Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Lamb : The Gospel According to Biff

Christopher Moore's speculative history about Jesus' best friend from childhood, Biff, is a pretty light hearted tale that explores the first 30 years of the Christ's life - through the eyes of a smart-alecky Jew named Biff. Well, Biff's his nickname but it suffices.

If you are easily offended by the thought of Jesus saying some bad words don't read this book; he doesn't do it often, but, really Jesus is portrayed like any kid with the exception that he knows he is supposed to save us. Thus, at times, Jesus lives vicariously through Biff. Jesus can't have sex? Well, that won't stop him from encouraging Biff's exploits and then hearing about it afterwards. Likewise, Jesus can't persue an earthly relationship with Mary Magdelene - so Biff does in his stead. I won't spoil how that works out but you can be certain Biff can't live up to Jesus.

The story is told as if Biff were writing his own book of the Bible, though with much more modern language and, for the most part, the tale revolves around Jesus and Biff seeking out the three wise men who visited Jesus' manager when he was a baby. Each wise man has some stuff to teach Jesus (and Biff gets his own lessons along the way) until, finally, they return for the fateful day where Jesus is captured, then crucified and dies.

I know, Jesus rises from the dead 3 days later - Biff's story doesn't get into that but it does tell you what the "H" stands for in Jesus H. Christ.

Overall this was a fun read but not as good as I had hoped. While parts were funny I can't think of any laugh out loud moments; something I was expecting based on all the cover blurbs.


Monday, November 9, 2009

The Alchemist

The Alchemist is a very quick and simple read with a lot of bits of meaning and advice laden throughout the quest of a young shepherd who goes in search of his own personal legend (destiny). The story itself was pretty good and I actually felt a connection with "the boy" and I internally cheered him along on his mission.

My main problem with the book was the introduction written by Paulo Coelho himself. It's sort of a 3 page recap of the story you're about to read. Thus, I'd suggest you read the story and then go back and read the intro.

I'm not a spiritual person at all and this book had the unique ability to get me to consider my view of God and the universe. Granted, it didn't change my general opinion - but it did help me verbalize exactly what it is I think which, I believe, is pretty damn cool.

The book also left me thinking about where I am in life and where I always dreamed of being - to consider what my own Personal Legend was, or still is.

It's a quick and easy read that plants some not so easy questions in your mind. Read and enjoy.

RATING: 4 out of 5.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

The Lies of Locke Lamora

The  Lies of Locke Lamora

Honestly, I've always had a preference for roguish characters so when I found this book I had was pretty excited to get to it. Fortunately, Scott Lynch didn't disappoint me.

The Lies of Locke Lamora follows, in a twisted path, the evolution of Locke from a small, but crafty, orphan into a skilled thief and con man. Locke is an immensely likable character that I couldn't help but root for throughout his trials and tribulations. Thankfully he is also teamed up with some equally likable fellow such as his master "Chains" and his friends Jean, Bug, and the twins Carlo and Galdo.

The majority of the book is focused on Locke's adult life however there is some time spent giving the reader a better feel for how Locke thinks by illustrating some of his childhood schemes as well as much of the skills that Chains teaches the rag tag band of thieves. Chains, it seems, dreams of smarter thieves who get their prize handed to them instead of thieves who have to take their prize from their mark. To that end Chains teaches the boys a variety of languages and dialects, math, reading, writing, proper etiquette for a variety of scenarios, the arts of disguise and cooking, and much much more. Most importantly he teaches the boys to think and to work together - the two skills that help them get out of more than one troublesome situation.

Not only are the primary thieves likable characters but the primary targets of our thieves are also interesting and, quite frankly, likable as well. However, not everyone in the story is a charming and endearing person. Locke (and quite a few others) have their own sets of enemies to deal with and these various "bad guys" add an additional dimension of intrigue to the overall story arch. I was happy to be surprised by the outcome of a few different scenarios during the book and equally happy when those scenarios led to even darker turns in the story.

Supposedly this is the first book of seven. Hopefully Lynch manages to keep the level of his story telling and character development to the high standard he debuted with. If so Locke and Jean could supplant Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser as my favorite pair of miscreants in fiction.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Toll of the Hounds

Toll of the Hounds

I was pretty excited to get this book; not only was it the next installment in the Malazan series but it was well reviewed by just about everyone in the fantasy blog-o-sphere last year. However, even though this novel was by Erikson (my preferred author of the two) I found this book a chore to read.

Most of my problem with this tome was the way Erikson changed the point of view (POV). It's pretty standard fare to have multiple POVs throughout and, typically, I like that device. However, Erikson seemed to bounce between a pseudo-first person perspective and then a third person perspective that I found really off putting. Adding to my overall level of discomfort Erikson decided to wax poetic far more often in this book and, at times, it seemed as if he were babbling on paper rather than telling the story.

Some of the story arcs that were followed were interesting and seemed to offer a lot of promise but, overall, I thought they all fell short. A lot of time was spent with a small group of Tiste Andii led by Nimander as they accompanied Clip toward a meeting with Rake. Yet, the group's story never seemed very compelling to me and, frankly, I could have dealt without their inclusion in the book. By the third entry related to this small band I was already inwardly groaning that I had to read more about them; each scene just seemed like a repetition of the one before it.

My favorite character, Karsa, was also in this book and, it seemed like, there was a lot of potential for him as well; but overall he seemed to be glossed over.

The whole book just felt disjointed and poorly planned; even the climactic scene seemed to be missing something. It was weird putting down a book and not wishing it wasn't done. Hopefully the next edition in the story improves.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I signed up with GoodReads today. My username there is, as always, finalcut. So if you are interested in the other books I've read or you want to do whatever social things you can do on that site and you want to include me in the fun just let me know over there.

Here's my profile at GoodReads

So far I have added about 100 books that I have read or am in the process of reading. As I remember more books that I've read I'll add them. It will be interesting to see what the count is at.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Return of the Crimson Guard

Return of the Crimson Guard

Ian Esslemont rejoins the Malazan fray with his second book, The Return of the Crimson Guard. In this edition he tells of a huge sequence of battles on the continent of Quon Tali. While the premise promises a ton of vicious action I think the book failed, somewhat, to deliver.

It's hard to not compare Esslemont's work to Erikson's so I'm not even going to try. instead I'll compare and contrast the two through this review.

Both authors create interesting and likable characters and, I think, both do a much better job of showing an amazing level of equality between the sexes. Both genders stand alongside each other and fight for their causes without either becoming obnoxiously stereotypical. I always thought Robert Jordan's efforts at describing women as equal just turned them into annoying one-dimensional harpies who think they are the only ones who know anything. Both Esselemont and Erikson do a much better job of showing an egalitarian empire in Malazan (heck, even in most of the socieities the Malazan's encounter). It's pretty cool. However, even with that said both fail miserably at creating a convincing female leader in these cultures.

Empress Laseen, aka Surly, is a prime example. She is, without a doubt, a bad-ass just like any of the other uber-hero's we see in the series. However, neither author gives her much depth. In fact, except for the martial prowess attributed to her in this book she was basically just a cold and aloof leader who didn't share any of her opinions or thoughts with anyone. She seemed a carbon copy of Tavore Paran - the Adjunct of the 14th army. Both are quiet, cold, ruthless, and completely unknowable. It's a shame because I'd like to know these characters a lot better; especially considering how critical to the overall story arch they both are.

However, in their defense, neither author has really spent much time developing any of the male leaders either. Instead, we typically only get to know the low level getting dirty characters. Granted, some of these guys are incredibly powerful and will, eventually, do some serious damage but they aren't leading entire armies; though, at times, they may be leading far more people than they ever imagined they would.

It is these nitty-gritty characters that make this series so interesting. In "The Return" we get characters such as Naif and Hurl who both find themselves in circumstances far more monumental than they ever imagined. I was, however, disappointed that the first Crimson Guardsman we ever met, Iron Bars, was so poorly used in this book; we barely got to know him. However, I have high hopes that he will reappear later.

If you like the more bad-ass characters that just wade through a crowd in destruction mode then there is plenty of that for you in this book as well. Some of them, such as Ho, are subtly so, but others; such as Rell, Urko, Braven Tooth, Temp, and Traveller are all in your face ass kickers. Sadly, Esslemont doesn't really describe combat in as compelling of a way as Erikson. Most of the one-on-one combat sequences seem to be missing a level of detail and the descriptions, at time, become a little muddled. On the flip side, when the larger engagements happen Esslemont shines in capturing the tension and drama of a battlefield.

Overall this was an enjoyable story but, mainly because I don't feel vested in any of the characters yet, I didn't get into it as much as I have the more recent Erikson novels. Fortunately, Esslemont has set the stage for some far reaching story lines that should prove to be quite interesting.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A Shortcut Through Time - The Pathway to the Quantum Computer

Shortcut through time, the path to the quantum computer

Going into this book I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. I didn't know much of anything about Quantum computing or quantum physics for that matter and I was concerned that such a thin book might not do the subject justice. It turns out my concerns were misplaced.

This book takes a pretty difficult subject and somehow converts into language almost anyone can understand. It was really pretty amazing. I won't claim that I could totally grasp everything it laid out. In fact I just took a leap of faith a couple of times and assumed the author wasn't pulling my leg just so I could move forward. Some of this stuff just boggles my mind.

I don't know if I'll ever see a working Quantum Computer in my life time but if they actually figure out how to get the technology working it will be amazing and I'll be even more glad I read this book. It is a great introduction to the topic and the author, George Johnson (the NY Times science editor) does a commendable job of making a difficult subject digestable.

RATING: 5 out of 5

Monday, February 9, 2009

Shadow's Edge (Night Angel book 2)

In "Shadow's Edge" Azoth has fully assumed the role of Kylar Stern (a name which weakly references the fact that Kylar is close to Killer) however he attempts to reject his life as a wetboy to find peace and happiness with his love Elene and moving to a new city.

Kylar gets bored with his life as a medieval pharmacist pretty quickly and begins to take some nightly jaunts through his new home town; and, in the process, he finds himself delivering justice and retribution in his alter ego the Night Angel. Eventually, Kylar's thirst for his true calling and his domestic bliss come to loggerheads - specifically once Kylar discovers his best friend, Logan, isn't actually dead.

Kylar then beings his quest to save Logan and his hometown from the domination of the Godking. Unbeknownst to Kylar his old wetboy nemesis Vi is hot on his trail and she has stolen two of the most valuable things Kylar has; his adoptive daughter and his wedding earrings - earrings that are bestowed with powerful magic.

Overall, this tale is just as easy to read as the first "The Way of the Shadow" but it isn't as fulfilling. It's a nice light read that flows wonderfully but there are no real surprises and I found myself getting bored with most of the characters.


Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Reaper's Gale (Malazan Book of the Fallen book 7)

Man I want to say how much I liked this book but I can't. In fact as a book that started with the most promise it seemed like the biggest let down of the series so far. I'm actually quite disappointed.

Within the prior couple of books a momentous confluence of people and power were scheduled to meet in Lether and, in a way, they did. However, the explosion that I was hoping for just never seemed to happen - it was more of a misfire than a cusser blast.

Don't get me wrong; some of the book was very good it's just that in so many ways this book seemed to cop out. Two characters who were heretofore considered dead were brought back to life while other, just as interesting characters were introduced buy then neglected. Overall the whole book seemed to flounder around in a way that seemed designed just to keep the climactic fight between Karsa and Rhulad at bay for another hundred pages. Each time it seemed like the fight should happen the tale was pulled off on some other tangent leaving me hungry for main course of their battle while wallowing in the brussel sprouts of some some-what boring tangential stories.

Enough with my gripes though - I suppose I should also give some time to the parts of the book I enjoyed. The Malazan Army is just as interesting as always; if not more so now that a few new characters have joined Fiddler and his group of marines. Likewise, some of our long standing characters such as Quick Ben and Fiddler are even more interesting now than they were before this installment. Quick Ben has always been one of my favorite characters but he is now pushing close to being in the top three (Karsa, Kalam, and now Ben). I am anxious to see a full unleashing of his powers at some point. What can't this guy do?

I don't really want to talk about Karsa much which, at least in this, the book and I agree on. There was a lot of interesting potential for Karsa going in but he seemed neglected as an after-thought. However, Icarium (who seems like on scary bad-ass) got a bit more attention and the more we learn about him the more bad-ass he seems. I figure anytime the world recoils at his touch alone he must be pretty freaking impressive; I just wish we could get a better feel for exactly what he is capable of.

My favorite part of this book though, above all else, was the death of a handful of characters I really didn't like. In some ways Erikson used death clumsily leaving me wondering why some side-stories were even included. However, in other's, if nothing else he took pity on me and removed some really annoying people from the tale. The only death I truly felt frustration for was the final one in the book. It came as a shock and was a bit disappointing in it's simplicity. However, with Erikson's penchant for bringing people back to life perhaps this death wasn't as permanent as it appeared.

Even though this was my least favorite book in the series it was still an entertaining jaunt through the world of Malaz. It just failed to live up to my preconceptions on what should have taken place and when. Thus it is hard for me to fault the novel too much in a final grade.


Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Bonehunters (Malazan Book of the Fallen book 6)

The Bonehunters

I read this book while I was in Cleveland for Christmas and I have to say it was, possibly, my favorite book in the series. The overall pacing and the events in general just really appealed to me. Add in to the fact that one of my favorite characters, Kalam, got to be a bad-ass and how could I not like this book?

The book takes its' title from the events within concerning the Malazan empire and their war across the Raraku desert involving their persuit of Leoman of the Flails and the subsequent battle at Y'Ghatan that they take part in. The battle is the first chance for the 14th Army to fight and they are ready to go. However, their opponent isn't quite as keen and the battle he plans for them is like none they would have ever imagined.

Simultaneously Ganos Paran has left the Azath house and is back in the world pursuing his own plans; some of which are, quite simply, confusing and seem to border on the insanely reckless. However, as crazy as Ganos is you can't help but appreciate how central to the entire series his character (hell, his family) is. It will be interesting to see how his actions in this book effect the rest of the series. Undoubtedly the consequences will be both vast and a bit surprising.

Considering I mentioned him in the beginning of this post I feel I pretty much have to return to him, Karsa. Karsa is about as bad-ass as a character can be. Truth be told when he was first introduced I didn't like him at all but, as the books have gone on, he has slowly evolved into my favorite character. He is brutal and seemingly invincible but not impervious. On the flip side he is funny and completely straightforward and his story arc in this book just accentuates all of these facets of his character. I'm not convinced I'd be entertained by an entire book featuring him but, of all the Malazan characters, his is the only one I think I'd enjoy in a stand-alone work. My only complaint with him maybe that he is too powerful. Of course, knowing Erikson, that just means there is someone even more powerful lurking around waiting to kick Karsa's ass - and that it will happen.


Monday, January 26, 2009

Night Of Knives

Night of Knives

Over the weekend I grabbed my paperback copy of Ian Cameron Esslemont's "Night of Knives." I had just finished reading "Reapers Gale" the 7th book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series and wanted a little more (I don't own Toll of the Hounds yet).

According to the preface Erikson has been waiting a while for Esselmont to enter the fray with his own contribution to the world of Malaz. While the story itself was enjoyable in some ways it seemed to be rushed out. The type was large and the margins were wide. In fact, "Night of Knives" seemed better suited as a short story added to a compendium than a stand alone novel.

I had hopes, going in, that I would learn far more about Dancer and Kellenvad but this book doesn't really deliver much in that regard. Instead the story is told from the perspective of two other people; Temper, a semi-retired bodyguard of Dasseem, and Kiska, a non-commissioned spy for the local Malaz govt and part-time thief.

Temper, after having survived a horrid battle at Y'Ghatan and the subsequent political maneuvering ended up hidden as an old guard in the garrison at Malaz isle. His sense of duty drags him out and back into imperial machinations on a rare, and feared night - a nigh of the moon. Kiska, on the other hand, goes out on that same night out of curiosity and a desire to find more for her life than just Malaz island.

While we, the readers, do see small snippets of Kellenvad and Dancer they are small nuggets without much value to the grand story drawn out for us so far in Erikson's books. However, now that we have met Temper and Kiska it is my hope that both pop up again in other novels. Temper seemed familiar to me going in so perhaps I have already met him in one of Erikson's books but I didn't pay him much attention. Likewise, perhaps Kiska has also been around and I've just failed to take note of her. Either way both characters are interesting and well written.

One thing I can say is that Esselmont does a good job of capturing the feel of Malaz that Erikson has already created. I didn't really feel like I was reading someone else's work (even if the word potshards doesn't appear once in this book). As far as a collaborative work goes "Night of Knives" is a winner.


Friday, January 16, 2009

Site Feed

I don't know if anyone actually reads this site beyond one or two friends at work, but if you do then I just wanted to let you know I updated the sites feed to be a feedburner feed. That shouldn't have any impact on anyone but, just in case the feed gets wonky you can re-subscribe at: http://feeds.feedburner.com/BillTheBookCritic

Midnight Tides (Malazan Book of the Fallen book 5)

Midnight Tides

I just realized I haven't put any sort of write up about this book at all. I've been remiss! It's actually kind of amazing how many books I've read since I read Midnight Tides so hopefully I'll do a decent job of recollection.

In this, the fifth book of the Malazan series by Stephen Erikson, we travel to an entirely new continent where we are introduced to the tribal people of the Tiste Edur and the greedy, Letherii empire. As with all of the novels so far there is no clear cut good and evil group. Instead there are just various shades of gray where each nation seems to wax and wane between the two extremes.

To be honest I didn't really dig this book that much when it started. I had just spent the prior four books getting to know so many different characters across such a vast expanse of world that I was unprepared to learn about new cultures and even more "critical" characters. However, the Sengar family of the Tiste Edur, and all of their dysfunction, eventually won me over and I really started to get into the flow.

Likewise, down in Lether, the incomperable Beddict family really intriqued me including the character of Tehol Beddict specifically. Tehol is a bit of a financial genius and he is accompanied by a servant of endless patience in Bugg. Of course, as with all things in the Malazan novels there is more to each character than we are intially led to believe and both the Sengar and the Beddict families are no exception.

This book also spans a huge chunk of time by starting with a story from ages past when Scabadari (leader of the Tiste Edur) and Silchas Ruin (the leader of the Tiste Andii) fought in a huge battle up to the more present day war between the Edur and the Leterii along with the ever present involvement of the Crippled God. If there is one thing you can say about Erikson it is that he isn't afraid of scope.

This story also offered me my frist glimpse of the Crimson Guard. In a world populated with an endless amount of total badasses the Crimson Guard seems like they fit in perfectly. That little taste is enough for me to want to read more about them and I will, eventually, once I get into Erikson's partner's books - The Novels of the Malazan Empire authored by Ian Esslemont.

Thus, even though this book started off a little slow by the end Erikson had won me over again.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Way of the Shadow

In "The Way of the Shadow" we are introduced to the two primary characters of the Night Angel series by Brent Weeks; Azoth and Durzo. Durzo is a wetbot, sort of like an assassin but better because wetboys have the use of the Talent (magic).

Azoth is a young boy without much hope in his life. He has no family, only 2 friends, no home, and he is low on the totem pole of power within his chosen street gang. However, he dreams of being much more after meeting Durzo Blint; he dreams of being a wetboy - a man with no fears and endless freedom.

Azoth can only see one way to become a wetboy and that is by getting Durzo to apprentice him - however Durzo doesn't take apprentices and even if he does Azoth would have to pay a high price to prove his worth.

The Way of the Shadow is a very easy and fast read with great pacing. Azoth's two friends Jarl and Doll Face are both small gems nestled in the ugly world of the warrens that Azoth lives within and the three of them are all characters you can care about. Durzo is more than just an efficient killer though, truth be told, he remains fairly one dimensional throughout this first installment.

The world featured in the tale is interesting, the magic is also sort of unique in how it explains the limitations of certain mages (or how magic even exists) and some of the nations within the world promise to be very interesting if Weeks ever revisits the world in another story. I bought all three books of this series at once so I was able to read the trilogy nonstop which helped keep my interest as well.

I am also biased going in as I tend to enjoy stories featuring a rogue and this story, obviously, fits in that mold. Weeks does a decent job of depicting the assassins life with his many hideouts and traps. However, at times, I felt like the wetboys were too powerful compared to the rest of the main characters in the world. Even with that said "The Way of the Shadow" was nice introduction to the world.


Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Wellspring of Chaos

It has been any years since I last visited the world dominated by the Chaos of Hamador and the Order of Recluse so it was with some trepidation that I began reading "The Wellspring of Chaos." I had stopped reading the recluse books in the past because, quite frankly, that had started to get kind of boring. However, I have had this book on my wishlist for a long time and it arrived for Christmans (thanks Mom) so I decided to dive right in. I'm glad I did.

Like all of the Recluse novels this one is a fresh and new look at the world through a new characters eyes; this time via Kharl the Cooper. Also, as in prior novels, a good chunk of time has passed in the world since I was last there. Kharl lives in the small seaside city of Bystra which is run by a lazy lord and dominated by the lords 3 corrupt sons; the most notable of whom, in this story, is Egen.

Kharl is a good man and a very good cooper. He is married and has 2 sons and his own cooperage next door to a scrivner. Kharl isn't perfect however. He has a stubborn refusal to really see who he is and his sense of order is so strong that he tends to rub less honest people the wrong way. In fact Kharl's tendency to do good ends up causing him far more trouble than he could imagine thanks to Lord Egen.

However, not all of the consequences of Kharl's actions are bad. He tends to the wounded, saves potential rape victims, fights off pirates, and even destroys a few powerful enemies along the way to discovering who and what he really is.

Kharl is a well written character and I found him very likable. Likewise I found his story to be very enjoyable though the ending seemed a little too neat and tidy. I would have liked to have seen a bit more reconciliation with some of the more important people of his past. Even with that small quibble I can whole heartedly recommend "The Wellspring of Chaos"


Tuesday, January 6, 2009

What's Coming...

I have been remiss in posting my reviews for the past month or so mainly because I've been so busy reading. I think I have read the equivalent of 11 books in December so I have a lot of writing to catch up on.

This post is really just my way of saying I'm still here and that I will be posting reviews on the following books shortly:

  1. Chronicles of the Black Company (books 1,2,3)
  2. Books of the South (Black Company books 4, 5, 6)
  3. The Bonehunters (Malazan book 6)
  4. The Way of Shadow (Night Angel book 1)
  5. Shadow's Edge (Night Angel book 2)
  6. Beyond the Shadows (Night Angel book 3)
  7. The Wellspring of Chaos (Recluse series book 12)

Hrm, well that is only 10.. so maybe I'm forgetting one; like I said it was a busy month.

To give you a heads up I enjoyed all 10 of the books listed though my favorite of the bunch was The Bonehunters. I'll try to write up each over the next couple of weeks.