Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Slow Regard of Silent Things

Title: The Slow Regard of Silent Things
Author: Patrick Rothfuss
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2014
Rating: 6/10

Review: I am generally a big Patrick Rothfuss fan. I loved The Name of the Wind when it came out and I read his blog pretty regularly. He is a really good author who happens to also be an awesome guy (the two don't always seem to go hand in hand -- not to point any fingers, but *cough*orsonscottcard*cough*).

Of course, when The Slow Regard of Silent Things came out, it wasn't really a question of whether to buy it. It was just a question of when I am going to get to reading it (hint: it did not take all that long). The foreword is a bit alarming though: Patrick Rothfuss basically tells the readers of the book that they might not want to buy it. That didn't stop me for two reasons: the first being that I've read the foreword after I already bought the book and the second being that when someone says you shouldn't read something that makes you want to read it roughly twice as much.

I understood from the prologue that it's not going to be a traditional story and that it's not going to advance the plot of the main trilogy. I was perfectly fine with those caveats. It's a pretty short book and I've read most of it in one sitting, but I have to admit Patrick Rothfuss may have been right in his prologue when he said I shouldn't buy it.

I generally don't actually mind books that don't have a plot as long as I am enjoying the characters. But in this case I didn't actually enjoy learning this much about Auri. You know how sometimes you see a crazy homeless guy yelling on the street that you are walking on and you feel a mixture of alarm and pity for them? Well, this is how I felt about Auri in this book. She basically behaves crazily enough in the story to make me feel physically uncomfortable reading the book. And on top of it, I felt like the book passes judgement on everyone who chooses to lead a normal life with some modicum of comfort. Perhaps, I was deriving a message that wasn't truly there, but that's just how I felt upon finishing the book.

Patrick Rothfuss is still a crafty author and the language of the book is quite interesting. He plays with homonyms a whole lot and he can certainly evoke imagery, but it just wasn't enough to turn the book around for me. I am going to pretend this never happened and go back to waiting for The Doors of Stone to get published.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Looking for Alaska

Title: Looking for Alaska
Author: John Green
Genre: Young Adult
Published: 2005
Rating: 8.5/10

Review: Amazon website seems to be designed to get me to read more book. On my laptop, I usually add books that sound interesting into my Amazon wish list and then when I have nothing to read, I go through it and pick something. On mobile web, when I view a Kindle book, it doesn't give me the option to add it to my wish list (or I wasn't able to find this option) and instead I thought I might download a sample to my Kindle instead to remember it. But of course having a sample turns into reading a sample and then immediately reading the rest. Not such a bad thing certainly since I really enjoyed Looking for Alaska.

The story takes place at a private boarding school in Alabama, which Miles Halter joins in his junior year of high school. There he makes friends with Chip "The Colonel" Martin and Alaska Young. The kids in this school are all very smart, but it's also notorious for pranks. Miles spends a lot of time smoking and drinking with his friends and develops a crush on Alaska.

I can absolutely understand why this book would appeal to a teenager. The characters are smart and likable, but at the same time daring and non-conformist. The book starts off somewhat racy (in a teenage book sense of racy) with Alaska recounting a story of her neighbour honking her boob over the summer. And there's plenty of smoking, drinking, and making out. Also, there's plenty of geekery: Miles memorizes last words of various famous people; The Colonel can name a capital of any country in the world, and Alaska is full of deep philosophical questions.

The story is all about the characters much more so than the plot. It's the relationships, the search for answers, the tensions that make the story interesting. Plus, the writing is very good -- I definitely enjoy John Green's prose. The closest book I've read that Looking For Alaska reminds me of is The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. They are different, but both have very interesting female characters, are set in boarding schools, and whose plot revolves around some elaborate school pranks. I guess I've found a genre I enjoy -- and also an author whose books I will surely read more of.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Attachments

Title: Attachments
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Genre: Fiction
Published: 2012
Rating: 7/10

Review: I came across a mention of this novel while looking out for the next book to read. Since I've enjoyed Eleanor & Park, I decided to give Attachments a try.

There are two main narratives in Attachments. One narrative takes a form of emails/IMs between two friends (Jennifer and Beth) who work at a newspaper. They discuss the sort of things any two women may discuss: plans, relationships, cute guys at the office.

The second narrative follows Lincoln who is hired by the newspaper's IT department to monitor the employee's internet usage. His job is basically to read all flagged emails that people send and send out reprimands for non-work-related activities. Of course, Jennifer and Beth's communication gets flagged, but Lincoln is so captivated by their conversation that he just keeps reading their mail.

Attachments felt very much like a typical women's book. Everything is about relationships. Mostly about the romantic ones, but when it's not, then it's about Lincoln's relationship with Doris or his mom or his friends. I liked the characters and they felt very realistic and natural to me (except, maybe, for Beth's boyfriend, who was just odd). However, this relentless focus on relationships in lieu of the plot was a bit much. I thought it was pretty clear from the start how things were going to turn out and there was less drama than I expected. That was both good and bad -- on one hand, exaggerated drama just makes me roll my eyes, on the other hand, lack of drama makes for a somewhat flat book story.

I would place Attachments in my easy reading category. Not terribly deep or insightful, but easy to consume and enjoyable overall.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Magician's Land

Title: The Magician's Land
Author: Lev Grossman
Series: The Magicians, book 3
Genre: Fantasy
Published: 2014
Rating: 8/10

Review: It's been out for quite a few months now, but I completely forgot about the latest book in The Magicians series until I was looking for something new to read and stumbled upon it -- and then I was back in The Magicians world. I enjoyed The Magician's Land more than The Magician King. For one, Quentin is growing up and maturing in this book and moping slightly less, so that's really quite an improvement.

The book picks up where The Magician King left off: Quentin is back on Earth and trying to figure out what to do with himself. He heads to Brakebills and this time stays there as an instructor. I enjoyed his return to the school. We also meet one of Brakebills' students, Plum, who turns out to be a Chatwin, but doesn't know that Fillory really exists. Quentin and Plum get in trouble together and are both expelled and left to find their own way. Before long, they are together involved in planning a heist of a magical suitcase.

Overall, the book went at a good pace and kept my attention, though there were a few slower moments in the plot. At the end, almost everyone of significance in the first book is back, though not necessarily the same way they were in the beginning. I think the change in Quentin is the largest one and the one I enjoyed most -- less moping and more action, I like that :) A number of lose ends are tied and  I like the way things are resolved in the end. The ending is hopeful and happier than I expected it to be. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Lock In

Title: Lock In
Author: John Scalzi
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: 2014
Rating: 7.5/10

Review:  Fun fact: apparently John Scalzi is one of the authors I recognize on sight. I recognized him at a restaurant, when he was in my neighborhood for the Lock In tour. I didn't go up to him, but instead I spontaneously bought a copy of Lock In despite the fact that I had reservations about the novella prequel, Unlocked.

Turned out, I liked Lock In better than the prequel. In format, the novel very much resembles a detective procedural. Chris Shane is a Hayden, which means his body is paralyzed, but his consciousness basically inhibits a robot called threep. He is starting his first week as an FBI agent, straight out of school. His partner is a much more experienced agent Leslie Vann.

The plot follows a pretty standard format of murder, investigation, plot twist, good guys win, It was entertaining, but not particularly exceptional in any way. I liked the characters though -- everyone seemed natural, quirky, and easy to like. I was a bit taken aback by how fast Chris and Vann's relationship evolved, but it made sense for the book.

One part of the book that stood out to me is Scalzi's clear intent to paint a much more liberal world than ours. Even though there's conflict and prejudice against Haydens, there are openly gay couples, and cross-gender Integrators (people who carry someone else in their mind), and a very open-minded opinion on whether Haydens are really disabled humans or really something different. Perhaps this wouldn't stand out to someone who doesn't read the author's blog, but it stuck out to me that the world very much conformed to Scalzi's views of how things ought to be. I generally don't mind his ideas, but I wonder if it's realistic to expect some of these things in the near future where Lock In takes place.

All in all, it's a pretty entertaining book. The premise of Haydens works well and is explored in various cool ways (Chris goes through several different bodies in the line of duty and also travels instantaneously). I would definitely recommend it as easy reading -- and I wonder if Scalzi is planning a sequel, there's definitely lots of room left for another story with the same characters.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Queen of Hearts

Title: Queen of Hearts
Author: Rhys Bowen
Series: A Royal Spyness Mystery, book 8
Genre: Mystery
Published: 2014
Rating: 6.5/10

Review:  This definitely qualifies as one of the guilty pleasure  books. I needed something to read for a flight and this was a perfect book to occupy the time.

In this installment, Georgiana travels with her mother to the United States on a cruise ship. During the cruise, jewels get stolen, and Georgiana gets involved in the investigation along with Darcy, who just so happened to be on the ship. Georgiana and her mother travel to Reno to get a divorce (for Georgina's mother) and then end up in Hollywood.

I didn't necessarily like the change of scenery -- I prefer the mysteries set in England, but I guess it's nice to get some variety as this series is getting rather formulaic. I figured out whodunit pretty far ahead of time, but still enjoyed the situational comedy in various parts of the book. It was great to see Queenie stand up for her rights and then quit. Of course, she ends up coming back, but I enjoyed this sub-plot.

Queen of Hearts was a quick and enjoyable read, but at the same time I feel like the author is running out of fresh material. I am not sure whether I would continue with the series, unless I have another flight to fill.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Space Between

Title: The Space Between
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Series: An Outlander Novella
Genre: Historical fiction
Published: 2014
Rating: 7.5/10

Review: I started watching the Outlander TV series now airing on STARZ. Somewhat to my surprise, I am actually enjoying the series quite a bit. I think it might be going a little slow and watching it from a perspective of someone familiar with the plot is probably quite different from a newcomer to the series, but it's pretty well put together. I love the lead actress who plays Claire and the actor playing Jamie has grown on me as well.

Since I re-kindled my Outlander addiction, I bought this Outlander series novella to get back into the series. That's when I realized that I can barely remember some of the details of the earlier books. There were definitely familiar names and characters we've met before earlier in Outlander series, but I recognized very little about them beyond their names.

Nevertheless, the story can be mostly read as a stand-alone. It features Joan McKimmie who is Jamie's step-daughter travelling to Paris with Michael Murray in order to enter a convent there. The reason she wants to enter is convent is because she hears voices in her head and can see auras around people who are about to die. These "gifts" cause her plenty of grief along the way.

It's a quick story and it was over very quickly, but I enjoyed getting back into the Outlander world and getting a bit of action since it's probably going to be a few years before the next Outlander installment is published. I just wish I remembered in more detail the back-story around Comte St. Germain and Master Raymond.