Posts Categorized: Novel Reviews

Review: Midnight Tides by Steven Erikson


Midnight Tides was written by Steven Erikson and published in 2004.

Synopsis

All back story about Trull Sengar and the Crippled God.

Reasons to Read

You love this series and want to read it all. There’s a reincarnating, evil, possessed emperor.

Reasons to Skip

Did you read the synopsis? Yes, this novel is all back story. It seems that Erikson will build on it (just glanced at Wikipedia), but there’s nothing worthwhile here. Trull, minor character from previous novel, is dull. Sure, Erikson makes him more complex in this book, but the first impression has been made. The sections with Tehol Beddict are not funny, though they try to be. It’s like Erikson tried experimenting with banter. Only thing worse would be actually explaining jokes. Hahaha, laugh here. Did you get it? Heavy-handed allegory for capitalism? The kingdom of Lether is the most capitalist, cut throat nation in the series. Everything revolves around gold and debt. Erikson misses the opportunity to write something smart and subtle.

What to Wear While Reading

An invisible cloak.

Food and Drink Pairing

Thin tea and saltines.

If J.D. Salinger Wrote This Book

He would’ve never published it.

Review: Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple

Where’d You Go, Bernadette was written by Maria Semple and published in 2012.

Synopsis

MacArthur Genius recipient and architectural phenom, Bernadette, escapes from L.A. with her husband Elgin to start a new life and family in Seattle. Fifteen to twenty years later, they have a ridiculously smart daughter, Bee, live in a crumbling building that used to be a school for wayward girls, and are planning a trip to Antarctica as a reward for Bee’s perfect grades. Combine Elgin’s high pressure job at Microsoft with Bernadette’s agoraphobia, general dislike of people, and feuds with the mothers of Bee’s classmates and it’s only a matter of time before the family unravels.

Reasons to Read

It’s funny. It makes fun of overly involved parents. It makes fun of Microsoft and Seattle. Bernadette is a great character. The book is pieced together through correspondence and told from Bee’s perspective. Minor characters are not forgotten, but change and develop as integral parts of the story. Virtual Internet assistants from India. The writing is accessible. It’s a bit of a mystery. Antarctica. Did I mention it’s funny?
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Review: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

Snow Crash was written by Neal Stephenson and published in 1992.

Synopsis

The Mafia, the nation of Mr. Lee’s Greater Hong Kong, a cyborg, a skateboarding kourier, and a pizza-delivering hacker who is the greatest swordsman of the world team up to stop a communications monopolist from releasing a virus that affects people and computers.

Reasons to Read

The main character’s name is Hiro Protagonist. Key book in the cyberpunk canon. Stephenson almost invented the word avatar. Dystopian, commercialized, libertarian world where laws basically don’t exist. Cyborg doggies called Rat Things. It’s hard to predict where the novel is headed. Ancient Sumerian religion and artifacts. It’s way, way, way better than the Cryptonomicon. Sword fighting. Hackers. And again, sword fighting.
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Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore was written by Robin Sloan and published in 2012.

Synopsis

Set in San Francisco, unemployed twenty-something, Clay Jannon, finds work in a mysterious bookstore that rarely sells books and checks out encrypted texts to its members. With the help of friends at Google and in the startup community, Clay tries to unravel the mystery of the bookstore using data visualizations, natural language processing, and crowdsourcing.
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Review: House of Chains by Steven Erikson

House of Chains was written by Steven Erikson and published in 2002.

Synopsis

It’s sort of like kids playing king of the hill, but in this case, the hill is a fragmented warren of magic and the kids are a bunch of bad asses bent on betrayal. This fourth novel in the Malazan series continues the narrative from Deadhouse Gates, with a novella length opening on Karsa Orlong a.k.a Toblakai.

Reasons to Read

You’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of the Malazan series. Karsa Orlong. The rise of the House of Chains.

Reasons to Skip

It’s really long. Not only does Erikson continue his overuse of the word “pate” but also loves using the word “surcease.” In trying to capture a multitude of views on an event from every character, Erikson, again, overwrites to little effect. The climax at the end of the book is bloated.

Erikson gets dangerously close to the wizard trap as explained in The Simpsons, “Treehouse of Horror X

Professor Frink: Yes, over here, n’hey, n’hey. In Episode BF12, you were battling barbarians while riding a winged Appaloosa, yet in the very next scene, my dear, you’re clearly atop a winged Arabian! Please do explain it!
Lucy Lawless: Uh, yeah, well, whenever you notice something like that… a wizard did it.
Professor Frink: I see, alright, yes, but in episode AG04-
Lucy Lawless: Wizard!

What to Wear While Reading

Shemagh head scarf and medieval metal gauntlets. You can always reuse the gauntlets for your Dr. Doom costume.

Food and Drink Pairing

Fermented goat’s mare’s milk and gas station jerky.

If Virginia Woolf Wrote This Book

They would plan for ages about visiting Raraku, the trip would almost fall apart, and then from across the desert we’d know the characters made it to their destination.

Review: Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson

Memories of Ice was written by Steven Erikson and published in 2001.

Synopsis

Back in Genabackis, the supergroup of Dujek, Whiskeyjack, Caladan Brood and Anomander Rake wage war against the Pannion Domin, while the Crippled God operates behind the scenes.

Reasons to Read

You’ve read Gardens of the Moon and Deadhouse Gates. You like fantasy. You’ve already read George R. R. Martin’s books, the Mistborn series, and Lord of the Rings. You consume 900 page books like Galactus consumes planets. You want to escape from reading heavier works like Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds.

Reasons to Skip

You’ve not read the first two books. You hate how often Erikson uses the word “pate” for describing bald people. You like characters that don’t have lame names. You have trouble skimming large amounts of text that do little to move the story forward and seem more like an exercise in poor editing, than in useful, succinct writing. Your friends will tease you about the cheesy cover.

What to Wear While Reading

Viking helmet and sweatpants.

Food and Drink Pairing

Budweiser and airplane peanuts.

If Ernest Hemingway Wrote this Book

It’d be way shorter.

Review: When the Killing’s Done by T.C. Boyle

If you’ve read the last two reviews (yes, I have a lot to catch up on), it would seem that I dislike the books I’ve read. Well, it’s more a problem with having taste for good writing, but needing to escape into lighter books from time to time. Unfortunately good writing is often an outlier in fantasy, science fiction, and thrillers. Thankfully, we have writers like T.C. Boyle who are simply outstanding.

When the Killing’s Done takes place on the Channel Islands and in Santa Barbara, California. Boyle aims an employee for the National Parks Service, Alma Boyd Takesue, and an environmental activist / local businessman, Dave LaJoy, who kind of reminds me of this guy, into a collision course that continues to escalate. The issue between the two characters is the National Park Service’s plan to restore the Channel Islands to their natural habitat by removing invasive species. In this case, invasive species include rats and feral pigs. Amidst the tension, Boyle provides context for how the islands developed and what role people and other species played in shaping the environment.

Boyle can be an uncomfortable writer. There are moments when one thinks the drama can’t go higher and then Boyle has the character do the one thing that is so terrible or stupid it’s hard to look away from. His characters stand on their own and out from the crowd. There are no milquetoast characters blandly waxing about their life. Instead, the characters are compelling and sometimes difficult to read about. The example in mind is the character, Dave LaJoy. He sucks. He’s a jerk and he sucks. But, Boyle is able to give the reader insight into LaJoy. We can see how he developed into the present jerk and it at least makes him understandable.

Finally, reading T.C. Boyle is a treat because his novels are all so different. It’s not like a Murakami book with thirty-something, first-person, male narrator who is aimless and has an affinity for cats. Boyle’s books are well-researched, different in topic, great to read. If you’re interested in the Channel Islands or in the tension between conservationists and animal rights / environmentalists who are fueled more by emotion than science, this is a book for you.

Review: The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson

Man, I wanted to like this book. Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy was a wonderfully unique fantasy series. The premise of The Alloy of Law is interesting. It takes place in the world of Mistborn, but 300 or 500 years later. Trains now exist. Guns exist. Electric lights are springing up in the city. One could off handedly call this steampunk, but it’s more like a western.

What disappoints me about this book though is the lack of originality I’ve come to expect from Sanderson. If you’re familiar with X-Men, the villan in this novel espouses Magneto’s worldview and thinks “allomancers” have the right to rule over those without powers. Mutants anyone? So, yeah, there’s that.

The other plot point deals with the villan and his gang mysteriously robbing trains. In this case, it seems like Sanderson was inspired by Scooby-Doo. Mist + large light + fake train = ghostly train? It’s obvious and not on par with his other novels.

What may be the deciding factor for some readers though is the accessibility and tone of this book. It’s fast and easy to read. But, it lacks the depth of the previous books. The characters are more two-dimensional and seem like clichés instead of archetypes.

By the way it ended, you can be sure this is the first in a new series. I’m not sure I’ll read the other ones. On a different note, I wonder if he’ll continue to develop this world and eventually write scifi Mistborn books. It’d be a fantastic project to see the world continue to develop and I’m not sure if another writer has undertaken such a work before.

Review: A Delicate Truth by John le Carré


If you’re looking for an international, contemporary spy thriller, read about Edward Snowden. John le Carré’s A Delicate Truth is a disjointed novel that fishes for relevancy by focusing on military contractors like Blackwater Academi and what one man will do to uncover the truth.

The cast of characters include an old-fashioned civil servant, a minister in the Foreign Office, a young rising star in the Foreign Service and his mentor, a misused soldier, a rich, religious, conservative from Texas who owns a Blackwater-like company, a flashy military contractor, and of course a pretty young doctor for a bit of romance.

Honestly, I don’t want to write much about this book. I was looking for something light to read, but at times, the novel felt drawn out and changes in perspective and time came without transition. I spent a few pages wondering who is this character and when has this happened? Part of that was due to the character referring to himself differently than how other characters referred to him.

All in all, this is a novel to skip.

Review: The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet – David Mitchell

David Mitchell’s novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, is a surprising narrative that follows a young Dutchman as he progresses from naivete to weary wisdom working on the Dutch East India Company’s trading post, Dejima, near Nagasaki, Japan. The novel resonates with the first section of Cloud Atlas and transports readers to the late 18th century of the Edo Period.

Jacob de Zoet is in love and he signs up with the Dutch East India Company in order to return to Holland and marry his beloved Anna. The idea is put to him by his future father-in-law who hopes time and distance will lead another, better-suited man to his daughter.

Driven by his faith in God and sense of moral justice, Jacob is an outcast among his fellow companions. In an attempt to end corruption, he’s assigned to go through all of the books for the new Chief Resident. Will Jacob be led to corruption himself so far from home? Or, will he maintain his beliefs even if it means risking a return to the one he loves?

For most writers, this narrative may be enough, but Mitchell grows expansive as events change. Not only is the novel about Jacob de Zoet, but it’s about a time of tension in Japan as the outside world begins to press harder against Japanese isolationism. To complicate matters, Jacob is tangled into the web of a powerful judge, Lord Abbot Enomoto, who is master of a monastery that may hold the secret to eternal life. Bribery, intimidation, abduction and murder are all tools the Lord Abbot uses to keep control. In the face of such opposition, Jacob finds himself once again questioning what he will do for those he loves.