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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How I Met Your Mother

A couple of weeks ago I started watching How I Met Your Mother on Netflix, and as a lack of recent posts by me shows, I’ve been watching it obsessively and just finished watching the last episode of the 7th season.  Sadly, Netflix doesn’t have the 8th season of the show yet, and because I don’t want to watch the episodes out of order if I can help it, I’m not going to start watching the ninth season when it airs starting Monday.

HIMYM

There aren’t a lot of TV shows that I watch, and there are a few reasons for that.  The first is the time commitment, with working full time (plus having a decent commute), along with bowling in 3 leagues a week, I’m a fairly busy guy.  Along with that I still try to read as much as I can, which leads to another reason why in many cases I prefer books to TV.  With books the author knows that there is going to be an end, so the characters have growth arcs that they go through, and when they’re done with that arc, the story is usually over.  There are some TV shows that do a very poor job of that because they refuse to let the characters finish their arc, or you’ll run into a show where the writers don’t give the characters room to grow.  Or if the show runs a long time, the characters will finish an arc and then get another arc forced on them (this happens in books as well, and I complain about it with books as well).

Lastly, when it comes to comedies, there are a lot of times when the humor just doesn’t work for me.  With something like Family Guy, the show is almost entirely comprised of non-sequitar jokes, which – to me at least – get old pretty quickly.  Then there are shows like The Big Bang Theory, which I can’t stand because it does nothing but make fun of nerds for every episode, and being a nerd, that bothers me.  It also has a tendency to make fun of Sheldon being an extremely anxious person, which also bothers me as a person who has an anxiety disorder.  (And once again for clarity, it’s self-diagnosed, but I did study psychology so I have a semblance of an idea of what I’m talking about.)

Two of my favorite shows of all time are M*A*S*H and Scrubs, because I think both shows do a fantastic job of being outrageously funny while being able to stop on a dime and deliver some of the most poignant moments you’ll ever see in TV.  I can easily add How I Met Your Mother to that list, because it does so many things so well.

The most important thing about any TV show is the characters, and the 5 main characters on this show are wonderful.  They each have distinct personalities and a number of quirks that separate them from each other, but also allow the characters to play off of each other as well.  From Ted’s intellectualism, Marshall’s earnestness, Lily’s innocence, Robin’s bluntness, and Barney’s insanity, they all work perfectly on their own but they work just as well when mixed with the other characters.  In some ways, it’s exactly what made Joss Whedon’s Firefly work so well, you put a bunch of unique personalities together and you see what the results are.  And just like in Firefly, the results are wonderful here.

Another thing that the show does a wonderful job of is not overusing it’s jokes.  There’s a fine line between a running gag and beating a dead horse, and this show runs it perfectly.  It’s one thing to watch a season over the course of 6 or 8 months and not overuse a gag, but I watched 7 seasons of this show in 3 or 4 weeks and never got sick of the jokes.  I suppose the only way I can finish this paragraph is by saying that the writer’s willingness to show restraint in not overusing their jokes was legen – wait for it – dary.

One of the more interesting things that this show does is also one of the harder things to do in fiction, it tells a compelling story when you know the ending.  Because of the flashback nature of the show, there are parts of the show where you already know how it’s going to end.  The obvious example is Ted and Robin dating.  You’re told early in the first season (maybe even the first episode, I don’t remember offhand) that they don’t get married when Ted tells his future kids about how he met their Aunt Robin.  Yet even though you know they don’t end up together, they’re dating for most of season two and it’s still great to watch.

This is a show with fun characters, great humor that is never overused, and at the same time the show is able to stop and deliver a truly touching moment.  This is one of the best comedies that I’ve seen in recent years, and it’s one that I’ll definitely go through and watch again in the future.

HIMYM2

The Snow Queen’s Shadow

I just finished reading the fourth book in Jim. C. Hines’ series of princess books, and I thought it was a very fitting end to the series and arguably the strongest book in the series.  But we’ll stop all of the small talk and just get on with the review.

Book StatsThe Snow Queen's Shadow

333 pages

Fantasy, Satire

Fourth book in the series (sequel to The Stepsister Scheme, The Mermaid’s Madness, and Red Hood’s Revenge

Characters

The same characters from the first three books are back of course, although this book does take turn the series on it’s head a little bit by having them chase after Snow.  It’s in the first chapter, so it’s not all that much of a spoiler, it’s also part of the synopsis on the back of the book.  Snow is under the control of the demon that her mother had imprisoned in her magic mirror, and she seeks revenge against the people who caused her to be exiled from Allesandria.  I think the book works really well with her being an antagonist, especially as we watch her rebel against the character that Snow was in the first three books.

Setting

Still in the same world, but this book takes place in Snow’s homeland of Allesandria.

Plot

After Beatrice dies, Snow tries to capture her spirit to allow her to keep living.  This causes her mirror to shatter and allows the demon inside to possess Snow’s body.  So of course Danielle and Talia have to work to stop her and try to rescue Snow.

Enjoyment

In many ways this is the best book of the series.  In the previous books I had complained about Hines use of multiple viewpoints and how it seemed somewhat haphazard.  It works out much better in this book, especially considering the fact that we have views from both the protagonists and the primary antagonist in the novel.  This book is also the culmination of one of the strongest arcs running throughout the entire series, the love story between Talia and Snow, I won’t spoil the ending, but I loved how it was handled throughout the book.

All of the magic within the world is consistent, even if you don’t get a full understanding of how it works.  But the best part of the series really is the characters.  They’re very believable, mostly because of their flaws.  None of the characters are perfect, in many ways they’re just as flawed as the people they are trying to stop.

It’s so hard to write a review for the fourth or fifth book of the series, especially without giving away too much of the story.  But with a unique take on familiar stories, an interesting world and wonderful characters, these are books that I would highly suggest to anyone who reads Fantasy novels.

Overall Grade

A wonderful conclusion to the series, although in the acknowledgements Hines leaves open the possibility of writing more books in the series.  I for one certainly hope he does.

9/10

Red Hood’s Revenge

This is the third book in Jim C. Hines’ Princess Series, and overall it’s closer to the second book instead of the first.  I’ve enjoyed all of the books, and I look forward to reading the fourth book sometime soon.

Book StatsRed Hood's Revenge

337 pages

Fantasy, Satire

Third book in the series (Sequel to The Stepsister Scheme and The Mermaid’s Madness)

Characters

Much like the first two books, this one centers on the Danielle, Talia, and Snow.  But where the first book centered on Danielle and the second focused on Snow, this book deals more with Talia.  I think that Talia is a very interesting character, possibly the most interesting of the three with a very cool backstory.  But one of the most interesting characters in this book is Roudette, otherwise known as Little Red Riding Hood.  In Hines’ world she is known as The Lady of the Red Hood and is one of the most feared assassins in the world.

Setting

This book takes place in the country of Arathea, where Talia is originally from.

Plot

Early in the book Danielle receives a letter from Roudette saying that she has her sister Charlotte and will only release her if she comes in person to get her.  Obviously this is a trap, so Talia goes in her place to try and kill Roudette (who had come for Beatrice several years before the books take place).  We find out that Danielle was not Roudette’s actual target, but Talia was.  This leads them to travel back to Arathea to foil a plot created by the fairies who try to rule over the humans of the country.

Enjoyment

If that plot synopsis sounds a bit dull, well, it’s kind of hard to summarize the story without giving a lot away.  So instead I’ll talk more about what the book does with the story rather than exactly how it goes about it.  In the first two books, Talia seemed like a very closed person emotionally.  In this book she opens up quite a bit.  We also learn a lot more about her past and exactly why she is so distrustful of people.

Along with having a lot of really interesting fantasy elements wrapped around the stories we’re all familiar with, this book also does a lot with some interesting themes.  The biggest theme of the book is learning to trust again after having been burned in the past.  But while this is the biggest character theme, it’s not my favorite idea that the book deals with.  One of the themes introduced in the book is the use of a religion to try and control people.  It’s a very interesting idea that I don’t think is addressed often enough in our society.

While this book has a lot going for it, it does have a couple of flaws.  I still think that Hines’ use of multiple viewpoints is a little strange from time to time, with some strange scenes that seem to change viewpoints in the middle of the scene.  I think it’s better in this book than it was in The Mermaid’s Madness, but it’s still not as good as in some other books.  I was also a little annoyed with the pacing from time to time, the book was paced a lot like a thriller novel, where it seemed like it ended every chapter on a cliffhanger.  I thought it got a little annoying from time to time, but the book was short so it wasn’t too bad.

Overall Grade

Another really interesting book with a great take on classic fairy tales.

7/10

Redshirts

I’ve been a fan of John Scalzi’s work for a while now, but to this point I’ve only read his Old Man’s War series and random posts on his blog.  Yesterday I was walking around Barnes & Noble and came across his book Redshirts, I’d heard a lot of good things about it and decided to pick it up.

Book StatsRedshirts

314 pages

Science Fiction, Satire

Characters

The main character of the book is Andy Dahl, an ensign in the Universal Union who has just been assigned to the flagship Intrepid.  There was nothing about his character that will really blow you away, and the same is true of the side characters.  In fact, they’re meant to be largely side characters within the “story” of the Intrepid.  But while the characters aren’t especially memorable, they are well written and behave consistently within the world.

Setting

Primarily takes place in the Intrepid, but there are quite a few scenes where the characters are on various planets or space stations and a few scenes on Earth as well.

Plot

Shortly after Dahl is sent to the Intrepid, he realizes that there are a lot of people acting very strangely on the ship.  Before too much longer he is told about a very disconcerting pattern that people on the ship have noticed, which is of course is that on every away mission a low ranking member of the team dies.  Over the course of the rest of the book, they try to figure out exactly what is going on with the ship.

Enjoyment

I’m kind of torn about this book.  On one hand it is a brilliant satire and a perfect way to mock the horrible science that was seen in many science fiction TV shows.  On the other hand, I thought the second half the book was weaker than the first half.  If you’re a bigger fan of Star Trek and other science fiction shows, you’d probably find another 50 jokes that I missed throughout the book.

This book also had one of my biggest pet peeves in writing as a major plot point, time travel.  It’s maybe a little better because it presents it as a kind of alternate universe, but in the end it annoys me more than anything else.

At the end of the book, Scalzi has 3 Codas where he describes the events of some of the people Dahl met on Earth after the story ends.  The third Coda was probably my favorite part of the book.  It’s a very nice touch and works well within the story that was told about all of the characters.

The last thing I have to mention is that Scalzi gets big time bonus points for using the word “defenestration” in the book.  Likewise, you get bonus points if you know what defenestration means without looking it up in google.

Overall Grade

I had some issues with the book, and I’m sure that I missed some of the jokes, but I still had a good time reading it.

6/10

The Mermaid’s Madness

Well, this post is a little late in coming.  I finished this book a little over a week ago on April 20th, but I’ve been busy since then and haven’t gotten around to writing up a blog post about it.  So what have I been doing?  The usual stuff, work and bowling, but this time my bowling took me out to Reno for the USBC Open Championships.  Some real quick thoughts about my time out in Reno: I bowled much better this year than I did last year in Baton Rouge (which was my first trip to Nationals) but still not nearly as well as I’d like to.  I did learn a lot from one of the other bowlers who came with us, and it showed me just how much I still have to learn about the game.  Secondly, my flight(s) to and from Reno were pretty much uneventful, although I still think the TSA is largely worthless and does nothing more than provide a false sense of security while at the same time wasting government money.  Lastly, my thoughts about Reno itself: the bowling stadium is really cool, the casino/hotel that we stayed at was pretty nice, but my impression of the city as a whole is that it was kind of a dump.  Anyway, there was my trip in a nutshell, on with the review.

Book StatsThe Mermaid's Madness

339 pages

Fantasy, Satire

Second book in the series (sequel to The Stepsister Scheme)

Characters

It’s been a while since I read The Stepsister Scheme, but I found no problem getting back into the world with this book and it’s because the characters work very well.  One of the things that I enjoyed about this book is that it focused more on Snow as it told the story.  Most of the characters in the story are similar to how they were in the first book, but they’re still varied and work well together.  The new characters in this book, particularly the villains, are interesting as well and are all familiar twists on the stories that we think we know.

Setting

The book takes place in the same world as The Stepsister Scheme, but instead of taking place on the island nation of Lorindar, it takes place largely in and on the oceans around the country.

Plot

Danielle goes with Queen Beatrice to visit the mermaids as they return from their annual migration.  But what they expect to be a peaceful meeting turns violent when they find that Lirea has killed her father and taken control of the tribe of mermaids.  Lirea attacks the human ship and wounds Queen Beatrice with an enchanted dagger.  Thus sets off a quest to help Queen Bea and to help the mermaids deal with Lirea’s madness.

Enjoyment

One of the first things that I noticed about this book is that Hines uses multiple viewpoints throughout the story, which I don’t remember him doing in the first book.  While I think it gets off to a bit of a rough start because of it, ultimately it works out well throughout the book as it gives us a chance to learn more about Snow and her magic.

The story within the book is a fairly standard fantasy story, if you’re well read in the genre nothing in the story will surprise you, although it is well done throughout the story.  The biggest success of the story is playing off the story of The Little Mermaid which Hines twists as he tells this story.  If you aren’t familiar with the Disney movie, this book might fall a little flat for you, but if you’ve seen the story it’s a wonderful twist on the story.

Overall Grade

A solid story that plays upon your expectations from the story that you think you know, an enjoyable book.

7/10

Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far)

So about a week ago I finished reading Dave Barry’s History of the Millenium (So Far) and I quite enjoyed it.  But I was busy bowling 7 of the past 8 days, including a trip out of town for the Ohio State Bowling Tournament, so I haven’t gotten around to writing up my thoughts for it yet, so here we go.

Book StatsHistory of the Millennium

236 pages

Satire

Enjoyment

The book covers the years from 2000 to 2007 with the exception of 2001.  I gave my thoughts about skipping 2001 because of the events of 9/11 in my last post, so I won’t repeat myself and talk about it again.

I like Barry’s writing, and his way of looking back on the events of the years he covers is uniquely his own.  But the best part of this book is reading about all of the stupid things that we all thought were immensely important at the time.  Some of the things that he talked about include:

  • The presidential election of 2000 with all of the nonsense of the hanging chad’s and the constant recounting of the votes in Florida.
  • Elian Gonzalez, the 6 year old cuban kid who was the source of a constant custody battle that somehow caught the attention of the country (and annoyed me even then).
  • Martha Stewart getting in trouble with the SEC (not the college conference) and ultimately going to jail.
  • The rise of “reality” TV shows, which are very popular despite the fact that no one admitted to watching them.
  • Ron Artest running into the stands during a Pacers/Pistons game and getting suspended for the year.
  • The start of the steroid questions in baseball, including the huge senate hearing with several major leaguers who all most likely cheated.
  • Hurricane Katrina and all of the ineptitude that followed the early days of the recovery.
  • Dick Cheney shooting the attorney that he was hunting with.
  • Steve Irwin – better known as the Crocodile Hunter – dying while recording his show.

It was interesting to see what was in our minds over the course of the first 7 years of the new Millennium, I actually wouldn’t mind seeing a newer collection with the years since 2007, so I’ll keep an eye out for it.

Overall Grade

A funny book and a very interesting look back at the early 2000’s.

7/10

The Stepsister Scheme

I talked about how I first heard of Jim C. Hines in my review for Goblin Quest, so I don’t need to go over that again.  So I’ll take this a slightly different direction.  By the time that I decided I wanted to read some of Jim’s books, he had two series completed.  The first one was the Goblin series, and the second was the Princess series.  Well, if you’re a guy who’s going to pick up one of Jim’s books, I’d bet that 99 times out of 100 you’ll go for the Goblin series, which of course I did.  After reading the Goblin series, I decided it was time to start reading his Princess series, and right now I’m kind of mad at myself because I only bought the first book instead of the entire series.

Book Stats

344 pages

Fantasy, Satire

First book in the series

Characters

The main character in this book is Danielle Whiteshore, better known to most people as Cinderella.  The book starts a couple months after the end of the fairy tale as we know it, with Danielle happily married to Prince Armand and getting accustomed to life as a princess rather than as a servant to her step-mother and step-sisters.  The other two characters are Snow White and Talia (better known as Sleeping Beauty). All three of the characters have varied skills (magical and otherwise) and have deep backstories based largely upon their respective fairy tales.  But while the characters are based upon the classical stories, they’re their own people and have their own challenges as they go through the story.  The characters are interesting on their own, but the twist that Hines puts on their backstories makes them especially deep and interesting characters.

Setting

The book takes place on the island nation of Lorindar, and goes a little further into the fairy realm as the story continues.  It’s nothing you haven’t seen before in Fantasy books, but it’s very well done.

Plot

Danielle is still adjusting to her life when she is attacked by her step-sister Charlotte, who has somehow learned new magic that she uses to try and kill Danielle.  Of course this starts Danielle on a quest to overcome her stepsisters and help to rescue Armand.

Enjoyment

I loved this book.  Just like with the goblin books, Hines does a fantastic job of taking all of the stories that we’re familiar with and knocking them all off to the side.  Everything in this book is recognizable if you’re familiar with the stories (whether the more commonly known Disney versions or the older versions from Grimm’s Fairy Tales) but taken a step further.  For example, Talia (Sleeping Beauty) was blessed by the fairies and given supernatural grace, which she promptly uses to become a master of martial arts.  Snow White is a master of mirror-based magic, and Hines take on the seven dwarves might be one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a book (it’s also in the last 50 pages or so, so I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read the book).

Although a large part of the book rides upon your preconceived notions of the stories that the characters are based upon, there is a solid quest story underneath everything.  Much like I’ve said with all of Christopher Moore’s books, it’s easy to dismiss these books as simply poking fun at the source material, but if you do that you’re going to miss out on a great story.  I really enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the books in the series.

Overall Grade

A wonderful take on the characters and stories that you thought you knew, and a fantastic story to go with it.

9/10

Goblin War

This is the third book in Jim C. Hines Goblin series, and it’s just as much fun as the first two were.  While I’ve labeled each of the books as Satire as well as Fantasy, the books are a lot deeper than simple parodies of familiar Fantasy tropes.  Much like with Christopher Moore’s books, Hines has serious skill as a writer and tells very interesting character driven stories.

Book Stats

336 pages

Fantasy, Satire

Sequel to Goblin Quest and Goblin Hero

Characters

Jig is back for his third adventure, and once again he has more “help” from the other goblins he lives with.  He is accompanied by Trok, a fairly mindless warrior who has aspirations of being Goblin Chief one day, and Relka, who is kind of a fan-girl of Jig’s.  Relka was a lot of fun to read about, and her fearless attitude that Jig can do anything is a welcome change from the usual stupidity or cowardice that the other goblins all show.

Setting

Unlike the first two books, this book takes place largely outside of the goblin lair, and has Jig and friends exploring the wider world and coming across human towns.

Plot

After Shadowstar’s warning at the end of the second book, Jig reopens the lair to the outside world.  This immediately causes problems when Genevieve, the younger sister of Barius and Ryslind (the two princes Jig guided in the first book) comes back in search of the Rod of Creation.  I was worried early on that this book was going to be mostly a reprisal of the first book, but it quickly turned this into a larger story where Jig works to stop a huge war between the humans and an army of monsters.

Enjoyment

Aside from my initial fear that the book was going to cover the same ground as the first story, this book worked out just as well as the other books in the series.  The characters are just as much fun, and Hines consistently does a good job of building a deep world while keeping the story focused on the characters involved.  I liked how he was able to bring in flashbacks from events both before and during the first book to give you more backstory about Jig and Tymalous Shadowstar.  Again, I said the same thing about Christopher Moore’s books – it’s easy to dismiss these as simple parodies, but if you do that you’re missing out on a great story.

Overall Grade

Another fun story, and a fitting end to a trilogy.

9/10

Goblin Hero

There’s not a whole lot to say for the intro to this book.  This is the sequel to Jim C. Hines debut novel Goblin Quest, and it’s every bit as much fun as the first book was.  Since I don’t have anything else constructive to say here, I’ll just start the review.

Book Stats

343 pages

Fantasy, Satire

Sequel to Goblin Quest

Characters

Jig is back in this book, and he’s much the same as he was in the first book: paranoid, cowardly, and smarter than most of the goblins that he deals with on a daily basis.  This book also deals with several other goblins, who were also a lot of fun to read about.  It’s interesting that in this book Jig’s companions are polar opposites from those he traveled with in the first book.  In the first book the adventurers were smart and capable warriors, and in this book his companions are Braf (a very large, very stupid goblin), Grell (an old goblin who worked in the nursery for years), Veka (a wannabe magician who works making muck), and Slash (a hobgoblin who is just as likely to kill the goblins as help them).

Setting

Under the mountain, the same as the first book, although the area around Straum’s cave has been changed due to the pixies who recently moved in.

Plot

About a year after the end of the first book, Jig is just trying to live a quiet life and be ignored by all of the other goblins, which of course really annoys Kralk (the current Goblin chief).  So when an ogre comes seeking the help of Jig Dragonslayer, Kralk insists that Jig helps him out.  This of course leads Jig on another adventure that he wants absolutely nothing to do with, especially since this one ends up with him fighting against an army of pixies.

Enjoyment

The biggest selling point of the first novel is the way that it took your standard fantasy story and turned it on it’s head.  This book does much of the same thing, and goes one step beyond the first book in that it constantly makes references to standard story tropes.  Veka finds a book detailing the journey of a hero, and constantly quotes from the book and tries to figure out where every step of her adventure fits into the classical heroic myth (the in-world author is named Josca, but it’s a very thinly veiled parody of Joseph Campbell’s work discussing The Hero’s Journey).  The idea of having a character analyze her journey (as well as Jig’s) as she’s going through the story added another layer of humor into the story, especially if you’re a fan of the fantasy genre and read a lot of books with similar stories.

Overall Grade

Another wonderful parody of common Fantasy tropes with a lot of great characters.

9/10