Most Recent Reviews
Stranger, the (1996) [novel]
Review by spiphany (2013-06-23)
Really? So much literature written in Russian and this is what publishers decided was worth translating? I get it that this series was a sensation in Russia. I get it that it's a nice departure from sword-and-sorcery tolkienesque fantasy. I get it that it's at least in part a parody. But to be honest I was hoping for something a little more...above average.
The book features a self-described "loser" from our world who ends up in a parallel Victorian-ish world (Echo) as a member of a small cadre responsible for solving magic-related crimes. It's an interesting premise, although one not utterly unfamiliar to someone versed in the genre of fantasy detective novels. The reader should be prepared for the fact that the book does not have a single, unified plot; instead it consists of a bundle of several novellas which are more or less stand-alone.
I enjoyed it for about the first hundred pages, then I began to get annoyed by the poor writing, flat characters, endless pauses for meals, and haphazard plotting. Somehow none of the descriptions ever allowed me to really visualize anything--I don't know if this is because the stories originally included illustrations and the author depended on this for the effect. The characters seem to mostly stumble onto the solution of the crime (unlike Sherlock Holmes type detective stories, where the clues are there all along but we don't figure out what happened right away because we don't know how to interpret them correctly). All in all ok, but I somehow lost the motivation about halfway through and had to struggle to make myself finish the book. There was never any real sense of threat even when the protagonist was in mortal danger, which made it hard to care particularly about the outcome of any of the episodes.
Randall Garrett's "Lord Darcy" stories are better detective fiction, even if they feel rather old-fashioned and lack the quirkiness of the world of Echo. The stories reminded me a bit of Robert Asprin's "Myth" series (without the puns, although I think there is probably some wordplay which got lost in translation) and would probably appeal to readers who enjoyed that series.
Lost Books of the Odyssey, the (2008) [novel]
Review by spiphany (2013-06-23)
I loved the idea of this book. The Odyssey is in so many ways an ideal candidate for a post-modern narrative that plays with (fictional) lost texts, with new endings and alternative versions of well-known stories. Who better suited than crafty Odysseus, who in the course of his journey offers his hosts various stories about his past – all of them departing to a greater or lesser degree from the absolute truth, of course. Whose fate after his return home the Odyssey itself leaves open, hinting only in a prophecy that the weary traveler’s wanderings are not yet over. And the mythological tradition, too, is itself so rich in alternative versions of many of the events of the Trojan War, starting with the question of whether Helen ever reached Troy or whether, indeed, she never existed at all. The fiction upon which this text is based is thus completely plausible – the textual history of the Homeric epics is full of variation, with lines included in some manuscripts that are missing from others, built upon an oral tradition which was, by its nature, subject to change.
Mason picks up some of these themes, but a lot he does not. More importantly: the feel of the stories is not authentic. He writes from a contemporary perspective through and through, there is no illusion that the texts could have been written by an ancient author. Stylistically the stories fail to convince at this level. Nor does the world view they present.
Arguably none of this is necessary. Mason is playing a game with the content, using it as space for playful philosophical reflection. He does this well.
But for a reader familiar with the likes of Borges, Calvino or Cortazar, it is simply too much standard postmodern fare; the tropes are familiar and there is little that is really new or unexpected. The book lacks the ability to maintain the multi-layeredness, the illusion that it really is a collection of lost manuscripts telling a new version of the Odyssey. Unlike Borges, Mason is not the master of the well-placed footnote, the cranky comment by the fictional editor on some equally fictional academic debate that sustains the belief in the gimmick the book is based on. Instead, the occasional footnotes are more often glosses on names or mythological characters and give the impression that the author is afraid his readers won’t understand the background without an explanation. Where they are meta-fictional in nature, they do not necessarily convince at this level – the author knows his postmodernism, but presumably does not have extensive background in classics: some of the footnotes regarding purported translation choices left me scratching my head because they simply did not make sense in terms of the actual characteristics of Homeric Greek. I, at least, would have appreciated the book more if the author had dispensed with the footnotes and tried less hard to make us believe in the pseudo-manuscript. As a series of playful variations on a theme the book is fun; the framing, however, promises what it cannot fulfill.
Measuring the World (2005) [novel]
Review by spiphany (2013-06-23)
This book was a bestseller in Germany and I can see why. It's fun. Kehlmann has a delightfully irreverent and at the same time affectionate attitude towards his protagonists. Part of the particular humor of the novel derives, in the original, from the author's use of indirect speech throughout. I've been curious how the translator deals with this issue since English doesn't make this distinction quite the same way.
The style is anecdotal rather than factual-biographical. As the title implies, Kehlmann is interested in a common theme -- the two protagonists' desire to measure and calculate the world around them. The story jumps back and forth between Humboldt and Gauss; the ever curious scientist whose spontaneous pursuit of knowledge often gets in the way of common sense (he places raw frogs' legs on his back to test electroconductivity and delays a trip across Europe by stopping to measure every hill along the way) and the hypochondriac mathematician who can't manage without a woman in his life and travels far from his residence only with great reluctance. Because of the episodic style of the novel I found the frequent shifts in place and time unproblematic, although this is something I often find distracting.
Kehlmann chooses his subjects well and crafts an enjoyable novel out of the lives of a pair of historical figures whom most readers are probably familiar with only as little more than names, although Humboldt in particular has been getting attention in Germany lately on the occasion of the 200 year anniversary of his South-America trip.
In the Dark (1994) [novel]
Review by spiralcity (2013-06-22)
Richard Laymon writes with a sense of purpose, that purpose is to entertain. Although Mr. Laymon's prose at times may seem sophomoric and his characters may come across as a bit underdeveloped and even act outside their given stereotype, this author still some how manages to deliver pure pulp fun. There are those who read Laymon and are expecting a pure literary, high prose achievement, these folks are left feeling cheated and love to bash Richard Laymon, this is not the fault of the author. If you haven't done your research before reading a book you only have yourself to blame.
Richard Laymon's books are comparable to those great B-rated slasher films. If your not a fan of this particular genre, you may want to avoid Laymon's books, if you are a fan you will be extremely happy with the no holds barred, straight forward approach of this author. Laymon manages to keep the reader turning pages and that's what it's all about.
To sum it up; If you read horror for escapism and pure entertainment and are not concerned with reading high literature when reading a book in this genre, Laymon will not disappoint you. In The Dark isn't a perfect read nor even a well written read, but it is a well crafted story told by a great story teller. A bit of a double entendre.
Eyes of God, the (2002) [novel]
Review by StefanY (2013-06-03)
The first question that I asked myself when I finished this book was "Why did I wait so long to read this?"
Well, with the recent release of The Forever Knight, the fourth installment in the series, I decided that I would read the other three even though the new one is can be read as a stand-alone. I have read several other John Marco books and own all of this series, but for some reason I just never started this one. I don't know why I waited so long. This is a great novel and a wonderful intro into the world of Lukien, The Bronze Knight.
As usual, John's strengths lie in a well-developed and detail-oriented storyline with very strong character development and outstanding military battle scenes. The Eyes of God is no exception and the care that John takes in breathing life into these particular characters is exceptional. The thing that I like most about the majority of his works is that no good character is without flaws and most evil characters are not truly evil, but more misguided or validated in their view of their own motives. I like that there is really not a true black and white except in a few rare cases here and there and that the reader actually can find themselves both feeling sympathy for the antagonists and also occasionally not liking the protagonist too much.
A lot of people have said that they really didn't like Lukien as a man all that much, and I can see that. I however grew to like him quite a bit over the course of this novel (which is a large one, however I felt that it moved along at a fairly swift pace.) I feel for the guy and the mistakes that he has made during his journey that have led to a lot of unfortunate things happening to him and those around him. I look forward to seeing what happens in his subsequent adventures.
(This review refers to the 2002 version titled “The Eyes of God”)
Cannery Row (1945) [novel]
Review by datovs (2013-05-24)
Cannery Row is a stand-out from Steinbeck's usual style in that it mixes social commentary with very delicate and sharp humor. The characters revolve around Cannery Row and continuously have their sub-plots interwoven with each others. Steinbeck has beautifully brought to life a small community that one can't help sympathies for, especially the central man; doc, the alienated narrator.
Three-Dot Po (1984) [short story]
Review by ravart73 (2013-05-21)
One of Paretzky's earliest stories, her signature character, V.I. Warshawski begins to show the promising career that will unfold. Paretzky strings together a series of action scenes creating a narrative that moves rapidly and sustains the reader's interest. The dialogue is sparse, only that required to advance the story. In spite of the minimal use of descriptive language, I found myself visualizing each scene even though I have never been to Chicago, the locale of story. Veteran readers of this genre will 'solve' the case before the end of the story since significant clues are revealed early. The real story is the interplay between Warshawski and the victim's dog, Three Dot Po, who becomes a character who, though mute in human terms, is hardly clueless. Though the story appeared in an anthology in 1984, it's selection for a collection of best American mystery stories of the century is well merited. Paretzky clearly has earned her place in the 'canon' of mystery writing and this early story demonstrates her mastery of the form.
Grapes of Wrath, the (1939) [novel]
Review by datovs (2013-05-11)
John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath is a powerful story following the trepidations of the Joad family and their ill-forsaken travels. Focusing on the demise of the American people through the eyes of a family, and laying the story into very poignant moments, chapter by chapter, Steinbeck captures the mood of the Great Depression uniquely and powerfully. This novel is the epitome of America's hard-working and down-trodden history. It becomes what many can associate and empathize with, however, it leaves the climax for the reader's imagination. Constantly building the climate from oppression to wrath, Steinbeck portrays the shift in mood for every character and how they learn to adapt.
(This review refers to the 1939 version titled “The Grapes of Wrath”)
Moon Is Down, the (1942) [novel]
Review by datovs (2013-05-11)
Steinbeck's The Moon is Down is a beautifully written piece on the inside of war and its implications. Clashing perceptions together, two people are created here; the oppressed, and the oppressors. The atmosphere created through bad-intent and ill-will is felt by the conquerors who assume their position, but do not know how to retain it. Dealing with an assortment of characters, and written in the style of a play, this book creates martyrs of people on both sides of the fence. At the end of the day, a line has to be drawn between a person, and his role.
Absolute Power - exactly what this book had over me from start to finish. Having seen the film with Clint Eastwood, Ed Harris, Laura Linney Gene Hackman and I wanted to read the book to see if it was any different.
It's the story of an ageing jewel thief who witnesses the murder of a woman having an affair with the president of the united states of america, so political intrigue is a major part of this book. However, you don't need to understand politics to ber able to grasp the storyline.
I liked the fact that there was real feeling in the book, between the main cop and the jewel thief. It also makes you look at men in positions of great power differently (providing you aren't already cynical with politicians).
On the whole I would say that this book is one of the best I have every read. David Baldacci has a wonderful way of placing you in the middle of the action. A 5 out of 5!!
(This review refers to the 1996 version titled “Absolute Power”)
Isn't it almost every child's dream to be face to face with a dinosaur.....no......just me then!
I was fascinated with dinosaurs when I was little and I have to say I haven't every really grown out of the fascination. That is why I was so glad that this book was written. It brought dinosaurs into the modern age and with characters we could all relate to, from the kids right down to the man who's idea started the whole story.
Of course the dangers are explored through each character's viewpoint and this gives very rounded storyline. Each character is explored and little hints into other things that have happended in their backgrounds give you a better view as to whyt they are behaving as they are in this book.
I felt that no part of this book was unvbelievable, right down to creating baby dinosaurs from the blood inside dead mosquitos (you know it will happen one day).
I'm sure this book was aimed at adults but I can see it being enjoyed by young adults as well. There is no masses of gore and the decriptions of this dinosaurs really can make you picture them in your mind.
I would thoroughly recommend this book to anybody with a sense of adventure.
(This review refers to the 1990 version titled “Jurassic Park”)
Slugs (1982) [novel]
Review by horrifido (2013-03-25)
Every been afraid of slimy slus?? Neither have I, although this book changed my mind and I'm certain it will change yours too. Haven't been able to look at slugs in the same way since!
Parts of this book, mainly the descriptions of what they get up to, will make you cringe and wish you could stop reading.....but you can't, it is impossible to put down!
I do like a good scare and would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the feeling of hiding behind the sofa when things get a little scary.
(This review refers to the 1982 version titled “Slugs”)
Keeping Place, the (1999) [novel]
Review by datovs (2013-03-03)
The fourth installment of the Obernewtyn Chronicles; The Keeping Place, is the first book where the misfits of Obernewtyn truly absorb themselves into a matter outside of their comfort zone; the rebellion. Although forced, they lend a hand in the rebellion and force a presence amongst the untalented. Although somewhat uneventful, the first half of the book has the most substance, whilst the second half has the rebellion, but poorly executed. All twists and exposes are predictable and lack real subtlety or depth. Isobelle Carmody shows she has a knack for plot devices, but not the right frame of wording nor structure. The book maintains with the rest of the series thus far, and consequently is still entertaining.
(This review refers to the 1999 version titled “The Keeping Place”)
Memory of Light, a (2013) [novel]
Review by datovs (2013-02-15)
A Memory of Light is the finale of the wheel of time. It is a much anticipated ending to a world that began in the 90s. Closing all stories with Tarmon Gai'don, the last battle, this 14th installment will keep all lovers of the series stuck to the pages. It is a riveting, exciting, and emotionally-draining book. Although tiring, this book beautifully wraps up all characters with powerful climaxes and twists. If new to the series, it is advised that you work your way from the first installment.
(This review refers to the 2013 version titled “A Memory of Light”)
Obernewtyn (1987) [novel]
Review by datovs (2013-02-15)
The first installment of The Obernewtyn Chronicles; Obernewtyn, is a good introductory book to the post-apocalyptic world of Misfits, the Council, and the protagonist; Elspeth. Whilst it carries well throughout, maintaining a strong aura of mystery and curiosity, the end becomes anticlimactic and almost too easy. Isobelle Carmody has done well in creating a new world, although it is evident the language has been simplified to favor the story, which in fact works for the intended audience.
(This review refers to the 1987 version titled “Obernewtyn”)
Farseekers, the (1990) [novel]
Review by datovs (2013-02-15)
The second installment of the Obernewtyn Chronicles; The Farseekers, is an improvement from the first in regards to the rate of pace and the believability of the story. However, once again, the plot seems to work towards the protagonist's favor all too easily and consequently makes it light-hearted. Isobelle Carmody is starting to focus on character development in this book and draw back on the frivolousness of the story, which again, works well.
(This review refers to the 1990 version titled “The Farseekers”)