Archive for the ‘Book Reviews’ Category

Star Wars Novels – Part 23

Posted: November 14, 2016 in Book Reviews

Ambush at Corellia

An enjoyable storyline with yet another silly subplot that had no business being there. As for the main plot, it does require a lot of mind-stretching and overlooking some serious holes. But only the usual ones that crop up in the SW world from time to time, such as “how did they come up with this technology during this era, when for 10,000 years technology hadn’t budged by much?” and “Trillions of people in the galaxy and they run into Han Solo’s cousin as their nemesis?”

But overall, the Han/Leia/Chewie/Solo children slant of the story was an enjoyable read without many lulls. And then they get into the Luke/Lando plotline and I just wanted to shoot the powers that be. I don’t blame the author Roger MacBride Allen, as I’m sure the “powers that be” at the time needed the the story to be a trilogy and needed each book to approach 400 pages. The lame excuse that was used to encourage Luke Skywalker, who was somehow “bored” and with nothing to do as the galaxy’s only Jedi Master, to ride along with Lando was beyond ludicrous. Help Lando find a rich woman to marry?

As I get into the second book of this trilogy, it’s becoming clear that Lando and Luke need to be brought into the story and that they provide information and tools that are needed. But I would have brought them in under more mundane circumstances and just cut the novel to a trim 300 pages. Don’t fluff for the sake of fluffing, come on.

 

Assault at Selonia

In Book 2 of the Corellian Trilogy (that should have been a Duology), the Lando/Luke storyline improved and actually turned into something that drove the plotline. So now in hindsight I can say that the ‘Lando finding a rich wife’ angle from the first novel was absolutely unneeded. He could have just been dating Tendra Risant. And he could have just been giving Luke a ride to the Correllian System. Find a more worthwhile reason! Meanwhile, the other plotline started to fall apart. Leia not trusting Mara Jade, but having to work with her (can’t bring myself to buy that one – they got along just fine in prior novels), Han crawling through a tunnel (talk about dry reading), the kids discovering the giant hidden underground planet repulsors, the idea of giant hidden underground planet repulsors…the whole thing was losing me. The writing itself was good enough to maintain interest and keep the pages turning (other than Han crawling through the damn tunnels), but there are some key plot points that I think had they been done a little differently I would have enjoyed the book a lot more. Unless Book 3 turns out to be amazing, I would at this point recommend passing on the entire trilogy.

 

Showdown at Centerpoint

Naw, the trilogy didn’t get any better. I may be a little unfair because I can’t wrap my head around a weapon or device that’s more powerful than the Death Star. And I may be a little unfair because of the way the first book had Luke and Lando traveling together (a Jedi helping a swindler pick up women? Couldn’t be more absurd). I did like the two alien races introduced (Selonian and Drallan), as I found them unique in both appearance and culture. That was well described. And the Solo kids taking a bigger role, even though it was a huge role, it was believable and fairly exciting. But these New Republic books are nowhere near as good as the Clone War books. Thank goodness next up in the timeline are a pair of Thrawn novels.

 

Specter of the Past

So Thrawn is back, but not really. But thankfully the SWEU didn’t dip into the ‘clone’ well again. That trick was growing tiresome. No, this novel was wonderfully written – riveting at times, with each branch of the storyline as interesting at the others. It had all the great characters from Luke, Han, Leia and Lando (Chewie was absent, but you likely wouldn’t notice), as well as the classics who were introduced in the expanded universe such as Mara Jade, Talon Karrde, Admiral Pellaeon and even Corran Horn.

Pellaeon has convinced the Moffs to agree to peace with the New Republic. But while he tries to make contact, an old disciple of Palpatines (a member of his Royal Guard) named Major Tearce has teamed up with Moff Disra to trot out a new Thrawn – a con man who they had dye his skin blue and change his hair and eye color. While they tried to cause disruption throughout the Republic with staged violent demonstrations, Thrawn made appearances at key times and places which drummed up support for the Empire.

Meanwhile, Leia was trying to hold the New Republic together. And that was difficult because information was discovered that fingered a handful of Bothans as responsible for turning over information to the Empire years earlier that had led to the wiping out of a planet and most of a race. This is the only area where things were really absurd – we, the reader, had to be convinced that there were hundreds of planets/races out there who demanded retribution on the entire race of Bothans. All of them had to pay for the acts of 10 or 20. All 500 million, or whatever their numbers are, they all had to pay for the acts of about 15. Or else there would be war and millions would die.

Anyway, as long as you didn’t focus too much on such a stupid plot point – and it was a key plot point because everything revolved around stopping that war – then you’ll enjoy the story.

 

Vision of the Future

This is one time where I actually wished the series was stretched out by a book instead of shrunk down by a book or two. This is a duology and it could have been a trilogy. Leia is still fighting to keep the New Republic together, the Empire under Thrawn are still causing havoc and Pellaeon is finally starting to hear rumors about Thrawn being alive – and it’s thwarting his plans for peace. Meanwhile, Han and Lando are off to the heart of the Empire to find the list of names of the Bothans responsible for the betrayal (with the theory being that those names would then stop all the vengeful planets/races from wanting to destroy or cripple the entire race of Bothans – still a dumb premise, but we have to go with it to enjoy an otherwise solid novel). Meanwhile, Mara Jade had disappeared and Luke Skywalker and R2 went off to find her. I was pleasantly surprised about how those two made my day near the end. Tim Zahn is the best SW writer hands down.

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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

Posted: September 7, 2016 in Book Reviews

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.

 

 

For a Jack Reacher book, this one started out slow as Lee Child spent an inordinate amount of time building the plot with Reacher investigating an assassination attempt on the French leader. And at first I was a little confused as to the timeline because he was in Virginia in ‘Never Go Back’ and usually the next book at least somewhat acknowledges what he’d been doing and where he’d been doing it since the last book. If only in a small paragraph. Minor point, though.

Things really picked up towards the midpoint, and I guess it says something about what I like in the Reacher novels when by “picked up” I refer to fight scenes and killing. But it’s not just the battles that we all love – it’s also the trash talk. The cockiness. ‘Personal’ was written in the first person so not only do we get the benefit of Reacher talking trash to his opponent, but also thinking it. Entertaining and hard to put down, even if the ending plot twist was a little bit weak.

Star Wars Novels – Part 22

Posted: August 29, 2016 in Book Reviews

Planet of Twilight

I found the first quarter of this novel to be a confusing mess. The story takes place mainly on a planet with natives, old-timers and new-timers. And Therans? Which is which? Who controls who? It was a mess that I eventually just ignored and instead just focused on the main characters Luke, Leia, Han and the droids – each of whom were divided into their own little quests (or problems) separate from each other.

It was a unique plot in the SWU, featuring tiny bugs called ‘drochs’ that absorbed harmlessly into the skin – but it turns out they were sucking life force from the host and feeding the lead droch, who could pass for a human. The leader of Nam Chorios is Seti Ashgad, and working with the droch leader (Dzym) he had taken Leia prisoner. Also in the mix was a former Jedi Knight who was a Hutt. Between the difficulty of following the first portion of the book, and the disappointing news that a Hutt could be a Jedi (had struck me as impossible, before this), I struggled to focus on just enjoying the story. The fight scenes weren’t great because Luke couldn’t use the Force because on that planet doing so would have repercussions that would cause harm to the natives there.

It’s at this point in the series where I’ve come to the realization that the Star Wars Legends universe should have slowed down on the book releases. It’s okay to say ‘no’ to ideas sometimes.

 

The Crystal Star

Ho hum. Leia’s and Han’s kids are kidnapped. Again. Reading the novels in chronological order, it’s hard to separate the “when” of a book being written. So yes, this book was written before the other kidnap-attempt books but still…how often are they going to go to that well?

There wasn’t much I liked about the story, but there were some things. Such as Chewbacca’s heartfelt love for the children. Jana’s and Jacen’s cleverness. That’s…probably about it. I didn’t like the powerful alien Waru who could heal (or kill/absorb) and is from another dimension. My idea of Star Wars is that it’s based on a galaxy where the rules of science apply, other than the Force. Whenever they deviate from that idea, I find myself getting bothered about it.

I didn’t mind the SWEU books from before the fall of the Old Republic. And I thought the Clone Wars books (in that era) were mostly great. But I have strong concerns about how the post-Return of the Jedi books are going. Do they get better? I’m almost reluctant to find out. This is my 178th Star Wars novel/novella. Must…keep…going…

 

The Black Fleet Crisis: Before the Storm

I had low expectations for this novel based on the recent Star Wars novels I’ve read that have taken place at around the same timeline. I had also read a review of the book indicating that it would be heavy in military jargon and that it deviates from the usual SW style. So my hope was that it would be similar to the Republic Commando series. That one, while not my cup of tea and not central to the running SWU plotline, was at least very well written and fairly interesting.

But this turned out to not be the case at all. At least for the first book. I found it to be more political than military. The story takes place on three fronts. First of all, Luke Skywalker is approached by a woman claiming to be from the same race and planet as his mother. This one was confusing, because we all know who his mother is – and where she is from. Not only is it strange that he doesn’t know about her (you’d think that Bail Organa would have told Leia, who could then tell Luke), but the story told in this book seems to indicate that his mother had powers different from the Force. This part of the storyline I didn’t enjoy. I didn’t like how Luke is stronger than I’ve ever seen Anakin (flying a ship just with the Force? Building a structure out of rock with the Force?). I didn’t like how impatient and impetuous he was with this strange woman – is he a trained Jedi Master or not? And will this “mother” prove to be a fairy tale so things can make sense?

Second, Lando Calrissian, with the help of Lobot (his assistant in Empire Strikes Back with the metal band around his head that lights up), R2D2 and C3P0 goes with a Republic fleet to investigate a strange ship that isn’t flown by anyone…but has defense mechanisms that can’t be cracked. I found this storyline interesting and unique. It has me curious.

And finally, the main one is on Coruscant with Leia. She spends weeks negotiating with a new race on the outskirts of the Republic. A race that seems to control a sizable area of the galaxy. This race actually thinks all other races are beneath them and their leader, Nil Spaar, does a great job of getting the reader’s blood boiling. The story had a strong finish and made me excited to pick up the next book immediately.

 

The Black Fleet Crisis: Shield of Lies

While the book is well written and mostly entertaining, I still got the feeling that it was being stretched out to complete a novel. One hundred pages to start, focusing on the Lando situation – a situation that could have easily been summed up in 30 pages. Then one hundred pages dedicated to the Luke Skywalker plotline and again 30 pages would have sufficed. And then we had about 120 pages on the Leia and Han Solo story. And that was one that could have used another 10 or 20. In-depth descriptions on how Luke killed time (taking a shower, organizing/repairing the ship) that stretched on for a few pages…but the ambush and subsequent capture of Han Solo was summed up in two sentences. It’s as though the novel was started with the idea that much would need to be stretched out in order to justify a trilogy…but then at around page 300 the author realized that he was running out of space and had to cram a lot into a dozen pages. Still enjoyable and worth the read, but structured wrong. It would have been so easy to make this trilogy a five-star by turning it into two 400-page novels.

 

The Black Fleet Crisis: Tyrant’s Test

Closing off the trilogy, the third book was as riveting as the others. That is to say – for the Han and Leia parts I was riveted, but the other parts not so much. The Luke area never really got going for me, not only because Akanah Pell (his lady friend) is annoying, but their search for her people (and his mother) was a pretty boring one. I’ve also made no effort to hide the fact that the only magic I enjoy in this series is the Force. Akanah uses the ‘Current’ and they apparently have the ability to hide items as large as spaceships and create illusions that are just as big. One good thing to come out of it though is that now Luke has that added ability (invisibility) which he was taught. This storyline did eventually tie into the Han and Leia tangent. So it had a point. That’s something that can’t be said about the Lando plotline.

Pointless. The story got worse as it went on. And in the end it had nothing at all to do with the other story threads.

Besides the interesting Han and Leia story, I also enjoyed the Chewbacca tangent. He caught wind of Han being captured by the enemy and he immediately dropped everything to go rescue him. It was good enough to salvage a novel that Lando’s ‘adventures’ almost ruined.

 

The New Rebellion

The Star Wars books had been waning of late (reading them chronologically), but they got a ‘little’ better with this one. A former Jedi-in-training (looks like they don’t use the term ‘Padawan’ in the new, rebuilt Jedi Order) has turned to the dark side and tries to destroy both Luke and Leia. He also manages to cobble together a pretty big army and, with his followers under the guise of the Empire, infiltrates the New Republic. The plotlines involve Luke going after his former student, Han trying to investigate who is behind some bombings by going to his old smuggler colleagues, Lando going after Han to warn him, the droids stumbling on a larger plot and trying to get someone’s (anyone’s) attention, and Leia trying to hold the Senate together. The Senate is in trouble as some former Imperials have managed to worm their way in and presumably try to take down the New Republic via legal channels.

The story moved along without any serious lagging, the plot was decent if you overlook how such a young villain managed to get such assets together in such a small window, or how this giant pussycat creature could communicate via telepathy and Luke discovered this but his nemesis – who imprisoned him with said creature – did not. Worthy of a recommendation, but perhaps that’s only because the last few SW books have been disappointing.

 

Reflecting on Don Quixote

Posted: August 5, 2016 in Book Reviews

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: Archmage

Posted: June 5, 2016 in Book Reviews

This one got off to a rocky start, but what an explosive finish. For the first quarter of the book, I was wondering if R.A. Salvatore had lost his touch. I generally start nodding off when he gets too far into the politics of Menzoberranzan. Honestly, it can often read like the Old Testament (Isaac, son of Abraham, son of…etc, etc for 10 pages). This family hates that family, who are friends with the fourth house but enemies of the second house…on and on and on. And the family (the ‘house’) names read like 20 letters were thrown into a blender with a couple of apostrophes. Makes for a dry read.

But the final battle was exciting and well described – classic Drizzt Do’urden. It has the reader wanting more: Athrogate as Bruenor’s bodyguard; Regis, Wulfgar and Afafrenfere off on their own adventure (there’s a great book, potentially, right there); Jarlaxle now having an Archmage in his group (and possibly a Matron Mother)? Lots going on in Salvatore’s world. He’s successfully set things up so that a handful of really great novels are coming down the pipe. This series has new life injected into it thanks to the clever rebirth of Drizzt’s companions.

It has been two or three years since I last checked in on Mr. Reacher and I’m so glad that I was able to wait. Because now I have three books to catch up on. After reading this one, I know I’ll have a hard time delaying the other two. But I’ll try my best to stretch it out and enjoy a Jack Reacher novel for every three or four other books I read.

Reacher returns to his old unit to look up and meet Susan Turner, whom he had a bit of a crush on based only on her voice and telephone personality. But she had stumbled onto something that some very powerful people didn’t want her stumbling on. So they cooked up some bogus charges and whisked her away just hours before Reacher arrived. But they figured Reacher could know some of what she knows, so they were prepared for his arrival and they had some charged cooked up for him too.

In typical Reacher fashion, he chose to fight the charges rather than run and hide. And in typical Reacher fashion this meant knocking some heads and breaking some fingers. I love the writing style of Lee Child – he doesn’t waste space with meaningless words, he makes every one of them count. He draws you in and makes you feel as if you are a tough guy right there alongside Reacher. And Reacher’s tough-guy lines are hilarious. Funniest line of the book:

“He hit the ground so hard and so fast you’d think someone bet him a million bucks that he couldn’t make a hole in the dirt with his face.”

Reading Never Go Back, and to a lesser extent, The Companions, reminded me that books should be riveting and tough to put down. The Star Wars novels hadn’t been like that in several months, which reinforces my belief that there are too many SW books and that they were too loosey-goosey in allowing the different authors to try different things and take the SWU in different directions. Yes, I slipped off topic there, but the point is – it’s good to have a book remind you of how enjoyable they can be.

 

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.

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.