Monday, May 31, 2010

Robert Jordan - New Spring

Grade: B
" For three days battle has raged in the snow around the great city of Tar Valon. In the city, a Foretelling of the future is uttered. On the slopes of Dragonmount, the immense mountain that looms over the city, is born an infant prophesied to change the world. That child must be found before the forces of the Shadow have an opportunity to kill him."

New Spring (A Wheel of Time Prequel Novel)I promise this is the last Robert Jordan review in a while. I only put this up here as I had named this earlier while mini-blogging on my Planned Reading. There is also a graphic novel by the same name, which I don't plan on reading.

I read this on my kindle, and this was my second reading. I don't think this affected my review in any way. New Spring is a prequel to the Wheel of Time, set about 20 years in the past (by my vague reckoning), when Moraine and Siuan are still Accepted.
I remember reading this earlier and liking a few scenes - particularly their studies as Accepted, and their Aes Sedai testing. RJ describes both at length, adding to the slow-paced feel of this book. Even though the Dragon Reborn had just been birthed, I didn't feel the sense of impending doom and urgency that prevail in the main books.

Having read and reviewed The Gathering Storm recently (here), I wanted to see if New Spring changed in the context of new information. Thank Goodness, it did! Knowing the Black Ajah added a thrill, a frisson, to my reading, just as knowing that Lan and Moraine would bond eventually would have added to yours. You can see the cracks forming in Tar Valon and The White Tower already, leading up to the breaking of the tower. As always, there were too many descriptions of clothes for my tastes, but I stuck to my long-standing tradition of skipping these bits.

Overall, I missed RJ's epic battle scenes - they were limited to Lan's scenes. The book also digressed from the main plotline, and added months to RJ's release of his next book at the time. Still don't think it was worth it. Interestingly enough, I found RJ and Brandon Sanderson's The Gathering Storm to be far better than this work.
Pin It!

Friday, May 28, 2010

New look!

Okay, so the blog got two new looks - last week's Blue-with-subtle-books design, and this week's Books-ahoy design.

Which one do you like better? Let me know on twitter/facebook/comments please :)
Pin It!

Haruki Murakami - What I talk about when I talk about Running

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Vintage International)Haruki Murakami writes so simply, yet manages to evoke a real sense of wonder. His clear and concise sentences, beautiful prose just make it easy to read this book.
I would recommend this book, or perhaps other books by the same author, for someone who is not much of a reader. It is a short book, you can read it for a couple of chapters, put it down and pick it up whenever you have time again.

The second category of people who MUST read this book are aspiring writers. The author talks about his inspiration for writing, and peppers the book with tips for writers. He talks about pacing oneself - my one takeaway here is that one should stop writing while still enthusiastic/interested at the end of a day. If you write until you are tired,  you find it harder to start the next day.

Lots of insights here! I dont feel qualified to rate this book, so if you read this book after seeing this review, drop a note and tell me what you think.
Pin It!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Devon Monk - Allie Beckstrom series

Grade: A-
"Using magic meant it used you back. Forget the fairy tale hocus-pocus, wave a wand and bling-o sparkles and pixie dust crap.
Magic, like booze, sex, and drugs, gave as good as it got."

Magic to the Bone (Allie Beckstrom)The above description of the first book applies to the series as well. This Urban Fantasy novel, the debut novel for the author, stands out from the crowd for its description of the laws of magic and details. Every time a magic user uses magic, there are repercussions - if the user is smart, you can set a "disbursement" and hence decide what the cost would be; for eg, an headache. If you don't, the magic decides for itself and takes whatever toll on you it wants, including memory losses. The world itself stays true to what I would imagine could happen if we suddenly discovered magic and magic users - a whole set of rules to establish what is legal/illegal in magic usage, committees to oversee, special departments to enforce. Oh, yes, and later, a secret organization with hidden intentions that operates outside those rules, and self-governs.

Magic in the Blood (Allie Beckstrom)Magic in the Shadows: An Allie Beckstrom Novel
Our intrepid heroine, Allie Beckstrom, herself leads a complicated life, with a lot of memory holes. She comes from a priviledged background, but chooses to live only on what she earns as a Hound for the police, called in when there are magical implications in an open case. She is claustrophobic, headstrong, and loyal to a fault. Definitely a strong lead character. Her abilities also give us some insight into her special genes - she is the only one who might have magic within her, not just drawn into herself from outside.

In the first book,Magic to the Bone (Allie Beckstrom), she discovers her father might be responsible for a murder she is Hounding,  finds and falls for her True Love, and then proceeds to forget this love as a result of uncontrolled magic usage. Fortunately, as the series progresses, she does learn to be more careful about her magic use. The romantic aspect plays a fairly significant role in the Devon Monk books, but the plot unfolds at a good pace across the novels and keeps you entertained throughout.                                Magic on the Storm: An Allie Beckstrom Novel

The second book,Magic in the Blood (Allie Beckstrom), draws her deeper into the underbelly of crime and there are some good action scenes here. The magic gets darker and Allie blurs the line between human and other.
The third book, Magic in the Shadows: An Allie Beckstrom Novel,  felt a little bit like a filler book, and just bridged the gap between other books in the series for me.
The latest released earlier this month, Magic on the Storm: An Allie Beckstrom Novel, and having finished it this weekend, I have to recommend it!
Even though Allie is a bit too headstrong and panders to a standard cliche across urban fantasy, she is a charismatic heroine. The plot twists were predictable, but interesting anyway - Allie finds herself caught in the middle of internal politics in the secret organization she has just joined. The split of the two factions/beliefs is timed exactly when there is a tornado-esque storm bearing down on her city, and in order to save Portland Allie must discover how to use her inner abilities.

The series overall is really fast-paced, and delivers on its promise of an interesting, relatable heroine with plenty of action sequences. There are interesting sidekicks, like the adorable Stone (An animated stone gargoyle). While there are small quibbles - the love-interest is called Zayvion, a name that is too blatantly an attempt to be mysterious, or some predictabilty in the plot, each book is pretty damn good.
Recommended For: Readers of Patricia Briggs, Kelley Armstrong, Ilona Andrews, Dresden files.
Other Reviews: Ink and Paper (Contrasting opinion), Waiting for Fairies

Pin It!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Alice Hoffman - The Probable Future

Grade: B+

The Probable Future (Ballantine Reader's Circle)Alice Hoffman, who earlier wrote Practical Magic, seems to have simply redone her first book under a slightly different name. Key plot elements remain the same:
  • Book centers around a strong Matrilinear family
  • Most of the book happens in one small town
  • Multiple generations of the women are included in the book
  • All the women in the family have one magical trait
  • The main female lead has two marriages, the second being the "true love"
Practical MagicI really could go on. As I was reading The Probable Future, I kept having flashbacks into Practical Magic, even though its been a couple of years since I read that book. To clarify, both novels/sisters/family only have very little magical ability (or fantasy-ness, if you will), but perhaps it is dwelt on a little more in The Probable Future.

 While Alice Hoffman is a good writer, it doesn't seem like this writing is fresh or new or any different than her first book. Since the first book won accolades and got made into a movie with Nicole Kidman, Sandra Bullock, etc, perhaps the author decided to stick to the winning formula.
This predictable novel does have some superbly-crafted descriptions, and had some heart-tugging emotions ably written. However, they only served to highlight the trite storyline.
Between the two, Practical Magic was better entertainment, poetic (-er?) writing style and more fun to read.
Pin It!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Author Update - Neil Gaiman

So, how many of you haven't read Neil Gaiman yet?
Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, WitchIf you still have not picked any one of his bestsellers to read, you should! The award-winning novels Stardust, Anansi Boys, Amercian Gods or his fantastic graphic novel series The Sandman should be on the top of your reading list. (Thanks Pi, for introducing the graphic novels to me all those years ago!)

He is known for brilliant anthologies too - His "Fragile Things", "Smoke and Mirrors" were so good I just had to buy the dead-tree versions..ebooks/library-borrowed didn't suffice. He also co-wrote the hilarious "Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch" with Terry Pratchett. enuf said.

Stories: All-New TalesGaiman has a new book out, called "Stories""The joy of fiction is the joy of the imagination. . . ."

 'Stories' is a collection of all new works, by some really big names - Chuck Palahniuk (Fight Club), Diana Wynne Jones, Jeffrey Deaver, Jodi Picoult stood out in the list.
Check out their entry criteria:
"We wanted to read stories that used a lightning-flash of magic as a way of showing us something we have already seen a thousand times as if we have never seen it at all."

How amazing does that sound? Clearly, this anthology will transcend boundaries. This is going to be a book that just uses Fantasy as a medium to tell a great tale, be it horror, love, mystery, supernatural, across genres.
Can't wait to get a copy for myself..
Pin It!

Robert Jordan - The Gathering Storm

Rating: A
Description: Tarmon Gai’don, the Last Battle, looms. And mankind is not ready.

How do you begin reviewing an 800 page book?

How does one review a book that you have such an emotional connection with - passionately, or take a step back and attempt being impartial?

As I described earlier , this series is one that I started and it lost impact for me towards the last few books.
Robert Jordan died before he finished the planned final book 'Memories of Midnight' , leaving behind a manuscript. Brandon Sanderson was elected by the editor (RJ's wife) to complete it. He decided that it was simply too big and rewrote it into a three-part Grand Finale.

The Gathering Storm is Part 1. This is one great book, even to someone who read the last RJ novel years ago, and so didn't remember much.

I solved that issue using the 'cunning' method of skipping those names/situations I had forgotten :) .
Highly recommended, for the fans of the series who have perhaps not read the last two books - yes, this means you!

It helped that Brandon Sanderson focused on core characters, mainly Egwene and Rand. No more wandering Plotlines starring people you can't remember!
Reading this book gave me a good look into Egwene's mind, probably the best since she was made Amyrlin. Brandon Sanderson finally got closure on a couple of big open issues, and resolved some of the major prophecy threads left dangling.
*mild spoiler below* Click through to read
Pin It!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Best Book Covers of the Decade

Just thought this was worth expanding upon (I tweeted the link a few months ago) - -

The super resource The Book Cover Archive blog has listed their top 10 best book covers of the decade.

My two favorite ones are from 2001 and 2004 respectively:

Designer : John Gall                                                                          and Designer: Buchanan-Smith LLC

Find the list of the best book covers of the decade here -

Another list of book covers, this time by Vanity Fair, is here:
The VF list seems to have been made on the quality of the book itself, and not the jacket covers.  How did Catch-22 make it onto the list of great covers?
There are lots of great covers that they ignore in favor of classic favorite novels.
What do you think?
Pin It!

Dear God, no no no

Just found out that Tyra Banks is coming out with a 'fantasy' novel, called - here it comes - Modelland.

Oh god, I hope this is not going to spoil whatever credibility Fantasy/Sci-fi books have.

The genre is a fantastic genre, and encompasses mystery, detective fiction, horror (Neil Gaiman), comedy (Terry Pratchett) political satire/strategy ( a bit like espionage books, actually) and much more! Please, please do not judge this vast genre by Tyra Banks' yardstick.
Pin It!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

A Paen to the Kindle and Calibre

The kindle really revitalized my reading habits. I love to read late at night, with the lights out, on my laptop. Said laptop is usually tilted at a 45 degree angle on its side so I can curl up around it, and read with my head lying down.

It is as uncomfortable as it sounds.

When I got the kindle, I initially used it much less than anticipated. One can't use it without an external light source, so reading at night/in the car after dark was impossible at first.
Also, I read pretty fast. By the time I found an ebook, used Amazon to convert it to a kindle format, and then transferred it (the process took me a couple of days to do), I was usually done with the book in question.
I really only started using it when it gradually dawned on my mind to load all the books I had intentions of reading, but just never got to the head of my to-read list. (There is always some book I am so excited about that it supercedes my should-read books.
My use of the kindle really took off when I found this little application - 
An ebook organizer, viewer etc, its main strength lies in its ability to convert any format to any other format - so a html/pdf to a kindle format, for e.g.
how perfect is that?

It even works with the iphone (using an app - Stanza), and on  both Macbooks or Windows-based machines.

This software is highly recommended for anyone who reads on a laptop, and especially for anyone that reads via an ebook reader.
And its FREE!
What are you waiting for?

Pin It!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Robert Jordan - Wheel of Time series

Rating: B+ (A+ for Books 1, 2, 3)
The Wheel of Time series is a terrific, all-round fantastic epic story. Most fans, like me, however, no matter how dedicated, usually dropped this series half way. The books generally took a couple of years to write and publish, and right around Book 6 they started getting increasingly complicated in character names and roles. I lost my faith in RJ about 9 books in, and what with all the prequels, just never thought he would work on finishing this series. I wanted completion!! Lots of folks have had issues with RJ, including me, but the books that DO work are so incredibly rich and amazingly written...I would recommend this series only for those readers who like epic fantasy - fans of Malazan Books of the Fallen, George RR Martin, Terry Goodkind.

P.S. This series took  17 years to write so far, and this is a perfect time for the new readers to jump in; at the conclusion. You get to read Brandon Sanderson's brilliant writing and RJ's genius storyline combined.
The books in order are
  1. Eye of the World
  2. The Great Hunt
  3. The Dragon Reborn
  4. The Shadow Rising
  5. The Fires of Heaven
  6. Lord of Chaos
  7. A Crown of Swords
  8. The Path of Daggers
  9. Winter's Heart
  10. Crossroads of Twilight
  11. Knife of Dreams
  12. A Memory of Light (now published in three parts, with Brandon Sanderson): Part 1 - The Gathering Storm
 Wikipedia has all the summaries. For the most part I can only hazily remember the books, and won't be trying to review any of the older works.

Pin It!

Monday, May 17, 2010

A Thank You note to books

The sweetest little thank you note to books, composed and written on a postIt by Leah, who promised her mother she would write thank you notes.
Go To
Pin It!

A Preview of coming Attractions

I am working on reviews for (and reading):
  • Robert Jordan - New Spring
  • Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson - The Gathering Storm
  • A short look into RJ's Wheel of Time series
  • Haruki Murakami - What I talk about when I talk about Running
I also have some older reviews I had posted on a bangalore-centric blog, and will update and repost here over the next few weeks.
My goal is to post at least 2 posts a week for now, not including the mini-posts I will keep doing.
Pin It!

Matt Ruff - Bad Monkeys

Rating: B
This is the first book by author Matt Ruff that I am reading, and it begins very promisingly - the blurb caught my interest:
"Jane Charlotte has been arrested for murder.
She tells police that she is a member of a secret organization devoted to fighting evil; her division is called “The Department for the Final Disposition of Irredeemable Persons”— “Bad Monkeys” for short.
This confession earns Jane a trip to the jail’s psychiatric wing, where a doctor attempts to determine whether she is lying, crazy—or playing a different game altogether."

I was laughing out loud within the first chapter, always a good sign that the book is going to be fun!
The partly first person writing style adds to the sense that you are seeing into this young woman's thoughts, and the writing is witty and attention grabbing. There was a Salinger feel to these portions of the book.
The author moves between this style and the interview with the psychiatric doctor very smoothly, and through out the book, there is a hallucinogic sense to what the 'patient' is saying. The book has several moments where it deals with crimes and criminology, with insights into the mind of evil, and had me jumping at shadows when I read it late at night :)

The book makes one ponder if our heroine Jane is deluded, and so lost that she has no recourse but to make up an ideal role in life for herself in order to run away from her reality. It keeps you teteering on that edge between thinking that she is crazy and believing that there might be something to the story she tells.
While the book did a great job of being completely engrossing right up till the end, the ending itself was disappointing. It certainly didnt live up to the promise of the book (hence the B Rating) and could have been more complex and longer. It all felt a bit rushed towards the end, as if the author had run close to his word limit and had to wrap it all up within a few pages.
However, I would still give the author another chance, and shall read another of his books next week.
Pin It!

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I am going to have to go back over those two unstructured posts and sort them out, I also want to put links to all the books and authors I have referred to. Any suggestions on the best way to do this? I would ideally like to have the book cover be visible as well, to make it more appealing to potential readers.

All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.
—— The Way of All Flesh by Samuel Butler
Pin It!

Fantasy - Part 2

With newer works now made bold with Tolkein's success with critics and the mass audience, one just has to mention Ursula Le Guin's feminist works (Earthsea series) and Katherine Kurtz (I still haven't finished her biblio-discography (is that a word?? i.e. all the books she wrote))
Around the time I was born, you had Terry Goodkind and Terry Brooks, both wrote masterpieces in the epic fantasy genre.
More recently, you have satirical fantasy like Terry Pratchett, Tom Holt. Newer fantasy authors write grittier works, some spanning entire centuries like The Malazan books by Steven Erikson, George R.R. Martin. Some have hundreds of characters like Robert Jordan, some just have one, like Patrick Rothfuss in his debut first-person work of art The Name of the Wind.
The decade, the biggest growth has been in strong female leads in action-oriented roles, a genre called Urban Fantasy. Key authors to look out for are Patricia Briggs, Kim Harrison, Ilona Andrews, and of course, Kelley Armstrong.

Currently, some brilliant books are spanning the bridge between fantasy and fiction readers, like Jim Butcher, China Meiville, and Neil Gaiman. I dont really know what category they fit in, but any reader would love them!

Pin It!

Fantasy - where it came from Part 1

This is not a history lesson - really.
We have had forms of fantasy literature for thousands of years, from the Mahabharatha (classic epic fantasy) to Greek mythology (can you get any more fantastic than a woman with snakes for hair?).
The genre really caught on in the late 1800's with a book by William Morris, called "The Well at the World's end" , a powerful work written in three parts.
Read for free here:
The deliberatly archaic language (he was inspired by medieval romances) adds to the fable experience, and brings a richness to the now-trite storyline.
Another great work around the early 1900's was a book by Lord Dunsany - "The King of Elfland's Daugther". I have not read the other books he wrote, but they are reputed to be just as good. Lord Dunsany really set the bar for high fantasy.
The genre really took off in popularity amongts the masses with the still famous "The Hobbit" by J.R.R. Tolkein.
Closely following this comes C.S. Lewis' "The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe" - a wonderful fantasy story and series, for the younger reader. This was the first true fantasy story I read, probably when I was around 10 years old and unable to find books involving the Famous Five or the Hardy boys :)
A little wiki tidbit: Both these authors were part of a group called The Inklings which studied William Morris' works.
Pin It!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Book Genres

Just based on my reading focus, I sense that the reviews might mostly fall into the following categories:
  1. Fantasy
  2. Business ( Marketing, Statistics, books about famous companies)
  3. Detective Fiction/Assorted Fiction

There are probably holes in said list, it is a potential reading list after all!

That said, fantasy books are my bread and butter reading, and I would focus on this genre. To give non-fantasy readers a taste of what this genre is like, put aside your preconceived notions - Fantasy is not about whacky unicorns and dragons. I can't describe this any better than Terry Pratchett:

"My name is Terry Pratchett and I am the author of a very large number of inexplicably popular fantasy novels.
Contrary to popular belief, fantasy is not about making things up. The world is stuffed full of things. It is almost impossible to invent any more. No, the role of fantasy as defined by G K Chesterton is to take what is normal and everyday and usual and unregarded, and turn it around and show it to the audience from a different direction, so that they look at it once again with new eyes.

Pin It!


I spent a lot of time thinking about what to blog about; Things this blog could have been about:
  • My MBA experience, from GMAT to applications to being at Purdue
  • My interest in marketing and internet marketing strategies
  • Books and the Fantasy genre

Finally, books have been the most consistent part of my life - I knew, whether I was in Chicago, U.S.A or in Manipal, India, I could always find peace in a book. This blog is not just a review blog however, I will also use this space to post author updates, upcoming book releases and links to fascinating book covers and reading tips.

Welcome :)

Pin It!


Related Posts with Thumbnails

Popular Posts