Tristesse Lee

book and movie impressions… for now

The Ocean and The Hourglass

Posted by tristesse133 on March 2, 2012

The Ocean and the Hourglass, by Dan O’Brien

This was a self-published novel on Kindle. I wanted to like it. I read the description and reviews, and I was interested enough that I requested a review copy from the author.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t like it. I could barely finish it. Problems abound, many of which are particular peeves of mine.

First, the writing. It needs work. From the first page, the writing feels like a classroom exercise (e.g. “describe a scene in as much detail as you can, using at least 5 similes”). One reason it feels like that: excessive use of adjectives. Almost every noun has an adjective attached, and this really bogs down the prose. There is also inappropriate AND redundant descriptive word choice (e.g. “gales” of wind “assaulted” the characters at least four times, seemingly regardless of how hard the wind was blowing.)

Second, pervasive sense of wish fulfillment. The story is about a nerdy boy whose reality is tough and unsatisfying, so he escapes into an awesome fantasy world where he is a hero. Am I reading about a character, or a fantasized version of the author? I couldn’t tell, and that bothers me in literature.

Third, philosophical lecturing. Our hero actually sits down with a mentor for a Q&A session about Ethics 101. I’d rather read a textbook than listen to characters recite the concepts. I wish that instead the author had presented the concepts with more “show” than “tell” – for instance, letting the main character have an experience that causes him to learn / realize a concept, rather than just listening to a speech about it.

Finally, unsatisfying “too-easy” resolution. The main character realizes that he has created the entire world with his imagination, and thus has complete control over what happens. He can depose the evil tyrant just by wishing it. However, he refuses to become a “tyrant” himself afterwards, and instead turns over the reins to a sexy princess he’s been traveling with. Why does he believe that installing a sexy monarch is going to make things better? I’m not sure. I felt this ending just came out of nowhere, it wasn’t even really related to the philosophical lecturing mentioned above.

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Kill the Dead & Aloha From Hell: Sandman Slim books 2 & 3

Posted by tristesse133 on August 17, 2011

2. Kill the Dead

3. Aloha from Hell

SPOILERS IN THIS ONE.

The sequels to Richard Kadrey’s action-packed Sandman Slim, which I really liked.

Our hero is still a badass demon-slaying vigilante. In Kill the Dead, he hooks up with a porn-star zombie-killing gypsy hottie and together they save L.A. from an undead uprising. Fun times. Not as tight as the first book because he doesn’t have the vengeance motive – this time he is just saving the world for the fun of it. And he is sort of alcoholic and whiny about his whole situation too. Still exciting and action-packed though, I enjoyed it.

Aloha from Hell, however, was not up to form. First, I thought there was too much unnecessary gore. Now, I know that one must expect some blood and guts in this genre, and I like it too – but I prefer it when it drives the plot, or at least when it happens as a result of some key action. In Aloha, the gore was like part of the scenery. Second, I had some believability problems with it. In the previous two books in the series, the mythology and explanations were just vague enough that it was all easy to swallow. In Aloha, he TALKS TO GOD. He also goes to Hell, which has a very specific geography this time, and he busts the place up. He also meets up with his dead girlfriend. Where’s the mystery? Too specific, but not enough rigor to help me maintain my suspension of disbelief. Finally, I thought the plot wandered around a bit. The book was mostly over before he got to Hell like he’d been intending the whole time. There was also a lot more reflection and internal monologue and rehashing past events than the other books, which slowed the pace a lot. There’s still plenty of action and attitude, and cussing, and there’s even some sexy times in this one, which I thought was a nice touch. But it lacked the tight, slick entertainment value that captured me in the first book.

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Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World

Posted by tristesse133 on August 15, 2011

Sex on Six Legs: Lessons on Life, Love, and Language from the Insect World

By: Marlene Zuk

I often enjoy reading popular science books, and especially liked this one. It was approachable, pleasant to read, and I learned a lot too. The author shows her sense of humor in her writing – she’s snarky and a tad feminist.

Like many pop science books, the organization is a little haphazard – the primary focus is on ease of reading, so it’s not arranged as clearly as textbooks or reference books are. I also thought the book could benefit from some diagrams, especially when talking about the sex-determination system: a picture would have helped me understand why exactly a worker bee is more closely related to her sisters than to her own potential offspring.

Overall though, this was a fun and educational book, a great example of the pop science category.

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The Red Wolf Conspiracy, et al (Chathrand Voyage books 1-3)

Posted by tristesse133 on June 8, 2011

1. The Red Wolf Conspiracy

2. The Ruling Sea

3. The River of Shadows

by Robert V.S. Redick

Amazon kept recommending The Red Wolf Conspiracy, since I like other new fantasy series so much. So, when my Vine offerings included The River of Shadows, I thought – what the heck. I’ll read the whole series. Amazon knows me, right?

Well, I kind of regret that. Especially since I mistakenly thought River of Shadows would be the last book, and I could complete the trilogy. It’s not – there’s another sequel planned.

Basically, The Red Wolf Conspiracy feels like a debut novel. The story seems interesting enough, and there are fun high fantasy elements like pixies, talking animals, a mad expansionist Empire, merfolk, and magic. But… I don’t know. The pacing is a little uneven.

The Ruling Sea feels a little forced, plot-wise. The hero and heroine spend most of the book senselessly pining for each other because the heroine has to pretend that she has feelings for another guy, in order to trap him and catch his boss, the Enemy. Only, she can’t tell her true love, our hero, because the Enemy can read the minds of the weak (our hero is weaker than our heroine). Seemed a little silly to me.

The River of Shadows starts off pretty interesting. By this time, in my opinion, Redick’s writing has improved. Things seem smoother and more natural. They’re trying to stop an evil sorcerer from plunging their nation into war and possibly destroying the world with an evil artifact. Only then, things start to get crazy. Turns out an ancient mage is living inside our heroine, fighting to get out and help. Our tough and stubborn heroine wants to keep her personality, not become a powerful reincarnation of the mage. Makes things tough on her budding relationship. Then, they land on the continent across the uncrossable sea, where 200 years have passed. Yup. They passed through a time-stopping magic storm on the way. Some hijinks occur here, misunderstandings, imprisonment, unexpected allies, risky escape. But then, they have to go quest after the evil sorcerer to stop his plans… and their quest takes them through every possible scary place on the continent. Scary forest, scary waterfall, scary temple where our hero has to undergo a Dream Ritual, and really really scary jungle. Eh. Again I felt the story was a bit forced. I wasn’t a big fan of this book, though I wanted to like it. I don’t even think I’ll read the fourth book when it releases, not even just to find out what happens.

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Agent to the Stars

Posted by tristesse133 on June 7, 2011

John Scalzi’s first book. It’s a first contact story about a gross but friendly alien species that hires a Hollywood agent to help introduce them to humanity. It’s really funny, but has some debut novel shortcomings – namely, very little character development. All the characters are pretty much the same, with the same witty snappy funny dialogue. Still though, a very enjoyable book that made me laugh. I like Scalzi a lot.

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Android’s Dream

Posted by tristesse133 on June 5, 2011

I was feeling under the weather and went on a John Scalzi rampage, since his books are not too straining and are so fun to read.

Android’s Dream is about a rockstar brilliant secret agent type of guy who gets roused from semi-retirement in order to find an impossibly rare sheep (literally) to head off a war with an alien race. To perform the task, he creates the world’s first truly intelligent AI, using brain and personality date from his dead army buddy. Things get messy when factions from the aliens start trying to find the sheep as well, and/or thwart our hero’s efforts, often with violence. Things get even messier when the “sheep” turns out to be a human female (who unfortunately has a large percentage of dormant sheep DNA) with her own rights and opinions. Not to mention, a underground but incredibly well-funded and long-reaching religion is getting involved as well.

The book is more humor than traditional science fiction, but it’s not as silly as it sounds. Sheep? Really? He makes it work. I liked it.

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Fuzzy Nation

Posted by tristesse133 on June 4, 2011

A “remake” of an old sci-fi story written by John Scalzi (who wrote Old Man’s War, which I loved). It’s about a freelancer working for a planetary strip-mining company. He discovers a vein of precious stones that’s going to make him rich, only at the same time he also comes across a cute fuzzy species that just might be sentient… which could change all the rules of the corporate mining game. He’s a former lawyer with an attitude, which makes for some snappy, funny dialogue. A short easy and thoroughly entertaining read.

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Adventures of Sir Gawain the True

Posted by tristesse133 on June 3, 2011

Since I loved Gerald Morris’s Squire’s Tales series, I thought I’d check out his Arthurian legend retellings for even younger audience.

The first chapter is brilliantly funny. It’s almost like a standalone episode before the main story starts. The rest of the story was also fun and humorous, but not as much as the first chapter led me to expect.

Interestingly, the author changes the ending of the Green Knight story. In the original, Sir Gawain is taught a lesson about the lack of honor in valuing his life over his word. I’ve always thought this was a little… antiquated? I can’t say I would expect a modern hero to go willingly to his death just for the sake of keeping some vow he’d made half in jest. In this story, however, this Gawain “figures it out” before the trial. He recognizes the Green Knight as his game-playing host, confesses to having kept the girdle, and everyone learns a lesson about the value of friendship, and why some promises are worth more than others.

Overall I liked it though, and I’d read more in the series myself, and definitely recommend them to anyone I know who has kids in the target age group.

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The Legend of the King

Posted by tristesse133 on June 2, 2011

I loved the whole Squire’s Tales series, and The Legend of the King lives up to expectations. It’s longer than the other books, and most of the characters introduced in the rest of the series make an appearance in the story. The plot pretty much follows the story of the last book of Malory’s Morte d’Arthur – from Agravaine and Mordred’s scheme to expose Lancelot and Guinevere, to Lancelot’s rescue of Guinevere (Morris paints this whole todo as a tragic and emotionally charged misunderstanding), to the final battle in which Arthur and Mordred are killed. Thus, it is quite a sad book. Everyone dies. I cried. I really really liked this whole series.

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Quest of the Fair Unknown (Squire’s Tales Book 8)

Posted by tristesse133 on March 2, 2011

Quest of the Fair Unknown (Squire’s Tales Book 8)

by Gerald Morris

This book touches on a lot of different tales, including the well known Grail Quest legend. I recommend reading the author’s end note first (the end notes are always worthwhile in this series); then, it will be more apparent that the story is frequently poking fun at the preachy origin tale “Queste del Saint Graal” and not jibing religion in general – a feeling that rubbed me wrong while reading it. I enjoyed this book, laughed out loud at times, but it seemed more simple and less subtle than the others in the series.

I especially did not like the main female character Ellyn. She complains about the pretty girls’ curse (my term, for the fear or fact that people like pretty girls only because they’re pretty – a theme I would have enjoyed seeing better developed), but her complaints seem like misguided whining rather than worthwhile observations. I also perceived her as far more stubborn and willful than independent and tough.

Perhaps she was supposed to mirror the fear-driven Galahad rather than the innocent and peaceful hero Beaufils.

I’m still greatly looking forward to the last book, The Legend of the King. I already have it on the shelf waiting…

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