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All reviews - Books (70) - Music (4)

"Drama" by Yes

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 20 February 2008 07:02 (A review of Drama)

This album is, of course, the oddity of the Yes catalog. Even with the continually rotating line-up the band has had, it is the only album that didn’t feature Jon Anderson on vocals. During the recording in Paris of the follow-up album to “Tormato”, Anderson, along with keyboardist Rick Wakeman, decided to leave the band. Eventually while messing around as a trio, Howe, Squire, and White were introduced to Horn and Downes. At the time the duo was recording under the name The Buggles (those of us in the MTV age remember “Video Killed the Radio Star”, don’t we?). Eventually the two were asked to join the band, and Yes was re-born (for the first of a few of times). It was short lived. After touring to support the album, this incarnation disbanded.

There is really only one glaring problem with this album. It’s too short. Even for the time it was released, it was a little light on the time side. But the music is some of the freshest and tightest the band has ever recorded. This is mostly due to the core trio having written music that they weren’t sure was intended to be Yes music.

“Machine Messiah” right away shows a new side to the band. Yes has always been able to rock, but they sound like a heavy metal band in the opening moments of the album. Or at least what a heavy metal band sounded like back in 1980. “Into the Lens” was one of the songs that Horn and Downes brought to the sessions. They re-recorded it a couple of years later as The Buggles. But on this album it’s a typical 10 minute Yes piece. And given the nature of the lyrics, it wouldn’t be out of place for Jon to be singing them.

“Run Through the Light” is a unique piece as well. Other then tracks from the “Union” album that were recorded with Tony Levin on bass, this is the only that Squire doesn’t play bass on. He steps aside and lets Horn play fretless while himself plays piano. Horn is up to the task too, showing that he is a very accomplished bass player. (For those that don’t know, Horn is now a big-time producer and album label owner, having produced such artists as Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Seal.)

“Tempus Fugit” is probably the most memorable song on the album. With it’s vocodor-ized “Yes, yes” pleas, and it’s incredibly quick tempo, especially the vocals, it zings along like no other Yes song had before, or did after. It really highlights how tight the main trio of Howe, Squire, and White had become.

Those “It’s-Not-Yes-Without-Jon” pundits be damned! This still is one of the best Yes albums ever recorded. And even (oh, boy) 28 years later, it still sounds great today.


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"The Chess Garden" by Brooks Hansen

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 20 February 2008 04:49 (A review of Chess Garden)

Here is a quick description to help me from Amazon.Com and Publishers Weekly.

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… set in 19th-century Dayton, Ohio, in Europe and South Africa during the Boer War and on an imaginary island, the Antipodes. During his journey to the heart of the war, where he has volunteered to serve in a British-run concentration camp for forcibly displaced Boers, Dr. Gustav Uyterhoeven sends 12 letters to his wife, Sonja, in Dayton. The letters, fabulist explorations in the manner of Poe, Chesterton and Borges, describe a world where chess pieces, including a queen trapped in a tree, live, die, love, battle and philosophize. Uyterhoeven is a remarkable character, dapper yet heartbroken, civilized, swinging his cane, journeying through sundry marvels with an air of concern and wonder that the reader comes to share. Meanwhile, back in Dayton, the reading of each new letter becomes an event; and, mysteriously, chess pieces mentioned in the letters begin to appear in the Uyterhoevens’ garden.

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The first thing that grabbed me with this book was Hansen’s writing style and prose. I have read very little Poe, and nothing by Chesterton and Borges. But from the descriptions I have read of Poe and Borges, Hansen captures them. The character of Dr. Uyterhoeven is also influence greatly by philosopher / scientist / theologist Emmanuel Swedenborg, or at least in his stories in the 12 letters are since he reads Swedenborg’s work late in his life. Unfortunately I am unfamiliar with his works, so any influences were lost on me.

Dr. Uyterhoeven is one of the leading pathologists of his time in the middle and late 19th-century. Pathology at the time was a new science. For sections of the book that go into Uyterhoeven’s earlier life, there is much philosophy and questions of the direction of the science. He “argues” his beliefs, which differ from others in the field, particularly those of fellow faculty of the school he teaches at in Berlin. Quite frankly all the discussion between the parties was lost on me and made those sections quite boring at times, though it did do a great deal in developing his character, as well as his colleagues who become close friends.

The book seems like two different books at the same time. There are the 12 letters of his journey to find and within the Antipodes, and then the part of the book that is Uyterhoeven’s and his wife’s life. He writes the letters during his time in South Africa. You find as the book goes on that they are mirroring what he is going through. As one character puts it, he feels useless by just watching over his chess garden in Dayton, so he volunteers to serve. But he knows that his life is drawing to an end. His letters reflect this, though it wasn’t easy for me to pick out until these revelations are made.

It is a very deep book. It is a very well written book. For instance, the story of how the chess garden came to be is very late in the book, yet you still get a great sense throughout the whole book of what it meant to the people that the Uyterhoeven’s hosted and what it meant to themselves. Unfortunately with some influences that I am not familiar with, and with philosophies and sciences that I am not familiar with, or too terribly interested in, it took some effort to read through many parts of this. His letters are captivating, though sometimes starting slow. I can understand why so many think highly of this book, but it just wasn’t all that for me.


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"Fahrenheit 451" by Ray Bradbury

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 20 February 2008 04:36 (A review of Fahrenheit 451)

I recently re-read this, after initially reading it in high school about 20 years ago.

For those of you needing a description of possibly one of the most popular books (not just science fiction) of our time, here it is (thanks to Neil Roseman and Amazon.Com):

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In “Fahrenheit 451″, Ray Bradbury’s classic, frightening vision of the future, firemen don’t put out fires - they start them in order to burn books. Bradbury’s vividly painted society holds up the appearance of happiness as the highest goal - a place where trivial information is good, and knowledge and ideas are bad. Fire Captain Beatty explains it this way, “Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs…. Don’t give them slippery stuff like philosophy or sociology to tie things up with. That way lies melancholy.”

Guy Montag is a book-burning fireman undergoing a crisis of faith. His wife spends all day with her television “family,” imploring Montag to work harder so that they can afford a fourth TV wall. Their dull, empty life sharply contrasts with that of his next-door neighbor Clarisse, a young girl thrilled by the ideas in books, and more interested in what she can see in the world around her than in the mindless chatter of the tube. When Clarisse disappears mysteriously, Montag is moved to make some changes, and starts hiding books in his home. Eventually, his wife turns him in, and he must answer the call to burn his secret cache of books. After fleeing to avoid arrest, Montag winds up joining an outlaw band of scholars who keep the contents of books in their heads, waiting for the time society will once again need the wisdom of literature.

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Back when this book was written (early 1950’s), it was highly important. It gave a bleak look at a possible future, with what seemed like more and more censorship. And though I don’t see us making the change to burn books and take away all that leads to melancholy like Captain Beatty says, it is still important. The control of the government seems to grow more everyday. Some of these changes are needed to ensure the safety of citizens. But the underlying message is still strong.

In today’s book reading society, this book is really a novella at best. Which is funny, because originally it was, and expanded to become a novel. And though short in length, the character development and ideals laid down by Bradbury are amazing. So little is written, yet so much is made out of it. There were many scenes that I forgot about, but many other were very clear. The biggest surprise for me to remember was Bradbury’s prose. For a science fiction book, the prose is extraordinary. Bradbury has all the tools that a writer needs, and displays them with ease in this novel.

The key that led me to re-reading this book was my reading of “Shelf Monkey” by Corey Redekop. There are a few references to “Fahrenheit 451″ in it, and I wanted to brush up and see what it really was that grabbed the attention of so many. Though I enjoyed my science fiction class in high school, still being told to read a book can lead to a warped feeling towards it. At the time, our teacher also had us reading stories from Bradbury’s collection titled “The Illustrated Man”, and found myself more interested in it then a novel. But I am glad that I read this again. It was very enlightening. Mostly to the wonders of Bradbury’s works.


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"The Grave of God's Daughter"

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 20 February 2008 04:33 (A review of The Grave of God's Daughter: A Novel)

The following synopsis is what is printed on the back of the book. I was wandering around Borders one day and the title of the book caught my eye. After reading what the story was about, it caught my attention enough to buy it.

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A woman is faced with the past she’s tried to put behind her only to find that what transpired in her childhood has never been further away than her own shadow.

The year is 1941. Rooted in the lonely outreaches of the Allegheny Mountains lies the town of Hyde Bend. Its heart: a steel mill; it’s bones: the tight community of Polish immigrants who inhabit it; its blood: their fierce Catholic faith. But buried in the town’s soul is a dangerous secret surrounding the death of a revered priest.

Upon returning to Hyde Bend, a young woman accidentally uncovers the truth behind this crime, which leads to a second murder. The town quickly erupts in fear and finger pointing. The girl is forced to unravel the now-intertwined mysteries and discovers her own family at the center. Now she must confront all she holds sacred if she is to save her family and herself in this story of lost innocence, transgression, faith, and forgiveness.

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The wonders of a synopsis on the back of a book. However, there are some flaws about this write-up. The young woman is not returning to Hyde Bend and accidentally uncovering the crime. She is a 12 year old girl back in 1941 who starts to put together things associated with the death of the priest (not sure it was a crime) and a murder that happens during the story. THEN the town erupts with finger pointing (not necessarily fear), which leads to the second murder. And I am not sure this girl is thinking about saving her family by revealing all this. She is saving them by keeping these discoveries under wraps. The whole “returning to Hyde Bend” book ends the story. She comes back for her mother’s funeral. But no matter how misguided the write-up was, I actually enjoyed the book more then I originally thought I could.

brett-ellen-block-01.jpg
Brett Ellen Block

It’s not a sweeping epic by any means. It is rather short. But very engaging. The girl (who is never named) and her brother Martin (7 years old) live in poverty with their parents. There obvious riff between their parents, and the descriptions of their lives and surroundings, to me, seemed very well drawn out, and they don’t overtake the story. But the bleakness is a key point to discovering the characters.

I expected a big mystery to figure out, but was handed facts that made the story interesting, then it was all put together in the final chapter. One of the points I totally missed, and was rather shocked when I read it. It made me go back and look over the instance where some of that information is given. Also made me feel rather stupid for missing that. Not that I missed the information, but just couldn’t grasp the vagueness of a character’s delivery of the facts, not knowing who she was talking about.

Most of the story also relied on the girl’s goal of getting back a picture for her mother. Plus with her Catholic faith, there were many lies to cover her tracks, which led to great guilt at first, and the amazement that the lies could come so easy. It seemed more a picture of a family’s life through the eyes of a 12 year old girl in a poverty stricken area of a steel mill town during the war. Not a big mystery surrounding the death of a priest. Again, not in line with the write-up on the back of the book, but entertaining nonetheless.


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"Corelli's Mandolin"

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 20 February 2008 04:32 (A review of Corelli's Mandolin)

Here is a rundown on what the book entails thanks to Amazon.Com and Kirkus:

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Dr. Iannis, a wise-father figure of the sort familiar from de Bernieres’s other books, plays choric host to a portrait of life on the island of Cephallonia as Greece is invaded by Italian and German troops during WW II. His brilliant and beautiful daughter, Pelagia, is the story’s heroine. Swirling around them are de Bernieres’s trademark crowd: earth mother, feral girl-child, village strongman, drunkard priest, politically argumentative old men, inarticulate goatherder, and Mandras, an illiterate fisherman who feeds dolphins. They are joined by the soldiers: Carlo Piero Guercio, a tightly closeted homosexual; Captain Antonio Corelli, his clown of a commanding officer, who is a virtuoso mandolin player; and Gunter Weber, a German who carries around a gramophone so that everyone can enjoy “Lili Marlene.” Beginning with Dr. Iannis removing a 60-year-old pea from the ear of one of the villagers and miraculously restoring his hearing, the narrative features one scene of biting political satire after another…

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For such a large cast of characters, they are well drawn out. It doesn’t take much for de Bernieres to mold them and make them real. A credit to his writing skills. However, sometimes his political satire gets to be too much for me, going over my head. For good measure, he even throws in a chapter or two from first person perspective of some of the political leaders of that time, including Mussolini himself. As much as others would enjoy reading these little interludes, adding to the story, I found them hard to get through and disruptive to the overall story. But part of that comes from my lack of knowledge of the subjects (the political issues between Germany and Italy during WWII, and the political issues plaguing the different factions of Greece during this time).

The biggest part of the story lies between Pelagia and her two men; Mandras and Captain Antonio Corelli. Around the time of the Italian invasion, Mandras asks Pelagia to marry him. But he refuses to leave a widow behind and says that they will wed after he returns from fighting, defending themselves against the Italians. When he comes back, he is barely the man he was. In the meantime, the Italians are stationing officers in citizens’ houses throughout the island, and eventually Pelagia and Antonio find a mutual fondness for each other.

What I liked about this was that the characters weren’t the usual “out-of-the-box” type, and it wasn’t just a love story. As stated in the review by Kirkus, it’s heavy on the political side, even though it could get bogged down from time to time. But Corelli is hardly the typical leading man. He’s a goofball who loves opera. One review on Amazon mentioned that while others in the Italian ranks are shouting “Heil Hitler”, Corelli and his band of fellow singers who called themselves La Scala, were shouting “Heil Puccini!”

The ending, though coming rather quickly, was not too “Hollywood” for me. (I say this because a couple of days before finishing the book I found out that it had been made into a movie … and Nicholas Cage is NOT AT ALL how I pictured Captain Corelli.) We get a whirlwind of years going by as the final chapters are read. And de Bernieres leaves you guessing as to exactly what is going to happen, or what has happened, and how you find out. But it was still satisfying. Though in some respects it may be easy to figure out what is going on. (I just get too caught up in the “mystery” of things sometimes when reading a work of fiction.)

Like I said, there is more to this then a love story. Learning about Carlo’s pain due to his sexual orientation, and having a past love of his die in his arms, a victim of the war, plus the background of Dr. Iannis and others involved, it about the village and the Italian forces. Not just the love between three of it’s characters. And even with it’s tough spots, and the fact that it took me over a month to read it, I did enjoy the book.


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"The Curse of Chalion"

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 20 February 2008 03:12 (A review of The Curse of Chalion)

McMaster Bujold is best known for her science fiction writing, but this is a fantasy novel. What attracted me to it was it being a “stand-alone” novel. I am kind of getting sick and tired of seeing that I have to read three or more 800 page books to get to the conclusion of a story. That has become the norm in the fantasy genre. Funny thing is that she has turned this into a series. The sequel however follows one of the minor characters three years later and doesn’t have to be read to get a conclusion to the events in “The Curse of Chalion”. Side note: The sequel was the book that gave McMaster Bujold her “Double” in 2004.

Here is a description from Library Journal via Amazon.Com:

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Betrayed by an unknown enemy into slavery, former soldier and courtier Castillar dy Cazaril escapes his bondage and returns to the royal household he once served. Entrusted with the teaching of the sister to the heir to the throne of Chalion, Cazaril finds himself drawn into a tangled web of politics and dark magic as he battles a curse that threatens the lives and souls of a family he has come to love.

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There are two descriptions given on Amazon.Com, and the one I didn’t quote goes into greater detail and almost acts as a review. One thing it points out I totally agree with: the “evil” characters are believable. They don’t create havoc because they are supposed to. They are motivated by real and believable reasons. If they need to use discretion in their actions, it is used. If they need to just sit back and be patient, then they are patient. If they need to give in to someone even though it goes against their plan, they accept. The reader doesn’t get to go too deep into their minds, but the way they are presented and talked about by other characters gives them depth through realism.

All the characters are well drawn out and believable. Though I was starting to have a bit of a problem with royesse (princess) Iselle, one of the two characters Cazaril was tutoring. For someone so young she is shrewd and well versed in court politics. Now in some ways it may not be so unbelievable, since there are many that are intelligent beyond their years. And credit to McMaster Bujold for giving her qualities that kept the character believable in other areas.

One of the best things that the author did with this book is adding many other elements to all the characters that give this story very real emotions. The elements of self sacrifice and even romance, along with loyalty and a deep caring for those that are close to you. And like everything else about this book, there is just the right amounts to enhance the story, not overdoing it. It makes for great characters.

The story itself is gripping. I was not exactly sure where it was going (which is always a good thing), and was taken in very quickly. It is a ways in before the reader learns of the curse. (I did kind of a mental double-take, “Oh yeah, the story is about a curse.”) I also liked how certain things weren’t overplayed or overwritten about within the storylines. Again, just enough to enhance the story. Especially one of the journeys that Cazaril takes. Some authors could have used 50 to 60 pages going into great detail what happened during the time on the road. But she highlighted what needed to be highlighted, and got on with what was important.

Another very interesting point was the magic. There isn’t a whole lot of it, but what is there is tied to their religion. And it is very well done and simple, in my opinion. I have not read many fantasy novels with a lot of magic, but I get the sense that there are quite a few where the magic is so easy to do and is endless, or is so complicated and there are appendices in the back of the book with descriptions and explanations. Plus it always adds more intrigue with fantasy novels when you add religion into it. The politics always become more interesting. Again, just my opinion. To make it central to any magic being used only made it that more interesting.

McMaster Bujold’s writing style is very accessible and also very pleasing to read. This book was written with a very nice sense of prose, especially for a fantasy novel. Yet those that don’t want to struggle through the book with a dictionary don’t have to. The story is gripping and kept me at least guessing. For fantasy fans, I would recommend this novel without a doubt. Especially people that don’t want to get sucked into a mega-page epic series.


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"The Etched City" by K. J. Bishop

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 20 February 2008 03:02 (A review of The Etched City)

I had been wanting to read more fantastical novels. And I am not referring to the classic definition meaning swords and/or sorcery. Good examples of what I had in mind are “Perdido Street Station” or “King Rat” by China Miéville. “The Etched City” fit the bill very nicely, even being very dark and gritty like Miéville’s books. Again I cheat and will use a synopsis from Amazon.Com written by Jeremy Pugh.

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Set first in the dustbowl wasteland of the Copper Country, Bishop introduces the battlefield sawbones Raule and her gunslinging companion Gwynn. The duo’s relationship of necessity is cemented as they flee the justice of “The Army of Heroes,” a force created to put down a rebellion in which they were active participants. Wanted and destitute, they make for the uncharted Telute Shelf to find new lives amid the sprawling metropolis of Ashamoil. Gwynn’s ruthless knack for violence sends him to the top of the town as an enforcer for the Horn Fan Cartel and its bustling slave trade. Raule, meanwhile, heads to the bottom where she tries to erase her brutal past through ministrations to the city’s forsaken. Between the opposite poles of Gwynn and Raule is a languid tale wandering through a sideshow menagerie of lovelorn mobsters, debased priests, brutal imperialists, sorcererous drug dealers, gangland warlords, and otherworldly artists that deftly examines the nature of violence, compassion, spirituality, redemption, and reality.

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At times the book is inconsistent. There are passages that seem to make little sense, or don’t go with the story. But even those section show a great story teller with brilliant and beautifully dark prose. It too took a while for the story to really get going. Actually that is after the opening section (the first two chapters). But once it stepped up, other then dodging a few misplaced (?) bits, the story was very good.

Though at times I wanted to just toss this book aside out of boredom, or rush ahead a few pages to get through uneven parts, I will still be looking forward to her next book. She has the potential to be as good as Miéville and the like.


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"Oryx and Crake" by Margaret Atwood

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 20 February 2008 02:52 (A review of Oryx And Crake - Book Club Edition)

I had heard this book talked about, but something about it just turned my head the other way. But I found a copy at MediaPlay in the remainder section. I picked it up and started to read the synopsis on the dust jacket.

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As the story opens, the narrator, who calls himself Snowman, is sleeping in a tree, wearing a dirty old bedsheet, mourning the loss of his beautiful and beloved Oryx and his best friend Crake, while slowly starving to death.

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It may seem strange, but that hooked me. It was haunting. I wanted to find out about Snowman and just how much Oryx and Crake meant to him. (By the way, Snowman does not narrate the book …….. it is in third person.)

Even though this is classified as sci-fi (as was “The Handmaid’s Tale”), it is not strong on sci-fi. Atwood herself is not a sci-fi writer. But there are social issues that she brings up in these books, and by basing them in a future society, it makes it easier to bring forth.

What happens in “Oryx and Crake” is that Snowman (who’s real name is Jimmy) fears that he is the only human left on Earth. There has been a disease that has possibly wiped out humankind in the not too distant future. But there is also a very small race of humanoid beings that he is acting as sheppard to. Jimmy has many flashbacks (like 60% to 70% of the book is flashbacks) about his mother and father, the day he met Crake (who’s real name is Glenn) in high school, how they became such good friends, the story behind Oryx, a former child prostitute/pornographic actor from Southeast Asia, and the story behind this humanoid race.

It is not your typical “end of the world/apocolypse” sci-fi story. There is a lot of meat in what Jimmy goes through in his life. And there are some surprises to how the world got the way it did, and how Oryx and Crake die. It was a very worthwhile read, and I am glad I picked it up.


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"Bless You Boys" by Sparky Anderson

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 20 February 2008 02:47 (A review of Bless You Boys; Diary of the Detroit tigers' 1984 Season)

I read this book originally just a year or two removed from that magical Tigers' season of 1984. And even today, it's a great trip down memory lane. Especially the games that I attended in person, or remember watching on TV.

A great addition to the die-hard Tigers' fan collection.


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"Jedi Search" by Kevin Anderson

Posted : 9 years, 6 months ago on 20 February 2008 02:40 (A review of Star Wars: The Jedi Academy - Jedi Search)

I read all three of the books to this trilogy mostly because of my enjoyment of the movies series, and how I was interested in reading "I, Jedi" by Michael Stackpole, a book whose events take place at the same time, even having some of the same scenes.

This book pales greatly in comparison to Stackpole's book. Anderson's writing is very weak and some of his ideas are lame. I would NOT recommend these books to anyone, even if they were very interested in reading more stories about the Jedi.


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