This book offers lots of reasons to not like it, but dares you to like it anyway. "David Wong" (pen name of Jason Pargin) messes with structure, pacin...moreThis book offers lots of reasons to not like it, but dares you to like it anyway. "David Wong" (pen name of Jason Pargin) messes with structure, pacing, tone, expectations, and more when crafting something different. Me, I liked it BECAUSE it messes with all of the above. Expect crude humor, a protagonist who is not necessarily a hero (which does not mean Wong is always unheroic), and a twisted look at the nature of reality. I won't ruin the book's many surprises by giving away the plot, even if the title teases a potential spoiler.
I say give this one a shot unless you're too sensitive to crude boner and poop humor. Just don't mistake "crude" for stupid. This book is much smarter than a lot of literary snobs give it credit. And don't get this one mixed up with the movie, as they are two very different stories that just happen to share some characters and scenes.(less)
Jim Butcher always delivers on action and humor and a page-flipping (or in my case, play-button-inducing since I enjoy the audio version of this serie...moreJim Butcher always delivers on action and humor and a page-flipping (or in my case, play-button-inducing since I enjoy the audio version of this series) good time. But while this was a Good Book, it feels like this book gives a lot more service to payoff and setup than focusing on a contained story. I worried that the tale might disappear into its own mythology and continuity, and while that didn't happen I'm hoping that the next installment may keep moving things forward in the post-Changes world of Harry Dresden while still retaining the old magic of the series. Fuego!(less)
It's always frustrating to me when people declare that "history is boring." It's like they have zero idea about the human drama, betrayals, sex, and v...moreIt's always frustrating to me when people declare that "history is boring." It's like they have zero idea about the human drama, betrayals, sex, and violence that shames Game of Thrones -- AND IT TOTALLY HAPPENED FOR REAL. But I get it, you guys. Horrible textbooks and lame teachers made you think it was a jumble of facts and dates. United States presidential history suffers from this problem in spades, as the education system chooses patriotic spin and sanitization instead of telling the truth that our leaders are typically crazy, occasionally violent, sometimes evil bastards who've led interesting lives that would make us call bullshit if some of this stuff wasn't so well documented.
How To Fight Presidents goes through the roll call of leaders from our country's creation all the way through the most recent ones who happen to be already dead. (Turns out the Secret Service frowns on creating a how-to on beating up still-alive presidents.) Learn how Washington loved the sound of bullets whizzing by his head and died taking his own pulse. Find out how Andrew Jackson was a terrifying violent lunatic who nearly beat a would-be assassin to death after perfectly-functional guns were too scared to fire, who died only regretting not having killed a few extra people. Discover Lyndon Johnson's habit of waving his wang and pooping during negotiations as psychological warfare. Marvel at how a close range bullet bounced off Reagan's ribs and he walked himself in the E.R. with a collapsed lung complaining of a little trouble breathing.
I was a History major for most of college and I never suffered from the "history is boring" fallacy thanks to an awesome father, good books, and great teachers from a young age. So I would sometimes be tempted to yell at the book or mark it down for not relaying a bunch of other awesome stories of presidential badassery that I know and like to bore people with at slow parties. But I realize that I'm not quite O'Brien's target audience, as this is not a scholarly tome and not meant to be comprehensive on any one of these figures. This book is an appetizer, a gateway drug into US history that shows that Lincoln didn't just issue the Emancipation Proclamation and later got shot -- he was self-made man with the Spider-Man-like ability to lift heavy things and beat the living shit out of people. Teddy Roosevelt didn't just look awesome in spectacles, he kicked asthma's ass until it gave up and went away and allowed him to pursue adventure and war in a way that 8-year-old boys dream of but never do. Kennedy told friends that if he didn't have (okay, boned) a woman at least once every three days he would suffer from unexplained headaches, a line I had only WISH I'd thought of in high school -- and casually mentioned threesomes the way you or I would mention grabbing a latte at Starbucks. You will (hopefully) come away with at least a few previously-ignored historical figures that you suddenly want to know everything about. It'll lead you into more detailed history but with the right frame of mind because you'll know the kind of stuff you want to know more about.
I know I'm neither crazy nor badass enough to ever be President of the United States, and I'm okay with that because I can't think of a job I'd want less anyway. But reading about them can be a surprisingly awesome way to spend an afternoon. Be careful reading at night, though, or visions of Zombie Teddy Roosevelt tearing through your front door on an undead rhino might haunt your dreams.(less)
I assume I'm like most in that I stumbled into this book as a fan of Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's hilarious video game review known as Zero Punctuation. I...moreI assume I'm like most in that I stumbled into this book as a fan of Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw's hilarious video game review known as Zero Punctuation. I wondered if he was attempting to write something serious, humorous, small-scale, or epic. Answer? Yes.
Yahtzee writes a hilariously cynical book that is about a nobody who becomes accidentally important. He flips a cheerful middle finger at the heroic conventions of fantasy storytelling and has fun describing the insane world of a game as seen through the eyes of people stuck living in it.
The author's wit and worldview are on full-display in the book, yet on the way there is just the tiniest hint of optimism and even romanticism, even while he handles both in a way that rejects the standard pop-culture stereotypes of both.
There were little niggling issues that took me out of the story every once in a while—including frequent joking similes that seemed anachronistic or out of place for our first-person narrator to use, but can be explained or forgiven given the bizarre nature of the world in which the characters live. But these are trivial compared to an inventive concept, engaging story filled with wickedly-dark humor, and characters that managed to surprise me despite being true to their motivations.
Yahtzee delivered a fun and solid first novel, and his next book will go straight on my to-read list. Thumbs up!(less)
I don't know why I waited so long to read this one, being as how I'm already a big fan of Butcher's modern-fantasy series, The Dresden Files. I finall...moreI don't know why I waited so long to read this one, being as how I'm already a big fan of Butcher's modern-fantasy series, The Dresden Files. I finally got around to reading the first of the Codex Alera series and was immediately sorry that I waited so long. The way magic works in the world is not only interesting, it informs the the history and society in which the story is set. The drama focuses on its characters and presents interesting mysteries and not feeling the need to answer everything right away. My time in Alera was a good one and I'm glad that there are five more books to keep me entertained. Recommended for my fellow fantasy lovers!(less)
I could write a long-winded review but I won't. This is good ... better than good. Rothfuss continues with character-focused fantasy that has a beauti...moreI could write a long-winded review but I won't. This is good ... better than good. Rothfuss continues with character-focused fantasy that has a beautiful, lyrical use of language. Though it may seem slow-paced for some readers, that's part of the rhythm of the author's storytelling. And when the action happens it's sudden, startling, and brutal. Start with The Name of the Wind and work you way through this and suffer along with the rest of us until the third book comes out.(less)
Read my review of A.B.'s original cookbook, since I don't want to repeat myself about his style or philosophy on teaching folks how to cook.
Baking is...moreRead my review of A.B.'s original cookbook, since I don't want to repeat myself about his style or philosophy on teaching folks how to cook.
Baking is largely defined by the "method," the process by which the ingredients are mixed prior to baking. Things like the Muffin Method (wet ingredients mixed, dry ingredients mixed separately, then combined) or the Biscuit Method (cold fat cut into flour) are taught before they are applied to specific recipes. It even has these page flaps that allow you to fold over the "method" instructions for specific recipes ... though if you're paying attention you don't need to worry about that.
And the recipes themselves are just plain ol' nummy. I'm a fan!(less)
For many years I've been addicted to the off-beat cooking show filled with unabashed geekery known far and wide as Good Eats on food network. I feel a...moreFor many years I've been addicted to the off-beat cooking show filled with unabashed geekery known far and wide as Good Eats on food network. I feel a certain kinship with Alton Brown. He's from north Georgia, an unashamed geek, and he loves food of all kinds but has a deep love of true local cuisine and road-food. (This idea is explored in his "Feasting" documentaries for the last three years.) And his show has revealed knowledge of everything from Star Trek to Lord of the Rings to the Terminator franchise. Earlier this year I got to meet him when he lectured at the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, and he was as interesting, funny, and genuine in person as he comes across on television.
I was thrilled, therefore, when a while back my wife got me his first couple of cookbooks. I scored the second edition of I'm Just Here for the Food and was really impressed that A.B. took the same inventive approach to a book on cooking as he does on his show. It's full of asides, margin notes, humor, and excellent use of illustration. It takes what could be a boring trip down culinary lane and makes it as fun and interesting as cooking is for those of us who have the "like to cook" gene.
A.B. is all about making things make sense, understanding "why" certain things are standards in the kitchen world. Along the way he debunks various rituals and myths that have nothing to do with reality. (Yes, you CAN rinse your mushrooms instead of brushing them. No, searing meat does NOT seal in juices.) Add a bunch of really tasty recipes and the know-how to modify them or just play in the kitchen.
I recommend this book, along with his other writings. Get in the kitchen and have some fun.(less)
The Conan stories have always been special to me, and I was motivated to read these tales again as nostalgia after losing my Dad. I remember a trip to...moreThe Conan stories have always been special to me, and I was motivated to read these tales again as nostalgia after losing my Dad. I remember a trip to Alabama, long ago, where Dad went to his old bookshelf and scrounged for a beaten-up paperback. It showed a grim, dark-haired warrior standing on a pile of bodies. The title was Conan the Adventurer by Robert E. Howard. Later that night the bloody tales of the Cimmerian began from me, and I dug up more of my Dad's paperbacks and later collected even more from Dr. No's in Marietta, Georgia (now best known as a game store but back then traded and sold books, records, and comics).
I was no stranger to the character, as my first exposure was in the movie Conan the Barbarian starring the Governator. But from the first couple of pages I knew that the original conception of Conan was a bit different from the largely silent avenger in the movie who contemplated the murder of a giant snake on the Tree of Woe. The Conan of the stories was a muscular barbarian, to be sure, but he was neither stoic nor grim. And he was also no idiot; by the time he was king he could speak many languages and was able to read and write in more than a few of them. While he didn't always understand the agendas or rules of civilized men, he also had no desire to return to the harsh, unforgiving lands of his birth. Conan was certainly no "hero" by most definitions, but he was a loyal and honest friend, could be trusted to keep an oath, and did not mistreat women (unlike many "civilized") characters in those tales.
What I didn't know when reading that first paperback (featuring the unusual and unforgettable art of Frank Frazetta) was all the tinkering that was done to the original author's work. At the time I just knew that some tales were more satisfying for me than others. Only later did I learn that there was revision, "posthumous collaborations," and pastiches performed by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. Some Howard purists blast de Camp and Carter for bastardizing Howard's original works, but in the end I'm grateful that they rescued Conan from the pulp magazines of the 1930s and brought the character to a level of popularity that he never knew while Howard was alive.
The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian is the first of three collections of Howard's original stories. The editors have worked to restore the text to the original published version and in some cases have even gone back to Howard's original manuscripts (loaned from a collector). It also presents the stories in the order in which they were written, something that required a bit of editorial detective work. It begins with his first imagining of the Hyborian world with a poem, "Cimmeria," and then begins with the yarn called "The Phoenix on the Sword."
Howard did not write the Conan stories in any sort of chronological order. The very first tale has Conan as the troubled, middle-aged king of Aquilonia, and the second leaps back into the barbarian's younger days as a mercenary. He wrote the stories as they occurred to him, as if an old soldier was telling you tales by the campfire in no particular order.
Those looking for political correctness in their sword-and-sorcery should probably look elsewhere. Howard was a Texan in the 1930s, and his views on race and women have offended some modern readers. For me, it's quite easy to remember the source and just enjoy and action and adventure.
One element to recommend include Howard's use of language. He was, among other things, a poet. Howard can pack amazing imagery and lots of action in a few short sentences that a lesser writer (a.k.a. me) would have needed several paragraphs in order to say the same thing and not as well. Few authors have ever put such vivid and intense scenes in my head, and never with such economy of words.
Fans of H.P. Lovecraft and tales of Cthulhu should note that Howard was a friend and admirer of Lovecraft the and it could easily be argued that the Conan stories take place within the Cthulhu mythos. The view of the universe, the workings of magic, and the alien creatures from beyond the stars all make perfect sense in Lovecraft's frightening universe.
The fictional Hyborian age is a well-realized world in which Conan can wander and find adventure. While not the complete creation of Middle Earth, it's instead a chunk of missing history that "might have" existed long ago. The races, cultures, and places have connections to actual history but free Howard from the research to make such things authentic. Yet the names are the same or similar so the reader doesn't need much help to understand where Conan is and the places that he's visiting.
It's important to note that Howard was a "working writer" in the sense that he wasn't trying to make art for its own sake. He was writing for magazines and journals, making a living during extremely hard times, and adjusting his work to help it sell. Some of the stories are fun but forgettable, while others manage to transcend. Conan risked incredible danger for great wealth in "The Tower of the Elephant," yet gave up on his greed to help a pitiable, frightening alien creature. He was ready to die in battle yet ended up finding love that defied death itself in "Queen of the Black Coast."
At met Peter Beagle at Dragon*Con in 2007, a real treat because his storytelling and use of language had amazed me in The Last Unicorn. I had seen the...moreAt met Peter Beagle at Dragon*Con in 2007, a real treat because his storytelling and use of language had amazed me in The Last Unicorn. I had seen the movie first, as a kid, and my sister Stacy had played the VHS tape over and over and over again so much that I was convinced I hated the story. But when I later read the book I knew I had discovered a rare, amazing author.
Fast-forward to another author, Margaret Weis, who told me that she had read Peter Beagle's first novel, A Fine and Private Place when she was young and it was one of her favorite books of all time. So there I was, at Dragon*Con '07, at his table, and the kind, older gentleman was very gracious with his time and willing to put up with me asking him questions.
I threw down money at his booth and purchased a short-story collection and the Margaret-recommended novel that Beagle had written at the age of 19. He told me that he wrote the story at a point in his life where he spent lots of time in a huge graveyard in New York. I came home with a treasured autographed copy that I vowed to read ... yet for dozens of reasons I did not pick it up again for over a year.
Maybe it was because of the recent death of my father, or the appeal of a more quiet, introspective story -- but after all this time I picked up my copy and have been making it my nighttime reading for the past week.
I'll go ahead and warn you: A Fine and Private Place is not a page-turner. It's the equivalent of a character-focused art film, not an epic thrill-ride. This is a story that takes its time and reveals its beauty in its characters and in its language.
This is not a book about plot. The author ignores any sense of pacing. This is a book about people, both alive and dead, and ideas. It asks questions and hints at the answers.
If you're the kind of reader who can live with that, you're in for a treat. Beagle, even at age nineteen, has a way with language that makes me feel like a thick-thumbed toddler on my keyboard. The voice of his characters are so distinct and feel so real that you get a real sense of them. Yet at the same time the way they speak you feel these words should be spoken on the stage. (And that certainly makes sense, given the author's involvement in theater.) This story didn't grip me, but its quiet world of solitude and ghosts invited me back and I was happy to go.
My friend Miranda has a hobby of going into old cemeteries to photograph the elaborate graves, the mausoleums, and stone angels. Before reading this book I never quite understood what the draw was, and while I cannot speak for her, I suddenly find myself wanting to go with her one day and walk in this world.
Can you define life? Death? Love? Me either. And A Fine and Private Place doesn't do it either, but it definitely gives you a few things to think about.(less)
I'll give the scientist/author props for writing this as a balanced, document account that doesn't go too far in trying to draw conclusions on behalf...moreI'll give the scientist/author props for writing this as a balanced, document account that doesn't go too far in trying to draw conclusions on behalf of the reader. So while this is a scientist's look at a paranormal "hot spot," it makes for an uneven book--one that starts off really interesting and gets increasingly dull.
All of the really juicy accounts and ideas happen in the first half of the book. A Utah ranch is, for whatever reason, the nexus for all sorts of paranormal events. UFO sightings, bulletproof/giant wolves, strange lights, cattle mutilations, orange dimensional rifts, poltergeist-like activity, etc. But then a well-funded science foundation buys the ranch and begins an inquiry full of cameras, microphones, and instruments to measure just about anything can be quantified. And that second part is, unfortunately, about as interesting as it sounds.
In order to save the second part of the book from its own dull self, the author jumps to other locations and similar accounts, and then spends several chapters on possible theories as to just what the hell was going on in Utah in the late 90s. Truth? No one has a clue. And even by this book's own account the wildest stuff is based solely on witness testimony, as the researchers were not able to get hard evidence of anything except some weird lights.
As balanced account of the paranormal, the book does a good job. And the first half of the book is so well told that the latter half is a huge letdown by comparison. A lot of buildup for no payoff. And since this is technically a nonfiction book I guess it's not fair of me to expect more from it. But I admit being tempted to just put down the book once I realized that the best stuff was over.(less)