Book Reviews

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

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.

Review: Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline‘s Ready Player One is a futuristic geek-fest that revels in the 1980’s subculture of video games, Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, science fiction (novels and films), and cartoons. If you like these things and you’re intrigued by a dystopian future where people forego reality for virtual reality, then this book is for you. The novel is fun, fast-paced, and addictive.

People in the novel log into a virtual reality called OASIS. There are thousands of worlds in the OASIS and they are created around individual’s obsessions. Imagine something immersive like from the Matrix, but not as real. Then, imagine people having avatars and leveling up like in World of Warcraft or any other RPG. Take that image a step further and picture a world where all of the games are meshed into one universe and there are few bounds. See it? If you don’t, that’s fine, because Cline certainly sees it and aptly creates it in Ready Player One.

The plot of the novel is simple. The creator of the OASIS is dead. He’s eccentric and in a Willie Wonka way turned his inheritance into a game. Whoever can decipher the puzzles, beat the levels, and find the Easter egg he’s hidden in the system will take over his company, inherit his wealth, and control the OASIS. Things get complicated when the evil, corporate telecommunications conglomerate IOI puts together a whole division committed to finding James Halliday’s Easter Egg. With the fate of the world and the virtual universe up for grabs, who will win?

Read the novel and find out. It’s an escape, you may wish to lose yourself in.

Review: Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

I’ve been sitting here trying to think of smart things to say about David Mitchell‘s Cloud Atlas. It’s not that I can’t think of things to say, but it’s that I can’t narrow it down to one pithy comment that sums up exactly what I want to communicate. Instead, I’ll say, Cloud Atlas is:

  • Dreamy
  • Layered
  • Complex
  • Interconnected
  • Creative
  • Risky
  • Beautiful
  • Sad
  • Hopeful
  • Constructive postmodern
  • Introspective
  • Adventure
  • Science Fiction
  • Literary
  • Mystery
  • Genre crossing
  • Futurist
  • Smart

That works better than a blurb. It’s a messy novel and deserves a messy description. And yes, I mean that in the best way possible. If Cloud Atlas is all of these things, then what is Cloud Atlas?

Review: The Dog of the South – Charles Portis

Charles Portis‘ novel The Dog of the South is a dialogue-driven narrative told from the perspective of a young man from Little Rock, Arkansas during the late 60’s or early 70’s. The narrator, Ray Midge, belongs in the company of such characters as Ignatius J. Reilly, characters whose voices are strong, outside the mainstream, and blunder through life either unaware or uncaring for how others see them. Midge is uptight, conservative, and drives the reader between bouts of laughter and annoyance. It’s a fine line and Portis seems acutely aware of the tension Ray Midge creates.

The novel follows a simple enough premise that is absurd on face value. Midge is in pursuit of Guy Dupree who has stolen Midge’s Ford Torino and credit cards, and run off to Mexico with Midge’s wife, Norma. What’s Midge most concerned about? Why, the car of course!

Midge has Guy Dupree’s less powerful 1963 Buick Special, a pistol packed in a cooler of ice, baloney, and beer, as well as an inability to comprehend why people find him tedious. It’s not quite Don Quixote tilting at windmills, but both men are fairly deluded.

Through the meandering narrative, Portis’ love for language and dialogue spills from the pages. Midge and Dr. Symes, a scoundrel Midge picks up in Mexico, partake in many conversations where the other man is talking at or past the other one. It’s funny. It hits the right cadence. It may go on too long. The risk of course is wearing out the reader’s patience. If you’re looking for a change of pace or a unique voice, I recommend reading The Dog of the South. If Midge and Symes start to annoy you, take a break and come back to the novel, this isn’t one to quit and forget.

Review: Gardens of the Moon – Steven Erikson

Is it just me, or did Kurt Warner pose for this book cover?

How does one critique a book? Examine the writing, the mechanics, the beauty of the written word? Or, does one take another approach and view the enjoyment and pull of the narrative?

Steven Erikson‘s novel, Gardens of the Moon, was enjoyable. It ventured away from that staid plot device: the young hero from nowhere who defeats an empire. Instead, Gardens of the Moon shifted perspective among a cast of characters that included various factions from a powerful empire and a mixture of people from a rebel city. As the series moves forward, Erikson has given himself a lot with which to work. The series (Malazan Book of the Fallen) seems ambitious in breadth. From my understanding the series moves in such a way that some characters carry over, while others fade away. This seems like a smart move and allows Erikson to focus on the story he wants to tell. The end of Gardens of the Moon was fairly complete as well. While it certainly leads into the next book, it’s not dependent on what happens in the future. In other words, one can read this first book and feel satisfied.

Satisfaction comes at a price though. While I mentioned that Erikson avoided some of the pitfalls of fantasy, he did manage to fall into a another trap: poor writing and mechanics. I liked the story; it’s true, but I found it hard to read due to Erikson’s writing. Transitions are few, descriptions are flat, changes in perspective are disorienting, and Erikson does not seem to understand the usage of commas and semicolons. Those items are what’s stopping me from reading the second book.

In the cost/benefit ratio of reading, do I want to put up with all those deficiencies for the story? Is it too distracting? If you’ve read the this novel or others in the series, let me know what you think. Does the writing get better?

Review: Snow Falling on Cedars – David Guterson

David Guterson’s, Snow Falling on Cedars, is a quiet, contemplative book that depicts both the isolated life of the San Juan Islands and the racism Japanese immigrants experienced before and after World War II.

The novel revolves around one major event: the death of Carl Heine. Carl is a World War II veteran, a fisherman, husband, and father. He’s quiet with a gruff disposition. Moreover, Carl is strong, handsome and respected by the community. When he was a boy, his family owned a large strawberry farm on San Pedro Island; however, after his father’s death the farm was sold by his mother. At the time, Carl, was away at war. One could say that Carl represents the status quo or ideal of the island. He’s white, he stays out of other people’s business, he works hard, and lives clean. (more…)

Review: Chronicles of the Black Company – Glen Cook

The Black Company, Shadows Linger, The White Rose Glen Cook’s Chronicles of the Black Company, the three novel tome which contains The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and the White Rose were not created following the classic fantasy formula. Instead, Cook has taken the perspective of a troop of mercenaries known as the Black Company and ostensibly recognized by readers as “the bad guys” and proceeds to dismantle the common theme of a prophetic orphaned child embraced by a rebellion who overthrows an evil empire. While not as morally complex as George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones, the characters in these novels fall along a spectrum of good and bad, where history is relative and the winner has the last word. (more…)

Review: The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business – Charles Duhigg

Habits have a profound influence over our lives. Before reading The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg, I had never paused and reflected on the habits in my life. How are habits formed? What causes them to take root? Most importantly, why are they so hard to stop? (more…)