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Book review backlog January 29, 2009

Posted by thejinx in books.
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I’ve been putting off my latest book reviews because I’m afraid they won’t sound very professional.  But, this is my blog and I never made any claims that my reviews are professional or enlightened, it’s just my opinions of the books I read.  Hopefully, further book reviews will be more positive than they have been, because as of this year, I’m not going to continue reading books that utterly fail to captivate me when I have so many more to read as it is.

That said, I’ve read a few since I last shared any.

Soul, Tobsha Learner – Still working my way through the backlog of free ebooks from Tor.com before the website opened.  This is a dual story about a geneticist struggling through a new study and coming to grips with her husband suddenly leaving her, and her great-grandmother’s rise in Victorian England from rural Ireland to fashionable London as she catches the fancy of an ex-soldier turned scientist.

To start with, for anyone who might be tempted to pick up this book, I would like to point out that this was published by the wrong company.  There is nothing fantasy about this book.  It is a modern-day and historical fiction, and further, it reads more like literary fiction than nearly all of the genre books I’ve read – never mind the reading guide at the end.

Aside from that, the story/stories in this novel are interesting.  The characters are well portrayed, and I did find myself wondering what was going to happen next.  However, the recurring theme of loneliness was something of a detriment to the book’s enjoyment.  Every major character went through some period of loneliness through the book, in a way that was well written, but depressing to the point of annoying, and it honestly put me in a bad mood at times while I was reading it.  Kudos to the author for making me feel along with the characters, for really making me appreciate the injustice of it all as I got each character’s different perspective, but it was frustrating to read.  It wasn’t a bad book, but it’s not one I would recommend.

A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens – I’d never read this classic before and decided the season was right a little over a month ago.  This is the story of the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge on the night before Christmas, when he’s visited by the ghosts of Christmases Past, Present, and Yet to Come and is convinced to change his ways.

It’s a classic story, of course, and it reads like classic British literature, and not necessarily in a good way.  The writing is very dry – there was an obnoxious passage on the first page about the author’s opinion of the phrase “dead as a doornail” – and I found Scrooge’s change a little too willing for the way he was set up in the beginning.  As a classic, of course, I can appreciate it, but that’s about all I can say for it.

Mistborn, Brandon Sanderson – Another one from the Tor.com library, this was the first book I picked up when I got tired of the book I had been reading.  It’s a little difficult to summarize, as it’s a complex story and even more detailed world, and it’s hard to know what to say without giving away too much from the book.  This is the story of a group of Allomancers, mages who use the power of various metals to give them enhanced abilities, in their attempts to overthrow the unbeatable Final Empire and take down its immortal Lord Ruler.

For the incredibly rich setting the author has portrayed, the world is overly exaggerated to a point that would be childish if it had not been handled so delicately.  The Final Empire consists of two kinds of people, the lower-class skaa that have no more privileges than slaves – perhaps fewer, for how poorly they are treated – and that infinitesimal fraction of the population that is lucky enough to be nobles, who treat the skaa badly even as property.  The skaa have been so downtrodden for so long that for 90% of them, escape or rebellion isn’t even a possibility.  The author treads a thin line in a world consisting only of the utterly hopeless and the utterly complacent, but he does so as expertly as a tightrope walker by focusing on the only characters who are truly likable in this world.

They are the driving force of the story, the force that really sweeps the reader into this rich, yet bleak world.  The dialogue is excellent, the characters are delightfully engaging, and some very troubled characters are portrayed very believably.  The plot to overthrow the Final Empire is complex and well thought out and, without giving anything away, the author shapes events and brings things together in the only possible way the climax of the story could have worked.  Mysteries are presented and solved clear through to the end of the story, the action is engaging, surprises and twists constantly kept me on my toes, and the way everything came together was nothing short of brilliant.

In a word, this book is phenomenal.  Even this early in, I can say with confidence that this book will undoubtedly make my top five books I read this year – unless, of course, it’s surpassed by the next two books in the trilogy.  I am really looking forward to reading the second book in the trilogy, and this first book is one of my highest recommended reads of all time.  Read this book.  I’m serious.

Fool Moon, Jim Butcher – In this second book in the Dresden Files, Harry Dresden, Chicago’s only professional practicing wizard – and one of few others, if any, in the entire U.S. – is called upon by the Chicago police department to investigate a grisly series of murders with a lupine connection, and the twists unfold as the mystery deepens.

This book is written much the same way as Storm Front, the first book of the Dresden Files, a book I thoroughly enjoyed – with one difference.  The beginning of Fool Moon, at least, is a lot more serious than Storm Front.  The drama and darkness of the story was always there, but what made Storm Front so endearing and so entertaining was the humor woven throughout.  That humor is a little more absent in Fool Moon, and it makes the book tip a little too far into angst territory, and makes it a little more standard fantasy, an affliction Storm Front successfully avoided.  There was also a lot more death in this book, which kind of desensitized me to it, something I didn’t think was necessary or helpful to the story.

That said, it was still an entertaining read, and there were still the lines that made me crack up to read, and the danger and action and story were, for the most part, well portrayed.  It wasn’t as good as the first book, but it was a satisfactory continuation to the series, and I’m looking forward to reading more.  As the book I’m currently reading is the third in the Dresden Files, that review could come soon.

Old Man’s War, John Scalzi – The latest of my free ebooks from Tor – but an early one in the promotion, if memory serves me right – the title of this story is more literal than one would think, as it follows the journey of a seventy-five-year-old man as he signs up for the interstellar military, one that recruits exclusively from his age group to protect a cut off planet Earth from hostile alien races it has not yet seen.

It’s a bizarre tale and more than a little unpleasant at times, but it drew me in immediately.  The banter between characters is easily the prime highlight of this novel, clever, amusing – sometimes downright hilarious – and simply a delight to read.  The pacing of the story fits with the action very well, too; in the first part of the novel, the writing/narration really gives a sense that the narrator, and other characters, are elderly people, making the book a nice, easy read to start.  In the second part of the novel, when they are made fit for combat again, the pacing picks up with it, in a very natural way, and the depiction of characters who had lived long, full lives in which they had little else to expect but death suddenly given a chance to be at their prime again was, although graphic at times, believable and very well handled.

At just about 300 pages, it’s a short and fast-paced read all told, something that, after the hefty 650 pages of Mistborn, was a refreshing escape.  It was certainly an enjoyable read and comes with my recommendation.

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1. Three months’ reading « Brain Lag - June 16, 2009

[…] Well of Ascension, Brandon Sanderson – Earlier this year, I read Mistborn by this same author, the free ebook of which I also received in the above-mentioned […]


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