Well, The Subtle Knife fixes one of my biggest gripes about The Golden Compass, it gives Lyra a young friend that stays the entire book, and it is a better book for it, but it still doesn’t completely capture my interest. I don’t know what it is about these books that just don’t do it for me. It has interesting world-building, that usually is right up my alley, and it has talking animals, which is usually something I love. Everything in these books is just so super serious all the time. There isn’t much brevity, humor, or joy in these books. Even though we now have Will with Lyra, they both still act very much like grown-ups, and that always puts me off when reading young adult books.
Let’s talk about the young adult or middle-grade label that this book has on it. First off, these books never talk down to their audience, they are intelligently written, and the world-building is complex. Maybe I’m so used to current young adult books talking down to their audience? I think that you could replace all the children in this story as 18-year-olds and it would be classified as an adult book. This series has children killing other children and characters we follow threatening to kill people all the time.
This is really Will’s story. We get an interesting backstory about him taking care of his mom after his father disappears, we get him collecting a powerful knife that allows him powers that other people want, and we get agency with his character to find his father and run from the authorities. His friendship with Lyra is really good because both kids have grown-up way too quickly and not had the chance to have close friends. They are so hesitant and don’t really know how to express themselves to each other. In the highlight of the book, Will asks Pantalaimon, Lyra’s daemon, about their friendship, and the book finally had the heart I was craving.
I was not expecting the Lee Scoresby point of views and I have to say that I didn’t appreciate them until the end of the book. I liked this one more than the first book and I hope to like the third book the most. I’m wondering if it is just me at the moment and my mood with this book because thinking back on it while I write this review, this book is clever and has everything in it that I would like, but I am just having a hard time feeling engaged to it while reading. I think it just might be the writing style.
13/25 Possible Score
3 – Plot
3 – Characters
3 – World-Building
2 – Writing Style
2 – Heart & Mind Aspect>
Admiral William H. McRaven of the Navy Seals takes his commencement speech at the University of Texas and expounds on his points that he made with testimonials and life experience from a life working in the Navy. What follows is an extremely down to earth and simplified message on how to overcome life’s obstacles. McRaven follows a military mindset that encourages discipline and self-will. I think the people that might not enjoy this small book are those that say, “hey, everything in life can’t be overcome with pure grit and determination,” and they would be right, but that isn’t to say that the lessons that McRaven are giving the reader can’t be beneficial in some way. A quick listen, something a younger person would get a lot out of, especially those thinking about going into the military.
Meditation for Fidgety Skeptics, Dan Harris’s follow-up to the 2014 book about meditation called 10% Happier, is less a memoir than the previous book, and more of a how-to book on meditation. Dan Harris and Jeff Warren do a cross-country road trip with meditation. They meet friends and other celebrities that the introduce meditation to and encourage the reader or listener to learn along the way. I made sure to mention listener because this book is primarily an audiobook. Both Dan Harris and Jeff Warren talk about meditation throughout this book and Warren gives guides meditations.
There is a ton of information in this book. They touch on many different aspects of meditation including meditation for focus, compassion, healing, and investigating feelings. A lot of the sections are divided up between common excuses people use for not meditating like “I don’t have the time or people will think I’m weird.” In fact, I think that Harris and Warren try to cover a little too much in this book. There just are too many different types of meditations in this book that it’ll be a little overwhelming for the reader to remember and implement each and every one of them. They really tried to make this a one stop book on mindfulness meditation but it could have been split up in multiple books with greater emphasis on each type of meditation. I get why they did what they did but it gets a little overwhelming.
When I read some of its reviews, one large criticism of this book is that Harris is trying to hard to be personable and congenial. He says phrases that are a bit silly and it can be annoying for some readers. Jeff Warren’s “guided meditations” can have instances where there is an interruption in the process because of his desire to be humorous. I do think they needed to be serious at certain moments in this book and the overall tone is one of silliness in order for normal people not be intimidated by meditation. In this aspect, I believe they failed. Meditation is naturally something that people need to take seriously or it just won’t work for them. Jokes are fine and alright but while you are trying to focus on your breath, the last thing you want is for the guided meditator to try to crack jokes.
Regardless of my criticism with this book, I still think I got a lot out of it. It will be something I’ll reread in the future and take my time with. I recommend it for people wanting to try meditation and to get a better understanding of what meditation entails after just focusing on your breath.
I finally started one of the most popular children’s series of all time and I have to admit that I was a little disappointed. Pullman puts a lot of emphasis on world-building in this first book of His Dark Materials and I just never really enjoyed the characters. Lyra is a young girl whose uncle is an explorer and a scholar. She gets enmeshed in a conflict involving missing children, witches, and armored polar bears. In this world everyone has a familiar like creature that is called a “daemon,” that really shares a part of the spirit or soul with the human. To not have a daemon is to be inhuman. This part of the story and the spiritual and physics difference to our world are very interesting. There is a mystical-like power that is used by metaphysical energy called dust, that allows Lyra to ask a special device questions about her world. The world is a slight variation to our own world and it is interesting to learn the differences between the two.
So, my main issue with The Golden Compass, is that through the vast majority of the book Lyra is surrounded by adults. This causes Lyra to be a much more grown up child than what her age really is. One of the main reasons I read middle grade or young adult books is to see how the younger characters react to the world differently than adults and also how they navigate normal child conflicts. Unfortunately, if Lyra was replaced with a middle aged man or woman, her personality would have been eerie similar. This works when the child has another child to contrast with but The Golden Compass has a shockingly small amount of the book with Lyra interacting with other children.
Having Lyra be as a grown-up is the main reason why this book just didn’t have any charm or life in it. Yes, her interactions with her daemon Pantalaimon were cute and a highlight of the book but it couldn’t take the place of her with another child. It wasn’t until about 100 pages left in the book when I felt that I wasn’t forcing myself to get through it. Luckily the last 100 pages were fantastic and brought up some interesting world-building facts.
Because of the reputation and the recommendations of friends to continue with this series I am going to give the sequel a shot. I’m imagining that Pullman will add more additional children in the story and it will become less about Lyra being alone. This book ended on an interesting point and he can take it in many different directions and I’ll be curious to see which way he goes.
10/25 Possible Score
Plot – 2
Characters – 2
World-Building – 3
Writing Style – 2
Heart & Mind Aspect – 1
This is picture #1 of my priority books for 2019. I will be reading most of my books from these 4 shelves all year. I will be taking a picture of the shelves each month to compare to the old picture and see progress is being made. I will also list the books from here that I finished. This is just a fun little visual thing I’m going to do to help show my progress.