Review: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro


For some reason, the film version of Never Let Me Go and Let Me In, the American remake of the film adaptation of Let the Right One In, are linked in my mind. Something about speculative fiction horror and the fact they were released in the same year squashed them together in my brain, to the point that I’ve often, in the past three years, had to remind myself they’re not when reading through, say, Keira Knightley’s filmography. I have been meaning to read the original novel of the former for quite some time, but reading Margaret Atwood’s thoughts on the novel in In Other Worlds made it rise up the list.

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Review: Ha’penny

Ha’penny by Jo Walton

Sometimes, life just comes at you, you know? I tend to do everything in my power to make my life uncomplicated—I’m using my words more, courtesy of Captain Awkward, I make time for sleep and exercise, and I try and do my work in a timely fashion. For the most part, it works, but sometimes life, the ornery thing it is, catches up with you, and I ended up spending a few days feeling utterly crushed by work. In such a fix, I needed a book and an author I could rely on for a quick but mindblowing read—who else could I turn to but Jo Walton?

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Review: Farthing

Farthing by Jo Walton

I’ve really enjoyed the Jo Walton novels that I’ve read—Tooth and Claw and Among Others—but neither blew my world up. I’d heard really good things about her Small Change trilogy (so named because the novels in it are Farthing, Ha’Penny, and Half a Crown), but my past experience with her didn’t send me out to the library immediately to pick up Farthing. It sort of meandered across my currently hypothetical desk at the end of June, languishing until I needed something to break the good-but-average rut my reading was in. Said rut was absolutely shattered.

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Reading by Ear: The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman
performed by a full cast

I was first introduced His Dark Materials in middle school. A teacher lent me a copy of The Golden Compass, which I read, but I think I only adventured into The Subtle Knife a little. Later, I bought myself a nice box set of the series, which is when I read The Amber Spyglass. I remember sitting up in bed and finishing it, because I didn’t want to take the copies to school with me. After finishing up my Harry Potter relisten, I was starting to feel nostalgic for the series I read as a child. Be thankful there aren’t Babysitter’s Club audiobooks. (…or are there?)

The Golden Compass (or The Northern Lights in the UK) takes place in a world different from ours, the chief difference being that people’s souls live outside them as animal spirits known as dæmons. Lyra, a young orphan who has been essentially half-raised and half-neglected by Jordan College in Oxford, saves her uncle Lord Asriel’s life when the Master of Jordan College tries to poison him. With this act and her impending coming of age, Lyra is pulled into a world of intrigue, child kidnappers, vile experiments, armored bears, witches, and, last but not least, the “golden compass” itself, a rare instrument that only Lyra can use to discover the truth.

I first read The Golden Compass a very long time ago, but the ending has always stuck with me. It may, in fact, be the reason I love desperate chases across icy tundras to this day. Besides the ambiguous ending of The Giver, which I read in middle school, this was the first book I read as a kid that actually had a downer ending. But it was the bitterness that made it all the more real, and that’s something Pullman seems to very conscious about doing. Lyra might be a child, but this isn’t a world that revolves at her level. There’s a brilliant moment where Lyra is concocting an escape plan, and Pullman points out that a child with imagination would realize that their chances were utterly hopeless. While Lyra is an engaging character, it’s often sheer luck and clever talk that propels her on her journey to save Roger, her best friend, from the child snatching Gobblers. The world Lyra inhabits is a real world, with cursing, religion, children’s skewed priorities, the awkwardness of growing up, and death.

The fact that the worldbuilding holds up very well definitely helps. The only truly fantastical elements are dæmons, witches, and talking armored bears; the rest is alternate history with a dash of steampunk to account for the zeppelins. (While a date corresponding with our world is never given, it feels very 1920s to me.) I’ve always been charmed by New France, I’m not going to lie. Pullman maintains the laws and limitations of his world and plays with them—the connection between people and their dæmons is an integral part of this novel, and you buy into it so much so that when we meet a witch’s dæmon, who can travel without his human, it does feel unnatural and violent to the reader. Worldbuilding, especially in children’s literature, can sometimes feel wobbly, so it’s delightful to find Pullman writing with a sure hand.

I’ve never found His Dark Materials as a whole to be particularly anti-religious, but I think that’s a discussion best left for when I get to The Amber Spyglass. But I was more interested this time in the class inequality in Lyra’s world. While it’s part of the setting that I don’t recall is particularly dealt with, I was very interested by the fact that servants always have dog dæmons. Lyra, whose parents are part of the aristocracy, has a remarkably elastic notion of class, as she’s still a child; she adjusts to every situation she’s thrust into. I’ll keep an eye on this as the series progresses and we meet people from our twentieth century.

This was my first full cast audio recording; I’d actually heard some of it before in this fantastic cut of the film adaptation’s deleted ending, although I didn’t know where it was from. Pullman reads the narration and, occasionally, the aliethometer. It was quite a fascinating experience, to have the characterizations provided by a whole cast. Joanna Wyatt is a sly, clever Lyra who also carries the emotional moments well. While some of the children are voiced by adult women (I was surprised to discover the woman who played Serafina Pekkala also played Roger!), the production does a fine job of utilizing actual children to make the proceedings sound more authentic. I did think Mrs. Coulter sounded a little too young, especially against Stan Barrett’s particularly gruff Lord Asriel. I look forward to finishing off the series with this cast and seeking out full cast productions for other audiobooks.

Bottom line: The Golden Compass (or The Northern Lights based on your location!) is a sure-handed and deftly executed children’s book set in a very real world. Recommended.

I rented this audiobook from the public library.

The Sunday Salon: 2011 in Review

Merry Christmas, to those who celebrate it—but it’s also the last Sunday of the year, which means it’s time for my top ten list. As usual, these are my top reads of 2011, not the top published books of 2011. But I’ve also added my favorite film adaptation and my favorite audiobook of the year, since I’ve started really keeping those posts up. I was lucky enough to have a good handful of five star books, but that meant leaving off a lot of four and a half star books that I honestly loved off the list. I invite you to rifle through those categories to your right. And here’s 2010 in review and 2009 in review, if you’re so inclined. I think that’s all the housekeeping, so let’s get started.

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Review: Goliath

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

First things first, before I devolve into gushing over Deryn Sharp (SHE’S JUST SO DASHING, GUYS), who are these cats on the cover? I know, I know, they changed the cover style when Behemoth was released last year, but still. Given how unique Keith Thompson’s illustrations are, it’s really jarring to see two normal kids on the cover. (And Deryn doesn’t look a fig like the pointy Malfoy she totally is, but that’s neither here nor there and probably just me.) Especially since one of the accents is from the illustrations themselves. Ah, well. If the cover moves more copies, than I’m happy, because this is a fantastic series.

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The Literary Horizon: The Man in the High Castle, Conquistador

I find alternate history endlessly fascinating, and the genre lends itself to plot-focused works rather than character-focused. While I prefer both in my reading, I do like things to happen, especially to characters I like. (This is my problem with the recent film adaptation of Thor; the characters are great, but the story is kind of… eh.) So, in any case, today we’re looking at a venerable piece of alternate history and a newer piece.

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The Literary Horizon: Ôoku — The Inner Chambers Volume 1, Habibi

I’ve stopped identifying graphic novels as such on my reading list; the only place where I can do so would be under “Genre”, and a graphic novel isn’t a genre—it’s a medium. But I still ended up with two historical graphic novels on my list. Okay, technically, one of them is alternate history, but it’s historical nonetheless! I’ll have to wait until I’ve read Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics to tuck these under my belt, but I’m very much looking forward to it.

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The Sunday Salon: My Second Blogiversary

Two years ago last Thursday, I started The Literary Omnivore, consolidating book reviews I’d previously posted in a fannish outlet after being encouraged to start an e-portfolio at school. I can’t believe it’s been two years, in the same way that I can’t believe I’m a junior in college. This blog has become such an important part of my life—not only as a reading journal (which will always be its main purpose), but as a way of expressing myself, connecting with other readers, and making me more visible in an industry I’m trying to break into. So, like last year, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share how this blog has changed and grown over the last year, as well as getting your feedback on what you’d like to see in the future from The Literary Omnivore.
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