Review: Bird Box

Bird Box
Bird Box by Josh Malerman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think folks are going to run hot and cold on this one. I enjoyed it, but as I gave my wife the synopsis she just chuckled and rolled her eyes. Bird Box asks the reader to accept that there is something that can be seen that will drive a person mad. Mad to the point that they do harm to others and themselves. That's a pretty big leap to make, but if you can hang on to that reality (and not get too curious) you will probably enjoy this book. On the other hand, if you are at all the curious or inquisitive type, this book is going to drive you bonkers. The characters can't see anything (or else they would go mad) so you don't get a visual picture of the environment...or of the characters for that matter. You would think the author would compensate for this by describing how the other senses come to describe the places and people of the story. Not so. What you are left with are blank slates that you can fill in with your own imagination. Characters are barely discernible (if you've read the story, try describing the differences between Jules and Felix...tough right?). Where the author excels is in tempting you into reading the next chapter. Present day and flashback are braided together through each chapter, and each chapter finishes with some sort of cliffhanger. That makes for a quick read, but not necessarily great story telling. Ultimately, I think this is a fine beach read, but easily forgotten.

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Review: The Slow Regard of Silent Things

The Slow Regard of Silent Things
The Slow Regard of Silent Things by Patrick Rothfuss

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Rothfuss gives ample warning that this story is different. This story breaks reader expectations of what a book is supposed to be, and that may not sit well with everyone. He's right. I am intrigued by the character of Auri, so I was kind of excited to read a novella that dives a bit more into the essence of her character. I have been under the impression that Auri might be a Fae spirit. Would I find the answer here to Auri's mystery?

In a word: no. Unfortunately, I didn't particularly like this novella. There were times it seemed that Rothfuss were simply throwing a thesaurus at inanimate objects in order to compose a scene. This is a short story for folks who love words. There is no arc, no tension, no closure. We see Auri as she lives a week, preparing for a visit, presumably Kvothe. I did enjoy the illustrations, but would encourage those who are looking for more on Kvothe's work to simply bide their time to the next full novel. Perhaps the completion. Of the series will add some weight to the content of Slow Regard.

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Review: Energized

Energized by Edward M. Lerner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am interested in sources of alternative, and clean, energy. A friend of mine rightfully picked up on that interest and gave me this book as a gift. I like the premise: the world has experienced an upheaval in energy production and prices due to a catastrophe that has ruined the middle east's oil supply. Alternative energy resources (solar, wind, gas, tidal, etc.) are being actively capitalized on. In addition, the US is working towards a new orbital power platform that will beam power from space to the areas that need it most.

There is a lot of interesting science here, and a nice action story to frame it in. I wasn't entirely impressed with the character interactions in the book, but the legs of this story are the action and science. Given what it is, I was very entertained, and would easily recommend this story to anyone with interests similar to my own.

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Review: Lightspeed: Year One

Lightspeed: Year One
Lightspeed: Year One by John Joseph Adams

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoy science fiction, and I am definitely on the laser side of the sword and laser spectrum. I enjoy reading about interesting new ideas and conjecture about how future developments might shape our lives. I really enjoy dystopian novels, but I am actually quite the optimist at heart. For all of these reasons, Light Speed seemed like a perfect match to my interests.

Overall this collection is very, very dark. Many of the short stories paint extremely bleak pictures of a possible future. Loneliness, separation, abandonement...these are all central themes. A few of the stories here stood out. I enjoyed the Stephen King story, as well as the story from Le Guinn. Altogether, though, I have to say that this collection was too bleak for my taste. I like my dystopia with a dash of good, and you won't find any here.

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Review: Guitar For Absolute Beginners

Guitar For Absolute Beginners
Guitar For Absolute Beginners by Daniel Emery

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This year I have been trying to teach myself guitar. I picked up Rocksmith and had some fun with that, and tried my hand at playing from tablature found online. Unfortunately, I never felt like I was "getting it". On the advice of another self taught player, I picked up Guitar for the Absolute Beginner. It has a nice, conversational format, and takes you from the very basics of how to hold the guitar and how to use a pick, to your first chords. The book is intended to follow a class by a school in New York, but it works just as well for solo play. By the end of the book you are to be comfortable withe the CAGED chords, and have a few songs to play to practice each.

I am not sure that I would recommend this book. It isn't that the book is bad. Instead, I think you can get just as much use out of the Justin Guitar series of videos on YouTube.

So, can I play guitar? No, but not for any lack in the material. I can scratch out the chords, and sometimes even switch between chords in rhythm, but it will take a lot more practice before I feel comfortable.

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Review: Bossypants

Bossypants by Tina Fey

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Tina Fey is funny and smart, so it is no surprise that her book is also funny and smart. Bossypants is mostly a biography of the highlights of Fey's career. She briefly discusses her childhood, and then moves on to her career starting with Chicago's Second City, Saturday Night Live, and 30 Rock. There is humor throughout, as well as a health dose of feminism. I particularly enjoyed the audio book as it is narrated by Tina herself. The only downside of this medium is that, due to checking it out from the library, I missed out on the PDF she references for the visual aids. I would recommend this to anyone.

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Review: The Fall of Hyperion

The Fall of Hyperion
The Fall of Hyperion by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hyperion had a cliffhanger ending and for a while, I thought Simmons might just be stalling throughout The Fall of Hyperion. He created the captive audience with the first book. What happens to the pilgrims? Will they defeat the Shrike or not? Let me warn you that you are not going to get a quick nor easy answer.

I like these two books, and for very different reasons. Hyperion was almost a series of short stories giving us a rich background on each of the characters. Strangely, Fall turns them into pawns in part of a much larger plot. I enjoyed the second book for it's density, and it is _dense_. There is a lot going on, and while I originally thought that weaving of Severn's wakefulness as a way to provide political overview might be stalling, by the end I'm thinking that if there was any stalling it was his dreaming.

I have no appreciation for poetry. For that reason, I think there may be a lot of nuance or subtlety here that is lost on me. Both books have prose that, for me, did nothing. It was totally opaque. That is probably a fault with me, but it is the one area that I felt could have been trimmed and not reduced the story. I get the sense that Simmons is an enormous fan of Keats and this was his love letter.

Theology plays an even greater role in this second book than it did in the first. I had speculated that each of the pilgrims represented one of the 7 deadly sins in my earlier review. I'm not so sure, now, that each character was intended to play that role, at least not entirely. There are whiffs of The Inferno here, as Severn plays both Virgil and Dante. The Shrike metes out punishment paired to the sin of each character.

Hoyt: Pride - Dies at the hands of the shrike and is resurrected as Paul Dure. Dure later refers directly to his pride bringing about his fall.

Kassad: Lust - Dies in ultimate battle with the Shrike(s).

Silenus: Gluttony - He was a glutton for his poetry. His punishment is to endure constant pain, potentially for eternity, finding only small relief in reciting poetry that the Shrike may be feeding him.

Weintraub: Sloth - Refused to act on the command given him, and is left with nothing he can do after the Shrike takes Rachel from him.

Masteen: Envy? - Still not sure what to make of this character's story, although we do learn a great deal about the Templars and their motives.

Lamia: Greed? - the 7 sins metaphor really starts to fall apart here. Not to fear, Lamia still gets to participate in the biblical references, taking on the role of Divine Mother.

Consul: Wrath? - Yeah, the 7 sins metaphor is completely out the window here. homage to Dante, perhaps, or maybe I'm just not familiar enough with Keats. In any case, I would definitely recommend these first two books of the Hyperion series to my fellow sci-fi fans.

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Review: Hyperion

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really enjoy the way this story (or stories, as it were) are told. Seven pilgrims are on a journey to meet the Shrike, a mythical, murderous creature that can control time. Each member of the group must relate their story to the rest during the pilgrimage. Each of these stories is told in a different way, giving each character a distinct voice. Each story is also told during a particular leg of the voyage. I think each of the characters are intended to represent one of the "7 deadly sins".

Father Hoyt tells a story of pride while the pilgrims travel on a tree-ship through space. He bears the weight of his contemporary who was not satisfied to remain in ignorance but demanded that he learn the true nature of a small tribe on Hyperion.

Colonel Kassad tells a story of lust while they enter the atmosphere of Hyperion and land. He is enamored with a specter that only appears to him when he is surrounded by violence.

The poet Silenus tells a story of gluttony as they travel upriver. Gluttony here, not in the sense of consumption of food, but in the sense of selfishness. All other concerns are trivial compared to his quest to create the perfect poetry.

The scholar Weintraub tells a story of sloth as they sail the sea of grass. He dreams of the shrike, the Lord of Pain, and disobeys the shrike's order to render his daughter as an offering.

The templar Masteen is lost before he tells his tale. I'm left to assume that his is the tale of envy.

The detective Lamia tells a story of greed while they travel by cable car over a frozen mountain range. On the surface she is telling the tale of her client, Johnny. Johnny is an AI created as an experiment by the techno core, a collective of artificial intelligences. Really, though, this is the story of the fractured core, and their greed for ultimate intelligence. I really enjoyed the pulpy noir style used in telling this story.

The consul tells a story of wrath as the group retires in castle of the dead. He seeks retribution against the powers that led to death of his grandmother.

Unfortunately, we don't get closure as we're left with a cliffhanger leading into the next book. I'll definitely be reading it to see what happens next.

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Jade Mason