Wednesday, March 18, 2015

In Which I Write Book Reviews

“Faber sniffed the book. ‘Do you know that books smell like nutmeg
or some spice from a foreign land?’”
–Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

While I enjoy reading, I appreciate most stories only on an external level. If someone asks me how a book was, my typical response is usually, “It was interesting”, which wouldn’t be untrue. Even when I dislike a novel, I find intriguing aspects in the plot because every author has a different perspective. And I like that. But there are far fewer books I would actually claim to love, books I would read over and over, books I would take with me into exile.

The following three are examples of my select, but by no means tiny, list of top titles. I’ll try to keep this as spoiler-free as possible, but be forewarned—some people have a more sensitive definition of spoilers than others. And I can’t be the best judge of that since I’m the type of person who often reads the ending ahead. (Don’t judge.)

Several years ago when I initially began researching literary agents, mostly for the fun of it, I stumbled across Stefan Bachmann. At that time, The Peculiar wasn’t out yet, but I read the write-up and felt it didn’t really tickle my fancy. Still, I checked out his blog, thinking I might unearth some secret author code revealing whether he was satisfied with his agent or not. Right away I found his voice engaging and amusing. And you know when you follow someone’s blog and you start feeling like you’re best buds with them, even though you’ve never met them in person and you rarely comment on their posts? Then you start buying their books because you want to support this friend who wouldn’t even know you from a hole in the wall? So yeah, that might have happened with The Peculiar.

One of the cool bits about Bachmann is that he was around eighteen when his first novel came out. But that also meant I wasn’t too confident he’d be any good. Even more experienced authors than he frequently fail to pass the Liz Test (a very prestigious, nonexistent set of rules governing beautiful prose). In fact, I’m so persnickety about writing style, I sometimes find fault with Ray Bradbury (GASP!). Usually I don’t live up to my own standards, so that gives you an idea of what they’re like. But for the most part, Bachmann’s work pleased my rigid inner editor. Yay Stefan!

Since you can find a summary on Goodreads (just click the header over the photo), I won’t bore you with my own rendition of THE PECULIAR’s plot. But I will tell you what the summary doesn’t say, that while Bartholomew is not hugely likeable (he is somewhat irritable, somewhat selfish, and somewhat irresponsible), he is relatable and real. Though he is half faery, he is very human. And his rough edges are offset by the bumbling Mr. Jelliby, the most loveable character I’ve encountered in a long time. Not to mention, Bachmann proves himself a master of world building and tone. Even his prologue (and I’m not a fan of prologues) sets the perfect mood. On top of that, the novel is set in steampunk London—need I say more?

Another fact that I appreciated about Bachmann is that he only wrote one sequel to The Peculiar—namely, The Whatnot, which you should also read (you know, if you want). Isn’t two such a pretty number? Maybe I’m jaded, but I don’t really like trilogies because I feel that—more often than not—the first installment starts out strong, the second degenerates into a mush middle, and the third falls apart completely (I’m looking at you, Hunger Games). If I know a story is the first of three, I am much slower to invest time in reading it, even when I know the initial book is fabulous. (For instance, I generally pretend Inkheart doesn’t have any sequels.) So yeah, Bachmann is great.



While I’m a reasonably fast reader, I still prefer to take my sweet time on any given book. That way the story seeps into my everyday life and becomes a part of me. To balance this out, I generally have four to seventeen novels going at once. (When people ask me if this gets confusing, I ask them if it gets confusing to have more than one friend. That shuts them up.) But from the moment I started The Phantom of the Opera, I struggled to put it down just to do normal things like eating, and sleeping, and school. I even stayed up late flipping pages as quickly as I could, and I’m religious about getting to bed early. This level of absorption rarely occurs. When reviews tell me a novel will hold me hostage (or whatever terminology they like to use), I smile and snicker and prove them wrong. (I’ve been working at The Inheritance Cycle for years now, and I only picked up the pace a while ago because my sister threatened me.)

All through Gaston Leroux’s masterpiece, I suffered with the Phantom; I sympathized with him. (Of course, it helped that I had already fallen in love with the soundtrack.) Though Erik’s voice is far superior to any other’s, he can never be allowed on stage. Hideously marred (he has some sort of genetic leprosy, if I recall correctly), he hides beneath the Paris Opera House, bitter and lonely, shunned by a society that prizes outward loveliness above all else. Meanwhile he wreaks havoc, terrorizing those he deems responsible for his pain—hence the legend of the Opera Ghost. But when he teaches young Christine Daae to sing, the poor man falls jealously in love with her. From that moment, the story soars with rage and selfishness and beauty and sorrow and a dozen other emotions. Think deep and wide and epic. In my limited opinion, no novel puts other romances and tragedies to shame like The Phantom of the Opera.


The Peculiar, The Whatnot, and The Phantom of the Opera are by no means my only favorites—I have a couple dozen or so more—but I could go on for hours, and you probably have stuff you want to do. Before you return to your normal life, though, I’d love to know some of your top picks. (Also, thanks for dropping by!)


  1. I read the endings, too! I know I've tried to pick up the Phantom of the Opera a few times (get your butt on The Inheritance Cycle, woman. Suave villain alert!) but I haven't gotten into it, and I haven't heard of the other two. Though, the idea of a standalone book with a companion novel does interest me. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Ah! It's good to know I'm not the only one. :) I mean, who wants to be surprised by a sad ending if you can prepare for it ahead of time? You haven't read The Phantom of the Opera (*weeps violently*). But no, I understand taste varies and what really catches my attention might not catch another's. And yes, I aim to finish the Inheritance Cycle before the end of the summer--hopefully summer. Also, I'm glad I could introduce you to something new. I hope you like The Peculiar and The Whatnot. (I took about a month to read each of them. *sheepish grin* But usually, the more slowly I go through a book, the more I like it. Either that, or I just can't stand it's face but I'm determined to finish it anyway.)

      On another note, I'm sorry for being tardy in responding to your comments. My computer had been conking out all month, and getting progressively worse. But I just got a new (well, repurposed) laptop (that's Adele mark two), and now I'm back in business. I promise to reply to your comments more promptly from now on.