Level up!

Three main types of books I'm into: -Fantasy (pure indulgence) -Childrens (also fun- none of this pretentious "YA" crap) -Classics (this is where I'm "leveling up" my intelligence stats. +1!)
Sometimes a Great Notion - Ken Kesey

The Great American Novel.

 

Full Stop.

This is it. I found it.

 

Simply the best book I've read since Midnight's Children, and possibly the best work of fiction I've read. Not my favorite book, that would probably be a David Eddings. But the Best.

 

Maybe it's just because I'm from Oregon, but this book resonated with me on so many levels. The great descriptions of the landscape, climate, culture, hardships, and contradictions of Oregon.

 

Sure, it's about some pretty unsavory people. They use bad language and make bad choices. Several of them are embarrasingly old-fashioned (read: racist as heck), but that's my family. These are my neighbors. This is the world in which I live.

 

I'm surprised that over the course of this (pretty long) book, I found myself identifying more with grumpy grandpa Henry Stamper, and almost equally grumpy near-superman Hank than with Lee, the educated outsider. Not what I would have expected. By the end of the book, I had a lot more sympathy for Hank's side of things than Lee's side of things. Nevertheless, the ending brought all those viewpoints together anyways.

 

And the ending... since the book was written in the 60s, I assumed it would have an unhappy ending, as most movies from the 60s and 70s do. As a child of the 80s and 90s, I like my happy endings and find the generation before me uncomfortably profound. This particular ending was like one of those movies that freezes the action right at the climax.(I'm thinking the old Italian Job, but I know there are more movies like that). So the 60s and 70s folks can imagine doom and gloom, and I can go on keeping the happy ending in my head where...

 

Hank and Lee ride the log booms into the mill victoriously down the river past the screaming hordes of townspeople. Where Viv leaves the both of them to head back east to find herself, and where Hank and Lee, with the assistance of Andy sneak old Henry out of the hospital (and off the drugs) and they go riding off with a fat paycheck and the animosity of the whole town into the sunset.

(show spoiler)

 

Anyways, it was a good book and one that every Oregonian should read.

A Swiftly Tilting Planet - Madeleine L'Engle

Wasn't expecting to like this one, but I did. It was a bit episodic, but a pretty complex woven-together plotline. Not as didactic and trippy-for-the-sake-of-trippiness as A Wind in the Door.

 

In fact, the story was so compelling, I found the Murry family and the present-day conflict to be the weakest part of the story. The layered past/genealogy/archetype thing was cool.

 

Also: I love me some 'corns.

A Star Over Bethlehem - Agatha Christie Mallowan

Star Over Bethlehem and Other Stories - Agatha Christie Mallowan, Agatha Christie

One of my christmas gifts last year-- a book of holiday-themed short stories and poems by Agatha Christie.

 

I particularly liked Agatha's short stories. She's a master of characterization and emotion, and it was good to escape the framework of finding a dead body in chapter 1 and having everything nicely wrapped up in 200 pages or so.

 

The Water Bus and The Island were my favorite of these. Obvs these stories are going to be Christian in setting and message, otherwise why are we talking about Christmas?

 

After the first third of the book, devoted to short stories, the rest is a collection of Agatha Christie poetry. While Agatha is not a bad poet, and certainly has a gift with words, she's also not a great poet, either. The poetry section of the book was dull and overlong, and I probably won't revisit it.

 

The prose, however, will probably be shared with family around the fireplace, as the kind of stories one shares with family around christmastime.

A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle

First, an explanation. It has been, according to my calculations, three-and-a-half years ("time, and twice time, and half a time"...) since I've posted last. I have to say it's easier going through life without having to write about the books I read, but I also find that I miss something tangible that I get from writing after I've finished a book. It's a little chunk of memory to hold on to, even if it's only a few words. So, I'm trying to get back into it. Hopefully it won't consume too much of my time.

 

..So.. A Wrinkle in Time... I read this many years ago, and I vaguely think I got into a sequel or two, but I don't remember much about the sequels.

 

This time, I had a dickens of a time starting the book. I've been playing Pokemon on the 3DS (pokemon X, for the record... I'm a bit behind), and I've been so absorbed in that story that it's hard for me to pick up a book. In my rather twisted view of the world, that's okay. To me, a good video game is equivalent to a good book. Both stretch the imagination in different ways, and a well-rounded person should do both, but not get so lost in either that they forget to live.

 

So, finally I started moving on this book. I forgot how familiar the setting was, and how quickly I could make it through the material.

 

My impression this time is that the main characters (Meg and her family) were a bit snobbish. A bit of the "we're so smart, nobody else who is less smart matters" type of attitude. Not to Ayn Rand levels, but just a little bit.

 

Other than that, the story was a pleasant adventure. I was gripped, and the vivid imagery of the suburban planet, the CENTRAL central intelligence building, the Beasts, etcetera was all familiar and good. I saw a trailer for the new movie and I'm excited. I don't know how this will adapt to the big screen, but I have high hopes.

A Wind in the Door - Madeleine L'Engle

I read this one in less than a day when home sick from work.

 

I was unimpressed. I don't know if I read this before or not, but I'm personally not a fan of metaphysics

 

...allow me to explain. I consider myself a scientist. I understand science. I consider myself a spiritual person. I understand spiritual questing. I do not, however, think that scientific principles can be applied (especially by non-scientists) to spiritual matters. What you get is nonsense and mumbo-jumbo.

 

And THIS book was mumbo-jumbo.

 

Neither the science nor the spiritual questing in this book was believable to me. L'Engle managed to miss on both accounts.

 

Anyways, I'm beating a dead horse. I found the story contrived, dense, and trippy for trippiness' sake.I'm reading the next book, though, because I'm no quitter... (=

The Last Threshold: Neverwinter Saga, Book IV (Dungeons & Dragons: Forgotten Realms: Neverwinter Saga) - R. A. Salvatore

Wow. OK. this book was it. It's worth reading through all the books to get here.

 

Tons of fun battle sequences. That thing on the cover of Drizzt fighting a 3-skulled skeleton? Totally happened. Totally awesome.

 

This book also finally included the return of Jarlaxle and Athrogate, and had the moment I'd been waiting for, when Jarlaxle rides in on his white horse and saves the day.

(show spoiler)

 

I could read a whole other 30 book series about Jarlaxle, Mr. Salvatore. That's a dare.

 

...and just when it seems like all the threads won't come together, this book has an unexpected end, with all the epicness and all the feels.

 

At the end, Salvatore writes an ambiguous end for Drizzt. Now, from what I know of RA Salvatore, he can't keep a good character dead, but if he did, this would be a fitting end for Mr. Do'Urden.

(show spoiler)

 

Anyway, I'm content... and I think I'm finally done.

Charon's Claw - R.A. Salvatore

It's starting to get good again.

 

I love the complex character of Barrabus/Artemis. I'm glad to get to know him a little better in this book.

Neverwinter - R.A. Salvatore

With the last book, Salvatore made a break from the old familiar characters to this new set. I'm sure at some point, I'll love these characters like I love the last batch, but it's taking more than one book.

 

Otherwise, this is a non-offensive battle romp. These books seem to be much more mature (in terms of themes and content) than the previous Salvatore books, but that's probably fine. Anyone who can manage to slog through 30+ novels to get here can handle it.

Gauntlgrym (Forgotten Realms: Neverwinter, #1; Legend of Drizzt, #20) - R.A. Salvatore

These books get better and better.

 

This is (should I count?) book #38 (at least the ones I've been reading). I've got my wife started on them (she's 4 books in, now).

 

 

You can tell that as an author, Salvatore wants to shake things up a bit-- he's breaking the mold that he made in the first dozen or so books, and nothing's the same.

 

With the last book chronologically (Ghost King) that managed to kill off 3 main characters, and this book starting decades after that, Salvatore's showing a willingness to leave the past behind and start something (somewhat) fresh.

 

I don't want to spoiler it, but this book has a death toll as well.

 

No big spoilers in here:

I'm intrigued to see where this series is going. I see that Drizzt is (for the umpteenth time) getting all moody about his life, but it's interesting to see the difference in the character arcs of Drizzt and Jarlaxle. Jarlaxle is now much more likable, and (if I got my wish) poised to be the new main character of the books. We've learned about Drizzt's struggle over and over with, and I feel like he's played out as a character. Certainly as someone to help other people out, etc, but he's kindof already done his thing, you know. Anyway, more Jarlaxle, plz.

(show spoiler)

OK, so my review: if you're willing to slog through all the previous books, by all means, keep going!

The Trumpet of the Swan (full color) - Fred Marcellino, E.B. White

So maybe I wasn't expecting this book to turn out like it did.

 

First five chapters were straight-up Jean Craighead George nature documentary. I mean that in the most complimentary way possible.

 

Chapter six: sudden, abrupt left turn into Danny and the Dinosaur territory. (or Sammy the Seal, if you will.. they're the same book.) It was such an awkward break, I never recovered from it.

 

The book was fine as it is... Trying to remind myself that this is the same guy that wrote Charlotte's web (you know, talking pigs, etc.), but the departure from the initial style was so jarring, I  just couldn't get over it.

 

The rest of the book was a fun meander. I do recognize that Mr. White is an absolute master of the english language. (and, I noticed, he employs an oxford comma. I'm a fan.)

 

I've never read or seen Stuart Little, and although I read Charlotte's Web as a kid, the only thing I remember is the movie. That being said, I wouldn't recommend this one... go read My Side of the Mountain or something.

 

For a far superior take on Trumpeter Swans, the band Bark Hide and Horn have created a lovely song on a lovely album that you should hear. Here's a link:

 

Bark, Hide and Horn - Trumpeter Swan

The Sentinels (Forgotten Realms: Stone of Tymora #3) - R.A. Salvatore, Geno Salvatore

Conclusion to this breezy trilogy set between THE HALFLING'S GEM and LEGACY...

 

Fun reading, although this book was a little heavy in the exposition-- It was laborious explaining all of the fantastic things that have happened so far, and getting to the twist ending.

 

Oh, did I say twist ending? Yeah, it's a small twist, but it's there.

 

A good fun read. For fans of RA Salvatore and The Ranger's Apprentice.

The Shadowmask: Stone of Tymora, Book II - R.A. Salvatore, Geno Salvatore

Another entry in this fun, fast-paced trilogy.

 

It's more lightweight than the (admittedly already lightweight) rest of Salvatore's books, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.

 

Anyways, it's a fun, quick read, and the book keeps you turning pages. It certainly doesn't have the most solid and believable story, but that's the freedom that reading kids lit gives you.

 

Kept me going and guessing right to the last page. Ack! I don't have the next one yet!

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

I somehow escaped high school without reading Fahrenheit 451 (and a lot of others, for some reason). Anyways, here's a good summary of this book:

 

What I Expected:

Your school library, this had.

 

 

 

 

What I Encountered:

grumpy cat, world celebrity

 

 

 

Having heard all the paeans to this book from all corners of the world, I expected it to be a wise, cogent argument for the importance of books and reading, or at least the dangers of censorship. What I got was a grumpy Ray Bradbury complaining that television was too loud and confusing for him, and he wishes we all wouldn't drive so fast.

 

The book is less about government censorship than I expected, although there's that element in there. Instead, the censorship is primarily from the people (Bradbury blames minority groups for being too PC and censoring books they don't like), with government support. More than that, though, the idea presented is that the censorship hardly needs official sanction because, in Bradbury's world, technology has supplanted books as a source of information. People don't care about books anymore, except folks that hate them, so we might as well ban them all....

 

You do have to hand it to Bradbury that he did a good job of predicting 21st century suburban isolation, ear buds, flat screens, and all that, but I think he completely misses the reason we allow technology in our lives-- to enhance our knowledge, curiosity, and understanding. I'm not saying he didn't make valid points about how technology isolates us, or how censorship often comes from both the left and the right, but I think he's off base in his conclusions.

 

What got me, though, the real clincher of the whole thing, was reading the Afterword, Author's Note, and interview appended to the end of my edition. This guy's a real piece of work.

 

About two paragraphs into the Afterword, Bradbury's authorial voice (in my head-- I HEAR books when I read them) transformed into the voice of Chevalier from Gentlemen Broncos (more on that later).

 

...an excerpt from "A conversation with Ray Bradbury"

 

DR (interviewer) : In the introduction to the recently published Bradbury: an Illustrated Life, a wonderful book which I have spent hours immersed in--

 

RB: Isn't that an incredible book?

 

... isn't it, though? Isn't my biography the most important piece of literature in the 21st century? You adore me, I certainly adore me... Aren't I wonderful, important, insightful?

 

 

So... my impression of Ray Bradbury? this:

 

[that's supposed to be an embedded video. if that doesn't work, click here. trust me. it's worth it.]

 

 

...and if you liked that, rent Gentlemen Broncos.

 

The Stowaway - R.A. Salvatore, Geno Salvatore

READ THIS AFTER "The Halfling's Gem" and before "The Pirate King"

 

Preferably right after The Halfling's Gem.

 

 

 

Anyway, this is a departure. A kid-lit book at about the speed of the (fabulous) Ranger's Apprentice books, set in the world and with the characters from Salvatore Sr's books.

 

...and the book wasn't half bad. Again, it's a early-teen/preteen reading level, but I love stuff at that level, so it was great.

 

Four stars, simply because it was tough getting used to new characters and getting into the story.

 

At first, upon reading this, I thought that the series of events happening to our main character stretched the limits of realism (and sanity), and thought the apparent improbable/impossible luck of the main character was a mark of juvenile writing. At some point, I figured out it was actually a plot point; so, concern resolved, and these books are allowed to continue being awesome.

The Ghost King: Transitions, Book III - R.A. Salvatore

Ohhh Epic. EPIC. epic.

 

This is the payoff. 31 books into this series, this is great. I want to say it's the best of the series, but I'm also looking fondly back at a few others that might qualify.

 

...but this one was good. Way good. Worth-slogging-through-books-1-to-30-good.

 

 

We get to see some old friends, old enemies, and everything seems to culminate in this book.  There's a season of Dr Who that was like this for me-- just when you thought it couldn't get any bigger and more awesome, everything kept building and getting more and more epic. (can I say epic for the fourth-no-fifth time in a review? I'll stop)

 

Ok, spoilers ahoy. Big spoilers ahoy:

 

 

 

So, killing off THREE main characters after thirty-odd books is pretty controversial, right? Of course, with RA Salvatore, they may not stay dead.

 

I sure hope they do, though. I hope their death means something. Of course, there was foreshadowing for several books in the case of Cattie-Brie and Regis that their time on this world was short, especially compared to Drizzt's lifespan. That being said, their deaths were certainly unexpected.

 

I'm still sad about Cattie-Brie and Wulfgar's failed relationship, but I think that's what I like about how these books have matured. Things aren't always so fantasy-story simple.

 

Cadderly-- well, he's been talking about dying every time he crops up in a story, so that's not surprising either, although he seems (seemed?) so powerful at times, that it's kinda sad that he didn't sacrifice himself for something... I dunno... bigger? maybe this is big enough?

 

I'm glad to see Jarlaxle (and cameo by Valas Hume from the War of the Spider Queen series). I'm glad to see him making friends with Drizzt and co.  No, it doesn't even seem forced by this time. I'm ready for the next big revelation about Jarlaxle's past or his character.

 

Speaking of which, it was heavily implied in the book that the Ghost King (Crenshinibon/Hephaestus/Whatever) sent two of his Lichs against Artemis Entreri somewhere down south. I wonder what happened to them. I'm sure Salvatore either planned them as chapters in this book, or wrote up a short story, but I'm DYING to know, and it looks as if the next book is set SEVERAL years after this, so I may not find out.

 

Also, like I said, it looks like the next book series is set several years after these events. Does this mean that Salvatore's done with his group of friends? Sure, Drizzt is the most famous and marketable of them, and given his long potential lifespan, there's an unlimited potential for adventures, etc. but I actually like him least of all the Companions. His inner struggle has been won. Played out, and rehashed too many times. In my opinion, it's time for Drizzt to settle into the role of a continuing supporting character and let other, more complex characters take the spotlight.

 

Okay. More Artemis Entreri vs. multiple Lichs, please? thank you.

(show spoiler)

 

 

 

The Pirate King (Forgotten Realms: Transitions, #2; Legend of Drizzt, #18) - R.A. Salvatore

It's good to see old friends.

 

This was a fun one. Some great battles, political scheming, derring-do, and the return of some old friends (and enemies) and plot threads. Lots of reader payoff in this one.

 

A few nit-picky things:

 

 

Somebody should tell RA Salvatore that his book titles don't have to all have the same word in it. "The Pirate King" is not among the top 10 titles I'd choose.

 

It's interesting that the narrative skipped-- it went from when Deudermont explained to Drizzt that he was going to invade Luskan straight to the invasion. It's almost as if Salvatore couldn't think of a good enough reason why Drizzt couldn't convince Deudermont that this was a MONUMENTALLY STUPID decision from the beginning. Hello? 4 ships against a whole school full of wizards? It took about 20 times that firepower to even think about bringing Hogwarts down... Deudermont is just lucky that he got the support that he did. His invasion should've gone off worse than the Bay of Pigs.

 

Also, why didn't Drizzt clue Deudermont into the fact that The Crow had Dark Elf backing of some sort? That's the sort of thing you should mention to a friend.

(show spoiler)

 

 

Okay. Enough overthinking. This isn't shakespeare. It's elves and orcs and battles.