A love letter to reading, The Bookshop of Yesterdays is both enjoyable and disappointing at the same time. Miranda, the narrator, unexpectedly
A love letter to reading, The Bookshop of Yesterdays is both enjoyable and disappointing at the same time. Miranda, the narrator, unexpectedly inherits a bookstore from her quirky uncle Billy and a scavenger hunt to boot. While the characters are paper thin and largely selfish, the quest for answers is oddly compelling. Each step in the hunt started with a few lines from a literary classic—The Tempest, Frankenstein, Fear of Flying, Bridge to Terabithia, and so on—and led to an important person in her uncle's past, each holding a clue to the reason for the abrupt fallout between Billy and her mother years ago. The story is pretty repetitive: decipher the clue, find the book, locate the person, learn something new about Billy, obtain the next clue. All this leads to a conclusion that seemed obvious to me a third of the way through, but still comes of as satisfying. Luckily, the clear love of literature and solid writing help overcome the monotonous story and unlikeable characters. Hard to recommend, but hard to pan as well. It did make me want to go hang out at a independent bookstore, though!
Another 1100+ page book, still seemingly nowhere near a conclusion. And, frustratingly, after finishing this I discovered that despite being
Another 1100+ page book, still seemingly nowhere near a conclusion. And, frustratingly, after finishing this I discovered that despite being published in 2011 the final entry in the trilogy hasn't yet been completed. That is a lot of time invested in an incomplete story!
To be fair, though, Rothfuss has penned another good tale, although it could have used some serious editing. At one point there is a huge adventure while traveling between two distant lands that is disposed of over the course of a few sentences—"Over the course of my trip I was robbed, drowned, and left penniless on the streets of Junpui. In order to survive I begged for crusts, stole a man's shoes, and recited poetry. ... Over the last two span everything I owned had been lost, destroyed, stolen, or abandoned."—whereas later in the narrative there is a fairly uninteresting adventure that takes twenty chapters to fully relate. While meandering, though, the world building here is once again excellent.
When discussing how magic in this world works one of the character asks, "Where does the extra energy go?" How often does an author consider kinetic and thermal energy when designing a magic system? Another fascinating touch is a language that in addition to spoken words uses hand signals to convey emotion and context. When reading, I couldn't shake the idea that this is how emojis would work if somehow incorporated into our verbal communications.
While I enjoyed this novel, it is covered with the stink of "second book in a trilogy." A heck of a lot of things happen, but everything is simply building slowly to the conclusion in the final entry. As a bridge book it isn't bad at all, but with the finale not yet written it seems to suffer quite a bit. Worth reading, but you might want to wait until the final chapter is published!
Bast slouched against the long stretch of mahogany bar, bored.
Set in the American South of the 1960s, this is a book with Jim Crow at its heart. Racism and unfairness saturate each page, coupled with sadness and
Set in the American South of the 1960s, this is a book with Jim Crow at its heart. Racism and unfairness saturate each page, coupled with sadness and misery, cruelty and inequity. Amazingly, the spirit of the main two boys keeps the story from becoming depressing, and in fact, was quite an engaging and even uplifting read.
Based loosely on the real-world Dozier School for Boys, a reform school in Florida that was violently abusive to its charges for virtually all of the 111 years it was open, The Nickel Boys tells the story of Elwood Curtis and his friend Turner. While violent, the dignity and dedication to survival the boys possess prevail over the casual racism shown by not just the craven staff, but the rest of the world in general. "They had whipped Elwood. But he took the whipping and he was still here. There was nothing they could do that white people hadn't done to black people before, were not doing at this moment in Montgomery and Baton Rouge, in broad daylight on a city street outside Woolworths." (Sadly, racism hasn't been vanquished in the decades since segregation fell out of favor, but simply driven underground until the recent rise of the alt-right and its seeming embrace by the Republican Party. It is hard not to read this book and see the parallels to what is happening today in migrant detention camps.)
The surprisingly short book is broken into three parts: the first two parts are presented sequentially and in a straightforward manner, but the third starts jumping backwards and forwards in time causing the narrative to be a bit hard to follow. This change in style makes sense once reaching the epilogue, but until then the chapter breaks can be a bit jarring. Entertaining seems an odd word to use for such a bleak plot, but I did truly enjoy reading this thought provoking novel.
Elwood received the best gift of his life on Christmas Day 1962, even if the ideas it put in his head were his undoing.
In 1914 Sherlock Holmes dies, but Dr. Watson lives on at 221b Baker Street. Unbeknownst to anyone save Watson, Holmes had a daughter with Irene Adler
In 1914 Sherlock Holmes dies, but Dr. Watson lives on at 221b Baker Street. Unbeknownst to anyone save Watson, Holmes had a daughter with Irene Adler due to a singular night of passion. This daughter, Joanna Blalock, was adopted immediately after her birth (Adler died during childbirth) with her true parentage unknown. However, she has inherited Sherlock's keen observational skills and eidetic memory and so when she crosses paths with Watson and his son she gets pulled into a mystery, quickly taking the lead with her deductions.
This is a very "Sherlockian" tale, with a very straightforward plot and many, many asides where facts are determined by deduction that is beyond anyone but Joanna. Once you accept the coincidental notion that virtually every main player is a descendant of someone from Holmes lore—besides Watson's son and Blalock, Lestrade's son is now a police detective and the villain is the son of Colonel Sebastian Moran, a criminal with whom Holmes crossed paths—the story is quite entertaining. There are a few odd asides, such as a short history of the Rosetta Stone for no apparent reason, but overall quite charming.
The book is positively riddled with nods to the Conan Doyle stories, some obvious and some not so much. One throwaway line from Blalock towards the end really caught my attention: "I have read about a chap in Paris who uses my methods, and they say he is quite good." As this takes place after the Holmes chronicles, I don't think this is referring to a Conan Doyle character, but instead to some other contemporary literary sleuth. Joseph Rouletabille seems a likely suspect, but Arsène Lupin would be a good choice as well (although being a thief some of the symmetry with Holmes is lost).
Not amazing, but enjoyable; a nice homage to the classic Sherlock Holmes epics.
As was my custom, I visited my father, Dr. John H. Watson, every Friday to make sure he was comfortable and not in need.
Unlike most of the Imager Portfolio, the plot here is more political than magical. The times, they are a changin', and the land of Solidar is
Unlike most of the Imager Portfolio, the plot here is more political than magical. The times, they are a changin', and the land of Solidar is experiencing an industrial revolution which in turn is causing the rank and file workers and crafters to lose their jobs to cheap imports and increasingly mass-manufactured goods. The ruling class is struggling to maintain their civic dominance, and the new middle class of factory owners and bankers are just tasting power for the first time and reluctant to give in to the rioting lower class people. The ruler over all this recognizes that change needs to happen and is slowly trying to modify the government to include representation from everyone, causing broad strife and upheaval (and a few assassination attempts).
The plot is rather pedestrian for Modesitt, with heavy introspection and long descriptions of practicing a musical instrument rather than battles, action, and intrigue. That said, the debate on a minimum wage was pretty interesting as was the one on church versus state. The arguments on either side largely came from two sources: negotiations in council meetings and the press. The players in council had fairly predictable points of view with the king forcing a compromise, but more fascinating was the role the press had in reporting the results of the meetings (not having access to the discussions, just the outcomes). There are two newspapers, one reasonably fair and unemotional, and the other radical and biased (think AP vs. Fox News). This dichotomy demonstrated quite well how people can and will spin situations according to their own worldview, facts be damned. Modesitt's exploration of the proper limits of power and the role of economics in social change was not only compelling, but very appropriate with our real-world political situation.
While well-written and entertaining, this novel is a bit disappointing simply because the actual magic takes a back seat to politics. It felt a little more like a separate, parallel story set in the same universe as the other books than the conclusion to the entire series. If you are looking for a fantasy novel with a heavy dose of world-building and exposition, this is a great choice. If you are looking for an exciting adventure with battling magicians and powerful villains, maybe look elsewhere.
On Lundi morning, the sixteenth of Juyn, Charyn was up earlier than usual, most likely because the day promised to be particularly hot, a reminder that the first days of spring, heralded by the Spring-Turn Ball, were some three months gone, and there wasn't that much of summer left.
On the surface this could be described as "just another fantasy novel." The main character is an unusually skilled and implausibly intelligent child
On the surface this could be described as "just another fantasy novel." The main character is an unusually skilled and implausibly intelligent child named Kvothe raised in a troupe of talented roving actors and musicians, who after a tragedy becomes a homeless street urchin, eventually enrolling in a university for magic, and becoming a hero at the close while still not fulfilling his quest. Surrounding Kvothe is an endless series of one dimensional characters: doting parents, the wise teacher, bullies, beautiful women, best friends, eccentric professors, and the enigmatic love interest. Finally, the story is long and meandering—this copy came in at 722 pages and is only the first in a trilogy (of which the third book is yet to be released despite this one coming out in 2007). That said, it is anything but rote.
The Name of the Wind is an incredibly vivid fantasy in the vein of Raymond E. Feist or Brandon Sanderson. The rich world building weaves two plotlines (or three counting the overarching villain's backstory) fairly seamlessly, leaving the reader wanting more after each chapter. And while as mentioned above many of the notes are common, the writing is uncommonly organic and addicting throughout (despite the length I finished this in three days!). Emotional, engrossing, and exceptional, this is a true gem of the fantasy genre.
It was Felling Night, and the usual crowd had gathered at the Waystone Inn.
Before reading this biography I'll admit I didn't know a lot about Leonardo da Vinci other than being the painter of the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper,
Before reading this biography I'll admit I didn't know a lot about Leonardo da Vinci other than being the painter of the Mona Lisa, the Last Supper, and the Vitruvian Man. Now I know he was a true Renaissance man—arguably the first Renaissance man—and a man ahead of his time. Centuries before minds like Newton, Galileo, Bernoulli, and Valsalva were experimenting, da Vinci was discovering concepts in a huge number of fields: relativity, motion, metallurgy, fluid dynamics, cartography, anatomy, optics, geology, ichnology, and even stagecraft just to name a few. The reason we don't associate Leonardo with all these topics is that he largely kept his discoveries in his personal notebooks rather than publishing. When he died these notebooks were scattered amongst collectors, not being catalogued and available for general study until well after other luminaries had rediscovered what he already knew.
Isaacson does an amazing job examining much of da Vinci's art in detail, discussing the approach to light and shade, perspective, and color and pointing out how the pursuit of science (especially anatomy and geology) was accurately reflected in his work. While impressed at the detail, I admit that after the first few my eyes would glaze over a bit as it all seemed a bit repetitive; I apparently don't have the right genes to truly appreciate art at this level. I much more enjoyed the history of the paintings, learning which pieces were actually finished (not many!) and which have been lost to time.
Many, many of Leonardo's notebook pages are reproduced here as well, and these are the true heart of the book. The detail in everything from horses in motion to deconstructed machines to muscular and skeletal body parts is both amazing and beautiful. His notes are on nearly every page as well, sometimes right over the drawings or in the margins. da Vinci wrote in mirror script (right to left) and in Italian, giving even a simple paragraph a look of beauty.
Isaacson's admiration for da Vinci's genius shines through nearly every page, causing a sense of wonder for the reader. Weighing in at over 500 pages this isn't a quick read, but well worth the time it takes. I could have done with less art criticism and more actual history (topics like his homosexuality and his intense rivalry with Michelangelo are only briefly covered, and the oft-changing politics of Europe at this time even less so) but this is still a wonderful book.
Leonardo da Vinci had the good luck to be born out of wedlock.
Radney Foster is a genius. His album Del Rio, TX 1959 is one of those rare records where every single song is brilliant; four of the ten tracks made
Radney Foster is a genius. His album Del Rio, TX 1959 is one of those rare records where every single song is brilliant; four of the ten tracks made the Top 40 country charts ("Nobody Wins" was the highest, peaking at #2) but the other six are equally amazing. "A Fine Line" (not one of the four that charted) might be my favorite, but it is honestly difficult to rank them. I wore the CD out when it was released, and it remains a staple in my playlists today. Recently Foster played the Saxon Pub here in Austin (a great venue that attracts singer-songwriters; my wife and I have also seen The Band of Heathens, Walt Wilkins, and The Accidentals among others) and I was finally able to catch him live. Not only did he sing a great set, but he read excerpts from For You to See the Stars, a book of short stories he'd written as a companion to his album of the same name. After the show I snapped up a copy of the book and quickly devoured it and the accompanying music. Out of ten stories, five literally made me cry and one made me laugh out loud. All are exceptional. I truly hope Foster continues to write—both songs and books.
This book has four simultaneous threads happening: Reacher investigating his father, Reacher being targeted by the mob, Reacher being targeted by a
This book has four simultaneous threads happening: Reacher investigating his father, Reacher being targeted by the mob, Reacher being targeted by a group of local thugs, and a Canadian couple being held against their will in a strange motel. The last thread takes up maybe half the pages, and Reacher doesn't actually get involved until around chapter 35. A lot of suspense in this part of the story as we don't really understand what is happening to the couple until just before Reacher stumbles (fairly spectacularly) onto the scene. The mystery around Reacher's father is the most interesting of the four threads, and had a fairly satisfying solution. Oddly, the thread with the mob doesn't really get resolved, but everything else does, more or less. While this is one of the weaker Reacher novels, it is still pretty good.
Jack Reacher caught the last of the summer sun in a small town on the coast of Maine, and then, like the birds in the sky above him, he began his long migration south.
The famous tale of Alice in Wonderland is told in two books, combined here into a single volume: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the
The famous tale of Alice in Wonderland is told in two books, combined here into a single volume: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Thanks to Disney the story is roughly familiar to all: a young girl careens through non-sensical adventure after non-sensical adventure, meeting one impossible character after another. Children's books at heart, the recurring theme is having to reluctantly put away the fantasies of youth and grow up. "Shall I never get any older than I am now? That'll be a comfort, one way—never to be an old woman—but then—always to have lessons to learn! Oh, I shouldn't like that!" Many events seem random and disconnected, but this shows how kids can jump from topic to topic in a way that makes sense to them but not to adults; Alice's occasional frustration with the characters she meets demonstrates her inevitable progress toward maturity. Many of the modern interpretations of these characters veer quite dark (such as Lost Girls or Alice Through the Looking Glass), but none of that darkness really exists in the original text. Even the Queen of Hearts who constantly screams "Off with her head!" is shown to be toothless, with the King quietly pardoning everyone behind her back. Both books are very short so this is a quick, enjoyable read; this edition includes the wonderful [image]John Tenniel illustrations as well (albeit in black in white) which add so much to the stories. If you haven't ever read these, do yourself a favor and pick them up and see just what is down the rabbit hole.
First Sentence (from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland):
Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do; once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, "and what is the use of a book," thought Alice, "without pictures or conversations?"
First Sentence (from Through the Looking-Glass):
One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it:—it was the black kitten's fault entirely.
I'm an unapologetic Longhorn football fan, but I've always been fascinated by the Army-Navy rivalry. It is the only game attended by the entire
I'm an unapologetic Longhorn football fan, but I've always been fascinated by the Army-Navy rivalry. It is the only game attended by the entire student body of both schools, and even when the teams are awful (which sadly is pretty normal these days) the game is exciting and the spectacle captivating. I love watching this game each year, the only non-Texas game that is appointment viewing for me. So when I spotted this book in a discount bin about the 1995 Army and Navy seasons, culminating in their clash at the end, I snatched it up and saved it to read just before this year's bout. Unlike what many of the refs did during their respective seasons, that was a good call.
Feinstein is known more for his books on basketball and golf, and it shows a bit here: his college football knowledge seems a bit lacking in places. For instance, he claims the Army-Navy game is the best rivalry in the country; it is certainly in the top echelon, but what about Harvard-Yale? The World's Largest Cocktail Party? The Battle for the Axe? Michigan-Ohio State? The Iron Bowl? Or the greatest of them all, the Red River Showdown? Similarly with stadiums, he calls Notre Dame Stadium "college football's most famous stadium." Um... how about the Rose Bowl, or Michigan Stadium, or Tiger Stadium? Even the name of the book is a bit odd; the Civil War is what the annual Oregon-Oregon State game is called; nothing to do at all with Army-Navy.
That said, this is a wonderful book and the Army-Navy game is one of the treasures of college football. Feinstein does a great job of ping-ponging between the Army and Navy squads as their year progresses, becoming a biographer of sorts for a handful of players and coaches on each team. Along the way a lot of the traditions and history of the schools and squads are told giving more than a glimpse into what life at a service academy must be like. Even with Feinstein's hyperbole and occasional pretentiousness this was a fantastic book and I look forward to watching the game on Saturday!
Almost thirty minutes after the last play of his college football career, Jim Cantelupe, still dressed in the black uniform with the gold number 22 on the back and front, walked down a dank, winding hallway in the bowels of Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium.
Based on Fisher's one-woman show, this memoir is brutally honest, sincere and candid, and damn funny. It is a very fast read that has an odd but
Based on Fisher's one-woman show, this memoir is brutally honest, sincere and candid, and damn funny. It is a very fast read that has an odd but endearing style of writing: choppy but still very readable. More a collection of anecdotes than a narrative it still manages to cover a lot of her life: being born to famous showbiz parents, her two marriages and subsequent divorces, the death of a close friend (in her bed!), her addictions, and her mental health issues. She manages to take all this pain and turn it into a witty, insightful set of stories. Well written, and well done.
I have to start by telling you that my entire existence could be summed up in one phrase.
I read Libriomancer over six years ago and loved it, but never got around to the sequel for some reason. That was a mistake—Codex Born is great!
I read Libriomancer over six years ago and loved it, but never got around to the sequel for some reason. That was a mistake—Codex Born is great! Starting with magical librarians investigating a murder but morphing into preventing a supernatural armageddon this book starts fast and only picks up speed until the conclusion. Once again, the fun is seeing what items are pulled from various books (the particular form of magic here); authors like H.G. Wells, John Scalzi, Robert Heinlein, and Lewis Carroll all are (surprisingly) featured, but using a scholarly text named African Honey Bees in North America was both genius and hilarious. The reason I only give this four stars is the depiction of the villain; he is unbelievably powerful for someone that only had a year to learn magic and seems to hold a grudge against the hero that makes little sense. Regardless, a fun, fast read.
This is an unusual and uneven collection of short stories, each with a heavy fantasy element and all set in New York City. In one memorable (but odd)
This is an unusual and uneven collection of short stories, each with a heavy fantasy element and all set in New York City. In one memorable (but odd) story the city itself is a character; "The Tallest Doll in New York City" by Maria Dahvana Headley tells of a time when the Chrysler Building takes a walk with the Empire State Building. My favorite tale was "Shell Games" by George R. R. Martin; it details the origin story of the hero named The Great and Powerful Turtle from the Wild Cards series, a favorite from my college days. Another great one is "Priced to Sell" by Naomi Novik following real estate brokers trying to find housing for vampires and other monsters. Other authors I like that have stories here include Elizabeth Bear, Peter Straub, and N.K. Jemisin. Others aren't very good though; Seanan McGuire's "Red as Snow" and Peter S. Beagle's "The Rock in the Park" are especially mundane. Despite the irregularity of quality, I expect there is something in here for everyone to enjoy.
First Sentence (from the introduction):
New York City is a very real place, but no one can deny it is also somewhere magic occurs and all sorts of fantastical things happen.
During WWII, Oak Ridge was established as one of the main sites of the Manhattan Project. The facility was sprawling, springing up in a largely
During WWII, Oak Ridge was established as one of the main sites of the Manhattan Project. The facility was sprawling, springing up in a largely unpopulated area seeming overnight to house and employ 30,000 workers—almost none of whom had any idea what they were trying to build. This little-known setting serves as the backdrop for several (barely) intertwining stories of life, love, and growing up.
Despite the title, the narrative largely follows only four people, two women and two men: Sam, a Jewish physicist who is a key player in developing the bomb, June, a high-school graduate finding her way in the world, Cici, a gold digger searching for a husband, and Joe, an African American construction worker. Sam and June are the main focus, falling into an affair fairly quickly. Joe has the most interesting arc, with the horrible treatment of blacks at the time and the varying attitudes of everyone ranging from hostility to acceptance. Cici does have her own storyline, but largely serves as a foil to June, going from friend to enemy fairly dramatically.
While the plots are thin and characters are largely one-dimensional, the setting is what makes this a pretty good read. There are actual photos interspersed of Oak Ridge at the time which really helps set the mood. While reading I found myself going to the web and looking up stories and information about the plant; I probably spent as much time doing that as reading the novel! If you are looking for an historical fiction tale that sheds light on a new era this is a solid (if pedestrian) choice.
The news that June's grandfather was being evicted had come from her older sister Mary, who worked in town at Langham's Drug Store.
In my opinion, Brandon Sanderson is one of the best fantasy world-builders out there today. The magic system here is unique (as in seeming all
In my opinion, Brandon Sanderson is one of the best fantasy world-builders out there today. The magic system here is unique (as in seeming all Sanderson's oeuvre): everyone has a "BioChromatic Breath," a single bit of magic capability, and that Breath can be given to others. If one accumulates enough Breath various powers are granted, from perfect pitch to agelessness to animating normally inanimate objects (such as rope and cloth). Magic also requires color; the more difficult and powerful the spell the more color is drained from nearby objects—prisoners with enough Breath are kept in dull grey cells preventing any sorcery.
Coupled with this fascinating wizarding system is a story of pending war between neighboring lands and intrigue galore. Sanderson does an excellent job of hiding the twists in plain sight and disguising who the heroes and villains actually are. Throw in assassins, gods that live amongst the people, a talking sword, and a healthy dose of humor and you have Warbreaker, the nearly perfect fantasy novel.
This third entry of the Dire Earth Cycle neatly wraps up most of the mysteries while creating an obvious jumping-off point for the following duology.
This third entry of the Dire Earth Cycle neatly wraps up most of the mysteries while creating an obvious jumping-off point for the following duology. The plot is fairly straightforward, with three separate quests joining together at the conclusion. The action is non-stop and constantly moving, like jumping out of an airplane. Adventure is the focus here rather than character development, but the pacing is such that it isn't really an issue. I found the ending to be a bit abrupt; many of the big questions are answered, but in a mere handful of pages and a heavy dose of deus ex machina.
Early in the plot a new band of plague-immune soldiers appears as a second (or third if you count the alien Builders) antagonist, but they are dispatched surprisingly quickly. A time-distortion field is encountered so while our heroes only experience hours, months are going by outside—while certainly a way of accelerating to the next Builder event, the idea that nothing important or interesting happens outside the time bubble seems a stretch. There is a nice use of the bubble during a firefight I thought was clever, though, so this wasn't all bad. Despite a plodding pace, Hough's writing remains engaging, including a near perfect description of what you see when your eyes are closed: "Radiant amoeba-like shapes swam in a sea of molten orange, and any attempt he made to focus on one served only to obscure it further." The strangest thing about this novel was that the author (and editor, I suppose) seems to think that a five-sided figure is a hexagon rather than a pentagon. Not a typo either; in chapter 50 the apparent importance of the number 5 by the Builders is realized when they discover a set of nested hexagons on a ship. Odd.
Overall I still enjoyed the story, but it suffers by clearly being a bridge to the third book rather than standing on its own merit. That said, I'll see this epic through to the conclusion in The Plague Forge.