Review: Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century

Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century
Kingdom of Fear: Loathsome Secrets of a Star-Crossed Child in the Final Days of the American Century by Hunter S. Thompson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Goddamn, my life is boring. That pretty much sums up my reaction to Kingdom of Fear.

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Review: Delta of Venus

Delta of Venus
Delta of Venus by Anaïs Nin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As you may know, the short-form erotica in Delta of Venus was mostly written for a private collector at a per page rate back in the 40’s. In the preface, Anais Nin writes the following about the exchange:

“So I began to write tongue-in-cheek, to become outlandish, inventive, and so exaggerated that I thought he would realize I was caricaturing sexuality. But there was no protest.”

I think she described the collection fairly well. To that I would add that it’s amazing how tedious it is to read 250 pages of erotica cover to cover as literature. To her credit, there’s no shortage of well-crafted passages and lines (read into that whatever you may wish), and she certainly knew how to use taboo to her advantage.

If you’re considering a read, note that whatever merit there is in the longer stories, you’ll find it in the shorter selections without nearly so much repetition.

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Review: David Copperfield

David Copperfield
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I couldn’t possibly expect any more from a book than that which I found in David Copperfield. I laughed loudly and often, cried in shared grief, wiped away joyful tears, and found the story occupying my mind whenever I wasn’t reading. In looking back, I find it hard to believe I did not live the events myself.

I haven’t a single critique worth sharing, only praise.

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Review: The Wind Through the Keyhole

The Wind Through the Keyhole
The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wrote this paragraph last. Call it poor planning on my part (for King’s part, see below). I wouldn’t want you to read the rest of this review and not understand this: I loved the book. It’s totally engrossing. The setting is rich, and the story (in a story, in a story) is a total page-turner. I mean it; I recommend the book without reservation.

Still, I wasn’t so sure King knew where he was going from the outset, and the story suffers a bit due to his poor planning. It’s a guess, but I think he sort of sat down and let the ideas pour. It’s mostly the uneven, back-weighted pacing that led me to that conclusion, but I can see it in some other areas too. (Mild spoilers ahead)

For example, King rolls in young gunslinger Jamie as if he’s to be fleshed out and turned into a real boy, but I had the sense that story got away from its author and Curry wasn’t needed to carry the tale after all, so he remained wooden, taciturn, and superfluous. In reverse, but still probably a result of the same poor planning, we see Roland all but adopt Billy Streeter while there’s really not enough material presented in the book to weave them together so tightly. I’m assuming King decided early-on where the relationship would go and then never had a chance to write the scenes that justify Roland’s attachment. That said, I do entertain the unsupported possibility that young Roland is feeling some backwards transference from the Jake-Roland relationship occurring later in his life or compounding Tim with Billy.

I think the poor planning also shows up in the way King handled exposition. For about a third of the book, he over explains and dumbs-down his material. That’s in addition to peppering the book with opportunities, both forced and somewhat natural, for back-story. That makes sense if one plans on later presenting a lot of ideas that could otherwise only have been understood by veteran readers. He doesn’t. I think he planned to, but most of the catch-up was unnecessary. I’m pretty sure standalone readers could make it through the whole thing with hardly any of that. So, back to my original point, if King knew where he was going, I don’t think he would have worried so much about easing new readers into Mid-World. For example, why reintroduce the ka-tet so carefully when we never return to them for more than an obligatory wrapper at the end of the book. He packs it in for the new readers (or forgetful fans) and then never unpacks.

In terms of structure, of the three stories, two were developed and significant while one was only a vehicle for the others. I forgive that because the wrapper had to exist — it’s the enteric coating that allowed King to slip the others into the Dark Tower stream. Still, he could have weighted them appropriately. My guess is that he planned to do more with the ka-tet at the end of the book, but when he got there, he realized he’d already said all he needed.

Anyhow, I had a great time reading the book and the inmost story is going to stick with me for a long time.

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“Pray for rain all you like, but dig a well as you do it.”

― Stephen KingThe Wind Through the Keyhole


Rating: Men Without Women

Men Without Women
Men Without Women by Ernest Hemingway
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Review: The Crying of Lot 49

The Crying of Lot 49
The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Crying of Lot 49 is the only Pynchon I’ve read. It reminded me a lot of Burroughs, although I enjoy Burroughs without reservation.

The farcical humor was mostly lost on me, which is a shame, because there’s an awful lot of it. So, she’s on the bathroom floor too fattened with extra layers of clothes (don’t ask) to even stand up while a broken hairspray can flies around the room. Thing is, they don’t fly around the room, no matter how you break them. That kills the humor for me, and I end up just waiting for the scene to finish. There’s a fine line between silly and stupid. The book also has a lot of easy to miss but entirely clever dry humor. I find it sloppy to try and mix the two in the same pot.

I enjoyed a lot of the language. The feel of it was pleasant, and I have no major stylistic objections, except to say that the author pulled his punches. Even in the wildest of passages, Pynchon kept the reader very well grounded. I suspect he was very concerned that one might get lost in the sensory wash and lose the narrative. To avoid that, he dropped little expositional landmarks every few paragraphs. Whoa, where are all these images coming from? Oh, it’s the TV set next to her. Thanks for clearing that up before I had a chance to figure it out. I didn’t mind the over-simplification entirely, but one is left with two parallel experiences crammed into one novel. I suspect someone could take a scissors to the book, carve away the wacky stuff, and have a short but complete novella composed only of the straight, landmark-like expositional lines. It would suck, but my point is that it seemed as if Pynchon tried to both overwhelm and explain nearly simultaneously.

The supporting characters mostly annoyed me, each a shallow device coming or going as needed to advance the narrative. They didn’t need to be well-rounded people to serve Pynchon’s purposes. I do get that, but most of them were just uninteresting enough for me to start treating them as actual humans, with all the accompanying expectations. They’re only half-ridiculous, and that makes me expect something more from them. Also, I’m still having trouble not viewing Dr. Hilarious, Oedipa’s LSD distributing experimentalist psychiatrist, as Burrough’s Benway.

Still, so much of the book was inexcusably cool. The in-crowd-like presentation of the symbol and the way nearly every detail in the novel came together to serve the narrative (if you choose to see it that way, at least) — I loved that. I’m even fond of my own interpretations. I don’t suspect they have much to do with what Pynchon intended, but I’m fond nonetheless.

All that said, I still plan to read more Pynchon.

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Review: Dragon Killer

Dragon Killer
Dragon Killer by Rob May
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I liked it. The sensory-rich and consistently solid writing in Dragon Killer kept me turning the pages. Well, the tale of adventure kept me moving forward as well. It’s hard not to be swept along. The protagonist is likeable, and the story is good enough, especially when buoyed by the parallel past/present experiences.

Rob May both uses and subverts a number of fantasy tropes. Yes, there are goblin-kind and dragons, but May does a lot of heavy lifting too. There’s a nice blend of expectation and unexpected invention. Although, I feel like a vulcanologist should have been consulted, but that’s a bit of a spoiler.

I’d recommend the book without any genre qualification. If you’re looking to enjoy a short but agreeable story, try Dragon Killer.

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The Captain’s Door, Reviewed by A.C. Haury

I’m thrilled to see that A.C. Haury of the Bibliophile Book Reviews has posted her review of The Captain’s Door. “Holy prose! It is rare that I find a book that has such a strong voice and beautiful prose. “ Read more over at Bibliophile Book Reviews.


Review: Casino Royale

Casino Royale
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Casino Royale wasn’t so bad. I didn’t expect much from a spy thriller, but I rather enjoyed the last fifth of the book. At that point in the novel, the action was in the rearview and Bond seemed particularly introspective, even philosophical. I guess I liked best the non-Bond’ish boring bits where the character wasn’t bragging about his Bentley or out-gambling a Russian spy. That’s it for me though — one Fleming book is enough.

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Review: Zoe’s Tale

Zoe's Tale
Zoe’s Tale by John Scalzi
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m assuming that very few readers of this book will approach it without having already read the previous three books in the Old Man’s War series. So, I’m also making the same assumption about anyone reading this review.

I didn’t much enjoy the book. Plot and character are meant to be intertwined. The desires of the characters can and should drive the plot. The plot itself is usually a vehicle for character transformation and some kind of well-crafted payoff. A shift of perspective from mostly John and Jane to Zoe does a lot more than let you view the action from another angle. It divorces the plot from the players.

I didn’t care where the book, in general, was heading, not because I had already been over the same ground in the third book but because it didn’t fit Zoe’s own hero’s journey. I invested myself in some scenes but only in the way one might with a collection of short stories bound together by some kind of loose narrative thread. Her story is in there somewhere, but Scalzi would have had to left much of the borrowed plot go untold. I think he should have. He could have called it Zoe’s Tales.

I also had a lot of problems with Zoe’s voice and that of her teenage friend. They read to me as adults trying too hard to sound like teenagers, or at least, what teenagers sound like with their friends while their parents are around listening. Unsurprisingly, whenever the narrative dealt with things that didn’t bore Scalzi, like thrilling action or high stakes diplomacy, Zoe’s interactions and dialogue improved dramatically.

For the most part, I consider the book a failed experiment that had a lot of potential.

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Rating: Of Love and Other Demons

Of Love and Other Demons
Of Love and Other Demons by Gabriel Garcí­a Márquez
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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