The Lies of Locke Lamora

I don’t remember exactly where I first heard about this book.  It was probably from the Writing Excuses podcast, either that or from looking at other random stuff online (like many of the books I read).  Either way, I enjoyed the book, Although I thought that some parts of it could have been done better.

719 pages

Fantasy

The book stands on its own very well, although there is at least one more book with the same characters.

Characters

The characters in this book are interesting.  The main group that we follow is a set of gentlemen thieves (think Oceans Eleven in a pseudo-medieval setting).  The group consists of Locke, Jean, Calo, Galdo, and Bug.  The book also shows you the groups mentor early in the book, Chains is a thief who disguises himself as a priest.  The character the book follows the most is Locke and he is a very interesting character.  Locke’s specialty in the group is being a master of disguise, able to change his mannerisms, accent, and tone of voice at will.  He is also the mastermind of his thieving crews plans to steal from the elite of the city.  Locke stays fairly consistent throughout the book, he is a calculating man who can be driven by his passions when his friends are put in harm’s way, he was a fun character.

Setting

The city of Camorr.  It’s a pseudo-medieval, maybe closer to renaissance level city.  There is some magic, but Locke and co are never using it, although they are occasionally on the receiving end of it.  There is also a fair amount of discussion of the Ancients who came before the humans.  They definitely had more magical powers than humans do, and their primary relics in the city are buildings made of Elderglass, a material so strong it can’t be damaged at all.

Plot

Again, the plot is very similar to that of Oceans Eleven, a group of gentlemen thieves work to steal a large sum from a very rich person.  Locke’s plans are interesting to follow as he goes through them.  Locke is so good at confusing people, that he is able to hide the extent of his crew’s successes from Capa Barsavi, the man who oversees most of the thieves throughout the city.  Of course things get worse throughout the book, for Locke & Co this happens when the Capa decides to encourage Locke to marry his daughter, and it keeps going from there.

Enjoyment

The book has an interlude between nearly every chapter, some of these focus on Locke’s childhood growing up with Chains and learning the thieving trade.  Some of the interludes deal with the history of the world.  Overall, I think in some ways the book would have been better without all of the interludes.  Some of them were fun to read, but some of the others were just very poorly disguised info-dumps.  There were also a couple of times where the usual pattern was there for the interludes and chapters of the main story.  At one point there was a short scene of Locke as a child in the middle of an adult Locke chapter, and it was just there to info-dump about something that was a part of the adult Locke storyline 3 pages later.  There was another section later in the book where there were two straight chapters without an interlude between.  Even though I started to dislike some of the later interludes, I would have liked to see the same pattern throughout the entire book.  I really think the book would have been better without the interludes in there at all.  It would have been a more streamlined story, and for the heist type of story that this book revolved around, it would be better suited to the closer to 400 pages rather than the 719 pages that the book was.

Overall Grade

The book had its flaws, but the ending was good and I’m interested enough to pick up the next book about Locke and friends.

7/10

My Goal – Week 8

Very quick post this week, I’ve got other things to worry about (see my post yesterday about my job interview in Wisconsin).

Interesting, but stressful week.  The weight check this week was at 216.  This is the first week that my weight has gone up a hair, but again, it’s only up .6 of a pound.  Given all that I’ve had to deal with this week, and the stress from that, I’ll gladly take it.  I’ve seen my weight fluctuate by much more than that over the course of a single day, so if nothing else I’m essentially at a standstill for my weight for the past 3 weeks.  However, my working at the bowling alley is starting to pick up now (leagues are starting up) and I’ll be back to bowling more throughout the week, so I’m not worried about it.  I’ve still got 5 weeks to reach my goal, and I’ll just chalk this week up to one of those little roadblocks towards my goal that I couldn’t have seen coming.

7/10 – 231.2

7/17 – 225.6

7/24 – 224.0

7/31 – 221.6

8/7 – 218.8

8/14 – 215.4

8/21 – 215.4

8/28 – 216.0

Job Hunting

I’ve had up in my page about me that I recently graduated with a B.A. in Psychology.  Since May when I graduated I’ve been looking for a full time job.  In the meantime, I’ve been bowling, reading, blogging, and working part time at a bowling alley.  I think I’ve said this in posts before, but I can say it again here, I live near Akron Ohio.  This past week, and especially the past couple of days have been really interesting.  I have a job interview next Tuesday.

In Madison Wisconsin.

I was blown away by the offer, and I’m interested in the company.  A large part of the reason I’m so interested in the company is because of how the company has handled my process of applying and interviewing with them.  They originally contacted me with an email saying that they looked at my resume and thought that I would be a good fit for a position that they are hiring for.  In the days since, I’ve contacted them both through email and a phone interview, and next week I have an interview in Madison.  Every part of the application process thus far has made me appreciate this company more and more.  I had my phone interview earlier today at around 2pm, and the call lasted until about 2:30.  I had an email with a rough outline for travel plans (including my flights and hotel reservations, which they’re also paying for) in my email before 3.  Everything about this company makes me want to like them more and more.

I don’t think that I’ll be able to post here until I get back late Tuesday night (I doubt I’m going to bring my laptop with me) so I’ll have to wait till then to see what happens.

I’m very excited about this, but at the same time a little terrified.  Every time you start a new job there is anxiety, combine that with moving out of state, moving away from my family for the first time (I still currently live at home with my parents), and starting a new job and it’s going to be an interesting trip should I get the job.

I’ll post an update on here when I get the chance, it should be a very interesting couple of days.  Wish me luck.

Lets put the fanaticism back in fan….. Wait, what?

If you’ve followed my blog at all, it’s pretty obvious that I read all the time.  I don’t have an exact count of all the books that I’ve read this year, but since I started my blog in mid-March I’ve put up about 65 book reviews on here.  Including books that I read before I started my blog, I’m probably up to about 75 books so far this year (if you include books I read in December last year during the semester break the count is probably closer to 90 books).

All that said, spending all my time reading, I don’t generally watch much TV, I think most TV shows are crap and “reality” TV is even worse.  The only thing that I do watch on TV is sports. While I appreciate many sports, I’m not the biggest fan in the world, and there’s a good reason for that.  I don’t live in Europe.

Yes, you read that properly.  Try to figure out my reasoning there before I explain it, I can wait.  Done thinking yet?  Ok.  Being based in America automatically means that you aren’t a part of the most fanatical fanbase in the world, that distinction falls to football (or soccer if you prefer) fans from Europe.

In America we like to think that we’re the best at everything, our sports are supposed to be bigger and better and our fans are more dedicated than other fans.  Those are all flat out lies.  If you’ve never watched a game from the English Premier League (generally regarded as the best single league in the world) or from the UEFA Champions League (this is a kind of composite league from all of the best leagues from around Europe) do yourself a favor and watch some of the games.

Along with the various leagues, there is also the World Cup every four years with the competitions between different countries.  In trying to claim that the Super Bowl is the biggest sporting event in the world, I recall hearing on TV that somewhere around 130 million people watched the game.  That’s nothing, for the world cup a few years ago, there was a report that over 1 billion people (that’s billion, with a B) watched the DRAW for the world cup.  Not even a game, that many people watched the draw to see who each team was going to play.

Soccer fans are also some of the most organized and creative fans in the world.  Watching some basketball games last year, you could hear the announcer at the games trying to get the fans to start chanting defense.  Look at this in comparison to soccer fans, who will randomly break out into song to heckle the other team.  There was another game where all 20,000+ fans in the stadium were singing Blue Moon.  Although I was only watching it on TV, it was really neat to hear that many people singing all at once.  While there are many sports fans for all the teams in America, a lot of them tend to be fair-weather fans, who don’t follow their teams as much when they aren’t doing well.  There are teams in England who haven’t won anything for decades, teams that haven’t even been in the main league for years that still have absolutely rabid fanbases.

So now to the point that actually made me want to do this post.  In a recent Sports Illustrated there was a short article that was talking about the recent riots in England.  Fans of the English club Millwall (which is a team I’ve never even heard of) stepped in to help the overwhelmed riot police, banding together with supporters from other local teams and marching down the main street of their southeast London neighborhood of Eltham to protect it from looters chanting “No one loots us.”  (Taken from the SI article written by Grant Wahl.)

Think about that for a second.  During a riot when most of us with any sense would be sitting at home barring doors and windows, these fans took it upon themselves to help the police handle the riots.  I couldn’t imagine anyone that I know working to help police for anything, let alone a large part of the fanbase working together for the same purpose.

I would love to see that level of organization and commitment from fans of American sports, and it some areas we may eventually get there, some of the MLS franchises are beginning to develop fanbases that are a little more rabid, but they don’t have the history behind them that European clubs do.  I would love to go to a World Cup match and when I have the opportunity I’ll do everything I can to seize it.

So there’s my post for the day, I’ll get back to my book reviews when I finish Locke Lamora in the next couple of days.

The Handmaid’s Tale

I think I heard about this book from perusing random blogs here on wordpress, and it sounded interesting.  The only book by Margaret Atwood that I had read before this book was The Penelopiad, which was brilliant.  This book was very interesting, and was very well written.

311 pages

Stand-alone

Drama (my catchall category for books that don’t really fit anywhere specific, although I could easily call this book literary fiction)

Characters

The main character is named Offred and she is a handmaid in the Republic of Gilread.  She remembers life before she was a handmaid, but she has fallen into her role as a handmaid well, if for no other reason than because she doesn’t see any way out of her current situation.

Setting

The book is set in the Republic of Gilread, which is located in the northeastern part of the US.  There has been a major war which along with other factors has led to the human population being greatly reduced.  As an attempt to help overcome this, many women are now essentially living as slaves who are kept for the purposes of breeding.  Throughout the book, you find small bits of information that show what led to the world being this way.  The setting is very subtle, but it works.

Plot

Offred is going about her daily life, which consists of little more than a very boring routine.  She doesn’t see this as changing very much, and it doesn’t, until she receives a very strange invitation from her Commander.  This leads her to see more of what the world around her has become, even as she questions more of the rules in place.

Enjoyment

A blurb on the back of the book mentions that this book is similar to Orwell’s 1984.  I can see the connection there, in large part because it’s a dystopian book with similar ideas of futility in fighting against the oppressive government.  Personally, I thought the book was very similar to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go.  Both of these books were very subtle in how they showed the setting to the reader, even though the setting in both books was clearly the driving factor for everything that happened in the book.  This book also had a very extreme setting as compared to the present day, but it was actually very easy to see how they got to the situation they’re in.

Overall Grade

Very subtle in the storytelling, an interesting book.

7/10

My Goal – Week 7

Time for my weekly post about my weight-loss goal.  This is the 7th week of tracking my weight on my blog, and I think that the next two weeks are probably going to be the two hardest weeks of this stretch.  Why?  Simple, I’m not bowling right now (summer leagues ended, winter leagues haven’t started yet) which means I’m also not working at the bowling alley as much, and I also don’t have a full time job yet.  What this all means is that I’m not doing a whole lot right now, which isn’t a good thing.  All said, I ended up with the same weight this week as I had last week.  I’ll take it.  About 6 weeks left, so that works out to losing a little over a pound a week, shouldn’t be too hard.

7/10 – 231.2

7/17 – 225.6

7/27 – 224.0

7/31 – 221.6

8/7 – 218.8

8/14 – 215.4

8/21 – 215.4

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

It’s an interesting question, definitely one that makes you stop and think for a minute when you see it.  It’s also a book by Philip K. Dick, and a very strange book at that.

Book Stats

244 pages

Science Fiction

Stand alone book

Characters

The book has two viewpoint characters, one who really drives the story, Rick Deckard, and one who is a viewpoint character to give a little more background to the world, J.R. Isidore.  Deckard is a bounty hunter who works for the police department, his job is to hunt down rogue androids and “retire” them.  He was a fairly straightforward character at the beginning of the book who starts to question his reality throughout the course of the novel.  Isidore, is a “special” in the world, one who has had his mental capacity lowered due to exposure to the radiation that floods the world.  He was a simplistic character and it was a little unsettling to see how he was treated throughout the book.

Setting

The book is set in San Francisco in the year 2021.  Earth has been rendered nearly uninhabitable due to World War Terminus and most humans live on colonies away from the planet.  Sciences have also improved as humans have learned to make replicas of almost all life forms, including other humans.  The only problem is, the androids occasionally malfunction, killing their owners.  When this happens, bounty hunters are sent to find and “retire” the androids.

Plot

Deckard starts the book as a minor bounty hunter, but when his superior is attacked and nearly killed by an android that he was hunting, it falls to Rick to find and stop the list of androids that his boss was looking for.  After being given his assignment, Rick has to first verify that the testing tool police use to differentiate between humans and androids is still a viable tool.  After this is done, he proceeds on his mission to find the rogue androids.

Enjoyment

This book was weird, it had some very interesting ideas spread throughout it, and it asked some difficult questions.  What really constitutes as life?  How sacred do we hold other’s lives to be? While the ideas were interesting, I don’t think they were explored very deeply.  The world was very interesting, and the author found ways to tell you about the world without it being a vast info-dump that took up pages and pages.  It’s a novel that raises many questions, but I don’t think it answers any of them very well.

Overall Grade

An interesting read, and while I don’t think the book was exceptional, it was enough to make me want to read more by Philip K. Dick.

5/10

Superfreakonomics

Superfreakonomics, the follow up to the original Freakonomics, by Stephen D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner.  I really enjoyed Freakonomics, and while this book was interesting, it just wasn’t quite as good to me, I enjoyed the topics in this book, but the writing didn’t seem to be at the same level that it was in the first book.

Some of the topics in this book include the economic incentive for a woman to become a prostitute, several studies dealing with human apathy and altruism, and global warming.  There is also quite a bit of discussion about the law of unintended consequences, and a large chapter dealing with global warming and possible ways to fix it.

The best part of the book deals with Intellectual Ventures, a company of geniuses operating from the Seattle area.  The company was founded by a former member of Microsoft (and is funded in part by Bill Gates) and their goal is to try to find solutions to real world problems.  The solutions are so simple, so effective, and so cheap that they couldn’t possibly work, except the science proves that they do.

Two of the problems that they deal with are hurricanes and global warming.  For both of these problems, which are very costly and deadly to many people, IV has scientifically supported ways to solve them that are not only brilliant, but relatively cheap.  For example, their hurricane defense system only cost something like $250 million per year for 3 of the most hurricane prone areas in the world.  While $250 million per year seems like a lot of money, keep in mind that the average cost of hurricane damage just in the US is roughly $10 billion a year.

All said, the book had some interesting ideas, and interesting research to go with those ideas. While this book isn’t as good as the original, it’s still a fun read.  Also, I still say that there is no reason that this book is considered an economics book other than the fact that Levitt has a degree in Economics.  This book is a Social Psychology book, and a good one at that.

Overall Grade

A fun read, but it doesn’t measure up to the original Freakonomics.

8/10

The Book Thief

Words on a page, images on a screen, notes from an instrument.  All of these can be used to tell stories.  In many ways, we live for these stories, because without them, what is there?  Some stories stick with us more than others.  The Book Thief by Markus Zusak is one of those stories that will stick with me for some time.  I don’t know if I can write words for a review to do this book justice.  This book was wonderful.  It was able to seamlessly weave humor, terror, and the occasional brilliance of human actions all at once.  I loved this book.

550 pages

Stand Alone

Drama (for lack of a better genre definition)

Characters

The book is told from the point of view of Death, yes, that Death (although he is quick to say he doesn’t carry a scythe and only wears a black hood when it’s cold).  While the book is told by Death, and he interjects his thoughts into the story from time to time, the book is about Liesel Meminger.  Liesel is a young girl growing up in Germany during WW2.  When she arrives to live with her foster family, she is scarred by having seen her younger brother die.  While her brother was being buried, she stole a book from the gravediggers, called “The Grave Digger’s Handbook.”  This starts an appreciation of literature that will carry her through the story, once she learns how to read that is.

Setting

A small town called Molching in Germany, the book begins in 1939 with Liesel being 9 years old.

Plot

The book follows Liesel as she experiences life in a small german town during WW2.  Just as she is beginning to get her life somewhat in order, everything is thrown upside down when her father makes good on a promise to an old jewish friend by hiding his son in their basement during the early stages of the war.  As the war continues to spread, its effects begin to hit closer and closer to home, changing Liesel’s life forever.

Enjoyment

This book was amazing, there were times when I didn’t want to read what was going to happen next, but at the same time I had to know.  One thing that I can say about this book is that Zusak doesn’t pull any punches.  The characters are beautifully done and you feel their pain.  I will admit that I started to tear up reading the end of the book, it’s very well done.  The book shows the horrors of war from a very intimate angle.  I can’t do this book justice with my review.  The book reminded me very strongly of the anime Grave of the Fireflies, which is another wonderful work of art that is hard to describe in words.  I can go on for a while longer talking about how I don’t think I can do this book justice, so I’ll stop and just tell you to go read it.

Overall Grade

This book was amazing, and I think everyone should read it.

10/10

My Goal – Week 6

Time for my weekly update on my weight loss goal.  Today I weighed in at 215.4.  This number is kind of significant to me for two reasons: 1, it means I’ve only got 5 more pounds to lose in 7 weeks: and 2, this is the lowest I’ve known my weight to be since my freshman year in college way back in the fall of 2003.  So right now I weigh less than I have at any time since I was about 19 years old, I’ll take it.

Not a whole lot more to add this week, so I’m going to call it a post and go on with the rest of my day, which includes a lot of reading and some bowling later (I need to practice).

7/10 – 231.2

7/17 – 225.6

7/24 – 224.0

7/31 – 221.6

8/7 – 218.8

8/14 – 215.4

Goal <210 by 10/4/2011