Monday, August 31, 2009

"The 13th Reality-- The Hunt for Dark Infinity" review

I don't have much time to blog right now! I've finished this book a while back (along with some others), but I haven't had a chance to review it yet. So here goes.

By the way, there are some minor spoilers ahead for those who haven't read Book 1.

It's been a quiet summer for Atticus Higginbottom (Tick), Paul, and Sofia, but the latest message from Master George changes everything. The Realities are in danger... and from something more terrible than Mistress Jane and the mutated Chi'karda of the Thirteenth Reality. People from all Realities are unexplainably going insane. Worse, some Realities are fragmenting, disintegrating into nothingness. Master George has learned that Mr. Chu from the Fourth Reality is working on a mysterious new weapon called Dark Infinity. But no one has any idea how to stop the weapon or even if it can be stopped. To make matters worse, Tick and his friends have been kidnapped, forced to wink from Reality to Reality, solving impossible riddles in order to survive the deadly traps surrounding them. Mistress Jane and Tick find themselves in a race to reach the weapon first but who will destroy it-- and who will become its master?

I'm going to keep this as short as possible, but I'll say this: The 13th Reality-- The Hunt for Dark Infinity is one of the best sequels I've read recently, right up there with the newest Erec Rex book. The plot keeps you on your toes, and this was something I'll have to admit I was worried about. With all of the possibilities The Journal of Curious Letters opened, it was impossible to see where Dashner would go next. The answer: up. Up in quality even from Book 1 (which I loved). Up in scope. Up in tension. Up in character development-- but don't get scared off by that. The first book was dependant on clues and riddles, which culminated in the reveal of no less than twelve variations of our world to explore. But a lot of what kept the pages turning in the past had been that air of mystery which was now more or less gone. How was Dashner to top his previous installment, keeping things fresh?

The answer: there are still more riddles, and the Realities themselves are sort of like puzzles for Tick and Co. to solve. Tension is really great here, and the new characters who are introduced are a lot of fun.

And James Dashner was daring to try something a lot of fantasy books overlook and which impressed me to no end. He developed the villains. He did a good job of it, too. Mistress Jane is no longer just an eccentric evildoer. Now she's a fleshed-out character, who does everything she does for what she thinks is... well, I won't spoil those details for you. And I won't tell you about the really horrible things that happen to Tick, especially when he... In the immortal words of the late Robert Jordan, Read And Find Out.

If you're still holding out on this series because it's in hardcover, I urge you to reconsider. It's more than worth the price, for I think these are the sort of books you might find yoursef wanting to give to your children to read. And they do look quite pretty on your bookshelf, as all Shadow Mountain publications do. I can't wait for Book 3-- The Blade of Shattered Hope. Is it just me, or do these titles get darker and darker as they go?

My rating (a really rare one for the second book in a series): 10/10

Coming Soon: Green and... drumroll, please... Catching Fire.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Founding Brothers and G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra

Here's another two-fer!

Founding Brothers: This is one of my more unusual reads, as it is, in fact, non-fiction. While not up my usual alley, I like a little history (if well-written) once in a while. And this one seemed like the perfect read for me. It gives a look at six famous events in the time of the Founding Fathers of the USA: Hamilton and Burr's fateful-- and fatal-- duel, the debate over where to place the capital, the slavery issues in that period, Washington's almost-prophetic farewell address, Adams' presidency and his collaboration with his wife, and Jefferson and Adams' friendship that has been in the history books for centuries.

Ellis takes a good approach to the subject, giving readers exploded scenes that offer insight into how these historical figures were more like brothers than we might think. Which you probably could have guessed from the title, but that just means it's a good title. And Ellis' writing is very good-- his chapter on the duel is a delight to read, one of the best history passages I've ever read. But the book's greatness is marred somewhat by two flaws, which Ellis should have thought through. First of all, the chapter entitled "The Dinner" is a bit of a snooze, and it seems as if Ellis himself got bored while writing it. The other chapters are much better, though. Second, the book's organizational structure... well... isn't. There is no rhyme or reason as to why the chapters are arranged in the way they are. The first three chapters get progressively farther back in time, while the latter half of the book is more of a consistent narrative. It makes very little sense. Overall, though, if you want to review a bit of history and America's early period interests you, then Founding Brothers is an excellent choice.
My rating: 9/10

G. I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra: I'm going to make this short and sweet. If you've played with the action figures all your life, see this movie. If you didn't, but you liked The Mummy, you'll still want to see this movie. If you fit both of these categories... well, you've probably seen it already. I had a great time, personally. Joe has Mummy's sense of great fun, loving the genre of film it's in, and giving viewers a rollicking good time. But if The Mummy wasn't your thing, you'll probably find this film wanting, as the tone and style are similar. But I'm game for a sequel.

My rating (if you're like me): 8.5/10

Coming Soon: The 13th Reality: The Hunt for Dark Infinity.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I'm a Zombie Chicken!

Many thanks to Krista, over at Life or Something Like it... (a great new blog, by the way) for this prestigious award!

Okay, so here's the gist of it:

The blogger who receives this award believes in the Tao of the zombie chicken - excellence, grace and persistence in all situations, even in the midst of a zombie apocalypse. These amazing bloggers regularly produce content so remarkable that their readers would brave a raving pack of zombie chickens just to be able to read their inspiring words. As a recipient of this world-renowned award, you now have the task of passing it on to at least 5 other worthy bloggers. Do not risk the wrath of the zombie chickens by choosing unwisely or not choosing at all.

I am truly honored to be considered worthy of facing the Zombie Chickens.

My 5 worthy blogs:

1. Wayne Thomas Batson's Enter the Door Within
2. James Long's Speculative Horizons
3. Adam Whitehead's The Wertzone
4. Graeme Flory's Fantasy Book Review
5. Patrick Rothfuss' Blog

Coming Soon: Founding Brothers (still)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

"The Way of Shadows" review

The perfect killer has no friends, only targets.

Brent Weeks is a brand new voice in the world of fantasy. By brand new, I mean, he just appeared October of 2008. His first book, The Way of Shadows, kicks off his Night Angel trilogy, published in three consecutive months (October-December 2008). With a combination of coupons, I was able to get the price of a new copy of this book down to $1.07. Due to the quality of the story, I'd have to say it's one of the best deals I've ever made for a book. The best being a copy of A Game of Thrones in first edition, first printing hardcover I found at a used books store for $6. But that's beside the point.

Weeks' story starts with Azoth, a boy living on the streets who wants nothing more than money and the security it provides. And when he becomes apprenticed to the wetboy Durzo Blint, money won't be a problem anymore. Neither will living on the streets.

By the way, a wetboy is to an assassin what a puma is to a tabby. And Blint is to a wetboy what-- well, you get the idea.

But Azoth, now under the identity of Kylar Stern, can't hide from his past. It's catching up to him in more ways than one. If he doesn't do something that even he finds horrible, he, along with everyone he loves, will die.

I'm not going to give this a very long review. I'll still say a few things, though. Weeks has pulled out all the stops in a gritty, dark, and yet, still enjoyable, ride. He has said himself the darkest part of the series is at the beginning, and even the titles suggest that. We move from The Way of Shadows to Shadow's Edge to Beyond the Shadows. Weeks is a great writer, and I can't wait to see him improve. The plot moves at a reckless pace, and the book is impossible to put down. The action, which takes up a large part of the book, is fluid and gripping, but the characters are still fleshed out. Azoth/Kylar is one of the best protagonists in new fiction I've read in a long time, conflicted in every way, but still striving for the best. And the fact that the characters still show a little light at times is comforting among the Joe Abercrombie novels. (Don't get me wrong, I loved The Blade Itself, but I wouldn't want to ever meet any of the characters. Or get within a mile of them.) All in all, and outatanding debut, and one of the best I have read in recent memory. Bravo.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: Founding Brothers (I really have to read this now. I've been putting it off for far too long, reading only bits and pieces. I've got to finish it.)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

"Watchmen" review

Who watches the Watchmen?

This was not a review I mentioned in advance, for a couple of reasons. One, I didn't want people going, "You haven't read Watchmen? And you call yourself a reviewer of books?" Two, I want to make it perfectly clear that this was not done due to the movie coming out earlier this year. I haven't seen it and probably never will. The all-too-simple reason is this: Watchmen is a classic, and because of the visual medium it uses, I've already sort of seen what a movie would look like. The characters and events are right there for me to see them.
First of all, it was interesting to see Watchmen put forward as one of Time magazine's 100 Best Books... until I read it. It's obvious the work deserves the title of "graphic novel". The story is complex, the characters fleshed out and intriguing, and it presents the reader with some clear moral dilemmas. Alan Moore's writing is top-notch. Big, big points for that.
For those of you who don't know, Watchmen tells the story of an alternate 1980s, one where superheroes have been roaming the streets and have since been outlawed by the Keene Act. Russia is on the rise, and World War Three is imminent. But on a smaller scale, things are going wrong. Someone is killing off former superheroes, and the book opens at the scene of the Comedian's death. Rorschach begins to investigate, searching for the truth by whatever means necessary. Nite Owl, now retired, is dragged into the mix, along with other cast members that are truly stand-outs, for example, the enigmatic Dr. Manhattan. I'm not even going to skim the surface here, but suffice it to say they find something bigger than they'd ever imagined.

One of the reviews on the back calls Watchmen "peerless". And I'd have to say I'd agree. Moore, who also wrote The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (horrible movie) and V for Vendetta (fantastic movie, rent it today), is at his best. Dave Gibbons brings Moore's words and ideas to life with great success and attention to detail. The flashbacks were effective. The emotions ran high. And the ending was masterful, although, according to Dr. Manhattan, "Nothing ever ends". This is the book that revolutionized the medium of comic books, doing for superhero stories what The Dark Knight did for superhero movies. I'm so glad I read it, and it will probably stick with me for the rest of my life.

My rating: 10/10. Wow. I mean, wow.

Coming Soon: Founding Brothers and The Way of Shadows.

Monday, August 3, 2009

"The Kite Runner" review

The Kite Runner, by first-time author Khaled Hosseini, was instantly lauded with praise and awards. It was the San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year, a #1 New York Times Bestseller, and received reviews from greats such as Isable Allende, calling it a classic. In 2007, Hosseini's second novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, became a bestseller. In 2008, the novel became a major motion picture from Dreamworks. It has essentially made the author one of "the greats" without any real scrutiny. I'll try to bring some of that here.

You want a synopsis? Here's your stinkin' synopsis! Amir grew up in Afghanistan decades before it was launched into the public eye with the attacks in the World Trade Center on September 11. He and his father, Baba, had two Hazara servants, Ali and his son, Hassan, whom they regarded as friends. Amir and Hassan grew up together, enjoying life in the way that only little boys can. But one day, Amir displays cowardice when his friend is in danger, and it starts a chain of events that create a void between him and Hassan that would never again be repaired.

Now, in 2001, Amir, who is now in America with a beautiful wife, gets a phone call from an old friend of his father's. It tells him he can "make good" again, and Amir knows exactly what he means: redemption from his past with Hassan. But first, he must find Hassan's son and rescue him from the most terrible kind of imprisonment...

The Kite Runner is a very well-written book. Hosseini has great talents as a writer, much like his fictional protagonist. He makes the story of Amir seem real, as if somewhere in 2001, deep in the heart of Kabul, a man was truly searching for a way to "make good". He also picked the perfect time to write his novel, with the world's eye focused on Afghanistan when it was published. And Hosseini's lyrical and flowing prose makes for easy, but not insubstantial, reading.

However, there are two main problems, and sadly, both of them had to do with the always-crucial ending. First of all, the true climax of the book takes place long before the end of the book, and the denoument is, overall, rather depressing. Secondly, there is a scene, one of the last, that is totally unnecessary, and appears to have been added on after Hosseini decided he didn't really want a happy ending. It is almost as if a pretentious writing teacher of his read the book and said, "No no no, Khaled. You don't want to do that. It doesn't jar the reader enough." What Hosseini didn't realize was that a happy ending would have been far more surprising with the tone of the book, but the payoff for the reader would have been immense. But overall, these are small complaints. My recommendation: go ahead and buy The Kite Runner, but be prepared for a letdown at the end.

My rating: 9/10. It would have been 10, but the ending left a bad taste in my mouth.

Coming Soon: Founding Brothers and...? You decide!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

An Update, and I Need Your Help

Just so you know, I'm about two-thirds of the way through The Kite Runner. I'm taking my time with this one (sort of), but it's really good. You can expect a review of it to come up in the next few days.

I've also been to the movies some:

G-Force: I got talked into seeing this one. Don't let yourself make the same mistake. My rating: 3/10. A low point from Jerry Bruckheimer.

UP: A fantastic journey from Pixar. Expect to be close to tears in the first five minutes. You'll want to see this one, and the memory of it will live on in your head for quite a while. My rating: 9.5/10.

Here's the deal. I'm behind on all the stuff I want to read. So I'm asking for your help. I'd like for you to decide which book I read next. Beware, some of these fall into the "embarrassing for my not having read them already" category. The books are:

The Shadow Rising by Robert Jordan. Book 4 of The Wheel of Time. For the past few years, I've been reading one a year. I haven't reviewed them all yet, because I am planning to do back-to-back reviews for the whole series once the final book is out and all have been read. I read Book 3, The Dragon Reborn, just a couple of months ago, but I enjoyed it a lot, and I've gone ahead and bought Book 4. Should I read this next?

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie. Book 2 of The First Law Trilogy. I recently read The Blade Itself and loved it-- in fact, it's a candidate for my "Best Debut" this year. I would have no trouble convincing myself to read this one if it won. Should I read this next?

The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. Book 1 of the Night Angel Trilogy. I found this book on sale for $1 (I kid you not), so I purchased it. It received very good reviews, and the whole trilogy is out, even though Weeks just burst onto the scene last year. I'm interested to see if Weeks is worth all the hype. Should I read this next?

And now, my pick for "Most Shameful for Not Having Already Been Read"...

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. Book 1 of Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn. This is considered one of the staples of modern fantasy, and I haven't read anything by Williams. That's right, anything. I confess. But I would kind of like to have some other series under my belt (i.e. Wheel of Time, First Law Trilogy) before embarking on this epic quest. Should I read this next?

It's up to you, Constant Reader, to decide! Leave a comment, vote in the poll, or better yet, do both! I'm anxious to see what you choose.

Coming Soon: The Kite Runner, of course.