Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Waste Lands

The Waste Lands (The Dark Tower, Book 3)The Waste Lands by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


While this book isn't my absolute favorite of the Dark Tower series, it's pretty essential. It is here that Roland the Gunslinger's ka-tet is complete and the path to the Tower is joined in full.

It's a great bridge between the first books and later ones, as it brings full circle some of the initial plot-lines and sets the characters on a course for the new plot-lines.

In Book 1, we meet Roland and Jake. In Book 2, we meet Eddie and Susannah. Here in Book 3, they are joined by Oy and become more than casual acquaintances; they become ka-tet.

Oh, and Blaine is a pain, and that is the truth.



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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Towers of Midnight

Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time, #13; Memory of Light, #2)Towers of Midnight by Robert Jordan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I'm actually pretty torn between a 4 and 5 star rating with this one. There were parts throughout the book where it dragged, where I felt this Crossroads of Twilight feeling of plot going nowhere. But those parts were relatively short, and the good parts. Wow. When it was good, it was really good.

So the penultimate volume in The World of Time is here to set up the grand finale. Does it do this? Yes. It brings some plotlines to a close and sets up the action for the Last Battle, that end of time-fight the Darklord climax we've been promised for the better part of 20 years.

Just one more year or so, and it will all come to a close. Towers of Midnight points us in that direction and says "Bring it on."



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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Drawing of the Three

The Drawing of the Three (The Dark Tower, Book 2)The Drawing of the Three by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Drawing of the Three is the novel where the Dark Tower story goes from being a cool gunslinger action adventure of the weird west to being a true epic. We still have elements of that otherworldly western flavor, but we get a huge mixture of reality when Roland, the gunslinger anti-hero of the first book, opens a door into “our” world.

The three doors Roland must open each connect to our world, but at different “whens”, different eras. From each of these entry points, there are things that Roland must do in order to continue on the path to his fabled Dark Tower.

With these adventures, we’re introduced to new characters, a new ka-tet that will help Roland on his quest. But before they can move forward to their goal, they each have something they must work through first. Roland’s intervention is essential to this development, for without it they would be useless to him and to his quest.

This is the fourth time I’ve read this volume, and like its predecessor, The Gunslinger, it gets better with each reading. Little things that were missed before start to come together to form the whole. I did notice some discrepancies along the way, minor detail errors that could have been simple editing mistakes, or perhaps purposeful clues that the worlds don’t always connect smoothly and logically. It’s a good out to cover up any mistakes, at any rate. I also saw a little clue that linked a book I’d never realized had any Dark Tower relevance, and that’s always fun too. In small ways, I believe that all of King’s work is connected. Perhaps even his non-fiction.

I’m really excited about plunging into The Wastelands again, as the end of this book really sets us up nicely for a continuance of the adventure. While it does have a good stopping point, there is obviously more, much more, that we’ll see before Roland and his ka-tet come to their Dark Tower.

The cards have been drawn and dealt. The Dark Tower saga will continue with the cards played, for good or ill. Or both. Did-a-chik.





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The Crown Conspiracy - the Audio

The Crown Conspiracy (The Riyria Revelations, #1)The Crown Conspiracy by Michael J. Sullivan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


See my review (with spoilers) of the book itself. This re-read was for the audio version.

The book itself was right on the cusp between 4 and 5 stars. I originally gave it 4, then bumped it up to 5 after I'd given it time to sink in.

So why 4 now? This 4 is for the audio experience only. The story is still just as good. The reader wasn't bad, and I didn't struggle with him really, but at the same time he didn't wow me like some readers I've listened to in the past.

I've also read books 2 & 3 in this series since my initial read of TCC, and they're even better than this one. So I'll be looking forward to future audio releases, as well as books 4-6 of the series.



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Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

The Lions of al-RassanThe Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I needed a couple of days to let this sink in before writing a review. That's how powerful the book was, and its incredible ending.

This is one of those books that it's very difficult to write a spoiler-free review for. I could mark it as such and go for it, but then people that haven't read the book will skip the review.

The Lions of Al-Rassan is a book I will push on friends. When asked for recommendations, it will float to the top of my list every time. I won't say it's my all-time favorite, but it's on the short list.

So, without spoilers, let's see what we can do.

This book is a great example of what epic fantasy should be. Key on the "epic". There really aren't that many traditional fantasy elements; no elves, dwarves, magic, dragons, or forgetful wizards. But it has the passion and scope of medieval society, and the brutality of its warfare. The clash of three religions that really should be compatible but for some reason cause hundreds of years of slaughter between the factions.

This could be a historical fiction, if not for the names being changed. It's an imaginary world, with a huge flavoring of our world's history, that of medieval Spain.

And while it has all of that, nothing will prepare the reader for the emotional pull this does on the heartstrings. Kay does not only make you like his characters, he makes you freakin' grieve for them. For their losses, for their ordeals, and sometimes for their deaths. When they're at risk, you feel your heartbeat skip and just as much you feel the relief if/when they survive the challenges. Sometimes, you even feel relief that Character A survived while Character B did not, and then you feel guilty for feeling that relief, because you loved Character B as well.

So, this is not a sword & sorcery Dungeons and Dragons campaign re-hash. It is not strictly a historical "real" fiction, though it is closer to that than the former. In fact, I hate to stick a genre label to this book at all, because it truly transcends labeling.

It's a damn good book, period.





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Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Night in the Lonesome October

A Night in the Lonesome OctoberA Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


A very enjoyable read from Roger Zelazny, consistent with other material I've read by him.

The tone is light, although the subject matter is grim. It seems that on Halloween night, unimaginable horrors will attempt to enter this world. A gathering of powers has come together, some to hold it back, and some to try to help it along.

Throughout the month, these opposing forces are playing a game of positioning, alliances, and grabs for talismans to help their cause or hinder the opposition.

The story is told by Snuff, the trusty dog of Jack the Ripper. He interacts with other players in the game, and the animal companions of these players. We get cameo appearances from major characters of horror stories written in the 1800's, or from movies about stories in that era.

This came out as a nice mix of horror and comedy, intrigue and mystery, and a puzzle for the reader to pick up on all the outside references.

The chapters are broken down to 31, one for each day of October. I read this one chapter a day for the month, along with some good friends, to experience the story as Snuff pretty much lived it.

I think this is one that could be read again, perhaps as early as next October, when the weather is changing, it's getting dark earlier, and there is a crispness in the air. It's a perfect mood book for the season, and I think there are little tidbits that will be picked up in subsequent readings.

We'll see. Watch for an update in October of 2011.



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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Updates

Well, I've posted a few of my recent reviews. That'll get the content of the blog started good. I'll try to put future reviews here as I write them.

Right now, I'm reading The Lions of al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay. Wow! This man amazes me every single time I pick up one of his books. I know I'll like his stuff when I start out, but he still surprises me with how good his stories are. I see lots of stars in this rating, very soon. I'm almost half way done now.

I'm also working on A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny. I've been reading with some friends, one chapter a day during the entire month of October. So we'll finish it up tomorrow. It's a cool story with suspense and some humor, as well as an Easter egg hunt for literary and movie references. Very enjoyable.

So what's next? Towers of Midnight (Wheel of Time). As soon as my pre-order arrives, I might disappear from the web for a few days.

Everything's Eventual

Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales (A Collection)Everything's Eventual: 14 Dark Tales by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Awesome re-read. This might have even been better the second time around. Actually, I've read several of the stories more than that, from other collections or audiobooks or whatnot.

Favorites: "The Man in the Black Suit", "LT's Theory of Pets", "All That You Love Will Be Carried Away", "Everything's Eventual", and "The Little Sisters of Eluria".

The only story I didn't much like was "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is In French". It wasn't horrible, just didn't do it for me.

"The Death of Jack Hamilton" was one in particular that I wasn't crazy about the first time I read this book, right when it first came out. But this time around, I liked it a lot. It's subtle nature worked better for my more mature (read: old) self than when I was younger, perhaps.

All in all, 13 out of 14 are gems, and that's a huge percentage for a short story collection. With Stephen King, not as much. I enjoy most of his short stories. This one is special though, as he hits such a wide range of tales here. There is something for everyone in this one.



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Stories: All New Tales

Stories: All-New TalesStories: All-New Tales by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Like most short story collections, this one is a mixed bag. There were some great ones, some pretty good ones, some that were instantly forgettable, and a few that flat out stunk.

Favorites: "The Devil on the Staircase" by Joe Hill; "The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains" by Neil Gaiman; "A Life in Fictions" by Kat Howard; "The Therapist" by Jeffery Deavers; "Catch and Release" by Lawrence Block; and "Loser" by Chuck Palahniuk.

Absolute Favorite: "Wildfire in Manhatten" by Joanne Harris.

I expected to like the Hill and Gaiman stories - I'm a fan of both authors. I was also looking forward to trying Deavers and Block. Kat Howard was a pleasant surprise, as this was her first published work, and it's shorter than most. But I really liked the imagery. I found myself grinning madly as I finished the Palahniuk story. As he did with Fight Club, his cynical humor really hits the mark.

I have never read Joanne Harris before, but I loved (*****) her story in this collection. Enough that I'll be checking out other work by her on her website.

If the entire book had been up to the level of these I just listed, it would be a 5-star affair, easily. There are several other stories that are still good, though I didn't list them with the favorites: stories by Michael Swanwick, Gene Wolfe, Elizabeth Hand, Tim Powers, and Jodi Picoult made for an enjoyable experience.

So what dropped the rating to a two-star? The inclusion of "Samantha's Diary" by Diana Wynne Jones, "Mallon the Guru" by Peter Straub, "The Cult of the Nose" by Al Sarrantonio, and "Stories" by Michael Moorcock.

Those that have followed my reviews in the last few months might be surprised by that last one, but the Moorcock story was easily the worst in the entire book. It might have been the worst story I've ever read. That says a lot, as I'm a longtime Moorcock fan. Well, I was a fan of his work before he got too smart for his readers and learned how to string a mile-long sentence full of empty, pretentious bullshit. Then to string along a series of these sentences to fill the pages of a book. He uses such big words, drops literary references more than he inserts commas, and says absolutely fucking nothing. Oh, and those literary references? I'm probably too stupid to be reading Moorcock anyway, but I only recognized one. The rest were names strewn across the paper as meaningless as the narrative that contained them. This story alone was almost enough to send the book to 2-star Hell.

I didn't realize I had such venom for that story. I honestly am surprised I felt anything at all but the onset of an Excedrin headache. There was a positive note to the Moorcock story though: it made me forget the wasted time spent reading the Jones, Straub, and Sarrantonio stories.

Such a long review without spoilers. If you've read this far, I will once more reiterate the opinion that the book is a fun experience, overall. The inclusion of a few turds should not detract one from picking it up. The good stories are excellent and should not be missed. And how often does one pick up a collection that doesn't have a few stinkers in it?



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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Gunslinger - Stephen King

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower, #1)The Gunslinger by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is something of an oddity. That being, the first time I read it, I would probably have given it 3-stars, and felt quite generous doing so. It was really "meh" and though I was a King fan, I wasn't pleased with it after the hype. I even delayed reading Book 2 for awhile because I was somewhat turned off. I didn't hate it, but it left me ambivalent for the most part.

But this is definitely a book that gets better with time, with re-readings, and with the rest of the series. The second time I read it, I probably would have rated it 4-stars, and this was after reading Books 2 and 3 and preparing for the release of Book 4. By this time, I was in love with the series.

I read it again just before Books 5-7 came out in fairly quick succession. And yes, by then it had earned the 5-star rating you see here. For this fourth read of The Gunslinger, I'm enchanted with it even more than before.

On it's own, the book doesn't do much for me. But when you combine it with the entire series, wow! It's the essential beginning to the essential fantasy series of my generation. The Dark Tower is truly better than the sum of its parts. And as the first part, this thing is the motor that keeps the car running.

"The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed."




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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Test

Well, here we go. Not like I have anything interesting to say.