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

"In the Forest of Forgetting" by Theodor

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 19 February 2008 06:36 (A review of In The Forest Of Forgetting)

Here is a run down on the stories included:

“The Rose in Twelve Petals”
“Professor Berkowitz Stands on the Threshold”
“The Rapid Advance of Sorrow”
“Lily, With Clouds”
“Miss Emily Gray”
“In the Forest of Forgetting”
“Sleeping With Bears”
“Letters From Budapest”
“The Wings of Meister Wilhelm”
“Conrad”
“A Statement in the Case”
“Death Comes to Ervina”
“The Belt”
“Phalaenopsis”
“Pip and the Fairies”
“Lessons With Miss Gray”

I found out about this book through Jeffrey Ford’s blog. He is one of my favorite writers. And much like other books I have read through his suggestions through his site, I really enjoyed this one.

Goss has an incredible knack for putting together such wonderful short stories. I don’t know what it is, but she has it. Her writing style is open. When she needs thick prose and poetic metaphors, she handles them with care. When she needs to be basic and to the point, she is just that. And she never mixes the two, or other styles, unless they work. Every story grabbed me and took me along for the ride. I had no idea where the stories were going to lead me, but as I read more and more of them, I knew I would like the ending. There was not one clunker amongst the collection.

There are some recurring themes through out the book. Many of the women in her book are battling or have died of cancer. Whether a sister or mother or just knowing someone that has died of cancer. However, it not a nuisance. They are needed at the right time. They don’t overpower the story. And only one of those stories (the collection title story) does the main character actually have cancer. Yet she places the woman in a forest filled with mythical or fairy like creatures.

She also writes well from different perspectives, or from different cultures. The stories center around characters in Hungry, in the Boston area, or in a city called Ashton somewhere in the Carolinas, possibly during the 50’s or 60’s and where there are certain families that hold high esteem in the community. She tackles all of these very well.

For those looking for great fiction and don’t mind some fantastical issues, this is a great collection.


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"The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque" by Jeff

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 19 February 2008 06:35 (A review of The Portrait of Mrs. Charbuque)

For a while I had seen this book pop up on recommendation lists, including mine at Amazon. I was skeptical about it though, based solely on the idea of painting a picture of someone you can’t see. But the more I read the description over and over, and have heard praise for Ford’s writing (his first novel won the World Fantasy Award, and the year “Mrs. Charbuque” was nominated he won for Best Short Story and Best Collection), the more this book intrigued me.

Glad I finally gave in and bought it. It was an excellent read. It has bits of fantasy to it, but in many respects is more of a mystery and at times has a feel of being historical fiction. All a good combination though.

The first thing that struck me with reading it was Ford’s writing. His prose is very good: not too much, yet very satisfying. He doesn’t send you to the dictionary like China Miéville does. But her certainly has a vast vocabulary. The other thing that hooked me was the story itself. It pulled me in very quickly. The combination of the real story, and the stories that Mrs. Charbuque tells was very intriguing.

Ford also did a great job in revealing the secrets to the mystery. Nothing was forced. They were brought in at the right time, or didn’t come across as coincidence. And his characters were well written out, too. I could really feel the frustration that was building up in Piambo as he deals with the problems, even trying to get back a little at Mrs. Charbuque’s tricks. Or dealing with the issues between him and his obsession with the painting, and his girlfriend Samantha.

I would rank this up there with some of the best books I have read. You don’t need to be a fan of mystery or historical fiction to like this book. And you don’t need a vocabulary of a Shakespearean major to understand it. Yet you wonder at the end why is was nominated for a fantasy award. Guess you can just chalk it up to the great writing. ; )


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"Martin Sloane" by Michael Redhill

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 19 February 2008 06:32 (A review of Martin Sloane)

I stumbled upon this book at Amazon.Com. Usually if I see a book that look interesting, I will click on the link and see what it’s about. Sometimes I end up clicking other recommendations that come up with that book, and so on and so on. “Martin Sloane” was one of these. After reading the write-ups about it, something struck me that I should look for it at BookMooch. Sure enough, someone had a copy available.

It was said that it took Redhill twelve years to write the book, with numerous drafts. It shows. It is well edited and put together. Even with only 20 pages left in the book, you are still learning even more of Martin and his family life as a child and what shaped him as an adult. It is a fascinating and haunting read.

The relationships are well played out between Martin, Jolene, and her old college roommate Molly. Especially when Jolene and Molly have a falling out and later on are working together to put the pieces of this mystery together. I think the way Redhill presented the tension was very realistic. Again, a very well thought out book.

And something that has always struck me as just wonderful, the prose was excellent. For someone that is known as a poet, he certainly doesn’t start flinging unnecessary words and descriptions around. He uses what he needs to make it a wonderful read not just for the story, and knows when to stop and let the story take over.

Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, but certainly a book that has slipped under the radar in my opinion.


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"Jennifer Government" by Max Barry

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 19 February 2008 06:31 (A review of Jennifer Government)

I am getting lazy in writing exactly what the book is about. So I am going to use the same write-up at Amazon.Com that got me interested in it.

"In the horrifying, satirical near future of Max Barry’s Jennifer Government, American corporations literally rule the world. Everyone takes his employer’s name as his last name; once-autonomous nations as far-flung as Australia belong to the USA; and the National Rifle Association is not just a worldwide corporation, it’s a hot, publicly traded stock. Hack Nike, a hapless employee seeking advancement, signs a multipage contract and then reads it. He discovers he’s agreed to assassinate kids purchasing Nike’s new line of athletic shoes, a stealth marketing maneuver designed to increase sales. And the dreaded government agent Jennifer Government is after him."

There is more to it then that. And there are many important characters then just Hack and Jennifer. Besides, Jennifer starts going after a few others, too. There is a lot to make you laugh and a lot to enjoy. Like Hack sub-contracting his assassination work out the Police. And Jennifer being a typical “working single mom”; juggling between being a loving and caring parent at home and an obsessed employee at work.

It was a quick read for a couple of reasons. Barry’s writing style makes it flow very well. He uses writers’ tricks to pull things together, or see the results of something before knowing it happens. But he is just descriptive enough to get the point across, and then quickly moves back to the story, keeping it simple yet good. The other reason is that it’s rather short. Only 320 pages in trade paperback, and larger print. A very worthwhile and fun read though.


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"Set This House in Order" by Matt Ruff

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 19 February 2008 06:29 (A review of Set This House in Order: A Romance of Souls)

Here is rundown of the book’s description via Amazon.Com along with additions of mine through the help of Regina Schroeder at Booklist:

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"Andy Gage was born in 1965 and murdered not long after by his stepfather. It was no ordinary murder. Though the torture and abuse that killed him were real, Andy Gage’s death wasn’t. Only his soul actually died, and when it died, it broke in pieces. Then the pieces became souls in their own right, coinheritors of Andy Gage’s life.

The “new” Andy Gage was “born” just two years ago, called out of the lake near their house by his father to be the public face of a multiple personality. While Andy deals with the outside world, more than a hundred other souls share an imaginary house inside Andy’s head, struggling to maintain an orderly coexistence: Aaron, the father figure; Adam, the mischievous teenager; Jake, the frightened little boy; Aunt Sam, the artist; Seferis, the defender; and Gideon, who wants to get rid of Andy and the others and run things on his own.

Andy’s new coworker, Penny Driver, is also a multiple personality, a fact that Penny is only partially aware of. When several of Penny’s other souls ask Andy for help, Andy reluctantly agrees, setting in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy the stability of the house. Now Andy and Penny must work together to uncover a terrible secret that Andy has been keeping, from himself."

---

There was part of me that was worried when I bought this book that it might be too complex to really enjoy. Not that I can’t handle a complex plot, but that the multiple personalities and switching between them would become too much, maybe even surreal. However, Mr. Ruff’s delivery makes it so easy to discern between that I am embarrassed that I ever thought it would be difficult.

This book should appeal to almost any reader. The style is very straight forward. The reading level needed is not very high. But unlike other books that I have read that fall into those categories, this book contains very deep characterization. The presentation of the story gives two sides, both of Andy and Penny, at times overlapping or going back to replay from the other perspective. Often times there are complete chapters that go back in time to give background on some of the reasons events just happened in the chapter previous. The story doesn’t march straight forward in chronological order, making it more interesting and engaging, especially when learning more of the characters involved.

One thing about this book though that might put purists off is it’s lack of depth on the disorder itself and it’s controversy. Like one reviewer at Amazon said:

"Centered on the fascinating, very rare and controversial condition of multiple identity disorder. This condition raises questions which go to very nature of consciousness. However, the author here is more concerned with weaving a satisfying, fantasy style storyline around the basic concept, than exploring these questions in any depth."

One other thing that hit me was the ability to talk to other personalities. This comes from being uneducated on the subject. I was under the impression that if someone is diagnosed as such, they switch personalities without any real control, and without knowing or communicating with the other(s). Another issue is that many of the characters in the book that don’t have this disorder are accepting of it. This didn’t really bother me until much later in the book when one character doesn’t believe it to be an actual condition. Though it can be easily explained that Andy would surround himself with people that would believe and not have issue, or move on until he would find those tolerant people. And what are the chances that two people with the disorder would be in such close proximity to each other?

Even with these shortcomings, it doesn’t take away from a great story being told. The reader is still brought into the story’s world to see the struggles of someone afflicted with the disorder from different sides and different degrees. The explanations are quick and to the point, not too drawn out and stuffed with too much jargon. Most of the explanations are in first person through Andy, and he doesn’t understand everything, so why would he over-explain things? It makes for easy understanding of the inside of Andy’s head, yet still has the feeling of being complex. The differences between the points of view of Andy and Penny give you a good idea of the struggles one could go through with this disorder. And it also is an added feature to the story telling that makes it more engaging, not giving away too much, drawing out some scenes, but in a good way.

Maybe not a true representation of someone with a multiple personality, but it does come together as a very well thought out and crafted story. And that’s all I could have hoped for.


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"God's Demon" by Wayne Barlowe

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 19 February 2008 06:28 (A review of God's Demon)

Here is the description on Amazon’s web site about the book:

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"Lucifer’s War, which damned legions of angels to Hell, is an ancient and bitter memory shrouded in the smoke and ash of the Inferno. The Fallen, those banished demons who escaped the full wrath of Heaven, have established a limitless and oppressive kingdom within the fiery confines of Hell. Lucifer has not been seen since the Fall and the mantle of rulership has been passed to the horrific Prince Beelzebub, the Lord of the Flies. The Demons Major, Heaven’s former warriors, have become the ruling class. They are the equivalent to landed lords, each owing allegiance to the de facto ruler of Hell. They reign over their fiefdoms, tormenting the damned souls and adding to their wealth. One Demon Major, however, who has not forgotten his former life in Heaven. The powerful Lord Sargatanas is restless. For millennia, Sargatanas has ruled dutifully but unenthusiastically, building his city, Adamantinarx, into the model of an Infernal metropolis. But he has never forgotten what he lost in the Fall-proximity to God. He is sickened by what he has become. Now, with a small event - a confrontation with one of the damned souls - he makes a decision that will reverberate through every being in Hell. Sargatanas decides to attempt the impossible, to rebel, to endeavor to go Home and bring with him anyone who chooses to follow . . . be they demon or soul. He will stake everything on this chance for redemption."

---

Obviously, I was struck with the idea of a demon/fallen angel trying to gain it’s entrance back into Heaven. It is an easy concept to come up with, but quite hard to fathom creating an actual novel out of. At first, the idea really grabbed me. I put this book on my wish list at Amazon, only to delete a couple of months later. It had not been released yet, and I was unsure now that I really wanted to read it. Only after it’s release did I go back to it and start to read the reviews. What really struck me was people that were big admirers of Milton’s Paradise Lost and Dante’s Inferno actually saying how well this book holds up against these classics. It sparked my interest in it again.

One reason, I am sure, that this book holds up well is it’s style. Barlowe’s writing is as imaginative as his artwork. His prose is flowing and graceful, or harsh when it needs to be, without being a first time novelist trying too hard. His descriptions are breathtaking, whether the scenes around Hell, or those describing “life” in Hell. To add, some of his concepts, especially what can happen to the damned souls of Hell, is very original (to me) and quite terrifying (if you really think about it). He took things that were simple, made them seem complex and in a bigger scope then could be imagined, yet was concise with his presentation of it in the story. It is quite impressive.

As for the story itself, he does a good job giving the reader something to really hold on to.

The story gives us a few battles, and the military machinations that are needed with it. So at times it is part action story. Those scenes, like many in the fantasy genre before it, hold up quite well. I am not an expert, or really read many books with battle scenes, but from those I have read, these are well put together.

Some of the sequences in the book were not well defined as far as time elapsed in the story. Out of the gate there seems to be feel that it is very recently after The Fall, and those that have fallen are figuring out what they want to do and how they will build their cities. But soon we are many millennia down the road. There are new characters brought in and talk of how it has been hundreds of years since they have seen each other. Most of the time there is no good grasp of how time is progressing. And though sometimes it had me shaking my head, it seems so completely appropriate. After all, do we really know how time will elapse in the afterlife? Considering it’s eternity, in many respects it doesn’t matter.

The characters were well displayed and showed some depth. Some I felt could have used more. Especially Sargatanas considering his discovery of what his feelings were and what he wanted to do about them. A lesser demon, a military leader for Sargatanas named Eligor, and one of the main characters of the story, has more depth then the main figure. Also, one character changed in the middle of the story, though it can be seen as appropriate, it still kind of bothered me. He is a soul trying to get Sargatanas’ attention, then finds out who he truly was in life. This part also had me thinking it was a little too forced or convenient. The soul turns out to be a famous military general and is asked to train and lead an army of souls into battle. Though given Sargatanas’ feelings towards life in Hell, and the idea of redemption to those fighting the dark forces, even the souls, is very much in line.

A lot of what I liked in this book was the visual descriptions that Barlowe gives the reader. I tend to really like well thought out “worlds” in fantasy and science fiction. But the biggest draw for me is the sheer audacity that Barlowe had for even thinking to write such a story. And overall he does it well. His writing skills really hold up throughout. Part of that is the story, too. That audacity the author showed carried over to the main character, and with his supporting cast, it made for a great novel.


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"A Song for Arbonne" by Guy Gavriel Kay

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 19 February 2008 06:26 (A review of A Song For Arbonne)

The basis of the plot has to do with the country of Arbonne and how they are governed, and their religion. The area is made up of six countries, all worshipping the god Corannos. But also in Arbonne, above Corannos, there is the goddess Rian. North in the country of Gorhaut, they see the men of Arbonne as weak. The priestesses of Rian have much power, as does the Queen of the Court of Love, and the heirless Count whose death has led to his wife the Countess being ruler. They also have a lot of respect for the troubadors who go around writing songs and singing them about their love and worship of the woman who rule.

Per usual with Kay’s books, all the characters have extensive backgrounds, are very well drawn out, and are mixed up with so many storylines and issues, that is makes for an incredible book. And like “Lions”, there is little magic. So those of you that like the idea of reading about political and religious intrigue between kingdoms and courts, but without the aid of magic, this is another one to add to the “to read” pile.


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"The Lions of Al-Rassan" by Guy Gavriel

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 19 February 2008 06:25 (A review of The Lions of Al-Rassan)

This is not your typical fantasy book. There is really no magic. The only thing that could be seen as such is one characters knack for knowing where and what his father is doing, and being able to feel the presence of his twin brother and mother as well. So the story is bascially historical fiction.

The setting is essentially medieval Spain. The area is ruled by two parties. The lower half is called Al-Rassan and ruled by the Asharites who worship Ashar (read: Muslims / Moors). The upper half of the area (the map looks like Spain) is called Esperaña, which is broken into three separate kingdom’s (Valledo, Ruenda, Jaloña) since the death of King Sancho. Those that live there are Jaddites and worship Jad (read: Christians). Then thrown into the mix are the Kindath (read: Jewish). In addition to these three are the Muwardis who inhabit the Majriti Desert (basically Africa on the map), and are very devout followers of Ashar, even calling those in Al-Rassan infidels for being so non-strict with their beliefs.

There is a whole host of characters that are very well drawn out, especially the main three; Jehane bet Ishak, a female Kindath physician who lives in the Kindath quarter of Fezana, an Asharite city; Rodrigo Belmonte, know as “The Captain” and “The Scourage of Al-Rassan”, leader of the Jaddite Horseman from Valledo; and finally Ammar ibn Khairan, Asharite poet and assasin for King Almalik I of Cartada, the ruling seat of Al-Rassan.

Minus the Prologue and Epilogue, the book takes the reader through about 2 years of the characters’ lives. The hardships, the friendships that are made or broken, the battles of personality, inner battles of character, and physical battles of war. It is so well written and put together. And it’s storyline keeps everything moving. Even the beginning, where the story and ideas are being built, big things are happening and you are drawn in immediately.

There are two of Kay writing traits that show up in this book that add to the story, but sometimes can also ruffle a reader’s feathers. The first one is by playing out a scene or series of events over the course of 15-20 pages. Then playing out the same scene or series of events from another characters side of it for another 15 to 20 pages. This really got to me sometimes when reading “Tigana”, because there was a lot of it. At times it made me think that the book would have been just over half the length if I only had to read about an event once. This writing trait happens very little in “Al-Rassan” and actually is used very well to enhance the story. The other trait is Kay leaving out information of an event. Like someone dying, and having the reader go through another 20 pages to find out who in fact died! He does this a few times in “Al-Rassan” to add to the suspence. Most of the time I wanted to start flipping through the pages to find out who it was. But it still has a good effect on the book.

It is well known in circles that Kay can write, and boy can he ever! And those that are not necessarily “fantasy” fans and just like a good book would still find a lot to enjoy about “The Lions of Al-Rassan”. It is not just for fantasy geeks.


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"Ship of Destiny" by Robin Hobb

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 19 February 2008 06:23 (A review of Ship of Destiny (The Liveship Traders, Book 3))

The most important thing to say about this series is how well written it was. It continually flowed well, always keeping me interested. There weren’t any points that dragged. Very character driven. As a matter of fact, I have been reading about these characters for so long it is going to be hard to move onto others.

So much happened to these characters. They matured, or went through live changing events. Some fought to obtain their goals, with no ends, and didn’t care who they had to step over to get there. Some later came to conclusions that goals they set were not what was really best for them. Or that their goals were not best for all the others involved. The “heroes” had faults and problems that you wanted to smack them for. And the “villains” had softer sides that made you want to care about them. There too was the secrets behind some of the people and the liveships themselves. It all made for great reading.

There is so much packed into these books. And again, they really keep you interested. It was also nice to see that not everything at the end was predictable. Some of it was quite the opposite as a matter of fact. Still the most amazing thing to me, is that I never thought I could read just over 2400 pages of a story and not get bored with it.


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"Mad Ship" by Robin Hobb

Posted : 9 years, 4 months ago on 19 February 2008 06:22 (A review of Mad Ship (The Liveship Traders, Book 2))

The book continues to be character driven. The most of the main characters are the Vestrit family and their liveship the Vivacia. But as the story goes, not only do you have more and more happening to the family members, you also have ties to the famed pirate Kennit, and hints of ties between the River Wild, the sea serpents, and liveships themselves and/or the wizardwood they are made of.

To add to all this, there is unrest in the city of Bingtown, who is a part of Jamaillia and the Satrap (the king). They have ties with another country, Chalced, and what is pulling everyone together. Also to note, the title comes in reference to another liveship pictured on the cover. The Paragon has a bad history and is said to be mad. It has been on a beach for years, unused. Now it is set sail again.

There is so much intrigue in this now that I figure it to only get better from here. The book was mostly character driven with many bad fates happening to characters (except Kennit who has a run of good luck, but it is clearly explained why). But now things are really happening, and the best way to describe the last 200 pages of this book is “Oh boy ….. all Hell is breaking loose now!”


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