Book Reviews

I mostly review books here, but you may find some short stories along the way.

Review: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin

Perhaps, I’d feel differently if I’d read the book instead of listened to the audiobook, but Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin is a novel that’s overly dense, without being especially weighty. For the first half / twelve hours of the novel, I found it enjoyable. Helprin writes with a style that takes pleasure in metaphor and seeks them out in every description. To use a metaphor though, Helprin’s writing is a bit like a Victorian house, it’s ornate to the point of distraction. What started out as fun became tiresome. Not every description needs to be exaggerated. What does that level of description do? Is Helprin creating a more magical landscape or does he not know when to stop? Whichever the case may be, it created a narrative that lumbers forward. Action and pace slow, caught up in the Candyland-like quagmire of imagery, somewhere between Molasses Swamp and Lake of the Coheeries.

Continue reading “Review: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin” »

Review: MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood

maddaddamI have put on the red hat. I have eaten the fish. I have listened to the shiny thing. Now I will tell of Atwood’s book. Now I will tell of MaddAddam. The novel is the final one of the series. A novel is a work of fiction. It is a book. A book of stories. This story is about Zeb, Snowman, Toby, and the Children of Crake. This story is science fiction. Science fiction is not important anymore, since after the waterless flood Science no longer exists. Science was part of the chaos when people used Science to try make order out of the chaos. Science was a friend of Crake’s and with the help of Science he created you, the Children of Crake.

Atwood wrote these stories. They are very good. Yes, you should read them. Yes, good, kind Crake and good, kind Atwood. Thank you for writing these stories. You don’t need to sing. You don’t need to comment. Not everyone will enjoy these stories, but that’s OK. I don’t know why. Sometimes, people like different things. Please do not sing. I have a headache. Thank you. Yes, that is very nice. The story of MaddAddam is mostly the story of Zeb. Many things happen in Zeb’s past. The past is what happened yesterday and the day before. Yes, we all have pasts.

While the story continues from The Year of the Flood, not that much happens right away. Toby, the Crakers, the God’s Gardeners and MaddAddamites regroup, that means get together, and prepare for Pigoons and the painballers. Yes, the bad men. The bad men of the chaos. At the end of the story, some parts feel forced, especially with Zeb. To force is to make something fit that is too large. To force is to eat too much when there is no more room in your belly. Overall though, the story leaves you satisfied. That would be like the right amount of food, so you are not hungry, but do not feel bad. Yes, that is a good feeling. No, I will not tell you more. It’s time for sleep. Yes, you should read the book. Now I will take off the red hat. Now I will say good night.

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: Man, Play, and Games by Roger Caillois

Foregoing my normal reviews. Man, Play, and Games is a must read for those interested in games and the role of play. Initially, the book starts out quite strong by defining games and investigating the different categories of games. It raises questions about what one might be able to discern about a culture based on their games and develops a theory of games. Where my interest waned were in the chapters: Competition and Chance and Revivals in the Modern World.

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?
Continue reading “Review: Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple” »

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.
Continue reading “Review: Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson” »

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.
Continue reading “Review: Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan” »

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.