Category Archives: book review

Book Review – Season of Storms

Season_of_storms_cover_us_englishI had to get my library to order a copy of Season of Storms, by Andrzej Sapkowski, since no one else in our system had it. Which is why it took me so long to read it. Also, I’m bad a going through my to-read list.

Season of Storms is a prequel story set before the actual novels of the Witcher books. Now, as I said in my review for Blood of Elves, I didn’t necessarily love the format change from short stories to full on fantasy novels. The Last Wish and The Sword of Destiny were more up my alley. In those books, Geralt actually does his Witcher-ing (Witchery?) and each story is able to work around a monster-of-the-week format. When Sapkowski started writing bigger stories, the Witcher became more politically-minded and a bit more generic fantasy. They were always great reads and I enjoyed my time in all of them, but I missed the blue collar working nature of the first short story collections.

Here comes Season of Storms to show there’s a wonderful middle ground. The main point of the book is that Geralt has lost his swords and is trying to hunt them down. All while starting another doomed relationship with another (also, doomed) sorceress, Coral. But, the standalone, prequel nature of this book does it great favors.

Because it’s stand alone, the story is more focused and contained then the sprawling novels started with Blood of Elves. There’s no cliffhanger or unsatisfying end that leads into the next book (that won’t actually ever reach any semblance of end until the last book). Instead, we get another glimpse into Geralt’s life, the day and the life of another kingdom and some sweet monster hunting.

Throughout the book, as Geralt continues to look for his swords, there are constant side quests (sorry for the video game lingo that makes a lot of sense, now that I say it). Geralt deals with monsters of all different varieties throughout, from lab-created weapons, to fox demons (also seen in the graphic novel collection), to coliseum fights. You don’t like the guy who pushes Geralt into the arena, but after so many books of political infighting and backstabbing, you sort of feel grateful to guy for getting some action back into the books.

I don’t know if Sapkowski plans on writing anymore books, either more prequels like this or the unlikely new sequel series. If he does, I hope they’re more in line with this style. Contained stories with a good amount of Witcher work throughout. It seems like such an obvious idea, which is probably why I’m not a famous writer. I’d take the easy way out. But, Season of Storms is my favorite Witcher book since the first. And, that last coda of the book, is actually a rather touching moment for Geralt and his story.

And, hey, now that I’ve finally finished the last of the Witcher books, I can finally allow the completest in me to play the games! Over on Twitch!

Shameless self-promotion ended.

Favorite Books of the Decade (2010s)

It’s the end of a decade! Wow! The Matrix is ten years old! I have more white in beard than ever! Will this planet even make it another ten years? Who knows!

I tend not to read a lot of books as they’re new. They tend to be too expensive for my tastes, I buy them all used. Or use my library. I’ve become cheap this decade!

The point is, my list isn’t extensive of the years. It is, however, a pretty decent portrayal of my limited tastes. So, without further ado, my favorite books of the 2010s, by year published!

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I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells
This book actually freaked me out quite a bit and it’s for teenagers! I picked it up because I enjoyed Dan Wells on the Writing Excuses podcast and it was fairly recent to when I was listening. I don’t normally read horror and, actually, this might have been the first real “scary” book I read. I also made the mistake of reading this when I was home alone for a week. I’m a wimp.

The story of a boy who feels predestined on becoming a serial killer and is actively trying to fight it. That is, until someone worse moves into town. It’s a spooky character study aimed at the young adult crown that should creep out the older crowd as well. I liked the sequel even more, which came out the same year, so maybe it should have gotten the award…off to a great start!

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Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I suppose the backlash on this book has tainted it a bit, with it’s detractors calling it a book of lists. But, when I couldn’t put this book down and ate up the world building and concepts of the OASIS, I didn’t notice that. And, being someone who was slowly trying to read the best scifi and see the important films, I even enjoyed the references. Obviously, your mileage will vary on that sort of thing. It got me to watch The Last Starfighter.

It’s pure fulfillment, but what a wish. Would I have plugged my brain into the OASIS and moved in permanently? You bet. I enjoyed the challenges Cline provided for our hero, Wade. Joust, Dungeons and Dragons, Wargames and all that. While I think the opening race of the movie adaptation is pure gold, I did miss some of the geekier quests the book provided. I loathed Armada but I think Ready Player One is Grade A junk food and I’ll defend it for at least one more decade.

Runner ups that year were some real cool books…
Robopocalyspe by Dan H. Wilson
Micro by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston
Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey
The Heroes by Abercrombie

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The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
This book spoke to me on a level that I didn’t realize I had. It’s not that I find the characters incredibly relatable (though I connect to anyone with a self-destructive genome) but it’s more that I find them endearing. Pat was a character I wanted nothing but the best for. And, sure, his desire to win back his ex-wife Nikki might have actually been relatable in small ways. I’m a liar. Happy?

But Pat’s relationship with his family, with Tiffany, with his therapist really fill this book out. The movie changes some of the characters a bit, putting some into the background while bringing others forward. For a while, I liked having them both to form a full picture. These days, I just need the book. It inspired some of my own writing and made me think through some choices I was making at the time. It’s a humble read, with slow pacing that never meanders, unlike some of Matthew Quick’s other books.

Runner up
Cinder by Marissa Meyer is one of my favorite young adult books I’ve read. Highly recommended.

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Of Dice and Men by David M. Ewalt
A bit of a geek’s travelog, but way less self-deprecating and ashamed then the obnoxious Fantasy Freaks and Gaming Geeks by Ethan Gilsdorf. Of Dice and Men still holds Gary Gygax on a pedastle, but it doesn’t cast him in the role of a Frodo Baggins like Empire of Imagination by Michael Witwer did. It’s a fun history through Dungeons and Dragons, with trips and stories and a bit of unnecessary flavor text.

It has a deep respect for the game and those who play it. It’s a fun read, one that makes you want to breakout your own dice while reading. In some ways, it gave me a deeper appreciation for the game. It’s an everyman’s history of the game, one that I could suggest to those with a curiosity of the game, but also had enough for a lover of pen and paper to sink his teeth into.

Runner ups that year have a bit of an unintentional Ewan McGregor vibe…
Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Kenobi by John Jackson Miller

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Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
With prose that felt like poetry and a eerily calm look at the end of the world, Station Eleven was unlike anything I had read. The ruin landscape of a world ravaged by a humanity destroying virus was oddly beautiful. Emily St. John Mandel avoids the overdone pessimism of the genre that made the Cormac McCarthy’s The Road almost unbearable. Instead, St. John Mandel goes for an optimistic view of humanity picking up the pieces.

The book is also affecting in how it shows big events having origins in small moments. Independent comic books causing religious cults because they ended up in the wrong hands? It should seem silly but it comes across like a gut punch. The makeshift museum of human history is another element that’s laced in sadness but filled with hope. It really hit me in my heart.

The runner ups this year are crazy.
The Martian by Andy Weir
Three Body Problem by Liu Cixin
Console Wars by Blake J. Harris
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

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Jack of Spades by Joyce Carol Oates
What a trip. I don’t know if you could call this horror, but it’s disturbing. Worse, the main character was relatable at times! His journey through madness is subtle at times, intense at others, but always gripping. There’s a Stephen King element, yes, but King would never have the courage to limit his word count to under three hundred pages.

And that’s part of the charm. You can read this book quickly and it never overstays it welcomed, but I wanted more as soon as it was over. Or more like this. I haven’t found anything quite like it, but I’m not great at reading horror, so maybe I’m looking in the wrong places. Anyway, Jack of Spades is deliciously dark and bonkers and had me laugh out loud once or twice. I need to reread this.

All young adult books for the runner ups…
Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
Adrift by Paul Griffin
The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
The only Ruta Sepetys I’ve read, failing at my job as a youth librarian. But, it was an incredible showcase. Salt to the Sea is about the tragic sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff. More than nine thousand people died, with about five thousand of them children.

The story leading up to this horrible even follows four youths during World War II. The road to the ship is fraught and each of the characters have a secret that is exposed. This was a page turner and, though I was reading this for work, I couldn’t put it down even at home. It left me depressed, as expected, and it’s stuck with me. I tend to recommend this to the young adult crowd because, like the movie Titanic, is balances gripping action and romance with a terrible tragedy in an incredibly enthralling story.

Runner up for the year it’s gonna blow some minds when it hits movie theaters.
Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

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Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann
This was not the type of book I normally read but there was so much talk around in 2017 that I had to read it for myself. And I couldn’t put it down. It felt like a thriller at times and I’m not surprised that Martin Scorsese is in talks for a movie. Seriously, even as a history book, it had me audibly gasp at certain revaluations. How fresh of a reader am I at thirty-three?

A history of the crimes committed against the Osage Indian Nation by, you guess it, white Americans, as well as a history of the FBI and it’s formation. It’s money and power telling an unfortunately familiar tale. Grann is keeps things educational, but it moves at a pace of a classic page turner. Hurry up, Scorsese.

Runner up this year is someone I actually interviewed about the book!
All Systems Red by Martha Wells

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Love Poems for Married People by John Kenney
I don’t get poetry more often than I do. My brain doesn’t work that way. Why doesn’t it always rhyme? Why did you put that word one extra space away? Why can’t you clean up the coffee spill with the rag right next to you, why do you have to use the shirt your mother died in?

Love Poems for Married People, on the other hand, is hilarious and is one of the funniest books I’ve read. And, listen, I saw myself in the book multiple times. I’m now trying to change some behaviors. I’m trying, okay?

Runner ups were some interesting young adult scifi and the best Witcher book since the first
Loneliest Girl in the Universe by Lauren James
Contagion by Erin Bowman
Season of Storms by Andrzej Sapkowski

2019
Guess what! I only read one book from this year and I’m sure not giving The Andromeda Evolution an award. Let’s just assume Nic is right and Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is good.

You can listen to me talk more about these books and here Nic’s favorites in episode 223 of the All the Books Show!

Book Review – The Andromeda Evolution

the-andromeda-evolutionI thought for sure I was done reviewing Michael Crichton books. I mean, the man passed away in 2008. But, I guess CrichtonSun is a thing now and it seems that The Andromeda Evolution is the beginning of a Crichton-verse. What does the future hold for this line? Will all of Crichton’s books start getting sequels? Is this the expanded universe of the techno-thriller. How long until, piece by piece, these books start to take place in the same universe? Will the gorillas from Congo be recruited by Jack Forman from Prey to stop Elizabeth Halpern from Sphere from using her powers to resurrect the Eaters of the Dead from Eaters of the Dead? Will they bring Westworld into it? How small is the market for Crichton-related references like that?

Written by Daniel H. Wilson, The Andromeda Evolution is is not a lost manuscript or unfinished work. This is an original sequel by the Robopocalypse author. Back when I first read that book, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Wilson and Crichton. But, with that book, Wilson was obviously influenced by Crichton’s style. Here, with The Andromeda Evolution, Wilson is trying to mimic Crichton and he can never get the trick to work. You can wear your dad’s hand-me-downs, but it doesn’t mean they fit.

The Andromeda Evolution takes place fifty years after the first Andromeda Strain. The first conceit that took me a second to get through is that this sequel treats the first book as a scientific report released to the public by author Michael Crichton. Luckily, the book doesn’t dwell on that and goes right into this new story. The Andromeda Strain seems to be back, this time in the jungles of South America and a team of four scientist is put together to figure out why, how and what needs to be done.

My biggest issue with this book is how excessively Wilson uses “Crichton-isms”. The first book, and most of Crichton’s writing, had these moments of foreshadowing or reminders that what we were reading was a debriefing, a post-report of the whole situation. And, to be fair, it’s been sometime since I picked up The Andromeda Strain. But, in this book, the amount of “this decision would prove to be fatal”, “inferred footage of the scene shows”, “little did he know, he had determined the fate of four billion people” and all that becomes too much. Perhaps, Crichton was better at following up on those little moments. Perhaps, time has faded those from my memory.

Crichton himself was never great at character work. Many of his protagonist were simply mouthpieces for his ideas and theories and, sometimes, dinosaur food. But, the characters in The Andromeda Evolution are, aside from one or two, incrediblely paper-thin. The backstories that Crichton would provide are lacking in detail with this book. Wilson, I know, can right characters I care about. I couldn’t put down Robopocalypse. But, in trying to ape the coldness of Crichton’s writing without the thoroughly thought-out histories, we’re left with action figures without much to say.

That’s sort of the problem throughout. Wilson is a skilled writer who can write science fiction and action and loves his robotics, but he doesn’t have the interesting ideas of Crichton. There’s no science or theories so detailed and compelling that they feel like they could be their own book, no musings about the danger of our technology that we haven’t seen before. Many of these thoughts feel like Twitter comments made paragraphs. And, when the mysteries of this new Andromeda Strain are revealed, you begin to wonder why Wilson chose this project in the first place. He obviously has bigger things he wants to write about other than humanity dealing with a deadly microorganism. While what Wilson presents at the end of this book is interesting and would be something I’d want to read on it’s own, it no longer feels down to Earth. Some of Crichton’s concepts were so frightening you’d have to simply not think about them in order to live your life. The Andromeda Strain was that type of semi-realistic techno-thriller that, while very much science fiction, had a real world element. The Andromeda Evolution goes full blown science fiction and, while it might have it’s audience, it’s far and away from “smallness” of the original novel.

It took me longer to finish The Andromeda Evolution than any Crichton book or Wilson’s own Robopocalypse. It lacked the page-turning quality of either writers. There’s a twist or two I enjoyed, but the destination was not worth the rather dull journey. A promising start about the failures of human apathy becomes a tour through some rather uninteresting jungles and more.

And, look, I’ll keep reading these things. If they put out Michael Crichton’s The Greater Train Robbery by C.J. Box, I’ll read it. If these are the thing I’m weirdly dedicated to reading, fine. I’ll join the tradition of reading a late author’s universe like Tom Clancy and Robert B. Parker. I suppose that’s what Marvel comics are anyway. But, outside of current Crichton fans, I’m not sure who the audience for this book is. I’ll read anything with Crichton’s name on it, but the random browser? Will that name mean anything to them anymore?

I just hope the quality rises. Daniel H. Wilson is not a bad writer but he took on a task that’s not always so easy. Being influenced is one thing, but imitation is a lot harder.

Book Review – I Kill Giants

51hXui6krmL._SX370_BO1,204,203,200_I’ve been having issues lately when trying to read Young Adult books. I don’t love teenage protagonist, in books or movies. I find the range teenage characters have for drama, when written for a young adult audience, to be limiting or, more often than not, dull. It’s very relationship based, which I don’t mind a sampling of, but, when it’s the main course, I’d rather skip it all together. And the teenage introspection! The narration! I can’t do it! Not anymore! Adults writing teenagers think they’re so darn clever and relevant because they mention last years movies or say “legit” or something like that, I can’t do it anymore and I won’t!

This has been a quick review for John Green’s Turtles All the Way Down.

Here’s the twist, though. Graphic novels fix this for me. There’s less inner monologues and more visual cues. Blankets or This One Summer nail the melancholy existentialism because they create mood in the art, not just through dated dialog. When we see how young a character is, they feel more real as a teenager because we’re not being told by a thirty-five year old how “legit” young they are. Also, I’m not sure if “legit” is something I’ve read people writing or just a new thing I’m doing now?

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Also, I should stop judging, because the book I wrote has teenage protagonist and they’re mopey and monologuey and now I’m legit worried I can’t stop saying legit…

I Kill Giants is written by Joe Kelly, whose always been one of the better writers in the world of Marvel comics. It tells the story of a girl who doesn’t fit in at school, who’s going through some heavy stuff in her family life and who might also fight giants. The giants thing is up in the air, but there’s a good chance it’s real. Or maybe it’s all in her head. Or real.

This self-contained graphic novel is sneaky. You go in expecting a certain type of story, maybe similar to Anya’s Ghost or In Real Life and, while there’s fantastical elements, you get something more akin to This One Summer. I Kill Giants is lighter on it’s feet than Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki’s novel, all while dealing with loneliness and loss without bringing down the party. J. M. Ken Niimura’s art could be described as big, similar to Ed Mcguinness’ style of comic art, but the black and white illustrations stand without the need of bold colors. The lack of color even makes the beach seem more lonesome and magical. There’s a pacing in this book, with the writing and art, that matches superhero comics, but this is completely accessible to people who dislike capes and masks.

18888318It’s hard to talk about I Kill Giants without giving away important moments. The ending is reliant on the book’s whole concept of truth vs. fiction, of dealing with problems or ignoring them. I could tell you about the book’s bullying or the friendship that forms, or the only guidance concealer that I’ve ever wished was real, but there’s too much that should be read without knowing the truth out the gate. I will say this book made me cry, and it might have been a while since a young adult title had that effect on me.

This seems to me like it’s been a badly written review. Take it as more of a recommendation wrapped in some rants. This book is great and should be considered essential reading for the young adult graphic medium. With a movie coming out this year, hopefully more will discover this book, because it shouldn’t be missed.

Book Review – Annihilation

annihilationI had my wife read Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation and report back to me if it was worth reading before the movie is released. She loved the book and suggested I pick it up, as it would be a quick read. This was a fortunate turn of events, because had I read the book first, I would have told her that she wouldn’t enjoy it and to just wait for the movie.

The book tells the story of the twelfth expedition into Area X, a weird part of the country that’s been abandoned by civilization and taken over by plant life and bizarre new species of animals. The narrator, referred to only as the Biologist or Ghost Bird, records her findings and past experiences into her journal, which makes up the book.

Before the Biologist began her journey, her husband had been part of the previous expedition and he may or may not have returned. The Biologist is travelling, not just for scientific understanding of Area X, but to also discover the fate of her husband.

For a short read, this book took me a long time to finish after I started it. It was dense with descriptions of the bizarre Area X, in an almost Lovecraftian level of detail. There wasn’t much of a narrative push to keep me reading, as the story is moved along by one strange finding after the other. However, the odd environment is never explained, nor are many of the findings put into context, which means much of this book is the narrator saying, “Isn’t this weird” and me just nodding my head.

The book is written in a dreamy sort of way and none of the characters act like people. Everyone seems out to kill everyone, right from the beginning and we’re never allowed to grow attached to anyone. The dialog doesn’t read like real human speech but aggressive robots. The narrator freely admits to being aloof and preferring to be alone. However, in the context of the other members of the expedition, this doesn’t pack any punch as all the characters are eerie non-humans.

I think this is why I preferred the flashback scenes between the narrator and her husband. There was no science fiction in these chapters, but against an actual human, the narrator becomes more interesting. Her husband is more outgoing and a people-person and this shines a light on the narrator. She’s frustrating but not a cold monster, she’s solitary but has heart for nature. Watching her marriage strain against the clashing personalities, alongside the husband’s departure to Area X, makes for an interesting read that the science fiction parts of the book fail to replicate.

I think, when it comes to science fiction, I either need believable science or interesting characters. Annihilation had neither. VanderMeer’s writing is too abstract while also being too detail oriented, with descriptions down to the measurements but with zero context. The characters are like ghosts of people and maybe there’s artistic merit to that style that I’m missing. I’m sure I’ve read books with characters like this before that I enjoyed, but it wasn’t the case with Annihilation. I’m still excited for the movie, but that’s more to do with Alex Garland directing it, as Ex Machina was great. My wife will continue this trilogy of novels and, maybe, she might convince me to keep reading as well. But, unless such prompting happens, I personally have no interest left.

Book Review – Blood of Elves

blood-of-elves-coverI skipped reviewing Sword of Destiny for a few reasons. First, it’s similar to The Last Wish and everything I said about that book still stands for the sequel. It’s still a collection of short stories that are a bit more structured than the first book, in that each short story revolves around Yennifer in some way or another. The second reason I didn’t give that book a full review is because I went straight into the Blood of Elves. It was late and I finished Sword of Destiny and, without sleeping or taking a break, I opened the first chapter of the next book.

Besides the fact that the previous books were great reads, I was also curious as to how Andrzej Sapkowski would do writing The Witcher books in novel form. The character of Geralt works well in short form, with his different adventures and meeting new people around Sapkowski’s well-thought out world.

What I found is that Sapkowski didn’t change format entirely. Blood of Elves is a novel, yes, but the chapters are written akin to his short stories, with time gaps between them and not much thematically shared. Doing so allows for longer, more intimate looks into the world and Geralt, but it doesn’t create a strong continuing narrative or sense of plot. In fact, having read it all, I’m still not entirely sure where it was all going other than some people are after Geralt’s adopted daughter, Ciri.

In some ways, tries to be both a collection and a novel and both formats suffer for it. Without the connective tissue between chapters, it comes across as if the reader has missed key information between them. Without the varying adventures, the single plot thread shows it’s weakness. While I was hooked at the opening chapter with Dandelion and the training of Ciri, the book lost me quickly after that.

The previous books were interesting because of their world building, yes, but it was also how Sapkowski took classic fairy tales and myths and played around with them. The world is interesting and well-realized, but switching gears to focus on the political side of things doesn’t make for the most entertaining read.

The time we spend with Ciri and her training is great, but that’s because it’s focused and dabbles in that monster hunter lore. I wanted to see more of Geralt and Ciri together, training and going on adventures. That’s not what I got and I wasn’t convinced that what I was reading was necessarily better than that, either. I’m glad I read the previous books, because Blood of Elves relies heavily on the character connections that were introduced and explored beforehand. Alone, I don’t know if I would have liked the book much at all.

I will be reading the rest of these books, but the steam I had has been lost for the moment.

Book Review – Maul: Lockdown

swmaulMaul: Lockdown, by Joe Schreiber, had me excited for a long time. I thought, originally, the concept was great. However, while reading the book, I realized I had misunderstood the summaries and dust jackets. I had thought the book was about Darth Maul trying to escape from the most dangerous prison in the galaxy. A Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay, if you will. It’s not that at all.

Darth Maul is sent, by Darth Sidious, to Cog Hive Seven to find an elusive arms dealer. Maul must remain undercover, so he’s forbidden to use his lightsaber or force powers. The book follows Maul exploring the layout of the prison, participating in televised death matches and surviving gang politics.

Maul: Lockdown is entertaining…to a point. The death matches are well done with visceral action, some of the new characters are interesting and there’s general mystery to the identity of the arms dealer. It also helps that, like some of favorite Star Wars books, this is a standalone one-shot. However, the book has a few faults that kept it from being the thrilling and dark adventure it could have been.

For one, taking away Maul’s force powers and lightsaber, while an interesting challenge, means the book denies the reader what they might have come for in the first place. Taking away his weapons for a few chapters might have been exciting, but when it’s the whole book there’s a certain element of false advertisement. Maul, the character, still has that tiger-like cool, but is less interesting than your classic Darth Vader. Maul is all rage and hate and, after a while, that stops being interesting. He comes across as one note in this book and it doesn’t help that we learn nothing new about the character.

The book is dense, which isn’t always a problem, but I was coming in for something more akin to a thriller. The chapters are short and you can clear through pages easily, but it goes on for longer than necessary, reaching a climax weighed down by cameos and dull exposition. Near the end, I was trying to get to the finish line quickly not because I was interested, but because I was ready to be done. There’s not enough story, character or intrigue to carry this book.

I’m surprised by how critical I am of this book, because the concept seemed like a slam dunk. But, when compared to other Star Wars villain books, such as Darth Plagueis, Darth Bane, Dark Disciple and Lords of the Sith, it falls short. Maybe Darth Maul isn’t that intriguing of a character, or at least, not during this part of life. I still haven’t finished the Clone Wars show, so I haven’t seen the character resurrected and given robotic legs. Maybe then he has more depth, but here, there’s not enough.

Now, someone, please go write that Star Wars prison break I wanted.

Book Review – The Last Wish

51ehtkvll5l-_sx336_bo1204203200_I had planned on playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt without going through the first two games. That proved to be too much for my completist heart, so I grabbed those games cheap on Steam. But, then, surprising myself, I found I couldn’t even start the games until I read the books. I don’t know why, this would have never happened when I was younger.

Here I am, then, reviewing The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. A collection of short stories that was originally published in 1993, the book tells of the many adventures of Geralt, a Witcher. Witchers are hired to deal with monsters, though the public doesn’t love them. They’re a necessary evil and that makes someone like Geralt an outsider.

Each story tells of a different experience Geralt has dealing with either monster or man. Some of the stories are dark twists on classic fairy tales, such as The Beauty and the Beast. While that might cause eye rolling normally, as the “fairy tale but…” genre is running on fumes, it actually comes across fresh in this collection, even while being twenty years old.

What makes this book so readable is that Geralt is a fascinating character. Yes, there’s that classic lone wolf element about him, but he has more depth than just being gruff. In the few stories that make up The Last Wish, we see the Witcher as pragmatic, selfish, angry, compassionate, melancholy and vicious. He’s not a closed off tough guy, even though he has a thick skin. His friendship with Dandelion is actually rather touching, as it doesn’t appear Geralt gets anything out of it other than companionship.

The style of short story works well for The Witcher, as he goes from job to job. In a collection, we get to see the different types of monsters Geralt deals with, as well as the different lands he travels across. I’m interested to see how the style changes when I get to the full novels. It also makes sense that the Witcher was turned into a video game, as it seems ripe for side-quests.

The translation of these stories does a great job. The writing comes across relatively modern and I’m not sure how much of that is the original text. I never found the book to be dense, though sometimes the action could go on for a little too long. Maybe that’s why some people like reading these books, but I tend to find sword and magic combat to be a dull read. I was much more interested in the stories surrounding the world or the lives of the monsters Geralt is sent to hunt. Even the politics are interesting, mainly because each region and member of royalty acts different and unique.

I think, even if you had no interest in reading a new series, or playing the video games, that The Last Wish is easily recommendable. The frame story is self-contained, the tales throughout are quick reads and entertaining. On my own end, I’ve already bought the second anthology and plan on reading the main series. After reading this book, I think you might follow suit.

Book Review – Lovecraft Country

61gn-jq7-ql-_sx328_bo1204203200_Lovecraft Country, by Matt Ruff, is an interesting book, both in concept and execution. Taking place in America, 1954, we follow the Turner family as they deal with racism and the supernatural threats that plague them. Throughout the book, we start realizing that one of those is much easier to deal with than the other.

We start with Atticus Turner, a young, black man simply trying to drive up North. Along the way, he’s pulled over for driving while black and there’s always the looming sense of dread just from the embedded racism that he’s trying to avoid. Eventually, he heads to Massachusetts to find his missing father and things start getting more eerie.

Now, I thought about saying, “Things start getting more Lovecraftian” but that wouldn’t be acute. See, all the racism that Atticus deals with while driving is already Lovecraftian, as the influential author was quite a bigot. When a white police officer threatens to shoot a black man if he doesn’t get out of town by sundown, that’s Lovecraft, even if he never wrote such scenes. When monsters and ghosts start showing up, they seem rather mundane to all the racial tension and, sometimes, almost act as a relief.

It’s relieving to deal with the supernatural because it’s not real. I know, for the most part, that I don’t have to worry about ghosts and inter-dimensional beings. I know that. But, in the real world, racism and bigotry are very much alive. As a country, we used to worry about witches and now’s it’s part of our history, but the hate and ignorance that permeates Lovecraft Country is part of our present. Ruff uses the supernatural as a hook to get readers who might not want to confront these issues.

In the book, ghosts can be reasoned with, monsters are indifferent. These scary, immortal threats might not be rational, as Lovecraft often had characters go insane when confronted with them, but in way, they act rational. Some feed, some kill, some of them are just lonely. But, they’re beyond petty things like hatred for different races. Racism, when compared to the threats beyond our own world, becomes the irrational.

Now, I had trouble getting into this book for two reasons. First, the stress of reading about a black family in the 50s was enough to make for slow, uneasy reading. Second, the book is told in parts. I couldn’t find a pace while reading because the first chapter is actually the first short story. Eventually, when I started realizing how the book was laid out, I found my rhythm and was able to cruise through the novel. Considering that Lovecraft mostly wrote short stories himself, you’d think I would have figured that out sooner.

In the process, the book became less creepy and more of an interesting cross between Lovecraft and The Twilight Zone. I didn’t find the overarching plot that connected the chapters to be that compelling, though the resolution is fun and brings all the different elements together. The individual stories, however, are memorable. Each follows a different member of the Turner family and shows a different aspect of 50s America and the supernatural elements of Ruff’s world. There’s talk of Lovecraft Country becoming a movie, but it  could make for a great HBO or Netflix anthology series.

I had started this for Halloween and it wasn’t a bad choice for the holiday, but it might let some people down if they’re looking for straight horror. Really, it’s more acute to call it urban fantasy, as nothing in it is much scarier than what you would find in a Jim Butcher book.  But, for a great example of how fantasy and science fiction can be a mirror into our world, how it can be a commentary on prejudices and our own faults, Lovecraft Country is easily recommendable.

Book Review – Killers of the Flower Moon

nonfict_grann_killers_seal-600The concept of Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann, was almost too depressing for me to start. Telling the history of the systematic murders of the Osage Indian Nation, a story that is promised to have little closure or justice, I had to force myself through the first twenty pages.

I’m glad I continued on, however, as the book became a compelling read, spanning multiple subjects while never losing focus on it’s depressing main topic. The Osage Indian Nation, through the government’s orders, are moved to a desolated land in Oklahoma. To everyone’s surprise, their new home is one of the richest deposits of oil and the Osage become wealthier than White America is comfortable with. In fact, the government tries to control the flow of money that each Osage receives, appointing them “guardians” who give them their allowances, fractions of their millions. It should be no surprise, that when the murders begin, little is done about them.

At first, it seems like every Osage murder is going unsolved and unpunished. Local authorities are either incompetent or apathetic to what’s happening around them. But, eventually, the news of what is happening starts to spread across the country. White men start getting murdered from trying to help. The Osage murders get more brutal and public, as well as obvious in their intent. Once the young FBI gets involved, it becomes obvious that someone is trying to steal the Osage wealth.

Killers of the Flower Moon is half the history of Osage and half the story of the FBI. Reading this after watching Netflix’s Mindhunter had me amazed by how we take for granted simple terms and methods in law enforcement. While Mindhunter showed us how new the understanding of criminal profiling was, this book goes even further back and shows us simple detective skills still being born. Mug shots, fingerprints and keeping the crime scene from becoming contaminated were either just starting to be used or unheard of altogether.

It doesn’t help that the FBI and many branches of law are filled with corrupt employees. Crimes are being covered up or ignored by bribes and threats. Judges are on the take and prisons are a mess. J. Edgar Hoover is out to make a name for himself by cleaning up the FBI and solving the cases of the Osage murders. He sets Tom White out to form a team and take care of business and from there we learn the twists and turns of this dark history.

It was fascinating to me how well Grann kept this moving and held my attention. The subject matter is morbid and new to many readers but it’s still non-fiction and could have come across as a text book. Yet, Grann writes it like a thriller and even had my jaw drop after a revelation midway through the book. We get looks into everyone’s past, from the Osage whose grim fates are only the newest forms of abuse to White’s childhood and sense of honor. Every topic gets explored and explained in a digestible manner.

After reading this, I definitely want to pick up Grann’s other book, The Lost City of Z. I tend not to read many history books, but Grann does a great job at holding interest and moving the story forward. With Killers of the Flower Moon, you know things won’t be solved in a satisfying manner and that people will go unpunished. That’s not to mention how hindsight kept me from feeling any sense of victory even when things start to turn around for the Osage. You don’t have to be well-versed in history to know this will only be another stepping stone in the injustice Native Americans will go through, even in the 1900s.

Killers of the Flower Moon isn’t for everyone, some might not have the stomach for the hopelessness of it all. But, it’s a story every American should be familiar with, despite how little has been told about the subject. With talks of a movie being made, hopefully more will have to reckon with this dark past. If you can handle the darkness, pick up the book beforehand.