Saturday, September 28, 2013

Review: Double Feature

Double Feature
Double Feature by Owen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I read this in May, but didn't write a review. I meant to.

And today I picked up the copy of a chapbook given out at a book signing. This is a series of deleted scenes and scrapbook entries. We'll, I enjoyed it and it brought back some of what I felt when reading Double Feature.

First off, Owen King has a brilliant imagination. I am fascinated with the fictional movie career of Booth Dolan, and the film industry glimpses we get of Sam Dolan as he works on his own production.

For much of this book, I was going "huh?" as I wasn't exactly sure where it was going. It seemed to shift around at will, like a Coen Brothers or Tarantino film. But that's a good thing!

As I read these little extras, I really had that impression reinforced. Four months later, and the positive feel I got when finishing this book remained, much as it does years after watching a film by one of those directors. That says something.

This is a book that I will want to read again someday. I believe that with all its little nuances and details, there will be little gems to uncover with each reading. I already felt that was happening as I read again the included "75 Things That Cause Unnecessary Fatigue" in this cool little bonus scene collection.

If this book and Owen King's first, We're All In This Together: A Novella and Stories are any indication, we can look forward to a brilliant career for the writer.

Well done, sir.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Retro Review: The Wind in the Keyhole, by Stephen King

Read in April, 2012

Here's another bonus review. This one stands out as a rare "bad" review of a King book. Note that it sits at 3 stars. For my King ratings, that's pretty low. For my Dark Tower ratings, that's abysmal.

The Wind Through the Keyhole (The Dark Tower, #4.5)The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars


Uummmmm. What do I say? For as long as I've been on GR, I've seen the debate on the Dark Tower. Which story era is more enjoyable? The "present day (sorta)" ka-tet of Roland, Susannah, Eddie, Jake, and Oy. Or the "Young Roland" era when he ran with Alain, Cuthbert, and Jamie?

So as I'm about to start this book, I find out that many of the "present day" crews are disappointed because we get a little time with the ka-tet, only to have the story shift back in time with Roland telling another story of his youth, much like Wizard & Glass. That book seems to be either a least favorite or a most favorite with everyone. With me, it was a most favorite. So while they were lamenting the return to the early Roland days, I was excited.

But in the end, Ka got me too. King pulled a double switch on us, giving us a little Roland story within the Ka-tet story, only to have THAT one shift to a storytelling situation about a kid we never heard of from even further back. And I'm like, wtf? It's ok for a little bit, but it takes up half the damn book.

The actual story "The Wind Through the Keyhole" is this thing, a fable about a kid disguised and sold as a Dark Tower novel. Ok, so there are some Midworld references and sayings and society stuff built in, so I can see that. It was Midworldian. It was rather interesting to see some stuff in the long ago, before the world moved on.

But if it's always like that, I can see why it moved on. It was boring. That story didn't even feel like a King story. It wasn't bad. It started out alright. By the end it was even engaging. But the middle slogged on quite a bit to the point that I found my mind drifting.

Then we switch back to Young Roland and get a quick wrap up on that story, which was very intriguing and enjoyable. And finally, we switch back up to modern Roland and Ka-tet, getting a wrap up on it too. Which wasn't a wrap up as much as a "ok, we're done screwing around, let's get on with it" that leads into Book 5.

Crap, it was like reading Inception. Only not as good.

Half this book is 5-star material (Young Roland story, Modern Roland interlude). The other half of the book is 3-star (with some boring 2-star fairy chasing in the middle). We'll average it out and call it 4. I'm being generous, but it IS a Dark Tower related book. I won't call it part of the main series though. It's an extra, like The Little Sisters of Eluria or the graphic novel series.

ETA (1/27/2013): The more this book has settled in, the more I am bothered by my overly generous 4-star review. It simply doesn't deserve it. A 4-star should not leave a bad taste in my mouth 8 months after I've finished it.

It's worth reading, but simply does not measure up to the rest of the series, period.

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Retro Review: Mistborn - The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Read in April, 2009

This is one of my earliest reviews from Goodreads, and is to this date it is far and away my most popular. I'm not sure why, really. It's not my best, I don't think. But I'll post it here.

Mistborn: The Final Empire (Mistborn, #1)Mistborn: The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It reminds me of Ocean's Eleven meets The Italian Job, but set in Mordor after Sauron has ruled for 1000 years or so. In many fantasy stories, a dark lord is rising and it is up to our heroes to defeat him before that happens. In this, the Dark Lord is already set in place as the status quo and the heroes have to motivate others to want a change.....Yet there is a noble class of The Lord Ruler's flunkies who will need to be scammed and robbed along the way, to finance this big revolt.....I love it...

The pace, style, and grand-heist-scheme-in-a-fantasy-setting plot remind me of Michael J. Sullivan's The Crown Conspiracy while the characters and rags-to-revolutionary story make me think of The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. Certainly a great blending, as both of these were recent 5-star reviews for me....

Okay, now I've finished it. All I can say is WOW. Why did I wait so long to read this? I must read the other two books in the series very soon.......

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Review: The Rose and the Thorn

The Rose and the Thorn (The Riyria Chronicles, #2)The Rose and the Thorn by Michael J. Sullivan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free ebook ARC copy of this book from NetGalley. Thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

Each one of these books that I read brings it all home. They remind me why I read in the first place. Looking back, I've sometimes wondered if I'd given too high praise of these because I knew and got along well with the author. But no, that's not it. While that's true enough, the books are really that good. Any built in bias on my part is very small, if present at all.

The Riyria books keep me engaged from the first page to the last. They show me characters that I care about to the point where I cringe if something bad happens to them. And there are often moments of "no, he didn't just go there" or outright laughter at an unexpected quip or bit of banter between the characters.

I've enjoyed Sullivan's books from the very beginning, but one thing I'm seeing most in this latest installment is that his writing is getting better. It was good to begin with, but I suspect that some confidence and validation brought about by the popularity of these books has allowed him to relax and just let the story tell itself. Editing will help improve a book, but in this case I feel it's something more. Something I can't quite put my finger on, but I felt it in these two books. Especially this one.

It's great to feel that 'whatever it is'. It's a great feeling to remember why I try to set aside a bit of time each evening to read. This is why.

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Friday, September 20, 2013

Review: The Bank of Fear

The Bank of Fear
The Bank of Fear by David Ignatius

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a First Reads win on Goodreads, so thanks go out to Goodreads and to the publisher (Norton).

I had some serious mixed feelings here, and had to remember that 3-stars = "liked it".

And I'd say that I liked it more than, I didn't like it. There were some issues that I didn't care for along the way, but for the most part I enjoyed the experience.

It was a bit slow going early on. As I was introduced to the characters, I wasn't impressed. Book smart they might be, but they couldn't distribute an ounce of common sense to the lot of them. They were so stupid, it was unrealistic. Unrealistic that they could BE that dumb, and unrealistic that they didn't die from their stupidity. Especially the main character, Sam Hoffman. How a financial investigator could move along at his steady pace of gaffes and blunders made it difficult for me to suspend belief. And I read fantasy as my primary genre. Wizards ain't got nothing on this guy's ability to not only survive, but make money at his chosen profession.

The author is a Washington Post journalist that has won awards, and is seen as an "expert" in the study of the Middle-East. Really? I had a hard time believing in any of the Arab characters either. For the most part, their actions and plots were about as convincing as a Left Behind novel.

But all of that said, I did find myself enjoying the story once I pushed past the annoying flaws in plot and character. I wouldn't go as far as to say I cared about the characters, but once the story really got going, it had me hooked. You know, how reality television will do if you sit there watching it long enough; you know it's stupid, but pretty soon you can't take your eyes off it.

In fairness, as the plot really got churning, a lot of the ridiculous fell aside. Or I got used to it. Anyway, there were lots of twists and turns, and it kept a brisk pace all the way to the end. I was actually surprised with some of the resolution at the end (probably not a surprise, considering). After struggling to make much progress in the first third of the book, I breezed right on through the rest of it. For that, I can appreciate the experience.

But if I ever met Sam Hoffman in real life, I'd probably have to punch him in the face.

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Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Review: Razor's Edge

Razor's Edge
Razor's Edge by Martha Wells

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I received a free ebook ARC copy of this book from NetGalley. Thanks to the author, publisher, and NetGalley for the opportunity to read and review this book.

3 stars, but was almost 2.

I had some really mixed feelings about this book. At times, I enjoyed it. At other times, I just wanted it to be over.

I'll start with the cons:

1. Describe describe describe. This was heavy-handed. When every nut and bolt and widget is described down to the corners, the story loses momentum. Or never gains any. And while good description can help give a clear picture, this did the opposite. The more I read, the more I couldn't visualize anything.

2. The tone was dry. It didn't seem to have highs and lows. Even when the story should have, the tone remained the same throughout.

3. The pacing. It never seems to let up. While this was probably meant to give the narrative suspense, it just served to drag it on and on. And on. And. On. With no rest to absorb heavy descriptions, the pace moved along without any tonal changes, and there was nowhere to take a breath and figure out where we were. Or care.

Now for the pros:

1. The established characters. While a lot of the Star Wars humor and at times light-hardheartedness was thin, the characters themselves were pretty well represented. Leia was Leia, Han was Han, and so on.

2. The new characters. While I would have liked to seen a bit more depth in learning about the supporting cast, I did like what I saw. A varied group of supporting players helped the story along, both allies and adversaries to the main group.

3. The story itself. It was engaging, and the concept behind it was sound. This was a realistic possible mission for the gang between Episodes IV and V, and had some nice twists and turns.

While typing the cons above, I nearly changed my rating back to a 2 again. But then I looked over the cons. How could I give a low rating for a book where I liked the plot, the characters, and the overall idea? The flaws were in the execution, but not the overall tale. So for that I'll stand by the middle ground 3 rating. Which means "liked it". No more, no less. I can go with that.

And that's no small moon.

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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review: V Wars

V Wars
V Wars by Jonathan Maberry

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

2.5 stars. This looked like it might resemble World War Z with multiple authors and vampires.

It was more like World War Zzzzzzzzzz.

The "war" was a cold one and the overarching story seemed to deal more with social consciousness than with staking bloodsuckers. Oh wait. Just saying that makes me racist against vampires. Should I not use the "V" word? I'd hate to be banned from a cable tv network 30 years from now because they found out I said "vampire".

That said, I did enjoy some of the stories. Mostly I was intrigued with the Maberry sections and those by Nancy Holder. The rest pretty much reminded me that I hate vampires. Well, at least none of them sparkled.

It wasn't a horrible read, and the audio format really worked well for this work. Still, I would have liked to have seen more bullets fly and less political agenda.

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Saturday, September 7, 2013

Review: Paladins of Shannara: The Black Irix

Paladins of Shannara: The Black Irix
Paladins of Shannara: The Black Irix by Terry Brooks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

That was a cool little story. A direct sequel to The Sword of Shannara, this gives us a further adventure with Shea, Flick, and Panamon Creel.

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Review: Grave Mercy

Grave Mercy
Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

That was impressive, I'll admit. A historical fiction with a secondary plot of romance and a dash of the fantastic. What is impressive to me most is that the story remained engaging, even when the romantic aspects kicked in. They weren't heavy or distracting, and actually fit the story really well.

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