September 2012 Month in Review

We come to the end of another month, and while August was a down month for me reading, September was downright abysmal.  I read a total of 5 books this past month, coming in at just a little over 1600 pages for the month, which easily makes September my poorest effort for reading for the year thus far.  In my defense I’m still getting used to my new job and trying to find time to read with that, and then all of my bowling leagues started this month as well.  This means that along with being at work during the day, I’m also bowling 3 or 4 nights a week (one of my leagues only bowls every other week).

So enough of my rambling and complaining, what did I actually read this month?  Here’s the admittedly short list:

One of the biggest things that occurred around here this past month was being asked to read a novel by someone who follows my blog.  Kasia James asked me to read her novel, and for those who think they would enjoy a light SciFi novel with a leaning towards literary fiction I would strongly suggest you go check out her book (there’s a link where you can buy the book in my original post reviewing the book).

So while it was a down month for reading, otherwise I don’t have a whole lot to complain about.  I’ve got a couple of things to mention about what’s going to be happening with my blog in the upcoming months, but we’ll save that for a separate post tomorrow.

I Am Legend

This is a book that I’ve seen several times before, most notably I’ve heard about this from the recent movie that came out starring Will Smith.  I haven’t seen the movie, but I know that they made some major changes to the overall story when translating the book to the film, which happens all the time.

Another interesting thing about the version of the book that I purchased is that it also has several short stories by Matheson as well as the main story that’s included.  The main part of my review will be for I Am Legend, but I’m also going to discuss some of the short stories in the book as well.

Book Stats

312 Pages

Horror

Characters

The main character of I Am Legend is Robert Neville, seemingly the only man to survive a strange disease that turns everyone into vampires.  He obviously lives a very solitary life with a lot of introspection.  But Neville is a very active character, even though you’d think that he wouldn’t have a lot to do.  Along with constantly building up the defense of his house, he also spends his days venturing out and killing all of the vampires he can find during the day, when they’re in a coma like state.

Setting

A small town in America in the 1970’s, I don’t believe that it ever actually mentions the name of the town, but it really doesn’t matter overall.

Plot

The plot is fairly simplistic; Neville is still alive and trying to find a reason to keep living.  He spends a lot of his time trying to find out more about what created the vampires, and from there trying to find a way to cure those who have become vampires.

Enjoyment

One of the hardest things to do in storytelling is to tell a story where the protagonist doesn’t have a lot to do.  When it’s done well it leads to a brilliant story, there are few examples I can think of where it’s done well, and there really aren’t all that many examples I can think of where it’s done at all since it’s such a difficult thing to do.  Neville is an interesting character, and it’s wonderful to watch him go through his journey.  The ending of the book was also really well done, and it’s always interesting to see a good twist ending that doesn’t simply feel tacked on at the end of the story.

Short Stories

I really enjoyed the short stories by Matheson included in my copy of the book (there were a total of 10 of them).  In many ways they reminded me of the writing of Hubert Selby Jr. (one of my favorite writers who I’ve talked about a couple of times on the blog, although I don’t have any of his reviews on here) in the way they dealt with the darker side of humanity and our cultures.  The main difference between these stories and Selby’s is that these included supernatural elements that were brought in to increase the tension.  While I don’t typically read a lot of short stories, these were all a lot of fun to go through.

Overall Grade

A very well written horror story that does an excellent job of dealing with a solitary character, well worth a read.

7/10

Dear Robert Jordan

As it sits now, I’m about 1/4 of the way through I Am Legend, and I’m really enjoying it and looking forward to finishing the book.  And while I have a lot of other books sitting on my shelf and the TBR pile (including some that I just bought last Saturday, including the rest of Jim C Hines Princess Series) they’ll be sitting there until at least January.

After I finish I Am Legend, I’m going to start my re-read of The Wheel of Time.  The goal is to finish the re-read in time to start A Memory of Light January 8th, 2013 (the day it comes out).

I know I’ve said several times that this series is the reason that I read as much as I do today, and for the next several months this blog will be largely dedicated to The Wheel of Time (although I do have some other stuff that I’m going to talk about during that time).  So instead I’m going to direct you to a letter written by Jason Denzel to Robert Jordan.  For those who don’t know, Jason runs Dragonmount, one of the largest Wheel of Time fansites in the world.  As such, he’s been privileged to read the final version of A Memory of Light, and he’s written a letter to Robert Jordan with what he thinks about the final book.  It’s a wonderful tribute to the series as a whole, and it’s done nothing more than increase my anticipation for the final book.

January 8th can’t come soon enough.

Zoe’s Tale

This is the fourth book in John Scalzi’s Science Fiction series that started with Old Man’s War.  He doesn’t really have a name for the series as a whole, the cover of this book bluntly says that it’s “An Old Man’s War Novel.”  I don’t know exactly how many of these books he was originally planning to write when he started with Old Man’s War, but the books are all very episodic and stand on their own very well.  This is probably the only book in the series that really requires you to have read the earlier books, since it occurs chronologically at the same time as The Last Colony.  But while it’s telling the same story that we’ve already read from The Last Colony, it’s from Zoe’s viewpoint, and in many ways that makes it my favorite book in the series thus far.

Book Stats

400 pages

Science Fiction

Fourth book in the Old Man’s War series, sequel to Old Man’s War, the Ghost Brigades, and The Last Colony.

Characters

Most of the characters in this book are side characters in The Last Colony, but as I mentioned in the intro the book is told from Zoe’s point of view.  This helps the book out in two major ways.  The first is that it eases off on the science.  The third book leaned a bit too much towards hard SF for my taste, and I thought it weakened the book as a whole.  Zoe is very intelligent, but she’s also a lot younger than John and Jane, and so the story really focuses more on the characters and their actions as opposed to the science.  The second reason that it helps the book is because Zoe has a wonderfully snarky sense of humor.

Setting

The same as The Last Colony, and the same universe as the first three books, but you should know that by now.

Plot

The book is the same plot as The Last Colony, starting with John, Jane, and Zoe leaving to colonize Roanoke, and then ending in the same place.  The main difference is that this book explains two plot points from the first book, which if Scalzi hadn’t explained them in the acknowledgements I probably wouldn’t have noticed that they were plot holes, one of them really was, and the other one I don’t really think mattered in the long run.

Enjoyment

This is easily my favorite novel in the series.  It has all of the same machinations of the government as the earlier books, but Zoe is a lot more likable as a person than John and Jane were.  While the earlier books were very good, this one includes a lot more humor, and some sadder moments that really make the story complete.  This book is both a solid continuation of the series and a wonderful story in its own right.

Overall Grade

Easily my favorite book in the series, Zoe is a wonderful character and her story is well worth reading.

9/10

The Artemis Effect

So I’ve been away for about a week and a half now, I really need to make more time to keep up my blog along with working full time and bowling 3 or 4 times a week.

So anyway, I didn’t update my currently reading widget on the sidebar after finishing Ender in Exile, and that was pure laziness on my part.  But I have still been reading over the past week, albeit at a slightly slower pace than usual.  Not too terribly long ago, another blogger asked me to review her book that she recently finished.  So I’ve been spending the past week reading The Artemis Effect by Kasia James.  (A link to Kasia’s blog can be found here.)

I enjoyed the book, but it did take me a little longer to read than books usually do, along with my continued complaints about trying to find time to read while working full time and bowling, I also read the book as a PDF file on my computer.  And it reaffirms my belief that I will always prefer to read real books, whether they be paperback or hardcover, I will always go for the real books.

So without any further adieu, we go into my review of The Artemis Effect.

Book Stats

188 pages (in PDF form)

The worldbuilding behind the story could lean towards either a lighter Science Fiction or Fantasy with a strong leaning towards being Literary Fiction.  I’m going to label it as Science Fiction and Drama.

Characters

There are a lot of characters in this book, as I’m writing this review I’m glad that Kasia included a Dramatis Personae in the beginning of the book, because it really helps to remember all of the characters throughout the book.  All of the characters throughout the book were well written and believable as people, but I think overall I liked the group centered in Australia better than the groups in America and Britain.  Overall they’re a little closer to my age and they’re dealing with more of the same things in life that I deal with.  In what is a relatively short book (I’d imagine that in a paperback format this book would be around 350 to 400 pages) there are a lot of characters that all kind of feel like the main character of the story.  Overall I’d say that the characters are probably the strongest part of this book.

Setting

The book is set in present day Earth, and the various characters are in Australia, America (oddly enough, in Northeast Ohio, where I live), and Britain.

Plot

The book begins with the group of people from Australia, who have formed a small group called SWAP – The Society for Watching for Alien Presences.  Scott, who is an amateur astronomer, notices that something looks strange about the moon.  While this sets up the beginning of the story, the remaining characters in the book are simply going about their daily lives.  As the disturbance with the moon gets worse, communications all over the world get knocked out, and it causes the collapse of modern civilization, and a return to a much simpler way of life.  Now that I think about it, it’s very similar to The Road by Cormac McCarthy, with the exception being that you have some idea of what’s causing everything.

Enjoyment

The characters are really the strongest part of this book.  As soon as you are introduced to a character, you quickly learn a lot about their personalities as well as some of the conflicts that they have in their personal lives.  While many of their conflicts are dealt with throughout the book, there were a couple of times that they felt really rushed to me.  But as a whole I enjoyed the characters in the book.

Overall I think the weakest part of the book was the plot.  I was enjoying the character interactions and I was intrigued by the idea of something strange happening to the moon, to me it never felt like the book was really gaining momentum towards a strong conclusion.  I kept getting more information about what’s happening, but it always felt like a setup towards something bigger.  Even in the final chapters, it still felt like it was setting up something bigger that was yet to come.

My only other complaint was that it seemed like the characters were always reacting to what was happening to them, rather than taking the initiative and going forward.

Overall Grade

I really enjoyed the characters and how believable they were, but it felt in large part like it was a setup for a much larger story.  It’s an interesting premise that I’d recommend to fans of lighter Sci Fi.

For those interested in purchasing the book, you can find it on Amazon here.

6/10

Ender in Exile

So I’m up to the 10th book in the Ender’s Game series, technically the 11th released but I haven’t read the short story collection First Meetings which was published between Shadow Puppets and Shadow of the Giant.  Maybe I’ll pick that one up and read the stories in between Wheel of Time books when I start my re-read in a couple of weeks.  Oh well, on with the review.

Book Stats

455 pages

Science Fiction

10th book in the Ender Series

Characters

We’re back to Ender as the main character in this book, and after several books with other main characters, I was glad to read another one about Ender.  Ender might be the greatest character I’ve ever read in any book, and he does a perfect job of demonstrating pretty much everything that I wish I could be.  He’s incredibly competent, patient with everyone, and perfectly able to work with other people.  This book once again shows that Ender is able to be exactly what the person he is dealing with needs.  He really is a wonderful character and the way that Card writes his characters is the reason that there are so many wonderful books in this series.

Setting

Battle School and Eros for the first part of the book, then the colony of Shakespeare, and then the planet Ganges.  Basically, several of the places that Ender visited early on as he began his travels that take place between Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.

Plot

This book is filling out what happened between Ender’s Game and Speaker for the Dead.  This is another example of what Card did with the plot lines of the Shadow Series (books 5-8).  You know pretty much how everything is going to end up, but he’s now going to go back and show you how it all plays out.  The book shows how Ender helped to start the Colonies on the road to their own independence, how he found the Hive Queen Chrysalis, and why he decided to begin the 3,000 year journey that ultimately led him to Lusitania where Speaker for the Dead takes place.

Enjoyment

I would imagine that one of the hardest things to do in writing is to write a book where nearly everyone who reads the book already knows what happens at the end.  It’s hard to worry about whether Ender will die when you already know there are three books about him that take place long after this book.  Where is the fear in wondering about the future of the Formics when you already know that they will be able to live on Lusitania and from there go out and repopulate themselves among several different planets throughout the universe (and taking the pequeninos with them).

For me, so much of the enjoyment of reading a book comes from the surprise of the ending.  I’ve said during reviews before that the ending of the book has greatly changed my overall rating of the book – specifically The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood was well on it’s way to getting a 4/10 until the ending rescued it and I bumped it up to a 6/10.

It almost seems like this is the exact opposite of what you would want a book to do, but Card’s characters are so wonderful that even though this book does nothing but fill in backstory that many of the other books don’t really need, it’s still a wonderful read.

Overall Grade

Another book in the Ender series, and another good score.  Even if you’re not a big fan of Science Fiction, these are absolutely wonderful books.

8/10

How many books will you read in your life?

Dan Wells is easily one of my current favorite authors, and I have reviews of all 5 of his published books to this point (The John Cleaver Trilogy, Partials, and The Hollow City).  I became a big fan of his after listening to the Writing Excuses podcast and listening to him talk about his books.

I talk about Writing Excuses all the time on this blog, if you enjoy reading or have any interest in writing you need to check out this podcast.  Even though they podcasts are short – generally around 15-20 minutes each – they do a great job getting into some deep writing topics and are a lot of fun when they’re doing it.

Anyway, his website blog is one of the ones that I regularly check, and today he had an interesting post up, and it really relates to my blog since it’s about books.  He has a formula up to figure out how many books you’ll read in your life.  Perhaps this weekend I’ll get into the formula more and figure out how many books I’ll end up reading in my life.

Anyway, here’s the link to Dan’s post about it, I need to get some sleep since I have to work in the morning and then bowl again tomorrow night.  I’m reading Ender in Exile at the moment, and I’ll finish it either tomorrow or early Saturday and then I’ll have my review up then.  After that, I’ll have something a little different to read, but we’ll get to that when the time comes (in other words, Saturday afternoon, but I’ll probably post it Sunday).

On A Pale Horse

I recently talked about the Xanth series by Piers Anthony when I posted my review for A Spell for Chameleon.  While the only books by Anthony that I’d read were the Xanth books, he’s published something like 140 different novels (including at least one novel that starts with every letter of the alphabet, which is definitely an unusual accomplishment).  After I finished The Color of Magic I was talking to one of the guys I bowl with and he agreed with me that he’d rather read Piers Anthony than Terry Pratchett, and he mentioned this book, which I’d seen quite a few times in stores and I finally decided to buy it.

Book Stats

303 pages

Fantasy/Science Fiction

First book in the Incarnations of Immortality series

Characters

The main character in this book is Zane, a young man who has more than his fair share of problems in his life, he’s broke, has no real prospects for his life getting better, and has a lot of shame for things that he’s done in his life.  Ultimately he decides that the best thing for him to do would be to end his life.  Just as he’s about to shoot himself, someone walks into the room, surprised as seeing someone else, Zane reacts and shoots the intruder, and then is quickly told that he has just killed Death.

Zane as a character doesn’t really have a whole lot going for him, he really is more of a vehicle for introducing the world (which has 8 novels in it) and discussing a lot of ideas about the nature of death and compassion.

Setting

This book is a large part of the reason that Science Fiction and Fantasy share the same bookshelf space in most bookstores.  The book is set in a near future where both science and magic have advanced in almost equal strides.  Hence you end up with competing ads for planes and flying carpets, each expressing the high points for their own and the problems with their competitors.  It’s a really unique setting, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything quite like it in books before.

Plot

Much like the unique setting, the plot for this book is very different from what I’m used to seeing.  The plot begins with Zane killing Death and then assuming the role of Death, from here there are several different plots that the book deals with.  From Zane meeting a powerful wizard who has set some strange events in motion, to Zane meeting the rest of the Incarnations of Immortality (the five are Death, Time, Fate, War, and Nature), to trying to avert a plan created by Satan to bring chaos and evil to the world, there’s a lot going on in this book.

Enjoyment

The plotting in this book is something that could easily be studied on a high level to see exactly how everything fits together.  There are constantly two or three major plots that are running at the same time throughout the book.  Anthony does an excellent job of introducing the threads to later plot points while you’re still focused on what he’s currently dealing with.  It’s very well done, and it works to keep a constant pace throughout the entire novel.  I did have some issues with the resolution of some of the later plot points in the book, but overall it was a strong introduction to a series and I’m looking forward to the rest of the books in the series.

Overall Grade

A very interesting world with an intricate plot that kind of unravelled for me at the end, but it’s still an interesting read.

7/10