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Book Review: Game of Thrones

I finally got around to reading George R. R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.” It’s a classic fantasy book with battles, intrigue, and fantastical creatures. When I first heard of the series, my original impression was that it was just a simple medieval setting without any fantasy creatures. I don’t know why I had that impression, but I did. As it turns out, I was completely wrong: It’s got the medieval armies and the fantasy creatures. Specifically, just in book one, it has direwolves, wights, and dragons. It also mentions a few other critters that may rear their heads in later books.

The story is complex and convoluted. There are quite a large number of point-of-view characters: Eddard, Catelyn, Tyrion, Danerys, Sansa, Arya, Jon, and Bran (I think that’s all). Things start out simply enough with most of the action taking place in the northern citadel of Winterfell. Soon enough, however, the storyline fractures. Eddard Stark is appointed the King’s Hand. As a result, one group of people goes south to King’s Landing, another group stays at Winterfell, and Jon Snow (Eddard’s bastard son) heads even further north to the Wall. There is also the building side storyline involving Danerys who, I think, is on an entirely different continent not shown on the book maps. I assume she’ll be crossing the water soon enough, but on the whole, it makes it difficult to follow the plot … not the major thrust: the assassination attempt on Bran and Catelyn’s investigation into such and Eddard’s intrigues at court. That went well enough, but the problem was the whole horde of characters in this book. There’s probably five or six or more characters for each point-of-view character, so very soon, the sheer numbers of such become unmanageable.

Also, this book should come with an adult warning. There’s incest, teen sex, and a six-year-old boy who still breastfeeds just to name a few eyebrow raisers. I also read somewhere that things go very poorly for the Starks in later books, which is a shame, because those are the characters I liked the most … particularly Jon Snow. Because of that, I probably will not read any further in the series. I read the first book and overall I’d say my reaction was lukewarm. It wasn’t bad; it was decent, but the eyebrow raisers listed above and the fact I was forewarned about a number of Starks dying does not inspire me to read more.

Strengths: I liked the direwolves and dragons, and the Night’s Watch. The writing was decent and the main characters were likeable enough. Weaknesses: there were too many characters, too many things done simply for shock-value, and for some reason or other, I never fully sank into the book. Sometimes, it was almost a chore to read.

Ultimately, I’ll give “Game of Thrones” by George R. R. Martin three stars out of five.

This review was originally published on Goodreads on 6/27/13.

Book Review: The Unsuspecting Mage: The Morcyth Saga Book One

“The Unsuspecting Mage” is book one of the seven book series, The Morcyth Saga, by Brian S. Pratt. It tells the story of James, a high school student from our very own Earth who, when he answers an unusual ad in the paper, finds himself thrust into a strange and dangerous unknown world with little to help him except a short book on magic (which he quickly loses—of course).

 

The story is pretty straightforward. James needs to return home, but he has no idea how to get there. He’s given some clues on what he’s wanted for in this world by a strange little impish creature that keeps showing up to “help” him. Other than that, he’s on his own. Eventually, he finds himself on a quest for information regarding the good god Morcyth whose religion was wiped out several centuries ago. This leads him from city to city across the land with a young boy named Miko to accompany him. He makes a few enemies (and a few friends) along the way. The book reaches its climax in a besieged city called the City of the Light. I won’t spoil the ending.

 

Overall, I found this book to be … unexceptional. That is what describes it best. It wasn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination; I was able to read it without too much difficulty over the course of a week or so. However, the writing wasn’t good enough to persuade me to get the next book in the series.

 

Strengths: there are a couple: most notably the positive moral character of the main character James. He comes across as a decent enough guy who makes morally decent decisions. That can be a plus or a minus depending upon the reader. Sometimes, he seemed almost too much of a goodie-two-shoes (or is it goodie-too-shoes?), in an unrealistic way—he always had sage advice and a willingness to go out of his way to help people to whom he owed nothing.

 

Weaknesses: there were a few. Most notable, the work (at least the version I got) was riddled with typos. And some of them were quite serious—entire missing words and whatnot. It got kind of annoying after a while. Also, and this may even be more significant, there was very little tension. Most of the people he encounters in his travels are normal everyday-types who aren’t out to hurt anybody, or deceive anybody; there are one or two exceptions, but they are mostly on the periphery. It doesn’t make for an exciting story. There was a lot of useless dialogue consisting of “Hi. How are you?” “Oh, I’m fine. And you?” and similar type stuff.

 

On a side note, the book is written in present tense. That can work, sometimes, if it’s done correctly. In this case, I think it averages out to be a neutral, adding nothing special to the work, nor taking too much away.

 

Overall, I’ll give this work two and half, or maybe three stars, out of five, if I’m feeling generous.

 

This review was originally posted on Smashwords on 3/31/13.

Book Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

Yes, I’m still reading classics: this week we have “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” by L. Frank Baum. Like many people I am familiar with the story from the 1939 film, “The Wizard of Oz.” That was a great film that I did not fully appreciate until I had grown up. It’s a classic and I freely admit that. The book it is based on, however, does not quite measure up in my opinion.

 

First, the storyline is pretty much the same, although they did make some modifications in the movie. Some of the challenges were dealt with differently. Some of the encounters were different. And a lot of material was deleted from the movie. For example, there was no Queen of the Field Mice in the movie … at least, not that I can recall. But the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Lion, and that lovable fraud Oz are still there, although Oz is merely a ventriloquist, not an illusionist, and he has but a few interesting toys to serve as forms for his “body.”

 

Perhaps the biggest difference between the movie and the book was that in the movie the good witch, Glinda, shows up at the Emerald City. In the book, Dorothy and her cohorts must go on an entire new adventure to get to her city in the South. Oh yes, there is also the point that in the book, Oz is a real place; in the movie, it can be shrugged off as merely a dream.

 

Anyway, for those who haven’t read the book or seen the movie, the basic plot is this: Dorothy is a young girl living in Kansas who, along with her entire house, is pulled up into a tornado and carried away to the magical mystical land of Oz. Her house lands on one of the wicked witches and kills her, freeing the Munchkins from her rule. Although Dorothy is amazed by the beauty and majesty of the land, she knows she must return home to her Aunt Em and Uncle Henry. So, she sets off along the yellow brick road in search of the Wizard of Oz, a great and powerful being said to have the ability of granting wishes. Along the way, she encounters several odd creatures she accepts as companions: the Scarecrow, the Tin Woodman, and the Cowardly Lion. The movie is great; the book is not so great. I leave the rest of the story for your own personal consumption.

 

Back to the book. The reason I did not like the book was because the dialogue, almost without exception, was heavily formal and stilted and lame. It just did not come across as natural in anyway. The rest of the writing was decent enough for a children’s book, but I couldn’t get past the clunky dialogue. Young children probably would not pick up on this.

 

As an adult, I’ll give the book three stars out of five (maybe). However, it probably warrants (for originality and such) four stars out of five for a child audience.

Book Review: Through the Looking Glass

Continuing with the classics theme, I read “Through the Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll. It is, of course, the sequel to “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” Like the story that preceded it, this one too is a dream. And again, Lewis Carroll fills the story with plenty of dreamy clues and surreal hints.

 

It begins innocently enough in the living room of Alice’s home where she finds herself wondering about the house on the other side of the looking glass. How it resembles her own home so perfectly—at least, the parts she can see. Soon, she finds herself transported through the glass into Looking-Glass House where she has an encounter with the White King and White Queen and reads an excerpt from a Looking-Glass Book about the fabled Jabberwocky (a creature which makes no appearance in the story except through the reference of some poems, songs, and conversations).

 

After that, Alice goes out into a garden of living, talking flowers and meets the Red Queen who sets her on a quest to travel across the land (a land designed much like a chessboard) a full eight squares, so she can ascend from pawn to queen. She takes a train to the second square (or would that be the third?) encountering a few random critters here and there. She goes on traveling from square to square, all in a row, encountering strange creatures and beings at every stop. There’s Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledee and Tweedledum, and a well-meaning white knight who keeps falling off his horse. Finally, she reaches the eighth square and is queened by the Red Queen and the White Queen who sit down on either side of her for a nice chat about queen etiquette or some such thing. Then, she is treated to a grand feast, but there is some confusion about whether or not she should actually eat her food—all of it talks and takes offense at being sliced up. Then, of course, she wakes up and finds out it really is all a dream.

 

Strengths: well, again, Lewis Carroll was able to convey the surreal qualities that mark dreams for what they are. Also, I thought the chess game matrix that overlay the entire dream to be a clever tactic; it provided a loose structure to the dream that might have otherwise been lacking.  Weaknesses: well, since it is only a dream, I found that, like in the previous story, it was difficult to get invested in the characters or even the land as it demonstrated a tendency to morph from one scene to another. So, its strength was also its weakness. Other than that, it was a good fanciful yarn that helps one grapple with the whole subject of dreaming and the sleeping mind. There was nothing dark and sinister in it; it was really quite enjoyable and suitable for children.

 

Overall, I’ll give the book three and half, maybe four stars out of five.

Book Review: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I’ve been kind of in the mood to read classics lately, so I decided to review “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll for this here blog. I’ve never read it before. Yes, can you believe it? A westerner who hasn’t read “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” I didn’t know what to expect, really. A friend of mine told me once that the Alice in Wonderland series was very dark, but I didn’t get that at all from reading this book. He must have been smoking something, or I totally missed some grand sinister undercurrent.

 

Anyway, the book tells the story of young Alice who, while sitting outside with her sister, falls asleep and has a dream. I guess that’s a spoiler. The whole thing is a dream. I never knew that growing up (of course, I’d never read it). Every retelling I’ve seen on TV or in the theatre never gave me the impression with certainty that it was only a dream. I was always under the impression that Alice traveled to some strange new mystical world where magical things were commonplace. I guess not. She just nodded off in her sister’s lap.

 

Anyway, as an adult it was fairly easy to figure out that it was a dream. Lewis Carroll gave plenty of clues. There was a kind of discombobulated nature to the flow of the plot. Alice would be in one spot doing one thing, then things would kind of change in a vague surreal way so that she was now involved with something else: First she’s crying; then she’s swimming in a pool of her own tears with a mouse who showed up out of nowhere. There really isn’t a cohesive plot structure; it’s just a series of unrelated events with fantastical characters—talking animals, sentient playing cards, etc… The highlights were a game of croquet using animals for both mallets and balls, and a trial regarding stolen tarts. The Queen of Hearts, although she quite often yelled to have someone’s head chopped off, was far less sinister than I expected. Then, Alice woke up, and it was over.

 

Strengths … well, it gets a few points for being unusual. But that’s what you get for writing about a dream. It did capture the surreal nature of dreams fairly well. Well enough that I figured out it was only a dream. Weaknesses … well, since it’s only a dream, I really didn’t get too invested in the story. I found it kind of dull. Alice’s thoughts were interesting and did seem child-like, so that’s another testament to the author’s skill. The events in the story and the story itself were child-safe—not dark at all from what I could tell.

 

Anyway, I’ll give it three and a half out of five stars.

This review originally appeared on Goodreads on 2/17/13.

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