YouKneeK

My favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy.  Occasionally, I also read horror, thriller, and mystery stories.  For more info about me than you could possibly want, check the "My Profile" link on the right-hand column.

Review: Thief of Time (Discworld Book 31 of 53ish)

Thief of Time (Discworld, #26) - Terry Pratchett

Thief of Time is the fifth and final(!) book in the Death subseries of Discworld.  I’ve always been a little iffy on this subseries, but I think this was my favorite of the five books.  The general story is that an Auditor has commissioned a clockmaker, Jeremy, to make a special clock.  What the Auditor doesn’t tell Jeremy is that this clock will supposedly have the power to stop time, bringing an end, or at least a permanent pause, to the Discworld. 

 

Death didn’t actually get that much page time in this book.  Maybe that’s partly why I enjoyed it.  I like Death in small doses, when he’s being funny or clever or profound, but he starts to grate on my nerves in larger doses.  This was especially true in the first three books where he essentially shirked his responsibilities and let other people take up the slack for him.  Meanwhile, he went off and had what would be considered a mid-life crisis if he were a human.  Happily, Death has seemed better-grounded in these last two books, so I’ve started enjoying his character more.

 

In this book, we finally get a chance to learn more about the Auditors.  Unsurprisingly, Susan shows up again.  I enjoyed most of her sections, especially the ones at the beginning.  I also really liked the characters of Lu-Tze and Lobsang who take up a large portion of the story.  They’re mostly just your stereotypical well-respected and mysterious monk with his exceptionally clever but impatient apprentice, at least at first, but they were fun characters.  The master/apprentice portrayal is a common plot device in fantasy, but it’s one that I tend to enjoy. 

 

I expected this book to earn 4 stars up until maybe the last 25% or so, at which point I started to lose interest in the story.  Somehow the climatic events were the most boring parts to me, I think because it went too far into “random chaos” territory at times.  In the end, I decided on a rating of 3.5 stars, rounded up to 4 on Goodreads.

Review: The Truth (Discworld Book 30 of 53ish)

The Truth - Terry Pratchett

The Truth is the second book in the Industrial Revolution subseries of Discworld.  The first book had been Moving Pictures and was one of my least favorite, so I was very pleasantly surprised by this one.  I enjoyed it quite a bit. 

 

 

In this book, newspapers are introduced to Ankh-Morpork.  Meanwhile, there’s a plot against Lord Vetinari (yes, another one!) to frame him for a crime.  The story was funny and interesting, with some deeper commentary sandwiched within the silliness.  I really liked the main character, William de Worde.  Since the story is set in Ankh-Morpork, we also see some other familiar characters from the various subseries.  Most of the page time goes to William, though, or to the people involved in carrying out the Vetinari plot.

Review: Death's End (Remembrance of Earth's Past Book 3 of 3)

Death's End (Remembrance of Earth's Past) - Cixin Liu, Ken Liu

This was the final book in the Remembrance of Earth’s Past trilogy that began with The Three-Body Problem.  Reading the trilogy was an interesting and mostly fun experience.  

 

The story didn’t at all go where I had expected based on the end of the second book.  I think, if I’d let things simmer in my head for a day or two before jumping into the third book, my natural “yeah, but what happens when…” thoughts would surely have led me to guess one of the main catalytic events and better predict some aspects of the story.  I’m glad I didn’t let it sit, though.  It was more fun to just stay on the ride and let the rollercoaster jostle me around and surprise me.

 

For me, this book was the fastest-paced out of the three and it had some of the coolest ideas to read about.  One thing that contributed to its faster pace was the beginning.  The first two books took a few pages to hook my attention, but this one sucked me in immediately because it confused me.  The story itself made sense but, at first, I had absolutely no idea how it related to the trilogy.  Trying to guess how it would all tie in kept me fully engaged.  There were a few slow spots here and there in the middle but, for the most part, the various twists and turns in the story held my interest well. 

 

I would caution that this trilogy doesn’t wrap everything up with a neat bow and a happily-ever-after ending.  In a story where I become really invested in the characters, this kind of an ending would be more bothersome to me.  This story, on the other hand, is much more about the ideas and the plot.  Because of that, I was content with the ending and thought it was very interesting.  I’m glad this series was translated to English and that I had the opportunity to enjoy it.

Review: The Dark Forest (Remembrance of Earth's Past Book 2 of 3)

The Dark Forest - Cixin Liu

This is the second book in the trilogy Remembrance of Earth’s Past, following The Three-Body Problem.  I enjoyed it quite a bit, I guess about equally as well as the first book or possibly a little bit more.  It had a few stretches where I had trouble maintaining my interest, but it also had some really great and interesting concepts that inevitably pulled my attention back to the book.  I also loved the ending, which caught me by surprise and left me very eager to read the next book. 

 

I can’t even hint at the plot without spoiling the entire first book, so I’ll just say that it picks up with the type of events you’d expect.  However, the story is fairly twisty and there are several surprises throughout.  There were some things I had more-or-less figured out on my own, but there were other things that completely surprised me.  It’s often a rather bleak story, but that just made the hopeful parts of the story seem that much brighter.

 

This book features mostly (but not completely) different characters.  As with the first book, the characters were interesting and believable, but the plot is the bigger draw here.  I did get slightly more invested in the characters than I had in the first book, but not extremely so.  I had a few quibbles with some aspects of the plot, particularly with Hines’ part of the story, but not as many as I did with the first book. 

 

One thing I did have more trouble with in this book was the names.  Surprisingly, I never had any trouble with them in the first book, but this book had a few too many names that seemed similar to my uneducated American eyes.  Zhang Beihai, Zhuang Yan, and Chang Weisi particularly gave me trouble.  There were also some characters who were related and so had the same surname, which is written first.  All in all, I was able to keep it straight thanks to the reference at the beginning of the book and my Kindle’s search feature, and it got easier as I got further into the book, but I expended more effort on name tracking than I normally do.

 

My last comment is about the ending, so it will have to go behind spoiler tags:

I was surprised when an apparent resolution to the conflict was reached by the end.  I had seen in the chapter headings that the book only covered about half of the expected time until the fleet from Trisolaris arrived, and everything seemed so bleak up through almost the end, that I didn’t expect anything to get resolved in this book.  Although I enjoyed this story, I wasn’t feeling very enthusiastic about having it dragged out for two books, so the end was a pleasant surprise and I thought it was done very well.

(show spoiler)

 

I look forward to seeing where the story goes in the third book.

Review: The Three-Body Problem (Remembrance of Earth's Past Book 1 of 3)

The Three-Body Problem - Cixin Liu, Ken Liu

The Three-Body Problem was originally written in Chinese and has been translated to English.  I read the English translation, and I enjoyed it quite a bit.  The story had its quirks, but it held my interest well.  One of the fun aspects was definitely getting a little taste of Chinese culture and history, since I know appalling little about China.  The translator has added a few footnotes to help explain cultural references that wouldn’t make sense to many readers from other countries, and the author also had a few footnotes to explain some science concepts.  The book wasn’t overloaded with footnotes; there were 35 in all and they helped add some clarity to the story.

 

This is one of those books where, early on, you are given a lot of questions and then the answers are slowly revealed throughout the book.  This makes it difficult to describe the plot in any detail without spoiling all of the fun of seeing everything revealed for oneself.  I’m going to confine myself to describing one of the first plot elements that started the string of questions: something is going on with scientists throughout our world.  Many of them are committing suicide.

 

This is more of a plot-driven book than a character-driven book.  The characters were interesting and believable, but this was not a book where I became really invested in the characters.  The story was the real draw.  I did think there were some aspects of the plot that didn’t really fit together correctly.  One of the larger issues I had will have to be described within spoiler tags…

 

The virtual reality game was entertaining to read about, and it engaged me mentally, but it didn’t seem logical within the context of the plot.  What was the real purpose of the game that would justify the resources that would have been required to develop and operate the game?  We know the purpose wasn’t to figure out what the problem on Trisolaris was.   Obviously the game developers already knew the problem because they used the name of the theory as the name of the game.  I don’t think the purpose was to figure out a solution to the three-body problem, because the game seemed to be run by the Adventist faction.  That faction didn’t <i>want</i> a solution because they didn’t want anything to dissuade the Trisolarians from invading Earth.  There did seem to be an attempt to use the game as a way to recruit people who would support their goals, but surely this game was not the most efficient way to find those people?  For one thing, why did they need to recruit people anyway?  Trisolarians certainly seemed to have things pretty well under control on their own thanks to the sophons.  And if they were trying to recruit people, why would players of this game be more likely to be receptive to the cause than, say, your average asylum escapee?  The game seemed more like an intellectual exercise than anything.  Experiencing a simulation of what Trisolarians had to live with might inspire some empathy, but that empathy is not going to cause most people to want to sacrifice humanity and let the Trisolarians have Earth.

(show spoiler)

 

This is the first book in a trilogy, and it doesn’t really resolve anything.  It does not end in a cliff hanger though, and it answered all the main questions brought up throughout the story.  It left me very curious about what will happen next, so I plan to jump right into the second book.

Review: The Fifth Elephant (Discworld Book 29 of 53ish)

The Fifth Elephant - Terry Pratchett

The Fifth Elephant is the fifth book in the Watch subseries of Discworld.  As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, my enjoyment of the Watch books has grown as the series has progressed.  With this book however, I wasn’t as entertained by it as I had been by the last couple.  I’m not sure if it was the book or if it was me, since I was traveling on business this week and I was surprisingly tired even though it wasn’t a particularly strenuous trip.  There were also a lot of distractions during the bulk of the time I spent reading it.

 

As with the last couple of Watch books, this is one of the more plot-driven Discworld books.  Vimes is sent on a “diplomatic” mission to Uberwald to attend a coronation but he ends up with a mystery to solve.  The plot was somewhat interesting, but not riveting.  The humor was there, but it didn’t often have me laughing out loud.  While the other characters all had their parts to play, Vimes had the largest role and maybe that’s part of the reason I didn’t enjoy it as much.  I usually think the other characters in this subseries are more entertaining.

 

So, all in all, I found this book to be pretty average.  I enjoyed it, but it probably isn’t one of the books I’ll look back on with any particular fondness.

Audiobook Review: Revelation (Rai-Kirah Book 2 of 3)

Revelation - Carol Berg

This is the 2nd book in the Rai-Kirah trilogy, which I originally read in print five or six years ago.  This past November, I started listening to the series in audio during commutes.  I’m a terrible audiobook listener, but this series is one of my very few successes.

 

In my review of the first book, I wrote at excessive length about my difficulties with audiobooks and why this series is working for me, so I don’t want to repeat myself too much here.  However, I do want to comment again on the narrator, Kevil Stillwell.  He sets the perfect tone for the main character, the first-person narrator for the story, and he uses recognizably distinct voices for the other main characters.  Most of his reading is done in a fairly understated way.  When he does get more dramatic, it’s always at an appropriate moment, and it has occasionally given me chills.  For me, it’s so much more effective when a narrator saves the drama for special moments.

 

This story begins a couple years after the previous book ended.  It tells a complete story, with the main issues resolved at the end, but the foundation needed to truly appreciate it is set in the first book, Transformation.  I wouldn’t recommend reading this book first.  There were many new and interesting twists that built on the things we had learned in the first book.  In particular, we learn a lot more about the demons and how the Ezzarians ended up being responsible for protecting the world against them.

 

There was a lengthy section around the middle that started to feel like it was dragging a little.  Our main character is cut off from everything familiar and, most importantly, he was cut off from all of the secondary characters I enjoyed so much.  The story was still interesting, but my attention started drifting more frequently than it had before.  I remember being completely absorbed by the entire series when I read it in print, so my perspective is likely the result of listening to it over a very long period of time in audio, a format with which I have trouble paying attention to begin with.  Instead of that section lasting for a day or two of reading, it lasted for weeks’ worth of commutes.

 

There were several great moments throughout the book, and I particularly loved the ending.  I’m not going to have any more opportunities to listen to audiobooks this week, but I look forward to starting the final book next Monday.

Review: Watership Down

Watership Down - Richard Adams

This was my first time reading Watership Down, and I didn’t know too much about it before I began reading except that it was a story told from the perspective of rabbits. I’m glad I finally read it, and I enjoyed it, but I was never enthralled by it. It was easy for me to put down.

 

The book starts off with a rabbit, Fiver, having a premonition that something horrible is going to happen to the warren where he and his brother live. His brother Hazel has learned that Fiver’s instincts about danger are usually correct, so Hazel does his best to help Fiver convince the chief rabbit that all the rabbits need to leave. Without any tangible support for their argument, the chief doesn’t take them seriously and is quite annoyed at being disturbed with such nonsense. A handful of rabbits decide to leave anyway, and the story is about the adventures they have after leaving as they try to make new lives for themselves.

 

Somehow I’ve gone through life without having much exposure to rabbits. I’ve seen a couple wild rabbits here and there at a distance, and I’ve occasionally seen fuzzy, rabbity lumps not doing much of anything (understandably) in tiny cages in pet stores, but that’s about it. When I was about halfway through the book, it finally occurred to me to look up rabbit videos online. That was nearly as entertaining as kitten videos, and searching for some specific things (fighting, thumping) helped me better picture some of the action in the book.

 

There really weren’t any major twists or surprises in this story. At least, not in my opinion. I felt like everything that happened was easily predicted by common sense, if not hinted at by the author well in advance. The string of adventures sometimes felt a little tedious to me, but there were also times when I was pretty well entertained by it. It also took me quite a while to warm up to the characters, but I did feel fairly attached to some of them by the end.

 

There’s an anthology associated with this book, Tales from Watership Down, but I’ve decided not to read it.

Review: Redshirts

Red Shirts - John Scalzi

Redshirts was a very fast read, light and funny, but with some depth mixed in here and there also.  It was an especially nice change of pace after my last couple of books which were slower reads for me.  It probably helped that I loved the original Star Trek series, because I was able to appreciate the parody aspect.  Reading this book actually made me want to pull out my TOS Blu-ray discs, and it’s the first time in months that I’ve had the slightest urge to even turn on my TV.  So far I’m resisting the urge, though!  I don’t know if I’d say Star Trek familiarity is a must for appreciating this book, but I do think it would help a lot, especially if you normally like your plots to make sense. 

 

The story is entertaining and the characters are written well, but the plot is pretty crazy.  I don’t think the plot was ever intended to make sense; it was just supposed to be fun.  In that, it surely succeeded.  Despite the plot silliness, the characters themselves really weren’t too difficult to take seriously and even the story didn’t often feel too over-the-top.  I liked the characters and cared what happened to them.  I’m having trouble explaining my reaction to this book because it somehow felt both silly and not silly at the same time. 

 

 

Because of my mixed “silly/not-silly” reaction, I went through most of the book undecided about whether the author was going to stick with the crazy plot explanation he appeared to be working toward from the beginning or if he was going to give it a more serious, believable twist.  I kept half-expecting Scalzi to come up with an explanation that made actual sense, even while suspecting that wouldn’t happen.

(show spoiler)

 

This was my first time reading anything by Scalzi and I think it gave me a good taste of what he’s capable of.  It wasn’t just the humor that appealed to me, but the way he made me care about the characters and the way he depicted the friendships between them.  I definitely plan to try more of his books at some point in the future.  The main reasons I didn’t rate this higher are: 1) I do prefer plots that make sense and 2) it was just so, so short that I was left wanting a little more meat.  It was still a very enjoyable read and I’m glad I finally tried it.

Review: The Science of Discworld (Discworld Book 28 of 53ish)

The Science Of Discworld - Terry Pratchett, Jack Cohen, Ian Stewart

The Science of Discworld is an odd sort of Discworld book.  Based on the name, I had thought it was going to delve into more detail about the fictional workings of the Discworld.  Like, say, how the giant turtle and the elephants stay alive outside of an atmosphere or how water on the Discworld gets replenished when it keeps falling off the disc…  If that last sentence makes it sound like I’ve gone off the deep end, then you clearly haven’t tried reading Discworld.

 

The science in this book is actually more about the real science of our own world, with a very thin Discworld story interspersed between the science bits.   The Discworld part of the story takes place in the Unseen University, where the wizards end up creating a simulation of the birth of a universe remarkably like ours, followed by many million years’ worth of evolution on “roundworld”, a planet that is also remarkably like ours.  Each short Discworld-based chapter is then followed up with a science chapter discussing topics related to what’s going on in the Discworld story.

 

For the first 25% of this book, I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through to the end.  The science parts were boring me to tears because they mostly covered either terribly basic concepts or entirely theoretical topics that I wasn’t very interested in reading about.  As it went on, it got more interesting, although there were still scattered bits of boredom here and there.  If this had been a book about computer science, I probably would have enjoyed the theoretical parts equally as well as the practical parts.   Actually, even though it wasn’t at all the focus of the story, computer science did get a few mentions here and there, and I particularly enjoyed those parts.  When it comes to the natural sciences, however, my interest isn’t strong enough to sustain me through theory.  I enjoyed it when the authors discussed what we do know and why we think we know it, whereas the various speculations about things we have no way of knowing for sure were more frustrating to me than interesting.

 

The Discworld part of the story was very short, but amusing.  It served as a nice way to break up the science bits and provide some humor.  However, the story had a major logical flaw that annoyed me to no end: 

It’s supposed to be physically impossible for anybody to get into the Roundworld experiment, but Hex is able to use suits to let people enter Roundworld virtually.  Rincewind is the first person made to try this, and the luggage shows up physically in Roundworld, supposedly following Rincewind there.  But Rincewind’s actual, physical body is still in Unseen University.  There’s no logical reason that the luggage should have ended up inside the experiment.  It was only done as cheap story trick to allow the wizards to get materials to and from Roundworld by having them transported via the luggage.

(show spoiler)

 

So… will I read the second science book?  Yes, I think so, once I get to that point in the publication order.  Whether or not I read the last two will probably depend on my reaction to the second one.

Reading Habits Q&A

Thank you to Spooky’s House of Books for starting this tag, and BookLikes for spreading the word!  I thought it was especially cool that Kate from BL staff took the time to answer the Q&A, so check out the link if you missed it.

 

 

1. Do you have a certain place in your home for reading?

 

Most of my reading is done in my reclining loveseat, in the sitting room that adjoins my master bedroom.  It's a cozy little area with a fireplace (although I rarely actually use it), lots of windows, and a door leading out onto a small deck.

 

At night, I usually try to get ready for bed an hour early and then spend that last hour reading in bed.

 

On warmer days, I like to read on the aforementioned deck and enjoy the fresh air.  

 

2. Bookmark or random piece of paper?

 

E-reader. ;)  I primarily read e-books, so my e-reader remembers my spot for me, even if I read the same book on different devices throughout the day.

 

 

3. Can you just stop reading or do you have to stop reading after a chapter / certain number of pages?

 

I rarely sit down with the intent to read a certain # of pages or chapters.  As far as getting to a good stopping point, which I think is how most people are interpreting this question, I’m not terribly particular.  My e-reader gives me an estimate of how much time it will take me to reach the end of my current chapter so, if I’m close, and if I have time, I’ll usually stop at the chapter break.  Otherwise, I like to aim for a section break. 

 

However, I've frequently stopped at random spots, even mid-sentence.  This especially happens if I start getting really sleepy and can’t focus on the words.  If I’m just going to sit there reading the same paragraph over and over because I can’t focus on it, then it’s time to put the book down.  Regardless of where I stop, I always go back and read the previous paragraph or two when I start back up.  That usually helps me get my head back into the story quickly.

 

 

4. Do you eat or drink while you read?

 

I never eat while I read.  If I get hungry, I stop reading and usually eat at the computer.  I rarely drink while I read, either.  If I do have a drink next to me while I’m reading, I usually forget to drink it and then it gets warm and yucky. 

 

 

5. Multitasking: music or TV while reading?

 

Sometimes on the weekends I’ll listen to music while I read, as long as it’s something relaxing and not too obtrusive.  On weekdays I prefer to read in silence.  After being at work all day, where there’s usually a lot of boisterous activity, I’m ready for some peace and quiet.

 

Reading with the TV on?  Never.  I get exasperated when I’m trying to read in a hotel room and the neighbor has the TV on.  That’s when the headphones usually come out.  I know several people who always leave the TV on as a normal part of the background noise in their homes, even when they go to sleep.  It’s all about what you’re used to, I guess, but I would go insane in their households.

 

 

6. One book at a time or several at once?

 

Almost always one at a time.  I’m not much of a mood reader, so I don’t feel the need for random changes of pace.  I just want to immerse myself as fully as possible in whatever my current read is and give it my undivided attention.

 

I do make some exceptions, though.  At the moment, I’m slowly working my way through The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales.  This book has 211 fairy tales in it, and I’m pretty sure my brain cells would all die if I read that many fairy tales in a row.  I just fit them in here and there when I want something short and mindless.  I also currently have an audiobook that I’m listening to during my commute.  I don’t always do audiobooks, but I found a series that’s working well for me and it has made the Atlanta traffic much more bearable.  Since I only listen while I’m commuting, and since it’s impossible for me to read a written book (and stay alive) while I’m driving, I look at them as separate types of entertainment.

 

 

7. Reading at home or everywhere?

 

Normally at home.  My reading speed and comprehension is definitely at its best when I’m home with less noise and fewer distractions.  (If the cat is sleeping, anyway…)  But I do read other places also when I have the time or if I find myself stuck somewhere unexpectedly.  Once in a great while I manage to find time to read on my lunch break, and I’ll read while traveling or in waiting rooms.

 

 

8. Reading out loud or silently in your head?

 

Normally, I read silently.  Reading out loud would be too slow.  However, one thing I learned when taking university classes is that reading out loud can really help me focus on material that isn’t holding my attention.  I read aloud a lot when I was reading school textbooks, often in some silly, snooty-sounding accent to help me stay entertained.  Ever since discovering that trick, I've occasionally done the same thing with fiction books if I'm having trouble getting through a certain passage, but usually only for a page at most.  As you may have gathered, I’m not much of a skimmer; I’m always afraid I’ll miss something important.

 

 

9. Do you read ahead or even skip pages?

 

I never, ever skip pages.  Once in a while, if I’m in a particularly tense section of a great book, I might not be able to refrain from allowing my eyes to flick down the page and get the gist of what happens on that page before I read it more thoroughly.  I try not to do that, though.

 

 

10. Breaking the spine or keeping it like new?

 

I treat my e-readers with great care.  Before e-readers, it depended on the book.  If it was a paperback, I usually didn’t worry too much, although I did try to treat them carefully.  I treated pretty hardbacks much more gingerly, but it always felt like kind of an annoyance and distraction to me.  It’s one large reason why I prefer e-readers so much.  I just want to enjoy the story itself, the whole point of reading a book after all, without distraction.  I don't need all that touchy-feely-sniffy stuff that some people have going on with their books. ;)

 

 

11. Do you write in your books?

 

I’ll sometimes use the highlighting or note functions in my e-reader if I want to remember something when I write my review.  With school textbooks, I usually used flags.  That seemed more effective than notes or highlights because I could find them even with the book closed.

Review: Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (Jonathan Strange & Mr Norell, #1) - Susanna Clarke

This was a very uniquely told fantasy story.  It’s set in England (mostly) in the early 1800’s, and the author tells it in an authentic-sounding manner.  It mixes in a bit of the real world with the fantasy world, and uses some archaic words like “shew” (show) and “chuse” (choose) to add flavor.  There are also a lot of footnotes that add depth.  The tone of the story, combined with the footnotes, often made it feel a little more like I was reading a historical text rather than a fictional story.  Well, aside from all the magic and stuff, of course. :)  There’s also some humor.  It’s a somewhat dry humor that comes in large part from the despicable characters populating the story.

The basic story is that true magic hasn’t been seen in England for a very long time.  When the book begins, we’re introduced to a bunch of argumentative men who call themselves “magicians” but in fact have never cast any sort of spell.  They just study the history of magic, but they don’t practice it themselves or know of anybody who does.  Then we meet Mr Norrell who, much to everybody’s surprise, is a “practical” magician – he can actually do magic.  Mr Norrell has decided to make it his goal to bring magic back to England. But Mr Norrell does not have the type of personality you might expect, nor does he go about things in a way that might seem most effective to a rational reader.

It was an interesting story, and the writing was impressively done, but I was never very absorbed by it.  It’s far more character-based than plot-based, which isn’t a problem for me, but there weren’t too many truly likeable characters in this book and some of them were downright awful.  The book is broken up into three parts.  The first part features mostly despicable characters, the second part gives more page time to some of the more likeable characters, and the third part picks up the pace of the plot more significantly.  I thought the book steadily got better and better, but I still found it easy to put down.  For all the depth and authenticity the author put into the setting and the characters, I wasn’t too thrilled with the magic itself.  There seemed to be no real or consistent rules and, at times, it seemed terribly overpowered.

This book is 850 pages, not counting the footnotes that were all counted as page 850 in my Kindle edition.  The footnotes made up the last 7%, which would be about 64 pages.  So yes, this book was slightly tome-ish!  If anybody reads this on a Kindle, be careful because some of the footnotes get cut off in the pop-ups.  Many of the footnotes are quite long, some being practically short stories rather than ‘notes’.  When reading on the Kindle, you can follow the link to go directly to the footnotes to make sure you’re seeing it all.  In my case, I chose to read the book on my tablet instead, even though I don’t normally use it for reading.  It was just a little easier, plus the footnote indicators stood out better on a color screen with their blue numbers and I didn’t want to miss any.  I’ll be very happy to get back to my Kindle, but my tablet did give a slightly more realistic “weight” to my tome. :)

I have a couple of more specific comments that I’ll need to put within spoiler tags:

I thought the most interesting parts involved secondary characters.  I was very interested in Childermass.  I wish he’d played a more prominent role in the book, but the air of mystery surrounding him was part of his appeal.  I also enjoyed the parts with Stephen Black quite a bit.  Segundus was also interesting, what little we saw of him.

Jonathan Strange was somewhat likeable, certainly far more so than Mr Norrell.  He was rash and a bit self-absorbed, but I liked his openness and his desire to spread knowledge.  He seemed to have good intentions, even though his carelessness was sometimes a problem.  Mr Norrell, on the other hand… ugh!  Setting aside the fact that most of the problems in the book were the result of his selfish choices, he just had a horrid personality.  I hate information hoarders, and he took it to extremes.  He tried to suppress other magicians not out of genuine concern that they might cause harm, but because he was afraid somebody might equal or surpass his skills and siphon off some of his credit.  He wanted all the glory for himself, and he cared more about his own pride than the greater good.  He irrationally worked against his own stated objective of bringing Magic to England by actually suppressing it.   Ok, yes, he struck a nerve with me. :)  I guess that says something for how well-written he was if he managed to evoke so much dislike from me.

It was a little surprising to me, at least at first, that Norrell became so fond of Strange’s companionship, but I guess it makes sense that he would enjoy his first opportunity to converse with somebody who shared his interest in and aptitude for magic.  Given Norrell’s history of dishonesty and selfish behavior, I imagine he will hinder Strange rather than help him solve their little curse of darkness, out of a desire to keep Strange all to himself.

(show spoiler)



Whew… I guess my review was a bit of a tome itself!

Review: Childhood's End

Childhood's End - Arthur C. Clarke

This was my first time reading any of Arthur C. Clarke’s work, and I started the book without knowing what the story was about.  When I read a well-known classic, I expect to find familiar plot elements that I’ve seen in more modern works.  In this case, I don’t think I’ve encountered a story quite like this, although I’m sure there are some out there somewhere. 

 

The first chapter did seem like a very familiar story.  In that short chapter we learn that the U.S. and Russia are having a space race, each only weeks away from launching ships to explore our own galaxy.  Before the chapter is over, both countries lose the space race when a fleet of alien ships suddenly shows up and takes position over all the major countries of Earth.

 

So that sounds like a story that’s been done to death, but it doesn’t go in the direction you would probably expect.  Despite being more unique than I expected, my interest fluctuated drastically throughout the book.  There were story elements I was very interested in, and there were times when I was fully engaged in trying to guess explanations for certain things, but there were many other times when it was a struggle to push through. 

 

This is a far more plot-driven story than character-driven.  In some cases the characters weren’t very likeable, and in other cases we just didn’t get into their heads deeply enough to really understand them.  The story took a rather bizarre turn that I didn’t care for as it approached the end.  From that point, it was rather bleak and disturbing.  The writing came across as a little stilted to me, not just the dialogue but the narrative as well.  It wasn’t drastically so, and it’s hard to put my finger on the specific reasons I felt that way.  I don’t think it was the age of the book, because I’ve read other books from around this time period without having the same impression.

 

I’ll likely try some more of Clarke’s work in the future.  I already have a copy of Rendevous with Rama, so that’s likely the next one I’ll try once I decide to cycle back to this author.

Review: Carpe Jugulum (Discworld Book 27 of 53ish)

Carpe Jugulum - Terry Pratchett

Carpe Jugulum is the sixth and final book in the Witches subseries of Discworld. This has been my favorite Discworld subseries, mainly because Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg have been so much fun, so I’ll miss it. This is also the first subseries I’ve completed, unless you count Ancient Civilizations which consists of two loosely-related books grouped under that heading in The Discworld Reading Order Guide.

The title is a pretty good hint about the story: Carpe Jugulum, seize the throat. I’ll let you use your imagination to figure out the premise. :) This one had a good story, but it wasn’t quite as funny as some of the earlier Witches books. It did have humor, but I think it was just missing more Granny Weatherwax. She played an important part in the story, but she didn’t get much page time. On the other hand, Agnes is a fun character and she featured prominently along with Nanny, so I was happy about that. Magrat shows up a little bit too, but she’s far less annoying than she was in the earlier books. This book also contains a bit of a follow up to one of the earlier books, Small Gods, and that was fun to see.

My only other comment needs to go behind spoiler tags. Don’t click if you haven’t read the book!

With this being the last Witches book and with all of the false foreshadowing, I spent most of this book worried that Granny Weatherwax would be dead or something by the end. It isn’t too often that I feel any sort of real suspense when reading a Discworld book, but I did this time. I was happy that she was still alive and well by the end.

(show spoiler)

Review: The Sea and Little Fishes (Discworld "Book" 26 of 53ish)

The Sea and Little Fishes - Terry Pratchett

The Sea and Little Fishes is a cute short story in the Discworld universe, featuring Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg.  It can be found for free here.

 

In this story, we see what happens when somebody accuses Granny Weatherwax of not being “nice”.  Sometimes you don’t really want what you think you want…  This was a fun story, featuring two of my favorite Discworld characters.

Review: The Shadowed Sun (Dreamblood Book 2 of 2)

The Shadowed Sun - N.K. Jemisin

The Shadowed Sun is set ten years after The Killing Moon.  Each story stands alone, but there’s a larger story arc that ties them together.  At the end of the first book, I had felt slightly unsatisfied because things were wrapped up so quickly.  It tied up the main plot but left me with a lot of questions about what the repercussions would be.  This second book gave me what I had been looking for by showing me what those repercussions were, and by then going on to deal with those repercussions.  I felt more satisfied with the ending of this book, particularly in terms of the larger political situation.

 

The Shadowed Sun focused on a different set of main characters, although some characters from the first book did make an appearance.  I won’t mention any names, since that could spoil the first book.  I liked most of the main characters in this book, but I think I was slightly more attached to the ones in the first book.  Story-wise, this book felt more fleshed-out to me, probably in part because it was the longer book, and maybe partly because it had the world-building from the first book to support it.  On the other hand, it became more romance-heavy than what I typically prefer toward the second half and I thought that dominated the plot a little too much.

 

In the end I enjoyed both books about equally, but each had different strengths. It was definitely a great series to end 2016 with, and I look forwarding to trying more of Jemisin’s work at some point in the future.

Currently reading

Making Money (Discworld, #36)
Terry Pratchett
The Complete Grimm's Fairy Tales (Knickerbocker Classics)
Wilhelm Grimm, Jacob Grimm