The Well Read Viking

The Well Read Viking

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Bulfinch by Hannah Sternberg

This is not your traditional urban fantasy novel, nor is it your usual novel about coping with loss. Somehow it managed to combine the two into something that is fairly palatable.

Bulfinch starts out discussing the life of a young girl. She had been quite happy, but while her parents were out on a cruise they disappeared and were never found. From that point on Rosie is forced to live with her eccentric and scholarly uncle. She never truly accepts that her parents are gone so she lives her life as if they are one day just going to return. For seven years this goes on. She graduates from high school at an early age and quickly gets her undergrad and is in the beginning stages of her graduate program.

One cherished memory she had from her childhood was the time that a piece of mail was wrongfully sent to their address. They went searching for the proper owner, but they could not find him. Eventually the young Rosie gave in and opened the letter. It contained a page from a book and the story enthralled her. Back in her current day, Rosie was having some struggles and so she pulled out this letter and reread it and imagined it out in her mind. The world went a bit odd for a moment and when she gathered herself she noticed that she was not alone. A knight was standing before her, yelling in some foreign tongue.

This book had a lot of things going for it. It was unique, it had a lot of heart and the prose was just delightful. It was one of those books that is a treat for the mind in the way it is written out. The part that detracted from the book for me was just how awful this woman was to her uncle. She had a lot of anger and hatred for a man who had done nothing to deserve it. It just seemed far too vitriolic for the character. The relationship does get better, but it never gets to the place where it should be.

All in all it was an enjoyable, short read.

Rating: 4 Stars

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

The Magicians is an interesting blend of books that, while distasteful at times, somehow manages to work. Imagine a book that was a blend of Harry Potter, Narnia and The Catcher in the Rye. I can see you raising your eyebrow at me, but that is truly what this book feels like.

Quentin is a mopey super genius. He has a great life, but all he does in complain about it and how he just isn't happy. He does this the entire book. That is where The Catcher in the Rye comes in. Quentin is just like that prick Holden Caulfield.  All either of them did was complain. I couldn't stand it in Catcher and I didn't much care for it here either. The good news for this book is that it had other things involved that were able to catch my fancy.

Quentin and his friend are both on their way to an interview to enter Princeton. They arrive, but strangely no one answers the door. Curious, they peek their heads inside and look around. They find the corpse of the man who was to interview them. While in a state of shock they head out the door. Holden takes an envelope from the desk that had his name on it without realizing that this act was going to change his entire future. As he opens it he finds a supposed copy of a lost manuscript from a book series that he loved as a child. The book series is basically the Chronicles of Narnia. A paper flies out and he chases it through a garden and he feels the winter chill leave as he steps into a warmer climate. He has found himself at a school that teaches magic.

After a rigorous testing process he finds that he has been accepted to this school and that he is going to leave his old life behind. The idea thrills him and he embarks on a five year journey in his education as a magician. Along the way he finds a group of friends and a girlfriend. They all graduate and everything seems grand, but Quentin's darn sense of ennui and angst just keeps coming back. Eventually through random acts he and his friends find themselves in the world from the book series with which he is obsessed. Turns out the place is real, but not quite how he imagined.

If people are looking to read this book because they think it is just a slightly more adult version of Harry Potter they should just stop. This book is not for them. Yes it does have some similarities. There is a school for magic that trains people from the real world, but other than that and a few snarky mentions of things from Harry Potter (Quidditch and Hermione shrinking her teeth) they are quite different books. Harry Potter embodies a sense of wonder about the mystical world, that while it has some darkness in it, it is much clearer on good vs evil. In Harry Potter it is clear who the heroes are, but in this book there is a lot more gray area.

Overall the writing kept me engaged. I wanted to know what was going to happen next. the author managed to blend the different styles in well. I already mentioned by disdain for Quentin, but I will mention it again. Sometimes he seems like he wants to be sad for sadness sake. Not true depression, but the woe is me nonsense. I will continue to read the series to see what happens, and I hope that he will change at least a little.

Rating: 4 Stars

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Wizard Blues by Steven A. Simpson

After receiving this book from a Goodreads giveaway I did not have very high expectations for this book. A blurb I read of the book compared it to Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. That is usually a red flag for me since it appears to just be an attempt to attach a book to a much more successful and well written work. I also sighed a little when I saw that the names of the two main characters were going to be Ocean and Sky. It made me think I was accidentally reading the sign in sheet at a hippie commune. With all my reservations and prejudging, this book wasn't half bad.

As this book starts we meet up with twin brothers. As they are growing up they start to display some magical talents. Mostly it is small things, but it leads their parents into searching for a place where they might learn to develop their skills. Unfortunately for the family, tragedy strikes. The two boys make the decision to continue to seek their training and they join up with a wizard. For a few years they roam around together, but the wizard says that the time has come for them to enroll in school to learn all that magic has to offer. They do so and soon enough they are facing graduation and the real world.

 After they leave as full-fledged wizards they are told to report to a leader in their organization, but on their way they run into a dwarf child and they soon change their destination to help the lad and his family. The dwarven village they run to is being terrorized by a shadowy beast in their mines. The two brothers must do what they can to solve this issue before more lives are lost.

All in all I did enjoy this book, but it wasn't what I would call a page turner. As I was reading the book I was engaged, but as soon as I put it down I forgot about it. I wasn't sucked in like I am for some books. A lot of what was in the book felt like your standard fantasy fare, which isn't bad, but I like to have a little uniqueness in what I am reading. There were a few things at the end that were revealed that made me think that the second book might have more to offer in originality than this one did. If you want a short fantasy book that isn't half bad or mentally taxing then you are in the right place.

Rating: 3.5 Stars

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green

Before I get started on the review I need to make it clear that I like John Green the man and that it might color my review a little bit. For years, John Green and his brother Hank have had a YouTube channel where they attempt to, and I quote, "decrease world suck". I like what they are trying to do and I also like the fact that the people associated with them are called Nerdfighters. The name just makes me happy. Do try to remember it isn't a group of people who happen to fight nerds, but rather a group of nerds who fight to make the world a better place.

John Green is much better known for his other novels, The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska. While this novel is also categorized as young adult it is quite different from the other two. In this book we are introduced to a young man named Colin. Like most teenagers he has issues, but unlike most his issues stem from the fact that he was a child prodigy. For him the was is the part that gets to him. He is worried that he is going to be one of those child prodigies that does not move along the path towards being a genius. While he was dating this didn't seem to bother him as much, but since he was recently dumped by his nineteenth girlfriend named Katherine (I haven't had nearly that many girlfriends, let alone ones with the same name) he is back to giving all his focus to his legacy.

Colin's best friend, Hassan, sees that Colin is all broken up so he suggests that what he needs to get his head right is a road trip. With their parents convinced they head out on the open road. While out there they meet up with some interesting characters and they each have a chance to face some of their biggest faults and inner demons.

This book was quite entertaining for me. It could be that the fact that Colin was trying to perfect an equation to explain how long relationships will last was something with which I could relate. I had been working on something similar when I was younger as well. (It was quite accurate, until one couple showed up and ruined it all.) It also could be the fact that I enjoy the way John Green writes. All of his characters are incredibly loquacious and verbose. They will use 12 words when 7 would have sufficed, but I like that for some reason.

If you are looking for a good coming of age story that has some entertaining footnotes and random mathematical formulas (not too many, I promise), you are in the right place. It is a quick read at fewer than 230 pages, but John Green makes good use of them.  

Rating: 4 Stars

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

In Robert Jackson Bennett's City of Stairs I found a fantasy book unlike any other that I had read. Instead of taking place in a world that felt like Europe in the Middle Ages it takes a different approach and throws you in a world that feels more like Russia than anything else. I am no historian, but that is what it felt like to me and I am sticking to it.

A big part of the premise of the book is trying to show you how our view of history can color all of our actions. It also discusses the effect history has on the perception of people. When we are introduced to this world we find out that the "divinities" (the local gods) have been killed off. The country that is currently in power had in the past been subjugated by the lands with divinities for their lack of a deity. Eventually a man discovered a method to kill the divinities and went to war and won. Now that they were in power they were doing their best to suppress all mentions of the divinities and to get rid of all the history that related to their power or the miracles they produced. This leads me to the magic system in the book.  

Not only was the setting unique, the magic system was also unlike any other that I had read. While the divinities were alive they created many miracles. Some of them could be as simple as a stone cup that left in the sun would fill with goat's milk every morning. They could imbue an item with power or teach others certain steps to take to have a miracle take shape for them. For example if they drew on a mirror or window with a certain symbol they could create a visual connection with another room to have a conversation with the person there.

When the divinities died most of these stopped working, but not all of them. All items and books that discussed these things were destroyed or locked away for fear that they would be dangerous, in that they would cause the newly godless people to remember what they had lost and cause them to riot.

This book is very well written. It has interesting characters, spies, political intrigue, religious fanaticism and plenty more. I will admit that the first 30-50 pages were decent, but I wasn't hooked until a little bit past that. Once I was hooked however, I couldn't put the book down. I am very interested to see what Bennett will offer us in the future and I hope that this world gets visited at least once more.

Rating 4.5 Stars

Monday, June 9, 2014

The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson

Once again I have found myself amazed at Brandon Sanderson's ability to create magic systems. Each time he starts writing a series he manages to fully capture and develop the most random and interesting magic systems out there. I was enthralled with the intricacies involved in the magic his Mistborn series. Next he managed to take that up a notch with the Stormlight Archives, and now he somehow did it again. In his first foray into Young Adult literature he went with a magic system that involves geometry and chalk doodles. Just reading that line makes you think that it might be ridiculous, but as you get into the book you find that again he has made a magic system that makes sense in the world he has created and it meshes well and never feels out of place. I will admit that if this were not a Young Adult novel it might not have worked out as well.

This book takes place in a historically different version of the United States. Instead of it being one landmass the United States is actually a collection of autonomous islands that are loosely bound together and are called the United Isles. The thing that binds these islands together is an enemy located at the center of them all in a place called Nebrask. The enemy is a bunch of wild chalk figures called chalklings. There are people trained in the Rithmatics (the combination of geometry and chalk drawings) called rithmatists. They were called to the position in a ritual at age 8 and are taught special courses at prestigious schools.

It is at one such school that we meet the main protagonist. Joel is not from a wealthy family and he was not chosen to be a rithmatist, but he finds himself fascinated with it all the same. He finds that he understands the principles behind geometry much better that the actual rithmatic students, but sadly his work has no power. As he goes about his life he finds himself heavily involved in trying to solve an investigation involving kidnapped rithmatist students.

As the book continues the stakes continue to rise, friendships are made, lost things are discovered and new geometrical secrets are revealed. I really enjoyed this book. I finished it in an afternoon because I couldn't find the will to put the book down. I would recommend this book to anyone that likes unique magic systems, young adult fantasy or "gearpunk" enthusiasts. I am quite looking forward to the next installment in this series and I do regret that it is something I have to wait for, but I guess patience is something worth developing.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars  

Monday, June 2, 2014

Jade Sky by Patrick Freivald

I received this book from LibraryThing. When I first read the description of the book I felt like I knew what type of book it was going to be. The blurb mentioned that the main character, Matt Rowley, was a commando for the International Council on Augmented Phenomena and that he hunted down superhuman monsters with his own augmented abilities. In my mind I thought that meant that this book was going to be a cross between Monster Hunter International and the Dresden Files. I love those series so I figured I would love this as well.

As I started reading I found out that it wasn't going to be anything like those series, but that this wasn't a bad thing. Patrick Freivald was giving us something new. Imagine you are in a world that has the ability to augment humans. They can make them super strong, super-fast, give them the ability to regenerate and in some cases even see a few seconds in the future. There is a catch, however. If you augment yourself too much you will end up succumbing to the whispers in your mind and "bonking out". You end up killing anything else that is near. The more you augment the louder and stronger the whispering gets. With people augmenting themselves the government decided they needed a group of their own to handle these creatures, and so ICAP was born.

In this book you follow Matt on a journey as he seeks answers to what has been done to him and whether what he has believed from the beginning is true. This book is full of furious, fast and blood drenched fighting. The story is fast paced and the main character is likable and is someone to whom you can relate (Even though he can reattach a limb that has been hacked off). The book takes you places you do not expect and dives into some esoteric religious topics. If you are looking for a fast read (the book is only 236 pages) that has a lot of action and some religion and magic thrown in then this is the book for you.

Rating 4.25/5 Stars