2009 Reviews

Monday, January 18, 2010

I have already written about how Robinson Crusoe slowed down my reading process to a near halt this year. Then to make up for that I took the chance to read a bunch of 400+ page books. So I didn’t come any where close to my usual goal of 50 books this year.

If you’ve been around for a while you know I review all the books I read during the year, and at the end choose the book of the year.

I will use a scale of Horrible, Bad, Okay, Good, Awesome to rate the books.

1. Wizard & Glass 1/17/09 Okay- Not as good as “The Waste Lands” which was more sci-fi. Wizard & Glass is a blend of fantasy, western and love stories. It spends too much time on the sexual relationship of Roland and Susan. The whole book is basically a flashback to that relationship and the event surrounding it. It gives us a glimpse of Roland’s past, but not the parts I was interested in. It does end well enough to make me want to move on to the next novel in the series though. (BTW: It took us the rest of 2009 to find a copy at a Used Bookstore.)

2. Warriors of the Storm 1/20/09 Good- The second to last book in the Rings of the Master series by Jack L. Chalker. The series really stands by itself because I can think of nothing to compare it to. It is almost too complex to describe, and yet it still has that small-group-of-rebels-on-a-quest-to-save-the-world thing going for it.

3. Q-in-law 1/25/09 Okay- A Star Trek the Next Generation novel. The TNG cast feels a little like family, and so I usually find room for them on my reading list. But this book has two thing in it I don’t care for Q and Lwaxana Troi, which is why it gets the Okay rating instead of a Good rating. It was a little more campy and a bit more comedy orientated than more TNG books I’ve read.

4. Uglies 1/26/09 Awesome- You need to read this book. It’s that good. One of the things sci-fi writers do is take an idea to the ultimate extreme and set it in the future and then play “what if”. This book does it with our cultures obsession on “magazine beauty.” So what if everyone got an operation that made them beautiful on their 16th birthday? What kind of government conspiracy could that cover up? I’m not even entirely sure because I need to read the next book in the series. Again I highly recommend that you read this book.

5. Masks of the Martyrs 2/11/09 Good- The finale to the Rings of the Master Series. It all comes together (at the last minute, of course.) And we see that sometimes we are the ones who create the monster that almost destroys mankind. Of course that plot has been done before, but this is a totally different way of telling it.

6. Junie B. Jones… is not a Crook and Graduation Girl 2/19/09 Awesome- I love Junie B. Jones. The author really gets into the head of a kinder gardener. Junie B. is sweet and funny, and I’m better for having spent just a little time in her head. She’s taught me that adults are the ridiculous ones. And I should really stop stressing and have more fun with life.

7. A Series of Unfortunate Events #4 2/23/09 Okay- I am attempting to read all of the SoUE books. But I still don’t understand the draw to them. Bad things happening to kids again and again. The kids are smarter than the adults. The adults ignore them or treat them like excess baggage they can’t wait to get rid of. These children are not going to be well adjusted.

8. The Martha Rules 2/23/09 Good- Has some solid advice for starting your own business. Plus lots of inside information on Martha’s company (which is much bigger than you might think.) Although a lot of the information is for someone in a urban environment, it could apply to anyone thinking about starting a business. Especially good for someone in the planning/ just thinking about it stages.

9. The Toynbee Convector 3/4/09 Bad- Some science fiction writers should skip the short stories. Not everyone can be P.K. Dick. Ray Bradbury is a good writer. I even chose Fahrenheit 451 as one of my books of the year. But this collection of short stories just falls limp.

10. Robinson Crusoe 5/27/09 Horrible- To see my full disgust for this book go to my blog post “The Countdown is on” from Thursday, June 4, 2009. Took me nearly 3 months to read this book. After the first half it just become painful. I believe that most people have just read the abridged version, or have only read the first half and recommend it out of ignorance. The book sent my love for reading to the ICU. Luckily it’s recovered and is doing quit well now.

11. Airframe 5/30/09 Okay- It was very interesting to read this book about the airplane manufacturing industry right before we went on vacation to Seattle and toured the Boeing plant. It was a good book to follow up Robinson Crusoe with because it was fast paced and easy to read. Michael Crichton is always good for a fast read.

12. Lord Foul’s Bane 6/11/09 Good- This is a good book, but it borrows a lot from fantasy 101, and we all know that Fantasy 101 borrows heavily from Tolkien. This story has many of the recognizable Tolkien elements, twisted around, and wrapped up differently.The book is about a leper from the mid-1900’s who travels to fantasy world bringing with him white gold which is magical in this new world. A very different “hero” is the center of this fantasy novel. It plays out the reluctant hero bit to the extreme, in fact making him do some repulsive things. A lot of his motivation centers around his leprosy, which seems to be healed in this new world. It digs deep, and it’s main character asks questions of himself we are not use to fantasy characters asking.

13. The Bear & The Dragon 8/19/09 Good- This book was a monster, weighing in at 1137 pages. I slugged through the first 300 pages of the epic sized novel. Reading about all manner of boring political stuffs. For a while I really though the Clancy had finally lost it. I mean we had to read about the President talking a new farm plan. But then the excitement got going for about 100 pages, and I was totally sucked in. The end of the book was “I can’t turn the page fast enough” action. Oh and one of the characters is name Colonel Duke Masterman (you can’t have a manly-er name than that.)

14. How to Win Customers & Keep Them for Life 9/4/09 Okay- I promised the Big D when I signed up for Demarle I would read some book about network sales and selling. I got this one from the library, and it was a pretty good book on customer service. The result has not been making me a better sales person, but in making me more cynical when I get bad customer service. I did have the realization while reading this book that there is a difference between marketing and selling. I am able to sell Demarle once I get people to a party. I have a problem with marketing the party, and getting hostess and guests.

15. How Could You Do That? 9/17/09 Good- This is a book by Dr. Laura. and I didn’t know if I would like it or not because I think Dr. Laura is kind of a loud mouth. But I ended up agreeing with almost everything she had to say. I’m having a hard time summing it up because it had so many good points, so I’m borrowing an online review from http://www.flipkart.com/could-you-do-laura-schlessinger/0060928069-mmw3f9td6t If you are intrested please read the whole review it does a good job at explaining why I liked the book.

“A wise and witty book that topples the lame excuses we invent when we do the wrong thing, “How Could You Do That?!” challenges readers to find their Character, Conscience, Courage, Self-respect, Morals, Integrity, and Principles by discussing such issues as love versus lust, irresponsible parenting, and the mindless pursuit of happiness at the expense of others.”

Basically people try too much to wimp out of situations because it felt right or good at the time and they think that should negate the consequences of their actions. Dr. Laura says “No Way” suck it up and realize that your decisions have consequences no matter how they “felt” which is way good morals always win out in the end.

16. Norton Book of Science Fiction 9/18/09 Good- This was the book for my Science Fiction literature class. I marked which stories we read in class, and then just came back and finished up the other ones. Of course as a book of Science Fiction short stories you’ll love some and hate others. I’m not really a fan of gender-bender sci-fi, so those stories were especially hard to slog through. But others like “2064, or Thereabouts” by David R. Bunch are still on my mind. It does have a lot of famous names in science fiction everyone for Ursula K. Le Guin and Brian Atterbery who where the editors to James Blish (an author probably in my top 10), and Poul Anderson, and Samuel Delany, James Triptree Jr, Harlan Ellison, P K Dick (definitaly in my top 10 authors), and Orson Scott Card to name a few.

17. Speaker For the Dead 9/25/09 Awesome- This book began my “Ender Universe” reading binge. I’m not sure if I like grown-up Ender as much as I liked young Ender. But it’s been several years since I read “Ender’s Game”. This book is like a family drama/ soap opera/ anthropological mystery. Very weird at points. But really works well together at the end.

18. Ender’s Shadow 10/3/09 Awesome- I think I like this book more than “Ender’s Game” this book is about the “other” genius in the combat school, Bean. It is at times heart breaking, and at times edge of your seat. Bean is even more of a genius than Ender, but he has several hurtles to overcome; his small size, growing up homeless on the streets of Rotterdam, being smarter than everyone, being too young to have experience as a leader, and then the fact that he arrives AFTER Ender. The character of Bean is so likable, and the mystery behind him just sucks you right in. And the character of Sister Carlotta adds an interesting religious element to the philosophy of the story.

19. Shadow of the Hegemon 10/10/09 Okay- Maybe three was too many Ender books to read in a row, but this one didn’t live up to the other two. The actions of the characters was just a little unreal, and the back story harder to believe. Consequently the world building didn’t seem to work as well as the Battle School. But still you have to have something that bridges the gap between the end of Battle School and the history that is alluded to at after Ender’s game. The “bad guy” in the Bean books, Achilles, jumps around too much in this book, and Bean is barely given what he needs to go head to head with him. I really hope in the next book he gets his chance.

20. Cane River 10/15/09 Good- This being an Oprah book club book I didn’t have much hope for it at first. But it came highly rated from my Aunt Patricia. I was pleasantly surprised by the book. It’s about several generations of women as slaves to the same family in Louisiana, and into their emancipation and learning to make it in the world on their own. It was really well written, and although these “chick” books aren’t normally my thing I ended up liking it. Part of why I think I liked it was that it had been thoroughly researched, was based on the real lives of the authors ancestors, and had a lot of historical data in it.

21. Hyperion 11/8/09 Good- A science fiction take on “The Canterbury Tales” except for telling a made up story each member of the pilgrimage tells what brought them on this desperate quest in the first place. It’s a very strange sci-fi universe the book is set in, and really in the series of stories what he is doing is all world building. It sets up a lot of stuff, brings up a lot of questions, but doesn’t answer anything. If you want to read some strange science fiction with a few completely new ideas you should pick up this book.

22. Second Variety 11/29/09 Awesome- This book was on my birthday wish list, it’s a short story collection by P K. Dick. P.K. Dick has been the writer who inspired all sorts of sci-fi movies. This book claimed to have the story that inspired the movie “Next” in it. (I haven’t seen the movie so I couldn’t tell you if the story fit or not.) It amazed me how many different types of dystopia he came up with. Dick has imagined the end of civilization probably hundreds of different ways (and disturbing ways.) Some of his stories have a haunting quality that keep me thinking long after I’ve read them.

23. The Ballad of Reading Gaol & Other Poems 11/30/09 Good- Each year I make sure to fit in at least one book of poetry. This year I choose a book by Oscar Wilde. It had some interesting poems, and certainly the main poem Gaol was a piece to chew on. But his love poems are confusing at best, since his sexuality was confused too.

24. Girlfriends: Invisible Bonds, Enduring Ties 12/4/09 Okay- I often use quotes from this book when I’m giving talks. While it is a great source for sound bites, it doesn’t have much meat. It’s really just a bunch of anecdotes from different women on friendship. It’s very feminist in viewpoint, and doesn’t carry any other consistent theme about friendships.

25. Taliesin 12/9/09 Awesome- Every year I make it a point to reread a book that I’ve read previously. Stephen R. Lawhead is one of my favorite authors. It probably been 10 years since my last reading of Taliesin, but it proved to me all over again why I like Lawhead. It’s a story of both epic and mythic proportions.

It retells the story of one of Britian’s mythic characters the bard Taliesin. Lawhead captures an ancient time in British history when the Roman rule was beginning to fall apart and the land was unstable. It also tells of the fall of Atlantis. Out of the two upheavals come a love story, and a child that will change the world. And over all is tells of the rise of Christianity. I really love that it’s a fantasy story, but yet tells the gospel so clearly. Mixing two of my favorite things. The story is well described by this poem which is found in the front of the book.

Ten ring there are, and nine gold torcs
on battlechiefs of old;
Eight princely virtues and seven sins
for which a soul is old;
Six is the sum of earth and sky,
of all things meek and bold;
Five is the number of ships that sailed
from Atlantis lost and cold;
Four Kings of the Westerlands were saved,
three kingdoms now behold;
Two came together in love and fear,
in Llyonesse stronghold;
One world there is, One God, and one birth
the Druid stars foretold.

26. Merlin 12/17/09 Awesome- The sequel to Taliesin, I couldn’t help reading it because Taliesin was so good. Spoiler: Merlin is the son of Taliesin and the Lady of the Lake Charis, and his story picks up where the other leaves off. Merlin’s early life, and rise into manhood has a lot of surprises. But so much of the Merlin myth is of his involvement with Arthur, and the book makes a very believable back story to that myth. It also makes Merlin out to be a prophet of God, not a sorcerer. A definite twist on the usual myth, but it fits better with the Arthur/ Grail myth and the time the book is set in. Merlin becomes sort of like an dark ages Elijah full of the power and purpose of the Lord.

27. Harry Potter, Narnia, and the Lord of the Rings 12/19/09 Good- There have been a lot of religious debates over Harry Potter, and that has brought fantasy in general under fire. If you read these book reviews you probably picked up on the fact that I enjoy fantasy and sci-fi. I have not chosen to read the Harry Potter, however, having seen them while on a prayer walk in an Occult bookstore. Since the debate rages on about Harry Potter, and people keep comparing it to some fantasy series I really love namely Narnia and Lord of the Rings this book by Richard Abanes seemed an obvious choice to read.

The book really makes several good points about fantasy. That parents need to be aware of the content of what their children read as well as what they watch. That just because kids are reading doesn’t mean what they are reading is good for them. That some kids are more likely to be influenced by fantasy, and some kids are more likely to be influenced by mysticism. That helping your kids pick book that are appropriate for them is not censoring them. (Would you let your 6 year old watch 300?) And that fantasy can be a very effective story telling tools and we shouldn’t write it off as being all bad.

Then he goes on to talk specifically about about occultic books, and each of the books mentioned in his title. He points to several series that spell out specific ways in which to preform wiccan or pagan rituals that are aimed at the young adult readership. He also points out Philip Pullman’s “His Dark Materials” trilogy which was written from an atheists standpoint, and is written to lead children in that direction. He talks about the history of the writing of Narnia and LOTR and how they were made with a distinctly Christian viewpoint.

An interesting side note “Pullman has expressed surprise over what he perceives as a low level of criticism for His Dark Materials on religious grounds, saying “I’ve been surprised by how little criticism I’ve got. Harry Potter’s been taking all the flak… Meanwhile, I’ve been flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God”.” from wiki

The real meat of the book though is about Harry Potter. Remember I haven’t read the books (or watched the movies), so my comments are merely what I remember from Abanes’ book. I must say he does point out the there are some good thing in the books, and doesn’t advocate for book burning or banning or anything like that. But he makes a good argument for the books being based on more real occultic traditions than on fantasy magic, and for the adult character being bad examples. He also points out that the kids are not really good example themselves; cheating, cussing, breaking the rules, etc.

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