Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Heroes

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

Man. No one, and I mean no one, writes combat like Abercrombie. If you aren’t a fan of extended and descriptive blow by blow fight scenes, this won’t be your cuppa. On the other hand, if you like a good pulse pounding journey into sword blows, slips in mud, spear thrusts, shield bashes and the smell of desperate, hardened men and terrified green boys struggling for life more than victory, this is definitely your idea of a good book.

This one takes up about 7 years after the end of the First Law trilogy. Some of the same characters (not enough of Dogman for my taste) are featured. The Union has gone to war with the Northmen who are led by Black Dow, the vanquisher (maybe) of The Bloody Nine from the First Law trilogy. Bayaz the First of the Magi makes an appearance as does Bremer dan Gorst, who was only briefly mentioned in the trilogy.

It’s a fast paced, good story with the requisite lessons learned about war and the futility thereof and the contradictions of heroes. It also has possibly one of the best PTSD descriptions I’ve ever read.

Abercrombie’s books are consistently ones that I read regrettably fast. They are so good I want to get to the next bit of story but I always dread getting to the end because they are over. Good thing he has another coming out in November.

Huh. And to think, my half assed Google search didn’t lead me to this stuff.

Thursday, March 22nd, 2012

Remember that book I reviewed awhile back? Jackdaws by Ken Follett?

I thought at the time that it was loosely based on a historical backdrop. Turns out even the main character and the basic story were based more than loosely on real events and people.

Women of WWII. Check out the Violette Szabo section. And all the others. Pretty interesting stuff.

Book Review: The Snowman by Jo Nesbo

Tuesday, March 13th, 2012

Grabbed this one due to it being on an Amazon email about Best Books of some month or other.

The overall story is pretty standard serial killer/murderer vs grizzled alcoholic obsessive cop. Some of the twists and turns are new and some of the scenes are fairly original seeming. The climactic final attack by the villain is, if not original in thought, original in execution. It’s a quick vacation type of read.

Here’s the blurb from Amazon. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot.

Oslo in November. The first snow of the season has fallen. A boy named Jonas wakes in the night to find his mother gone. Out his window, in the cold moonlight, he sees the snowman that inexplicably appeared in the yard earlier in the day. Around its neck is his mother’s pink scarf.

As I was reading it I was thinking that it would make a decent movie. Apparently I was not the only one who thought that. Scorsese has been attached to the movie version.

I didn’t realize until looking up pictures of the cover but these are a series of books with the same lead investigator. Harry Hole is a standard anti-hero cop protagonist but he’s intriguing enough to have my interest up in reading another book with him in it.  That, and seeing the author’s photo on his website makes me think he described himself when writing the physical description of Hole.

 

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Monday, February 13th, 2012

I just finished this trilogy.

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Despite being for young adults, this was an enjoyable read, all three books worth. There was nothing especially complex about them, and the characters were all fairly standard. But it was written well enough that I got a complete picture of 85% of the characters; came to care about some and be aggravated with others. The action moves along at a good pace and it will probably make a watchable movie. It’s simple enough and the characters are stereotypical enough that even Hollywood probably can’t mess them up too badly.

Basic story: Set in dystopian future. The country is 12 districts (and one that was obliterated) plus the Capitol colony. Each district produces something – coal, food, wood, electronics, etc. The Capitol keeps an iron fist on the districts and everyone pretty much is hungry all the time. Every year the Capitol stages the Hunger Games where each district has to send a male and a female child to compete in a televised death match – one survivor. This emphasizes to the districts how much the Capitol controls them and how pointless it would be to resist or rebel. A young girl ends up in the Games and through no purposeful plan of her own, she ends up a symbol for a revolution. The books are mainly her story and that of the young male tribute from her district as their lives are shaped by events and as they struggle to be out from under the control of warring factions.

It is somewhat limited in that it is told in first person so you never truly know what other characters are thinking. I don’t generally care for first person books but this one is still engaging. And they are quick reads. I’d recommend them if you just want a fast moving story that you don’t have to read subtext or between the lines to get a true meaning.

Book Review: The Passage by Justin Cronin

Saturday, February 11th, 2012

Post apocalyptic story of an unknown disease that ravages at least the US, possibly the world in a matter of weeks, leaving the infected with cravings for blood and violence.

The first part of the book deals with agents of a special government program who, in the lead up to the outbreak, are gathering test subjects for research scientists. One subject is a young girl, abandoned by her mother at a nunnery. Amy has special powers but even she doesn’t know what they are or why the scientists want her. This part of the book is very gripping, well done and has excellent characters.

Then it’s like the book takes a 90 degree turn and we start following the story of completely new characters decades and decades in the future. This portion is okay, but not as riveting as the first portion. I think it could have been better if it hadn’t been such a sharp and disconcerting break. None of the characters are the same in the middle third of the book as the ones you got to know in the first third. I found it difficult to care about them since I was already invested in Amy and Agent Wolcott and suddenly they were not talked about at all.

The last third does tie things back together. However, with the second third, it went from being a very good story to being an okay book that I committed myself to finishing in the hopes that my perseverance might be rewarded.  At the end, it was too little, too late to redeem the book in my eyes.

If the whole book was like the first third, I’d recommend it to anyone and everyone. As it is, I can’t say the whole thing was that caliber of book. Looked at overall, it was an okay book. Give it a try and see if you find the same discontinuity that I did and if it bothers you as much as it did me. Maybe it won’t be as jarring for you.

Book review: Jackdaws by Ken Follett

Friday, February 10th, 2012

This is set in the days leading up to the D-Day Invasion. Female secret agents sent into France to disable a critical German communications facility. Supposedly based on true events, at least as far as the fact that women were sent in undercover in France.

The writing is largely inoffensive, the characters are well done and the plot is a good one for the era. Not a topic that has been done to death and it does detail some of the things that Special Operations Executive did in fact do during the war. Now, I am pretty sure that the specifics of the story are fictional but in reading a bit about SOE after reading Jackdaws, there are portions that are likely based in truth.

There were portions that made me squirm – I don’t like a lot of detail in torture scenes, especially with women. But the story kept me interested all the way through.

If you like historical fiction and can pick this up inexpensively, I’d recommend it.

“My cat likes to hide in boxes”

Tuesday, February 7th, 2012

(No, she's not all un-coned. This is prior to the coning)

The cat from Japan waves a big blue fan
The cat from Berlin plays the violin
The cat from Brazil catches a very bad chill
The cat from Greece joins the police
The cat from Norway gets stuck in the doorway
The cat from Spain flies an aeroplane
The cat from France likes to sing and dance
BUT
MY cat likes to hide in boxes

Cool bookshelves

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

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Wherein I bitch about a book

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Been reading the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin. I really, really liked the first book. I really, really liked the HBO series of the first book. After that? It all went downhill.

If you liked the series, we’re gonna have to disagree on this one.

I hated the way it was arranged. One chapter per person meant that when I hit a chapter with a character I didn’t like it was worse knowing that I was going to have an entire chapter about the same character before I got to move on. That is, until about the third book. After slogging through all of the war and the rapes in every other chapter of the second book I was about ready to give up. Then I realized that since the story sure didn’t seem like it was fitting together, I could probably skim or outright skip the chapters about the characters I didn’t like.

The problem came in about halfway through book three when I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really like any of the characters. There is nothing likeable about hardly any of them. There aren’t bad guys thinking they are winning only to be snookered at the end by the good guys. If that is eventually going to happen I don’t have the interest or patience to get through the rest of the series to find out. By that time, all the characters I have any interest in will be dead, likely in horrific and senseless ways because the bad guys (98.5% of the characters) are going to get whatever they want. I’m  rooting for the monster things beyond the Wall to come kill everyone.

These books seem like they were written by someone with  no hope left in his life. Someone who’s every dream has been crushed by an uncaring world. Someone who once had a puppy until a bully made him drown it with his own two hands.

There is no light in this world Mr. Martin has made. Not even at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel just spirals ever down into black oblivion and the only thing you can hope for is the release of death – which won’t happen quickly. Every character with any redeeming qualities is relentlessly fucked over and ultimately (with the exception of the 1.5% so far) killed after having everything they love ripped from them. Believe in love, light and chivalry? No such thing and let me pound that into your skull every single hour of your now miserable and dream bereft life, young lady. Believe in honor and justice? Well, you probably have no other facets to your character and you’ll follow that justice and honor past the point of sense.

If you aren’t chaotic-evil, neutral-evil or lawful-evil, you have no place in these books. There is no neutral and the good 1.5% only exist to show just how evil the evil is.

They are exhausting books. I’ve been through four of them this past weekend. Any last vestiges of curiosity about the outcome for the 1.5% has been completely burned out of me in the fire of pure filth, despair and lack of any redeeming qualities.

If you want to read more “reality based” or gritty fantasy, go with the First Law series, not this one.

Little Free Library

Monday, September 19th, 2011

Cool idea. Not sure why you couldn’t make one on your own, though, and put it up in your neighborhood. it wouldn’t be licensed, etc. but it would still serve the same purpose of book exchanges wouldn’t it? Regardless, it is a worthy idea. Sure, the kids will never use it but old folks would. :)

 

Theft – the sincerest form of internet flattery

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

I’m lifting this from Lynn. I am a list person. “I like lists,” she said, like a drooling nimrod.

100 Best Science Fiction/Fantasy books according to an NPR poll. They listed 237 initially that people suggested and then narrowed it to 100 through voting. I fully acknowledge that there are some of these that I didn’t care for at all but that do deserve to be on a list that is distinguishing “most influential” as opposed to “we liked the best” but I’m also confident enough in The Public that I’m pretty sure they had no such thoughts when suggesting and voting. Oh, and the mashing together of sci-fi and fantasy onto the same list? Well, I’m sure it makes for a wider selection to pull from, but it probably shouldn’t be done.

Bolding the ones I’ve read:

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Green Eggs and Hamlet

Tuesday, August 9th, 2011

I ask to be or not to be.
That is the question I ask of me.
This sullied life, it makes me shudder.
My uncle’s boffing dear sweet mother.
Would I, could I take me life?
Could I, should I end this strife?
Should I jump out of a plane?
Or throw myself before a train?
Should I from a cliff just leap?
Could I put myself to sleep?
Shoot myself or take some poison?
Maybe try self-immolation?
To shudder off this mortal coil,
I could stab myself with a fencing foil.
Slash my wrists while in the bath?
Would it end my angst and wrath?
To sleep, to dream, now there’s the rub.
I could drop a toaster in my tub.
Would all be glad if I were dead?
Could I perhaps kill them instead?
This line of thought takes consideration -
For I’m the king of procrastination.

Seen at Illuminations & Other Stuff (there is cool pop culture stuff here every day if you don’t visit already). Original links to poem and to shirt.

Not a wrap up list.

Sunday, January 2nd, 2011

This is not a round up of  best of things in 2010 but rather a few things I’m glad I saw, read and heard in the past year. They may not have been new in 2010 but they were new to me. :)

Movies

I’m Reed Fish starring Jay Baruchel. He’s such an unlikely lead but I have grown to like him in most of his movies. Reed Fish is a romantic comedy but it’s quirky and entertaining. Rom-coms are fluff but if they are well done, they accomplish the goal of most movies – to entertain for an hour and a half.

Winter’s Bone starring Jennifer Lawrence. A drama set in southern Missouri, down in the Ozarks. It is amazingly realistic in its character portrayals. I have encountered (briefly) people like this and the OAM has known folks who could have been the inspirations for the portrayals of family life in this movie. The uncle (?), Teardrop Dolly, is played by John Hawkes, who I now see in every other movie I watch it seems. He’s an excellent actor.

Music

Schuyler Fisk, who I saw in I’m Reed Fish. Sissy Spacek’s daughter.  She has a sweet voice and seems to be pretty talented at song writing.

Books

The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie. Sword and sorcery fiction, heavier on the swords than on the sorcery. Some of the best written descriptions of battles and action that I’ve read. Lots and lots of unflinchingly bloody action.

Memorable characters, which is good and bad. Good in that I want to read more about them. Bad in that their stories have kind of mostly been told by the end of the trilogy. In a way I’m glad he didn’t put them into his next book as lead roles since I do hate to see the inevitable end of characters I like reading about. I don’t like to see Batman get old, if you know what I mean. I just started Best Served Cold and while he’s elevated secondary characters I wasn’t particularly drawn to in the First Law books, it’s still a good read so far. EDIT: Having finished Best Served Cold, I would probably not recommend it. The characters are even more  hopelessly nihilistic than in the First Law books and Abercrombie has decided to go whole hog on gratuitous sex, which wasn’t at all in appearance in the First Law books. I don’t mind a steamy sex scene but I want it to further the story or the characters and it didn’t seem like this did either.  :)

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. I think I’ve mentioned this book in comments on other blogs, but not here. It’s a lovely little comedy of manners with a dash of romance thrown in, but nothing like Aggie’s “bodice rippers.” :)  The characters are well drawn and compelling, the portrait of an English widower struggling with emergence into a new social age while still attempting to maintain the manners of a previous era is at turns humorous and moving.

What about you? Anything you read, saw or heard in 2010 that you’d recommend?

Happy Hogswatch

Friday, December 24th, 2010

Be on the lookout for the Hogfather and his hogs.

The Discworld’s version of Father Christmas or Santa Claus. He wears a red, fur-lined cloak, and rides a sleigh pulled by four wild boars (or, in modern portrayals, cute pink piggies), Gouger, Rooter, Tusker and Snouter. In earlier times he gave households pork products, and naughty children a bag of bloody bones. Earlier than that, he was a winter god of the death-and-renewal kind. The modern version is a jolly toymaker, with vestiges of the earlier myths (such as his Castle of Bones, a vast palace of ice which has nothing notably bony about it, except for the suggestion of a protruding femur or scapula here and there) still clinging to him.

The movie isn’t bad, but as always, the book is better. :)

Tasty libation

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

I have been going to The Blue Moose Bar & Grill lately for lunch. Since I got moved back to the Overland Park office for a few months, I’ve had to rediscover my old lunch haunts and find new ones.

Blue Moose is quick, has a good variety of dishes and fits in the once a week or every two weeks category.

I had a tasty beverage today with lunch. (I see nothing wrong with one drink at lunch. I’m not a surgeon andI’m not going back soused, I’m just trying out things to expand upon after work sometimes). What I had was called a Coconut Cluster. It was a small hot chocolate with Godiva Chocolate Liqueur and Malibu Coconut Rum. Loads of whipped cream on top. I wasn’t going to get anything but my iced tea, but my Greek gyro salad wasn’t warm and it is downright brisk outside today. I’m glad I did. It was verrrah tasty. Good hot chocolate that warmed the throat a bit extra as it went down.

Speaking of lunch time tales, I’m reading At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson . It’s about common household items and how they came about and how they were often connected. It’s pretty interesting thus far. I just finished reading about a rector named Woodforde in England who kept a detailed daily diary for 45 years which was later published under the title The Diary of a Country Parson. It detailed many things but none so prominently as his meals. I like to think of this little web space as my similar contribution to the literary world.