Fiction Wednesday: A Plethora of Reviews

Welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday, and we’re back to the format of olde thanks to finishing the previous books up and starting some new stuff up. I have three reviews this week, so obviously a lot has been going on. Let’s dig in.

This week I’ll review C.S Friedman’s Black Sun Rising, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness, and Bioshock: Mind in Revolt, the Bioshock Infinite tie-in by Joe Fielder. I’ll also talk some about Jayde Scott’s A Job From Hell and The Great Cholesterol Myth by Stephen Sinatra and Johnny Bowden.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

BlackSunRising

Black Sun Rising: The Coldfire Trilogy, Book One: 1 by C.S. Friedman. 

I admit it: I’ve procrastinated in writing this review because my feelings on this book are conflicted. I can clearly trace its influence in my own work now that I see it with clearer eyes, but its flaws are also much more obvious.

Let’s start with a recap of the story: the Reverend Damien Kilcanon Vryce (yes, seriously) comes to the city of Jaggonath (again, yes, seriously) with the intention of helping his church return to its warrior roots. Early in his time in town he meets the Lady Ciana, a Loremaster who specializes in using a magic force known as the Fae. Through the story, we learn that the Fae is a natural force of the planet Erna that functions as something of a defense mechanism for the planet’s native life. The Fae is highly responsive to emotions, both good and evil, and can be manipulated by both properly educated humans and humans with an inborn ability (also known as adepts).

With me so far? Good. The Fae can also manifest beings based on human emotion; these beings are known as Demons and feed off of all kinds of emotions, including fear. There is another strain of demons that feeds off of memory. Fairly early in the novel, these demons attack Ciani, robbing her of her abilities and thus setting the plot into motion as Vryce and his companions travel to retrieve Ciani’s memories.

The characters are a mixed bag. Some, such as the dangerous adept Gerald Tarrant, are fairly well-realized, with a great deal of depth and complexity. Tarrant is easily the best character here, though, and a prime reason for reading this novel. Other characters, such as the Lady Ciani herself, present little more than a surface impression and leave us with more questions than answers. This becomes a bigger concern when it comes to Ciani’s “true” nature, something that Vryce alludes to on more than one occasion but never truly fleshes out. I’d love to know more about Ciani, but, unfortunately, her amnesiac state renders her as little more than an ornament in the story.

The plot works well enough but doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. The central conceit of Tarrant’s involvement is that he attacks Ciani as well and wishes to regain his honor by helping her to retrieve her memory. To do this, he risks death on multiple occasions, something that he has studiously avoided to this point. The intimation is that Tarrant is growing and changing, but his path to that change isn’t entirely clear. Another character, whom I won’t spoil here, also joins in on this trip, but her motivations are somewhat murky as well.

And that’s my overall problem with the novel; while it holds together somewhat well, there are some questions that need answers for the entire thing to work.

Now, don’t get me wrong – the story itself is pretty damned good and held my attention all the way through (there’s a reason I’ve long considered this an underrated gem), but it does have its problems. Overall, worth a read, but with some caveats.

The_Knife_of_Never_Letting_Go_by_Patrick_Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness. 

A strong experience that falters toward the end but still held my attention all the way through. Now let’s back up a bit and talk about the elements of the story. First, and most importantly, let’s discuss the characters, as they are the strongest aspect of this novel.

The book centers around Todd Hewitt, the only boy left in a town of nothing but men on a planet where women have become extinct and men’s thoughts are audible – and visible – to all. Todd’s transition to manhood is fast approaching, and he can sense that something is amiss about this transition but can’t quite put together what it all means; that is, until he meets a stranger in the swamps. I can’t give the identity of this stranger away, as their appearance is an important early twist, but soon Todd learns that things aren’t quite what they seem. Todd is a boy, and there’s never any doubt of that. He’s boisterous, he misspells words, and he has trouble with the word “ain’t.” He’s also been conditioned to live and think in a certain manner that, for the most part, lines up with the values of his hometown, though we soon learn that Todd is unique, a good person in a den of vipers. He’s a fleshed-out character that’s just fun to be around.

Todd’s constant companion, his dog Manchee, also manages to steal the show. Where a talking dog (did I mention that animals also talk on this planet) could be annoying, I just couldn’t help but root for the little guy.

The story itself is compelling, with plenty of twists and turns and good pacing that kept me entertained most of the way through. Sure, a few moments of emergency feel a little contrived, but it’s preferable to the story dragging during those portions.

That said, the last quarter of the book has some problematic elements. The much-teased reveal of what “really” happened is clear from a mile away and leaves the reader with a feeling of “oh, was that it then?” It’s not entirely surprising that Todd doesn’t catch on to what’s happened, as he’s still a child and stuck in the mindset of his hometown, but it’s sold as a surprise to readers that ultimately falls a bit flat. There are also issues with the story’s resolution; while it does technically have a climax, the falling action following that climax is a bit short, leading into a cliffhanger ending. I don’t have a problem with cliffhangers themselves as part of an understood series, but my issue lies in the relatively short time between climax and cliffhanger.

In the end, however, these are fairly minor issues that don’t ruin the book at all. It’s well worth a read for anyone interested in a unique idea in Young Adult fiction. Will surely be reading the sequels.

Infinite

BioShock Infinite: Mind in Revolt by Joe Fielder (with Ken Levine).  I received this book as part of a pre-order bonus for the video game Bioshock Infinite and picked it up as a light read between some heavier, longer works. Sold as a means to introduce characters and set the stage for events in the game, the story follows the events that occur when a psychologist is assigned to deconstruct the personality of notorious anarchist Daisy Fitzroy, leader of a group known as the Vox Populi. The story plays out in what is essentially screenplay format, as a series of transcribed audio logs of interviews with Fitzroy.

The idea has some promise; the format itself could lead to some clever mechanical tricks by the author. Unfortunately, it really fails to follow up or use the format to any great effect. It feels more like a way to shorthand the story and get something out under a deadline. There are some interesting character moments here and there, but too many times it feels that we get from Point A to Point C in a character’s development without seeing the Point B. This is an unfortunate drawback to the format, as it wouldn’t make sense for the psychologist to record the “Point B”.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to recommend the story on its own merits. It’s worth a look for the hardened Bioshock fan and is thankfully a quick read, but I didn’t come away from it feeling particularly enlightened or entertained.

Jobfromhell

A Job From Hell (Ancient Legends #1) by Jayde Scott. Still very early on in this one. The basic concept is that a young woman takes a job as a housekeeper at a secluded mansion in the Scottish Highlands and craziness ensues as she follows the lead of her shady brother. So far the writing is a little uneven and I’m having some trouble mustering interest, but it has some decent reviews, so I’m hoping that it picks up soon.

 

 

great-cholesterol-myth

The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease-and the Statin-Free Plan That Will by Stephen Sinatra and Jonny Bowden.

This book represents something of a new phase in my reading. Now I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a health nut, but I have developed a healthy respect of and fascination with the cutting edge of medicine, especially as it relates to heart health and cancer prevention. For ages, I thought that a lot of the prevention side of things had been decided: you need only listen to your doctor’s advice, follow it, and everything should be just fine. Then I ran head-long into my IBS issues and learned that a lot of accepted wisdom about “safe” additives to food were making me sick. I began to wonder what else might be a bit off and how I could better safeguard my health. It’s somewhat out of scope, but I’ve developed an eating and supplement regimen based on the latest discoveries in what causes cancer and heart attacks/strokes; this book represents another step in that direction.

It takes on the myth of cholesterol’s role in causing heart disease (it’s involved, for sure, but not in the way that popular culture has informed us) and offers ways to protect your health. I’ll have more to say in the review, but so far it’s matching up with my research and offering a few insights that I hadn’t been able to connect due to, well, not being a doctor. Worth a read at this point.

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And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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Fiction Wednesday: A Coldfire Knife

Hey, welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday. This should be a rather quick week, as I find myself embroiled in two long-ish novels (Amazon says that they weigh in at a combined 992 pages, so roughly the length of a Stephen King novel). They’re long, but let me tell you, I’m in dark fantasy heaven at the moment and, as usual, find a common thread running between these two books. Great stuff, so let’s take a look at C.S Friedman’s Black Sun Rising and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

BlackSunRising

Black Sun Rising: The Coldfire Trilogy, Book One: 1 by C.S. Friedman. My second read through this book, and I’m gaining way more from it on this go-around. It’s been 16 years since last I read this series, so you can only imagine how different the subtext reads from this new perspective. The first read-through led me to believe that Gerald Tarrant (that guy on the cover) was little more than a psychic vampire. That reading holds up somewhat, but there’s a deeper, more sinister reading as well, full of an underlying psycho-sexual current that eluded a 21-year old Jonathan.

It’s quite fascinating, actually. Let’s lay the groundwork first: Black Sun Rising takes place on Erna, a planet colonized by humans about 1200 years previous to the book. Erna has never quite taken to humans and possesses an inherent defense mechanism against outsiders that humans call The Fae. This Fae is highly responsive to human emotion and can manifest wraithlike beings based on those emotions – lust, for instance, can create a succubus; fear can create monsters, and so on. The resulting wraiths are collectively known as demons, though we see that they have decidedly different species and races.

The Fae’s responsiveness is not just a negative feature, however; it also means that humans can learn to make it obey their will by strictly controlling their emotions and using clever rituals and symbols to bring their subconscious in line with their will. This turns the Fae into Erna’s version of magic, with all the boons and drawbacks that typically come with such a force. I think it’s a very refreshing concept and a great way to meld sci-fi and fantasy together.

But as humans have shaped the Fae, so too has the Fae shaped humans; certain people now have the innate ability to see and work the Fae. These humans, known as adepts, are revered and highly sought-after in certain circles. There are some religious subtexts to these abilities, with one of the main characters being a priest, but I’ll touch on that in the future. For now, just know that one of the central characters, Lady Ciani, is an exceptionally talented adept who runs a shop in the City of Jaggonath.

With me so far? Good, because here’s where that creepy sexuality starts to pick up. Demons feed on humans’ emotions and/or memories, tearing out the core of their humanity and leaving them empty shells (or outright killing them, depending on the expediency of the situation). The demons do this because, like their victims, they, too, are empty husks. They seek a more well-balanced life and, in some ways, to become human.

I think you can see where this is going. It feels like a dark mirror of rape in our world, where someone hijacks another’s body and spirit for their own ends, often due to a feeling of emptiness or a yearning to be more powerful. This subtlety did not present itself on my first read-through, but I can only assume that had something to do with my inherent naiveté at that age because this metaphor slaps the reader in the face and draws upon the reader’s discomfort to describe the attack’s horrific nature.

Not much of a spoiler since it happens in the opening scenes, but a pack of aggressive, rare demons attack Ciani, draining her memory and, unexpectedly, severing her connection to the Fae. This renders her a “normal”, vulnerable human. This leads to some moment with which even I’m not altogether comfortable; for a while it’s hard to read her increased vulnerability as anything other than a means to get the male characters moving. She even becomes a bargaining chip at one point, a powerful woman reduced to little more than an object. It’s uncomfortable reading, but I think it’s supposed to be just that – there’s an inherent horror to the situation.

This happens to Ciani not once but twice, and after the second time she begins to get close to that crime’s perpetrator (admittedly he restores what he takes), which makes the reader even more uneasy. Upon reflection, however, the attraction makes some sense, as the perpetrator is the story’s equivalent of Satan and makes a compelling offer to her. Who else but the devil would make such a deal with the very person that he rendered vulnerable?

If my recollection is correct, she does get out of the mess and is stronger for it, making this a story of survival and ultimate triumph over trauma. My understanding of the complete arc of the analogy is still somewhat incomplete, so I’ll reserve judgment for the final review.

The_Knife_of_Never_Letting_Go_by_Patrick_Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness. Boy do these two books work well together. This one is also about a world colonized by humanity; this one also feature(d) native forces who were hostile to humanity. This one is also about discovering that your view of the world was incomplete. The parallels are endlessly fascinating.

Todd is more than just a boy growing up in the dying town of Prentisstown – he is the last boy in Prentisstown and, as far as he knows, the last human boy on this planet after a virus ravaged the residents, killing half the men and all of the women, leaving the remaining men with a disorder that renders their thoughts visible and audible to just about anyone; the resulting cacophony is known as “Noise”. The virus also gives animals the ability to talk, and so Todd’s constant companion, Manchee, is a small dog that keeps up a light-hearted patter (it works a lot better than it sounds, trust me).

Talk about intriguing concepts.

Todd’s world is full of the angry Noise – it’s all he really knows, and he craves a quiet spot, traipsing off into the woods to find those places where he can only hear the speech of the animals. While on one of these expeditions, Todd discovers a “quiet” spot in all the noise, and that discovery begins to tear apart his predictable world.

I’m loving this book and can’t wait to write the review, though I’m not even at the halfway point and it has lots of time to fall apart. I trust Ness, though – he seems to have a good idea of where this is all going, and I’m happy to go along for the ride.

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And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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Fiction Wednesday: Man and Machine, Lurking in the Shadows

Welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday. Something of an ambitious schedule this week, as it’s one of those weeks where I finished up a couple of books and started a couple of new ones. Four books! Whew, it’s going to be a toughie, but

This week I offer reviews of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole and  James Sallis’ Drive, with a nod toward C.S Friedman’s Black Sun Rising and The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

a-confederacy-of-dunces1

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. That’s that; finally read through this one, after many years of delay. A book that engenders mixed emotions but, in the end, left me strangely wanting more. The characters are, for the most part, loathsome, and their misadventures almost entirely of their making, and yet I found myself wanting more. No idea what that says about either the story or me, but I think it means that this is a good book despite it all. It has some flaws, no doubt about that; Toole fell back on catchphrases far too often (though Ignatius J. Reilly’s “Oh my God” will never get old), the writing is a bit stilted in places, the plot is…bizarre, and some of the characters are paper-thin to the point of self-parody, though I suspect that’s the point. The relationship between Myrna Minkoff and Ignatius is singularly fascinating for being something of the ultimate war between damaged souls on either end of the political spectrum. It’s a fascinating study of what happens when change is pursued not for a better life or virtue but rather a continuing matter of one-upmanship, tied more to the ego than any noble goals.

If this review seems scattered, consider it a reflection of the book itself. The scattershot approach to plotting can be quite confusing; it’s not that it’s difficult to follow, but more that the reader finds him or herself questioning just where this is all leading, and whether it will make a lick of sense in the end. Why should we continue to care about the owner of a business that fired Reilly? At least one eventually pieces together that Toole intended the angry, senile old woman Trixie as some sort of living symbol of the same hubris that drives  Myrna and Ignatius; that is to say, she’s a woman who is perceived as an eternal victim and project by another character, an object for ego rather than a person in her own right.

Toole does tie the loose ends of the plot together, but at times it just doesn’t feel satisfying. It’s not clear that he ever properly answered the question of “why”, except to say, perhaps, that even those of us who most desire to have no life whatsoever still have an impact in their own way. It’s a valid point, but the book tends to bash one over the head with it.

So, misgivings? Yes, and it’s a difficult book to pin down, but overall enjoyable enough to earn four stars, though it may be the first four-star book that I eventually re-read.

Drive

Drive by James Sallis. You can learn just about everything you need to know about this story through understanding why Sallis never chose to bestow the protagonist with any other moniker than “Driver”. It sounds like a gimmick at first blush, an attempt to a throwback narrative reminiscent of pulp works, and there may be something to that notion, but it’s not the whole story. One grows to suspect that Driver’s name is intertwined with the truth of Driver’s life, that of a man with no real sense of identity and purpose, a living machine of sorts. This is an important point to understand his growth through the novella.

The story unfolds in a non-linear format, but we learn that Driver came from a dysfunctional background, one in which he learned to survive by divorcing himself from everyday, “common” life. Sallis shows this through Driver’s recollections of his increasingly insane mother, a woman lived “just to the right of the life that everyone else lived”, to paraphrase. These memories are key to understanding the character, and the character is key to the plot itself.

Let’s reiterate that: without Driver’s coping mechanisms, there is no Drive, or at the very least we read a drastically different tale. So much of the plot’s action originates with Driver’s attempts to live not just outside of mainstream society but even his own life. As with Ignatius J. Reilly, Driver experiences the consequences of attempting to sidestep life and live in the shadows. As the story progresses and Driver is drawn deeper into the underworld, so too do we  see hints of a personality under that machine – a man that exists almost entirely in the shadows. It’s no coincidence that his driving jobs begin to taper off as his personality (and the attendant emotions) emerge.

Even the most powerful members of the criminal underworld are crushed under Driver’s wheels as he plows forward, relentless and unstoppable, a machine driven by long-repressed emotion. This is a hard-boiled crime story, and a violent one at that, but it’s also quite a good character study and worthy of your attention.

BlackSunRising

Black Sun Rising: The Coldfire Trilogy, Book One: 1 by C.S. Friedman. Talked about this one not too long ago, so no need to belabor the point too much here. Let’s just say that writing about it as an under-recognized gem brought it back to my consciousness. I hadn’t read the book in ages, so why not go through it again to see if memory held up to scrutiny? Honestly, no, the story doesn’t quite hit me where it once did. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a pretty good, likely four-star book (not the five it once earned), but it seems I’ve advanced more as a reader than I anticipated and can see some of the wires poking out on this one. It’s not that surprising; it has been something like 15 years since the last read-through. Still, there’s a lot to like about the book, and I’ll be discussing that as I progress through it once again. Side note, though, it’s quite fascinating to see a common thread running through all of these books: that of the character who lives on the fringes of society and gets drawn into the wider world just the same. I’m not sure what that means or whether it means anything at all.

The_Knife_of_Never_Letting_Go_by_Patrick_Ness

The Knife of Never Letting Go (Chaos Walking) by Patrick Ness. Literally just started this one and have little to offer, so here’s the description:

“Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him — something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females on New World? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.” (Amazon.com)

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And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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Fiction Wednesday: Hot Dogs and Stunt Driving on the Bayou

Welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday, the weekly book blog where the reviews are made up and the points don’t matter. I started this ongoing series as an extension of – and companion piece to – my Goodreads challenge for 2013. Each year I challenge myself to read just a little bit more, and this year I’ve bumped my challenge to a robust 62 books. I’m currently sitting at 15, which Goodreads tells me is 6 books ahead of schedule, so I’ll take that as a good sign and hope that I can keep up the pace. This blog certainly keeps me honest, and I’m glad to have the opportunity to share some of my thoughts.

This week I have my review of Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs, which ultimately turned out a bit disappointing (I’ll get to that). I’ll also talk about A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole, and give an early take on James Sallis’ Drive, which of course inspired the Ryan Gosling-driven flick.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

SouthernGods

Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs. 

So close. So, so close. The elements all seemed fantastic: ancient gods, secret wars, evil moving through the airwaves in the form of forbidden music, and even a noir protagonist sent on a doomed mission into the backwoods of Arkansas.

Somehow it all just…fell apart. It almost feels as if the second half of the novel has nothing to do with the first half, as if the author had two separate stories that didn’t add up to an entire novel on their own and somehow fused them together. Let’s pick through the wreckage and figure out what went wrong.

I’ll start with the premise. The owner of Helios Records hires “Bull” Ingram to track down Early Freeman, the company’s A&R man who has gone missing in the backwoods of Arkansas. The owner also asks Bull to find the source of a mysterious radio station that has been broadcasting R&B music that can drive people to violence, in hopes of signing their artist, John Hastur. Bull takes on the job and heads into Arkansas with a wad of money and a handful of leads. Promising stuff so far, and it gets more promising as he discovers that Hastur’s music has the ability to raise the dead and potentially do even more fantastic things. There’s also a side-story about a woman named Sarah and her daughter Franny moving back to Sarah’s home town to escape an abusive husband and father, but early on it’s not quite clear how these pieces fit together.

Things begin to go off the rails when Bull finds an invite to a John Hastur performance and talks a man into both driving him there and acting as a sort of de facto bodyguard. During the performance, Bull learns what happened to Early Freeman and finds out about Hastur, all at one go.

This is where I think Jacobs ran into trouble: he pulled both of his aces at the same time, and it left him with little to drive the second half of the book.

And the second half…well, I don’t want to spoil too much, but it’s driven by a series of coincidences (or. are. they.) that pull Bull and Sarah together. We never again hear from the record company owner, and as far as I can tell, Bull never reports back to him despite, you know, FINDING EARLY FREEMAN. What follows is an exercise in handwaving as we learn about some ancient texts that may relate to John Hastur’s ability (though John Hastur himself is quickly transformed into someone else entirely, something that never quite satisfied me). Ancient gods, profanities and blasphemies, and possession all come and go. I can’t go into too many details without spoiling it, but the back half gets more and more confusing the longer that I think about it.

Instead of spoiling it, I’ll just tell you what you can NOT expect to find here: 1. A resolution to the Helio Records plotline; it’s hinted that maybe the owner wanted the power for himself, but that goes nowhere. 2. A coherent resolution to Bull’s plotline. In the end, he makes a choice that feels kind of cheap because it’s based on about 20 pages worth of events that are supposed to change him. I didn’t buy it. 3. A satisfying villain. The target kept shifting so much that as soon as you get invested in one villain it becomes another, then pulls a but-wait-there’s-more on you.

I gave it three stars because it does have a lot of promise, and the first half of the book is interesting. If you’re a fan of this genre, it might be worth looking into if you’re prepared for frustration and missed opportunity; I’d say anyone else should probably stay away, lest the abyss stare back into you. Oh, and the Onion AV Club wrote up a great review on it that pretty much concurs with my analysis. Check it out here.

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A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. 

Strange thing about this book: I hate almost every character in it and yet I’m compelled to keep going with it. It’s fascinating, because the reviews that I’ve read, even the folks who one-starred the book, all seem to agree that the characters are mostly hateful people, but that’s the thing: they’re supposed to be that way. It’s part of what makes the book so damned amusing. I’m sure I’m treading on well-worn territory here, and it’s why I’ve hesitated to read some “classics” as part of this challenge, but I’ve meaning to read this book since the mid-90s and figured there would never be a better time than right now. I’m a little more than halfway in, and while there are some elements that I don’t like (if Burma Jones says “whoa!” or “woo-ee” one more time I may murder someone), but I’ve had quite a few laugh-out-loud moments. The one truly offensive thing has been Toole’s portrayal of LGBT folk – the men are all flaming queens and the women brawling, crew-cut butch types – but I chalk that up to being a product of the time. At least the African American people in this book aren’t TOO stereotypical, though there are a few cringe-worthy moments.

Drive

Drive by James Sallis. Just started this one, but it looks to be a quick read. I loved the movie and pretty much purchased the novella as the credits rolled. I wonder if the story itself will end up being my cup of tea; I’ve enjoyed plenty of other neo-noir stories and thrillers, but I haven’t made a habit of reading them in the recent past. We’ll see, though. So far the writing is sharp, but I do see some issues that could have used revision.

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And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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Fiction Wednesday: Death Awakens

Welcome to Fiction Wednesday! I wasn’t sure if I’d make it this week given that it’s an abbreviated week and I’m only just recovering from my convention hangover, but a week just wouldn’t be the same without looking at what I’ve been reading lately. This is a slow one, I must admit, mostly because I haven’t gotten to read nearly as much as I would have liked. You can ask my critique group – I still owe them my critiques. I know, bad writer, and bad reader! I am plowing through those critiques right now, but that means less reading time. Anyhoo…

This week I have my review of Lionel Shriver‘s brilliant We Need to Talk About Kevin, and I’m a little more than halfway through Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs, so I’ll talk about that, too. You can expect A Confederacy of Dunces in the near future, as well; still downloading that one.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

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We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Oh, I’ve been waiting to write this review. This book grabbed hold of me and did not let go until the very end. I could write an essay about some of the subtleties in the characters here; perhaps even a book, but I’ll stick to some of the basics.

Kevin is not a happy child. From the beginning, he seems to resent not only his distant mother and overweening father, but life in general. As Shriver shows us the progression of Kevin’s life in tandem with a growing understanding of his mother, Eva, the parallels between the two become ever clearer. The two enter into a war of sorts, a battle of strong wills for not only Kevin’s destiny but the destiny of the family itself. Kevin’s escalating, increasingly unspeakable acts provide the impetus that drives the story forward, but the plot is almost incidental to this book. I stress almost, because a sole judgment of the plot misses the elements that make this book so extraordinary.

It’s all about theme and character. Yes, the central question of this book seems to be about whether a killer is born or created, ultimately demurring on the answer itself, but such a facile analysis misses the layers of complexity that Shriver weaves in attempting to answer that question. More than once Shriver intimates that Eva and her son are not so dissimilar; the key to understanding this is in a passage where Eva states that women internalize their rage while men visit it upon the world. Eva is an angry, rage-filled woman with a fury very much the equal of her son’s fury, she just expresses it in a different manner, though sometimes we see the equal of Kevin’s expressions, such as when she rails against the mundane qualities of everyday life.

Kevin’s father Franklin is an ineffectual man who lives in a constant haze of denial. It becomes clear that he attempts to plaster the world’s disappointments and flaws over with rose-colored cellophane, seeing everything – save for his wife’s increasing fear of and frustration with their son – as benign. It’s little wonder that Kevin’s fury toward him is even stronger than his anger toward his mother. He doesn’t even hide that rage particularly well, but his father misses the insincerity time and time again, until it’s too late.

The theme here is a child who may have been born damaged in some emotional capacity but who never receives the attention that he may have needed to overcome that issue. Both parents were far too focused on their own needs, projecting their wants and insecurities onto the damaged child. Make no mistake, though, that Kevin is also a monster, and the only true innocent in this whole Greek tragedy is the daughter Celia, who ends up getting far worse than she ever deserved.

I hated just about all of the characters on some primal level, but I couldn’t look away. The whole thing formed such a perfect storm of dysfunctional family dynamics and maladaptive psychology that it’s hard to imagine it ending in any other way. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

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Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs. Family secrets, ancient wars, magic, gods, and 50s R&B. What more could you honestly want from a book? This one starts when a record company’s A&R guy goes missing during a trip to Arkansas; a man named Ingram is hired to go find the missing employee and also scout a mysterious R&B artist named John Hastur whose powerful music is broadcast by a pirate radio station originating somewhere in the Ozarks. As Ingram’s story – and the story of Sarah, whose role is still not quite clear to me – unfolds, we discover that there is much more lurking in the fields and hollows of the South, something that threatens to tear apart lives, souls, and even the rest of the world. I’m about 67% into this one and loving every minute of it. Hope to have a review for you soon.

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And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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Fiction Wednesday: Anger on the Airwaves

Welcome to Fiction Wednesday! Apologies if this one is a little abbreviated or seems a bit…”off”, as I think I’m catching a virus or something. Just in time for the big show this weekend! Isn’t that how it always goes?

Anyway, this week I’m offering reviews of Brandon Sanderson’s The Hero of Ages and The Sleeping Beauty by C.S. Evans. I’ll also be talking about We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver and Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

200px-The_Hero_of_Ages_-_Book_Three_of_Mistborn The Hero of Ages: Book Three of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. I’d heard some complaints about how the series wraps up, and while it is a little bombastic and…well, silly at times, I have to say that I’m not sure Sanderson could have ended it any other way. Once you get to the confrontation level that the series has reached, there’s just no logical way to avoid becoming so over-the-top. This series essentially faced the same problem that The Matrix movies faced in turning their protagonist into an unstoppable force, and I think Sanderson handled that crisis with aplomb.

But let me back up and discuss the rest of the book first. I’m going to try to be as vague as possible to preserve the nature of the surprises in the book (there are many, and some are great). Vin, the so-called Hero of Ages, finds herself drawn into a desperate race against the clock to find hidden caches of supplies created by the Lord Ruler as a backstop against desperate times. These caches are supposed to contain hidden secrets that will help Vin and crew to prevent the end of the world. The last two key caches are held by tyrannical governments, and the crew splits up to try to gain access to these. A series of surprising twists reveals that the actions of the first two books were not quite what they seemed and so Vin has to make the ultimate sacrifice to save humanity.

The characterization suffers somewhat in this one. Vin and Elend Venture remain mostly static for this one, showing only a modicum of growth. The true stars of the story are Tensoon, Sazed, and especially Spook, who has a fascinating character arc through the book. The plot itself is interesting and fairly well-done, though the now time-worn tradition of planting hooks in interstitial writings wears thin, its machinations becoming quite threadbare.

Overall, I think this is a worthy finish to the series and a notch better than the second book, though it still can’t touch the first one. If you’ve read the first two, you owe it to yourself to see where it all wraps up, just be prepared for a little silliness in completing the journey.

sleepingbeauty The Sleeping Beauty by C.S. Evans. For those not familiar with this one, it’s a 1920 “remake” (for lack of a better word) of the original Grimm Fairy Tale. I haven’t read the fairy tale in ages, but this version expands on some of the key ideas, mostly with needless lists of items and people. It’s a hard book to judge given its vintage and the changing standards of publishing since the early 1900s. I ended up judging it on the metric of whether I felt entertained by it. The verdict? Sure, but the story itself has always fascinated me. In the end I felt this one fell just a little bit short of inciting some of the emotional reaction that the original fairy tale and some of the later renditions have elicited in me. Certainly a middle-of-the-road version.

we-need-to-talk-about-kevin-book-cover We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Now we get to my “in-progress” reads. I’ve seen the film and felt somewhat underwhelmed; the crux of the story in the film is whether Kevin’s sociopathic personality can be attributed to nature or nurture, ultimately drawing the conclusion that it lies somewhere in the middle. The book itself is also about this, but there’s a degree of subtlety that’s missing in the film. This subtlety is what ultimately makes the book, in my opinion. You see Kevin’s mother in the film is certainly ambivalent toward motherhood and somewhat stuck up before Kevin goes on a school shooting spree (this is not a spoiler, it shows up very early), but I never quite bought that her behavior and attitude were much worse than many of us have gone through and come out the other side only a little worse for the wear. The book version of Eva, however – ah, now there’s a character who has driven me crazy and I felt a little better understanding of Kevin’s hatred toward her. Yes, she’s stuck up and views motherhood as more of a visit to an uncharted country than its reality, which both show up in the movie, but this version of Eva harbors a very clear hatred for the world and humanity, showing it to us through several revealing passages.

The problem is that, like her mother, Eva has allowed the world’s opinion to drive her identity and lifestyle, sending her in the opposite direction of her agoraphobic mother. Her son is either born or imbued with this same outlook from a very early age, but he expresses it outward. The truth is that Kevin is very similar to Eva in a number of ways, and Shriver gives us a hint by telling us that women “internalize their hatred and anger” while men “visit it upon the world”, something that shows up when she’s talking about her difficulty in understanding boys. I wondered if my reading was correct, but Kevin basically confirms it when he admires the one time that she physically harmed the boy, remarking that it was one her one honest act.

It’s a fascinating book, and I can’t wait to write the review. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend it.

SouthernGods Southern Gods by John Hornor Jacobs. Now this is an odd one. I’m not far into it yet, but the concept is pretty interesting: during the 1950s, a pirate radio station in Arkansas begins broadcasting mysterious songs that can drive the listener mad. Against this backdrop, a man is hired to find a traveling R&B record salesman who has disappeared under mysterious circumstances. As he unravels the mystery behind the disappearance, he learns that the situation is much larger – and darker – than the record company believed it to be.  It’s a slow burn and took me some time to get into it, but now I’m hooked and have to know what happens next. Expect this one to take a few weeks, though.

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And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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Fiction Wednesday: Disappointment, Triumph, and Death

Welcome to yet another edition of Fiction Wednesday! I have to admit, I’m really enjoying this feature, as it gives even more purpose to the books that I read and helps me to think more critically about things like character, structure, pacing, and more. It also gives me a chance to recommend – or not recommend – stories that I truly enjoy. Who doesn’t like that sort of thing?

Anyway, this week I’m offering reviews of The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger – The Man in Black graphic novel and Joe Lansdale’s The Big Blow, giving my current thoughts on Brandon Sanderson’s The Hero of Ages, and giving a little intro to The Sleeping Beauty by C.S. Evans.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

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Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Man in Black by Robin Furth/Peter David. Man, what a letdown. This is my first two-star review of the year and I give it with a heavy heart. This should have been one of the better graphic novels of this uneven series, as the source material is some of my favorite moments in the entire Dark Tower series. It nails some of those moments, especially in the last issue/chapter, but that’s the reason it gets two stars rather than one, and I don’t give one-star reviews lightly. The changes to the original story are baffling, as they drain some of the more interesting moments of any tension for no appreciable gain, introduce new elements that don’t make a whole lot of sense in Mid-World (the corpse lights, long-time readers will know what I mean), and have characters acting in baffling ways. I don’t understand who the Roland of this comic is supposed to be, but he bears little resemblance to either the Roland of the books or of the graphic novels that came before this, almost as if the writers lost hold of what made the character tick. Yes, Roland always acted in a callous manner toward Jake, but his behavior toward the boy in this version comes across as more than a little confused and crazy. I almost feel that I need to re-read the original, non-revised version of The Gunslinger now to wash this out of my mouth. Sheer disappointment, and not even recommended for hardcore fans.

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The Hero of Ages: Book Three of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson. In the home stretch of the series now, and I’m quite amazed to find that the series bears a resemblance to Clive Barker’s Great and Secret Show. No wonder I’ve loved it so much, as that’s one of my all-time favorite novels. I’m not going to ruin the story for you, but I’m starting to see the shape that the climax will take, and I like what’s coming down the pike. For those who aren’t familiar with the series, Vin (the lady on the right) starts as a teenaged street thief who is discovered by a crew leader with a much bigger plan than just conning and robbing. She finds that she possesses ability beyond her wildest dreams – and that she just might be the hero prophesied to bring down the Lord Ruler, an oppressive god-like being who rules the Final Empire. The series is about that confrontation and the ramifications of the confrontation, including a much larger confrontation that goes way beyond the scope even of the Lord Ruler. It’s hard to talk about this third book without spoiling the previous two, so I’m not sure what shape my review will take yet, but I feel that it lives up to the spirit of its predecessors.

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Journey to Hope (A Little Moon from Crescent Moon Press) by Cindy Young-Turner. Oops, almost forgot this one, which would be a crime. I didn’t realize just how many books I had read/finished in the last week, so yeah this one’s coming as an edit. Journey to Hope is the novelette prequel to Thief of Hope, which I reviewed last week, and I think Journey to Hope shows Young-Turner taking massive strides both writing-wise and story-wise. The story revolves around Edgar, Sydney (from Thief of Hope)’s adoptive father and shows him during an important formative phase in his life – the phase during which he discovered the power of the Guild and Schrammig’s hate, which so dominated Thief of Hope. Where Thief of Hope had a little more meat on its bones, this story is stunning in both its simplicity and emotional depth, not to mention the quality of writing. It’s a short one, but definitely worthy of your notice.

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The Big Blow by Joe Lansdale. Here’s an odd one: a brute of a boxer is hired to fight the legendary Jack Johnson (during the formative years of his career) with the express purpose of killing Johnson in the ring. Racism underlies some of the causes for this plot, but there’s also a heavily homoerotic tone to the thing. The backdrop of this strange story is the epic Galveston Hurricane of 1900, one of the deadliest storms to ever hit the United States. The hurricane functions as a character itself, one that lurks just off-page at all times, ready to tear apart the silly plans and machinations of these characters. Oh, and the characters themselves are either ciphers (Jack Johnson) or highly unlikable. It’s an odd book, and not particularly well-written, but I couldn’t put it down, especially once the hurricane really began to do its work. Four stars, but with some reservation, as it has plenty of issues.

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The Sleeping Beauty by C.S. Evans. This was a free Kindle special, a public domain book that caught my eye. It’s a 1920 re-telling of the classic fairy tale that expands on the original story. I’ve been interested in the Sleeping Beauty story since watching the Disney version at a young age, and have since tried to read many different versions of the tale, so re-discovering this as I try to clean out some of my Kindle backlog was a rare treat. I’m still trying to figure out how, exactly, I’ll review this one, as the standards of writing from that age are obviously quite different from today’s standards. I’ll work it out, though. Expect to see the review next week.

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And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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Fiction Wednesday: Bats, Fairies, Bullets, and Other Things That Fly

Welcome to yet another edition of Fiction Wednesday.  I’ve been a busy reading bee of late, and will have quite a few books to report on over the coming weeks. It’s an exciting time, as I definitely find that more reading leads to more writing, which then leads to more reading. Not much wrong with that.

This week I’m offering a review of the baseball book Bottom of the 33rd, updating my thoughts on Cindy Young-Turner’s Thief of Hope (now very close to finished), talking some about The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger – The Man in Black graphic novel, and digging into the first half of Brandon Sanderson’s The Hero of Ages, the third book in the Mistborn series.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

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Bottom of the 33rd: Hope and Redemption in Baseball’s Longest Game by Dan Berry. I almost finished this one in time for last week’s deadline, but missed it by a hair. Shame, really, as the book has faded in my mind somewhat. Still, I think I can get some thoughts down here.

Chaos. That’s the word that comes to mind when thinking of Bottom of the 33rd. That’s not to imply that the game, or this book, are chaotic in nature, it’s more an observation of the random chaotic events that conspire to make things happen. Part of my love of baseball is borne of my love for seeing so many different influences and factors come together in one place. Baseball is a beautiful illustration of the Buddhist chains of causality. A player might end up in Arizona rather than Seattle because someone exercised their no-trade option, which might have resulted because of another player’s negative experience in Seattle, which in turn resulted from a chance collision in the outfield, and so on up the chain. Statistics may skew wildly in one direction or the other, but the laws of probability eventually pull them to an equilibrium, giving us a hint of some sort of order driving these random changes.

Bottom of the 33rd is about understanding how those causes converge into one place. Every game, viewed through this lens, is a miracle: the collection of talent from around the world, all brought into this one place in Pawtucket, Rhode Island; the hits that didn’t fall, the great pitches that just missed, the blown umpire call.

Bottom of the 33rd is, of course, about the longest baseball game ever played, in April, 1981, between two minor league teams, the Rochester Red Wings and the Pawtucket Red Sox; even more than that, it’s about the fates of the men that played that game, the many divergent paths that brought them to that one place in history and the paths that they would follow onward from there. Barry takes us through the game in chunks of ten innings each, hitting the high points of the game and casting a spotlight upon the lives of each key player in those points. Through this approach, he weaves a complex tapestry of lives, showing us that even one simple evening at the ballpark contains more guiding factors than we normally consider. It gives the reader a greater appreciation of not just the game, but of life in general and the enormous factors that must come together to put us at any given place at any given time. The book is highly recommended just for that, let alone the quality of the writing and the behind-the-scenes information that holds your attention throughout.  If you’re a baseball fan, you can’t go wrong.

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Thief of Hope by Cindy Young-Turner. I wasn’t sure if I’d have this one knocked in time for today’s deadline, but I made it after all, so apologies for a rather long entry this week – I need to share my thoughts now, while the book is still fresh in my mind.

Thief of Hope continues a trend that I’ve noticed of late: a female protagonist as something of a “chosen one”, with a mysterious past that lends her to great things. Hard to criticize the trope when I’ve written my own take on it, and honestly I think the idea is still fresh enough to offer interesting takes on it. Thief of Hope is one such book. While superficially the character of Sydney bears a resemblance to Vin from Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn series, Syd is a very different person; where Vin finds a side of herself that she never expected in courtly society, Syd doesn’t seem nearly as comfortable in it, which makes a whole lot more sense to me than Vin suddenly taking to a highly superficial, fake atmosphere with very little trouble.

Of course, I’m not here to talk about the two characters in comparison, simply to state that Young-Turner’s character, story, and world are very much their own thing. Since we’ve discussed Sydney some, let’s dig into plot first. Sydney starts the story as a common street thief, albeit one raised by a man with a strict code of ethics, one who became something of a hero to the people. Sydney fears that she’s strayed far from Edgar’s principles and betrayed his method of raising her, even as we see that she has her own code of ethics driving her onward. Syd’s journey truly begins when she robs a representative of The Guild, something of a socialist worker collective that has seized control of the government and run amok, its original goals twisted by the top party members.  This brush with the Guild leads to her discovering that magic is still alive and well in the world, that there is an active resistance to the Guild, and that her own mysterious heritage will push her onto the central stage of the coming conflict. The story is a good one, and I especially enjoyed the peeks at the lives of the Tuatha, or “Fairy Folk”. More of their culture and story would be appreciated in the sequel, along with the story of the Shadow Folk, but I feel that Young-Turner gives us just enough here to whet our appetite; I’m quite satisfied with what I received on them, for now.

For better or worse, Young-Turner devotedly sticks to Sydney’s point of view through the events that follow. I found myself a little bummed at points, wishing that I could witness some of the other events that were going on (maybe some of these could make interesting short stories), and while the pacing slowed a bit here and there, it was never enough to keep me from reading onward.

Young-Turner’s strength lies in her characters and their interactions, and they shine through here. Even the subtlest of interactions is laced with meaning and feeling; these characters hesitate and stumble, they feel awkward in the presence of others and don’t know how to deal with certain situations. There’s a particularly poignant moment toward the end of the book that I’d love to share with you, but unfortunately it would be too big of a spoiler.

All in all, I found the book very enjoyable and have already started the prequel novella, Journey to Hope, which I hope to review soon.

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Dark Tower: The Gunslinger: The Man in Black by Robin Furth/Peter David. I really don’t know what to make of the Dark Tower comic series. It started with the near-brilliant inception of The Gunslinger Born and has had some stunning highs and groan-inducing lows. I never expected the series to even approach the lower points of King’s series, though some of the high points in the early books could have proudly stood next to some of the better spots in King’s version. Even so, I just…well, like I said, I don’t know what to make of it. The creative team has remained the same and they have often worked from King’s source material as time has gone on. Still, it’s so spotty that I don’t see how the same team writes this from one graphic novel to another. They went from the absolutely abysmal take on The Little Sisters of Eluria to the solid Journey Begins through to the so-so Battle of Tull, then on to the great Way Station and now to this.

I’m not even halfway through, but already the adaption is bizarre. Furth finally acknowledges at the beginning that they’ve veered somewhat off-course from the source material and that this, definitively, not the same universe as the one in the books. That’s somewhat disappointing and a relief at the same time. It still makes for a jarring read, as one moment I’m seeing something that I’d always visualized rendered on the page and then the next moment some completely new element pops up that doesn’t entirely work. I love glimpses of the past of Roland’s world, but I’m not sure if they serve a further purpose here.

I’ll have more to say in the future, but not a promising start.

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The Hero of Ages: Book Three of Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson.

I probably shouldn’t love this series as much as I do. I’m sure lots of people find flaws in Mistborn. It’s undeniably built around familiar fantasy tropes. Some of the story’s contrivances shine through, at times showing Sanderson’s hand at work behind the scenes. Still…I can’t ignore what a great job it does turning the fantasy tropes on their heads and, even more so, its adamant refusal to be what you expect from it, constantly turning corners that you don’t expect. It’s very much like a mystery that way. I’m still very early in this one, but expect to hear a lot more about it in the next few weeks.

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And that’s all for this week. As always, I’m interested in hearing what you’re reading these days; I’ve found a few additions to my TBR pile from these posts. Let me know in the comments!

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Fiction Wednesday: Land of the Thief, Home of the Divergent

Welcome once again to Fiction Wednesday! Well, and as we’ll learn this week, sometimes also non-fiction Wednesday. I hope you don’t mind me speaking about the occasional non-fiction work, but I don’t think it serves a reader to only read one or the other, for a number of reasons (and let’s be honest, some non-fiction contains pure fiction and vice-versa).

This week I’m offering a review of Veronica Roth’s Divergent and my current thoughts on Cindy Young-Turner’s Thief of Hope, as well as the baseball book Bottom of the 33rd. My reading slowed a bit last week due to the holiday and some ongoing side work, but I’m hoping to pick up steam again this week.

Standard disclaimer: this is just one writer’s opinion. This is meant to examine the books not just for how much they sucked me in but also the nuts and bolts, the ‘engine’ of the stories, if you will. It’s just my way of getting as much out of these stories as I possibly can, and sharing those findings with the world. Now on with the show…

Divergent Divergent by Veronica Roth. I finished Divergent not long after last week’s post, allowing me some much-needed time to ruminate on the title and its context.

Let’s start by saying that the characters of Divergent are not really where the story shines. Some, such as Peter, are paint-by-numbers, “he-bad” caricatures that serve as little more than a stumbling block for the protagonist, Tris. Others are somewhat one-dimensional; the leader of the “Dauntless”, Eric, falls into this category. I had to look up Eric’s name in writing this review, a true testament to his memorable nature. The rest of the characters, with one or two notable exceptions, come across as players on a stage.

Tris starts out just as hollow, but eventually becomes more compelling as she discovers the truth of the world around her and begins to realize that she might have more behavioral choices other than those that have been handed to her. This, in particular, is poignant and a big reason why the novel works, but I’ll get to that shortly.  We are warned up front that Tris is self-centered, and this is borne out in the manner by which certain characters only take center-stage when they sacrifice themselves for Tris. For better or worse, those sacrifices mean very little outside of the context of Tris’s life, as we have barely gotten to know them and have no real reason to care for them. It annoyed me, but I suspect that may have been intentional.

Let’s also get one more gripe out of the way, as there’s no way around it: the writing is clunky. I’ve read worse, but I cringed in a few spots. I will say, however, that it’s not irredeemably clunky – Roth just makes some of the same rookie mistakes that most of us make, and I could see her prose becoming quite a force in the future. There’s nothing here that can’t be fixed without a little attention to the craft, and I see every indication that she’ll continue to dedicate herself to improvement.

I hate having to say all that about the book, because otherwise I really enjoyed it. The premise is interesting and, while Tris is a cipher at the beginning of the book, Roth plays this fairly well. The transformation works…well, okay, but the message behind the transformation is really what grabs the reader; essentially, Tris lives in a giant high school. In this world, appearance is pretty much everything and everyone has compartmentalized their emotions to one extent or another. Some, like the tribe she’s born into, abhor the self and anything to do with taking care of or wanting things for yourself; others, like the Dauntless, abhor fear and weakness. The law dictates that everyone is defined by their cliques and stay only within the narrow, prescribed social lanes. One’s greatest fear is not death, but of being without a clique altogether – “factionless”. Sound familiar? Continue reading

Fiction Wednesday: Thieves, Machines, and the Dauntless

Good morning/afternoon/evening/dead of night (hey, why discriminate?), and welcome to the second installment of Fiction Wednesday. Last week’s post turned out to be a lot of fun and convinced me that I must make this into a regular feature. I’m not sure if I’d call this reviewing, per se, but I do enjoy literary analysis and it gives me a chance to stretch those muscles. That means it’s time for you to buckle your seat belt, as things are going to get wild FO SHO. Literary wild!

This week I’m looking at three titles, as I finished Infernal Devices between last week’s post and this week’s post. Let’s just say that, even though we’re only a few weeks into January, I have a good feeling about this year’s crop of books. Even as my tastes broaden I’m beginning to find a common thread that unites the works that interest me, and these examinations help me to better understand what I can do with my own fiction. If 2013’s crop of books turn out to be half as strong as 2012, it could be a good reading year. Let’s dig in…

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Thief of Hope by Cindy Young-Turner. Ms. Young-Turner is actually a Friend of the Site and a member of my critique group. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m going to give her preferential treatment, as I’ve tried to be objective with other friends’ books. I know it’s not always possible, but I feel that soft-selling your views on a book does no one any favors, from the author to prospective readers.

That said, I don’t really have to be critical of this novel, as it’s fantastic so far. I would think that my body of work to this point indicates how much I enjoy a strong female protagonist (blame the fact that I saw Alien at such a young age), and Young-Turner’s Sydney certainly qualifies for that mantle. She has something of an intriguing, checkered past and a legacy that she seems to carry like a millstone around her neck. I emailed Cindy the other day to ask her if she’d read Brandon Sanderson‘s Mistborn series, as I see echoes of that series here, especially in Sydney’s character. For the record, she had not read that series, which wouldn’t really matter as Sydney would come across as more of a loving homage to Vin rather than a ripoff, but it’s interesting to note the parallels between the characters: both street urchins who have done what they had to do to survive, careful to stick to some code of ethics (Sydney would likely protest this as she feels she’s betrayed the legacy of her father figure/mentor but she does have a code of ethics, even as a thief), and possessed of power that not even they suspect.It’s good company, let me tell you.

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen something like this, with two authors expressing similar ideas that arise very close to one another in complete vacuums. I’ve come to believe that sometimes these ideas  arise in several different places at once, for many different reasons, including common “literary DNA”. That appears to be what’s happened here, and I’m quite happy to pay witness to it.

I’m ten chapters in, about a quarter of the way, and really enjoying it. I’m not ready to give a recommendation yet, but I will be reviewing it in full in the near future, so watch this space. Continue reading