Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review of Faith of the Fallen

Book #35. Faith of the Fallen, by Terry Goodkind. Unabridged audio. 

This is a re-read for me -- I read the series nearly a decade ago, and then started listening to them a few years ago or so with my daughter. We only got about a quarter of the way through this one, when her college work and other responsibilities made it hard for us to continue. A few weeks ago, she gave me the go-ahead to finish this one up on my own, so I did.

I definitely did not want to leave this novel unread, with Goodkind’s latest, Severed Souls, having been released just a short while back. In order to move on to that novel, I felt that I had to dispatch this one first. 

The book before this one (reviewed here) was mostly a self-contained story, as is this one. The spread of the Imperial Order is ongoing, giving us a frightening backdrop against which this tale of the deprivation of liberty takes place. Again, Richard is taken captive, this time by the sorceress Nicci. By casting a spell that links her well-being to Kahlan’s, Richard willingly goes with her. Her intention is to teach him the glorious values of the Imperial Order, but Richard’s worldview eventually starts to effect her, and she begins to question her own beliefs. 

Goodkind’s commitment to Randian philosophy is on display here – it is an underpinning of much of the series, but here it is at the forefront. The book with a bit of Atlas Shrugged, mixed with a healthy dose of The Fountainhead, especially towards the second half of the novel. As a regular reader of Christian fiction, I understand the legitimate criticism of “preaching” in a novel, and this book definitely has some Objectivist “preaching” in it. Any time an artist uses art as a metaphor for great human achievement, it can become tiresome quickly, and Goodkind gets very close to that line a few times in Faith of the Fallen.

There is enough solid character work in this novel to balance out the lack of grand epic action, especially for fans of the series. But it is not a great entry-point for readers looking for a grand, sweeping fantasy epic. The entire series is that, but this single novel is much smaller in scope.

source: public library.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Review of Unintended Consequences

Book #34. Unintended Consequences, by Stuart Woods. Unabridged audio. 

I am a few books behind (Woods has been strangely prolific the last few years), but have read all of his novels up through this one. I have reviewed a number of them on this site, such as here. And here. And here. And here. And here. And here.

This novel starts with a scenario I have seen before but am still a sucker for. Stone Barrington awakens in the US embassy in Paris with no knowledge of how he got there, or why he is there. He has lost nearly a week of his life – it is a total blank to him. But while he is moving in the rarified air of Europe’s super-rich, he finds that he is also traveling in the circles of their top spies.

Most of the supporting cast of the Stone Barrington stories are only briefly mentioned in this one, as Stone and the CIA crowd take center stage. And that’s a fun part of Stone’s cast of characters, and the character moments were strong.

The problem is that once the mystery of what happened to get Stone to Paris is explained, the rest of the novel becomes a lot less interesting. There just are not the page-turning moments that Wood’s novels usually possess. To be fair, that’s a high standard – I am a fan of the vast majority of these novels. This one just didn’t quite measure up, despite getting off to a great start.

I mentioned the large number of books that Woods has produced in the last few years, and I do wonder if he has turned some of the writing duties over to others. If so, I hope that this particular ghost-writer is not employed to write any more of Barrington’s novels.

source: public library

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From Chapter 66 of Faith of the Fallen , by Terry Goodkind.

"Making sure it covered the hilt of Richard's sword she wore strapped behind her shoulder, her own sword was hidden beneath her cloak.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

Revisiting Holmes: The Fourth Novel.

Book #33. The Valley of Fear, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Unabridged audio. 

It has been a while since I revisited this second “Year ofHolmes” – I don’t think I want to finish up the canon, for fear that it would take away my excuse for writing about the great detective.

Doyle takes us back in time for this novel, to a time when Professor Moriarty is still vexing the great detective. The Professor is not active in this story, but Holmes blames him for the events of this story. 

This characteristic of Doyle to have written the Holmes canon out of chronological order makes me want to track down a chronological listing of the stories and novels and read them in that order. Maybe next time.

This book bears similarities to the first Holmes novel, A Study in Scarlet (reviewed here). Holmes actually solves the crime halfway through the novel, using some masterful detection and ruses to do so. He decodes a warning from an informant against Moriarty. A Scotland Yard man asks the pair to investigate a corpse with the same look and circle-in-triangle brand on the forearm as the Moriarty-related case.

But the murderer has a story to tell in his defense, and much of the second half is a flashback tale of a “murder club” operating in the United States under the guise of a local lodge. This is not the first time that Doyle uses scary gangs of Americans as his villains. 

Doyle has his quirks as a writer, but the decoding scene at the start of the novel is strong, as is the portrayal of the Holmes – Watson friendship. And although this story has similarities to Scarlet, the backstory presented here is a much more interesting read. 

Source: LibriVox, the company that specializes in recording public domain works.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review of Blood of Tyrants

Book #32: Blood of Tyrants, by Naomi Novik. Unabridged audio. 

I love the way this novel opens. Captain Will Laurence has suffered a head injury in the intervening time period since the last novel (reviewed here). He finds that he has lost nearly a decade of memories. He has no recollection of the time before he joined the air corps. He knows nothing of the action that has occurred during the prior seven novels in the series, all of which I have enjoyed.

It is a premise that has been done before, but that’s because it offers such good narrative possibilities. All of the characters, and all of the readers, have much more knowledge that our main character does.

And to top off the bad news for Laurence, he has fallen into enemy hands. Though his Japanese captors treat him politely, they want to know how he managed to enter their airspace. And he doesn’t have an answer. Back at the English Air Corps, his dragon Temeraire is agitating to continue the search for Laurence, which the higher-ups in the service are ready to abandon.

He manages an escape and is rescued, and is eventually reunited with his Corps and his dragon, but nobody knows quite what to do with Laurence. It is heartbreaking to think that the wonderful relationship between Laurence and Temeraire is gone, perhaps forever. The re-establishment of their relationship is a mix of sweet and melancholy. The bulk of the novel tackles this character arc, while also pushing forward Naomi Novik’s alternate history take on the Napoleonic Wars. 

The ending of the story was nicely ominous, laying clear groundwork for the next novel, which I eagerly anticipate. 

Source: local library

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Review of All-Star Western 22-26

All-Star Western, issues 22-26. Written by Justin Gray & Jimmy Palmiotti, with art (mostly) by Moritat. DC Comics, cover-dated September 2013 – February 2014. 

When last we left this title, Jonah Hex had been thrown into the far future – well, he had been thrown into the present, but for him, that’s the far future. He finds another Dr, Arkham, this time Dr. Jeremiah. He sums up his ancestry at one point: “I know it sounds crazy, but after all that’s the Arkham family business.” And the relationship between the two is of course rocky, as Jonah punches the good Dcotor when he asks if Jonah was breast-fed.

Aspects of the old Gotham storyline have impact here. The fact that Jonah had made a deal with old man Wayne in centuries past brings Bruce Wayne into the story, and he offers the best legal representation money can offer to Hex, who desperately needs it after two issues of non-stop vigilantism in a modern world that doesn’t look to kindly on that.

He meets a modern-day version of Talullah Black (Gina Green), and at a “Burning Man” style event, his ability to see spirits draws the attention of John Constantine. Because where that much debauchery exists, demons are not far behind. One looks into Jonah’s soul and proclaims “what a glorious life of death you’ve lived.”

Issue 26 starts with a nice misdirect, making Jonah (and us) think that he has made it back to his own time. But it is just the result of the Black Mercy flower. Constantine calls on Swamp Thing to get Hex to the House of Secrets, the best chance he has of getting back to the 19th century. He is told the House is in Metropolis, and upon arriving there, finds himself on the bad side of Superman. Which is a pretty good cliffhanger for the next set of issues.

Source: My daughter and I have been purchasing these as they come out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review of Both-And

Book #31. Both-And, by Rich Nathan, with Insoo Kim. Paperback.

Too many times, especially since The Reformation, Christianity has become filled with either-or propostions. There are choices between faith or works, Bible or tradition, intellect or emotions, charismatic or fundamentalist. Modern American culture plays into that divisiveness with its own set of either-or choices.

But Nathan and Kim offer a different way of thinking. Instead of an “either-or” approach, they propose that the natural tensions inherent in Christian orthodoxy imply a “both-and” approach. Covering one topic per chapter, they discuss their identity as both evangelical and charismatic, desiring a community that is both united and diverse, showing concern for both justice and mercy, methods that involve both proclamation and demonstration, an ethic that is both social and personal, expectations that relate to both the now and the not yet, and a callings that is both relevant and orthodox.

Nathan brings his own “both-and” to the writing of the book. He is both an intellectually gifted thinker and writer, but also brings the practicality of being a senior pastor of a large church. Many of the examples in the book come from the church these men are pastors at, Vineyard Columbus.

The book strikes an unusual balance, offering a mix of practice and belief that will make many uncomfortable. There are times when the book will sound too liberal for conservatives, and times when it sounds too conservative for liberals. But that is an “either-or” dichotomy, and as this book makes clear, the Biblical path to maturity is something different.

Disclosure: I attend the church were these two men serve.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Between audiobooks (6)

I have written before of my habit of listening to a few episodes of PodCastle or Escape Pod in between audiobooks -- short story palate cleansers between novels. I am still waaaay behind (12 months!) on these podcasts), so I listened to a bunch of Podcastles last week, just after The Forgotten. I listened to these episodes:

Escape Pod 378: Scout, by  Bud Sparhawk. Was does it mean to be human, when you're just a cog in the machine of war?

Escape Pod 379: Concussion, by .Interesting double-story about a football player who is also a fighter in a sci-fi battle. I enjoyed it, but the football parts could have been written better.

Escape Pod 380: Punk Voyager, by Shaenon K. Garrity. A bunch of disaffected youth, who occassionally play in a punk band together, send their style of music into outer space. And the aliens who arrive as a result ... well, they kind of wreak havoc on Earth. Probably my favorite story of this batch.

Escape Pod 384: The Tamarisk Hunter, by Paolo Bacigalupi. The most important resource is not gold or oil. It is water. In this world, a particular breed of animal consumes too much of the stuff, so hunting it seems the right thing to do.

Escape Pod 385: The Very Pulse of the Machine, by Michael Swanwick. An outer-space story along the same wavelength as the movie "Gravity." Is that a spoiler?

Friday, August 8, 2014

Review of The Forgotten

Book #30. The Forgotten, by David Baldacci. Unabridged audio. 

Military investigator John Puller arrives in a small Florida town of Paradise, to check in on his aging Aunt. She had sent him a mysterious-sounding note the week before, prompting him to visit. And he finds her dead, and we start to realize that this town does not live up to its name.

Puller finds varying levels of help from the local police, eventually allying with a highly skilled female officer. Together, they work the case, as Puller has become convinced that the Aunt’s death was not an accident. When other bodies turn up in the city, Puller calls in his supervisor, a female one-star general. A little bit of sexual tension and jealousy arise between Puller and the two women.

For the first half of the novel, we also have occasional scenes featuring a giant of a man running his own private investigation on the richest man in the area. We slowly learn that the rich man is involved in human trafficking, and that this large man is seeking revenge upon him. One of the tensions in reading the book was figuring out how these two threads were connected. And when they do connect, and all the characters combine forces in the final quarter of the novel, it is very enjoyable.

There are a number of twists and turns towards the end, which add to the tension and drama. And the final disposition of the “big bad” is enjoyable, as well. Baldacci tells this thrilling tale while also bringing in nice character moments for Puller. This was a very enjoyable read.

As always, these David Baldaccci novels feature great audio production. This includes actor Ron McLarty as all of the male characters, and Orlagh Cassidy playing all of the female characters.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!

Just do the following:
Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From Page 51 of Both-And, by Rich Nathan, with Insoo Kim.

"The most exciting aspect of the Both-And marriage of evangelical and charismatic Christianity is the bringing together of evangelical's historic focus - the salvation of the lost - with charismatic power to get the job done.”

Friday, August 1, 2014

July Reading List

29.The Cat Who Robbed a Bank (ua), by Lillian Jackson Braun
28. Fairest, book 1: Wide Awake (gn), by Bill Willingham, Matthew Sturges, and many artists
27. Ghost Train to New Orleans (pb), by Mur Lafferty
26. Hickory Dickory Dock (ua), by Agatha Christie
25. Saints Behaving Badly (hc), by Thomas J Craughwell
24. Justice League Dark, volumes 2 and 3, graphic novel collection. Written by Jeff Lemire, with art by Ray Fawkes, Mikek Janín, and others.

Earlier in the year:
23. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (ua), by Steig Larsson
22. Identical (ua), by  Scott Turow
21. The Athena Project (ua), by Brad Thor
20. The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime (ua), edited by Phyllis Tickle
19. Billion Dollar Batman (ua), by Bruce Scivally
18. Wonder Woman: Iron (gn), by Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang and others
17. The Innocent (ua), by David Baldacci
16. Song of the Quarkbeast (ua), by Jasper Fforde
15. Uncle Scrooge: Only a Poor Old Man (gn), by Carl Banks
14. Doom's Day, Book #1: Rampage (pb), by Danny Fingeroth and Eric Fein
13. The Guild of the Cowry Catchers: Book 5 (ua), by Abigail Hilton
12. Aquaman: The Others (gn), by Geoff Johns, Ivan Reis, and Joe Prado
11. Doing Hard Time (ua), by Stuart Woods
10. Star Wars: Scoundrels (ua), by Timothy Zahn
  9. Shadow Ops: Control Point (ua), by Myke Cole
  8. Little Black Sheep (Nook), by Ashley Cleveland
  7. The Last Dragonslayer (ua), by Jasper Fforde
 6. Before Watchmen: Comedian & Rorschach, by Brian Azzarello, J.G. Jones, and Le Bermejo
 5. Inferno Revealed (hc), by Deborah Parker and Mark Parker
 4. The Gearheart (ua), by Alex White
 3. The Great Fables Crossover (gn), by Bill Willingham, et. al.
 2. Silent Partner (pb), by Terrence King
 1. His Last Bow (ua), by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle