Tag Archives: Book reviews

If I Could Talk to the Animals…

I took a walk through our neighborhood this morning, past the golf course, and nearly to Alex’s high school. It’s about a mile to get there.

I “discovered” the trail about a week ago, on a perfectly beautiful April evening when I wanted to get out of the house just relax. Discovered is a bit of a misleading term because I could hit Lake Audubon Trail with a pine cone from our bedroom window. I just never bothered. We’ve lived here sixteen months, and I hadn’t yet felt energetic enough,to explore our neighborhood. I’ve been using the CPAP machine for 2 weeks. It took about 7 days before I felt enough energy to get out and enjoy the day.

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Boy’s Life, by Robert McCammon [Book Review]

It’s been a long time since I’ve discovered a novel that tugged at me the way Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life did. A young lad called Cory, grows up in a literally-magical Alabama town in 1964. Early one morning, Cory and his father witness an auto plummeting into a lake. His father dives in to save the driver, only to discover that the man was handcuffed naked to the steering wheel, his throat nearly severed by a garotte wire. The dead man haunts his dreams. At the core of the novel, we are led by Cory and his pals to discover who in the has murdered this unknown man. It serves to tie together the novel; each chapter could easily be publishable as its own short story, which reads like a faceted thing somewhat reminiscent with Neil Gaiman’s Graveyard Book and, I realize belatedly, Robert Newton Peck’s much-loved Soup novels.

Part of the strength of Boy’s Life is how firmly it ties itself in the bedrock of 1964. The United States has just lost JFK. Kids hide under their desks in worries of nuclear attack. The town is, for all intents, still segregated (the town’s poet laureate rhymes “kiss his face” with “George Wall-lace”). The population is still very conscious of World War II and Vietnam is but a kernel on the horizon. Continue reading Boy’s Life, by Robert McCammon [Book Review]

Mort, by Terry Pratchett [Book review]

I’ve been avoiding the work of Terry Pratchett for several years. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because, when I learned about him, my first thoughts were “I already read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Maybe my thoughts strained against the idea that fantasy should be treated with humor and a light touch. I’ll probably never know, but, as of today, I’m no longer unfamiliar with Terry Pratchett. I read (on the recommendation of fark.com—don’t ask) Pratchett’s fourth novel: a book called Mort. The book takes place in the fantasy land called Discworld, which rides on the back of four elephants, who of course stand on the back of the great turtle A’Tuin. The entire land is surrounded by a waterfall that pours forever into space.

Mort. Terry Pratchett.
Mort. Terry Pratchett.

The hero of the story is an all-elbows teenaged redhead named Mortimer, or “Mort” as he often reminds acquaintances. His father believes him to be likeable, but generally worthless, so he takes him to the marketplace to begin an apprenticeship to anyone who will have him. His new master, it turns out, is Death, in all his dark-cloaked, skeleton-faced scythe-wielding badness. Death, it turns out, has need of a vacation as much as an apprentice. Death is lonely and friendless; apart from his adopted daughter and aged servant Albert, he has no interaction with anyone except when it is time for them to die. Much too soon, Death hands the reins over to the young lad.

As in all apprentice stories, there are rules about these things: you can’t muck about with fate. When it’s time for someone to go, it’s time for them to go. To do anything else could cause a rift in space/time. Also, as in all apprentice stories, the lad almost immediately takes a liking to a princess and (maybe inadvertently?) ends the life of her assassin instead of her. Meanwhile, where Death (WHO ALWAYS SPEAKS IN ALL CAPS!) tries a series of experiments with the things humans find pleasurable: first tying fishing flies, then sampling dozens of alcoholic beverages, quizzing a celebrant about the concept of “fun,” and finally becoming a short-order cook at a local pub. Death’s interview with the employment agent provided one of the funniest scenes of the book, and the gem of a line: “It would seem that you have no useful skill or talent whatsoever… Have you thought of going into teaching?”

Pratchet doesn’t often let his comedy get in the way of telling the story. From chapter to chapter, I never was sure what I’d read next. Pratchett occasionally allows his narrator to break through the Fourth Wall: at one point, making reference to ancient literature like Shakespeare, or ancient lore (St George and the Dragon, for example). Often Death speaks of modern science or science-fiction ideas, which befuddle the decidedly-medieval populace of Discworld. Sometimes you get the feeling the author is trying too hard to land a laugh. We read incidental rambles like this one: “He reasoned like this: you can’t have more than one king, and tradition demands that there is no gap between kings, so when a king dies the succession must therefore pass to the heir instantaneously. Presumably, he said, there must be some elementary particles — kingons, or possibly queons — that do this job, but of course succession sometimes fails if, in mid-flight, they strike an anti-particle, or republicon. His ambitious plans to use his discovery to send messages, involving the careful torturing of a small king in order to modulate the signal, were never fully expanded because, at that point, the bar closed” and they occur slightly too often for my taste. Sometimes he also goes for the easy laugh: “Sodomy non sapiens,” said Albert under his breath. “What does that mean?” “I’m buggered if I know.” As I said, though, none of this manages to detract from the story. I found myself grinning throughout the novel. Pratchett has considerable facility with similes. Early in the book, Mort is described as having “the same talent for horticulture as you’d find in a dead starfish,” with a “body that is only marginally under its owner’s control—it seemed to have been made out of knees.” And thus it begins. The line is not an auspicious one as Adams calling the people of earth a race “who still think digital watches are a pretty neat idea” Still, I found Pratchett’s cadence for humor, and it wasn’t overdone or didn’t detract from the story. In that by itself, my fears were never realized. I enjoyed the novel, and would read a few more of the many, many Discworld books he’s written.

Four stars of Five

Assassin’s Quest [review]

Robin Hobb. Assassin's quest

Assassin’s Quest is the final book in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. It has one of the most fantastic opening chapters I’ve ever read in the genre. I don’t think I’m spoiling to anything that, to avoid death at the end of book 2, the protagonist FitzChivalry Farseer, has implanted his soul inside that of his companion wolf Nighteyes. He is reintroduced to his body, and nursed back to health, by Burrich, who must He must reteach him everything. Hobb does an excellent job walking us through the most basic tasks: having been a wolf for a time, Fitz has lost his day-to-day moments of social etiquette, such as using the bathroom outside, and washing, and eating with one’s fingers. Slowly Fitz regains these memories, and his sole desire is to kill Prince Regal, the uncle who put him in this state. Continue reading Assassin’s Quest [review]

The Hunger Games [book review]

Suzanne Collins tells us that The Hunger Games trilogy was inspired by twin causes in her life: the pain of living while her father fought in the Vietnam War, and the Classical story of Theseus and the Minotaur, which resonated deeply with her psyche. This makes sense. My first impression, however, was I was reading an episode of the TV reality series Survivor, cross-bred with Golding’s Lord of the Flies.

Suzanne Collins. The Hunger Games

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets [book review]

Today I decided to review JK Rowling’s second book in the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Harry Potter faces all the school things a muggle-born boy might only, of course, Of course, Harry is anything but normal. As an infant, his head is scarred by Voldemort’s death curse, which nearly destroyed the Dark Lord. Now the boy is a twelve-year-0ld wizard in his second year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

JK Rowling. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

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Ghost Story [book review]

Ghost Story is the thirteenth installment of Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden novels. I read somewhere that Butcher wanted to call the novel Dead but this was flatly rejected by the publishers. The title itself leaves absolutely no room for question. Implicit in the title is the spoiler: harry Dresden is, as of the twelfth novel, Changes, dead. That’s right: some jerk–some lousy irredeemably stupid schmuck–killed the hero of the series. It’s Harry’s job to figure out whodunnit.

Jim Butcher. Ghost Story

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Assassin’s Quest [book review]

Assassin’s Quest is the third book in Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy, and  is difficult to speak of, since at every turn, I seem to be combatting spoilers.

Robin Hobb. Assassin's Quest.

The protagonist FitzChivalry’s anger recuperates from serious wounds in a sheepherder’s cabin, and in a desire for revenge, plans to destroy his uncle, who tortured him and believed him dead.

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Harry Potter and the Librarian of Northeast Reston [book review]

The last few days, I’ve decided to re-introduce myself to the JK Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. You probaly know that when a topic has the scent of controversy about it, the Christian fundamentalists (far more conservative than my personal religious leanings) usually make some sort of stink about it. I have seen this trend for most of my life: TSR’s Dungeons and Dragons games, Scorcese’s Last Temptation of Christ—heck, I even remember hearing a sermon preached about Pac-Man, and about Ravel’s Bolero.

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Royal Assassin [book review]

Robin Hobb. Royal Assassin

Two quick complaints.  Robin Hobb’s novels aren’t that easy to find. She has thoroughly engaged me with her writing style and amazing, deft characterizations in her novels, but I can’t find any of her works at the local bookstore. Grr. Barnes & Noble can go ride a zucchini, whatever that means. And secondly, Hobb has, possibly, the worst biographical blurb of any book I’ve ever read: “Robin Hobb is a writer, and lives in Washington state.” Huh?  Okay, I know Robin Hobb is a pseudonym, but really?

Continue reading Royal Assassin [book review]