Review: Cornerstone: Raising Rook

Cornerstone: Raising Rook
Cornerstone: Raising Rook by K.A. Krisko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The writing in this book is fairly solid. Much of the exposition feels natural, the structure holds, and the author develops character and plot through action. Although I spent the first third of the book concerned that the next two thirds would focus primarily on gathering old rocks from yard sales and piling them up with a forklift, I ended up really enjoying the book. I do plan on reading the next in the series, and to anyone about a quarter of the way into the novel, I say this: keep going.

However, I had problems with emotional detachment of the main character, Lorcas. By this I do not mean we are shut out from him; the narrative maintains a healthy limited 3rd person that keeps us close enough to the main character to understand his intentions, concerns, and suspicions. It’s just that there are often no profound emotional reactions to be observed through thought _or_ action. Early on, his long-term relationship seems to collapse into a frustrated shrug. That can happen, but later he seems to fare betrayal and loss with alarmingly similar relative indifference. However, it’s possible that the author wanted Lorcas to display that kind of detachment. Combined with Lorcas’s social naivety and his tendency to become obsessed with whatever his special interest is at the time (illustration or Rook), I am wondering if the character might be an aspie. So long as it’s intentional and serves a larger narrative purpose, I think that’s great.

My other complaint is that there’s not a lot of character growth. We begin with a man who is remarkably passive and end with one who recognizes his passivity but has knowingly surrendered himself to the will of others. The most significant decision we see Lorcas make is to actually sign away his rights to an independent life. I wanted him to stand up and pursue love. I wanted him to declare his own terms of service. I wanted to feel like Lorcas was heading somewhere unexpected, but the book closes with him moving faster down the path Rook and others have set out before him. Maybe in the next book. I’m willing to stick around.

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“Can’t bring back time. Like holding water in your hand.”

― James JoyceUlysses


Captain Mina Paradis

Captain Mina Paradis

Captain Mina Paradis from The Captain’s Door by C.S. Houghton


Review: The Shadow of the Torturer

The Shadow of the Torturer
The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I suspect I don’t read enough trash fantasy to always catch when Wolfe is playing around with the familiar tropes, but I was all too aware of him toying with my general expectations as a reader.  That’s fine. I didn’t take it personally whenever the narrative dropped out underneath me and I thumbed around for a missing page that never existed.

What I did mind was the passivity of the narrator. Severian gets blown around the city by Wolfe. I liked that the few real decisions the character makes tend to be piss-poor. That’s fun. But still, plot follows character, and in this book Severian doesn’t have any idea what he wants. Instead of complaining about the lack of plot post-guild (or praising it as some post-genre fic advanced structure), I’ll just say that the story structure suits Severian.

There’s a lot I liked in this book. The details were captivating. I loved Terminus Est with its liquid core, and I’ll never forget the height of the city walls or the cringe-worthy descriptions of the spiky flower weapon plant thingy. Despite the original print date, many of the ideas in this book are still fresh.

Then again, some old ideas get roughed up pretty hard. One is love. I get that the narrator knows nothing of love or women. That’s fine. He can be as unreliable as Wolfe likes, but it’s still the writer’s job to eventually make it clear through observable action that the narrator is dribbling bull-shit. I also have to say that even if Wolfe’s women are intentionally written as shallow two-dimensional jigsaws of body parts and unknowable fancies (at least when seen through Severian’s eyes), it’s painful stuff to read.

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“History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” 
― James JoyceUlysses


Review: Sing Down the Moon

Sing Down the Moon
Sing Down the Moon by Scott O’Dell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I enjoyed Sing Down the Moon, mostly because it took me to an unfamiliar place and time. I feel like I may have made a stronger personal connection with this book if I had been granted access to more of Bright Morning’s emotions. Of course, faced with so many outrageous wrongs, I probably couldn’t have endured anything more intense than the stoic observations O’Dell permits the reader.

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Review: A Rhapsody of Dreams

A Rhapsody of Dreams
A Rhapsody of Dreams by Tami Egonu
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A Rhapsody of Dreams follows the frustrated musings of two kindred spirits, Tyler and Molly. The chapters more or less alternate between the two storylines while the reader observes the universe stitching the seemingly disconnected tales together. While it’s a passive construct, I do like the way the two narratives collide. Unfortunately, I regret that I cannot recommend this novel.

I believe that the author banked heavily on the power of their descriptive prose to the carry the story. Egonu wanted the reader to understand how a particular gust of wind or a bend of a sunflower stalk communicates something about the characters or narrative. Unfortunately, that _only_ works when a reader feels invested in the tale. I reached the last sentence without ever making that connection. Allow me to explain why that may have happened:

This is a story about characters who do not know what they want, and even if they figured it out, there would be no tension as nothing stands in their way. The main characters have no real goals, and the book lacks a single strong antagonist. A vague desire for personal emotional mastery is not enough. It’s also insufficient to rely on the antagonism of a couple of relatives and friends who enjoy dropping nasty remarks. This book has convinced me that an engaging novel absolutely must contain a central dilemma and a worthy antagonist.

The characters themselves also prevented me from investing emotionally in this novel. Perhaps this is because they define themselves by what they lack. Maybe it’s because Tyler and Molly appear to be the same character. It’s hard for me to say. We spend a lot of time under their hoods, and that’s not where these two shine. Externally they appear to be giving, emotionally adventurous old souls. Internally, they are selfish wrecks. I have no doubt that they feel deeply, more deeply than most, but the author fails to master that current, to direct it to some literary end.

Beyond all of that the language is often not fresh; the author unintentionally does herself a disservice by relying on cliché and familiar wordings. Still, that can be fixed through some careful revision. However, there’s not a lot happening in this book. By that I mean whole pages and paragraphs could be removed without weakening the structure. If you strip away all of the complaining and inner monologuing, there’s about enough for a short story here, probably a pretty good one.

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Rating: The Sea Wolf

The Sea Wolf
The Sea Wolf by Jack London
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Typewriters of Famous Authors

Typewriters of Famous Authors


“Why, if there is anything in supply and demand, life is the cheapest thing in the world. There is only so much water, so much earth, so much air; but the life that is demanding to be born is limitless. Nature is a spendthrift. Look at the fish and their millions of eggs. For that matter, look at you and me. In our loins are the possibilities of millions of lives. Could we but find time and opportunity and utilize the last bit and every bit of the unborn life that is in us, we could become the fathers of nations and populate continents. Life? Bah! It has no value. Of cheap things it is the cheapest. Everywhere it goes begging. Nature spills it out with a lavish hand. Where there is room for one life, she sows a thousand lives, and it’s life eats life till the strongest and most piggish life is left.”
― Jack LondonThe Sea Wolf


“Now, I’m very vulnerable to female beauty, as you know. Everybody’s defenseless against something, and that’s it for me. I see it and it blinds me to everything else.”
― Philip RothThe Dying Animal


Review: The Dying Animal

The Dying Animal
The Dying Animal by Philip Roth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There’s a lot of power in this story. At first I marvelled at the authors ability to weave the narrative so well. The next thing I knew I was doubled over bawling.

I suppose the book is at once a character study and a commentary on the evolution of western culture; both intermingle flawlessly. But mostly, it spoke to me of the inevitability of death. The main character ignores the reality and responsibility of his own mortal prison, but all that does is illuminate Consuela’s story. It is in that light, her light, that we make out the shape of the animal that is David.

When was it that I too began to think of age in terms of how much time I had left, rather than how long I’d been alive?

I’d rate this five stars if it weren’t for the nagging sense that the author had it in him to tighten up the narrative, pull out some of the historical musings, and focus the inner monologue. For whatever reason, he tied things up a little too loosely. Still, be careful. Don’t ever underestimate Roth.

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