What a book!

January 16, 2011

Review: The Red Pyramid

The Red Pyramid (Kane Chronicles, #1)The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Percy Jackson books were OK for me (my son and daughter both really like those) and this was described to me as “Percy Jackson but with Egyptian myth.” And it kind of is, but I liked this one a little better.

I did not care so much for the device of alternating chapters between the Kane siblings, Carter and Sadie, recording the events of the story for you to “listen” too, as the narrative unfolds in such a way that you wouldn’t tell it that way if you were recording it, but I don’t think a kid’s really going to notice or care. That said, that did allow Riordan to develop two main characters really well. Carter and Sadie are both quite distinctive, with both having important roles in the story and not being in the shadow of the other (eg, neither cliche of Sadie being overshadowed by her big brother or Carter is outdone by Girl Power of little sis is present here). Each needs the other’s special skills and abilities.

Overall, this will be a great read for kids and a nice “in between books” read for adults (actually, it’s much better than a lot of adult level books you could read). And while it may look thick, the chapters move quickly and the final battle (there’s always a final battle) will keep you turning pages.

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January 8, 2011

Review: Towers of Midnight

Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, #13; Memory of Light, #2)Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Wheel of Time series is back and has shaken off the sloggy funk it was in from Winter’s Heart clear through to Knife of Dreams. Gone are many of the entire physical descriptions (hips and bosoms for women, mustachios for men) and life histories of characters whose only role was to utter one line and then exit the story. Now there are battles and skirmishes and political machinations and plots that actually seem to advance the story. And the Last Battle is no longer the talked-about thing it’s been for the past 13 books, it is here.

Some people I know liked The Gathering Storm, the last book, more than this one, but, while I enjoyed Gathering Storm, I enjoyed this one much better. I found myself anxiously waiting to either go to work or leave for home at the end of the day so I could hear what happened next (obviously, I had the audio version).

As promised by the supernatural effect of ta’veren Rand,, Mat and Perrin, all the storylines and characters are coming together, so this penultimate book in the epic series is a satisfying setup to the finale, A Memory of Light, which, I have read, is due out next year.

Michael Kramer and Kate Reading once again read the audio version, switching off based on the character being followed by the narrative. Each gives an excellent, un-self-conscious performance (and let’s be honest, nerds, reading fantasy out loud can easily make you feel self-conscious) and I marvel at how they have managed to, over 13 books, keep true to the accents of the different nationalities, races and creatures they introduced in the first book.

If you dropped the series for the same reasons I was thinking of dropping it, force yourself through the sloggy bits so you can get to the end. You’ll be glad you did.

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December 29, 2010

Stephen King: “Under the Dome”

Filed under: Authors,Science fiction,Stephen King,Stephen King — ukmelia @ 11:31 am
Tags: , ,

I have not read any new Stephen King novels for quiet some time. He sort of lost me with Tommyknockers and from then on out I just stuck with re-reading old favorites like The Stand and Eyes of the Dragon.

But Under the Dome caught my eye at the bookstore and the price was right and I vaguely remembered a positive tweet from author Neil Gaiman about Stephen King (at the time, I thought the tweet was about this book, but later learned it was for a newer one but by then, I was sucked into The Dome. So thanks Neil, for inadvertently getting me to read Stephen King again.) so I bought the monster-sized book and settled down to read.

Under the Dome is the King I love. The one who takes his time developing characters and adding layer upon layer into a story until you are so completely absorbed that you find yourself thinking about the characters when you’re not reading. You worry about some and hope others get their come-uppance in the end. Most of all, you want to find out what the hell is up with the Dome? He keeps you guessing on it for over a thousand pages but it’s okay, because there’s an entire town full of people who will keep you turning those pages.

The premise is really quite simple: What happens to a small New England town when an invisible-ish barrier is dropped onto it?

What I loved most about this book is it is not a full-on horror story like It or Pet Semetary. I’m not saying I don’t appreciate it when Stephen King gets freaky with the things that can scare you like clowns and zombified relatives. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered what King is really – I mean really – good at is the character study. Stories like Shawshank Redemption and Stand By Me are where he really shines. Even The Stand, which is my all-time favorite King story is more about the characters than the God/Devil thing.

Under the Dome delivers on just about everything I used to love about King’s writing and I’m so happy I found him again.*

So from me, this book gets five out of five stars. Go find it if you haven’t already read it (it came out in 2009, so it’s not new or anything) and settle in for a good, long stay inside the Dome.

It also looks like the book may be getting the miniseries treatment which could be a good thing or a bad thing. King’s track record for his stuff translating well to the small of big screen is spotty. But for every Dreamcatcher, there is The Shining. For every Langoliers,  there is a Misery. So there is hope – especially since Spielberg may be attached to the project…

*Yes, I know he’s written much since Tommyknockers, including the Dark Tower series and other books I would probably enjoy if I gave them a shot. I was just so put off by by Tommyknockers that it took me a while to get over it.

September 27, 2010

Bill Bryson: “At Home”

Filed under: Authors,Bill Bryson,Non-fiction — ukmelia @ 4:02 pm
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Intrepid explorer and magnificent wordsmith, Bill Bryson takes us on a journey through his home this time.

That’s a little bit misleading really… I should say he takes us through the history of home life using his own pile of bricks as a sort of jumping off place.

Now, I am a Bryson devotee. I have yet to read a book of his I didn’t love and cherish. But even for me, the subject matter sounded, well, a little bit dull. And this is no small tome either. I wondered how he would go on and on about the rooms of a house for hundreds of pages and keep my interest. To me, it seemed like a bit of a risk for Bryson.

I should never have doubted him. Bryson weaves history, astonishing facts (Thomas Jefferson invented the french fry. Who knew?!), current information, and authoritative references brilliantly and with his usual gentle humour.

Bryson’s old rectory in Norfolk, England forms the basis of the book as we explore his hall, kitchen, parlours, servants’ stairs, bedrooms, and even the fuse box. What fascinates me is that the chapter about the fuse box is filled with the sorts of things you just never think about or take for granted. Things like how dangerous it was to wander about after dark before electricity became widespread. How taking a midnight stroll meant you took your life in your hands and subjected yourself to thieves and murderers because the streets were so dark. Or how Britain was forced into total blackness in 1939 by order of the government for fear of the Luftwaffe. One could be fined for lighting so much as a cigarette on a street corner.

You see? It’s more than just, “And now we enter the hallway which contains some end tables and a lovely rug.” It’s more like, “The hallway of a home used to be THE place for congregating  and indeed the inclusion of separate rooms in medieval times was considered an odd notion.”

It’s rich, exciting, fascinating glimpse into the past that I guarantee will make you look at your own home a bit differently when you’re through.

August 27, 2010

Review: Blockade Billy

Blockade BillyBlockade Billy by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

An enjoyable non-horror-ish novella from Stephen King.

King is a baseball nut, but he doesn’t bog down the story in too much baseball detail. If you aren’t into the sport, you might feel a little disinterested, but, as usual, King drops enough juicy tidbits to keep you reading. And, as usual, King drops enough vulgar colloquialisms to keep you laughing throughout. You feel like you’re really listening to an old baseball codger in a rest home eager to talk to somebody about something, anything, as long as he doesn’t have to join the virtual bowling group.

I listened to this as an in-between-books book. It was short, light and fun. Craig Wasson is a great reader, although I felt his voice sounded a little too young for the character who was narrating. But it’s a minor quibble. He does a terrific job otherwise.

I did not listen to the other story in this edition, ‘Morality’, as I had read it when it was originally published in Esquire. I didn’t like it as much then and so was ready to move on to my next audio book.

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August 13, 2010

Many reads, King’s Reacher, Loving Nook

Filed under: Authors,Fiction,Nook — jacksheard @ 7:58 am
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I’ve been floored, but I haven’t stopped reading.

So many books by my favorites, and I seem to just bounce from one to the next.

I finished off a few old Michael Palmers, as well as his newest, “The Last Surgeon”.

I hit a cold spell, with  a few fantastic books:

“Storm Prey” by John Sandford; “Ice Cold” by Tess Gerritson; and “61 Hours” by Lee Child.

I’m missing something else I read in there, too, I’m sure.

Now I’m flying through the 1,000-page epic “Under the Dome” by Stephen King. Wow, it is awesome! I don’t like to talk much about a book I’m only a third the way through, but Barbie seems a lot like Jack Reacher, from the aformentioned Lee Child. Which, of course, is awesome.

Reviews to come. I’ll even try to get my son to review “Tom Sawyer”, the latest classic he tackled.

A question, though: How did I fall in love so quickly with a Nook? I didn’t expect to like it. Now I don’t know if I can hold a hard cover book again, without longing for my light, thin and lovely little Nook.

July 20, 2010

Review: The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane

The Physick Book of Deliverance DaneThe Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m from New England and I majored in history, so this book seemed right up my alley. My worry with these type of ‘Mystery of History’ books is that ever since The Da Vinci Code hit it really big, a slew of books, some good, some not so good, dealing with long forgotten tomes and mysterious past occurrences have been published (Codex, The Geographer’s Library, The Rule of Four, etc.). I am glad to see these books getting published, as the best-written ones can be very exciting without a submarine or secret decoder ring in sight. Plus I’m a sucker for historical details.

That said, ‘Deliverance Dane’ is OK. It moves a little slow at first, with a little too much description of minor, or unneeded, details. The life of a grad student, I would think, makes for a bit of a dull novel, but understanding some of the academia detailed, I was able to stay with the story. The narration was good, although some of the narrator’s New England accents were a little distracting, but so are New England accents if you didn’t grow up with them, or at least live with them for a while.

The book was interspersed with ‘Interludes’, that flash back to the Salem Witch trials and the toils of the title character and her offspring. I always liked this storytelling device because it allows the author to sneak in some suspense by leaving off the main narrative and freshens things up some. I liked them in this book.

Spoiler coming.

It’s when the book reaches part two that I found it a little more interesting, but I recognize that some readers may not be able to handle the break with the first part. I didn’t think part one did enough to build up the possibility of magic being real for the reader so that when suddenly — Magic! — pops up, that the casual reader wouldn’t just say “What the heck?” and put the book down.

I liked the characters well enough, although when the villain was finally revealed (you kind of know who it will be all along, so waiting to see what Connie, the main character does, is the real suspense), the villain’s villainy didn’t seem all that villainous. But, again, there were no submarines, no tanks, no spycraft.

What I thought was really cool was the author’s postscript, where she talks in more depth about the Salem Witch Trials and brings up the point, as does one of the characters, that the people in 17th century New England believed that witchcraft was being practiced and it was real, as real to them as car theft or murder or reckless driving is to you and me. And she asked herself the question, what if the New Englanders were 100 percent right? What if people were not only practicing witchcraft, but some people actually had the hang of it? And that idea alone made this worth a read (or a listen, in my case).

If you liked: the aforementioned Codex, The Geographer’s Library, The Rule of Four or perhaps The Historian, you might give this a try.

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July 13, 2010

Review: Fever Dream

Fever Dream (Pendergast, #10)Fever Dream by Douglas Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I gave this an extra star because I thought Agent Pendergast had about run his course in the Diogenes trilogy of this series of books and even in the last one, ‘Cemetery Dance.’

However, even in those books of theirs where my interest wanes, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child write stories that you can’t help but keep turning the page, reading just one more chapter. Any of these books are just plain fun to read, and people tend to forget that sometimes, reading just needs to be fun.

So, on to this book. Like I said, I thought Pendergast had run his course, when Preston/Child bring out … his wife! His late wife, to be exact, killed on a safari 12 years ago. But it turns out, it was actually murder most foul. And complicated. Like cheesy Bond villain/Dr. Evil needlessly complicated (although it’s a lion, not ill-tempered sharks with frickin’ lasers).

So Pendergast enlists Vincent D’Agosta (of course) at the drop of a hat to help him solve his wife’s murder. (Mild spoiler coming) And when D’Agosta can no longer, um, assist in the case, D’Agosta’s girlfriend, NYPD Capt. Laura Hayward. is drafted to help.

Like I said, this book is full of all kinds of ridiculousness, not the least of which is Pendergast’s bad-assery coupled with how trouble seems to blow away with a couple sentences or fight moves. But again, these books are just plain fun. Do yourself a favor and read them all.

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Historical fiction from the Plains (and a pornographic ghost)

The story was basic enough, but I’m not quite sure what the point of all the Custer porn was (yes, I said Custer porn). In fact, Simmons eventually acknowledges that the memories of the ghost inhabiting the main character, Paha Sapa, indeed has “pornographic memories” of the widow (can it really be porn if you’re married consenting adults?), but still doesn’t really explain why it’s even there.

The narrators are good, with careful pronunciation of the many Lakota words, although the quiet whisperiness of the main narrator’s voice can be a little sleep-inducing.

I studied 19th century U.S. history for most of my major, so that helped me keep with it because I love when authors weave their fictional stories into historical events, sometimes with real historical figures. Simmons did this much better in ‘The Terror,’ although that one got a little weird.

June 20, 2010

A Father’s Day story without a ball or tank in it

OK, so I’ve never really been into sports. I like watching sports (live, rarely TV), I play golf, but really, the only time I imagereally enjoy playing sports is when there’s an “EA” or “Wii” in front of it (and still, that doesn’t happen often).

So what happens every Father’s Day? People trot out “Shoeless Joe” (a k a “Field of Dreams”) or something like that.  Sometimes it has nothing to do with Father’s Day, it just has to have a ball in it (hey, you know what says “Dad” to me, let’s show psycho Barbara Hershey shoot Robert Redford and throw herself out a window!).

And just as bad, there’s always some literary brick full of sturm and drang and meth and self-mutilation, often taking place in Manhattan, that just makes you so miserable for no good reason. And did I mention it’s a brick? Suddenly, you need to read this on Father’s Day. Are you really going to? Cuz by Tuesday you’ll have forgotten all about it.

And don’t even get me started on all the books with a tank or a jet or a red star on the covers.

And there’s not a whole heck of a lot wrong with either of those. If you like them, great. But it just a kind of lazy, fall-back marketing. Even sports head or literary or sports-head-literary dads are into other imagethings.

So what I offer is neither of those. No playing catch, no matchup zone, no I formations, no meth. And you can read it  right now, right here (page 16). I give you “The Rocket” by Ray Bradbury, which pretty much sums up the manic, angst-ridden, joyful, needy, hare-brained and moronic minds that fathers have that delights children but confounds and befuddles mothers while totally making them look awesome to all of mom’s hot friends.

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