Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can't find the cover of the edition I read on GoodReads, so here is a picture of the cover, which shows the painting The Well of Toledo by Mexican painter Diego Rivera:

I read this for the 2019 Back to the Classics Challenge, Category: Read A Classic From the Americas or Caribbean. This book is also on my list for the Classics Club.

About the author: Gabriel García Márquez was born in Columbia in 1928. This was his first novel, originally published in 1967. The only book I have previously read by him is Chronicle of a Death Foretold (1985) which was excellent. I might want to read The General in His Labyrinth (1989), a fictionalized version of the life of Simon Bolivar. One Hundred Years of Solitude immediately established García Márquez as an important writer in the magical realism movement within Latin American literature. According to the afterword in my copy, this was the first international bestseller from Latin America. García Márquez won the Nobel Prize in 1982.

I am pretty sure I have tried to read this before and didn't finish it. This time I stuck with it, and it was worth reading, although I didn't love it as much as many other readers do. Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which was influenced by this book, is one of my favorites, and I'm not sure why I liked it so much better than this book.

The opening line: “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice...” (The end of the chapter describes the character's first encounter with ice.)

The ending line (leaving out a potential spoiler): “... races condemned to one hundred years of solitude did not have a second opportunity on earth.”

The novel begins with the founding of the mythical town of Macondo and proceeds to tell the story of several generations of a family, over the course of one hundred years. Many of the characters had similar names, probably to reflect the ways that each generation repeats aspects of the same story. The title reflects the isolation of Macondo from the rest of the world, and the solitude experienced by various characters.

I think I liked the first two hundred pages or so best (about 4 chapters). This part of the book takes place in the first two generations. In later sections, I had a harder time connecting with the characters. It was still worth finishing, especially for the ending.

Here is one of the passages I really liked:

“Tell me something, old friend: why are you fighting?"

What other reason could there be?" Colonel Gerineldo Marquez answered. "For the great Liberal party."

You're lucky because you know why," he answered. "As far as I'm concerned, I've come to realize only just now that I'm fighting because of pride."

That's bad," Colonel Gerineldo Marquez said.

Colonel Aureliano Buendia was amused at his alarm. "Naturally," he said. "But in any case, it's better than not knowing why you're fighting." He looked him in the eyes and added with a smile:

Or fighting, like you, for something that doesn't have any meaning for anyone.”

View all my reviews

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

6 Great Standalone Fantasy Novels

Inspired by this post, here's my own list. I just reviewed Declare so I'm using this post to look back at less recent books I loved. I will stick to recommending one book per author for the main post, but I want to give an honorable mention to Deerskin by Robin McKinley and Haroun & the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie.

This is probably my favorite fairytale retelling that I have read so far. I might be the only McKinley fan who didn't like Beauty: A  Retelling of the Story of Beauty & the Beast. I thought Rose Daughter, McKinley's other take on that fairytale, was more interesting, but nowhere near as good as Spindle's End. This is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but most of the book focuses on the life of Rosie, the princess in hiding, and her adoptive family.  The climactic confrontation with the evil fairy godmother is mysterious, dramatic, and satisfying when the novel finally gets there, but that's not what most of the book is about. 

This book has one of my favorite first chapters of all time. I already quoted the first paragraph when I did the first set of Wyrd & Wonder prompts as a blog tag, but here it is again: 

The magic in that country was so thick and tenacious that it settled over the land like chalk-dust and over floors and shelves like slightly sticky plaster-dust. (Housecleaners in that country earned unusually good wages.) If you lived in that country, you had to de-scale your kettle of its encrustation of magic at least once a week, because if you didn’t, you might find yourself pouring hissing snakes or pond slime into your teapot instead of water. (It didn’t have to be anything scary or unpleasant, like snakes or slime, especially in a cheerful household—magic tended to reflect the atmosphere of the place in which it found itself—but if you want a cup of tea, a cup of lavender-and-gold pansies or ivory thimbles is unsatisfactory. And while the pansies—put dry in a vase—would probably last a day, looking like ordinary pansies, before they went greyish-dun and collapsed into magic dust, something like an ivory thimble would begin to smudge and crumble as soon as you picked it up.)

This is an early fantasy novel (1926). The people of the village of Erl petition their lord for a magic lord to rule them, so he sends his son Alveric to find the King of Elfland's daughter and bring her back with him. It is suggested that the reason they want magic is simply to shake things up and bring something new into their lives. 

"They have chosen foolishly," the old lord said, "and only the Dark Ones that show not their faces know all that this will bring: but we, who see not, follow the ancient custom and do what our people in their parliament say. It may be some spirit of wisdom they have not known may save them even yet. Go then with your face turned towards that light that beats from fairyland, and that faintly illumines the dusk between sunset and early stars, and this shall guide you till you come to the frontier and have passed the fields we know." 

It has been years since I read this, but it really impressed me at the time. This is an odd novel; most people who like Dunsany's work prefer his short stories, and I'm not sure why I don't. I need to read this again someday and see if it still holds up, but there are some great passages.  

And little he knew of the things that ink may do, how it can mark a dead man's thought for the wonder of later years, and tell of happenings that are gone clean away, and be a voice for us out of the dark of time, and save many a fragile thing from the pounding of heavy ages; or carry to us, over the rolling centuries, even a song from lips long dead on forgotten hills.


This Booker Prize winner is another book I plan to reread. I loved this when I first read it. It is sometimes described as magic realism, but the magic appears to be less random and more systematic than that term usually suggests. It is intense and harrowing at times but also fun and clever.

The blurb on GoodReads: 
Saleem Sinai was born at midnight, the midnight of India's independence, and found himself mysteriously "handcuffed to history" by the coincidence. He is one of 1,001 children born at the midnight hour, each of them endowed with an extraordinary talent - and whose privilege and curse it is to be both master and victims of their times. Through Saleem's gifts - inner ear and wildly sensitive sense of smell - we are drawn into a fascinating family saga set against the vast, colourful background of the India of the 20th century. 

The first paragraph: 
I was born in the city of Bombay ... once upon a time. No, that won't do, there's no getting away from the date: I was born in Doctor Narlikar's Nursing Home on August 15th, 1947. And the time? The time matters, too. Well then: at night. No, it's important to be more ... On the stroke of midnight, as a matter of fact. Clock-hands joined palms in respectful greeting as I came. Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India's arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. There were gasps. And, outside the window, fireworks and crowds. A few seconds later, my father broke his big toe; but his accident was a mere trifle when set beside what had befallen me in that benighted moment, because thanks to the occult tyrannies of those blandly saluting clocks I had been mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of my country. For the next three decades, there was to be no escape. Soothsayers had prophesied me, newspapers celebrated my arrival, politicos ratified my authenticity. I was left entirely without a say in the matter. I, Saleem Sinai, later variously called Snotnose, Stainface, Baldy, Sniffer, Buddha and even Piece-of-the-Moon, had become heavily embroiled in Fate - at the best of times a dangerous sort of involvement. And I couldn't even wipe my own nose at the time.

The classic Arthurian retelling. I quoted this in Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Inspirational/Thought-Provoking Quotes from Classics (#5 and #6). It is very quotable! And I loved the characters: Arthur is a great character, of course, but this book has one of the best secondary casts I can remember from a fantasy novel. I found Gawaine and Mordred very memorable.

Not for everyone, but I adored it. I loved the two protagonists despite their obvious failings (especially Norrell, who can be quite ruthless). Still, this is another one with a great secondary cast; my favorite of the bunch is the mysterious Childermass, but Emma Pole and Stephen Black also stand out. My review.

Houses, like people, are apt to become rather eccentric if left too much on their own; this house was the architectural equivalent of an old gentleman in a worn dressing-gown and torn slippers, who got up and went to bed at odd times of day, and who kept up a continual conversation with friends no one else could see.

In which an angel and a demon team up to prevent Armageddon. This is one of the funniest books I have ever read, in any genre. In April I listened to the audio, my first time with the audiobook and fourth time reading the book. My review.

Some police forces would believe anything. Not the Metropolitan police, though. The Met was the hardest, most cynically pragmatic, most stubbornly down-to-earth police force in Britain. It would take a lot to faze a copper from the Met. It would take, for example, a huge, battered car that was nothing more nor less than a fireball, a blazing, roaring, twisted metal lemon from Hell, driven by a grinning lunatic in sunglasses, sitting amid the flames, trailing thick black smoke, coming straight at them through the lashing rain and wind at eighty miles an hour.
That would do it every time.

Have you read any of these? Do you have any favorite standalone fantasy novels? Let me know in comments!

Mini-reviews for Comics: Monstress Vol. 3 + House of Whispers #1

I don't think I will manage to write longer reviews for either of these, so I have decided to review them together. Both of these comics are fantasy with elements of horror. Monstress is definitely the darker of the two, but if you have read the previous volumes you already know that. 

Monstress Vol. 3 Written by Marjorie Liu
Illustrated by Sana Takeda 

Synopsis: Maika has spent most of her life learning how to fight, but how will she fare when the only way to save her to make friends?
My rating: ** 2 stars, or maybe 2.5? 

I really liked the previous 2 volumes of this series and gave both of them 3 stars. This one was significantly harder to follow than the others, though. The art is excellent as always, but I had a hard time connecting the dots this time. I wish the plot would slow down a bit; in addition to making it easier to follow, that would probably make me more invested in the characters. This is the most recent volume, and I am on the fence about whether I will want to read Volume 4 when it comes out. 

House of Whispers (2018-) -- single issue
Written by Nalo Hopkinson
Illustrated by Dominike Stanton

Synopsis: An all-new corner has been added to Neil Gaiman's Sandman Universe!

Welcome to the House of Dahomey, the houseboat of Erzulie Fréda, where the souls of Voodoo followers go when they sleep to beseech the flirtatious and tragic goddess to grant them their hearts' desires and counsel them on their futures and fortunes. When you arrive, you'll find a party is in full swing, filled with all kinds of fabulous and fierce folk, while fish fry and music blasts.

From her bayou, Erzulie scries upon the mortal realm and sees four human girls open a mysterious and magical journal filled with whispers and rumors that, if they spread, could cause a pandemic unlike any the Earth has seen, with the power to release Sopona, the loa lord of infectious disease and cousin to Erzulie, who is currently banned from the human plane.

But even the fearsome Erzulie cannot be of assistance when her dream river turns tumultuous, tossing her house from her realm and into another…

My rating: 3 stars

Review: This is the third of the new Sandman Universe comics (published 2018) that I have read. It should probably be read after the others, The Sandman Universe #1 and The Kingdom (Simon Spurrier). It was established in The Sandman Universe #1 that a new House —the House of Whispers— had joined the Houses of Secret and Mystery in the Dreaming. 

House of Whispers #1 picks up this thread of the plot and introduces some new characters. Most of the story takes place at the Voodoo party described above, and the rest takes place inside an apartment where three teenage girls attract the attention of a Voodoo spirit. This single issue is very much an introduction to a larger storyline, but it definitely has potential. The first volume has already been collected, so I will put it on my TBR list.  

Monday, May 20, 2019

Review: Declare

Declare Declare by Tim Powers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

synopsis (taken from Overdrive): In his eleventh novel, Tim Powers takes his unique brand of speculative fiction into uncharted territory, instilling the old-fashioned espionage novel with a healthy dose of the supernatural.

As a young double agent infiltrating the Soviet spy network in Nazi-occupied Paris, Andrew Hale finds himself caught up in a secret even more ruthless war. Two decades later, a coded message draws Professor Andrew Hale back into Her Majesty's Secret Service. Elements from his past are gathering in Beirut, including ex-British counterespionage chief and Soviet mole Kim Philby, and a beautiful former Spanish Civil War soldier-turned-intelligence operative, Elena Ceniza-Bendiga. Soon Hale will be forced to confront again the nightmare that has haunted his adult life: a lethal unfinished operation code-named "Declare." From the corridors of Whitehall to the Arabian Desert, from post-war Berlin to the streets of Cold War Moscow, Hale's desperate quest draws him into international politics and gritty espionage tradecraft—and inexorably drives Hale, Ceniza-Bendiga, and Philby to a deadly confrontation on the high glaciers of Mount Ararat, in the very shadow of the fabulous and perilous biblical Ark.

The plot: This is a secret history, which takes as its premise the idea that supernatural events occurred behind the scenes of the history we know. The story unfolds slowly, and the fantasy elements don't become clear until about halfway through. I still liked the earlier chapters, but it is not very fast paced if that is what you're looking for. The book is probably a better reading experience if you don't know too much about the fantasy aspect in advance, so I will just say that it is a very interesting take on the djinn of Middle Eastern folklore.

There is a fair amount of violence (it comes with the territory for this genre) but it is not graphic. The story is told somewhat out of sequence, with flashbacks to the past interrupting the present. I struggled with this book a little bit toward the end, when there was a lot going on at once. A bit more exposition might have been helpful. This might be an effect of listening to it on audio, but I had a similar problem with a different book that I read in print last month, so maybe not.

Audio narrator: Simon Prebble's narration is fantastic! I previously listened to his readings of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell and The Ladies of Grace Adieu and Other Stories.

Writing style: I really liked the writing -- some great scene setting (particularly Mt. Ararat) and dialogue.

So many promising agents manage to convince even themselves that they didn't see what they saw. Go on. And don't tell me in tones of apology that it gets more weird. I do know that.

The only other book I have tried by this author is The Anubis Gates, which won the Philip K. Dick Award. I didn't care for it, but I definitely like this one better. I thought the characters were much more interesting, for one thing. This book is also an award winner; it won the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 2001 and was nominated for several other awards.

Tim Powers has written quite a few books, so I might try something else by him, but there isn't a particular book that I have in mind. This was a good one to start with, however, and I can certainly see why it won an award.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Wyrd & Wonder Blog Tag, prompts 11-18

list of prompts

11. Stunning debut: Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell or A Stranger in Olondria (Both World Fantasy Award winners)

I LOVE this one! I have read it twice and listened to the audiobook once. My review.

One of the best books I have read this year. My review.

12. Spine Poetry OR Mother's Day: Mother's Day makes me think of the Broken Earth Trilogy (N.K. Jemisin) again, and the mother-daughter relationship between Nassun & Essun. I mentioned those books already in my first set of prompts.  

For mothers and sons, the scenes between Morwen and Turin in The Children of Hurin are one of the highlights of the book, I think. 

13.  Maps!: How about this interactive map of Middle-earth from the LotR Project? It is a thing of beauty.  

14. Fave trans or enby characters: Desire of the Endless, in The Sandman comics series:      

I am not the only one who thought of Desire; someone else picked them for this prompt on Twitter.  

There are also the main characters in The Black Tides of Heaven, which I have reviewed.    

15.  Current read: One Hundred Years of Solitude
I posted last week about the beginning of this book, which is set in the fictional town of Macondo somewhere in Latin America.

This time I will share some quotes I liked: 

Death really did not matter to him but life did, and therefore the sensation he felt when they gave their decision was not a feeling of fear but of nostalgia. (130) This part is from the point of view of Jose Arcadio, who is about to be shot. 

“Tell me something, old friend: why are you fighting?"

What other reason could there be?" Colonel Gerineldo Marquez answered. "For the great Liberal party."

You're lucky because you know why," he answered. "As far as I'm concerned, I've come to realize only just now that I'm fighting because of pride."

"That's bad," Colonel Gerineldo Marquez said.

Colonel Aureliano Buendia was amused at his alarm. "Naturally," he said. "But in any case, it's better than not knowing why you're fighting." He looked him in the eyes and added with a smile:

"Or fighting, like you, for something that doesn't have any meaning for anyone.” (148)

Aureliano is Jose Arcadio's brother.

I am most of the way through now and not sure what to think of the book as a whole.

16. Male characters: I will cover this in a separate post, together with the female characters (#19).

17.  Amazing magical artifact — The Luggage:

Image via Discworld wiki

's magical, intelligent suitcase from the Discworld series. It is made of Sapient Pearwood and has hundreds of little legs. 

I will do #18 separately on Saturday. 

Update: did #Stack
Saturday on Twitter:
I read most of my stack over the weekend. Now I have reviews to write.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

5 Favorite Fantasy Cities

Inspired by this post for Wyrd & Wonder by Lisa at Dear Geek Place. This is also my challenge entry for Bout of Books Day 2: Bookish Favorites.    

1. Ankh-Morpork on the Discworld by Terry Pratchett

The major city of the Discworld series. It divides into the affluent Ankh, on one side of the River Ankh, and Morpork, the poor part of the city, on the other. 
"Ankh-Morpork had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote." -- Mort (Discworld #4) 
"Poets have tried to describe Ankh-Morpork. They have failed. Perhaps it's the sheer zestful vitality of the place, or maybe it's just that a city with a million inhabitants and no sewers is rather robust for poets, who prefer daffodils and no wonder. So let's just say that Ankh-Morpork is as full of life as an old cheese on a hot day, as loud as a curse in a cathedral, as bright as an oil slick, as colourful as a bruise and as full of activity, industry, bustle and sheer exuberant busyness as a dead dog on a termite mound." -- Mort
Check out the Ankh-Morpork Anthemperformed by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra (via Wikipedia) -- if you have read the series, this might amuse you. 😁

2. Minas Tirith in The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

The capital city of Gondor. It was once Minas Anor, the Tower of the Sun, and counterpart to the ruined Minas Ithil (the Tower of the Moon). After the fall of its sister city, it was renamed Minas Tirith (the Tower of Guard), to indicate its role of guarding Gondor against Mordor. (Minas Ithil is known as Osgiliath by the time LotR takes place.) The Minas Tirith chapters are some of my favorites. 
"In Minas Tirith they endure the East Wind, but they do not ask it for tidings." 
(There are several quotes I could have picked, but I thought this was fitting.)

3. Bain in A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar

The beautiful capital city of Olondria. We learn more about it during the Feast of Birds, a celebration dedicated to the goddess Avalei.
"As I was a stranger in Olondria, I knew nothing of the splendour of its coasts, nor of Bain, the Harbour City, whose lights and colours spill into the ocean like a cataract of roses. I did not know the vastness of the spice markets of Bain, where the merchants are delirious with scents..."
4. Berenice in Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino

Invisible Cities is a book of fables about different cities. (All of the cities are women's names.) This is a strange book, and I will have to revisit it eventually. Here is what I wrote about it in my review: 

My favorite of the cities was probably Berenice, the last one. In Berenice, the unjust city, there is a hidden "city of the just," created by dissenters. Eventually, the inhabitants of the hidden city become so certain of their own rightness, "and of being more just than many others who call themselves more just than the just," that the hidden city of the just gives rise to another unjust city. It turns out that: 
"... the real Berenice is a temporal succession of different cities, alternately just and unjust. But what I wanted to warn you about is something else: all the future Berenices are already present in this instant, wrapped one within the other, confined, crammed, inextricable."
5. The City in The Just City by Jo Walton 

In this novel, people from different eras, including a pair of gods (Apollo & Athena), attempt to realize Plato’s Republic, with the aid of time travel. The results are interesting, to say the least. Is this SF or Fantasy? I'm not sure, but on GoodReads it is tagged more often as fantasy, so I will just go with that. There are two more books: The Philosopher Kings and Necessity.
"Our souls know harmony and proportion before we are born, so although I had never seen anything like it, my soul resonated at once to the beauty of the city."

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Sunday Post

The Sunday Post is a weekly meme hosted at @ Caffeinated Reviewer. It’s a chance to share news~ A post to recap the past week on your blog and showcase books and things we have received. Share news about what is coming up on our blog for the week ahead.  

I last did one of these about a month ago. Here is what I have been up to on the blog since then. 

Recent reviews of books: 

City of Bones by Martha Wells (fantasy)

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (science fiction) This is one of my favorite books!

Why Poetry
 by Matthew Zapruder (nonfiction)

Upcoming reviews:
A Vindication of the Rights of Woman -- Mary Wollstonecraft
Declare -- Tim Powers (fantasy, currently listening on audio)

other posts: 

Wyrd & Wonder Blog Tag, prompts 1-10 (Wyrd & Wonder blog event) 

Bout of Books 25: May 13-19 sign up post!

Almost a year ago, I selected the 17th century poem "Corinna’s Going a-Maying" (Robert Herrick)  for the weekly feature The Monday Poem in a  GoodReads group, All About Books. I didn't write about it, but you can read the poem here with some helpful annotations. Herrick’s best-known poem is "To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time," on a similar theme. The first stanza:

Get up, get up for shame, the blooming morn
Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
    See how Aurora throws her fair
    Fresh-quilted colors through the air:
    Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
    The dew bespangling herb and tree.
Each flower has wept and bow'd toward the east
Above an hour since: yet you not dress'd;
    Nay! not so much as out of bed?
    When all the birds have matins said
    And sung their thankful hymns, 'tis sin,
    Nay, profanation to keep in,
Whereas a thousand virgins on this day
Spring, sooner than the lark, to fetch in May.

Review: One Hundred Years of Solitude

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez My rating: 3 of 5 stars I can't find the cover of the edition ...