30 August, 2012

Review - The Princess Bride by William Goldman

This is a tough book to review, it's a classic in so many ways and all but inseparable from the movie of the same name. I watched the movie before I even knew they made movies from books and it remains one of my all-time favorites.

Maybe I'll just start with one of my favorite quotes:
"You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
“My name is Inigo Montoya, you killed my father, prepare to die!”
Or even (although not in the book. I know, I was waiting for it),
“No more rhymes now I mean it!”

“Anybody want a peanut?”


The Structure

I guess the real place to start with this book is with its structure. You may have noticed that the actual title is - The Princess Bride: S. Morgenstern's Classic Tale of True Love and High Adventure: The "Good Parts" Version Abridged by William Goldman.

Whew. That's a mouthful.

But that's also the genius of this book. You see, S. Morgenstern's "Classic" doesn't actually exist, only this abridged, "Good Parts" version, created wholly by William Goldman. This may not be the first time I expound upon the genius of this narrative.

The Princess Bride [US] [UK] begins much like the movie. William Goldman gets sick and his father comes in to read him this story. Only in the book, we don't jump right into the story, we go to the future of Goldman's life where he talks about things that actually happened in his life, but also some thing's he's made up.

For instance, Goldman talks about writing for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, which he did do. But he also talks about his fictional psychotherapist wife (that took some research).

Finally, about 40 or so pages in, we get to the actual story. And it's almost exactly like the movie, or at least I should say that nothing is left out of the book that's in the movie (except the performances, but I'll get there). And that's how it should be, Goldman did write the screenplay.

During this time, Goldman explains that the book is actually extremely boring in parts and while he was young, his father only read the "good parts." Instead he skipped the pages and pages of explanations of Florintine (the actual story taking place in the fictional Florin) ancestry, which is also explained as Morgenstern being satiric.

The story begins and just like in the movie, there are multiple interruptions, but in the book they're made as editorial notes. Again, this is where the genius of this setup comes in. He's able to comment on his own story, add things that the story alone cannot do, even point out things he finds odd...in his own story.

An example of Goldman pointing out what he finds odd is that throughout the story (not the editorial notes), there are always interruptions in the form of parentheticals. For instance:
"...she examined herself pore by pore in her mirror. (This was after mirrors.)" 
"'I'll leave the lad an acre in my will,' Buttercup's father was fond of saying. (They had acres then.)" 
"Then, rather than continue the argument (they had arguments then too), they would both turn on their daughter."

These were found throughout the book and always made me laugh, but Goldman has an editorial note explaining that if the parentheticals bother you, you should skip them.

The "Good Parts" and The Movie

If you're like me, you've seen the movie so many times that you can quote just about everything, and I'm terrible at quoting movies.

The movie itself follows the book excellently and even exceeds the book in many ways. It's so very rare, but the already excellent characters such as Fezzik and the Man in Black are almost across the board improved upon in the movie.

I mean, how do you get any better than Andre the Giant and Billy Crystal's performance of Miracle Max. I was reading the exact same words that Crystal says, but it was almost flat in the book, whereas in the film, Crystal makes them come alive.

But the benefit of the book is, as usual, the fact that you get inside the character's heads and backstory. Before each of the famous "fight" scenes between The Man in Black and Buttercup's three kidnappers, we are let in on the backstory of each. These are great.

We see what actually happened with Inigo and why he seeks revenge and becomes the greatest swordsman in the world...well, almost. We find out that Fezzik is even big for a Turk (who average 15 pound babies) and how he was a competitive fighter who had to learn how to lose to make the crowd like him. And best of all, it goes into his obsession with RHYMING! Then there's Vizzini , the self-proclaimed genius and orchestrator of this most unstoppable team of the world's best.

This is another thing I loved about this book. Goldman's obsessed with numbers. Buttercup starts out as not even in the top 20 of the most beautiful women in the world, but quickly jumps to the top. Prince Humperdink is the best hunter in the world. Buttercup and Westley's kiss is better than the top 5 kisses ever had.

This just adds to the epic and fairytale feeling of the story, it can't get more noble than the best of the best, but at the same time, the whole numbering thing is just another comical aspect of Goldman's writing. The fact that people would even have a list or the ability to measure such things. I love it.

Do I need more examples of the genius of this work? I'm sure I've gone one long enough. The wit, the charm, the characters that are larger than life, this is easily one of my favorite books of all time.

5 out of 5 Stars (Not even a debate)

Buttercup's Baby (short story)

This is a short story and addition to the 30th anniversary edition of the book. I'm never a fan of these sorts of things. To be honest, it just messes with the purity that is the original and can leave you with a sour taste in your mouth. The Matrix (the movie) should have been left alone along with things like Ender's Game and Dune. It really is okay to leave people with a sense of wonder and imagination at what could have happened instead of milking things for all they're worth.

With that said, this wasn't a terrible addition, it was just unnecessary. It deals with the time after the ending of The Princess Bride when everyone lives "happily ever after." The first chapter is "Fezzik Dies," so already you're world is shattered.

Buttercup's baby is stolen and Fezzik is chasing the culprit, but then it never really goes back to this, it goes to a couple chapters that only slightly fit together (even admitted by Goldman), but which explains how they get to someone running away with Buttercup's baby.

Before this story is an explanation of how this story came about (in the fictional way, not an actual explanation) and it involves how Stephen King was actually going to do the abridgement, but left it up to Goldman. I guess I just don't get these parts.

I'm sure this is better for people who have read the story ages ago and come back to something new, but reading them all together just messed with the original too much.

28 August, 2012

Review - Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time #6) by Robert Jordan

To review this book, I have to start by telling a little story about my history with this series, and more specifically with this book.

It was in the great year of ought 7 (2007) when I was first reading Lord of Chaos [US] [UK], the sixth book of The Wheel of Time. It was also the same year that Harry Potter was finishing up and sadly when the author himself, Robert Jordan, died of a rare disease.

I decided, not only did I want to make sure there was an ending (sorry, I know that was insensitive of me), but I was really excited to catch up and finish the Harry Potter series.

So, 4 years ago or so (since it's 2012) I stopped reading Lord of Chaos just about 260 pages in. For me, for the last 4 years, Nynaeve, Elayne, and Moghedien were in Salidar for that entire time. Rand was still waiting for Elayne to come back and reclaim the Lion Throne in Caemlyn. Mat hanging with the Red Hand Band (they're touring in a town near you) and Perrin in the Two Rivers (which still felt like he was there forever when I picked up again). And I can't really say things change all that much by the end of Lord of Chaos either, but I'll get to that in the spoiler below.

When I picked it up again last year, it was great to be back. I didn't realize how much I missed this series. I started by rereading (well, listening on audio) books 1-5 and then jumping into this book this year.

I have to say, Lord of Chaos is where you can really see the slow-down take place. I love this series as much as the next guy, but there's a definite slow-down that happens, especially when you have a 70 page prologue.

Warning: Some spoiler-ish things I'd like to talk about follow, so you may want to have read the book first, which you most likely already have.

I'll start with the ending. As epic as it is with the battle of Dumai's Wells, with the Aiel meeting Aiel meeting Aes Sedai meeting with Aes Sedai meeting with Mayeners meeting with asha'man meeting with..okay I'll stop there. Okay, awesome battle, I loved it, but it was extremely short. It was really only the last 30 pages or so. But the main part is that it really didn't do a whole lot to move the story forward like I thought the ending of the book would do.

No Forsaken is killed like in all the others up to this point. Okay, it shows the power and threat that is the Asha'man as well as the Shaido who've been pretty worthless for a while now. Otherwise, it just resolves problems that were just introduced in this book and then adds more. Am I gonna have to make another Lost comparison?

Next, what's the deal with the bowl that controls weather (that's not yet found)? I figured the way to solve the problem with the rising heat being due to the Dark One's influence was to...mmmm...defeat the Dark One. We don't need another random track to go down.

End Spoiler Discussion

So, if you read the spoiler, I really did enjoy this installment in The Wheel of Time, promise.

If you didn't read the spoiler, I really did enjoy this installment in The Wheel of Time. Not my favorite in the series, but I really enjoyed all the intricacies and additions to the incredible world Jordan created.

4.5/5 Stars

Ps. This is a cool video of the making of the new ebook cover. I don't recommend watching it until you've read the book though. It combines the artwork with passages from the audiobook read by Michael Kramer including some of the very last lines of the book.

27 August, 2012

Online Ratings

This is the absolute truth.

Thanks to xkcd. I don't know how they're always right.
I like to think I'm not this bad, but the argument can be made (just reversed). I may have to go into this more in the future.

23 August, 2012

Only The Best Giveaway: 10 Ebooks of your choice!

As a thank you to all our faithful readers, we are giving away ten free ebook to ten separate winners!

The top three commentators over the last 1000 comments are automatically winners (as soon as I figure out how to calculate that).

So once again, thanks for sticking around. Now you can enjoy that 13.99 ebook you refused to buy on principle.

All deliveries will be made through Amazon. You don't need a kindle to read their ebooks, though I imagine it is more convenient. The giveaway is capped at $15 per book in case one of you smarty pants decides that buying the only ebook on amazon that costs $250 would make one hell of a joke.

 E-mail bloggeratf[at]gmail.com. your entries. The winners will be notified by email and announced in 10 days time. Good luck!

20 August, 2012

Review - Lucky Bastard by S.G. Browne

Nick Monday is a private investigator on the outside, but what he really does is poach luck. That's right, he is one of a very few people who can steal other people's luck and then sell it.

Good luck comes in different grades, low, medium, and Top-grade soft. Each grade can mean different things to different people, but those with Top-grade soft are those who will be the only survivor of a plane crash or the winner of the $33 million jackpot lotto and so on.

Top-grade soft is also worth a ton on the street, which is why it's so hard to get despite the fact that people with this type of luck are easy to spot - they usually make it on the news in some way or another. But there are other poachers as well.

Along with good luck, there's also bad luck, but it's not something most luck poachers want to get remotely close to. It can stick with you for a while and the results are never good (as you can imagine).

This premise alone made Lucky Bastard [US] [UK] a must-read for me, I had to see how this concept was realized. And it works...mostly.

There's lots of humor in Lucky Bastard and for the most part it hits its mark. Told in first person, Nick Monday is your typical wise-cracking urban fantasy protagonist in many ways. So much so that at times it does start to get on your nerves.

For instance, this was used a ton, and I mean, a ton. There will be a paragraph describing the situation or some concept such as physics or math or grammar followed by a single sentence paragraph.

"I was never good at [insert subject]."

I've read plenty of books, especially of the urban fantasy type (but especially of the first person narrative type) that use this and maybe my time with urban fantasy has gone on too long, but this was just over-used by far.

Luckily (get it?), this wasn't the only use of humor and otherwise Nick Monday always won me back in the humor department.

Another thing I had a hard time with was a bit of an inconsistency in the logic of the premise. When people lose their good luck, for some reason their life essentially spirals out of control, especially those with the best kind of luck. For instance, the mayor loses his luck and suddenly he loses his position and anything good in his life.

With the existence of bad luck, it just didn't make sense to me that suddenly without your luck, you get bad luck?

For the most part, the whole luck thing works really well and this is only something small that I was able to get over pretty quickly, especially with how well this was written and how likeable the protagonist is.

It could also just be me because all luck is treated more or less as a drug and the different types of luck do different things. So it was probably explained away in there somewhere, but this bothered me for a just a bit...until I got over it.

Because it really is easy to get over any quibbles you have with an interesting premise like this and an easy-going and often hilarious protagonist. Lucky Bastard's a great read that's hard to put down. I did have some problems, but they were relatively easy to get over because the whole novel flows so smoothly and it's hard to put down.

I debated whether this could be turned into a whole series and while it definitely could, I really think this new/shiny/cool premise would get a bit old after this. Then again, Browne's shown himself to be quite capable, so I could be wrong.

One last thing to address before I finish is the action. I mentioned that this book was hard to put down and that's in large part because Monday goes from one problem to the next, none of which is really his own doing...well...that's not entirely correct, but I don't want to spoil things too much.

Like any good urban fantasy, one problem piles on the other and while it was well-handled in this book, there was also a lot of time where Nick Monday was being carried/carted/drugged/dragged away to some other boss/agency/etc. A LOT of time. Every time you turn around he's being taken in by another of his multiple problems and it seemed like a lot of Monday's time was really not in his control.

Obviously this also shows the deftness of Browne's hand at shaping this fun narrative while his protagonist's choices were cut down left and right. And the premise itself helps to explain it away as well. It's all luck.

I know I had a fair share of complaints, but the book was so easy to read and so much fun in a very many parts that I would definitely recommend it to anyone remotely intrigued by the premise.

3.5 out of 5 Stars (Recommended!)

15 August, 2012

Review - Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards

Arki, short for Arkamandos, has been hired on as a scribe by a band of Syldoon, the most feared and treacherous soldiers in the world. Why did he accept this work? Well, it seemed a good idea at the time - he just wanted to get out and maybe see a little more adventure.

This may have also been the worst decision of his life.

As mentioned, the Syldoon aren't the kindest of people, nor are they even that pleasant to have a drink with (as we learn early on). They have some sort of plan, of which nothing is told to their scribe.

And that's part of the genius of this book. It's told in first person from the point of view of Arki. Therefore, as he knows absolutely nothing, neither do we...and yet you still can't help but read on to find out more.

Scourge of the Betrayer [US] [UK] has been making the rounds in the blog-o-sphere and for good reason. Somehow Salyards, a debut author by the way, comes up with this idea to just throw his readers into this situation with no heads up, no idea what's going on and you still can't put the book down.

Arki is a great character too. He really has no clue what's going on and on top of that he definitely doesn't belong amidst a band this bruised and blackened and well, scary.

He doesn't even know how to hold a knife let alone a sword/crossbow/other implement of death. He just kind of bumbles along and luckily has some help along the way.

Probably my favorite character, Braylar is the leader of this whole shindig. He's easily the knarliest of the bunch and he's got a nice set of flails to make it so. In the scale of cubicle-dweller to biker-bar, you have to lean on the side of the biker if you carry flails as a weapon.

Braylar also comes up with some good lines along the way:
[says Arki:] "We're not returning to the road." 
[Braylar] "Very astute. And I'll preempt a few more observations to save you the trouble: the sky is still above us; the sun continues trekking west; our wagon is pulled by horses, not unicorns."

And also: (since I just finished taking the bar)
"Clerics and lawyers are a pestilence on this world, but they do have their uses. A wise man would avoid their company altogether, it's true,..."

Overall, count me impressed. This is a great story that would only be ruined if I gave you too much. The slow build in both plot development and simply details is worth it alone. The brutality of the action and this crew definitely fit this story right alongside the likes of Joe Abercrombie for starters and I've heard Glen Cook as well although I've yet to read him.

I honestly thought I would rate Scourge lower, but there really isn't anything to complain about and I have no clue what I was thinking. The writing's great, great characters, great ending that really ramps things up. The only failing is that I wanted more...which I've been told is contained in the next volume. That's by far the best negative thing a book can have in my opinion. I am now highly anticipating book two in the Bloodsounder's Arc.

4 out of 5 Stars (Highly Recommended!)

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

13 August, 2012

Winners! Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

I know I said I'd get this winners post up last week, but as it happens, we had our twins last week as well. Somehow I ran out of time to make even this paltry post.

Without further ado, here are the three winners:

Ben Lorber

Kasi Kirby

Peter Welmerink

I've already emailed the winners. Please let me know your address if you haven't done so already. Thanks to all who entered and good luck next time.

06 August, 2012

Review - Acacia: The War with the Mein by David Anthony Durham

Crazy enough, I actually originally planned on giving this series a pass. There's just so much time and so little to read... or something like that.

But then I read this review of the entire trilogy from a reviewer I highly trust and I decided I should give it a go after all. I'm so glad I didn't stick to the original plan.

Acacia [US] [UK] follows the Akaran family, the ruling family of the nation that is Acacia. King Leodan is a devoted and loving father to his four children, Aliver, Corinn, Mena, and Dariel. As noble and even likable as King Leodan is, his conquering nation has many enemies and holds a number of dark secrets which began generations earlier.

One of these nations is that of the Meins. Lead by Hanish Mein and his two brothers, the Meins have been harboring a hatred for the Acacians and their dark secrets for as long as they have been banished to the desolate wasteland that is the far north of the Known World.

Acacia unfolds very gradually as we get to know each of the Akaran children intimately along with Leodan, his chancellor, Hanish Mein, and even a few others. As each has their own point of view chapter, you may begin to see why many complain of the slow start that this book is known for.

Personally, I think the slow burn worth it because you feel a deep connection to each of the children especially and once the story really gets going your joy and anguish for these characters is only enhanced.* I've also only been a father for a couple years and I really felt the deep connection that King Leodan had with his children and only hope that my kid (soon to be kids) feel the same about me some day.

*Note: This is also coming from a huge fan of authors such as Susanna Clarke, John Marco, and Janny Wurts, who likes themselves some words.

However, if a slow start is not for you, you'll be happy to know that Mr. Durham has cut out 14,000 words of this volume in the newest release.

This series has been favorably compared to George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series and I think that is valid. Both deal with young characters, lots of political intrigue, vast scope, and low on magic. I have to admit that Mena is just as cool as Arya in a lot of ways, not the least of which is the fact that she's a sword-wielding noble's daughter.

The characters grow up about midway through the novel, but the similarities are still there. There's betrayal, reverse betrayal, and some twists and turns that not only come out of nowhere, but make you feel like you should have seen it all along. That's just good writing.

The one big and highly favorable comparison I can make is that at a certain point I was so involved with one pov, I'd flip pages to see when we'd go back to that one, only to get just as involved in the next pov. That's a very good thing.

If you're dying for something to read while we wait for George, Acacia just may be the perfect interlude. I can't believe how close I was to passing on this series, what a huge mistake that would have been. Acacia is exactly the kind of epic fantasy I love.

4.5 out of 5 Stars (Very Highly Recommended!)

The Acacia Trilogy
Acacia: The War with the Mein (Book 1)
The Other Lands (Book 2)
The Sacred Band (Book 3)

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

04 August, 2012

Giveaway Reminder - The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities

I've been really lax about this giveaway and I apologize, I've been a bit...well...let's say "busy" the last couple weeks. I'll let this giveaway go for another couple days and next week I'll post the winners.

Here's the post where we're giving away three copies of this insanely interesting (emphasis on the insane) book.