book reviews by Althea

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The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss *****

The Name of the Wind
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The dedication to this book says something about “if you want to do something, take your time and do it right the first time.” I thought that was a pretty arrogant thing for an author to say about his first published book. However, reading the book… well, it’s completely justified.
This doesn’t read like a first novel. The writing shows a mastery of the craft, and I was quickly fully immersed in Rothfuss’ world.
It’s long, and not a whole lot happens. Some readers might feel impatient with this, but I’m fine with it. (I also really like Umberto Eco’s ‘Island of the Day Before,’ to which, by comparison, nearly any book is an action-packed, non-stop riot.) It’s not nearly that slow! The important thing is that I enjoyed every minute of it – I was intrigued by Kvothe’s character, and absorbed by his quest to research and uncover the mysteries of the enigmatic Chandrian.
If I had to compare Rothfuss’ work to that of any other fantasist, it would be Carol Berg, whom I also love. But the voice here is definitely unique. I’ll definitely be reading the sequel, whenever I can manage to get my hand on it!

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Impossible – Nancy Werlin *

Impossible by Nancy Werlin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Read this for book club. None of us could figure out why it had been recommended to us, or why it was nominated for awards. I don’t think there has ever been another selection for our book club that was so universally disliked.
*Offensive, retrograde, disturbing implications for the young women that the book is aimed toward. An evil faerie lord has cursed the women of the protagonists’ family for generations. She is doomed to be raped, have a baby, and then go crazy. But of course, having the rape-baby is the Most Important Thing! (Shades of crappy Twilight, here.)
*Messages that a young woman cannot be self-reliant. You need someone to help you, or your will won’t be strong enough, and you’ll fail. Also, you’ll be really dumb unless you have a guy around to point obvious stuff out to you, apparently. If you’re pregnant, you should marry SOMEONE, even if it’s the guy who you grew up with and always treated like a brother. (eww, incest-creepy!)
*Disturbing lack of concern for the apparently very decent young man who is possessed by supernatural forces, forced to have sex with someone, and then is killed or commits suicide.
*Unrealistic, unconvincing relationships between everyone in the book. Interactions felt flat and unbelievable.
*Shallow and unrealistic portrayal of a “crazy” person.

In addition to the above, I also had a problem with the re-imagining of the song, and of Faerie itself.
I don’t think Faerie should be described as “evil.” I see it as amoral. Yes, it may screw with your life, but out of alien-ness, dealing with beings from a different realm. This faerie lord came across more as a Christian devil. Boring.

The ‘solutions’ for the impossible tasks were unimaginative and/or derived from the author’s reworkings of the song. (People did actually KNOW about felting, back in the day. Cambric is a woven material. No, the shirt was never supposed to be “magical.” etc.)

According to the author’s note, the whole book was based on her early misunderstanding of the song “Scarborough Fair.” She thought it was “romantic.” Umm. No. The whole appeal of “Scarborough Fair,” to me, is that it’s a powerful message that says, “No, never going back to you, not ever, no way, no how.” It’s a “romance is over” song, not a romantic song.
So, on a personal level, I just didn’t like the changing of the message of a song I really love. On an objective level, this just isn’t a very good book.

The premise for this book sounded amazing, but I found it sadly disappointing. We had a good book club meeting bashing it, though!

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Reamde – Neal Stephenson *****

Reamde by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Oh, I sure do love Neal Stephenson.
Here’s my new and revised list of his books, in order of how much I like them:

Snow Crash (1992)
The Diamond Age (1995)
Anathem (2008)
Cryptonomicon (1999)
Reamde (2011)
Zodiac (1988)
Interface (1994) & The Cobweb (1996)
The Big U (1984)
The Baroque Cycle (2003-2004)

I considered bumping Reamde up past Crytonomicon, but then decided, no, I really can’t, because although Reamde is non-stop fun, Cryptonomicon was more interesting and in-depth, as far as its subject matter.
Reamde is an action-packed thriller. It’s a very clever, intelligent, geeky thriller, but it’s basically an action movie in literary form. A friend of mine compared it to the books he wrote with his uncle (Interface and Cobweb). I can see the comparison, but those books were both very mainstream in outlook – almost something you’d expect to pick up at an airport newsstand – and Reamde goes miles beyond that.

It’s over a thousand pages, but it doesn’t feel long at all. (Although it does feel heavy – I was actively envying people with Kindles as I was reading this.) It’s got: gamers, hackers, Russian mobsters, Al-Qaeda, businessmen, spies, right-wing militias, nerds, things that blow up, people getting shot, kidnapping, hostages, China, the Philippines, Canada, large amounts of cash, airplanes, boats, and many other People and Things that are Bad-Ass and Awesome.

Great both for Stephenson fans and as an introduction to his work.

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The Prague Cemetery – Umberto Eco ***

The Prague Cemetery
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve delayed a bit, writing about this book, because I have some ambivalent feelings about it.
Don’t get me wrong, I love Eco, and admire his writing greatly – for its prose style, its structure, its meticulous research – the book more than deserves 4 stars. It’s a very worthwhile read.
However, time spent reading this book is time spent in the company of venal, reprehensible men. It’s not a pleasant experience. Eco is theorizing, recreating the character of the bigoted, self-serving individual who may have created the infamous ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion,’ and he, and everyone around him, is corrupt and nasty. However, this character is not unintelligent, and in his philosophizing, often speaks with Eco’s voice… but then turns around and says something just awful – it makes for an interesting but challenging read, figuring out the author’s intentions.
I also have mixed feelings about the plot device of having the narrator be an amnesiac/split personality, trying to piece together his identity and past. It was interesting, yes, but it wasn’t necessary to the story, and I felt it was also too similar to the device used in ‘Queen Loana.’ Much like ‘Loana’ as well, the book is ‘illustrated’ with historical engravings ‘from the author’s collection.’ The images are fascinating, but I wish that more specific historical context/credit for them had been provided.

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Faery Tales & Nightmares – Melissa Marr ***

Faery Tales & Nightmares
Faery Tales & Nightmares by Melissa Marr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked up this anthology of short works by Marr after reading her novel ‘Graveminder,’ which I really liked. I voted for it for best horror of the year here on Goodreads, and it won! Yay!
However, I haven’t read any of the books in her ‘Wicked Lovely’ series, and my enjoyment of this book suffered because of that. I think that people who have read all those books will be delighted by this – many of the pieces obviously offer background information on beloved characters, and “fill-in” information on that world.
It’s clearly aimed at a teen audience, much more so than ‘Graveminder’ was.

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Ashes to Dust – Sigurðardóttir, Yrsa ****

Ashes to Dust
Ashes to Dust by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I won this book through First Reads! Thank you Goodreads!

The description intrigued me, as it was described as appealing to fans of Stieg Larsson, and it both takes place in Iceland and is written by an Icelandic author.

I didn’t find that the story was similar to Larsson’s, either in theme or writing style. However, it did create a very strong sense of place – both in physical setting and the mentality of solving a crime in a very small country, where the number of people who know each other makes it almost like a small town. I liked the author’s ability to create this setting – just for this, reading the book was worthwhile.

However, as a mystery, I didn’t find the book very suspenseful. I note that several other reviewers said that they found the book “slow-moving.” It’s not, really, Hints and clues are revealed at a steady pace throughout the story. But the author makes sure, throughout, that the reader has always figured out the next ‘big reveal’ before the characters figure it out. It’s obviously done on purpose, but I’m not sure why. It has the effect of making the book ‘feel’ slow, as you’re constantly waiting for the investigator to figure out the thing that’s already been made obvious to you.

One thing is – I gotta say, for a lawyer, the main character, Thora, does an awful lot of investigating. Are lawyers allowed to investigate the crime, rather than just defending a case, in Iceland? Hmm. It made me curious about the Icelandic legal system.

As the book is translated from Icelandic, there are a few awkward phrases here and there, but for the most part, the language is very basic and straightforward.

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Kings of the North – Elizabeth Moon ****

Kings of the North
Kings of the North by Elizabeth Moon (Paladin’s Legacy #2)
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Somewhere, in the boxes upstairs, I have the books of the Deed of Paksennarion, which directly precedes the story related in ‘Oath of Fealty’ and ‘Kings of the North’. (I’m going to talk about ‘Oath’ and ‘Kings’ together, since they’re not particularly separate entities.)
Moon’s introduction specifies that she considers these to be independent of the previous trilogy, and that a reader can start here.
However, I did wish I’d read the earlier books first. They apparently contain many of the same characters, and I really felt I’d have gotten into the story and felt connected with the characters a lot faster if I’d already known their background.
That said, these are very well-done books. They take place in a familiar European-based fantasy world, but the scenarios and characters are realistic, believable and well-drawn. Moon is well-known as a writer of military fiction from a woman’s perspective, and that’s what we get here. It’s not all women, but my favorite character was probably Dorrin – a somewhat-older, capable veteran who happens to be a woman.
The hierarchical social system accepted in this world isn’t one I’d particularly want to live in, but the story isn’t about ideal worlds; it’s about people trying to do their best in the world they’ve got.
My one issue with it was probably the absolutes of good and evil – one of the major plot points is that an entire family is Pure Evil and must be eradicated. Probably to balance this, there was a sub-plot about one culture thinking that another is evil due to cultural misunderstandings, but I would have liked to at least have seen the perspective of someone within the family of Evil Sorcerers.
It’s also not a particularly tightly plotted or suspenseful story – it’s more about enjoying the twists and turns of the complex politics and personal maneuvering of the characters. Like real life, more things keep happening… and I liked following them.

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