Reflecting on: Maestro (Homecoming #2)

I really liked this book by RA Salvatore. And this time, when he began the novel with the characters in Menzobarranzan, it didn’t read like page after page of Old Testament relatives (Abraham son of Isaiah son of etc. etc. for 20 pages). He kept it interesting and exciting, thanks to the powerful new character Yvonnel, who was reborn and accelerated her aging into adulthood so she could dominate the dark elves. The return of Artemis Entreri was expected, but still very exciting. And the fight scenes were as good as ever (and Salvatore is the best at them). The Drizzt vs. Tiago showdown was great, and his battle against the demon prince was a thing of beauty.

Reflecting on: 1984

I took another stab at a ‘classic’ book. I haven’t given up on them yet. Perhaps I can use the enlightenment. This is another book on most of the “must read” lists. I’m starting to think the creators of these lists need to get out more.

That being said, 1984 was much better than Fahrenheit 451 and miles (and miles and miles) ahead of Don Quixote. But this is more of a high school ‘forced’ read than a pleasure read. It wasn’t dull, don’t get me wrong. In fact, I was pretty engrossed in it for 100 pages or so, but then it started lagging. I did like how Orwell didn’t allow the story to lag for too long – he was adept at catching the lags after a few pages and skip ahead in the timeline. But he also spent an inordinate amount of time describing people’s faces. Even someone unimportant just walking by. Which struck me as strange because he’d then spend half that time on an important conversation, or describing one of the rare action sequences.

The second half of the book did move the needle a little bit on my emotional state, so I suppose it had some hold on me. But in the end I couldn’t buy the logic. It would have been better to just tell me “this is how it is” and then proceed from there, rather than provide explanation and justification to the way things work and the reasons for Big Brother governing the way he (they?) does. When I am given the weak logic I just shake my head and the book loses me. If I don’t believe the Inner Party would buy into and believe the logic, then it all falls apart. So if the logic isn’t sound – even a little bit – then don’t bother providing it.

But the logic is there, and so I believe that it would force young minds to think and reflect. Which brings me back to my “high school” statement. That’s the age group that a book like this needs to reach. Not my age group. Or perhaps my logical mind, my political beliefs and my experience with being on an open platform makes 1984 impossible to truly enjoy.



Reflecting on Don Quixote

I’m at a loss as to how I should review and describe this book. I don’t want to completely trash it for fear of coming across as a hater and just not being taken seriously. But there’s no other way to go about it.
I recognize and respect the book for what it meant to people in the 1700s and 1800s. The book options were limited, and a parody book – especially one this big – was groundbreaking. In 1716 this would have been my favorite book and I would have read it 10 times and loved every word. In 1816, the same thing. In 1916 I think I still may have enjoyed it. But in 2016 it was easily the worst book I have ever read. Terrible.

With all due respect to Don Quixote’s place in history, this book would not have gotten past the publishing stage today. It would not have even gotten consideration from a literary agent. It was poorly written, it was not funny (980 pages and it brought a charitable smile to my face three times and maybe a quick snicker), there was nothing to urge the reader to read on. It was boring. If you want to give up reading for awhile, make this your next book. You’ll put it down and have no motivation to pick it back up. But over the past four weeks I forced myself to keep going and really give it a chance.

It was terrible though. I read John Rutherford’s intro and what the story meant to him and what it meant to people of that time, as well as the arduous task of translating a story from Spanish to English. Full respect for the process. I get it. but I’d rate that introduction one star out of five. And that beats the novel itself, which was zero stars. Even Part II, which was slightly better (that’s not hard) was barely rousing enough to give one star.

I read fantasy novels almost exclusively. And my humor is about as loose as it gets – I laugh at all humor be it stupid, dry, sarcastic or straight up funny. And this was not funny, nor was it a good adventure story. Let’s not celebrate famous historical books as modern-day “must reads”. This is not a must read. It shouldn’t even be read. Instead, let’s carve out a place in history for it and acknowledge it as groundbreaking – much in the way we acknowledge caveman drawing as groundbreaking. We don’t insist on having all the caveman art read by the masses, do we?

There is nothing redeeming about Don Quixote and each time I ended a chapter I was happy and hopeful – and then each time I saw that yet another chapter began, it was a crushing disappointment. Terrible in every sense of the word and no way it gets published in this day and age, with all the great work that’s being put out there now.


Reflecting on – Fahrenheit 451

I recently went through a list of “must read” books and added seven or eight to my list. This one was first up.

With all due respect to the English majors and the fans of classic literature, this is most certainly not a “must read” book. Just like flying in the Wright brothers’ invention isn’t a “must fly” machine, or watching old black-and-white Maurice “Rocket” Richard highlights (are there any?) isn’t “must see” hockey. Yes, in it’s day it must have been a sight to behold. Watching man’s first flight in 1905? Hell yeah. Even in 1925, fully 20 years later, that would have been awesome. In 1940 it would have still been exciting. But not today.

So I do appreciate the ground that was broken here. I appreciate the new ways of thinking that this introduced. But now that ground has been broken 1000 times over by 1000 different authors in 1000 different stories. And other ground has since been broken too. There is no limit to what people write about. No rules on how to think or create. No matter how crazy or offensive, it’s been done to death from most angles.

I tried to immerse myself into the times portrayed in this book – somewhere a century into the future, while trying to ignore the writing style of the 1950s (character names – is anyone named Mildred anymore? – cigarettes, television entertainment, etc). But this was a struggle, which made it more difficult to enjoy the book. The action, during the brief moment when Guy Montag was on the run, was a nice break from the lull. But it was all too short.

The book was out in 1953 and was a “must read” book of the 1950s, 60s and 70s. Just like watching highlights of “The Rocket” was must-see hockey at that time. But once Bobby Orr and Wayne Gretzky arrived on the scene, Rocket Richard seemed pedestrian. In the 1980s, perhaps Fahrenheit 451 could still be considered a “must”. However, when the 90s rolled around the entire concept faded quickly. With controversial books out there today about religion, politics and sex – with no holds barred and no censorship – this Ray Bradbury offering isn’t close.

It would be one thing if the novel was at least interesting. And I will admit that it at least held my interest enough to keep going. But it wasn’t interesting enough to drive me to read it every chance I could. Do yourself a favor and take reading this book off your bucket list.

Reflecting on – The Companions (The Sundering)

I thoroughly loved this book from cover to cover. Perhaps, if you read this book as a one-off, it would be given a four out of five stars. But if you’ve read even a handful of prior Drizzt books, this one gets full marks.

The idea was very clever. Bring back the companions of old, the favorites who had long since (over a century) passed on, and do it by having a goddess reward her champion (Drizzt) by returning his old friends to him. And do so by having them keep their memories, consciousness and experience – even at birth. Very cool descriptions of each of the three characters – Catti-Brie, Regis and Bruenor as infants, and then flash-forward to toddlers, and then as kids, teens and then when grow to adulthood. Each has adventures, of course, to keep the story rolling. But it’s very cool to see them train to become even more powerful than they were in their first life. Because right from birth they knew what they would be doing when they turned 21. Regis, who in his first life was kind of a useless halfling, in his second life because a fully trained swordsman and alchemist who also acquired several very cool enchanted weapons and tools.

I regret not knowing about this book when I read its two sequels. At the time, I didn’t know I was three books behind – I thought it was only two. Anyway, I look forward to these ‘old’ companions joining Drizzt’s ‘new’ companions. With the fast selection of characters to now draw from, R.A. Salvatore has breathed new life into the series.


Reflecting on: 11/22/63

Steven King’s recent novel gives us his vision of how things could shake out if someone were to find a ‘time bubble’ that takes them back in time and that person were to undo a significant even in history. His “horror novel” days firmly behind him, King is barely hanging onto the “thriller” tag. The story was interesting, well written and well researched. As always, King keeps his characters interesting and worth reading cover to cover even if all they did was sweep the floor and later watch paint dry. He just has an interesting way of communicating, as anyone who has read King can attest. So yes, I did enjoy the book.

But I really am just “playing out the string”. King’s first 15 books were so great that I’ll read his next 100 even if they’re terrible. And his Dark Tower Series gave him a new niche that he excelled in. But really, aside from the Dark Tower, his books have been middling and this one is no exception. Enjoyable, but not fabulous. Intriguing, and it made you think, but it didn’t often make itself intense enough that you’ll miss sleep before putting the book down.

Glean from that what you will

Reflecting On: Charon’s Claw

In the third book of the Neverwinter Saga, author R.A. Salvatore does a great job of developing the villains and creating their own little hierarchy. It sets them up nicely for appearances in future books, and it’s a well that can be drawn from time and again. Much like, if he needs to, he can go back to Menzobarranzan for dark characters and new plotlines (which he does in this book), Salvatore can now just as easily go to the Shadovar and the tieflings. Just as he can use the cool and interesting group of mercenaries Braegan D’Arthe, he can now also consider Cavus Dun.

The battle scenes continue to be the best part of Salvatore’s work, with Drizzt Do’Urden and Artemis Entreri at the forefront…and they continue to be awkward with Dahlia and her complicated staff weapon “Kozah’s Needle”. Kudos to Salvatore for successfully making us like the new character Ambergris, a dwarf warrior-wizard and clever schemer. And I also see a lot of potential in Afafrenfere the warrior-monk.

Drizzt is a great character as a loner, along with his panther Guenhwyvar. But his stories are enjoyable with companions as well, provided the companions are likable. The new cast is starting to shape up nicely, and at this point my only criticism is the silly weapon that Dahlia wields. Actually, it’s a great weapon – just confusing to describe, and even more confusing to follow.

Now figure out a way to keep Artemis popping back into storylines (to say nothing about the flashy and charismatic dark elf Jarlaxle).

Reflecting On: Neverwinter

I read this, the 17th Drizzt Do’Urden novel, about two months ago. This is the second book of the Neverwinter Saga. There are spoilers here, of previous Drizzt books.

While I really like the idea of continuing with the Drizzt character decades later and leaving the familiar friends behind, I’m having a hard time getting attached to the new group of characters. R.A. Salvatore, while not my favorite author, is definitely my favorite writer when it comes to battle scenes. But his attempt to describe Dahlia’s battle scenes are awkward, to say the least. It’s as if he challenged himself with coming up with a complicated weapon – Kozah’s Needle – and still successfully paint the picture for the reader. He falls short. The battle scenes are still interesting, but more than a little confusing. Kozah’s Needle is a staff that can be turned into flails or a tri-staff. The charging up to create lightning – that’s a nice touch. But describing her moves with a tri-staff that suddenly turns into flails, loses me.

The book carries a mediocre plot, but is saved by a pretty good cast of villains as well as the return of one of the best characters in the Drizzt fantasy world. The assassin Artemis Entreri. His appearance, hinted at heavily throughout, is well explained. I can buy the backstory of the reasons that he is still alive fifty years after he should be.

I’ve always felt that if books about Drizzt are to be written about his adventures decades after the original companions were alive, that the new characters should be developed first, and then bring Drizzt in later. As in halfway through the second book. However, bringing back Entreri has proven to be a good alternative and makes this Saga worth reading.

Reflecting on: The Malazan Book of the Fallen

On many lists, this epic high fantasy series ranks among the two or three best ever written. On others, it’s further down. But nobody questions Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Book of the Fallen as being one of the most thorough, unique and descriptive worlds ever created.

I have decided (to at least try) to review every book I read, right here for my imaginary audience. I read often and I read quickly, so this could be a big undertaking. Normally, I will be reviewing books as soon as I complete them. But for my first review, I wanted to tackle this huge series that I finished last summer. But because so much time has passed, the individual books tend to blend together. So it’s easier to just tackle it as a whole.

I would recommend this book to you, if you are all of the following:
1. Very patient
2. An absolute die-hard of the high fantasy genre
3. Are skilled at skimming parts in which the author rambles. Because Erikson is very detailed, particularly about his characters (of which he introduces hundreds to us).

The series begins in the middle of a war – an interesting decision in itself. The reader is thrown right into it and is almost expected to play catch up with what is going on, as if you maybe missed a book and started Book 2 by accident. But the picture is painted gradually, with the back story slowly being filled in, interspersed with the current story. It is a tale of war and magic, of gods both old and new. The characters that are introduced are fantastic and you will have more than a handful of “favorites”. By the middle of the 10-book set, you will have a hierarchy in your mind as to which characters are more powerful than others, a firm understanding of feuds and potential battles, and your anticipation of the ensuing climax is very real.

And when Erikson runs out of characters to make you love, he shifts the scene to another continent and brings you an all new cast. The final books combine both tremendous casts as the elite (but banished) forces of the Malazan Empire travel to the other continent to do battle there.

While there are easily a dozen characters in these books I would call ‘favorites’, plus a dozen more whom I love to hate, Erikson introduced to me my favorite character, possibly in any book – Karsa Orlong. The entire 11,000 page story is worth the read just for Karsa’s story. He was first introduced in the second novel Deadhouse Gates, known then only as Toblakai (which is actually his race – a race of savage giants standing about nine feet tall). But his backstory comes two books later – in House of Chains – which may be my favorite book thanks to that back story. I only wish he had a bigger role in later books.

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