Sunday, September 25, 2016

Spaceman Blues: A Love Song

Brian Francis Slattery
Completed 9/3/2016 Reviewed 9/13/2016
4 stars

This is one strange book.  It’s about Wendell Apogee who is trying to find his lover who has suddenly disappeared.  His search takes him through the underbelly of New York, where he encounters parties, cockfights, aliens (illegal and extraterrestrial), and a city below the city.  It’s fantastically imagined and quite well developed for such a short book.  And it has a wild ending you don’t see coming. 

Wendell is a pretty good character.  He starts off rather blandly, but then happens to become a sort of superhero.  It’s rather strange and quirky, but the development is satisfying.  There are also several Latino characters, which is quite rare for a science fiction book. 

The one thing I didn’t care for in this book was the prose.  I found it at times to be too much, to over-descriptive, sometimes causing me to lose my focus on the story.  It’s like losing the forest for the trees.  But if you can push past the prosy parts, the book is quite readable.

I don’t have a whole lot else to say about the book.  If I go into much more detail describing it, it gives away too much for this short book.  And my creative juices just are not flowing enough yet.  Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed it, despite the prose.  The quirkiness of the plot and the little universe Slattery creates really kept me going.  Four out of five stars.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Mistborn: The Final Empire

Brandon Sanderson
Completed 8/25/2016 Reviewed 8/25/2016
4 stars

Mistborn is another book club selection.  I didn’t vote for it, but I didn’t mind it winning.  It has always been one of those books I should get around to reading.  I knew it had a lot of praise, so I guess my expectations were a little high.  When I actually opened the books, I found it difficult to get into, to the tune of about a quarter of the book.  Finally, I started to like it, adventure revved up and most importantly, I felt like I was getting into the head of Vin, the main character.

Vin is an orphan, half noble, half skaa (lower class).  She survives as a thief, running around with gangs.  She has a gift for luck, making things go her way.  Then she stumbles upon a gang that shows her that her gift is much larger than she thought.  And this gang has a much larger mission than just stealing.  They want to overthrow the tyrannical government that keeps the skaa as slaves to the nobility.  She joins the group, growing in her powers and trying to help with the coup. 

The book is clearly a statement on the evils of slavery and classism.  But it also touches on the seduction of money and power.  The best parts of the book for me were the scenes where Vin is disguised as a noble woman, attending balls, and trying to spread and gather rumors as to the state of the nobility.  She often reflects on the comforts of having money to dress and eat well versus where she was before this mission, sleeping in alleys and eating what she could find. 

The book is also quite a complex universe.  Sanderson imbues this world with magic, but it’s a very specific kind.  It uses metals to produce a desired effect, including having sway over people, seeing into the future, and travelling at the speed of racing horses.  Called Allomancy, it is the gift that Vin has.  One problem I had with the book is that there’s a lot of description of the different aspects of Allomancy.  I found this to be fairly boring.  However, when Vin is using it, the action soars, reminiscent of the film “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”.  There are times when she’s following Kelsier, her mentor, and times when she’s actually doing battle.   Both types of scenes are riveting, as is being inside Vin’s head during these scenes. 

As I mentioned, the book goes through a lot of exposition with the Allomancy.  It also goes into great details in the plot to overthrow the government.  I found the details to be rather dry and my mind wandered a lot here.  Unfortunately I think the dryness is necessary because it all does make sense when the status quo does begin to unravel and when the magic is in use.  But at 650 pages, I thought some judicious editing could have disposed of some of the extraneous exposition. 

There are a lot of characters in the book as well.  I felt that I couldn’t get into the heads of the other characters as much as was available to me.  Particularly, Kelsier, Vin’s mentor and the leader of this group of revolutionary thieves, is basically a second main character.  There are a fair number of scenes where he is the point of view.  But I never felt him the way I felt Vin.  Kelsier was more like a major secondary character, and the scenes with his POV were somehow out of place when we should be focusing on Vin. 

Even with the complex magical system, I was only going to give this book three stars.  Fortunately, the ending is quite a page turner.  It makes up for the unnecessary length of the book and the lack of empathy I felt for Kelsier.  I also appreciated the fact that the book wraps up nicely considering there’s five more books in the series.  So I settled on four stars out of five.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


Marissa Meyer
Completed 8/7/2016 Reviewed 8/22/2016
Three stars

It took me a long time to get around to writing this review.  Not because the book wasn’t any good.  I just didn’t have anything really original to say about it.  The book is yet another play on the Cinderella theme, this one is science fiction rather than fantasy.  Cinder is a cyborg, and because of that, she is lower class.  She has a stepmother and stepsisters, there’s a handsome prince, and she even has a pumpkin colored car.  A lot of these parts are fun.  But there is a whole second plotline that could almost have been told without having to rely on the Cinderella tropes.  They felt good enough that I think they could have been expanded without the fairy tale parts and been a successful standalone story.

I have to say that I really enjoyed the first half of the book.  It was an easy read, having just finished a much more difficult book.  But once I figured out the big plot reveal, I got bored with it and simply wanted it to end.  There’s a plague decimating the population.  The Queen of the Moon promises to give the prince the cure if he marries her.  The problem is that the Queen of the Moon is evil and can exert her will over people to keep them in line.  Marrying the prince would bring a huge segment of Earth’s population under her control. 

Okay, so now that I write it out, the book sounds pretty juvenile.  And it is.  The book was recommended for grades six through eight.  I often like juvenile fiction.  But I felt that the plot reveal is too easy.  I also wondered if we needed another fairy tale retold with a twist.  In fact, this book is one of a series of fairy tale retellings.  And in this book, when you get to the end, it leaves you just hanging.  Even if it is a series, I’d much rather have a book be more self-contained, unless we know it’s simply a large book cut into parts by the publisher, like LOTR.

I give the book three stars out of five.  It’s light fluff and fun if you let it be fun, not expecting too much out of it.