The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De ZoetThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell was published in 2010. I picked this book up roughly seven years ago after reading Mitchell’s book Cloud Atlas. I consider myself a fan of Mitchell’s work but this is only the second book of his I have read as of today. I have a few of his other novels and intend to read them some day. I think I will try Number 9 Dream or Slade House next. He did just have a new book come out this month titled Utopia Avenue.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet takes place just outside of Nagasaki, Japan, beginning in 1799. Jacob de Zoet is a Dutch clerk who has traveled to Dejima, the man-made island just off the coast of Nagasaki which acts as a trading post between Japan and the Dutch East India Company. This post was the only trade between Japan and the outside world at the time as Japan remained closed to outside influence. Jacob has traveled to Dejima to make his fortune within five years so he can return and wed the daughter of a nobleman. His time in Dejima, and Dejima itself, prove to be a whirlwind of unexpected occurrences and interactions as the turn of the century brings many changes.

The book is split into five parts. The final two parts are short and read more like an epilogue, so I consider the first three parts, the bulk of this ~500 page book, to be the main story. I will admit that the third section had a bit of a lull due to the introduction of new characters. The first two parts included a few characters and plot points I thought were the most interesting of the book, and they take a back seat during the third part but do ultimately get resolved before things wrap up. I was a bit concerned for a moment that a resolution would not occur as I was nearing the end and was still waiting, but it does eventually wrap up, primarily in the epilogue-like finale. Therefore, I would consider this book almost like a four-act play. The first three sections telling the story, and the final two sections as the resolution act.

The writing is phenomenal, which is a large reason I enjoy David Mitchell’s work. Included in the back of the edition I have, there is an essay by David Mitchell “On Historical Fiction” where he talks about how he discovered Dejima, found a new level of respect for historical fiction writers, and how he didn’t initially intend to write a historical fiction novel but the story he wanted to write needed to take place in that particular setting. I must say, the historical aspect alongside the juxtaposition of East and West culture of the time makes for a compelling setting for which the interesting characters then enter to begin the story.

Also, history is often not kind and you should not expect the traditional fiction plot where things always end well for our protagonists. Another reason I think this book held an air of mystery is that almost anything could happen. Good or bad. I was, overall, satisfied with how things ended. I had mentioned I was concerned about certain story elements possibly not begin resolved, but they all tie up nicely even though in ways I did not expect.

Unlike many of Mitchell’s other books, including Cloud Atlas, this novel isn’t split among several narratives and fused together, but rather follows one main character, Jacob de Zoet, though I would consider there to be a second protagonist and two secondary characters who we get to see short stretches from their points of view.

I don’t often read historical fiction, though I have read a few alternate history novels. I usually keep to straight fiction or non-fiction. I didn’t realize this was a historical fiction novel until I was about halfway through. I had assumed the setting was real, but certain events were taking place that I thought were too realistic to simply be fiction and I soon found out that I was correct. I really enjoyed it and may even try more historical fiction novels in the future.

Happy Reading.

Knightmare Arcanist

KNIGHTMARE ARCANIST - E-BOOK COVER - FINALHello and welcome to this stop of the Blog Tour featuring Knightmare Arcanist by Shami Stovall (pronounced sha-me), who I believe is a name you should keep an eye out for moving forward. This post will contain no spoilers so have no fear as you read further.

Knightmare Arcanist is book one of The Frith Chronicles which follows a young man named Volke who wants nothing more than to become an arcanist. Arcanists are those who have bonded with mystical creatures, can use magic as a result, and are highly respected in society. Volke lives on the island of Ruma, which was named after the famous arcanist who founded it, and will likely live his life as the town outcast unless he can bond with a mystical creature. The island is known as a location where phoenixes breed and the islanders hold a ceremony every ten years to determine who will bond with the fledgling phoenixes and become arcanists. Will Volke be able to obtain his dream? If so, what adventures await?

This book hit many of the “fun fantasy elements” for me. Mystical creatures and magic of course capture my interest. The bonding of mystical creatures creates a unique magic system where the arcanists are able to use magic related to the creatures they bond. For example, phoenixes allow the use of fire and healing magic, an undine would allow their arcanist to wield water magic, and a hydra allows the use of poison-type magic. Not just anyone can bond with a mystical creature though. The creature must accept the bond and the bonding is for life.

I’m usually not a huge fan of books that include talking animals, but for some reason I consider this story an exception. Perhaps it is because only the mystical creatures can speak and they are technically not real animals but creatures of legends and myths. The plethora of possibilities created from the variety of creatures makes the magic even more interesting.

Within this fascinating world we follow a group of interesting characters who struggle through interpersonal conflict often created through implicit misunderstanding. These struggles will make you love or hate certain characters, but in the end they must all face, together, the real dangers they knowingly are ill-prepared to confront.

This book was released in June of last year (2019) and lucky for us there are already three more books in the series bringing The Frith Chronicles total to four books so far with the most recent being released this past May. It will be interesting to see what comes next for our adventurers after the events of this book. The four books are:

  1. Knightmare Arcanist
  2. Dread Pirate Arcanist
  3. Coliseum Arcanist
  4. Plague Arcanist

If you are a fan of fantasy then definitely give Knightmare Arcanist a try. It is a fun, swashbuckling tale that takes place in an ever-interesting world of magic. I want to thank Dave at TheWriteReads for including me in this tour, and a big thank you to Shami Stovall for providing this great story.

Happy Reading.

Words Are My Matter

Words Are My MatterUrsula K. Le Guin won the National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2014. This collection was originally gathered and published in 2016. Words Are My Matter: Writings on Life and Books consists of essays, book introductions, and book reviews written throughout Le Guin’s lifetime. The book is split into the three categories and only minor editing was done to the original pieces.

My favorite section was the essays and talks. I enjoyed the book introductions and was happy to discover a few writers I had previously never heard of who I have added to my TBR list. I love finding new authors via authors I already enjoy. I think I like Le Guin’s essays as much, if not more, than her fiction, but I need to read more of her fiction before I make a definitive decision. Her essays are often a call to action while also being an observation of a trend she has noticed throughout her career. I agree with much of what she says and have come to realize that some of her concerns as far back as the late 1960’s are still very much something to be concerned about today. The issues have not been addressed or have continued behind the curtain. However, I am hoping the recent widespread notice of some issues in publishing and among writers will bring about the long-overdue changes. Only time will tell.

As far as essays go, there are several great ones here, but I think another collection, The Language of the Night (which consists of only essays), provides stronger arguments. Please check out that collection if you want more of the aforementioned calls to action. This collection contains her ever interesting article “Is Gender Necessary? Redux” which was the reason I had first borrowed it from my library. I am recommending Words Are My Matter though because I believe it is a collection that is more likely to appeal to a wider range of readers. The subtitle Writings of Life and Books of course is the perfect description of this collection.

My favorite essays from this collection were “The Death of the Book” and “On Serious Literature”. I also enjoyed “Genre: A Word Only A Frenchman Could Love”. The author I mentioned I discovered earlier is Jose Saramago and I will likely try his book Blindness first. There were of course other authors I had not yet discovered, but their books didn’t catch my interest despite Le Guin’s review. Granted, a couple of the reviews actually killed any interest I might have had. I actually never read reviews about books unless they are included in collections like this as I tend to give myself the opportunity to form my own opinion instead of relying on others. It’s also fun to see a review about a book that has had decades to prove itself.

I respect Le Guin’s opinions despite not agreeing with every one she expresses. The reviews were my least favorite, but you can skip around in collections like this if you choose to as they are all standalone pieces. The book ends with a “week in the life of” which seems like a little bonus part to the book. This is a diary format description detailing Le Guin’s stay at a women-only writing retreat called Hedgebrook. The week she describes could be considered uneventful (as is most of life) but for some reason it transported me to the idyllic landscape Le Guin explored when not working on her story. It was the perfect ending and left me feeling as if I had just finished a week out in nature away from everyday obligations. Refreshed, relaxed, and able to enjoy the moment. I would recommend this book for this description alone, but again, there is a lot to enjoy and there is likely something for any reader.

Perhaps you may pick this up one day and read one or two little essays or reviews. This is definitely a collection that is easy to pick up and put down at any interval. Perhaps you will discover something new or be inspired to do something new. I hope so.

Happy Reading.

The Demolished Man

The Demolished ManThe Demolished Man by Alfred Bester was the winner of the first Hugo Award for best novel in 1953. I first discovered this novel when taking David Mamet’s Masterclass so I added it to my list and recently got around to reading it. I read it in a few days. This book is a fairly quick read and is between 200-250 pages depending on the edition you choose. The writing and story entice you to keep reading.

To put it simply, this book is a futuristic crime novel that takes place in the 25th(?) century where humanity has colonized Venus, Mars, and a few moons of Jupiter. Part of the population can read minds which is considered common within the story. The development of reading minds is the reason has been zero acts of murder in over 70 years, but the main character, Ben Reich, plans to commit this crime.

The pacing is excellent. The language reads fairly modern despite the 70 years that have passed since it was written. There were several times where I read some dialogue in the the trope-like way of speaking attributed to that era (“Listen here, see..”), which is likely attributed to the few slang words used. However, this book has held up incredibly well and doesn’t quite have that nostalgia feel you can get from older science fiction stories.

There are a few other elements of the time that I believe impact the story which some readers may find unpopular today. I won’t detail anything here since it could skew your impression of the book and I would hate for that to happen, but I will say that I understand when this book was written so I let a few things slide as part of those times. Just know that the things I’m referring to are not blatant and shouldn’t impact your enjoyment of the story.

I’ll definitely be looking into Bester’s other novels. The Stars My Destination will likely be the next I read. I’m also interested to check out his short stories as well. I may never have discovered Alfred Bester if I hadn’t made a note of it from Mamet’s class. I’m glad I did. I find I often learn of great books from small comments or references like that. Which may be the reason I started recommending books on this blog, so that you may discover some of your favorite stories.

Happy Reading.

Wanderers

WanderersSo……Wanderers by Chuck Wendig is a great book, but I probably should not have read it in May of 2020 (though it was first published in July of last year). Simply because the state of the world is kind of shit right now. Though I am recommending this book, I am also recommending that you put it on your TBR list and read it when the world gets back to some form of normal (especially if you live in the United States). I will, as always, keep this spoiler free. Here is a look at the back cover:

“Shana wakes up one morning to discover her little sister in the grip of a strange illness. She appears to be sleepwalking. And she is heading with inexorable determination to a destination that only she knows. Soon Shana and her sister are joined by a flock of sleepwalkers from across America, on the same mysterious journey. And, like Shana, there are other “shepherds” who follow the flock to protect their friends and family. As the sleepwalking epidemic awakens terror and violence, and as civilization collapses, the secret behind this phenomenon will either tear society apart–or bring the survivors together to remake a shattered world.”

On V.E. Schwab’s No Write Way interview series, Chuck Wendig called this novel his love letter to Stephen King’s The StandWanderers was often compared to The Stand since its publication and I can see why. (I have not yet read The Stand but will likely read it at some point. I started it once and gave up after about 70 pages. Apparently the first 150 pages are character introductions and I kept waiting for things to kick off. Granted, the book is 1200 pages. I just couldn’t get into at that time.)

One little warning though: this book does take a bit of a dark turn. It was somewhat expected to happen, but a certain scene really rattled me. A friend of mine really likes Stephen King, he has read The Stand and he did state it also gets really dark, and I’ve already recommended this book to him. Because despite the dark times, there is a lot of great things happening and the story is worth the read.

Wanderers is a large book at 800 pages, but the pacing is extremely well done and the writing, much like Stephen King’s, is easy to read. Not simplistic, just easy to dive into and keep going (the true mark of a master of the craft). Of course, I liked some characters more than others and at times didn’t much care about one or two story-lines, but they all wrap together to make one overarching, impelling story. The characters are also not all introduced at once, but brought in at various stages and without creating a overwhelmingly large cast. Again, this ties back to the great pacing and intrigue of the story.

You can tell Chuck put a lot of research into making this story plausibly realistic in regards to how diseases spread, impact the world, and how organizations like the CDC combat and investigate such threats. It’s always crazy to be reminded that a tiny virus or disease can threaten a species, including the human race (even while we are living it, dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic though of course the book’s disease is much worse). I can almost guarantee you will not be able to predict what happens throughout this book, which is a good thing.

My uncle actually bought me a copy of this book, of which I am thankful, and I read it in about a week and a half (the story/writing will pull you in). My reading speed has really increased this past year. If you are up for an epic, apocalyptic-esque mystery, then pick up Wanderers. Maybe just wait until the current pandemic has passed.

Happy Reading.