77 Shadow Street

When I decided that I wanted to read some Dean Koontz books a while ago, there were two that I purchased, this book and Your Heart Belongs to Me.  I read Your Heart Belongs to Me a couple of weeks ago and wasn’t terribly impressed, and this book didn’t do much better for me.

Book Stats77 Shadow Street

451 pages

Drama

Characters

This book follows the residents of the Pendleton, a very large residence built in the late 1800′s that was split into quite a few condos in the mid 1900′s.  Of the 20 or so characters, there were two that actually stood out to me, and it’s probably largely because they’re the two children in the book.  Winston (called Winny in the book) is a young boy who reads a lot and is shy around most people.  Iris is a young girl who is autistic and also reads a lot.  Although those two come to mind first when I think of the characters, there really isn’t much about them that stands out.  The only thing that should really stand out is Iris’s autism, but in one of the more tense sections later in the book, she is able to calm down when faced with everything that triggered her panic earlier in the book, completely ruining the point of her having that aspect of her character.  The other characters are completely forgettable, and even having just finished the book about an hour ago I don’t think I could list half of their names.

Setting

The book is set in 2011 and most of the story takes place in the Pendleton.

Plot

On a random day like any other, some very strange things start happening to the residents of the Pendleton.  They start seeing apparitions and hearing strange noises.  As the book continues, they are transported to a very strange version of the Pendleton where nightmarish monsters are all around.  The story of the book is just the people trying to stay alive.

Enjoyment

First off, after having now read two of Koontz’s books, I can see that he constantly tries way too hard at creating artistic prose.  While he’s trying to sound profound and deep with his language, it comes across as pretentious and extremely overwritten.  This is a recent book of his – published in 2011 – and I wonder if Koontz even has an editor anymore, if he does I don’t think he listens to them very much, at least when it comes to sentence level editing.

The idea behind this story is really interesting, but there are several major problems that I have with it.  The first is that there are simply too many characters.  You don’t have time to get to know any of the characters that well.  Because of this they all come across as being very flat.  The second is the way that the characters discover what is going on around them.  It seems like everything that is going on is something that the characters knew beforehand, so there is very little discovery, and more of the characters simply saying what they already knew.  This leads to very poor foreshadowing throughout the book, because there really isn’t any.  One of the main parts where you learn what is going on in the story comes from a conversation between two people who aren’t even going through any of the events in the story.  They’re two people who live in the Pendleton, but who were out eating while all this was going on and weren’t pulled into the events.  The last problem that I have with the book is similar to a problem that I had with Your Heart Belongs to Me.  Most of the book makes it seem like there is a supernatural element to the story, but about 80% of the way through the book, he gives it a plausible scientific explanation.  The problem with it in this book is that it only covers half of what is going on, the monsters that we see.  There is also a time travel element that is left completely unexplained.

After reading two of Koontz’s books, I’m not impressed and probably won’t be looking into any more of his writing.

Overall Grade

A decent story idea plagued by forgettable characters, overwritten prose, and poor foreshadowing.  I can’t give this book too much of a suggestion.

3/10

Sound tasty to you?

This may be one of the most tasteless things that I’ve posted on my blog, but it made me laugh for most of yesterday and a good deal of today, and it’s talking about current events, so it’s always fun.

Apparently Jeffrey Dahmer’s childhood home is for sale, and has been up for sale for a while now.  And while that’s entertaining enough, apparently PETA considered buying the house and turning his house into a vegan restaurant.

Immediately upon hearing that there were plans for turning it into a restaurant, my first thought was about asking people if they would want to eat there.  When I asked my co-workers if they would want to eat there, their reactions ranged from complete disgust to morbid curiosity.

Personally, I think the Dahmer House Bar and Grill has a nice ring to it, and I’d love to eat there.  Beyond the novelty of simply having a restaurant there, think of the marketing ideas.  Who wouldn’t want a t-shirt that says “I had dinner at Jeffrey Dahmer’s house.”

I think you could go a little further with it, turn it into a sort of theme restaurant as well.  Put liver and onions on the menu, sweetbreads (thymus gland or pancreas), chitterlings (intestines, usually pig), or haggis.

I know I wouldn’t be the only one interested in eating there, and I’m sure there are plenty of other people with a sense of humor as dark as mine who would have to make at least one trip there.  So how about you?  Would you eat there?  And while I’m on the subject, do you have anything you would add to the menu?

Night

Night is one of those books that I talked about a couple of weeks ago as having finished reading, but not posted a review for.  If you’re curious, the other two books are Dawn and Day, also by Elie Wiesel.  I first heard of these from the podcast Do I Dare To Eat A Peach, and I thought the book sounded interesting.  And being myself, that led to me buying all three books once I found out that it was a trilogy.  Although I really should say that it’s considered a trilogy, because the three books aren’t connected by anything other than the themes and ideas that they deal with.

Book StatsNight

120 pages

Non-Fiction, Drama

Thoughts

I’m cutting right to the chase here.  This is a book where the author talks about his early childhood which ended very abruptly when he was sent to a concentration camp in Germany.  And as such it’s not the easiest book to read, but at the same time, the language keeps it from being as powerful as I think it could have been.  Wiesel uses very simple language (at least the translation that I read had very simple language), and it comes across as bland.  If you compare this to The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, they’re written at very similar levels of language, but this book doesn’t do nearly as good of a job in the description.  In O’Brien’s book, it really feels like he took the time to find the perfect word, and it led to very simple, but beautiful writing.  In this book, the simple language feels like it was the first thing that was written down, and there was never anything done to make it seem like it was anything more.

But while I thought that the writing was bland, it’s obvious that there is a lot more to a book than just the individual words on the page, and while the tale told in this book is an important one, it was far less effective than it could have been because of a previous experience in my life.  For my Cross-Cultural Psychology class in college, we had an assignment where we had to experience something about another culture.  For one of my places to visit for that class, I went to the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.  I enjoyed my time there, learned a lot and did well on the project.  But of all the things that I saw in the museum, there is one thing that stuck with me more than anything else.  In a side room where they had articles from the Holocaust, they had a short looping video that showed some people who had been in the concentration camps.  I say people out of respect, because in the video they looked more like slaughtered pig carcasses waiting to be butchered further.  They say that pictures are worth a thousand words, and that image is one that will stick with me for a long time.

This is an important book, simply because it takes the time to discuss a topic that should never be forgotten, but if I’m going to look strictly at the quality of the book, I have to say that I wasn’t terribly impressed with the level of the writing.

Overall Grade

A unique perspective on one of the worst parts of human history, but the overall quality is dragged down by the poor level of writing.

5/10

Words of Radiance

Time to do a bit of catching up on reviews for books.  It’s an odd thing for me, usually I try to have a review up within a day or two after I finish a book, and definitely before I finish reading the next book on my stack, but over the past couple of weeks I’ve gotten backed up.  I’ve actually finished 4 books that I haven’t written a review for (although three are very short).  Well, this book is the first of those that I’ve yet to talk about, and the rest will be posted in the coming days.

Book StatsWords of Radiance

1080 pages

Fantasy

Second book in The Stormlight Archive, sequel to The Way of Kings

Setting

This book is set in the same world as The Way of Kings, although we’re shown a few more parts of the world, both through the Interludes throughout the book as well as in watching Shallan’s travels as she goes to the Shattered Plains.  As with the first book, everything involving the setting is very richly described and well thought out, without being obtrusive and overshadowing the characters and plot.

Characters

There are a few new viewpoint characters in this book, but we’re primarily focused upon the same characters from The Way of Kings.  In particular, while the first book focused on Kaladin, this book focuses more on Shallan, and several of the chapters are flashbacks showing her backstory.  I enjoy all of the characters in the series, but I particularly liked Dalinar in this book.  More than any other character he grew in the first book, and it really shows with his resolve in this book.

Plot

This book continues where The Way of Kings left off, with Shallan and Jasnah trying to get to the Shattered Plains to warn the Highprinces there of the possible threat of the Parshmen.  We’re also shown more of Kaladin and Bridge 4 as they adjust to being bodyguards rather than menial slaves, as well as the continued war for vengeance on the Shattered Plains.

Enjoyment

I’m was vague with the plot section, because it continues from the first book, and I don’t want to accidentally spoil anything in that book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet.  I enjoyed the book, I loved the story that was set up in the first novel, and I love reading the continuation of it here.  But I did have a couple of minor issues with it.  The first is Shallan’s backstory, it was interesting to read, but I don’t think that it really answered some of the questions that I had about her past.  In some ways I think that it would have been better had we started with the most recent flashback, and then moved further back in time the way that the movie Memento does (side note, if you haven’t watched this movie, go watch it right now, yes, even before reading the rest of my post).  I say this because the most important event of her backstory (in my mind at least) took place earlier than even the first chapter about her backstory.  But we’re not shown it, so Shallan is constantly referring to an event that we never really see, I think having her flashback chapters going backward in the timeline would have worked just as well to tell her story, while doing a better job of building tension within the story and leading to a much better punch towards the end of the novel.

The other main issue that I had with the book was the last section.  Like The Way of Kings, this book is broken up into 5 larger sections, with Interludes in between.  This is going to sound very odd when talking about a book that’s 1080 pages long, but the ending felt rushed.  With tWoK the larger story was mostly wrapped up at the end of section 4, with section 5 serving as a large trailer for what was going to happen in book 2.  In this book, it felt like there was a mad rush to get everything that needed to happen in this book in place done.  I thought that a couple of important details in the last section were glossed over too quickly.  And one of ideas that (I think) will be a central point of book three was set up in about 2 or 3 paragraphs towards the end of the book.

I think that both of my quibbles with the book are things that will be forgotten once the rest of the series is complete, especially since there is such a deep world and story set up by these first two books.  I’m still in love with the characters and world, and that is more than enough to get me to buy the third book on the day it comes out, just like I have with the first two.

Overall Grade

This is a step back from the first book, but even a step back from The Way of Kings is a great book that is well worth reading, especially if you enjoy Fantasy.

8/10

The Way of Kings

So after posting a quick update Monday about my blog’s anniversary and my bowling from last weekend, I decided it’s time to sit down and write up reviews for the books that I’d read during the 2 week hiatus that I had without posting.  I was reading during that time, as I almost always am, I just didn’t post a review of a book, and there’s a simple explanation for that.  I was reading 2 very big books, and I thought that I had already had a review up for the first book, only to find out that I was sadly mistaken in that regard.  That book of course is The Way of Kings, the first book in Brandon Sanderson’s Stormlight Archive, and it’s a doorstopper like no other.

Book StatsThe Way of Kings

1003 pages

Fantasy

First book in a 10 book series

Setting

I’m going to start with the setting for this book, because it’s one of the most unique settings in any book that I’ve read, and also one of the most well thought out settings.  I talked about the setting in the list of questions that I had for my 30-day book list (I wrote about this book for topic #19, Most Interesting Setting).  Along with the things that I mentioned in that post, I have to talk more about the depth of the world.  Re-reading this book showed me just how well thought out the history of this world is.  Through the conversations that the characters have, you learn so much of the subtle history of the world, especially the differences between the cultures.  There are huge differences in how the different cultures view warriors compared to scholars and craftsmen.  But the best part about the depth of the world is that you’re never beaten over the head with it.  The differences in the cultures of the world also lead to dozens of conflicts between the characters.  Even if the characters and the story in this book weren’t as strong as they are, the setting depth alone would make it worth reading, and that’s very hard to do with a novel this big.

Characters

The book follows 4 main characters, within 3 primary storylines.  The main character of the book is Kaladin, a young man who has become a soldier despite having trained under his father as a surgeon.  Kaladin is a very rebellious young man, who sits on the border of respecting authority while constantly chafing against those above him.  I think that every young person (especially young men) can identify strongly with Kaladin and his struggle against authority.  Dalinar is a highprince who spends the larger part of this book going through a midlife crisis because of visions that he has been seeing.  He doesn’t know what the visions are, only that they are showing him scenes from the past that he believes are relevant to the conflict that his country is engaged in as the book goes on.  While Dalinar believes in his visions, his son Adolin believes that Dalinar is going insane.  This creates an interesting conflict as Adolin is torn between upholding his father’s honor while questioning his sanity.  The fourth main character is Shallan, a young woman who is a skilled artist and aspiring scholar.  Shallan’s story is the most different of those in this book, but it was still interesting to me as it worked largely to build the depth of the world that I talked about earlier.

Plot

6 years after King Gavilar is assassinated, the war to avenge his death has stagnated.  The highprinces who have agreed to destroy those responsible have settled into a familiar rhythm of seeking wealth rather than vengeance.  But while they play games, a much larger threat looms over the world.  Yeah, that sounds generic, but I don’t really want to spoil the plot too much.

Enjoyment

There’s an awful lot going on in this book, and while I talked in very vague terms above to try and avoid spoilers, it’s all very fun to read.  Another interesting thing about this book is the structure of the novel itself.  The book is broken into 5 sections, and between each section we’re shown several Interludes, smaller stories that feature various characters throughout the world.  The most interesting of the Interlude characters is easily Szeth-son-son-Vallano, the assassin who is responsible for Gavilar’s death.  He is a Truthless from Shinovar, a slave to whoever holds his Oathstone, and at the beginning of the book at least, the most skilled warrior on the planet.  Szeth is bound to do what he is told, but he resents his actions more and more as he is forced to kill most of the monarchs around the world.  As much as he’s a minor character, Szeth alone makes this book worth reading.

Along with the quality of the story, there are also illustrations throughout the course of the book.  Many of these are Shallan’s sketches of the world around her, while others are maps of the areas in which the story takes place.  The illustrations are all wonderfully done and add another layer of depth to an already wonderful book.

Arguably the only downside to the book is that it ends with several very big cliffhangers, but since the second book is out as of two or three weeks ago, it’s really not that big of an issue.

Overall Grade

An amazingly deep world filled with realistic characters, relatable conflicts, and a strong story makes this book a wonderful beginning to a series that I’ll be looking forward to reading every time a new book comes out.

10/10

Good News Everyone!

I’ve mentioned on my blog several times that I bowl quite frequently.  I even work in a warehouse where we distribute bowling supplies.  Well, this past weekend I was bowling in a tournament and I achieved a couple of significant goals for any bowler.  I shot my first (sanctioned) 300 game, and backed it up with a 238 and a 290 to shoot an 828 series, which is also my first 800 series.

It’s been a long time coming, and I’m very glad to get the monkey off my back by finally hitting those milestones.

And speaking of milestones, I hit another one with my blog a few days ago, March 11th marked the 3 year anniversary of starting my blog.  It’s been a fun ride, and I look forward to keeping it going in the future.  Thanks to everyone who stops by to read, comment, and suggest books for the future, I hope you’re looking forward to more of my insanity in the future.

Adam

Amazon’s 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime

Obviously, I enjoy books, I read them as often as I’m able (I’ve been keeping a steady pace of about a book a week for the past month and a half, which I’m quite proud of) and I talk about them here.  Part of the reason I started my blog was to help me keep track of the books that I’ve read, and I’ve done a decent job of cataloguing everything since then.

One of the other things that I’ve most enjoyed about starting my blog, and I suppose that this is arguably the main point to blogging in general, is reading other blogs and finding out about other books that people have loved through their blogs.  I’ve also noticed in the past couple of years that I’ve found myself drawn to lists of books, as they often help me find new books to read.

I’ve talked before about some fairly specific lists of books, the first two that come to mind being the NPR lists for the top 100 Fantasy and Science Fiction novels of all time, and their list for the top 100 YA books of all time.  Well, a couple of weeks ago I came across another list that I thought was interesting, as you can probably tell by the title of this post, I’m talking about the Amazon.com list of 100 Books to Read in a Lifetime.

When I first saw title of the list, I had to check it out and see whether or not I agreed or disagreed with the books on the list.  And while there may be some books on this list that I don’t like, overall I think this is one of my favorite “Top 100″ book lists that I’ve ever seen.  “Top 100″ is in quotes both times in this paragraph because they creators of the list didn’t intend for it to be a be-all end-all list of books, they made it to create some discussion, and I’ll start that discussion here with why I loved the list.

The people who picked the list chose a variety of different styles of books, ranging from children’s books to non-fiction, poetry collections to epic fantasy, young adult to memoir.  There is such a wide variety of books on this list that I think everyone will be able to find at least 6 or 7 books on the list that they would enjoy, and probably quite a few more than that.  As it stands right now, I’ve read 14 1/2 of the books (I’ve read about half of Oliver Sacks book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat,” which is a collection of clinical stories.  I’ve also read a version of The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, but it was when I was younger and it was probably abridged.)

Along with the books that I’ve already read from the list, there are a couple of others that I already own that I plan on reading.  This is one of the more interesting lists of books that I’ve come across in some time, and I think that it stands out precisely for that reason.

So what do you think of the list.  Are there any of the books on the list that you think absolutely shouldn’t be on the list?  Are there any books or authors that you think are sadly missing?

I’d probably have to consider adding Flowers for Algernon and The Willow Tree – the last two books that I gave a 10/10 rating to on my blog – and I’d probably want to throw in a couple more Fiction and Fantasy novels, something like Asimov’s Foundation trilogy, The Wheel of Time, or The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  I’d also want to throw in something like Lamb by Christopher Moore, which is one of the funniest books that I’ve ever read, or perhaps And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie, because one of the best mysteries by one of the most famous mystery writers of all time deserves to be on the list.

The Catcher in the Rye

What’s this?  Two book reviews in less than an hour?  No, I didn’t learn to speed read, I actually read The Things They Carried last weekend and I read The Catcher in the Rye yesterday.  I’ve just been lazy in getting around to writing up the review for O’Brien’s book, and I’m writing my review for Salinger’s book now.

Book StatsThe Catcher in the Rye

214 pages

Drama, Classic

Setting

The book is set in and around New York in the mid 1900′s.  I don’t know exactly when, and to be honest the exact year doesn’t matter for the book.

Characters

There’s really only one character who matters in the book, and of course that’s Holden Caulfield.  He’s in many ways a typical teenage boy who is facing a future that he isn’t ready for and in some ways doesn’t want to deal with.  He’s cynical, brash, and doesn’t much care what many other people really think.  But he does show some signs of being a much better person, and in finishing the book you really feel like there’s going to be hope for him once he grows up.

Plot

The plot to this book is almost non-existant, we basically follow Holden as he goes through a a fairly rough weekend and follow his thoughts.

Enjoyment

One of the first things that you have to talk about when talking about this book is the fact that while it’s widely considered to be one of the best books written in the English language, it’s also one of the most widely banned books in the United States.  And after finally reading the book, I kind of wonder what the big deal is.

To be fair, I do lean towards being fairly liberal in most matters, and I have no problem with people pushing the limits of what most people consider to be acceptable.  Even with that, I think you can tell that some of the people who complain about the book probably never read the book, or if they did they never got past the surface level.  To begin with, Holden swears constantly (just like many teens today), thinks and talks about sex constantly (just like many teens today), drinks while being underage (just like many teens today), and doesn’t care about school or his future (just like many teens today).

So yeah, as far as being an obedient child and teenager, he’s an awful person.  But the book also shows just how horrible his life really is as he’s going through the weekend in the book.  You could easily argue that this book does a better job than many others that I’ve read of showing you how having an excessive number of bad habits can ruin your life.

Another thing to talk about with this book is that while it’s frequently banned, it’s also one of the most frequently taught books in public schools.  I never read this book in high school, and while I enjoyed reading it now, I don’t know if I would have enjoyed it as much had I read it in high school.  The biggest selling point of the book for me was the character voice, and I don’t think that I would have appreciated a book with a strong character but a bare bones plot in high school.  Either way, I’m glad that I read the book.

Overall Grade

An interesting book driven by a great character.

7/10

The Things They Carried

This is a book that I heard of through a podcast that I listen to fairly often.  For once, it’s not the Writing Excuses podcast, although one of the members of the Writing Excuses cast is part of it.  This time I’m referring to the podcast Do I Dare To Eat A Peach? which is hosted by Dan Wells and Rob Wells, two authors (and brothers) whose work I enjoy.  I’ve reviewed works by both authors on this blog and I have a good time listening to their ramblings about various topics.

This is one of the books that they talked about in their best books you read in high school podcast.  After finding the book a while ago, I’m really glad that I read it.  Tim O’Brien is a wonderful writer and I’ll probably check out more of his stuff in the future.

Book StatsThe Things They Carried

233 pages

Drama

Enjoyment

Like a few of the other books that I’ve reviewed on this blog, this is a collection of short stories.  The difference between this and some other short story collections is that the works in this book loosely form a larger story.  Easily the best thing about this book is the writer’s voice as he talks about the events in the book.  One of the last books that I read was by Dean Koontz, and in that book I hated the flowery language that he used to try and make it sound fancy.  Take that in comparison to this book, O’Brien never seems to try and force the prose to sound flowery, but the writing ends up being absolutely gorgeous in it’s simplicity.  There are times when the best way to say something is as simply as you possibly can, and this book does it better than any other book that I’ve read in quite some time.

The book is also written as though it was a sort of memoir recalling parts of O’Brien’s life.  I have no idea whether or not the author actually went to Vietnam as he described in the book, but the way it’s written he makes it sound like he was there.  And while I enjoyed all of the book, I especially loved the chapter titled On The Rainy River, where the narrator talks about his reaction when he was drafted.  It’s amazingly well written, and it’s a perfect example of everything that I think would be going through my mind if I was in the same situation.

If you’re a fan of military history, I think you’d love this book.  If you’re a fan of fantastic writing, I know you’ll love this book.

Overall Grade

A very interesting set of stories with some of the most beautiful prose I’ve ever read.

9/10

Coyote Blue

Since picking up Lamb and A Dirty Job a couple of years ago, I’ve been a big fan of Christopher Moore’s writing.  I’ve said before that I think it’s far too easy to dismiss Moore as nothing more than a humorist, when he is a very skilled author who does a lot of interesting things in all of his books.  This book is no exception.

Book StatsCoyote Blue

294 pages

Drama, Satire

Characters

The characters in this book are all interesting, but not terribly deep.  The book focuses on Sam Hunter, a full blooded Crow indian who left his reservation when he was 15 due to a “deadly misunderstanding with the law” (words from the back of the book).  Since then he’s become an insurance salesman, and because of this he’s become very adept at hiding who he is, to the point where he really doesn’t know who he is, only who he is pretending to be.

Setting

Modern day (well, modern day when it was written, the book was published back in 1994) California primarily, but also located partly in other states.

Plot

There’s a problem in trying to talk about the plot of this book, it’s a little hard to discuss without spoilers, especially since the first 1/3 of the book is largely about setting up the story and the mythology that Moore uses for the rest of the book.  I typically don’t try to talk about events that take place more than the first third of the way through the book, so I won’t get into too much of the plot here.  But one of the things about this book is that it’s less about the plot and more about the meaning behind it.

Enjoyment

One of the books that I read before I started this blog was Neil Gaiman’s American Gods.  I’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of Gaiman’s work, but a whole lot of other people are.  One of the most thoughtful reviews of American Gods that I’ve ever heard was that the book was really about what it’s like to be a god from a foreign country living in America today.  I think that this book does a better job of explaining that problem than Gaiman’s, while at the same time telling a better overall story.

Sam has his normal life interrupted by the ancient Crow god Coyote, and Moore does a perfect job of showing how different the world today is from the world that Coyote knew.  Moore also does a good job of showing that the gods of old largely survive based upon the the stories that are told about them, and he explains this by visiting another god later in the book who is largely dead to the world because his stories are never told.

At the same time, we’re shown the story of how Sam lives his life basically going through the motions, and never really thinking about what he really wants, only thinking about what he needs to do to get by.  So while Coyote’s part of the story is talking about the loss of old religions, Sam’s is about the alienation that we feel from each other in our daily lives.  Sam’s story also talks about how easily our simple little lives can get thrown out of whack by a seemingly innocuous meeting.

Overall Grade

Not quite as funny as some of Moore’s other work, but a very well written and thoughtful book.

8/10

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