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!)
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.)




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...



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.



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.




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...




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.



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.

J. S. Mill: 'On Liberty' and Other Writings - John Stuart Mill, Stefan Collini, Raymond Geuss

synopsis: "Liberty is good." -JSM


So John Stuart Mill likes freedom. In all forms. He argues eloquently for absolute freedom of speech and of the press predominately, with other freedoms being important, too.


I always thought of "On Liberty" as a philosophical underpinning of the revolutionary era (American, French, whatever), but it turns out Mill wrote this in the 1850s. ..and topically, he's anti-slavery, which is more relieving than anything.


Anyways, Mill argues that truth and good ideas are strengthened in the presence of their opposites. Without junk science, real science is indistinguishable from junk... I accept that argument, but... wait... so, does anyone actually disagree with it? I can't think of any solid argument against it, which means....oh, I am so confused now. Could someone PLEASE disagree with Mr. Mill and therefore prove him right? Otherwise, I'm left awfully confused about the whole matter.


JSM also brings up a really interesting argument about what people should be allowed/free to do vs. what they should do. He says (probably more eloquently than I do) that society has a right to its norms and to use its exertions to enforce those norms. Therefore, someone who is doing something that doesn't harm anyone else (i.e. spiraling downward in an alcoholic stupor, painting their house purple, being Miley Cyrus, whatever) should be ALLOWED (legally) to do so, but it's society's role (and right) to shun them and offer their collective opinion on the matter. Interesting.


...anyway, I'm now just a bit smarter for having read this, right?



The Two Swords - R.A. Salvatore

A fitting, if not terribly surprising ending to the current trilogy (started with the Thousand Orcs).



Things fall out just about as much as you would expect them to-- there are some fun battle scenes in this book, but the really memorable battles were in the last two. The really memorable character interactions were in the last two.


About the only unexpected thing that happened in this one is the progress on our main characters' love lives...



Drizzt dropping Innovindil like a hot rock and running to Cattie-Brie,


Wulfgar losing Delly.


Cattie-Brie being somewhat passive and okay with the whole messed-up situation.

(show spoiler)



Oh well. It's not what I'd hoped for, but it's finally progress after several books of waiting.

The Lone Drow - R.A. Salvatore

Last one was The Thousand Orcs. This one is the Ten Thousand Orcs.


Ahh... alas for fun books with easily solvable problems.


For one, I guess it's not an RA Salvatore series if, every other book or so, one character goes off and becomes all emo--- moping about how they're a terrible person and basically non-functional as a person. Guess it was Drizzt's turn, which is funny, because he's done this at least twice before.



All Drizzt had to do at any point in the book was CHECK to see if his friends were still alive. They certainly had survived situations more miraculous than that many times. He even went to where he thought they died, but apparently, he's not a good enough tracker to mark a party of 500 dwarves saving the day (and his friends)?


Nope, we get a lone, emo drow in the wilderness, killing everything in his path because he's awesome, yet too dumb to actually talk to anyone or try to work strategically with his allies....


Also, (and this is the big, easily solvable problem in the book), there are only 10,000 orcs, several thousand trolls, and several hundred giants working together because they have a charismatic leader. Seriously-- oldest fantasy trope in the world, kill the leader and the orcs scatter. It's not like our good guys didn't have the means-- Drizzt has access to a PEGASUS for crying out loud-- swoop down, kill the bad guy, go have lunch. That easy.


I can see that we're setting that up for the last book in the series, but couldn't we have just cut to the chase and ended things about a book ago? Drizzt and Innovidil (Immodium?) even chose (for some strange reason) to take revenge on Urlgen, (the orc leader's son and lieutenant) rather than Obould (the leader). Why? What possible reason did they have going after the second-in-command? Must be to make a contractual trilogy...

(show spoiler)



Okay, again, maybe I'm overthinking this. The book was 50% battle scenes, which is pretty awesome.

The Thousand Orcs - R.A. Salvatore

A thousand orcs is an awful lot of orcs. ...and this book had an awful lot of orcs.


...and dwarves. This was definitely a dwarf book. I like dwarves. We've got good ol' Bruenor, his old friend Thibbledorf Pwent, his new friend Dagnabbit, our old friends Ivan and Pikel Bouldershoulder from the Cleric series, plus a new and interesting group led by new character Torgar Hammerstriker. Anyway, this book has dwarves coming out the ears.


...and it was a fun fantasy, siege/last stand romp. It definitely treads familiar ground (helm's deep, anyone?) but again, if you're looking for originality in fantasy literature, why are you 22 books deep in RA Salvatore?


The characters and their actions do seem a bit tired, maybe a bit forced, hence losing (only) half a star in my estimation. I did like the character development of Regis the Hob..er..halfling, though. Again, it's dumb fantasy, and it's good dumb fantasy.


One note: this was the FIRST book (of 22) in which I did NOT casually find typos. I guess it had to happen sometime.

Marked by Glory - Brooke Jackson

Full disclosure: This book was written by an acquaintance of mine. So basically, if I didn't like it, I would've just not reviewed it. That being said, I'm relieved that I liked it, so no real conflicts here, people.



A real good, gripping read. Kept me interested through the whole thing. It was nice to be compelled to read, after slogging through Anne Bronte last week.


Jackson has a gift for modern dialogue, moving seamlessly between spoken dialogue, text messages, and cell phone conversations in a way that's engaging, natural, and not forced at all. I'm a little peeved by modern writers who somehow forget the invention (and pervasiveness) of the cellphone in their stories...


She also has a gift for writing Oregon (particularly Wealthy Oregon) in a way that only a native could. As a local native, I can really relate with her locales and geography. I'm not sure whether a non-portlander would appreciate all the detail, but she's really got her locations down and well-described.


The characters? I found several of the characters to be interesting and complex, but our poor heroine seems a bit lost. She's kind of a wilting Bella Swan with so many strong, strapping males distracting and confusing her. Now, I'm not the type that requires ALL my female characters to be "Strong Female Characters (TM)", but our heroine Amy was a bit more of Emily Bronte's Catherine than Anne Bronte's Helen. (can I make a Bronte reference? they're on my mind...)


The book is a little heavy on the religious overtones, but shouldn't be a problem for open-minded folk. I do tend to see things through the lens of my own belief (and since I know the author, hers as well), so I'm not sure if I'm qualified to be real critical of the religiosity of the book. That being said, if you complain about the religious overtones of the Twilight series, don't read this one. This is doubly so.


...and of course, the ending of the book invites a sequel, but I think I'll disagree with the several other people I've talked to that have read it, and suggest that it doesn't NEED a sequel. The story stands alone on its own merits. Since I understand that Brooke does not have plans for a sequel, but would entertain the notion, I'd suggest that Brooke only write further with these characters if they have something new to say. If they do, wonderful.


One caveat to this book-- I understand that there is a whole genre of "Angel Fiction" out there. I've never read any of these books, so I don't know how or if Marked by Glory compares. I'm a little afraid that I may have to add it to my List of things that are inexplicably a genre.


(current List of Things that are Inexplicably a Genre [and somehow suck even more because of it])



Teenage Vampires vs. Werewolves Fiction

Insane Clown Posse

Dinosaur Erotica

Bluegrass Music


The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Mary Augusta Ward, Anne Brontë

Okay, now I've completed the Bronte set. I've read Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, and now The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte...


So, what did I think of it?


Well, Anne Bronte is every bit as accomplished an author as her sisters. Masterful use of language and description.


...but it was a bit slow. The whole story was very deliberate, and didn't lack for detail one bit.


Maybe one reason it was slow is that it was descriptive, but not compelling. Anne creates her byronic hero, Mr. Huntingdon to compete with Charlotte's Mr. Rochester. (nobody compares with Heathcliff...). The difference is that she's not infatuated with him. There are a few chapters in which she is, but it's over the top-- she's EXCEPTIONALLY silly and stupid in love. (give this book to my daughter when she gets to be about 18 and has her first serious relationship) Then she gets over it and realizes he's a dork.


Kate Beaton put it very well: http://www.harkavagrant.com/index.php?id=202


"Anne, why are you writing books about how alcoholic losers ruin people's lives? Don't you see that romanticizing douchey behavior is the proper literary convention in this family! Honestly." (-ibid)


Yeah, so there's no overwhelming love story because the guy is a jerk, and the main character knows it. The rest reads a bit like some 19th-century Ladies Temperance Society tract.


So, it wasn't a great read in the sense that Wuthering Heights was a great read, but it's probably the more intelligent of the two novels.


On an unrelated note, I learned that the name Bronte (with the umlaut) is a pretentious fancification of the Irish "Brunty". I'm not sure we'd be as likely to enshrine the Brunty sisters in the literary pantheon.


Okay. more Bronte humor from Kate Beaton:







Road of the Patriarch (Forgotten Realms: The Sellswords, #3) - R.A. Salvatore

So good...


Focusing on the bad guys was definitely a fun and rewarding choice for Salvatore.


Yes, he's softening them up a bit, and in this book, we get a good glimpse at the distant pasts of Jarlaxle and Entreri, something that Salvatore's only obliquely hinted at before.


The plot of this book is unusual -- it's almost 3 short stories. Not a bad thing, it breaks up the rhythm and expectations, which is totally cool.


We get a measure of redemption for the main characters, but not in a way that ruins or fundamentally changes the characters.


I sincerely hope that he's got more of these books in him. I can also see how these bad guys will run into Drizzt and our heroes later, and probably team up. Not a bad thing, either.


Super fun. After I've invested this much (21 books, by my count, I think it's TOTALLY WORTH IT just to get to these books here. Again, start at "Homeland" (Salvatore's wikipedia page provides a good order), but perservere. Get here. it's awesome.