Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Hag-Seed

Hag-SeedHag-Seed by Margaret Atwood

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Hag-Seed” is an understated feat–it is a retelling, in prose, of Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” that also incorporates “The Tempest” play. It is like a hidden picture cartoon where you can always get a sense of the larger picture, but sometimes, if you squint or remember to think of it, you can see the hidden design. It’s incredible.

As a big fan of Atwood’s “The Penelopiad,” I expected this retelling to be like that–a new take on the old story, a new perspective. It is not. It is really just an updated, realistic, direct revision of “The Tempest.” That is in no way a downside; the layers of this story are intricate and stunning. Just know what to expect.

You may want to brush up on your Shakespeare before you start, or at least jump to the summary of “The Tempest” that Atwood has included after the epilogue. “The Tempest” is one of my very favorite Shakespeare plays and I was still surprised as some parts of the story unfurled.

The prose follows artsy/unhinged Felix Phillips, our Prospero and an artistic director for a popular theater festival who is unjustly removed from his position and set adrift in life, without purpose. He mourns the sudden death of his young daughter, Miranda (who takes alternately the role of Miranda and Ariel). He is so deep in grief, in fact, that he talks to and imagines his daughter is there. He nursed his hate for 12 years before being gifted an opportunity for revenge so perfect he must take it.

It’s wonderfully rendered and I can’t recommend it enough.

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Review: The Book of Lies

The Book of LiesThe Book of Lies by Brad Meltzer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Brad Meltzer makes a strong case that he be nominated the next King of the Nerds, rising at least to Nerd Historian with this blend of comic book lore, history, and thriller. You can palpably feel Meltzer’s adoration in every page and every reference (of which there are many). It’s adorable, if not quite as strong or believable a story as most in his collection.

The novel revolves around Calvin, an ex-ICE agent trying to get right with himself when he stumbles into a messy plot involving his long-lost felon dad, the missing murder weapon of Biblical Cain, and a mystery involving the creator of Superman. Like most of his books, it is dripping with history and deep knowledge and yet each chapter is rather short.

I can’t say too much without giving things away, but I will say I found the one main female character completely insufferable. She did turn out to be an excellent red herring, though, so at least she had some purpose.

Not a bad read, especially if you too are an ubernerd.

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Review: Too Many Curses

Too Many CursesToo Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Too Many Curses” is a buoyant, fun read about the humble keeper of an evil wizard’s castle, the hundreds of hilariously cursed denizens of said castle, and how they all cope with the wizard’s unexpected death. When Magic was the only thing holding the weird castle more or less together, there are consequences when the wielder is gone.
The jokes are Pratchett-worthy. My personal favorite was the Sword in the Cabbage, which is exactly the story of the Sword in the Stone of the legacy of swords stuck in places had continued. I also found the Scotsman-turned-bat and owl who can only speak in alliteration quite wonderful.
But while the jokes were silly and jaunty, the book lacks the deeper insight of a Pratchett book, so it’s not really a fair comparison. I was also a bit disappointed in the ending, which seemed to rely heavily on deus ex machina to unkink the tangle of problems.
That said, it is highly enjoyable if you’re looking for some frivolity!

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Review: The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real MagicThe Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I tried. I got 97 pages in and she insulted Tolkien’s language-writing ability and I’m supposed to believe a graduate student who focused on obscure freakin poetry still has the gall to look down on Tolkien and “D&D nerds”? Oh hell no.
The back cover of this book compared it to adult Harry Potter. I contend that reviewer must not have ever read Harry Potter. I also contend the title is completely a lie. 100 pages in, there has been no thinking–she’s been magically mind-controlled from “totally not fairies” literally the whole time; the “woman” thus far has had no motivation and is in fact mostly controlled by men to move the plot; there has been no guiding of any kind; and the Magic has all been assumed and implied.
In short, oh hell no.

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Review: Thud!

Thud! (Discworld, #34; City Watch #7)Thud! by Terry Pratchett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Thud! is exactly what I needed. A battle between two metaphorical magical creatures with only a stalwart human police chief in the middle? Yes! Thud! moved immediately at the top of my list of best Pratchett books. It’s smartly written, of course, but it’s also a voice for understanding and calm in a world that seems constantly on the verge of spinning out of control–with or without an ancient evil to nudge the spin into motion.
Thud! is a Discworld story focused on the hard-working, faithful and true Commander Vimes of the City Watch. I haven’t read all of his arc, but the book finds him wealthy, married, and with a young son he dotes on. And yet he has to deal, personally, with the increasing demands of Ankh-Morpork and his beliefs of what a copper should be. Meanwhile the city is tense with the upcoming reenactment of the ancient fight between dwarves and trolls–and the city, and Vimes–is right in the middle.
One lovely side-plot involves a vampire who aspires to join the squad, and the werewolf who must tolerate her, another ancient blood feud that they both just have to overcome because this is the City Watch, not a circus, damnit! I particularly fell in love with werewolf Angua, and think she really deserves a scratch behind the ears.
Pratchett has a knack for social commentary disguised as silliness, and this shines through in Thud! the same way it worked so well in Going Postal. It is an endearing read, a joy for the reader and, apparently, the writer. I can’t recommend it enough.

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Review: The Stars, Like Dust

The Stars, Like Dust (Galactic Empire #1)The Stars, Like Dust by Isaac Asimov

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I listened to this book as an audiobook, and that may contribute some confusion as to what happened. But that also explains why I stopped “reading”–the CD was rather scratched–and yet I don’t care much because getting to the ending isn’t worth it.
“The Stars, Like Dust” is rather pulpy and action-oriented for Asimov, reading a lot more like “Dune” with maybe a dash of “The Hunger Games.” I honestly think, with a little dusting up, it might make a popular modern young adult novel. The gender norms are stiff and restrictive and stick out painfully, there’s a large splash of deus ex machina, and you’ve got to be willing to wait two chapters to answer the basic question, “where should we take this spaceship?” but it’s not totally without joy. I liked the details the most–holding a dress seam together with a miniature force field, or a spray abrasive to gently shave off a nascent beard. It’s charming, and a lovely dream of what space travel could be, but still rather clunky.

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Review: No Country For Old Men

No Country for Old MenNo Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Every time someone saw this book or heard I was reading it, I heard, “man, I love that book/movie!”
I had never seen the movie but the book came highly recommended, of course, so I gave it a try.
Let’s just say I appreciate its merits but I didn’t enjoy this book.
“No Country For Old Men” is a rough, tough tumble through south Texas and the dangers of drug cartels and one very very bad man. The bad guys are incredibly bad, the bystanders get hurt, and the good guys are always running a step behind.
The storytelling is unique–McCarthy changes spellings and drops dialogue punctuation to both bring out the local accent and force you to be totally immersed in his book or be forced to reread a few times to catch the story.
It is definitely deftly written, and each character feels like they have been carefully placed and then set in motion.
It is enjoyable if you like the barren sweep of a desert, but if you prefer a lush forest, look somewhere else. This is a book with hard cold lessons to teach and no time for relaxation. While it was good, it wasn’t for me.

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