Book Review: “Vanity Fair” by W.M. Thackeray
Book Reviews / November 1, 2014

This satirical novel is widely considered the peak of Thackeray’s career. Probably in its favor is the fact that it is hard to pigeon-hole. Said to be the second greatest novel of the Napoleonic wars after War and Peace, it has no scenes of battle, instead depicting Waterloo from the viewpoint of the frightened civilians hunkering in nearby Brussels. Concluding with the ambiguous possibility that Becky gets away with murder, it leaves a dark, bitter aftertaste.

Book Review: “Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson
Book Reviews / July 19, 2014

I’ve never read anything by Brandon Sanderson before, and I’m generally leery of thick fantasy novels that have the look of “Book One of a Punishingly Long Series.” Three things convinced me to give this book a try. First is the fact that, although it was his first published novel back in 2005, Sanderson hasn’t written any sequels to it… yet. I’m told he plans to, but so far all he has rolled out is a novella set in the same universe, titled “The Emperor’s Soul”, and a short e-book called “The Hope of Elantris”. It’s possible we may luck out, and this will be a standalone novel; that would be just about perfect. The second and deciding vote in favor of reading it is the fact that an audiobook, read by Jack Garrett for Recorded Books, was available at the public library. Third, and making it unanimous, is the list of other works by Brandon Sanderson, which includes a bunch of other stuff that I suddenly want to read.

Book Review: “Wildwood” by Colin Meloy
Book Reviews / July 7, 2014

When I saw this book at the public library, I thought it had a striking design. This, including loads of quirky but beautiful illustrations, is the work of Carson Ellis, who has also decorated books by Lemony Snicket and Trenton Lee Stewart. As for the author, I thought his name sounded familiar. Only later, after I had brought the book home, did I connect it with the alternative rock band the Decemberists, of which Colin Meloy is the lead singer and songwriter. If you’re familiar with his music, you may not be surprised to learn that hints of a political message and of a New Agey, earth-magic type of spirituality perfume the pages of his book. But it’s also a thrilling fantasy adventure featuring a couple of kids from St. Johns, Portland, Oregon, who find a strange, magical, perilous world hidden within a short bicycle ride of their city.

Book Review: “Resistance” by Samit Basu
Book Reviews / June 27, 2014

India-born author Samit Basu introduced a new wrinkle on the superhero cape and spandex, with ordinary people on a present-day flight from London to Delhi becoming extraordinary in what would come to be called the First Wave. Each person on that flight, and on several other flights around the world, suddenly developed super powers based on what they wanted most in life. Some became villains, others heroes, and quite a few of them perished in the struggle for world domination that followed.

Book Review: “Rise of a Hero” by Hilari Bell
Book Reviews / April 20, 2014

The legend says that the great hero Sorahb will return when his country has need of him. If ever Farsala needed a hero, it is now. The Hrum Empire has destroyed its army and taken possession of most of its major cities. They still have most of a year to meet their deadline, when they must either subdue all resistance or abandon their plan to conquer Farsala, accepting it as an ally instead. The nation’s slender chances of holding out that long depend on one walled city withstanding a siege, a band of lawless “swamp rats” evading capture, and the tiny remnant of her army being ready to make a last stand before the end.

Book Review: “Untold” by Sarah Rees Brennan
Book Reviews / April 19, 2014

In Book 2 of “The Lynburn Legacy”, a dark ultimatum looms over the outwardly charming town of Sorry-in-the-Vale. The evil sorcerer Rob Lynburn means to return the town to its old ways, in which the sorcerous few held power over the non-magical many—an arrangement whereby good weather and prosperous fortunes were given in exchange for blood sacrifice. Rob and his sorcerers demand a victim—a human victim, mind you—on the winter solstice, not only to show that the town submits to them but also to ramp up their magical mojo. Standing in the way are Rob’s estranged wife Lillian, the lady of Aurimere manor; his half-sibling sons Jared and Ash, who epitomize every teen girl’s dilemma between the sexy bad boy and the really nice guy; and epitomizing every teen girl, high school newspaper editor Kami Glass and her brave but very mortal friends.

Book Review: “Empire of Bones” by N.D. Wilson
Book Reviews / April 4, 2014

The third and final book of “The Ashtown Burials” features so many characters, doing so many things at once, in so many places, that even quite close to the end I couldn’t believe it was going to conclude the trilogy. I fully expected another cliffhanger, hooking us for a surprise fourth book, à la “Brisingr”. The good news—if you’ll pardon my relief—it really does end here. More or less. In fact, it ends so abruptly that I was taken aback and felt I must have missed something. The battle to save the world from rampaging transmortals on one hand (led by Dracula’s were-dragon brother Radu Bey), and from a creep named Phoenix who intends to repopulate the world with supernaturally engineered super-people on the other, is indeed fought to the bitter end, and the fate of the world is determined. I won’t be a total pig and tell you which way it goes. But I can’t help noticing that there are several loose ends dangling at the end. There really could be a fourth book. It might even be a good idea. [EDIT: Nate Wilson’s wife Heather writes, “There will be a fourth book… Probably 2015.”]

Book review: “Brisingr” by Christopher Paolini
Book Reviews / January 30, 2014

Many things discouraged me from reading the third book of the Inheritance Cycle. There was the backlash against my mixed review of Book 2, “Eldest”—almost, but not quite, the harshest feedback I have received. There was the disappointment of the film based on Book 1, “Eragon”—a hint that there would be less pressure from fandom in general to stay on top of this series. And finally, there was the thickness of this book, which was supposed to be the finale of a trilogy—whereas, in spite of its length, it turned out to be the third movement in a quartet.

Book review: “The Last of the Mohicans” by James Fenimore Cooper
Book Reviews / January 17, 2014

Forget about the 1992 movie starring Daniel Day-Lewis, and based on this book published in 1826. All these years later, I still remember a lot of things about that movie. Very few of them faithfully represent things in this book. It turns out to be not so much a film adaptation of the novel, as a piece of original entertainment based on characters and situations in the novel. Oh, well. I still like the 2002 film “The Count of Monte Cristo”, even though I now know it resembles its source book even less. It’s a trial to be both a bookworm and a movie buff.

Book review: “The Crimson Crown” by Cinda Williams Chima
Book Reviews / January 12, 2014

Book Four of the Seven Realms series brings Han Alister, Raisa, and the Queendom of the Fells to the crisis of their age. And—just think of it—their age is scarcely eighteen! Readers around that age will be especially thrilled by the political intrigues, the deadly dangers, the perplexing mysteries, and the turbulent romance that swirl around these two main characters. He is a former street lord who only found out within the last year that he is a wizard, the heir of a so-called Demon King who has cast a shadow over Fellsian history for a thousand years. She is heir to the line of Gray Wolf Queens, yet she must fight an hourly battle to keep command of her own fate while the wizard council and the upland clans—mutually sworn enemies—make their own plans as to whom she will marry and how she will rule. Political pressure is one thing, but neither side is above using deadly force to get the result it wants.