Sunday, March 31, 2013

Book #26- Deadhouse Gates

Title: Deadhouse Gates
Author: Steven Erikson
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Series: The Malazan Book of the Fallen
Pages: 864
Pages to Date:7,893

The Good:
After I read the first installment of the Malazan Book of the Fallen, Deadhouse Gates had some very high expectations to meet, and it delivered in full. The interwoven story lines are beautifully executed and the characters are breathtaking, even in tragedy. Heboric, Felisin, Kalam, and Baudin stood out as a few of my favorites, along with Icarium, Mappo, and Iskaral Pust. I wish I could say more, but the very reasons I love these characters are major spoilers.

The Bad:
Like it's predecessor, Deadhouse Gates, starts off pretty slow. It is very much a traveling book; many of the stories take place really far from each other. However, once I began putting the pieces of the puzzle together this became a non-issue. I just wanted to continue on until certain parties collided.
Additionally, Duiker's sections for the first half of the book are pretty dry, littered with military talk. This may not hinder some readers, but for me it was a bit rough. In the end, though, I came to love Duiker as a character and his sections vastly improved.

The Verdict:
Deadhouse Gates is amazing. It lives up to it's predecessor's reputation and, though a bit slow at first, is a must read.

Book #25- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search Part 1

Title- Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search Part 1
Author- Gene Luen Yang and Gurihiru (Art)
Genre- Fantasy
Pages to date-7,029

The Good:
This is what every Avatar fan has been waiting for. Finally, we get to find out what happened to Zuko's mom. Unlike The Promise, which showed much regression in Zuko's character, this installment shows him at his best, which is what readers want to see.

The Bad:
Zuko makes some questionable (that's putting it lightly, more like idiotic) decisions without much evidence to support those decisions. As a fan of the character, I hope this issue is resolved in parts 2 and 3.
Also, I wish they would publish all three parts at once. Waiting until late July for part 2 and even later for part 3 will not be pleasant.

The Verdict:
A must for any Avatar fan, but it's probably a good idea just to wait until all three parts are out. 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book #3-The Colonel's Daughter

Title: The Colonel's Daughter
Author: Merline Lovelace
Genre: Historical Romance
Pages: 377
Pages to Date: 1,005

The Good:
Lovelace does a nice job of creating a strong willed woman, Suzanne, as one of the main characters.  She can fend for herself and isn't afraid to get a little dust on her shoes.  In the book she does not get everything that she wanted out of her journey, which I found rather refreshing.  In most romance books, the main character receives everything she is after by the last page, but in this piece Suzanne faces some mild disappointment.

The Bad:
Most romance novels are unrealistic I must admit, but there are certain scenarios that one can guarantee would never happen in real life.  For instance, Suzanne bluntly tells her mother and stepfather that she had sex with a man.  This would never happen!  At least not in such a careless fashion considering it's set in 1879.  In addition, the end scene of the marriage was so unrealistic and insensitive that I was really let down.

The Verdict:
I've read a lot of romance novels in my time, and a reader could definitely do a lot worse.  However, I'd say steer clear of this piece if you're looking for a book with realistic expectations.  The ending is just too abrupt and disappointing.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Book #2- Choke

Title- Choke
Author- Chuck Palahniuk
Genre- Black Comedy
Pages to Date- 628

The Good: 

Choke follows the life of Victor Mancini, a sex addict struggling to pay for his mother’s care at a retirement home.  The main character is clearly an intelligent man but an underachiever at life. Throughout the story the reader feels the need to encourage Victor to pull his life together and become the man he has the potential to be. 

The Bad:

The main women in this novel are all cast in a very negative light.  They all are either deranged or partake in unseemly careers such as stripping.  Also, there did not appear to be a defined point to the book or moral to be learned. 

The Verdict:

Ultimately, I did not fully enjoy the book.  The lack of meaning mixed with the vulgarity wasn’t really my taste.  There were times when certain scenes did not really seem to advance the story either, which made the reading drag on.   

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Book #24- A Walk in the Night

Title- A Walk in the Night
Author- Alex La Guma
Genre- Realistic Fiction
Pages to date- 6,953

The Good:
A Walk in the Night introduces readers to the tragic impossibility of reaching manhood in South Africa during a time of political turmoil. I couldn't help but invest in the characters despite their major flaws. Even Constable Raalt, a rather jaded and villainous figure, earned a bit of my sympathy. Willieboy and stand out as the most loveable characters if only because of their hardships. Without these two, the story would be very lacking in emotion.

The Bad:
Surprisingly, I found this piece a little too short for my taste. I'm all for brevity if it serves the right purpose, but A Walk in the Night deserves to be a full-fledged novel. The characters could do well with a lot more page time.

The Verdict:
A Walk in the Night was pretty good, and that's coming from someone who almost exclusively reads fantasy. It's worth a look.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Book #1- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Title- The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao

Author- Junot Díaz
Genre- Historical Fiction
Pages- 335
Pages to Date- 335

The Good:  In this book Díaz tells the story of a Dominican Republic family cursed by bad luck.  Their tragic lives manage to captivate the reader and hold attention throughout the story.  The characters also constantly refer back to Dominican history.  This would make the book difficult to follow but Díaz conveniently includes footnotes commenting on the historical references, providing insight into their meaning.    

The Bad:  The narrator of the stories is constantly referencing science fiction books, TV shows, movies, and comic books.  If you’re not well versed in science fiction literature some phrases are confusing.  Similar to this problem is the use of Spanish words and phrases.  Being Dominican, the characters will sometimes speak in Spanish, and unless you know Spanish, good luck understanding.  There are online annotated notes to assist with all of the references, but it gets old reading a page then reading all of the explanations online.

Verdict:  Overall, this book is a fascinating look into a culture’s superstitions and history.  It is difficult to understand some of the phrases and references, but the family’s story captures the reader and will entertain till the very end.  I’d definitely recommend checking this book out, regardless of its hitches.     

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Book #23- The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia

Title- The Legend of Zelda: Hyrule Historia
Author-Various Writers and Translators
Genre- Video Games, Fantasy
Pages to date- 6,862

The Good:
Hyrule Historia is a great choice for any Zelda fan. The book has a detailed account of every game and awesome concept art. The history of Hyrule, viewed through a timeline that was previously a topic of much debate, grant new perspective to fans of the series.

The Bad:
The dense mythology of Hyrule is only lightly covered in this book, but the shortcoming is forgivable, considering that the gaps will most likely be filled by other games.

The Verdict:
Hyrule Historia is a must for any Zelda fan. It is a rather unconventional book, so it's hard to do it justice in a review. If you're interested, check it out.

Book #5-Memory of Light

Book #5
Title: Memory of Light
Author: Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 912
Pages to Date: 3185

The Good:
I have been reading the Wheel of Time series since I was in fifth grade, I am now a sophomore in college, and quite frankly this book is a better ending for the series than it deserves. The focus of this book is Tarmon Gaiden and Sanderson really delivered during the battle sequences, managing to make them seem coherent and the tactics that both sides used actually make sense. Sanderson also manages to put a satisfying cap on this epic series tying off most of the loose threads that had been left hanging throughout the series.

The Bad:
One thing that I have had a problem with throughout Jordan's books is the interplay between men and women, men are constantly perplexed by the nature of women and women are all grumpy old shrews. The clear chauvinism throughout the book is so obvious it is frustrating. Another thing I had a problem with in the book is that only one or two main characters gets killed. Its the Last Fucking Battle for crying out loud people are bound to die, and lots of people do just nobody important.

The Verdict:
If you have already started the series its worth finishing. If you're older than fourteen and haven't started reading them yet don't bother.

Book #4- Deadhouse Gates

Book #4
Title: Deadhouse Gates
Steven Erikson
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 864
Pages to Date: 2273

The Good:
Deadhouse Gates is one of the strongest offerings in the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Erikson creates cultures that are rich and feel as if they have the weight of history pressing down on them. The same goes for characters and this book introduces some of the best characters in the series. Duiker, the cynical, fatalistic historian, is one of my favorite characters in the series. I also enjoyed the deeper look the reader gets into characters from the first book such as Fiddler and Kalam.

The Bad:
To be completely honest, this is my favorite book in the series so its very difficult for me to find anything bad about this novel.

The Verdict:
Read this book! By the time I reached the end of this novel I was nearly in tears. Even though it is long it is well worth the read.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Book #22- God Is Not Great

Title- God Is Not Great
Author-Christopher Hitchens
Genre- Nonfiction; Atheism
Pages to date- 6,582

The Good:
Christopher Hitchens was an incredibly intelligent man. His essays continue to influence the world in many issues of religion and science. This book was a great collection of arguments against religion that were well-executed, legible, and thoughtful. Rather than babble on in endless cliche, Hitchens uses specific evidence to support his claims.

The Bad:
There isn't much to say in this area, other than a general criticism of books in the genre. It doesn't seem to be reaching the right people. Halfway through, I thought "Why am I reading this? I'm already a convinced atheist." While the book did provide me with great debate ammunition, I couldn't shake the feeling that somebody religious should be reading it instead.

The Verdict:
God Is Not Great is superb in execution and a great read for atheists looking to further their knowledge or wavering believers  looking for a good argument.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Book # 1- Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me

Book # 1- Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me

Title- Beauty Was the Case that They Gave Me
Poet- Mark Leidner 
Genre- Poetry 
Pages- 94
Pages to date- 94

The Good:  Mark Leidner is a master of playing with the reader's expectations, which allows for exceptional comedic timing in his poetry.  The poems in this book are hysterical because Leidner fleshes them out like a rhetorician and is unafraid to explore every angle of the individual poems. Leidner's poems often seem like a comedian writing a bunch of different lines for his set and putting them down on paper rather than delivering them in a club.  He also makes great use of anaphora (if you know what that means).  

What I've said so far might be difficult to make sense of, so just GO READ THIS BOOK!  It contains poems titled, "Charismatic Ambulance Driver," "The Night of 1,000 Murders," and "Memoirs of a Secret Agent."  What more could you want in a book?  That's right, nothing.          

The Bad:  Mark Leidner has a certain sense of humor that's almost British.  I could see some people finding the jokes cheesy or finding the speaker in certain poems an asshole.  But I find this humor hysterical, so there.    

The Verdict:  This is a very funny book of poetry by a talented poet and definitely a good book to checkout if you are just getting into poetry.  

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book #21- The Last of the Sky Pirates

Title- The Last of the Sky Pirates
Author-Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell
Series-The Edge Chronicles, Book 1
Genre- Fantasy
Pages to date- 6,307

The Good:
The Last of the Sky Pirates shares many strengths with other books in the series. Most notable (at least in the first five books) is world-building. Stewart and Riddell put a ton of work into creating The Edge, and the result is a breathtaking land with varying races and scenery. The Edge is a perfect setting for such a whimsical collection of creatures such as shrykes, banderbears, and stormhornets.
The charming eccentricity of the book suits it well, especially in regards to character. Magda and Stob, while both somewhat annoying at times, lend a sense of comfortable familiarity.

The Bad:
As a fantasy series geared towards the interest of young readers, The Last of the Sky Pirates struggles to capture a more mature audience. Rook (the book's protagonist) has a few difficulties here and there, but they all seem to resolve themselves or he is aided by an older, more knowledgeable character. While this makes for some action-packed scenes, most of the time it is a bit disconcerting.

The Verdict:
The Last of the Sky Pirates by no means a difficult read, and readers who are more attuned to adult fantasy may struggle with it. However, the installment of The Edge Chronicles is perfect for anyone looking for a fun, casual, and whimsical journey into a well-crafted fantasy world.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Book #5: The Shack

Title: The Shack
Author: William Paul Young
Genre: Religious (non?)-fiction
Pages: 248
Pages to Date: 1,922

The Good:
In a very fresh take on spirituality, The Shack tells the story of a man spending a weekend with God in the cabin where his daughter was murdered. The philosophical discussions are compelling and the story confronts many of the difficult questions facing religious faith. I would say the strongest arguments made by the story are about the love of God. Young does a fantastic job describing through vivid diction and strong analogies a very powerful depiction of boundless love. Furthermore, the challenging of preconceived visual notions, such as God the Father being depicted as a woman, keep the reader constantly re-evaluating their personal faith throughout the story.

The Bad:
The lack of obvious follow-up questions by the main character to God's explanations for various things really, really bothered me. As someone who identifies as a Christian and is studying religion for my Bachelor's degree, I believe that many of the questions raised (such as why is there a hell and what does it take for God to damn someone there) are extremely important to discuss. In The Shack, God would offer a really simple, broad answer based on an analogy to these answers and the main character would say "oh, I get it! I never thought outside the box before!"... Essentially, I believe The Shack dodges many important theological questions and leaves a lot to be desired if the reader is looking for religious answers.

A fascinating read that definitely diverges from traditional Christian literature. Overall, worth picking up and reading (it goes by fast). It did not drastically change my personal faith, nor give me any satisfying answers, but it certainly made me think about some interesting theological quandaries. At the end of the day, it is the thought-provoking nature of The Shack that makes it worth reading.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Book #20- Gardens of the Moon

Title- Gardens of the Moon
Author- Steven Erikson
Series-The Malazan Book of the Fallen, Book 1
Genre- Epic Fantasy
Pages to date- 6,084

The Good:
Gardens of the Moon is massive in scope and ambition. Erikson weaves countless tales together with expert writing. The book is remarkably cinematic; it establishes setting perfectly and follows numerous distinct characters. The Malazan Empire and its bordering continents are infused with rich and enduring histories that rival those of countries in our world. As a writer, I found myself endlessly jealous of Erikson's ability to craft a world so concrete and blooming with intriguing heritage. Since the budding of fantasy as a relevant literary style, few have proven to be worthwhile storytellers while avoiding common tropes of the genre. Steven Erikson is one of those few.
Gardens of the Moon contains countless story arcs that compete for the reader's attention, but never win. Every plot and subplot is interesting, important to the ongoing plot of the series, and flat-out fun to read. This is done through careful characterization; Erikson imbues each character with such emotion that it is impossible for the reader to remain indifferent.

The Bad:
Honestly, I had to deliberate for some time when deciding whether there was something I didn't like about Garden's of the Moon. The only thing I could think of was this: because the cast of characters is so large, the piece starts off slow. Once past the 100-page mark, though, everything picks up and the novel is a quick (but by no means easy) read.

The Verdict:
Gardens of the Moon is a must-read for any fantasy fan. This book is absolutely stunning in its scope and is nearly perfect.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Book #3 - If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home

If I Die in a Combat Zone: Box Me Up and Ship Me Home
Author: Tim O'Brien
Genre: Military
Pages: 224
Pages to Date: 1409

The Good:
This is a stark honest look at what life was like for a thinking man in Vietnam. If I Die in a Combat Zone does not focus so much on the battles and fighting of the war, but rather, gives a brilliant look at the ennui that soldiers suffered during the Vietnam.

The Bad:
I can't really think of anything I didn't like about this book.

The Verdict:
If I Die in a Combat Zone is a very good book that delves into the psychology of what it's like to be in combat Vietnam.

Ryan Knott

Book #2- Gardens of the Moon

Title: Gardens of the Moon
Author: Steven Erikson
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 497
Pages to date: 1185

The Good:
Reading this book is like reading no other fantasy book out there. You will find no elves, orcs, or evil sorcerers between the the covers of this book, although there is one mysterious scheming mage, actually several. This is also not a book that will baby you through it, Gardens of the Moon requires close reading because there are no huge info-dumps to get you through it.

The Bad:
The only problem I have with this book is that it is by far the weakest offering in the series. This is also a very difficult book to get into, and the first hundred or so can be difficult to get through.

The Verdict:
A great introduction to an amazing series, but it can be a difficult book to get into.

Ryan Knott

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Book #4: Blankets

Title: Blankets
Author: Craig Thompson
Genre: Coming-of-Age
Pages: 582
Pages to Date: 1,674

The Good:
Blankets is a full length graphic novel centering around his first love and his transition to adulthood. Honesty is the strong backbone of the story, a very real feeling story that does not turn away from the potentially inappropriate to properly illustrate the full range of emotional trauma associated with being a teenager. Using a medium widely thought of as being for childish superhero comics, Thompson demonstrates the truth to the famed saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" by splashing emotion across the page with his artwork. Subtly is another major boon to Blankets, as his horrifying ordeal as the victim child molestation is acknowledged, but not shoved in the reader's face. The questions posed by the author about relationships, religion, and coming-of-age are all timely and relevant to any college student. Anyone who feels outside of the social norm, which I am fairly certain is everyone, should appreciate his analysis of what it means to be alone and everyone should relate to his unfortunately predictable first love experience.

The Bad:
Blankets has been banned by several schools and libraries due to its nudity. There are sexual images, so that may be uncomfortable for some. However, I would say that it's done in a way that is non-pornagraphic, instead depicting the emotional elation that goes along with a sexual connection. As for the content, some of his criticisms of organized religion are easily refuted (in my opinion), but this is his experience and therefore I cannot be too upset with him honestly depicting what deeply impacted his religious journey.

Blankets is a tremendous coming-of-age story that evokes nostalgia, regret, and hope for the future. The depth of emotion is impressive and it's clearly a book that can reverse negative notions about graphic novels. I highly recommend curling up near a space heater with hot chocolate near-by, snuggled under a blanket on a chilly afternoon with this heart-wrenching tale of broken hearts, shattered expectations, and how to carry on through those pitfalls.

Book #3: Up in the Air

Title: Up in the Air
Author: Walter Kirn
Genre: Drama
Pages: 362
Pages to date: 1,092

The Good:
The snippet of a review from the Wall Street Journal on the back cover promised a lambasting of corporate America and Up in the Air did not disappoint in that respect. Kirn's story of a tired road warrior trying to cross the million mile mark before his boss finds his letter of resignation pulls no punches, truly showing the dark side of capitalism. I happen to be a huge fan of the recent film adaptation starring George Clooney and I was pleased that the book was very different than the movie. While some things remain the same, the plot is extremely different outside of a few repeated quotes (ex: "I'm like my mother, I stereotype - it's faster.") and characters.

The Bad:
Honestly, while I think that an honest examination of the seedy underbelly of our society's business practices is a necessary endeavor, Up in the Air can go full blown cynic. For example, one line states "He knows, as all the cleverest ones do, that no human being is so interesting that he can't make himself more interesting still by acting retarded at random intervals." Dismissing all idiosyncrasies that people have as acts to draw attention is simply too broad, too generalized to possibly be accurate- a criticism that could be made of most of Kirn's negative portrayals of the American businessman's ethics. Furthermore, each chapter begins with a lower case letter, while an artistic decision that has no impact on the overall quality of the writing, and that really irked me.

An interesting look at the state of American business, particularly the hypocrisy Kirn portrays as rampant, but overall too generally cynical to be accepted as a valid summary of our ethical woes. Perhaps I am simply still too naive, but the bleak and desolate portrayal of American culture was simply too narrowly negative for me to buy into.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Book #2: The Firm

Title: The Firm
Author: John Grisham
Genre: Crime/Legal Thriller
Pages: 501
Pages to Date: 730

The Good:
The second of three John Grisham books I picked up from Goodwill for under $3, The Firm is fast paced and grips the readers attention from the get-go. The tension as the action and drama rise is palpable, as Grisham does a fantastic job not only making the stakes high, but making me care about them. For a book of 500 pages, it also does a good job remaining interesting throughout, even bits of the story that contribute little or nothing to the central storyline. It's also a very fast read in the best kind of way, as it is hard to pull yourself away from the crescendo of drama that builds steadily until a predictably satisfying climax.

The Bad:
For a very dramatic and suspenseful storyline, there really is not much intricacy to the villainous schemes the protagonist finds himself involved in. As to the protagonist himself, I feel that he is meant to be portrayed as confident and intelligent beyond his years, but he just comes off as pompous; in particular, with the way he interacts with his loving wife. Honestly, I was not drawn to finish the book because I needed to see a character I love survive and overcome tremendous odds; instead, it was to simply see how he could ever escape the no-win scenario he found himself. As to that escape effort, I did feel the ending was a tad rushed and convenient, but sometimes a writer has to do what he can to ensure a satisfying emotional ending rather than a particularly clever one.

Overall, a fast paced thrill ride that may not keep the reader guessing, but will entertain for a couple hours. Definitely a good bit of reading for a plane ride or on a beach. There is also a movie version starring Tom Cruise, so reading this book will give you an excuse to rent another film from everyone's favorite scientologist.

Book #1: Bleachers

Title: Bleachers
Author: John Grisham
Series: none
Genre: Drama
Pages: 229
Pages to Date: 229

The Good:
Bleachers taps into the nostalgia for youth felt from those who peaked in high school. The pace is fast, with strong imagery that sucks the reader into a world obsessed with small town high school football. Not enough mainstream literature deals with the fallen hero, the disgraced former star who simply never reached his full potential; Bleachers unflinchingly examines the emotions felt by a man who will never escape the giant shadow cast by his 17 year-old self. Furthermore, the scenes portraying former teammates discussing triumphs from years past are extremely real. Only three years removed from high school myself, I cannot help but be reminded of conversations I have with former teammates that are eerily reminiscent of the dialogue in Bleachers. Overall, a wonderful mixture of how wistfulness regarding the past holds one back and the lifetime bonds created through sports.

The Bad:
The "mystery" of the national championship of the main character's senior season was completely devoid of suspense; honestly, it just dragged the book down a notch. Furthermore, there is a completely disproportionate amount of wonder towards achieving a college scholarship. Yes, it takes a lot of hard work and there is plenty of great high school players who never play at the college level; but when several Geneva High School grads are playing right now at Northern Illinois, I have a really hard time taking the notion that barely anyone from a school described as an unbelievable powerhouse goes to play DI football.

The Verdict:
Despite the page count over 200, Bleachers is a fast read with skinny pages. While it will not expose you to any revolutionary ideas or concepts, it is absorbing. I recommend it to anyone who enjoyed high school, enjoys football, or just wants to read about the type of futile exist destined for those who yearn to relive their high school glory days.