The importance of being earnest…

I wrote all of this in my head while I was in the shower and for some reason, now that I’m sitting down with a blinking cursor in front of me, I’m having trouble getting off the starting line. You’re all probably thinking that this is some sort of New Year’s resolution. I’ve been off the grid for so long, surely it would have taken something as powerful as a resolution to bring me back, but that’s not accurate either.

You see, I don’t really make resolutions. At least, I don’t make them at the beginning of the year. It’s always felt artificial to me and I know full well that whatever I start under that kind of a pretense will have no sticking power whatsoever. Rather, I tend to make resolutions as they are necessary. More of a metamorphosis than a mutation.

No, the reason I’m here today to because I (finally) realized the reason I’ve been avoiding the blog for so very long and it only seemed fair to share since you all have been the bearer of the absence. I write that knowing full well that everyone has probably assumed that the Platypus is defunct. If you are still reading, and you aren’t a spam bot, then you have my congratulations for having the kind of endurance rarely seen in this age. [end tangent]

I realized while I was washing my hair that I had been avoiding writing reviews because I hadn’t been writing them from my true perspective. I got caught up in thinking about who was reading the words and what they might think of them that the words slowly morphed into what I thought people wanted to read rather than what I wanted to write. It grew into a monster that had to be starved to death by resolutely ignoring its pleas to be heard. I know now that I needed that time to sit back and let things percolate in the background in order for me to realize what had grown out of my anxiety. I had been checking my stats too often. Caring about which way the numbers went far too much. I had hung so much importance on the success of the blog that I had stopped doing the very thing the blog existed to be. I stopped writing about books that I loved and started writing about books that struck me as mediocre or lackluster.

The whole reason I started this blog was because I love books. Books are the one abiding passion I’ve had my entire life. I can distinctly remember the day I got my first library card. I couldn’t have been more than eight, but I remember feeling as if Excalibur was being bestowed unto me as I signed the back of it with a child’s signature. Angels should have burst through the clouds in a holy chorus as I slipped the piece of sacred plastic into my velcro wallet. I had received a pass to enter any world I wanted at any time. It didn’t just feel like magic. It was magic. My entire life books have been the bedrock of existence and I let that get tangled up there for a while.

No more. I’m untangled now and I’ve maxed out my holds at the library once again. In fact, that’s what I spent my New Year’s Eve doing. Scrolling through the Just Ordered list at the library and placing holds with abandon. I’m quite lucky to live in a city with a marvelous library. You’ll be hearing more from me, just as soon as I get an e-mail from the library telling me that there’s magic waiting for me on a shelf.

On the subject of writing…

Or perhaps, more accurately, the reason why I have been posting so sporadically recently.

I’ve been doing a fair bit of thinking lately, admittedly a dangerous venture, but nonetheless, there have been certain thoughts circling my head that, at this point, have to be put to paper or else the ball will never get back to rolling.

You see, I’ve been in a bit of a reading rut ever since my vacation at the end of July.  It seems like I’ll come home with eight or nine books from the library, pick up each one in succession and put all, but maybe one or two, back down five pages later.  These can be world renowned books that literally everyone else loved, but there will be some tiny feature of the writing that makes it impossible for me to truly sink into it.  Even the one book out of the stack that I do read isn’t necessarily enjoyed.  It’s just the least egregiously awful out of the bunch.  Again, I know that that’s awful to me and probably not to anyone else.

Which leads me to why you’ve heard so little from me in the last month or three…I want to provide you guys with reviews that are worth reading.  If I review all of these books that I’m feeling so ambivalent towards, it would make for the most boring blog in the universe.  There would be a lot of hemming and hawing and in the end, everything would get a 2.5 or maybe a 3 and you would shrug your shoulders and move on with your life, which is as it should be.  This is why I’m sending out this tiny warning into the ether, so that you know that unless I feel that I have something worthwhile to say about a book, it’s not going to show up here.  If you want to see the laundry list of books that have been started and set aside, feel free to check my Goodreads page.

The good news is that the release calendar for September is filled with awesomeness.  Oh, how there will be things to say!  Not to mention the fact that fall is finally here, so there will be reading.  Oh yes, there will be reading.

I Hunt Killers

Image via Goodreads

I Hunt Killers
Barry Lyga

Publisher’s Blurb:

What if the world’s worst serial killer…was your dad?

Jasper (Jazz) Dent is a likable teenager. A charmer, one might say.

But he’s also the son of the world’s most infamous serial killer, and for Dear Old Dad, Take Your Son to Work Day was year-round. Jazz has witnessed crime scenes the way cops wish they could–from the criminal’s point of view.

And now bodies are piling up in Lobo’s Nod.

In an effort to clear his name, Jazz joins the police in a hunt for a new serial killer. But Jazz has a secret–could he be more like his father than anyone knows?

Let’s start with the only two words that can really sum up this book:  holy shit.  I hadn’t ever thought about serial killer’s children, I think because I had some senseless hope that the universe would somehow deny something that innocent and impressionable to someone that horrifyingly evil.   Now that I have thought about it, all I can think is “holy shit” over and over again.  We’ll start with the fact that Jazz is remarkably well adjusted for someone who grew up listening to murders for bedtime stories.  The other side of that coin is that he’s also understandably conflicted.

In terms of characterization, I have no complaints with Lyga.  Jazz spends a fair bit of his time waffling over whether he’s good or if he’s really evil and just exceptionally skilled at faking good.  Here’s the thing though:  I never once got fed up with it because of course the kid’s going to have some burly inner demons given his upbringing.  I mean, even if it were just limited to the dreams, he would still have been monumentally screwed up. What tempers Jazz’s uncertainty a bit is that this is really just the (reasonably) exaggerated internally conflict between light and dark that everyone goes through.  Admittedly some to a greater extent than others, but everyone’s questioned themselves at some point.  By adding that small sense of familiarity, it adds an element of realism to the story.  No one wants to believe that serial killers exist, but an internal struggle is pretty easy to understand.

Okay this is the last thing I have to say about Jazz, but it’s something that was done so artfully that it surprised me.  What surprised me so much was the fact that I ended up sympathizing with Jazz so thoroughly.  I actually got a little defensive on his behalf, particularly when he was approached by families of his father’s victims who asked him why he didn’t do something.  Why didn’t he stop his dad?  Normally, that’s a perfectly valid question, but when it’s the killer’s son, it bothered me of a very basic level.  When you’re growing up, your parents are gods and what they do, who they are is perfectly normal.  Asking a seventeen year old why he didn’t do something to stop his dad pissed me off because his dad has been in prison for four years, so really they’re asking why a fourteen year old couldn’t have risen above a decade and a half of brainwashing to put a stop to it.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like to lose a loved one knowing that they experienced so much pain and terror before they finally passed on.  My heart goes out to anyone who’s had to go through that.  But this is what Lyga did artfully.  He made me resent the victim’s families a little, which is an entirely new experience for me.  Normally, I’m pretty universally on their side.  It takes some good writing to get someone to abandon their pre-conceived inclinations.

In the end, this book is compelling, though even that doesn’t quite do it justice.  It’s fascinating layered over enthralling.  You’re probably thinking that this book is filled with only darkness from this review, but Jazz’s best friend and girlfriend provide a fair bit of relief from the murder and dismemberment.

4.5 ink bottles
Character Investibility:  5 Buffys
Character Believability:  5 Doctors
Pacing/Urgency/Tension:  4.5 Dresdens
Worldbuilding:  4.5 Snyders
Language:  4.5 Feegles
Mystery:  4.5 Sherlocks

Book Links:  Goodreads, Publisher

The Archived

Image via Goodreads

The Archived
Victoria Schwab

Goodreads Blurb:

Imagine a place where the dead rest on shelves like books.

Each body has a story to tell, a life seen in pictures that only Librarians can read. The dead are called Histories, and the vast realm in which they rest is the Archive.

Da first brought Mackenzie Bishop here four years ago, when she was twelve years old, frightened but determined to prove herself. Now Da is dead, and Mac has grown into what he once was, a ruthless Keeper, tasked with stopping often-violent Histories from waking up and getting out. Because of her job, she lies to the people she loves, and she knows fear for what it is: a useful tool for staying alive.

Being a Keeper isn’t just dangerous—it’s a constant reminder of those Mac has lost. Da’s death was hard enough, but now her little brother is gone too. Mac starts to wonder about the boundary between living and dying, sleeping and waking. In the Archive, the dead must never be disturbed. And yet, someone is deliberately altering Histories, erasing essential chapters. Unless Mac can piece together what remains, the Archive itself might crumble and fall.

In this haunting, richly imagined novel, Victoria Schwab reveals the thin lines between past and present, love and pain, trust and deceit, unbearable loss and hard-won redemption.

It’s rare that as a writer, I’m left breathlessly wordless, but I’ve been waiting to write this review for a few days now because I couldn’t quite figure out how to describe how much I loved it.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:  after reading this book, I will forever be classifying Schwab with Neil Gaiman in my mind.  They both manage to create these dark, haunting worlds that somehow manage to capture hope and love in ways that are truer that one can usually see in real life.  They embrace the creepiness of a dark hallway and the echoes of humming and yet the way each of the characters clings to the importance of life, it adds that tiny flicker of light that makes the story enthralling.  In some ways this book reminds me a little of The Graveyard Book, in that she took this place that can be really quite scary and made it into a place where people live at least part of their lives.

Now, to the reason for why exactly this book is so thoroughly compelling:  Schwab has this uncanny ability to write protagonist who are heart-wrenchingly endearing.  She writes them so well that it won’t matter if you can relate to them on a meta level, whether you’ve lost a sibling, because you’ll be able to feel what they’re feeling.  It’s not hard to imagine the compulsion to keep things that were important to the brother you lost.  I’d prefer not to because it’s far too painful to imagine my life without my goof of a brother in it, but Schwab made it so that I didn’t have to.  She wrote it so that the pain was there on the page so that I didn’t have to look inside myself to figure out what the character was experiencing.  Oddly, the icing on the cake, the one thing that made wish she was real, was the fact that she can read the history of any place, so she, of course, would read the history of her room.  That one moment of curiosity made her into a real human being for me.   If you could see all the people who had lived where you live, wouldn’t you?  I know I would.

Chiaroscuro by Caravaggio. From here.

Schwab, of course, wrote this book in the same way as The Near Witch, by which I mean that it’s vibrant and evocative.  She really does use words as if they’re paint.  I compared The Near Witch to a Caravaggio painting, but after reading The Archived, I realize that this is the book that more aptly resembles the master.  You see, Caravaggio was the first to use chiaroscuro, which is the use of light and dark to create high contrasts.  In The Archived, Schwab does this to sublime effect.  Whether it’s in the Narrows, where the only light comes from the cracks around the doors or when her mom’s cleaning the floor and you get the contrast of the brilliantly clean and sparkling inlaid rose against the dust clogged marble surrounding it, Schwab has no problem using contrast to bring an her work to life.  These images all stand out in my mind still, a week later because they’re so incredibly easy to see.  Schwab creates this vibrant tapestry on which her characters play and it feels more like watching a movie than it does reading a book because I’m not reading everything and imagining it.  No, I’m watching it happen and it’s amazing.

This book will be coming out on January 22, 2013 and you really should pick it up.  It’s entirely worth it.

4.5 ink bottles.
Character Believability:  5 Buffys
Character Investibility:  5 Doctors
Pacing/Urgency/Tension:  4.5 Dresdens
Worldbilding: 5 Snyders
Language: 5 Feegles
Mystery:  4 Sherlocks

Book Links:  Goodreads

Patchy Posting with a Chance of Content

Obviously, I got back from my vacation, safe and sound, with the exception of one skinned elbow for which there is no explanation.  However,  life hasn’t really slowed down in any discernible way, so although I’ll be posting as often as possible, it still won’t be a often as you’ve grown used to.  I’ll eventually get my act together and go back to posting consistently some day, but there’s really no good way for me to be able to tell you when.

Therefore, I leave you with pictures from Colorado.  First up, my favorite bookstore in the world.  It is everything a bookstore should be with one key advantage, it’s beyond adorable.

Macdonald’s Bookshop

What could make it more perfect?  Only going through the back door to find my favorite paper store/cafe.

Longs Peak Coffee and Paper

All of those teabags were framing a typewriter.  It felt like my imagination had come to life, except there wasn’t a tiny mischievious dwarf poking his head from around the typewriter or a fairy swinging from the teabags.

A Brief Hiatus

Alright, guys.  Looking forward towards the rest of the month, there are a lot of Things that have a to happen and a very short period for them to occur within, including a week in the not-on-fire part of Colorado.  So, since something has to give, I’m going to take a little break from posting… just until the end of the month.  I’ll still be reading, tweeting (sporadically), and even writing, but you won’t see me again until July 31st at the earliest.  In the intervening time, I leave you with these guys:

Image via Change Everything

See, their powers of cute are already making everything better.


Image via Goodreads

John Scalzi

Publisher’s Blurb:

Ensign Andrew Dahl has just been assigned to the Universal Union Capital Ship Intrepid, flagship of the Universal Union since the year 2456. It’s a prestige posting, and Andrew is thrilled all the more to be assigned to the ship’s Xenobiology laboratory.

Life couldn’t be better…until Andrew begins to pick up on the fact that (1) every Away Mission involves some kind of lethal confrontation with alien forces, (2) the ship’s captain, its chief science officer, and the handsome Lieutenant Kerensky always survive these confrontations, and (3) at least one low-ranked crew member is, sadly, always killed.

Not surprisingly, a great deal of energy below decks is expended on avoiding, at all costs, being assigned to an Away Mission. Then Andrew stumbles on information that completely transforms his and his colleagues’ understanding of what the starship Intrepid really is…and offers them a crazy, high-risk chance to save their own lives.

I’ve read quite a few reviews for this book, most of them written with more eloquence that I can summon that give you a better feel for the piece (here for one).  I had written out whole review for this piece, but I don’t think it truly does it justice, so today (for once), I’m going to keep it short.  This book, like so many of Scalzi’s books, hit a soft spot for me.  Let me tell you why.

You see, when I was little my dad used to let me watch Star Trek: The Next Generation with him.  I’ve come to cherish the simplicity of that time.  I don’t recall ever feeling frightened of what I was watching.  It was more a sense of profound awe that these people could forge their way through space and leave it a better place for them having been there and that I got to experience their stories curled up next to my dad on a well worn velvet couch.  It’s defined my life in ways that I don’t think I’ve come close to realizing.

The reason I bring this up here is because every time I pick up a Scalzi book, Redshirts in particular, I feel like I get to worm my way back into that space, sitting next to my dad, watching people fly through the stars.  There’s this odd sense of familiarity. (I feel compelled to specify that I find the universe to be familiar, not the author.  I’m not a stalker.)  I think that what Scalzi has done is tapped into a very realistic view of what the future would look like.  It feels like it’s my universe, just really far in the future.  It’s not that he’s showing me the future with Captain Picard forging his way through the galaxy.  It’s that he’s showing me the real people who report to the Captain and how their lives had meaning beyond the ten second cameo necessary to communicate the damage to levels 7-11.  He’s giving me the story of the people I would be sitting with at the mess hall and he makes it heart-wrenching and compelling.  He takes ordinary people and elevates them without taking away their mundane worries and cares.

In the end, of course this story will entertain you.  There will be some smiling and some shaking of the head in happy understanding, but really Scalzi speaks to the eight year old in you who read comic books or played D&D or watched Star Trek and it will be glorious.


4.5 ink bottles.
Character Investibility:  4 Buffys
Character Believability:  4.5 Doctors
Pacing/Tension/Urgency: 4.5 Dresdens
Worldbuilding:  4.5 Snyders
Language:  4.5 Feegles
Mystery:  5 Sherlocks

Book Links:  Goodreads, Publisher