Category Archives: Reviews

Review: The Wise Man’s Fear

The Wise Man's Fear (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #2)The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Wise Man’s Fear is a colossal read. Rothfuss retains his breathless storytelling style, rich with detail that folds you immediately into this believably fairytale world. But it’s also constrained by the choice to tell the full story over three “days” (books), so this middle book is bloated and really should have been split into two but wasn’t. This may have been the first book I’ve read in awhile where I forgot parts of what happened while I was still reading it.

That shouldn’t be a discouragement, though. Rothfuss is a spellbinding author. The retrospective Kvothe is both believably a teenager, who makes dumb teenager mistakes, while also being greater than himself, a hero perhaps even he can’t understand. The “modern time” parts, with older Kvothe in the inn, are a refreshing breath of air hinting at much deeper mysteries (will we ever get those answers?). The split between what the characters know and the readers can guess is frustrating at times, because it’s impossible to reach into the books and shake the character into realizing, say, his family lineage, when it’s so blindingly obvious to the reader.

There’s only one part of the story itself that really bothered me, and that’s only because it was so jarring and out-of-left field, and felt mostly like a way for the author to develop Kvothe’s reputation for sexual prowess–his startling trip into the fae when he chases Felurian. Literally between one page and the next we are whisked out of the story and into another realm, an impulsive switch that seems out of character for careful Kvothe. But it has several narrative reasons for existing–outside of Kvothe suddenly emerging as a sexual master somehow *eyeroll*–so I understand and allow it. It is just the only part that felt ridiculous, which actually says a lot, when so much of the story involves magic and wonders.

Now I join the ranks of the (many) people eagerly awaiting the release of the final book. We’ll see it eventually, and hopefully get some answers.

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Review: SLAM

SlamSlam by Nick Hornby
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Nick Hornby has an incredible talent for writing realistic narrators, so believe me when I tell you this book is well-written even though it made my skin crawl with frustration. It’s charming even though the story caught me by surprise. Give it to your teenager.

That’s because SLAM covers a teen boy with his first real girlfriend and his completely realistic mistake to have sex “sort of” without a condom—and all the consequences that entails. We don’t see many books about the subject, so it is brave, but it made me feel a little squeamish, so maybe that’s why.

But the voice here is incredible. There are two twists that give the book something special: one, the narrator, Sam, has a penchant for talking to the poster of his idol, Tony Hawk. He helpfully supplies advice, in the form of quotes from an autobiography of Tony Hawk, in return. This makes for some rather hilarious and yet possibly deep conversations.

The other twist—possible time-travel. Sam blames this on TH, and maybe it’s all a dream, but Sam is given the opportunity to experience a day in the near-future, not that it is particularly helpful. In this way, Hornby muses on whether, even during particularly rough times, it would be any help at all to know what is going to happen a bit ahead, like that your mom won’t kill you when she finds out. But seeing the future and actually being in it turn out to be two different things. That’s a lesson for us all.

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Review: The Name of the Wind

The Name of the Wind (The Kingkiller Chronicle, #1)The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is so astoundingly good that I’m mad i didn’t read it sooner. I read it as a library book and I’m already planning on buying it as well. If you at all enjoy fantasy books, stop what you are reading and pick this up!
The Name of The Wind is a deft tale—or rather, part one of three of a deft tale—about a precociously talented young wizard. Yes, there are some superficial similarities to Harry Potter, and if that entices you, bless you, pick it up. But if that makes you roll your eyes, to you I say, “stop, come back here, it’s better!” It’s a more nuanced and surprising story than HP ever was, harkening to some of the best parts of high fantasy while staying grounded.

The main character here, Kvothe, had a lovely family life as a traveling bard group, and it is remarkably pleasant to spend time with them through a child’s eyes. But this story also has crushing grief, the depths of poverty, and years of struggle. Kvothe is not perfect, but he’s extraordinary in ways that feel attainable and realistic. He seems like a kid you could know, if you lived in a well-thought-out world filled with past empires, real magic, and demons that seem all too real.

Don’t be put off by the massiveness of the tome; yes, it could probably stop a bullet and yes you could probably murder someone by dropping it on them. But I promise you will be so disappointed when you realize you’ve reached the end (and that the library won’t have book 2 available for two months because there’s a waitlist).

The anniversary edition, which I read, includes an author’s note, detailed information—including illustrations—of the many types of currency, and a pronunciation guide, and this you will read and reread just to extend the experience.

It’s a lovely book, and it will lull you into a comforting rapture so deep you will be shocked to find yourself at the end… at least, until you pick up the next one.

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Review: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If the video game universe of Mass Effect were populated by Fraggles, you’d get this book. It’s a charming, sweet, lovely little soft-sci-fi escape, and you should read it.

Author Becky Chambers most succeeded at creating a ship full of characters who are unique species, each with little foibles but who all generally get along. Reading the book is like you just popped on the ship and they offered you a fizz drink, so you sit a spell with them and just hang out.

But that’s also my frustration here. The plot is haphazard and there isn’t a single thread of narration or a theme that runs all the way through. There are episodes, like you’re tuning in to an alien spaceship version of Big Brother except everyone is trying their damnedest to get alone instead of creating unnecessary trash drama. But it made the ending flat—you’re just turning off the show, no series finale, or, at least, not one that feels like an actual ending.

I’m torn, because this book really was just a charming respite from reality and I did so love the characters, but I feel like it could have had just a touch more plot and been a better overall experience for it.

That said, I will still be looking for the next one.

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Review: Smoke and Iron

Smoke and Iron (The Great Library, #4)Smoke and Iron by Rachel Caine

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Events have spiraled out from a small group of friends to encompass the whole world in danger, as the Great Library starts to fall and threatens to take everything else along with it. Jess and his companions must tread carefully and choose their allies wisely as they seek to topple the Archivist.

The book retains the fun and verve of the whole series. I particularly liked the beginning, which deftly wove together different styles of leadership and courage in the multi-faceted approach to the story, each lead character having a crucial role. But I felt the book was rushed at the end, and scenes that should have been momentous were held to a page or less, which really dampened the impact. I can’t say much without spoilers, but let’s just say something huge appearing in the sky unexpectedly should be more than an aside. So I was disappointed in the end, in that I wanted more of the story as a whole.

But I love this world. It’s rich and vibrant and layered and realistic. This book, Khalila really shines. She is the best and most noble character and I love the quiet calm leadership she offers. I think she’s a great role model and it’s awesome to see those qualities —over punching and swordfighting—winning the day.
I just wanted MORE.

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Review: Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence

Baby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of AmbivalenceBaby Love: Choosing Motherhood After a Lifetime of Ambivalence by Rebecca Walker
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

What a disappointment. I picked this book up because of the subtitle—it sounded like a book about feminism and choice and weighty decisions. But it wasn’t, and I’ll be honest, I hate-read this book to the end only because I found Rebecca a huge pain in the butt and I was looking forward to her comeuppance. (Don’t worry, there isn’t one.)

It’s written like a journal of her pregnancy, which, fine, but she could have kept that personal. I liked the short topical essays in between much more, and the essays didn’t default assume I already knew a great deal about the author, her mother, and her family. Maybe that is what soured me: I don’t know the author from Eve, and she never put anything in context, so it was like a conversation with a stranger who just can’t take the hint and leave you alone to finish your latte in peace.

Also, the author wasn’t ambivalent in the slightest. She “had wanted a baby for 10 years,” but honestly just hadn’t gotten around to it. That’s how I got tricked into reading her self-absorbed, privileged, New Age-y journal entries.
That was sort of the best thing, actually: because this book was published in 2007, I spent the whole book imagining how badly Rebecca was going to handle the impending recession. This woman casually mentions that her mom has four houses—bet she doesn’t anymore. Or that she spends multiple days in the hospital; no mention of the ridiculous cost. No, this is a woman who can flounce around not working when she doesn’t feel like it, splitting time between New York and LA and, according to the book jacket, lives in Hawaii. Bet things weren’t as sunny for her by 2010.

If you’re looking for ambivalence or deep thoughts, look elsewhere. If you want to daydream about how Carrie from Sex & The City would whine to her journal during the economic crisis, read on!

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Review: Circe

CirceCirce by Madeline Miller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a big time Greek mythology fan, to the point I seriously considered adding a second major (Classics) in college. I’ve been fascinated by Greek mythology, and all its webs and dramas, since somewhere around second grade. But it’s rare to see something new in a genre defined by how old it is–a major called “Classic” is practically off-limits to modern writers.
But Madeline Miller is braver than most. Her first book, The Song of Achilles, was masterful, re-spinning and recontextualizing The Iliad with so much more depth and nuance. Circe is something totally different, but Miller brings the same depth and love to it.
Circe, for those who have forgotten their dusty mythologies, is the witch who shows up in the Odyssey, romances Odysseus, and turns his men into pigs. And that’s about all there is to it. Witchy, but like a sexy witch (as she is often shown in the movie versions of the tale).
In Madeline Miller’s hands, a different story emerges. Admittedly, sometimes it is slow to bloom, but that’s just it: this story isn’t “woven” (as so many “women’s tales” of Greek mythology are); it is planted, and harvested, sucked dry of the essentials and then added to a pinch of magic to transform into something new, scary, and wonderful.
Circe’s story begins with her baby godhood, which is where the story flounders. After all, how can you talk about the first years of an eternal creature? It takes awhile to get anywhere, but be patient. Soon you’ll start seeing other great characters from myth, and they take on new colors and attitudes. It’s like a watercolor that you are gently watching bloom and become vivid as the paint moves across it. Give it time to develop and unwind.
And if you aren’t as fresh on your Greek mythology references, there is a very handy concise guide in the back!

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