thoughts: Hiiighly recommend! If you see this, pick it up and give it a try - it's universally likable. I would suggest reading at least the first 3 issues before making a judgment on it. I will be happily continuing on with this series!