Saturday, May 30, 2015

Book 68: Endgame the Calling

Endgame the Calling, by James Frey

This book is a cross between the Hunger Games and every hero quest novel you've ever read. A bunch of teenagers must fight each other to the death. As in all those stories, each kid was "called" to fight. A dozen "chosen ones' are way too many for decent character development if there is to be any story at all. 

The copy we received is an ARC. It's clear the published version would include a puzzle for the reader to solve, so we can't comment on that aspect of the book.

Our reader didn't like it for the same reason she didn't like the Hunger Games. She does not like stories where kids kill kids. It reminds her too much of Lord of the Flies, a book she was forced to read in high school and hated. She likes life affirming books. Our scribe asked her what's not life affirming about The Hunger Games, where young people rebel against their totalitarian government? But that's another discussion for another time.

Book 67: Born of Ice

Born of Ice, Sherrilyn Kenyon

Finally one of us picked the last book in a trilogy instead of the first. The cover really bothered all of us though. There's a tendency to cut off the faces on fantasy novels like this one. Is it to leave it to the reader's imagination? Is it a hint that something is wrong with his face? Who's on the cover anyway?

But we digress. The PAL who read this would not read past the first two chapters because she couldn't tolerate the writing style even though the characters mildly interested her. Everyone talks like the kids at my local high school even though they inhabit a culture/society completely different than Goat Hill. Is that supposed to make them relatable? It only makes them sound lame. I don't like books about assassins, There's enough mayhem in the real world that I'm unwilling to spend my limited time with them when I could be reading stories about real heroes, or better yet, heroines, like Harper Blaine or Rachel Morgan. I sure lucked out when I picked  Dead Witch Walking. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Book 66: Star Craft: Twilight

Star Craft:  Twilight, by Christie Golden

The Dark Templar Saga, Book 3 of 3

We already reviewed the first book in this trilogy (see book 54) and were glad to see we'd acquired the third book. Too bad we didn't get the second one as well, but you can't have everything. We did allow the PAL who picked this one to give this one to the PAL who reviewed volume 1 (I know, we broke our rules, but after all, they really are more like guidelines.) To do anything else would have been cruel.

All three books were written by one author, and that made them better than the average adaption of another product. What sets Christie Golden's trilogy apart from others like it is humor. At times these books were downright funny.

Ms Golden is also good at characterization. By the time the books end the reader is really fond of Jake and Rosemary and want them to escape from the Emperor. The Heir to the Empire shows his true colors (to tell what those are would be spoilers). One also knows much about the Protoss and Zerg and other players in the computer game. Almost enough to want to play it.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book 65: Rich Kids of Instagram

Rich Kids of Instagram, by Maya Sloan

A book about spoiled rich folks and the things they do. Yucky spoiled rich folks. Ones with no redeeming values. Ones the reader can't possibly give a damn about. This reader didn't anyway.

That's the review by the PAL who drew this book. He didn't know it was inspired by a popular blog. It really isn't our Society's kind of thing. Guess that shows we're kind of out of it.

Book 64: The Elfstones of Shannara

The Elfstones of Shannara, by Terry Brooks

Who doesn't love elves? The PAL who drew this book. She read it anyway, because she'd committed.

It's the story of a quest to save a tree. A special tree. One protected by The Chosen. Too bad they were all gone. When the tree dies, defenses fail and the elf world might end. There's a slim chance it can be saved, and guess what? It is. Hooray! 

If you like elves and deep, dense fantasy, you will probably like this book and the other Shannara books he's written. This PAL prefers his version of Star Trek Episode 1.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Uprooted by Naomi Novik: A Review


We wrote how excited we were after reading the Uprooted sampler at Comic-Con 2014, and how irritated we were when we learned on the back inside cover that it wouldn't be published until spring 2015. We also wrote how kind Ms Novik was to us at Wonder Con 2015. We preordered the book on Amazon and it came Tuesday.

We are delighted to report we loved it. And we are really glad we did because we hate it when a sampler leads us astray.

The King's dragon protects the valley and every 10 years selects a peasant girl to live with him. Everyone knows who that will be this time. The sampler ends when the heroine is chosen, or seemingly uprooted. 

It is nothing like Novik's Tremaire books, though there is a dragon. She based her plot on the Polish folk tales she heard as a child, so there are honest hard-working peasants, magic and witches, and real evil in the woods. You might never look at an old tree the same way after reading this book. You'll certainly be nicer to them.

Book 63: Bad Magic

Bad Magic, by Pseudonymous Bosch

What is it with trilogies? This is another first book in one. Sheesh!

Well, I enjoyed this one. It was funny. It had a good story and I liked the characters and the setting. 

It's another boy gets sent to special camp book. Boy comes from family with weird parents and a missing brother, gets in trouble and is counseled by a weird adult (a teacher). He meets weird kids and creatures (like guard bees) and adults in a weird setting (volcanic island) after getting there in a weird way (via a weird seaplane with a weird pilot).

Sounds a bit derivative, doesn't it? It isn't because Shakespeare's play The Tempest plays a major role in the story. One has to love a book for children that includes Shakespeare.

Books and a library are also very important to the story. How can a bookworm like me not like that?

I found the footnotes a bit distracting, but they were very entertaining. After awhile I stopped reading them. When I finished the book, I went back and read the ones I'd skipped. Because of my age I didn't need the references to old TV shows explained, but the other subjects he covered were great. Here's a few of my favorites:
  • "Why do we use random typographical symbols to represent expletives? How the*&%*^#$ should I know? I do know, however, that these symbols are called grawlixes."
  • "Anarchism…is the preferred school of thought for rebellious teenagers everywhere."
  • "…there's no licorice in red licorice, just high-fructose corn syrup hardened to a waxy texture and colored with toxic dyes. In my not-so-humble opinion, red licorice is the only thing worse than white chocolate. Repeat after me: Chocolate, brown. Licorice, black. Anything else I'm taking back."
  • "A bunch of bananas is called a 'hand,' the word banana itself coming from an Arab word for finger, banan."
  • A portmanteau is a word made by squeezing two words together.
The appendices are a great addition to the book. By following simple instructions you can build a potato battery, win a wager and perform a magic rope trick. 

My favorite appendix was an expansion on the third footnote, the one that explained grawlixes. That word and other great terms (like briffits) were created by Mort Drucker, creator of Beetle Bailey, to name various graphic devices cartoonists use. He even wrote a book about it, which you can read about here:

We've been reading comics for years, going to Comic-Con for more than a decade, yet we didn't know any of these terms. There's always something to learn.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Book 62: Luck in the Shadows

Luck in the Shadows, by Lynn Flewelling

Our PAL writes: For some reason I didn't start reading this book earlier. I don't know why and I wish I had because I enjoyed it enough to buy the sequel. Since I could get them cheap from Alibris, I bought the next two in the series as well. I'd be reading them now except I have three more books from our drawing and I'm getting hounded to read them.

The main character is a thief. (Note by scribe: This is the third book we've reviewed about a sword & sorcery fantasy thief. What was it with the publishers at last year's Comic-Con?) On a whim he rescues a young man when he escapes from jail. The book follows them as they make their way back to the protagonist's home. Note I do not give the hero a name. That's because he has lots of them, one for each persona he uses, even in the town where he lives.

This series is set in a matriarchal society where scheming for power is as common as magic and swords. The ruler is a woman, generals and most military officers are women. Both sexes can be prostitutes. I found that hilarious. 

There's mystery upon mystery in the background of the main character and you don't learn it all in the first book. I don't think you learn it all in the second book either, but I don't know because I had to stop reading it to meet my commitment. And don't think I don't resent the interruption.

Book 61: Those Across the River

Those Across the River, by Christopher Buehlman

This PAL can not relate to anyone who moves halfway across the country and is surprised to learn he moved to a dry county.

And who goes to a small country store to buy wine? In the morning? On the first morning you're in a new house, while your wife is still sleeping?

I read the first couple of chapters. Couple moves to a new place for a fresh start. Yadda, yadda.

Then I read the last couple of chapters. There are zombie or werewolves or some combination that live across the river. The man escapes. His wife does not.

I didn't care.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Book 60: Confessions

 Confessions, by Kinae Minato

This is the best book we have read so far. It's so good that it has been passed from PAL to PAL. It deserves all the awards it won in Japan.

It opens in an 8th grade classroom on the last day of the school year. The teacher is giving one last talk to her students, explaining her decision to retire from teaching. It's clear from the things she says that she was a great teacher, one who gave and earned respect from her pupils. Her talk starts with a mundane explanation of the "Milk Time" program, moves on to her philosophy of teaching, why female teachers respond to female students out-of-school needs and male to male, and other school related subjects until she finally gets to the main subject.

To tell you what that subject is would spoil the book. Once you read that part you are led down a path that weaves like a dancing maze until the very last page. The next to last paragraph, in fact. Don't look at it. Wait until you get there. The journey is worth it.

Many book review say, "I couldn't put this book down." This is one of them.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Books 58 and 59: The Black House and The Lewis Man

The Black House & The Lewis Man, by Peter May

Hatchette Publishing was kind enough to send us both books to our scribe's home after Comic-Con. We divied them up, which was a mistake because The Lewis Man spoils the suspense of The Black House. Read them in order. The third book in the trilogy (yet again another trilogy!!!) is The Chessmen. None of us have read it yet.

Set on Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides, the protagonist is a Edinburgh policeman who grew up on the island. He's assigned to a double murder case merely because he speaks Gaelic, and is pulled back to his childhood home. He's dealing with enough without having to make that trip.

While the books are murder mysteries, they are really about Fin Macleod's life on Lewis before he left for the mainland, his family and friends, the decisions he made and why. The suspense is maintained throughout the books, which is why it is so disappointing if you read the second book before the first.

Read them in order and have a grand time. You'll want to visit the island when you've finished.

Book 57: Tesla's Attic

Tesla's Attic, by Neal Shusterman & Eric Elfman

Loved the first line: "Neal was hit by a flying toaster."

Loved the last chapter, after the world had been saved. "When it was clear that the earth was still here, and would remain here indefinitely, people got pissed off. Across the globe, valuable possessions had been given away, and guilty consciences had been purged by shocking confessions, all in the belief that no one would live to regret it."

Who wouldn't love a grownup like Mrs. Planck (that's right, as in Planck's constant). A smart little girl says "I was thinking that success is the best revenge." "No, dear," Ms. Planck corrected. "Revenge is the best revenge."

In between is Nikola Tesla and an asteroid, mathematics and physics. What's not to love?

Book 56: Darwin's Elevator

Darwin's Elevator, by Jason M. Hough

Our GHPAL reader wrote:

This is a post-apocalypse with zombies novel, combined with mysterious space aliens. 

It's the first in a trilogy. Doesn't anyone write standalone books anymore?

The setting is interesting: Darwin, Australia. Not Sydney or my favorite Australian city, Perth. 

Maybe it's because I lived through the Cold War, when the collapse of civilization seemed imminently possible, but I can't stand reading post-apocalyptic stories so I didn't finish it. Next time we do this we need to be able to pick the books we read because we aren't giving them a fair chance. There's another Pal I'm passing this one on to because she likes this kind of thing. If she likes it she may buy the other two books while I certainly will not.

Another PAL read it about a year ago and reports she can't remember anything about it except it has a dumb plot and an elevator.

Book 55: Born of Night

Born of Night, by Sherrilyn Kenyon

Ms Kenyon is popular enough to have her own booth at Comic-Con and we've acquired some great swag there in past years. Her cloth bags are great.

This isn't just a reprint of the first book she wrote. In her Author's Note at the front of the book Ms Kenyon reveals she added scenes to the book that had been edited out because they were "deemed too harsh for the market at the time it was originally published." She also reveals she'd created these characters as playmates when she was a child. Clearly she has an affection for this book

The first of a trilogy–that's become a cliché on this blog.

Our reader had this opinion: "It's stupid and poorly written. I have no problem with romance novels but at least write them well, like Georgette Heyer does. I know, historical romance is a different genre than fantasy romance, but good writing can be found in all genres. As can bad. Surely Ms Kenyon's writing improved as she practiced her craft or she wouldn't have sold so many books."

By the way, that is the complete book cover on the left. The guy's face isn't missing, just not shown. It's supposed to reflect the mysterious nature of one of the main characters. We think.

Book 54: Star Craft: First Born

Star Craft First Born, by Christie Golden

The Dark Templar Saga, Book One of Three

WHY IS IT ALWAYS A TRILOGY!!! Three is NOT a magic number! We're starting to get the pattern behind the publishers distribution of books and we don't like it.

GHPALS members are not into computer gaming, so this book did not find a ready audience. The PAL who picked it confessed she didn't read it, but passed it on to a friend who is so the book would get a fair shake. 

The PALs discussed this action. Is it in keeping with the intent of our book distribution? 
      Consensus, NO. 

Will it give the book a better shake? 
      Consensus, UNQUESTIONABLY. 

If we do this again after this year's Comic-Con, we will distribute the books to people who want to read them. We agreed we would put all the books out and give ourselves an hour to look through them. Then we would each, in turn, pick a book to review, continuing that way until all the books had been distributed. We discussed being able to trade books and decided when it was a PAL's turn he/she could either pick a book from the pile or take one from another PAL. If a PAL lost a book that way, he/she takes another one off the pile. That way we'll get a feel for the pull a book has and can report it.

Back to Firstborn. We passed the book to another PAL. This one doesn't play computer games either but discovered it didn't matter. It was funny in places and an enjoyable read about archaeologists and  three warring groups of beings (humans, protoss and zerg). Liked it enough to find and read the other two books in the trilogy.

The book starts out with a scene many of us can relate to–a group of people working in a horrible place whose tempers are shot, not because of the awful environment but because they aren't accomplishing anything. Who hasn't been there? 

And who couldn't love this line: "Full funding…My God, you think that means working plumbing?"

Book 53: Pandora's Star

Pandora's Star, by Peter F. Hamilton

The GHPal who pulled this book reports she just couldn't get into it. It's too dense–the paperback version is 988 pages. Too many characters, some matter later, some not. She stopped reading about page 300. She suggests it be read on an electronic book reader, so one can search for a character you can't remember but know was written about previously.

She raised a subject we're going to discuss at our next meeting–where are all the editors? There's no reason for a book to be 1,000 pages and have characters who don't contribute to the story in a meaningful way. A good editor helps with things like that, not just proofreading.

This morning I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about Lee Harper's new book. Apparently it's the original book Harper wrote, but an editor recommended she rewrite it to tell the story from Scout's POV. The result was To Kill a Mockingbird. 

Book 52: Prince of Thorns

Prince of Thorns, by Mark Lawrence

The main character in this book is a guy so grim that you cannot like him, unless there's something seriously wrong with you. You would not want to meet him in broad daylight, much less a dark alley or isolated place. And definitely not if you're a woman.

Our reader stopped reading after the 13-year old narrator butchers a farmer then rapes and murders his daughters. For some reason this paragraph turned her off the book completely:

"How old are you?" that fat farmer had wanted to know. Old enough to pay a call on his daughters. The fat girl had a lot to say, just like her father. Screeched like a barn owl: hurt my ears with it. I liked the older one better. She was quiet enough. So quiet you'd give a twist here or there just to check she hadn't died of fright. Though I don't suppose either of them was quiet when the fire reached them…

She admits the book made her think of the opening scene in Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian. Instead of reading more, she dug out her copy of the movie and watched it instead.

Book 51: The Lost Stars Tarnished Knight

The Lost Stars Tarnished Knight by Jack Campbell

Another bang, bang shoot-em-up battle in the stars. If you like this genre, you will like this book.

Another ruthless totalitarian bureaucratic society that needs to change and people willing to scheme and fight to change it, though not necessarily to make it better. If you like that genre, you might like this book.

If you like strong female characters you might like this book.

If you want to read a military-in-the-stars series, Jack Campbell's books are a good choice. 

Our reader isn't one of these, and the argument she had with our member who is was loud and exciting. Next year we will absolutely distribute books differently.

Book 50: Discount Armageddon

Discount Armageddon by Seanan McGuire

We've discovered some great urban fantasy series through this book reading experience. Ones we loved right through to the book that ended the series are Greywalker and the Hallows. One we are still enjoyingDarynda Jones's books and one that ran out of steam for us, Kevin Hearnes' Iron Druid series.

We found some we didn't enjoy, like Touched by an Alien. This book is one of those.

The premise is interesting: an organization kills all the monsters that live among us and a splitter group believes only the ones that harm humans should die. Big group's reaction to the different point of view causes the disaffected to run and hide. One of the hidden wants a different career, namely ballroom dancing, and goes to New York to pursue it. Of course she can't leave her family heritage behind.

Our reader just couldn't relate to this heroine, though she could admire her desire to break free of the family's plan for her life while still being part of it. But the plot was fairly predictable and the other characters weren't believable, even in a fantasy novel. She didn't particularly like the main character, and admits that's probably because she can't imagine walking anywhere in the kind of shoes the heroine likes to wear, much less doing all the athletic stuff she does in them. 

Book 49: Among Thieves

Among Thieves by Douglas Hulick

The reader who drew this book also picked The Lies of Locke Lamora, so she naturally compared them because the main character in both books is a thief who lives in an unforgiving society. The difference between the two books is the size of the criminal organization of which the hero is part. In this book it's a big one; in Locke it's really small.

There's less depth in this book. The story is more straight forward, making it easier to read and follow.

Neither book made her want to read the sequels. This is the reader who loves the Greywalker and  Hallows series, so she's fond of urban fantasy instead of medieval or Renaissance ones. Like I said, next time we parcel out the books differently.

Book 48: Old Man's War

Old Man's War by John Scalzi

Our reader liked the premise of this book, that people can live long lives, have children and grandchildren, then serve their country in the military. It actually makes a lot of sense to do things this way.

Most of the book is space war. Our reader doesn't "do" space war ever since she was a child and read Heinlein's Starship Troopers, a book her brother loved and she couldn't stand. He loved Battlestar Gallactica and Star Wars, she loved The Lord of the Rings. It didn't help that she hates bugs.

Next year we'll do a better job parceling out the books. Random distribution does a disservice to genre books.

The scribe has to add her two cents from time to time. I liked this book and anyone who likes battles in space will like it too.

Book 47: The Way of Kings

 The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

The reader who pulled this book out of the bag enjoys a variety of genres, including fantasy, but this book left her cold because it took too long to figure out the society in which it was set. It should be noted this person doesn't get the appeal of Game of Thrones.

She did like the illustrations and maps, particularly maps. She is always grousing that history books don't have them.

As scribe I have to say if you like complicated, deep fantasy cultures, read Sanderson's books because they have them.