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Books 'n Stuff

The Devil's Company by David Liss

The Devil's Company - David Liss

Synopsis: 17th century London, Benjamin Weaver, ex-boxer, thieftaker and general rogue is blackmailed by a mysterious figure into investigating a plot surrounding the East India Trade Company. Conspiracies on conspiracies abound, as Weaver investigates.


Review: I'm a fan enough of this book that I will definitely read at least another of Liss' books, although there were some problems. Start with the good: as a historical thriller, the detail of old London is firmly on display here (although I cannot testify as to its accuracy; I am no history scholar of this period), in lush abundance. I liked Weaver as a character, he's a smooth operative, though, he doesn't come across as quite perfect. Liss also goes to pains to make him likeable, as he displays on several occasions a generosity of spirit, or in defense of the weak and helpless, that might not have been so common at the time.


The romance angle with Celia Glade felt a little vague and not really there. She's there, they talk, she doesn't really do anything, she's gone again. I didn't really much sense of her as a character. She's supposed to be a master of disguise, a spy, but mostly what she does is hang around and confuse Weaver about her role in the events of the book. At the end its implied he gets the girl, but there was never really much lead up to it, other than Weaver worrying that he's going to lose his will to caution around her.


All in all, I liked it a solid three and a half stars, maybe even four if I'm feeling generous, but it really could have benefited from the romance being a little more fleshed out. Fifteen to twenty pages spread out over the book for it perhaps would have helped.

Airframe by Michael Crichton

Airframe - Michael Crichton

Synopsis: After a disastrous air travel accident that left passengers injured and dead, a company rep races to discover what happened amid a background of unfolding drama and deception.


Review: I wasn't super excited to start this book, suspense fiction isn't really my thing, and suspense fiction based around airplane manufacturing doesn't really sound any better, but I've had this book on my shelf for awhile so I decided to give it a go.


I was pleasantly surprised at how much I liked it. I went on a Crichton binge when I was 13 and I have fond memories of Jurassic Park, but I haven't been back since. I liked the main character even though she was never given a lot of depth, but I did find the chapters with the reporter vaguely irritating.


I don't think the mystery plotline lined up exactly at the end (and that's all it is, there are no subplots or side stories whatsoever to engross the reader; proof Crichton had a thoroughly one track mind), I had some questions about it that weren't really explained.


Finally, reading this I was reminded of another one of Crichton's books that I read years ago while waiting in an airport, State of Fear. The story structure seemed to remind me of that book, but I read it much to long ago to make further comparisons. Good read 3 1/2.


Chasm City by Alastair Reynolds

Chasm City - Alastair Reynolds

Synopsis: Pursuing vengeance, security specialist Tanner Mirabel follows his target from one solar system to another, tracking him through the disaster ridden Chasm City, uncovering truths he might have wished he hadn't.


Review: I've been working for awhile on reading my way through Reynold's books. Chasm City is a re-read, but was maybe...sixteen years ago at least? So most of it feels new again.


Reynold's does what he does best here, dark space opera, but ultimately the book is more cyberpunk than anything. Low-lifes, killers, a gritty, fundamentally broke city, and hightech everywhere? Yeah this is cyberpunk. It reminded me a lot of Altered Carbon (the book, of course).


There are of course problems. There are some things which just do not add up.

If Cahuella is really Sky Haussman, why does Reynold's go out of his way to make Cahuella seem like a relatively nice guy (someone who would intervene on an unfornate's behalf to rescue her from a stalker/harasser) and Haussman an utter psycho (someone who would murder hundreds or thousands of people, start a war, murder the father who raised him, etc)?

(show spoiler)

We're given a pretty good view of both and the moral disparity between the two personalities is pretty stark.


I also found the twist ending a tad confusing after a little bit.


I didn't hate it, it was alright, but for hardboiled cyberpunk Altered Carbon kicks this book's ass.


Up next is something a little different for me. Kurt Vonneguts 'A Man Without A Country'.

The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

— feeling amazing
The Fall of Hyperion - Dan Simmons

Synopsis: Against a backdrop of interstellar war and looming apocalypse, the drama of seven pilgrims on a hopeless mission expands.


Review: I fucking loved this book. The first book dragged a bit, and didn't really answer the questions that I had so I was a little hesitant about getting to the second one. Honestly, I think Hyperion and The Fall of Hyperion probably should have been one book. The first one just ended so abruptly. The second book answered the questions I had, expanded the plot and the scope, and revealed more about the characters while introducing new ones.


At the end of Hyperion all of the pilgrims were about to meet the Shrike, and I expected each of them to meet some of grisly end one by one in the sequel. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not so, as each character is woven seamlessly into a complicated and elegantly engineered plot line that explains why each of them is there.


I loved the way that Simmons throws subjects like quantum physics, time travel paradoxes, AI, even a little theology and makes it work. I'm enthralled, can't wait to get to the next book, Endymion, although I'm not sure when that will be.

Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone by J.K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone - J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré

Synopsis: I'm not sure its even worth bothering with a synopsis for this one, its freaking Harry Potter after all, but here goes anyway. A young boy who lives with his atrocious Aunt and Uncle and their hambeast troll child, is invited to attend a mysterious school for wizards he never even knew existed.

Review: Its been years since I've read this and I'm really looking forward to getting up to where I left off reading it (Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire; I just never got around to it), I can honestly say I loved this book. Its got the great feel of a mystery that you don't even realize is unfolding, highschool heroics, villians of a variety, and enough fun stuff crammed into every page to make reading it an absolute joy. I loved reading about Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans, Quidditch, the sorting hat and everything else.

While we're at it Rowling has an amazing knack for foreshadowing with her writing. She knows exactly how to drop little details that will be important not just in the book your reading, but 2, 3, however many books ahead. Its refreshing to read an author who has a clear idea where her story is going and how its going to get there.

I can't 5 star this enough.

Remeption Ark by Alastair Reynolds

Redemption Ark - Alastair Reynolds

Synopsis: As alien machines build a gigantic machine meant to destroy a star, Ilia Volyova and Ana Khouri hatch a plan to rescue the inhabitants of a nearby planet from annihilation. Meanwhile a maverick outsider abandons his allegiance to his faction in search of a group of powerful weapons to use against the machines.


Review: I'm not gonna lie it took me awhile to get through this book. Its slow, a real slog for most of the book. Clavain's motives aren't clear, aside from 'I'm a maverick. Its what I do.' His reasons for doing what he did in the book seemed very uncertain, as if Reynolds wrote it first then tried to figure out why as he went along. There's very little action, and sometimes potentially interesting things are bizarrely dropped from the plot. There is a point when some of the characters are rescued by a character from the first book (Revelation Space), that is no longer quite human and has become very interesting. After this event that character is never seen again or even referenced. It had a very contrived and clumsy feel as though Reynolds was screaming 'THIS IS JUST A ONE OFF PLOT MECHANIC' at his computer while he typed this bit.


All that said I'm still a huge fan of Reynold's as a dark space opera writer. I wish he would do more of that. Overall his mastery of that subgenre is what saves this book from being an unreadable mess. 3 stars.

Vaesen: Spirits and Monsters of Scandanavian Folklore

Vaesen: Spirits and Monsters of Scandinavian Folklore - Johan Egerkrans, Johan Egerkrans, Johan Egerkrans, Cecilia Danneker Engström, Susan Beard


I first caught sight of this book on some facebook ad, and it immediately grabbed my attention. I ordered it and was not disappointed. The book details a small encyclopedia of folklore-ish monsters, all with beautiful illustrations many of them full page, and in beautiful color. Smaller drawings also accompany each entry as well.


The book is filled with  fascinating descriptions of monsters and spirits of a variety, many of which you've probably heard of, such as as gnomes and dragons, and others like vatter and the askefroa which you are likely less familiar with. Thirty-one in all.


Each entry is filled out by a fascinating description of the creature, ranging from a few paragraphs to a couple pages, occasionally more.


The only problem I have with this book is that it feels a little short. I went cover to cover on it in about four hours, but since the focus is obviously on the illustrations it feels like a fair trade.



Easily worth the trouble it took to get it. Its a bit hard to find, only really being available from a single website. If anyone wants to know where to find it please send me a message.


4 stars.

Earthsea Cycle: The Tombs of Atuan (Ursula Le Guin)

The Tombs of Atuan - Ursula K. Le Guin

Synopsis: At the age of six, Tenar was taken from her home and made High Priestess of the Nameless Ones, dark powers of the Tombs of Atuan. But when the wizard, Ged, comes to steal the tombs' greatest treasure he also comes to bring Tenar out of darkness.

Review: Ursula Le Guin is known as one of the greatest names in fantasy literature, partly for her Earthsea Cycle, and its not hard to see why from this book. Its pretty short, only 180 pages or so, but the deeper plot involving the rescue of Tenar fills out the volume of the book really well. If it had been longer, I think it would have become tedious. There isn't much more to say except that the plotline of pulling a lost soul out of the mire resonates with me strongly.

Next up is the second book of Alastair Reynolds' Inhibitor Trilogy, Redemption Ark. This is a long one at 700 pages, and a re-read from way back, but its good to remember why I love reading this guy.

What-the-Dickens by Gregory Macguire

What-the-Dickens: The Story of a Rogue Tooth Fairy - Sarah Coleman, Gregory Maguire

Synopsis: When a lone, lost, and dangerously naive fairy named What-the-Dickens,
is born out in the world, he must survive and find a home and become the tooth
fairy he was born to be.

Review: What-the-Dickens is actually two stories. One story is of some kids and
their older cousin alone in an empty house in the middle of a dangerous
thunderstorm, who tells them the other story of a rogue tooth fairy lost in the
world. Its a lighthearted story, although I wouldn't call it funny necessarily.

What-the-Dickens is an endearing character who spends most of the first half of
the book trying to make friends with everyone he meets. A large, hungry cat, a
larger bengal tiger, and a motherly bird. Eventually he meets Pepper, another
fairy who reluctantly introduces him to Northwest Sector, Division B, less
formerly known as Undertree Commons.


I liked the character development in this book. Everyone has a lot of
personality (the mama grisset who thinks What-the-Dickens is her child was particularly
endearing), and there are a host of others as well. Including a mouse riding
fairy aristocrat, his butt kissing assistant, and a flighty fairy celebrity.

My gripe with it is, though, it didn't really know where to go with the plot. Or
maybe it did, it just didn't go very far. I'd love to see a sequel where What-
the-Dickens and friends take on some bigger challenges and expand the plot, but
sadly it doesn't look like a sequel is forthcoming anytime soon. Its a shame
because I really liked many of the characters. The other story with the kids is barely even worth mentioning; it's dull, to say the least.

Next up is Ursala le Guin's 'The Tombs of Atuan' a fantasy classic from her
Earthsea Cycle (the 2nd of 4). Its short and I'm trying to get through some of
those before the year's end.

Slow Bullets (Alastair Reynolds)

Slow Bullets - Alastair Reynolds

Synopsis: Scur is a conscripted soldier at the end of a long war involving many
worlds when she is captured and tortured by a war criminal. As she is left for
dead she is rescued and for unknown reasons and put aboard a prison ship in stasis.
But things don't go as planned and Scur wakes up aboard a dying ship, with other prisoners and crew waking up at the same time, all of them confused.

Review: I was disappointed with this book. I really wanted it to be more than it
was. I liked the title; I even had a whole theory about what the plot of the
book would be before I had read it, based on that title alone. Sadly I was

Whats wrong with the book? Its only 190 pages, in paperback, and that is not
long. It would have greatly benefited from a greater exposition of details,
characters, and plot. I would have liked to see the characters rebuild their
society, or forge something great, but all the story really gives is the vaguest
gloss over this. It feels like Reynolds wrote it in a couple of weeks, just to
get something to a publisher. It is supremely mediocre, but it could have been so
much better with a bit more time and attention.

The story is entirely told from a first person narrative, and is quite linear in
its approach. The end was a little to idealistic for my taste as well. The one
thing I really liked was the concept of the Slow Bullets, a repository of personal data and memory. I wish that the book had taken the time to give a more thorough explanation of the concept.

2 and a half stars. Next up is What the Dickens by Gregory Maguire. This one has been waiting on my shelf for a long time, and I'm trying to get to some of those books.

La Belle Sauvage Vol. 1 of The Book of Dust (Philip Pullman)

The Book of Dust:  La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1) - Philip Pullman

Synopsis: Malcolm is a schoolboy who accidentally intercepts a message intended for a spy. When that spy finds him he is drawn into a covert world of intrigue. Malcolm is also a devoted fan and protector of Lyra, a baby being raised by some nuns at a nearby convent.

Review: The Book of Dust is a new trilogy by Philip Pullman set in the His Dark Materials (HDM) universe. The first volume is La Belle Sauvage, though I find myself saying Book of Dust rather than that. Pullman maybe should have called the trilogy something else.

La Belle Sauvage is divided (well it feels like it at least) into two parts. In the first half of the book Malcolm becomes involved with a government agency that is fighting a shadow war against another agency that wants to establish
an authoritarian religious rule over it's people. Somehow Lyra, a small baby being raised in a convent, is important to these plans, and it becomes Malcolm's task to protect her.

The second half of the book is mostly concerned with Malcolm protecting Lyra and another character we are introduced to, Alice. What I really noticed about this part of the book is how the plot pinballed around. Malcolm and company bounce from one danger or challenge to the next, on a chapter by chapter basis, usually leaving one chapters dangers behind at the end of it. It feels odd because most of these dangers don't seem to really have a longterm impact on the plot.

The character building is good, with alot of focus on the building relationship between Malcolm and Alice. Malcolm is a likeable good natured kid, while Alice starts off a bit of a bitch. As the story goes on, this melts away and she grows closer to Malcolm which was a nice touch. We also gets seperate shots of Lord Asriel and the icy Miss Coulter (including a delicious little rebuttal for her).

Pullman is one of the few authors, (possibly the only one, I'm not sure) who is capable of tearing me up. That said I think I expected a little more from the book. While the character development was good, it seemed to lack emotion in a way I remembered from HDM. Still definitely worth a read; can't wait for the next two books to come out.

Next is is another Alastair Reynolds book, Slow Bullets. This one is fairly short, so I expect to have another review soon.

A Song of Ice and Fire (George R.R Martin)

The Book of Dust:  La Belle Sauvage (Book of Dust, Volume 1) - Philip Pullman

Synopsis: aSoIaF (ugh, what an awful acronym) starts out revolving around the stories of the Stark family, eventually branching out to encompass other storylines as well. I really can't go into the details of the plot to much, because the spoilers start early on, but Lord Eddard Stark is chosen to become the king's Hand (basically an advisor + guy who manages everything) of the kingdom of Westeros. From there the plot explodes into a plethora of monsters, magic, spies, Machiavellian scheming, wars, betrayals, conspiracies, and other juicy stuff.


Review: This is a tough one to review. Everyone has likely either read these books already (perhaps multiple times) or watched the tv show, or at least heard everything from their friends. So it is a little tough to write a review with anything that hasn't been said before. That said I'll give it a shot.


George R.R. Martin (G.R.R.M. for brevity's sake) is a unique writer in the way he does things. I started Game of Thrones (GoT) loving it, got all the way through A Clash of Kings (aCoK) and A Storm of Swords (aSoS) still loving it, loved it a little less by A Feast For Crows (aFfC), and finally ready to read something else by A Dance With Dragons (aDwD), because 2000 pages of Westeros has proved to be a bit much for me. Not that I'm not still on board with this series, I just need a break for awhile.


The books are seemingly written to defy cliques wherever it can spot them. What you expect to happen doesn't happen, and characters you like or dislike will die; often abruptly when they do. Each book is only set on a very, very vague kind of arc, although they don't really seem to have their own flavors. GoT for example, is all about political scheming, and aCoK and aSoS are about the wars that follow this scheming, while aFfC and aDwD deal with the aftermath and cleanup of said wars. The plotline wanders up to and through all these arcs. It is extremely difficult to pin down where, if anywhere, it is going. The idea behind the plotlines seems to be that the journey is way more interesting than whatever the destination is. The one constant theme is that Westeros is brutal, unforgiving and treacherous.


The characters are a huge bright spot in this series. There are a wide variety of them, and your going to love some of them (and cry if and when they die), and hate others (and cheer when they go). There's a magnanimous lord with a difficult job to do, a good natured king who just wants to drink and party, a villainous noble scheming from the shadows, a brash knight with an ugly secret, a dwarf who compensates for his physical inabilities with intelligence and charisma (I drink and I know things), and a mentally challenged stableboy who can only say his name (HODOR). This is really only scratching the surface as G.R.R.M. has really tried to stuff the cast with memorable characters.


The most important takeaway from this review, however, is that aSoIaF is brutal. G.R.R.M. doesn't believe in censorship; there are sex scenes and graphic violence. He doesn't write to make things more palatable for his readers, instead he tries to model attitudes that might be common in a more primitive or medieval society. I'm the sort of person who enjoys this sort of open honesty, regardless of how I feel about the things described, but I understand how other people may not be onboard with it.


Summary: I loved these books, but I can see if they don't go well with other people. Most likely however, these books are on a track to be considered classics on par with Tolkien's Middle-earth.


Reading progress update: I've read 489 out of 967 pages.

A Feast for Crows - George R.R. Martin

I usually mostly read a chapter or two when I go to donate plasma, twice a week so it can take me awhile to get through books. This one has been going faster, however, and I'm very happy about that.


I'm not at all liking this one. If your familiar with Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones), you're aware that there are quite a few plot lines being developed and played out side by side in each book. In A Feast For Crows this becomes annoying as many of them have been deliberately left out of the book. Most of my favorites in fact. We briefly get a Sam chapter on the wall near the beginning, which is eventually followed by another Sam chapter (not on the wall). Arya gets similar treatment along with Sansa. Tyrion, Daenerys, and Davos appear to be completely absent so far, with the bulk of the chapters going to Cersei, Jaime and Brienne. The Ironborn plotline also significantly expands adding new characters, but little interest so far. An even more boring plotline focusing on events in Dorne is also introduced.


I think this one is going fast, because I just want to get through it and get back to the stuff I like in the next book.

Good start

Hyperion - Dan Simmons

Synopsis: On the eve of an interstellar apocalypse, 7 pilgrims journey to the planet Hyperion, to meet the Shrike; a creature that moves backward in time and kills the pilgrims who seek it. On their journey each one tells their story of what brought them to that point.


I have mixed feelings about this book. Its slow going, and most of the stories take awhile to get going. There's very little action of any sort, and the deeper concepts may fly over some heads. It has some good twists, however, and the characters are filled out well. My main gripe with it has been that it ends without resolving the major plot points. I'm assuming this will be fixed in the sequel (The Fall of Hyperion), but I still found it rather annoying.


Rating *** 1/2

A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula K. Le Guin

Synopsis: Ged is a young wizard of great potential, but reckless and careless for power. When he unleashes a shadow into the world of Earthsea it seeks to consume and possess him. To defeat it he must learn its name, and face it.


I first read this book as a teenager, probably twenty years ago. Back then I didn't understand its messages and I found it quite boring (I didn't like to DNF back then either, and I ended reading all four books in the series that were published at the time).


Reading it today, I find it a bit easier. I can still see why I thought it was boring, but its message of caution against recklessness and facing your enemies rings a lot more easily with me today.


I liked the imagery. Earthsea is a watery world made up of islands and sea and more than a little bit of mystery, and Ursula Le Guin really paints a picture of a dark and shadowed world. I kept wondering about many of the places she kept referencing, but much of it was shrouded away from view.


I've got the next book Tombs of Atuan on my shelf already and its short so I may just knock it out real quick. The Lord of the Rings is also on my agenda, however, and thats likely to suck up quite a bit of my reading time for awhile (this edition gave me the entire trilogy in one glorious bind; the forward says that its not actually a trilogy at all, just that its often sold as one).


Anyway, A Wizard of Earthsea:


General rating: *** 1/2

Epic rating: ****

The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)

The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien

Synopsis: Bilbo Baggins, a comfort loving creature of the land of Middle-Earth, is recruited by the wizard Gandalf to help a group of dwarves defeat a dragon and recover their homeland/a bunch of treasure.


Look if you haven't read this book, seen the movies, or have some idea whats going on you've found a mighty big rock to live under. The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, are probably some of the most amazingly epic adventure stories ever written. I am most certainly not kidding.


I have a long history with this book. At about 6 or so I remember mom getting the animated movie from the library. Totally hooked, but I had no idea what it was. A few years later I spent a night at a friend's house and spent all night reading his Hobbit graphic novel, but I never thought to look at the title. It wasn't for a few more years that I finally figured out what I was reading.


I read the book again in highschool, and at least a couple times since then. Love it. Its a classic beyond compare, probably my favorite book of all time.


Tolkien writes with an imagery that I rarely see elsewhere. His style is faintly British though it never goes to far. His words evoke a vision of a world that is both wild and beautiful.


One of my favorite things about The Hobbit is Bilbo's personal journey. It is made explicitly clear that hobbits are creatures of comfort. Bilbo likes a warm cozy home, good food, and a friend or two over for tea on occasion. He doesn't like adventure. Adventures are nasty things that make one late for dinner. But then he's roped into one by a mysterious wizard and a group of homeless dwarves.


As the quest to reach the Lonely Mountain and Smaug progresses, Bilbo changes from a comfort loving homebody to a capable burglar that the party consistently relies on. He also acquires a useful piece of jewelry which will be the centerpiece of the next series of books in the land of Middle-Earth...


For a book this special, I felt my collection need something a little...extra. A paperback is simply not good enough. A little extra got me a leather bound copy, gold trimmed pages, and complete with some very nice illustrations done by Tolkien for the original. It was money well spent.




General rating: *****

Epic: *****


Edit: For some reason it keeps turning all the photos  I took sideways.