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!)
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.

 

 

The Orc King (Forgotten Realms: Transitions, #1; Legend of Drizzt, #17) - R.A. Salvatore

to anyone reading this series, READ THIS IMMEDIATELY AFTER "The Two Swords" ... it's a direct continuation of the story. I got sidetracked on a side-series and other books, and so it was tough picking up the plot, remembering exactly who had killed whom and who had whose weapon, etc. right at the beginning.

 

Also, he references a character from a short story I never read at the beginning of this book. If I were more diligent, I'd tell you which one, but I haven't read any of the extant Drizzt short stories (of which there are several)

 

A fun book with good battles and interesting stuff happening. 

 

It's a little sad that Salvatore chose to narrate the book in such a way that

it's a foregone conclusion that Obould's going to turn out to be a good guy and ally of the protagonists.

(show spoiler)

I think the story would've worked better leaving that as a surprise.

 

Other than that, it's a fun book.

Wulfgar's story arc is sad, but he's been a tragic character for a long time. I also have high hopes for Tos'un Armgo as a more regular character in the future. I think he's got an interesting story to tell.

(show spoiler)
Tom Sawyer, Detective (Dover Children's Evergreen Classics) - Mark Twain;Children's Classics

Hey, remember that time we hijacked a steampunk balloon, and spent a bunch of time staring at the Sahara Desert? No? Me neither. Let's never speak of that again.

 

 

Okay, so this one is much more bearable than Tom Sawyer Abroad (and because I have them, why not read the whole series, right?)

 

Yeah, so this novel reads like a couple of unused chapters for Huckleberry Finn, and as such is ... okay. We revisit some characters from Huck Finn, but they're just basically placeholders for a whodunnit... (I'm not even certain some of the family members were even IN the Huck Finn book).

 

We get your typical murder mystery, which is alright. The plot's by turns a little thin, and a little formulaic to someone who's grown up with mystery stories on TV.

 

Anyway, I will probably only reread Tom Sawyer multiple times in my life. Huck Finn? maybe once. This one? Once was enough.

Tom Sawyer Abroad - Mark Twain

Tom Sawyer Abroad AKA Mark Twain's Gambling Addiction

 

 

...okay, maybe not gambling. I haven't read a Mark Twain biography, but I scanned his wikipedia page, and it did seem like he had debt problems.

 

Anyway, this is a cash-in.

 

Somehow Tom, Huck, and Jim (freed, but still hanging around with 10-year old white kids and treating them like they're the boss... yeah.) manage to skip to St Louis, get kidnapped in a steampunk magical zeppelin, and then hijack said zeppelin for no good reason. Then, they aimlessly drift east at fantastical speeds, and end up in the Sahara desert (because why not? Mark Twain needed the money.)

 

We get long digressions of Tom saying how much he loves the Arabian Nights, and believes they're true, we meet a coupla caravans but don't really interact with them, we see some pyramids, some "whirling dervishes" in Cairo (hint: they're from Turkey), and then the book suddenly ends.

 

Yes, Mark Twain is fun to read, so there's that, but this is clearly a piss-take.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

So I had to read Huck Finn after reading Tom Sawyer. Again, I had this one in a condensed Classics form as a kid, and I read and reread it. It was hard in my mind to separate the characters and narratives of this book and the other. I kept expecting the King and the Duke to show up in the last book, etc.

 

 

... but now that I'm older and reading this book, I've got a slightly different impression of it.

 

Tom Sawyer was about boyhood. Boys being boys. Superstitions, a frog in the pocket, adventures, forts. Boyhood. The characters are brilliant, indelible, and unforgettable... except maybe Joe Henry. Why does everyone forget Joe Henry?

 

Huck Finn is about the river. It's a road movie-- a series of short stories tied in with the river as the only constant narrative. In this one, the character of Huck gets subsumed in Twain's authorial voice. Huck (and Jim, in several of the stories) might as well have not even been there. They're just a vehicle for Twain's short stories. Brilliant short stories. Unforgettable short stories, but it's just not the same as Tom Sawyer.

 

Huck Finn gets 5 stars because it is a classic and deserves 5 stars, but it also deserves one star less than Tom Sawyer because it's just not as brilliant and perfect. So... five stars for both of them, but if I could give Tom Sawyer 6 stars, I would. Without hesitation.

The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain

So when I was a kid, I had this large collection of Children's Condensed Classics. There were maybe 25-30 books, and they were all amazing. Let me see if I can remember some of the titles:

 

Tom Sawyer

Huck Finn

Around the World in 80 Days

Moby Dick

Little Women

The Many Adventures of Robin Hood

The Oregon Trail

White Fang

 

 

...okay, I'm pretty sure there were many many others. It's almost certainly the series that this yahoo answers question is about (but not the answer. the answer's dumb.)

 

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20120827074339AAt5gzG

 

I'm just kinda sad that my parents garage-saled all those books when I was a teenager. They were passed down to nieces and nephews, and scattered. ... at least I think they were. I oughtta check on that...

 

As a kid, I read and re-read all of these books. I don't think I realized until later that these weren't the full stories, but as an adult, I can't mentally compare what was missing in those old stories.

 

...in fact, reading Tom Sawyer was so totally familiar. I must have reread my copy over and over. This was one of those rereadings where I ALWAYS knew what was going to happen next, it was so familiar. Yet, I'm pretty sure I've never read the real version of Tom Sawyer.

 

So anyway, I remember ALL the stories from this book. Boys being boys. I don't remember Tom being so very superstitious, but that's the sort of thing that passes over the heads of 7-year-old readers.

 

Anyways, I can't say much about Tom Sawyer that's already been said, other than it is perfect in its language and depiction of boyhood, and the prewar South(-ish), and everyone-- especially every boy-- oughtta read this book.

Resurrection - Paul S. Kemp

Book six.

 

It was kind of all-over-but-the-shouting with the last book, and it was tough for me to get into this one, to take a whole book to tie up loose ends.

 

The authorial style didn't feel up to the standard of (four of) the other five books. Don't know what else to say about that. See my complaints for book four, but to a lesser degree.

 

The ending-- I know that the ending was especially dictated by RA Salvatore, but it felt more than a little awkward and forced, getting the characters from their arc to their end points.

 

spoilers ahoy.

 

 

Pharaun -- arguably the main character of the story. Certainly one of the most likeable characters. Seemed a pretty insignificant death. I guess that's very drow-like but whatever.

 

Quenthel and Danifae -- it was an ironic, but not unexpected end for these two. Again, not the ending you're rooting for, but certainly the ending they deserved, drow being drow. I really HATED Danifae by the end, which I guess is a good thing?

 

Jeggred -- argh. really?

 

Halisstra -- just as her earlier conversion didn't seem believable, this un-conversion seemed less so. She was so certainly in Eilistraee's camp at the end of the last book, that her very shallow switch back to Lolth seemed dumb. Wouldn't she have more conviction than that, just to be where she was? eek. This was the weirdest and most awkward part of the book.

 

Uluyara and Feliane -- might as well have been wearing red starfleet uniforms.

 

Valas -- wait, he's in this story? Why?

 

Gromph -- yes!!!

 

Aliisza -- WTF at the end?

(show spoiler)

 

 

Okay, so I can't really argue with character development and story arc because that's the author's choice, but I just felt let down by this book compared to (most of) its predecessors.

 

Annihilation (Forgotten Realms: War of the Spider Queen, #5) - Philip Athans

Weave. Weave-weave-weave. Weave!

 

Philip Athans likes weave. He thinks magic comes from a weave. He mentions the Weave about once per chapter, but I don't know what it is. Drugs, maybe? The word hasn't occurred in the 10,000 words in the four books previous to this book. Weave.

 

Anyways, other than that nitpicky thing, this book brings the series back into stride. Aside from weaving at least once a chapter, this reads like a Salvatore novel (with fewer typos), so mission accomplished, as far as this book is concerned.

 

Epic wizard battle. Epic, epic wizard battle. Gromph vs. Dyrr. Epic.

 

So, awaiting the final resolution of all plot threads, etcetera etcetera in book 6. Another successfully farmed out book, messrs. Salvatore and Athans.

 

 

Extinction (Forgotten Realms: R.A. Salvatore's War of the Spider, Book 4) - Lisa Smedman

So far in this series, there were three books by three different authors, who largely seemed transparent in their authorial voice-- in other words, this seemed like any other RA Salvatore series. The word I was most associating with the series was "outsourcing" --i.e. Famous Writer comes up with the story but can't be bothered to actually type it out...

 

Never once, did the "F" word even cross my mind during the first three novels. Chapter one of the fourth novel, it started to smell.... It started to smell like... FANFICTION.

 

You know how when you're flipping channels on the TV and come across a soap opera, and you don't even have to hear any dialogue to know that it's a soap opera? Something about the lighting, the music, the camerawork just clues you in to the fact that it's a soap opera. Now, serious film and tv students could probably tell you exactly what's going on, but it doesn't matter. There are unconscious signifiers. ...and this book stank of fanfiction.

 

"But wait-- this character has this AMAZING magical doohickey/ability/personality quirk that they've TOTALLY had all along, but I just mentioned for the first time here in the first chapter of the fourth book..." Not once, not twice, but about ten times in the first few chapters of the book.

 

Also, there were some weird continuity things... towards the end of book three, the characters traveled through a magical portal (of course they did), and upon emerging, commented that of course they'd be able to return because the portal works both ways (whatever), but right away in book four, our noble author informs us "too bad we came back to this dumb portal because it's one-way and we can't get back" ... grrrr.

 

...anyways, I felt like as the book went on, the incongruities were less jarring and the flow of the series returned. Still, though, this is definitely the weak point in the series' storytelling.

 

I don't know. Maybe this author would be okay with her own story and her own characters, but in this setting, Smedman was a poor choice.

Condemnation - Richard Baker, R.A. Salvatore

Another one. Another invisible author. Another fun fantasy romp.

 

I did notice at one point, the author referred to a character who CLEARLY was not in the scene. He was SOMEWHERE ELSE. that's Baaaad continuity juju.

 

Other than that, fun...

Insurrection - Thomas M. Reid

More of the same fun.

 

Again, with a different author of this book, it's pretty transparent. Still seems like Salvatore to me.

 

 

Dissolution - Richard Lee Byers

So, for his next series, R.A. Salvatore farms out the actual writing of the series to six other authors. Part of me wants to criticize him for being lazy and not writing his own stuff, but mostly, it just comes out as admiration-- I'd totally do the same if I were in his position.

 

So, this is a book by RA Salvatore by Richard Lee Byars. I'm not sure how much involvement each author had in the book. The byline simply lists Richard Lee Byars, but some of the characters are Salvatore's. The world is Salvatore's (or TSR's by way of Salvatore).

 

So, as far as I can tell, Richard Lee Byars' involvement is more or less transparent. About the only thing I notice (apart from better copyediting- HA!) is that Byars likes some fancy be- words "bespeaks" "bestir"

 

The story? fun! Salvatore has learned that you don't actually need a good guy to have a good story. So, all these evil, scheming dark elves betraying each other and stuff. Totally fun.

 

I really like the introduction of the character Pharaun (again, probably Salvatore's character?) -- he's the Oscar Wilde of the drow elves, and he's a good sight more interesting than many of his fellow elves. I can tell that he's probably going to be the main character for this series, and if so, that's a good choice.

 

Looking forward to more in this series.

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

So, I've seen this book around a lot. I think it's been on several folks' favorite book lists, etc...

 

***AN INQUIRY***

Does writing a book about the Holocaust

guarantee you a Newberry,

like making a film about it

guarantees you an Oscar?

 

So, yes, this book. It's about the Holocaust. Not that that's a bad thing, it's just a thing, you know.

 

***A SPOILER***

It's a book about the Holocaust.

Most people are going to die.

In the end of the book, people die.

It's not surprising.

Especially since I just said it.

 

And the writing style... well, I don't know anything about Markus Zusak, but he's succeeded in writing a children's book in a fully postmodernist style.

 

 

***DEFINING POSTMODERNISM***

non-linear narratives,

textual tangents,

unusual story structures,

foreshadowing so much that the actual events feel like an echo

 

Which is again, fine. I'm not sure if the world NEEDED A postmodern children's book, but here it is. My only real complaint...

 

 

***THE INTERRUPTIONS***

Interrupting like this

makes the narrator seem

superciliously pedantic

(that means he talks down to you)

and it's tough to separate annoyance at the narrator

and annoyance at the author

 

...but don't let that keep you from reading this. It's a good book. I'm sure others have eloquently stated WHY it's a good book.

 

***A REASSURANCE***

these interruptions

get less frequent

and less jarring

as the book progresses

 

I'm just going to say it's worth reading, despite its self-conscious writing style.