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Thursday, September 08, 2011

The Books I Read: June - August 2011



The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Before George R. R. Martin released his latest doorstopper, this was the big epic taking up every fantasy geek's time. My interest became piqued when Penny Arcade made a joke about the second book in the trilogy. As was my friend's, who let me borrow the first book, The Name of the Wind. I loved it right away.

The book is framed story about the life of a boy/man named Kvothe, a son of traveling actors.  After his  troupe is killed by a supposedly mythical person, he has to learn how to live and survive alone. His primary goal is to learn who killed his parents, why they were killed, and probably revenge. But all this often gets side-tracked as he learns magic (called "arcanum" and related to Voodoo and quantum mechanics), becomes homeless, and enters college on a shoestring budget.

It is an awesome book. But it is long. I think it took me a month and a half to read. And the sequel's even longer. I didn't know much about Patrick Rothfuss before, but I love him now. It's a great book for epic fantasy, and the only way it feels like a long book is if you keep looking at where your bookmark is.

Some people don't like that the plot meanders so much. I don't like books that do that either, unless they've earned it. And Kvothe earns it because everything he does is so fascinating. He's a charming man, but he's not a douche.  The world is fascinating, the characters are fascinating, and all the distractions and "interesting side-tracks" are what makes the book fun.  It's like if Harry Potter had pubes.


Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

One for book club. My least favorite of the books for this period. It seemed like I already read this book when it was called "A Thousand Splendid Suns" -- oppressed people, Romeo X Juliet love, backwards family living in the past that doesn't understand you.

The story is about a Chinese boy living in Seattle during WWII, when Japanese were being sent to internment camps. The boy likes a Japanese girl, who gets interned. Meanwhile he's got to deal with stereotypical bullies, his fundamentalist father, and where his nationalist loyalties lie. Oh, and while this is happening, the story flashes to the present in 1986, where they can somehow digitize LP records.  And the main character has petty, meaningless problems with his own son.

I've never read anything more pedantic and predictable. This story is like so many books oriented towards book clubs. It was tedious, and I never gave one rip about the character, because he acts like such a puss. I was never convinced he cared one whit about the Japanese girl. I would have rather read the story about her, and her experience in the internment camp. She had the more interesting obstacles to overcome.

But seriously, I don't recommend this book. There is nothing new, there is nothing interesting. There are no new ideas put forth, there is no emotion therein.


Abortion Arcade by Cameron Pierce

A free book from the bizarro genre. There really is no definition for bizarro fiction that can sufficiently explain it. I've read a few others.  Bizarro puts the "B" in B-movie schlock.  Let's just say there are people using amputated breasts as suction cups for climbing.

There are three novellas in this book: one has humans farmed by zombies, one is kinda "Teen Wolf"-ish, and the last is kind of an avantgarde piece with symbolism, but it doesn't really make sense. Actually, none of the stories make sense. But that's not really what bothers me--stories don't have to make sense as long as they're cohesive. But the first novella ends before it concludes (and it was my favorite, so I was sad), the second had no firm plot and poor characters, and the third was just incoherent.

Like B-movies, they're shocking for the sake of being shocking, with gross concepts, blood, and "eww" moments. Not my favorite bizarro work.


Goth Girl Rising by Barry Lyga

Okay, seriously, I need to know who this guy is. When I first wrote about "The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl", I talked about much it reminded of "Blood: I Live Again". This story is the sequel, and again, it has a bunch of commonalities with the sequel I WROTE.

1. Both take the POV of a totally different character in their mythos.
2. Both of the main characters have suicide attempts in their record. By wrist cutting. Both take place before the story starts.
3. Both spent time at a mental hospital. Mine during the middle third of the novel, his before the story.
4. Both have dead mothers. Both died of cancer.
5. Both have ignorant, screw-up fathers who don't know how to be parents.
6. Both find a way to redemption and resolution through a significant other.  Mine, however, fails to achieve that redemption.

Of course, the similarities are really character based. The plot lines couldn't be more different. Mine focuses on college instead of high school.  A large portion takes place in a mental hospital, then a cult in the Carpathian mountains.  And there's magic and shit too.

I found this book remarkable because the first was semi-autobiographical.  But the second takes the POV of a girl. And a seriously messed up girl. An obnoxious, self-centered girl -- that works as a secondary, but as a main character?

Like the first, there's a lot of thinking, ruminating, and introverted rants as teens do. I suppose it's part of the character, but it just goes on too long. It fills the book, and the plot elements tend to be diminished. But I liked the plot events that did happen. Although they weren't real exciting, they were true to characters. So I guess this is better as a "true" book than a "good" book.  If that makes any sense.


The Nex by Tim Pratt

Since Pratt couldn't find a publisher for this book (and for stupid reasons, like it's an techy adventure tale with a female protagonist), he posted it online. I do like Tim Pratt's short stories. They're some of the best on EscapePod and PodCastle. This book is pretty good too, but doesn't feel... I don't know, original enough?  I can't help but draw parallels to "Alice in Wonderland".  Which is fine, but this is much a milieu book.  It's more about discovering a fantastic world than about the characters. Which is fine, I guess, if you're into that sort of thing.  Maybe I'm getting too old.

The characters consist of a shapeshifter and a non-corporeal entity composed of micro-particles. I've seen those done, but never together. The main enemy is a power-hungry dictator, but there's nothing special about him.  The macguffin is a device that can teleport yourself or something else anywhere, and works on applied phlebotium.

The main character's character is not particularly touched on. The main character's power is a little too powerful. The ending is wrapped just a little quickly. But really, it's a fun novel. They go to fun places. They do fun things. The voice is fun. And the price is right. I'd say there is no reason not to read this book.


Looking for Alaska by John Green

A re-read, and my choice for book club. You can read my original review here.  It's interesting the things you pick up on during the second read.  The narrative does not begin with any kind of interesting hook.  And the main character is kind of unlikeable, as his motivations are barely explained, except that he's going to boarding school to escape the dull, unambitious students at public.  And there are some scenes that I forgot about that make a large difference in his character and the plot.

I don't think everyone "got" the book as much as I did. I chose it because I thought it well represented my teenage male psyche: crushes on unattainable girls, being in love with the idea of a girl more than the person, the introversion, the willingness to follow, the loneliness. I'm not sure why response was not enthusiastic from anyone. Maybe it's hard for girls to understand guys. Maybe because I was trying to inform instead of entertain, and that never goes well.  Next time I'll be picking a book I haven't read. Lord knows I've got enough on my list to choose from.
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