Monday, June 28, 2010

The 13th Reality-- The Blade of Shattered Hope

James Dashner is awesome. There, I said it up front. He just is, and there's no getting past it. He simply doesn't have it in him to write a bad book, and he is one of the brightest new faces on the YA scene. His 13th Reality books have always been top-notch, with the second volume, The Hunt for Dark Infinity, being one of the better books I read last year. I approached Book 3, The Blade of Shattered Hope, with extreme trepidation. Is there any way in which Book 2 could be topped? Such a feat seems impossible.

Don't worry. The 13th Reality-- The Blade of Shattered Hope is good. Very good.

Atticus Higginbottom, he of both unfortunate name and extraordinary circumstances, has been shaken by recent events. The discovery of his true powers has left him with a need to refine, to prepare. Because it's not over yet. Not even close.

Mistress Jane is back, sporting a new look for her face that really shines (pun intended), and she means business. You know, like she didn't before. Her plan involves the kidnapping of Tick's parents and something more sinister than anything I would have expected from Book 3 in a five book series. Tick is going to need to use all the resources available to him to save the world-- not one of them, but all of them.

It's epic time.

I'm surprised at this new wave of YA fantasy, perhaps the most aggressive since the onslaught of Harry Potter. This is the age of Erec Rex and The 13th Reality, where the authors aren't afraid to throw in some huge revelations fairly early on in the series. I for one think this is a great approach, as it allows for some really interesting character-building moments due to the fallout of these earth-shattering events. And there was some huge stuff that happened in Book 2.

The Blade of Shattered Hope felt almost a little too packed for me, if that's possible. In many ways, this could have been the sort of climax reserved for the last book in the series. I mean, there's an army, and I can't honestly see how the stakes could be any higher (I expect to find out in the as-yet-untitled Book 4). The opening action feels just the slightest bit forced, and the book could have been allowed to breathe just fine without it.

That said, the opening is short, and I was pleased as punch at the events that unfolded in the remaining 400 pages. There's action, suspense, and some nice character development. I was especially thrilled with what Dashner did for the character of Sato. In this one volume, as he did everything else, he turned one of my least favorite characters into one of the strongest and most compelling. It takes talent for that.

The ending is one of those I-can't-wait-until-next-year-why-can't-Dashner-just-write-twice-as-fast kinds, with some fantastic and explosive setup for Book 4. I honestly am not sure where Dashner is going, and I eagerly anticipate the last volumes. Good work yet again.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: Frenzy and more.

Classic of the Month: The Great Gatsby

Well, folks, since we're about to run out of month (again), it's time for another Classic of the Month! This month, we go back a bit farther than we've gone before, although not really far back. This month, the classic is one of those books that everyone has to read, even though they're not exactly sure why. It's a very different book from the usual fare over here at The Writer's Notebook, so here goes: The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The story is simple, and if you've ever been to high school, you know it by heart. That's because there's not much to know. It's a small book, in case you've forgotten, or if terror of your junior year of English has inflated your memory of it to 600 pages or so. Gatsby follows Nick, self-proclaimed discerning narrator, as he spends some time on West Egg. His neighbor, Jay Gatsby, is shrouded in mystery. How did he get all that money? What exactly does he do? As Nick gets to know Gatsby better, he becomes entangled in two things: one being Jordan, with whom he develops a lackluster relationship; the other being a love triangle between Gatsby, Tom, and his cousin, Daisy.

The story is chock-full of symbolism-- not as much as, say, The Scarlet Letter (oh yes, we'll be reviewing that one someday), but enough to weigh the story down significantly. Everyone remembers the repetition of the green light at the end of Daisy's pier and the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleberg with the sickening clarity of one who has been in the WWI trenches. English professors spend as much time analyzing Gatsby as Atlas Shrugged, and they expect every student to approach Fitzgerald's greatest work with the same pseudo-religious fervor.

I'm going to step away from that and just talk about the book. Not the symbolism. The book. So is it good, really? Well, yes and no. In the first third of the book, virtually nothing of any real significance happens. Fitzgerald spends so much time writing about Gatsby's parties that by the end of it the reader feels as drunk as Nick gets on rare occasion. It's just excessive prose, going beyond setup and elaborate background and entering the territory of wasted space.

But then, slowly but surely, things do start to happen. You almost become involved in the characters, before you remember that Fitzgerald portrays them in such a way as to make them thoroughly unsympathetic. And Chapters 7 and 8 have absurd amounts of major events occuring withing their pages, out of proportion with the rest of the novel. No less than three characters die in the space of two chapters. The book achieves a melancholy emotion at the end, which is obviously what Fitzgerald wanted in the first place.

Looking at it now, I think The Great Gatsby is not a bad book. I don't hate it in the same way as those in the trenches do. But I'm not entirely convinced of its need to be read by everybody, and therefore it's need to become a classic. I hate to break it to you, high school English teachers, but there are better books out there. This one's only for if the 1920's are being really emphasized.

My rating: 7/10

Coming Soon: The 13th Reality-- The Blade of Shattered Hope, Frenzy, and much more.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Prince of Persia and Toy Story 3

I just realized my last post was this blog's 200th. That's a lot of words, and a lot of time. And yet, here I go again. When will I ever learn?

In all seriousness, it's time for some quick movie reviews!

First up is Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Already, it's being viewed as a major box office disappointment. And that's a shame. Because it's a lot of fun to watch, in its own special way. Jake Gyllenhaal makes a serviceable action hero, the effects are spiffy, and the action setpieces are top-notch. Plus, it's got Alfred Molina, who's got a nice track record. I mean, he's been in Spider-Man 2 and Raiders of the Lost Ark!

It's not terribly mental entertainment, but there's something to be said for lighthearted fun. My recommendation: Once you've seen Toy Story 3, give this one a shot. It's your required popcorn movie of 2010.

My rating: 7.5/10

I'm also here to talk to you about the best movie of the year so far, and in the running to be the best overall. It's an animated movie. About toys. And it's a threequel. Aren't you excited yet? Well, all that stuff aside, you should be. Because this is Pixar we're talking about here. And this isn't just any threequel. It's Toy Story 3. It's a wonderful film, well-made in every way.

But I don't want to talk about it much. To talk about it would spoil its greatness. Let me just say that it's a great finale to what is one of the best trilogies ever made, a phenomenal send-off worthy of its predecessors. Seriously, if the word "Pixar" wasn't enough for you, then you really need to go to the movies more.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: The 13th Reality-- The Blade of Shattered Hope.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


It's time for another debut! This one's sorta cheating on my part because it's really a pseudo-debut. It's the first Mira Grant novel, but the author also writes under another name. But either way, it's really good.

In 2014, we had cured cancer, and the common cold was no issue for us. But in our great triumph over disease, we unwittingly created another one: the Kells-Amberlee virus. The KA virus is chillingly simple. Once infected, the mind is controlled by the virus and given just one command: FEED.

That's right. We've got zombies on our hands.

Twenty-six years later, the world is a different place. Cities are deemed unsafe, security protocols determine how and where people live, and blogs are seen as truer than official news. Two of these bloggers, twins Shaun and Georgia Mason, are going to look into events deeper than ever before. It's time for the 2040 presidential election, and they're getting to cover it. Beneath a series of seemingly tragic accidents, they will unearth a conspiracy that will endanger all they hold dear. No, really. I say this all the time, but it's true.

FEED is enormosly fun to read. When you take zombies away from the horror of the initial outbreak, you get a fantastic worldbuilding tool, which Mira Grant uses to great effect. It's fascinating to look at the ways society has evolved as a result of zombie presence in the world, and it's actually handled fairly plausibly. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least.

This is not a horror novel. It's a taut political thriller. With zombies. I know, some of you just started groaning, but it's still really good stuff, and a breath of fresh air in the much-overused "undead rising" genre. The characters are nicely drawn, and the political movements are pretty believable. It makes sense once you understand how things work in Grant's world.

And for a zombie novel, this one's long. Clocking in at about 600 pages, FEED provides for good immersion into a zombified alternate reality. But I can't really think of anything I'd cut out. Despite its length, Grant uses words smartly, better than some novelists who have written five times as many books as her. I know it seems odd, gushing about a pseudo-debut right after gushing about someone else's debut, but I'm just having good luck in that department of late.

Grant provides a phenomenal introduction to a projected trilogy of Newsflesh novels (like her pun?). FEED is great reading, very fresh and promising for Grant's career. There are twists that I honestly didn't expect, but Grant never takes herself too seriously. At the end of the day, it's a book that's simply fun to read. I can't wait to devour the next novel (see what I did there?), BLACKOUT, when it comes out.

My rating: 9.5/10

Coming Soon: The 13th Reality-- The Blade of Shattered Hope.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Warded Man

At long last! Here's the deal: I read The Warded Man a month ago. That's right. A month. Actually, a little over a month ago. But I've been writing stuff, reading stuff, and out of town since then. I mean, I've even been in a car accident with an illegal immigrant from Honduras since then! (Long story, not important here. But bizarre nonetheless.) So what do I have to say about Peter V. Brett's debut novel?

It's awesome. Go read it yesterday.

I'm serious. I waited till the paperback release, and now I'm kicking myself for doing so. This is great stuff, and really addictive too. I finished reading the book extremely quickly, and I can say it's one of the best fantasy debuts I've read in a long time. Probably since Sanderson and Rothfuss. A big deal.

The Warded Man centers around a world where demons prowl at night. They are kept at bay by wards, magical symbols from days long past. This creates a nice points-of-light society that allows for a huge variety of cultures in a relatively small number of pages. Note: I say small, but it's still 450 in my edition. They just go by really, really fast.

Anyway, the story focuses more acutely upon three children who grow up each having a life-altering confrontation with demons, called corelings in Brett's world. Together, they strive to fight the darkness before it destroys all they hold dear. In a nutshell. But there's a massive amount of mythology hinted at, to be expanded in later volumes (The Desert Spear is already out, so don't worry too much about waiting!).

One of the most remarkable things about The Warded Man is how economical it is. The book manages to convey a great deal of emotion over a great deal of time over a relatively small page count. All of the characters go through major arcs, and it's only Book 1 of a series. The climax is tightly written and doesn't overstay its welcome. Not to mention that Peter V. Brett (apparently called Peat to his friends) is just a good writer, hands down.

The Warded Man is a fast-paced, well-executed romp of a novel with a little something for everybody, and I'm astounded to think this is only Brett's first. This is the guy to watch when it comes to new authors in fantasy. Definately in the running for best debut I've read this year.

My rating: 10/10

Coming Soon: Ooh, a lot of stuff. Stuff I haven't gotten a chance to review yet. Perhaps I'll do a little book about zombies next...