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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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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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July 26, 2010

Review: Blood Oath

Blood Oath (The President's Vampire, #1)Blood Oath by Christopher Farnsworth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I know there’s a lot of vampire fiction out there, so despite not wanting to take one of those books on, I read this one anyway. Boy, am I glad I did.

I liked the idea of President Andrew Johnson actually having done something other than come up for impeachment, and enlisting a vampire in the service of the United States sounded like fun. And it was. Farnsworth starts the book off with the old set piece that reveals our hero/anti-hero without being connected to the story, a la James Bond, in Kosovo with the U.S. military, and then takes the story from there, incorporating terrorism, the war in the Middle East and plenty of trotting around the U.S.

Also refreshing, not too many gouts of blood and gore, but nary a pale face or loads of hair product in sight for this vampire. Nathaniel Cade is badass, a little funny and has his own flaws and quirks (like despising blasphemy for some reason, which I have never seen in a vampire). Yes, there’s angst, but not the annoying kind.

I should also mention that by Page 19, you’ve not only had as much action as a Bond film, but you’ve also had references to such diverse fantasy literature as H.P. Lovecraft, Edward S. Ellis, Frank Aubrey, Edgar Allan Poe and W.W. Jacobs. If that’s not enough, a page later you get a Batman reference.

The villain is a bit disturbing, but he is a villain after all. The characters that get introduced weren’t quite as fully developed as I’d like, but it’s clearly the first book in a series, so there’ll be time for that.

If you like: Secret agent thrillers, spy thrillers and books about Washington intrigue, particularly ones by Brad Meltzer with weenie little 20-something protagonists who do a lot of growing up fast, you might like this. Also, vampire books about real vampires.

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May 7, 2010

Give me the brain … and the tea and crumpets

Filed under: Authors,Horror,Jane Austen,Zombies — mike @ 7:07 pm
Tags: , , , ,

I tend to agree with the movie critic Richard Roeper about zombies: They just aren’t interesting villains because they “just zombie ahead.” But I will make an exception if there are other elements that are image interesting. Examples: “Night of the Living Dead” was a lot like “Fort Apache” and about the people involved, than zombies. And despite the gimmicky take on zombies in “28 Days Later,” I’m always interested in what Danny Boyle is going to do with a genre. And my wife actually liked “Resident Evil,” so I was all WTF about that one.

But on the page, zombies are even worse for me. They just bore me; I don’t care about the allegory that people insist zombies effect, they just bore.

Jane Austen has always left me cold, too, until recently. But I have to admit, when all the buzz started about “Pride and Prejudice and image Zombies”, which features a mix of the original Austen text and new text by Seth Grahame-Smith, I wanted to read it. But much like when I made sure to watch “Bad Boys II” and “28 Days Later” before I watched “Hot Fuzz” and “Shaun of the Dead”, I listened to “Pride and Prejudice” before listening to the zombie mashup.

I have to admit, I got into “Pride and Prejudice” and, like so many others, came to be annoyed and frustrated by Mrs. Bennet, root for Lizzy and generally think Mr. Darcy really wasn’t as bad as the modern romantic comedy makes him out to be.

Because Austen’s original text is included here, for long stretches even, the overarching story still guides the plot. The added text dealing with zombies (sometimes just a word changed and no more) is mostly there for laughs. The story remains about characters and doesn’t revolve solely around brains and gore and cannibalism (although there is lots of that, but not too graphically so).

One particular passage had me laughing out loud. A very pompous noblewoman, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, scolds Lizzy in the original about how common she is because Lizzy’s parents raised five girls with no governess. What follows is a tirade with the constant repetition of the word “governess.” In the mashup. Lady Catherine is one of the most feared zombie killers in all the land and the same rant is repeated, except where it originally said “governess”, the text substitutes “ninjas.” Believe me, in the context of the story, this is very funny.

So give this tandem a try. You’ll get a classic under your belt, at the very least, and you may have a little fun along the way. The audio versions had narrators with a good grasp of proper English speech, which only added to the fun.

You may like this if: You like zombie books (because you’ve already got a twisted sense of humor); you’re an Austen devotee who happens to have been born with a sense of humor.

March 14, 2010

Impact by Douglas Preston

All right, last Douglas Preston book (since it’s his latest and I’m now caught up).

Remember what I said about thrillers being silly? This one can be silly. Once again, just shut up, read and enjoy the ride.

That ride started out a little slowly for my taste. In fact, the image book, which once again features former CIA operative/monk Wyman Ford, is divided in two parts, and the setup part, Part I, seemed to go a little slow, even introducing some characters that I didn’t see too much point for having, while not developing other characters who eventually figured prominently in Part II.

Speaking of Part II, the book picks up considerably, with the last 150 pages or so written so you’ll be pushing lights out at night, repeating “Just one more chapter, just one more chapter.”

As usual, Preston mixes action with science and even ventures into sci-fi territory. But like I said, just relax and enjoy the ride.

I’m still not sold on Wyman Ford as a main character yet. He still seems kind of thinly drawn after three novels, two of which belong to him. Perhaps that’s the intention, as he’s a CIA guy, designed to blend in and play any role.

Also in this book, the final reveal of who the actual villain seemed a little too last minute and tidy, kind of a villanus ex machina, I guess.

But that said, this is still a fun read. Also interesting is the story of a trip he took to Cambodia for National Geographic that helped inspire this story.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s website.

February 26, 2010

Blasphemy, The Codex by Douglas Preston

I remember reading on a music blog somewhere once last year (if you know it, please share a link, I can’t find it) that rock music is at its best when it’s a bit silly and the bands don’t take themselves too seriously. I think the same applies to thrillers.

And while I am sure Douglas Preston certainly is serious about writing, I do love how his novels (which some are now saying will make him the heir to Michael Crichton in the genre) can get so preposterous that you can’t help but have a good time reading them.

He might be known to you for his novels with co-author Lincoln Child (Relic, The Ice Limit, etc.) but his solo efforts are great reads as well.

I simultaneously read and listened to two of his books. I read The Codex and listened to Blasphemy.

The Codex is a few years old and has Mayans, jungle adventure, a book of ancient codexwisdom, all that fun stuff. A wealthy art and antiquities collector and all around grumpy old bastard of a dad dies and has himself buried in a tomb somewhere. He leaves a videotape for his sons, entreating them to work together to find him. If they can do it, his fortune, worth half a billion dollars, is theirs.

Of course, they don’t work together at the start, and that’s where all the skeezy villains start working their way in to the brothers’ lives. This book is written in a classic page-turner fashion and while it drags briefly in spots, it mostly moves quickly and has plenty of crazy-silly action bits (not as silly as watching The Transporter, but just as much fun).

Blasphemy is Preston’s second novel to feature ex-CblasphemyIA operative-turned-monk-turned-private investigator Wyman Ford (the first being Tyrannosaur Canyon). A team of scientists are stationed at the largest particle accelerator ever built, located on the Navajo reservation in Arizona. They discover … something (is it a software glitch, is it God, is it something else?) but keep silent. The government sends Ford out to find out why the suddenly can’t get the accelerator online.

Not too many thrillers get too much into the discussion of science and religion and whether the two can coexist or not. But this one tries, with all kinds of fun science thrown in.

Some Christian folks might be offended by parts of the book, but the “villains” who happen to be Christians in this book are done as such over-the-top caricatures that any reasonable person, Christian or not, shouldn’t be all that upset (and the folks who are really like the characters in this book aren’t going to be reading this book at all anyway). But if it makes you feel any better, the non-Christians have plenty of wackiness written into them, too.

If you like techno-thrillers with plenty of action but without the pages-long diversions for the exact step by step process by which every model of nuclear reactor or computer has worked, then Preston is for you. If you liked Michael Crichton before he got so way serious (so like Eaters of the Dead but not State of Fear) or have read any books by Matt Reilly, you’ll like Preston.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s website.

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