Monday, November 24, 2008

The Red Badge of Courage

The Red Badge of Courage
This novel is basically about a young man who goes to war. Written by an author who had never experienced war but believed he could write a better war novel than was currently available. If history is any indication - he did as the book is a classic (which is why I read it).

I enjoyed this tale! I would definately recommend it. I don't want to talk too much about what our protagonist goes through so will keep this review very brief.

The writing style was pretty fluid and the story was very easy to read. However, keep in mind I'm not reading these books with a critical eye instead I'm just trying to enjoy the story that is being told. I would say Crane did some deep soul searching to get a grip on how his character should handle his first, and subsequent, encounters with actual battle. However, at the same time it seems clear, based on some of the events in the book, that he had no real idea of what life as a solider is like. For a guy who had never seen war though he did a great job.


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Life of Pi

Life of Pi
I finished up the book, Life of Pi, last week and overall I really enjoyed it. The story is about a young boy whose family decides to emigrate from India to Canada. The family owned a zoo in India and because they were travelling with some of the animals that they sold to zoos in North America they travel on a cargo ship.

Initially the voyage is uneventful, but eventually it sinks and the main character, Pi, barely manages to escape to a life boat. At the same time that Pi finds his refuge a large bengal tiger finds safety in the same boat. A few other animals make it to the boat as well but with the tiger on board the dinghys crew quickly shrinks back to two, Pi and the Tiger. The rest of the book is about the voyage and survival of both Pi and the Tiger.

The entire voyage is quite remarkable and seems fairly unbelievable - much like the stories of religion. I only mention this parallel because as it turns out Pi is also a very spiritual boy who considers himself Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. While that trifecta may seem like a strange combination Pi's logic makes it all seem entirely reasonable. One of the marketing blurbs for the book says "..a story that will make you believe in God.." I don't know if the spiritual message is that strong but, at a minimum it does get you thinking. Something that few books have managed to do to me in a long time.

The book is pretty short, written in the first person (generally), and overall was an excellent tale. I give it a thumbs up

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Servant of the Dragon

Servant of the Dragon (Lord of the Isles)

Servant of the Dragon is the third book in the Lord of the Isles series by David Drake and I am currently reading it. So far it is pretty good - with the same kind of elements found in the prior books. Huge problems are discovered and then solved with suprising ease. However, both Sharina and Cashel have both found themselves in interesting lands with difficult problems to solve so I hold out extra hope for this book.

One of Drakes best traits in these series is his inventive characters and cultures and this book so far has introduced me to at least two new ones. The Dragon's and a Bird guy, Dalar, whose name I can't remember at the moment. Finally, Drake also has a cool habit of allying suprising characters such as demons with the heros. It tends to set any preconceived notion you might have about the term demon on it's ear when one suddenly starts helping to save the world - even if it is for a selfish reason and not a noble one.

Well I finished the book and so far it was my favorite in the series. Each of the characters went on completely different patters in their quests and amazingly all ended up in the center of the same big problem. You don't really have to read the other books in the series to follow what is going on in this book; but I still recommend reading the whole series. However, if you don't have the time for all three books - just skip to this one.


Wednesday, November 5, 2008


I really enjoyed this story. Timeline was a book that mixed sci-fi with fantasy in a pretty interesting and believable way. The book was a very easy and quick read and provided a nice diversion. One of my coworkers, Ed, also read the book and enjoyed it. However, he also saw Timeline the Movie and had nothing but bad things to say about it. As it so happens, he isn't the only one who had nothing good to say about the movie.

The funny thing is the book reads like it should be a movie. I can't think of a book I have read before where, when I was done, I thought - "man this has to be a movie" as much as I did when I finished this one. Supposedly the movie that was made from this book seriously departed from the book. What gives? I know movies are never as good as the book - but this whole book read like a screenplay. Why would they change it for film? There was very little dialog that wasn't spoken (as opposed to thoughts or asides). I almost feel like someone should remake the movie, but this time actually pay attention to the book. I'm really suprised Crichton approved this movie considering he is also responsible for Jurassic Park. I just don't get it.

Anyway, in the end let me just say, read this book. It is a good story and a fun read. If you don't have a lot of time for reading this book can still fit into your schedule becuase there really isn't much to it.


Sunday, November 2, 2008

The War of the Flowers

I generally like the works of Tad Williams so I entered into this book with a pretty positive outlook. This book is a fine example of his style of writing but there are still many differences between this tale and the other books of his that I have read.

The War of the Flowers is a story about Theo Vilmos, a 30 year old has-been singer, who suddenly finds himself in the world of faerie. Faerie, in Williams mind, is nothing like the faerie of legend; instead it is full of strife and inequality where the elite, those in the Flower families, hold absolute power over all other magical creatures in the land.

Theo is not your normal fantasy protagonist. He is very, very reluctant and not particularly battle hardened. Amazingly, even by the end of the book he isn't much of a hero. He doesn't go through any of the typical fantasy maturation processes where he becomes a powerful mage or a master swordsman. In fact, at the end, he is just a more mature Theo Vilmos.

Even though Theo is burdened with incredible ignorance about his situation and confronted by characters who aren't particularly patient with his lack of knowledge, he manages to bumble through and not get himself killed; even when he is the number one target of the most powerful of the Flower families, the Helleborne's. At times his ability to escape various situations seems overly forced and contrived but, overall, it doesn't hurt the story too much.

Theo is helped in his escapades by a smart-assed little sprite named Applecore and Cumber, a loyal lab assistant, plus a lot of luck. It was a relief for me that Theo got some luck in Faerie because the first three chapters are full of bad luck for our hapless hero. If Williams can do anything well he can build up sympathy for his main character. I was ready for anything good to happen to Theo by the time Chapter 4 rolled around.

While I did enjoy this book it was my least favorite Williams novel so far; if only because Theo was so self-pitying for so long. Furthermore he seemed fairly slow-witted when he was earlier described as being fairly bright (but unmotivated). Overall the story doesn't hold any suprising twists or turns but it was still a pleasant day-long diversion. It was also nice to be able to read an entire story in a single book when fantasy is so often cluttered with multi-volume epics.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Known World

This novel is about the rare slave owners of pre civil war America who were themselves black. While the concept of the book is highly unique, overall I wasn't thrilled with the style. However, the concept alone kept me at it and I enjoyed the tale. If nothing else it made me want to research this small tidbit of history to see if there is any validity to it. While the book was slow going due to time constraints I'm glad I stuck with it. The later half of the book improves on the first.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008


This tale starts out strong with interesting characters and a somewhat unique feeling world. I typically like Tads' work and Shadowmarch was no exception. In a pretty radical departure from typical epic fantasy two of our primary heroes and our primary antagonist are all women. They still live in a world that is dominated by men (kings, emperors, etc) and where women are used to solidify treaties (princess given as a wife to form a bond between two houses) but these three women supersede the world around them and, while they haven't yet, will surely change the world completely before the series is done.

However, unlike some authors who I have read, when Tad writes a strong women character that doesn't necessarily mean she is a bitch. In fact, all three are interesting, intelligent, and generally very compelling. The evil one is hard to like (she is Evil after all) but the other two have both the readers sympathy and compassion as they traverse their respective minefields. This isn't to say that the novel is a treatise on women's lib in fantasy though. There are also three important male characters; each dealing with his own trials as well. There are also many second class characters in the story so far that could easily become more important before the series is over and Tad's balance of these characters, so far, is masterfully done.

I'm not sure how many books are going to be in this series but the first promises a great tale in the end. I believe the story was started as a community driven one at the Shadowmarch website. However, I didn't hear about the book until I bumped into it at the store. If you like fantasy then you will like this book; so go get it.


Friday, October 24, 2008


Quicksilver (The Baroque Cycle, Vol. 1)
Neal Stephenson managed to get me to spend my own money on this book - and I paid full price for it; in more ways than one. I really liked Cryptonomicron however, my one hang up with that book carried over, in a major way, to the inagural tome of the Baroque Cycle; Quicksilver. Quicksilver starts off great by introducing you to Enoch Root (who you may remember, kind of, from Crypto) entering old colonial Boston. As I read this first paragraph I had feelings of great hope for the novel. It promised adventure, history, science, and yes - even more geekiness all in one big, long book. In many ways it didn't disappoint.

We see the interactions of Hyguens, Newton, and the ficticious Daniel Waterhouse (yes the same Waterhouse family from Crypto - we all see the other key family from that story the Shaftoe's). And, in many ways his descriptions of the research of the scientists of the day and the exploits of Jack Shaftoe and his beloved Eliza (a most cunning woman) are very interesting. Sadly, in this book Stephenson is even more prone to droning on and on about how much he knows. Maybe I am taking it the wrong way but it seems like there are too many history, economic, scientific, and yes history lessons in what is supposed to be a Novel; and heck I like history, economics, science, and even more history but the lecturing tone of this book at times was just too much. It made the book seem endlessly longer that its already substantial length.

Now, I typically never quit on a book, and I didn't quit on this one either. However, I will probably quit on the series. Heck there are two or three more books in this cycle and I don't think I could handle being lectured to for another 2-3 thousand pages. I hear his first work, Snow Crash, is really good but of course this comes from the same folks who love the Baroque Cycle. I just don't get it.


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Queen of Demons

Queen of Demons : The second book in the epic saga of 'The Lord of the Isles' (Lord of the Isles)
Queen of Demons the second installment in the Lord of the Isles series continues on with the same troupe of likable characters; and, much like the first book, has a few characters that play vital roles for this book only then disappear. However, the plot in this book is even weaker than in the first and major events slide by a bit too easilly. Overall, I found this book less enjoyable than the first. However, I have already bought the next couple books in the series so I will continue to read. At least I still like the principal characters or else I would probably just sell the books on eBay without another thought.


Friday, October 17, 2008

King Rat

King Rat is a modern day sequel to the fabled story of The Pied Piper. In the ancient tale we don't really hear much from the Rat's of Hamellin Germany. Instead, we just know they show up and infest the small town until the Pied Piper shows up.

Anyone familiar with the story will also remember the darker ending where the people of Hamellin refuse to pay the Piper and so he changes his tune and leads all the children away into a mountainside. It is this darker side of the Pied Piper that is explored more deeply in King Rat.

The Piper can play one type of song at a time and, as it turns out, he can control any kind of living species with a song tuned to that species. Thus at one moment he can control the rats, another the children, another the birds, or even the spiders. He is content in his knowledge that he can make anyone dance. Anyone that is except Saul.

Saul is a special hybrid resultant of the coupling between a Rat in humanoid form and an actual human. How a Rat can take on human form is never really explained in the book; perhaps it is a talent reserved specifically for those of royal blood. Saul is drawn into the dark world of Rats and their past with the Pied Piper specifically because of his mixed background; he becomes a trophy fought over between two long-time enemies: the Piper and King Rat.

King Rat, you see, was around back when the Rats of Hamellin were drowned and he has a bone to pick with the Piper. The problem his, even after all of these years, he still can't resist the Pied Piper's compelling tune. Thus the King needs, and the Piper hates, Saul.

This book takes place in present day London and for that reason alone I got a kick out of it because I happened to be in London as I read it. I hadn't been in London since I was five so it was kind of cool to see bits and pieces of London by day and then read about Saul and King rat exploring those very same locales, albeit from a far different perspective, at night. In fact, at one point, as I was reading in my hotel room on High Holborn, Saul and King Rat ran right past my window in the book (page 98). That was pretty cool.

The Piper's dark side is expanded quite a bit and Melville (the author) really makes him easy to dislike. Likewise, it is easy to dislike King Rat all the while sympathizing with Saul and his unusual circumstances. This was my introduction to Melville and it was fairly enjoyable. The book was fairly lightweight reading and had some interesting twists (though nothing particularly suprising). Not only was this my first encounter with Melville it was my first effort at reading Urban fantasy. I imagine I will return to the genre and the author.

Overall, I'll give this a 3.5 out of 5.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Bear and the Dragon

The Bear and the Dragon
While The Bear and The Dragon was a pretty good read there were a few things that I felt were weak. For starters the entire process by which the US Spy infiltrates the Chinese governments computer systems with his "undetectable" trojan. If he is delivering the computer, installing it for them, and who knows what else, why didn't he just deliver it with the trojan in place instead of having to screw his way into the office? I just don't get that. Secondly was the presidents reaction at the end of the story when all hell is breaking loose. I don't want to say too much but, "Gimme a Break", he has a responsibility as president and Jack Ryan never seemed like the kind to shirk responsibility - until the end of this book when he suddenly gets a whacked out definition of right-vs-wrong. The only other thing that bothered me about the book was that almost every man in the story was exactly the same; particularly the US soldiers. Gimme a break.

Even if we assume the story was taking place now, or in the late 90's the attitude of every solider was that of someone Clancy's age who grew up with the missle crises in the 60's. However, most of the pilots, spooks, and what not just didn't feel like they were that old to have such a complete mindnumbing reaction to allying with the russians. Hell, by the end of the 90's the coldwar was 10 years dead. We had already started working with the Russians on the international space station (a hallmark battle ground of the cold war - space) and yet no soldier in American service could believe we were working with the former Soviet Union against China - our modern day "cold war" enemies. I got kind of sick of reading how shocking it all was. One or two old timers was enough to convey the irony!

Even with these complaints the story was still fairly interesting, the cast generally likable, and China was setup well as an enemy of mankind (not something I buy in real life) but that Clancy conveyed well in the book. Probably not his best work but since it is the only Clancy novel I have read it wasn't too bad. I might give him another shot; maybe with an older book that was turned into a movie like The Hunt for Red October .


Friday, October 3, 2008

On My Way to London

I'll be in London for the next week for work so any and all posts made will be scheduled. That means they are probably not very in depth or well written (of course, everything before this may not be all that great either).

Anyway, once I get back I'll probably edit those that show up over the next week and flesh them out a bit. Hopefully someone will be reading them by then anyway :O)

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Lord of the Isles

Lord of the Isles (Lord of the Isles)

Overall, Lord of the Isles was a fun read. The characters are all pretty likable and the world they live in is a bit different than your normal fantasy fare. However, the way the story goes the confluence of so many seemingly important people in one small little hamlet is pretty inexplicable. Perhaps the fates have as much to do with the characters placement as it did with my stumbling upon the book in a bargin bin a couple years ago. Either way it's an enjoyable and simple read and one I recommend if you're looking for some light fantasy.


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Fools Fate

If you haven't known I generally like fantasy novels. Fantasy in the likes of The Hobbit or The Wheel of Time (not adult fantasy; which I would probably like, but that's another post all together). Robin Hobb's Tawny Man trilogy is a quality followup to an excellent series she wrote back in the 90's about a young Assassin named FitzChivalry Farseer; the bastard son of the eldest prince at Buckkeep castle.

I don't want to get too far into the other books in this rating but I figure you needed a little bit of background information. The older series deals with the development of "Fitz" from boyhood into young adulthood as well as the budding of his friendship with "The Fool". The Fool is a critical character however we don't fully understand his value to the storyline until this newer series which chronicles the life of Fitz once he is a middle-aged man.

The newest series details how Fitz is torn from his life as a hermit and thrust back into the intrigue that surrounds the life of nobility at Buck Castle. Fitz's friendship with The Fool is further explored and their deeper, more meaningful, relationship is revealed. No, this isn't some sort of homo-erotic story with left leaning underpinnings. What it does deal with is the deep brotherly love of the two protagonists and how their bond comes into play in dealing with the evil antagonist.

Fools Fate is the final book in the series, and undoubtedly the last book about Fitz. It is a pretty good story written by an author who knows her craft very well. If you have followed the series you can't help but care for the outcome of both The Fool and Fitz as well as the myriad side characters who have added color and depth to the tale.

While there are a few things I could pick in the book they are generally all so minor they aren't worth quibbling over. My only substantial gripe was the ending seemed pretty rushed and slammed together to make all the loose ends tie up nicely. Almost too nicely.

Overall the story is quite good. It explores quite a few deeper issues by having Fitz be introspective, examines the value of a variety of relationships, delves into intrigue and deceit, and even brings in some of my favorite characters from the earlier books. If you are a fan of sci-fi/fantasy and you haven't had a chance to, I suggest you check out the Tawny Man trilogy and the Assassin Series by Robin Hobb.


Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Sea of Silver Light

When it comes to the geek genres I definatly prefer fantasy to sci-fi. However, some science fiction has really entertained me over time such as Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card (I can't really speak too highly about the more recent sequels about Bean). Another such entry into the sci-fi genre that I have enjoyed is the Otherland series by Tad Williams. Otherland is a virtual world were earths wealthiest businessmen plan on transferring their souls and living forever.

Sea of Silver Light is the concluding chapter in the Otherland saga and I have to say it wasn't as good as the first three books in the series. I still enjoyed it but something about the way it ended just seemed kind of hollow and lacking to me. I don't want to spoil the storyline so I won't say anything more about that. What I will say though is that the Otherland series is great as a whole. The story is cool and shows a very believable not too distant vision of our world, the net's place in it, and how our lives will be permeated by the incredible levels of access to information we may all have someday.

I don't know if I liked this series as much as his fantasy series Memory, Sorrow, & Thorn but it was still a good read.


Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Narrative of Frederick Douglass

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave: Written by Himself
I just finished reading this book and can't recommend it highly enough. Some of the surrounding text such as the preface and the appendicies weren't that interesting but in conjunction with Douglass's stirring tale they fit in nicely. However, it isn't the story of Douglass that is so worth the read as it is the effect it has on the reader.

I think pretty much everyone has seen a movie or read a book that describes slavery in some way or another. The tale is almost always the same; oppressed black people being whipped and abused. Because of these earlier tales of depravity I was pretty much prepared for physical horrors beyond description in Douglass' narrative. However, there was little in this book that really dealt with physical abuses. Instead, Douglass spoke of the mental and spiritual hardships the slaves dealt with and in many ways these were much worse than any physical brutality. The wounds from the whip lasted days while the wounds to the slave's spirit often lasted for a lifetime as was the case for Douglass.

I think it is easy to forget that slavery was a legalized institution in this country as recently as 150 years ago. Douglass's grandmother lived into her 70's. So basically the lives of two grandmothers have passed since slaverys abolition. I think this would be a great book to add to US History courses in High School. It is fairly short and easy to read so it could easilly become part of the standard cirriculum.

I've been sitting on this post for a couple months now waiting to publish it because I just haven't been able to put into words the feelings I had after reading it and I still can't. The treatment Douglass and his friends, family, and loved ones endured was horrible and, sadly, was probably not even close to indicitive of how bad it was for many others enslaved. Our nation has come along way since the 1860's it is clear that we have a long way to go still in righting these wrongs. Is 150 years enough time to undo 400 years of oppression? I doubt it. Racism will never go away, only a fool or blind optimist would believe it possible, however I hope that it's effects that are buried deep in the fabric of society are eventually removed.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Knife of Dreams

Folks who have read all of, or just part of the series, know that Jordan likes to write. Some accuse him of liking to write so much that he just adds more words to each book in order to force the series into more books that it warrants. It is true that his descriptions of clothing, hair pulling, sniffing, and the general topography can get tedious at times. However, in general, his attention to detail is as much his greatest strength as it is his second greatest weakness.

It is almost universally agreed that books 1-4 of the series are great books however many feel that books 5-9 are full of boring dredge. I won't argue that books 5-8 aren't as exciting as 1-4 because quite frankly, taken as a whole, they aren't. However, they are, in my opinion, just as important to the story as 1-4. Those first books really build up the excitement of the series and give you a deep introduction to the main characters (though many of the Forsaken do remain virtually unknown beyond their name). However, the middle books pull the series into a more global perspective than I think anyone has done in a fantasy epic before. The events transpiring in The Wheel of Time truly are global in consequence and as such they affect many nations; not just that nation which the main protagonist is from. The main continent consists of many kingdoms. I define the main continent as anything south of the Mountains of Dhoom and east of The Spine of the World. Beyond this main continent (often dubbed Randland for the main character) there is Seanchan, the Aiel Waste, Shara, The Isles of the Sea Folk, and Tremalking (plus who knows how much more). If Jordan (aka James Oliver Rigney, Jr) didn't really dig into the political and social upheaval associated with the coming of the end of the world - well I would feel ripped off.

The last 3 books (9-11) have all been very good as well. In fact, I am inclined to say that I like book 11 as much as any other (if not more so) in the series. It was fantastically exciting, full of surprises (and not-surprises) interesting twists, and plenty of evidence the Tarmon Gai'don (the last battle between dark and light) is rapidly approaching. It is also strong evidence that the series is finally ending. The series will end with book 12 (sadly, not written by R.J. who passed away last year). I still can't wait for that to be released. My only major gripe about this installment, as always, is the cover art by Darryl K Sweet. I can't stand his manner of drawing people.

I'm not all fanboy of the series though. There are many things about it that nag at me and I will post about them once my younger brother Joe has caught up in his reading. I don't want to provide any added influence to his reading.


Tuesday, September 16, 2008


Eragon is about a boy that finds an Egg and a whole lot more! Considering Eragon is written by a teenager the story isn't too bad; a bit simplistic but overall a fun read that fly's right past you almost as quickly as the Dragon, Eragon, grows. I borrowed the book from a friend and never got around to reading the others in the series. I am glad I didn't buy it as I don't think it was worth the price of a used paperback let alone a hardback.

The book was so quick and simple I figured a quick and simple review was enough. I actually read this book but that is as far as I went in the series.


Friday, September 12, 2008


I bought Cryptonomicon because the back sleeve print sounded great and overall I really liked this book. The tie between WWII and a more modern day computer scientist was pretty interesting. Plus, it is rare that I can find a book that deals with wars, adventure, treasure hunting, and cryptography all at the same time. The only downside to the book was that Neal Stephenson at times seemed to talk down to his audience.

Perhaps I expect a bit too much from the audience but it seems to me the average person who is going to pick up a book about cryptographic adventures is a bit of a geek who would have some basic understanding of cryptography, algorithms, and maybe even history. Because I do have a minor base of knowledge on all of these topics I was kind of put off by the fact that Stephenson repeated some of the basics a few too many times and seemed to take a long time to explain some things that were pretty simple, in my opinion. Because of this it almost seemed like Neal was taking a chance to "brag" about how much he knows. However, even with this complaint I still recommend the book. It's kind of long, but not too bad - I've never been one to knock a book for being long (so maybe his know-it-all attitude is more bothering than I realize) - however, the story flows along pretty well.

Even if you aren't a geek, if you have any interest in treasure hunting type stories or WWII based historical fiction this would be a good novel to pick up.


Thursday, September 11, 2008

House of Chains (Malazan Book of the Fallen Book 4)

House of Chains

In this, the fourth book in the series, we start out getting to know a Toblaki. That "race" may seem familiar if you were paying attention in Deadhouse Gates. When we first met Sha'ik and her two body guards; if you remember one of those was a large Toblaki warrior. Well, as it turns out it is this very same guy, Karso Orlong, who opens the House of Chains.

Honestly, I didn't like this guy at all but as the book got further along he slowly became a great character. Perhaps my favorite of the series so far. It doesn't hurt that he is a complete bad ass who pigheadedly won't back down from anyone; even when he should. Of course, like all of Eriksons characters we always seem to meet at least one guy who is even tougher than the guy we think is the toughest and the case is no different for Karsa - I'd love to know more about this lightening fisted fried/foe of the Toblaki!

This book isn't all about Karsa though he does play a key role in it. Instead, it is really about the new house that was unveiled in the deck of dragons the House of Chains and it's master, The Crippled God.

As an aside we also are treated to the long awaited confrontation between Tavore and Felesin and the armies of Raruku and the Malazan forces. I won't say much about this other than the way it all works out is a bit different than I envisioned going into the book.

With all the killing and violence that has occured in the prior books this one has the most graphic scene I have encountered in a book in quite a while and I was glad to see it - the ghastly death couldn't have happened to a better character. Again, I don't want to spoil any of the plot but trust me, when you encounter it, you'll know what I'm talking about. Pure poetic justice.

Much like Karsa I didn't like this book much when it first started. I was thrown off by the sudden focus on a new character in a new part of the world. However, as the book progressed I grew to really like it, and, just like with Karsa, I think it is my favorite of the series so far. A whole bunch of small bits and pieces came together in this book that had been alluded to in the prior installments in the series and it was cool to see how he tied everything together.

I had been told that he loved to leave little hints about the future, bits of foreshadowing and what not, all over the place but I didn't really appreciate that until this book because this was the first time those connections were actually being made.

While Erikson still doesn't do much in terms of direct descriptions of people or places he does manage to subtly give you a lot of details on various characters and nations. In fact, I could easily see myself reading books that just focused on certain groups such as the tribes of the Toblaki or the Moranth. He has hinted at so much about these people that it would be cool to really dig into their cultures and histories.

At the moment I have my hands full just reading what he is writing. It isn't hard reading but I'm way behind in the series and have to catch up. Plus I really want to know what happens with Karsa and how his early actions in this novel will effect later episodes in the epic about Gods and the Malazan Empire.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Memories of Ice (Malazan Book of the Fallen Book 3)

Memories of Ice

Memories of Ice takes place at just about the same time as Deadhouse Gates did. However, instead of following along with the story of Fiddler, Kalam, Crokus, and the Whirlwhind Goddess in Raraku we instead travel amongst the mixed company of Caladan Brood's army intermingled with Dujek Onearms "outlawed" Malazan forces. It seems everyone in both books has figured out that Dujek's army was outlawed for expediency so that the two forces could team up to face off against the suicidal and fanatical forces of the Pannion Seer.

Considering the Brood army and the Dujek army have been busy fighting a war for the past decade or so it is understandable that there are some issues that need to be ironed out in the trust department between the two leaders. However, Wiskeyjack seems to forge a bridge between the two armies as Caladin (and his lieutenant, Anadomer Rake) find they truly like and trust Whiskeyjack.

While the first book focused on the city of Darujistan this story seems to have a fulcrum around the doomed city of Capustan which is guarded by the able, but undermanned, forces of the Gray Swords. The Gray Swords are an army of mercenaries sworn to the Fener, the God of War. Unbeknowst to them Fener is a fallen God while his rival Treach, the God of Summer, is rising. Fortunately for the Grey Swords they manage to find unexpected allies in the forces of Treach while defending Capustan.

The seer seems besieged on all sides as he faces down the Malazan's and their allies near Capustan a powerful and mysterious woman, Envy, has gathered about her a small band of impressive warriors that manage to cut a sizable swath through the Pannion's forces as they move toward the Seer's capital of Coral.

As the wars of mortals takes place the T'lan Imass, an undead legion of peoples sworn to destroy all Jaghut are called to the second gathering where they hope to be relieved of their eternal curse of non-life. The summoner for this gathering just happens to be traveling with Whiskeyjack's forces - a fortuituous pairing considering the deadly allies the Pannion is employing in his war against all who oppose him; the K'Chain Che'Maille.

If all of the odd ethnicities and nationalities are a little confusing - it's ok you aren't the only one. Erikson doesn't do a lot to really explain each group other than to give you a rapid introduction to them. Thankfully, if they are non-humanoid in appearance he at least gives you that much information.

Erikson also doesn't give you a lot of time to breath in stories. There is always something important happening or preparing to happen. You can skim over some of the descriptive fluff if that's your style but don't skim for more than a paragraph or two lest you miss the opening to a great confluence of peoples or events that set the stage for even greater moments.

So far in the three books we have met the forces of the Malazan Empire, the people of Pale (who fought the Malazan's), the people of Darujhistan (who also opposed the Malazan encroachment), Caladan Brood's armies, the Tiste Andii and Anadomer Rake, a couple Jaghut's, K'Chain Che'Maille, the army of the apocolypse in Raraku, a single Toblaki (some other race), the Pannion Domin's forces, the tribal Barghast, insect like Moranth, Gods, Ascendants, and quite a bit more. It can be a bit overwhelming at times but, at the same time, it all ends up making sense. So if you start to feel intimdated by the sheer scope of the novels stick with it - I don't think you'll regret it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

New Spring

New Spring : The Novel (Wheel of Time)
"New Spring" the prequel novel to the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan tells the story leading up to the birth of Rand Al'Thor. I had previously read the short story of the same name in the Legends Compendium and didn't really plan on reading the full novel. However, someone bought it for me as a Christmas present. I'm glad they did.

It was much shorter than any of the other novels in the Wheel of Time series (that I can recall) but was really very good. It provides some of the back story surrounding Suian, Moiraine, and Lan. In particular it focuses on how Suian and Moiraine came to be searching for the Dragon Reborn and how Lan became Moiraine's warder. Unlike in the majority of the Wheel series Jordan doesn't become swamped under by too many details. Generally I don't mind the incredible level of detail Jordan gets into but the stark contrast evident in New Spring was pretty refreshing.

Overall, the story flowed along nicely. It was almost like I had just discovered Jordan's work again. I actually stayed up late and kept reading until I was done; something I haven't done since book 3 or 4. The next chapter, Knife of Dreams (Wheel of Time, Book 11), had the same effect on me. If you haven't read any of the Jordan series before I suggest you be careful before you do. Obviously (since we are waiting on book 12, not counting New Spring), the series is LONG. Not only that but each book is LONG. So reading the series is a commitment. Personally, I think it is a worthwhile commitment - but it is a commitment nonetheless.


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Deadhouse Gates (Malazan Book of the Fallen Book 2)

Deadhouse Gates picks up right where Gardens of the Moon drops off. The siege of Darujhistan is finished and the Bridge Burners have separated. This book follows the path of Fiddler (engineer), Kalam (assassin), Crokus (Thief), and Apsalar (fishergirl/assassin) as they head back to Apsalar's homeland to return her to her father.

While the group travels across the world we also meet two new characters, Icarium and Mappo. Icarium is a Jaghut warrior whose name was introduced in the Gardens of the Moon as a master of time keeping machines. Mappo is a trell warrior who seems to truly care about Icarium while at the same time torn by his duty to his own people. Eventually Mappo and Icarium join up with Fiddler, Crokus, and Apsalar where we learn even more about Icarium and Mappo's long standing relationship.

As Fiddler and his group travels they separate from Kalam as they approach the land of the Seven Cities. Fiddler, Crokus, and Apsalar have their own collection of troubles as they try to skirt the desert of Raraku while Kalam heads directly into it while trying to deliver a book to a mystical woman named Sha'ik - the delivery of the book is set to trigger a rebellion against the Malazan empire. Unbeknownst to Kalam though he is being followed by a female warrior of the Malazan Red Blades, Lostara Yil, and a master assassin named Pearl whose job it is to stop the rebellion for occuring. After Kalam passes through Raraku he picks up a demon bodyguard and then ventures toward the heart of the Malazan empire in an effort to assassinate the Empress herself.

While all this is going on we also follow the story of young Felesin Paran, youngest sister of Ganos Paran whom we met in the Gardens of the Moon. Felesin's older sister Tavore, has taken on the role of Adjunct to the Empress which was left vacant at the end of book one. It appears that Tavore sacrificed her sister to a life of slavery in a mine far away. Felesin, along with two companions, Heboric and Baudin, go to the mines and attempt to ally with either in order to better survive. Heboric is a fallen high priest of the God of War, Fener while Baudin is far more than he seems.

Meanwhile the people of the seven cities can feel their rebellion is about to start and it does in earnest. The Malazan forces are led by a military mastermind in Coltaine but he is encumbered by the thousands of civilians he has to defend that have been forced from their homes by the rebels. Coltaine is also hampered by the fact that he has to move his forces and the civilians thousands of miles across the desert to the nearest reinforcements.

As you can see this is not a simple story but rather many told in an interweaving pattern. I'm actually in the middle of the fourth book in the series as I write this review and it has been cool to see a lot of small references tide back into things that happened in this book. A lot of bits and pieces that really seemed insignificant here actually prove to have far greater significance later on.

I really enjoyed Deadhouse Gates even though at times it was a little slow. It, along with the third book, Memories of Ice, serve as a great bridge into the later books. I highly recommend it


The Plot Against America

The Plot Against America is a eerily believable retelling of the what America could have been like had one thing happend - if Charles Lindburgh had become president instead of Roosevelt in 1940.

If you weren't aware (I wasn't) Lindburgh was actually a known anti-semite (as was Henry Ford who also plays a role in the Lindburgh administration) however Lindburgh had captured the nation's sympathy due to the kidnapping of his child and their admiration for his many daring flights - such as his transatlantic flight made in the Spirit of St. Louis. In The Plot Against America Lindbergh gets involved in politics (a stark difference from his real life were he preferred to keep his politics personal) by standing upon a platform of isolation during the rising conflict of WW2.

The course of events that led Lindburgh into the oval office and the subtle effects his policy's have on the Jewish population as described by the Author (he writes from the perspective of his family in suburban NJ when he was only 7) make this book very plausible. Frightengly so. Phillip Roth tells a tale that shows his family being torn apart by the various government programs intended to "Absorb American Jews into the Social Fabric". This small, personal conflict is a minor reflection of the same events that are taking place within American society at large until finally there were large NAZI rallies and riots against the Jews in the midwest.

The book is pretty short (416 easy pages in the trade paperback) and the characters are all very believable. The scariest part of the book is the fact that it all seems like it could happen at any time, even today, if the wrong people had power; and perhaps, if your a Muslim in America you may feel it is already happening.


Friday, August 29, 2008

The Name of the Wind

I have been remiss in posting lately and for that I apologize. You will be happy to know, however, that I have been busy reading reading reading. I've actually cranked out a couple of books since my last post; the first of which was The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

The Name of the Wind was Mr. Rothfuss's debut novel and the blurb on the back cover of the paperback edition really got me excited for what it offered:

I have stolen princesses back from sleeping barrow kings. I burned down the town of Trebon. I have spent the night with Felurian and left with both my sanity and my life. I was expelled from the University at a younger age than most people are allowed in. I tread paths by moonlight that others fear to speak of during day. I have talked to Gods, loved women, and written songs that make the minstrels weep. My name is Kvothe. You may have heard of me

When I read that I though, Holy Crap - this is a different protagonist - this guy is an arrogant self absorbed ass - I can't wait to read the book.

It turns out he is a different kind of protagonist but he isn't anything like I expected. He is actually fairly modest and rather likable. The entire story is told in various first person perspectives that toggle between Kvothe and Chronicler, the man writing the story of Kvothe's life - this means the timeline bounces around between the past exploits of a young Kvothe (upto the age of 16 or so) and the present time where Kvothe is a "retired" adventurer cum innkeeper telling his tale.

I really liked this form of presentation and found myself really curious about Kvothe and the other patrons of his inn. Most importantly I am very interested in what we haven't learned yet about Kvothe's life before he became an inn keeper and I eagerly await the second book.


Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Devil in the White City - Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America

Some say that truth is stranger than fiction; while I don't know about that I can say that at times, such as in the reading of The Devil in the White City, truth is more compelling that fiction. Thanks to Hollywood and the crazy killers found throughout the history of fictional thrillers it is easy to be jaded when your presented with a smooth talking pharmacist who preys on young women. It is easy to not be horrified until you remember the story is real.

The Devil in the White City is really two stories in one. The first is about Danial Burnham; the man who was behind the most miraculous of events in Chicago's history when it won, prepared for, and then put on the Worlds Fair of 1893. The author, Erik Larson, does a fantastic job of taking you on the highs and lows of the process of building a (white) city within the dingy city of Chicago while at the same time telling a much darker tale. The darker tale is one of ruthlessness and depravity when America's own version of "Jack the Ripper", Dr. H. H. Holmes, stalked the neighborhood around the fairgrounds killing young women by night but serving as a Pharmacist during the day.

This book is methodically researched and written in a style that flows as well as the best of novels. In reading the book I grew to care about the great fair and it's impact on Chicago. I also came to detest Dr. Holmes and I followed the trail of his own hunter with more and more anxiousness awaiting his capture.

In addition to the fascinating stories of Burnham and Holmes Larson tells the story of the city and it's fair. I learned about the Ferris wheel, architecture, and a myriad of other things that go on when putting together and event of such grand scale.

Overall this book is a fine bit of story telling wrapped around actual historical events. It is one of the best pieces of non-fiction I have had the opportunity to read and I can't recommend it highly enough. In fact I give it a score of 5 on my scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being the best.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Gardens of the Moon (Malazan Book of the Fallen Book 1)

This series seems to be on the tips of everyone's tongues now a days yet, somehow, I missed it's coming and have just now begun to read it starting off with Gardens of the Moon and I have to say it is a bit different from anything I have read before.

The style of the writing is different; it's more of a free thought type of expression even though it is far too complicated of a world to be something that wasn't planned and outlined before it was written. Steven Erikson has a knack for making his writing seem effortless for him while at the same time requiring some effort on the part of the reader to keep up with what he is talking about.

Right off the bat the reader is introduced to God like beings as well as a poor fisherman's daughter and an old crone. You might think, based on that motely cast of characters that not much excitement would be coming your way but you'd be wrong. Instead the reader is thrust into a dark world where Gods play at war and many of the mortals seem to be nearly as powerful as the dieties.

Basically, there is ass-kickin-a-plenty throughout the story. In fact, even when there isn't an action packed scene it feels like action is never more than a page turn away. Along with all the action you meet a lot of characters. Without reading the book then you might be able to guess that a lot of details and backstory are never presented and instead are left for the reader to imagine independently. Amazingly enough this works becuase Erikson gives just enough details about history or the magic system to seed your synapses and to put them in overdrive.

My friend Ed describes the litany of characters pretty well; Once you find a character who you think is as bad ass as they come, another character will pop up and leave you thinking, wow this new guy could kick that old guys ass - easily! Then, once you reach the tip top of the power structure he has to fight someone who he considers his match. It's pretty crazy and in that vein alone guarantees that this series is not intended for those purists who don't like uber-characters.

Quite frankly I really enjoyed the book. I was warned it was one of the slower books in the series and that it took a few hundred pages to get into it but almost from the first paragraph I was digging the story. There were at least 7 characters I really liked; Whiskeyjack - the bridgeburner (combat engineer type group) Sergeant with a lot of secrets, Sorry - the fisher girl after her encounter with the Gods, Tattersail - a female mage with more power than she realizes, Fiddler - a sapper (demolitions guy) with the bridge burners, Kruppe - the stereotypical pudgy happy guy who is more than he appears, Crokus - a thief who takes chances, and Rallick Nom an assassin with a higher purpose. Plus there were a bunch of other characters who were each believable and interesting in their own way.

Erikson walks a fine line between story telling and chaos but he manages to stay firmly entrenched in story telling throughout the book plus he promises you far more in terms of the world and the people who inhabit it in the books to come.

This book scores a 4 on my scale of 1-5 with five being the best thanks to tons of action, a compelling world and magic system, and a cast of characters that I can both identify with and care about (either like or hate).

Forest Mage (Soldier Son Book 2)

Forest Mage is the second installment of the Soldier Son Trilogy by Robin Hobb. In this sequel to Shamans Crossing Nevare Burville's story picks up at the end of Nevare's first year at the Cavella Academy. The strange magic that infested him in the first novel has been ignited by his encounter with the speck plague and it is having an unusual effect on him.

The growth of the magic within him and all of his efforts concerning it, result in the same bad "Meet the Parents" type outcomes that he dealt with in the entire first book. In the Shamans Crossing we followed Nevare on his travels to the east and in Forest Mage we follow him in his travels to the west.

Some of my favorite characters from the first book are still around such as Spink and Epiny though we run into them both much later in the story and Epiny has a mostly tangential presence in the novel until the end. In fact, instead of developing the realtionship between Nevare and anyone else the majority of this book, much like it's predessor, is spent in Nevare self pitying mode.

His life sucks - we get it. He doesn't know what to do to fix it - we get it. People are sickened by his obesity - we get it. In fact I'm not sure why Hobb felt it was necessary to hit us over the head with all of these points over and over again throughout the book.

Nevare is a pawn of the "magic" the mysterious mystic force of The People (what the specks call themselves). He is supposed to do something that will stop the "war" between The People and the Gernians - though the Gernians don't really know they are at war. The magic never really wants to give Nevare a hint as to what it is he must be doing - nor does it really put The People at ease and let them know it has the problem taken care of. Instead The People continue to spread the plague and use the magic however they can against the Gernians and Nevare sits around in a shack or has sex with a Speck woman throughout most of the book without ever actually even thinking about his predicament or trying to deal with it.

Nevarre is either the most stubborn and whiny person I have ever read about or he is deluded and refuses to accept the reality of his situation. Either way he doesn't make for a compelling protagonist. Even when he does things that are likable (he's a hard worker) he still comes across as self pitying and whiny. The magic doesn't help considering it conspires against him to make him seem like the biggest loser to ever wear the title of "hero".

Even with all the negative I found with this book it was better than Shamans Crossing. Nevare didn't whine quite as much and I got to meet 2 more interesting characters that I actually liked (his "love" interest, Amzil, and a scout, Buel Hitch). By the end he is finally forced to make a decision about his own life instead of constantly living his live as the Good God or his father want him to. Of course it could be said he still didn't make the choice and that the "magic" made it for him.

In the end I'll give this a rating of 2 on a scale of 1-5 with 5 being the best. I'll still read the third book, Renegate's Magic - it just might be a while before I sit down and do so.

Shamans Crossing (Soldier Son Book 1)

I bought this book, and the second book in the series Forest Mage, at the same time about a year ago but just finally settled down to read them over the past two weeks.

The story is set in an unusual world for a fantasy novel. While the main characters still have the typical euro-centric feel to them they aren't the dominate force in the world. Instead a nation that is never really touched on much, called the Land Singers, dominates the worlds military. The protagonist Nevaree Burville, is a Gernian. The Gernians were forced west, away from their sea ports towards a much harsher landscape knows as the plains.

The plains are populated by various savage tribes that resented the encroachment of the Gernians. However, the plainsmen were soundly defeated in an earlier war that Nevarre's father fought in. Nevarre's father performed so well he was able named a noble by the king; a rare move that has caused some resentment with the existing nobles.

The Gernians remind me a lot of Spain during their explorations and colonizations. The nation is very strictly religious, in this case the Gernians worship the Good God, as opposed to the various old Gods that still have a minor grip within Gernian society. The Good God decrees that the first sons purpose in life is to inheirit and take over for his father, the second son must be a soldier, the third son a priest, and the fourth son an artist of some sort. Nevare, like his father is a second son, and thus is destined to serve in the military.

Nevares father takes his duty to the Good God very seriously and strives to raise each of his sons to the roles alloted to them by their birth order. He is hard on Nevare as a boy and expects him to carry himself with a strong military bearing at all times. Sadly, however, Nevare is a bit of a whiner and a coward. He never whines where his father can hear him but, since the story is told in a first person, past tense, perspective, you the reader get to hear all of his whining; and let me tell you it really wore on me after a while.

Nevare seems to be a good enough guy - he's wants to do what is right, he has empathy for other people including the plains people and the remote "specks" who live in a deep forest on the western side of the plains, and he truly seems to want to embrace his life as a solider and make his father proud. The only thing is he can't catch a break; he reminds me a bit of Fokker, Ben Stillers character in Meet the Parents - nothing he does seems to be the right thing. Instead his life is constantly awash in misery and he whines about it Tediously.

Because of all of Nevare's whining I just couldn't like him. Not liking the main character at all makes it tough to like the book. In fact I barely finished it and I only managed to finish it by skimming a lot of relatively boring details that Ms Hobb included.

This isn't to say there was nothing about the book I liked; in fact there are a few characters that show great promise and likability. Nevare's friend Spink and Nevare's cousin Epiny are both pretty interesting and quite likable - I would have preferred to have heard their stories. Likewise, Nevare's father and his adventures in the war would have been great to read. Instead we get an entire story about Nevare growing up to be a soldier and then going off to the Cavella (Cavelry) Academy his father helped found. It's really quite boring.

There are some highlights in the book that suggest the world could be so much more interesting. The magic system of the plainsmen has a weakness against Iron but we don't really know what the source of the magic is (beyond a frog that can cause hallucinations). The Specks to the far west also show some interesting promise as does the magic of the mysterious "tree lady" that Nevare encounters in a frog induced hallucination. However, none of that is ever really developed during Shaman's Crossing. Instead Hobb keeps hinting at them with frustratingly similar passages over and over again.

To make life simple I'm going to rate books on here with the arbitrary scale of 1-5 where 5 is the best. This book, Shamans Crossing, eeks out a 1.5 - the main character is annoying, the story develops very, very slowly, and alot of the details don't add to the story at all, they just bore the reader. Hopefully Forest Mage is better!

The premise behind the books really intrigued me and, considering I had enjoyed earlier works by Robin Hobb, I felt pretty secure in buying two parts of the trilogy up front.

What This is All About

I know that there are a ton of book review websites out there. I read a bunch of them. However, none of them seem to have the same eclectic mix of books I typically read. For example I read a lot of speculative fiction (that's the popular term for Fantasy and Sci-Fi nowadays) but I also read a lot of military fiction and I like to dabble in some non-fiction as well.

I know my odds of getting a lot of readers here would go up if I would focus on one particular genre but then I'd have to have a different blog for each genre just so I could write my thoughts on each one. Instead I am going to focus on this one blog full of reviews. I will primarily discuss the speculative fiction I read becuase I read more of that than any other genre; specifically fantasy as I don't read much Sci-Fi.

I don't have some kind of in with any publishers so I don't get early copies of any books. I don't have a gigantic collection of my own books to give away so I won't be able to hold out the promise of freebies to those who read my posts. Instead I simply offer my honest opinion of each book I read while I attempt to provide as little of a spoiler as possible.

We shall see how well that format works and if I can provide enough usable content on each book without spoiling any of the fun.

I will be leaving comments on, but moderated, so that the site does not become a haven for spam. Hopefully, in due time, the community that will build up here will be strong enough that everyone will gain even more insight into the various books I review - and who knows, maybe even new critics can jump on board and write their own reviews.

Initially I'll probably set a pretty good pace for reviews because I haven't' written any in a while but I have read a lot of books recently.