30 March 2014

Review: The Book of Jonah

The Book of Jonah
The Book of Jonah by Joshua Max Feldman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Retellings of classic/historic stories can always be hit and miss, especially when they're Biblical retellings that are both based on somewhat short texts and when the subject of the text is basically known for one key plot point popularly. If you're someone who isn't familiar with the details of the Jonah story in the Bible, you'll probably spend most of this story wondering what, exactly, the whale is supposed to be.

Anyway, one plotline is Jonah, a lawyer in New York who's career trajectory is followed alongside the secondary plot of Judith, a girl who ends up at Yale and loses her parents in the September 11 terrorist attacks. The first almost two-thirds of this book are an almost nihilistic, certainly dark tale of a lot of unlikable people and things across the board.

The final third is a redemption story of sorts for all involved, even if there's a lot of somewhat unreasonable maneuvering to get there. There were honestly times I was wondering what the point was until it finally got there, and, even then, I'm not really sure as to whether things needed to head in the directions they did. Never really a good sign.

I don't know if I can recommend this. On one hand, if retellings are your thing, it's worth a look. As a modern character study, eh. As a fun read? Not really. Had a not gotten a copy for review, I likely might have tossed this aside a little earlier (even if the payoff was okay).

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26 March 2014

Review: The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon

The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon
The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon by Brad Stone

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Everything Store is basically a biography of Amazon.com from the inception of founder/CEO/owner Jeff Bezos up until a few months ago. As Amazon is arguably one of the most important stores on the planet right now, never mind the internet, I was looking forward to reading this.

The good is that it is very detailed. It's a straightforward account, lines itself up very well, and doesn't pull many punches. It's straightforward in noting both the good and the bad of the company, and doesn't seem to have traded access for a hagiography.

The downside is that it's almost too journalistic in tone sometimes, with a lot of repetition and lacking a lot of soul or wit to go along with it. That's not always a bad thing, but it takes a little bit of the fun out of it, making it seem like a more readable long magazine article.

As someone who is fully and completely in on the whole Amazon thing, I'm glad I read it. It sounds like the company is even more innovative and fascinating than I recognized, and yet I don't think I'd want to be anywhere near it in other respects given my own personality. Your mileage may vary on that, but as for me, a solid read and I learned a lot.

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20 March 2014

Review: Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made

Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made
Timmy Failure: Mistakes Were Made by Stephan Pastis

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was a longtime reader of Pearls Before Swine back when reading newspaper comics was A Thing We Did, so Stephan Pastis's foray into middle grade literature was something I was happy to jump into. The end result is a little more questionable.

Yes, the kid's name is really "Timmy Failure," a misspelling of a name via immigration. Along with being a kid detective, he's also got a polar bear friend and is actively delusional to often funny results. This book deals specifically with Timmy's interactions with his classmates, his "detective work," and a stolen Segway.

It's absolutely another Wimpy Kid clone, and doesn't really try to be Greg Heffley as much as a more absurdist take on the genre. I'm an adult and I'm not entirely sure as to whether I should take Timmy at his word that there are domesticated polar bears and teachers who send taunting postcards to bad students or not. The lack of clarity on this matter threw me off a bit, and perhaps a kid reader won't have that same sort of struggle (or even care that much). The other flaw, which is minor, is the "weird for the sake of being weird" aspect, which is a clear choice being made and isn't a bad thing, per se, but it often feels forced. Timmy isn't a weird kid, he's a kid being weird, and there's a subtle but significant difference there. Suspension of disbelief and all that, but I find it more curious than anything else.

Overall, a decent read, although nothing that really stands out to me as essential. The right kind of reader will get something out of this, for sure, but if you're looking for something similar to Wimpy Kid, you might want to look elsewhere.

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17 March 2014

Review: Don't Let Us Win Tonight: An Oral History of the 2004 Boston Red Sox's Impossible Playoff Run

Don't Let Us Win Tonight: An Oral History of the 2004 Boston Red Sox's Impossible Playoff Run
Don't Let Us Win Tonight: An Oral History of the 2004 Boston Red Sox's Impossible Playoff Run by Allan Wood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is no lack of books about the 2004 Red Sox World Series win. As someone who essentially remembers none of that October outside of the baseball games (and quite vividly at that), I've found myself very willing to pretty much revisit that Sox year any opportunity I get. Allan Wood, who has run one of my favorite Red Sox blogs for as long as I can remember, has collaborated on a great entry into the canon with Don't Let Us Win Tonight.

My favorite part of Wood's blog is that it's often very matter-of-fact and workmanlike in its approach while also having a good deal of levity behind it. That model is also apparent in this book, which intersperses quotes from news reports and interviews with personal interviews with the players and personalities themselves with the narrative of how the three playoff rounds went. It's a very straightforward affair, and it doesn't spend a lot of time musing on much, leaving those sorts of thoughts to the players instead.

If I have a complaint, it's that it feels very reliant on existing quotes. I feel as if I've read a lot of Schilling's quotes on the matter a thousand times already, making much of the book feel like a retread from time to time. This, of course, is due to me pretty much mainlining baseball from March to October most years, and for a reader coming at this blind, or at least after a time away, the issue will be less apparent.

Overall, a great entry. Perfect for those new to the Sox or who aren't old enough to remember it first hand, and a great reminder of one of Boston's all time greatest sports moments.

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13 March 2014

Review: The Heartbreak Messenger

The Heartbreak Messenger
The Heartbreak Messenger by Alexander Vance

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Closer to a 3.5 only because of the massive dangling threads at the end of the story. Spoilers in the third paragraph, everyone.

The book is a great conceit about a kid who learns he can make money by breaking up with people for them. Soon, he's created a little universe for himself where he can make money doing these breakups and maybe help his mom pay a few bills along the way. Of course, he's oblivious to his female friend's desires, and he sees how his divorced mom is hurting, so things are complicated.

This is a cute, quick read for sure. It doesn't waste a ton of time, and balances the funny slapstick with more serious stuff very well. My one problem was how he had some opportunities to explain himself to his best friend he never took, and we never find out how his mother handles the situation either. It feels incomplete as a result, which frustrated me a lot.

Overall, though, a definitely worthwhile read. It has a lot of good depictions of relationships from the teenage male perspective, and handles a lot of different ideas about identities and finances and such that other books either avoid outright or tend to get preachy with. I just wish it ended better.

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12 March 2014

Review: The Night Gwen Stacy Died

The Night Gwen Stacy Died
The Night Gwen Stacy Died by Sarah Bruni

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a confusing book.

It's not confusing because it's difficult to read or anything like that, but because the point is a little lost. Those looking for a comic book analogy of sorts will probably be disappointed, because, at its surface, the book is a story about a teenage girl who meets a man, and they run off together after staging a kidnapping. The man has taken the name of Peter Parker, Spider-man's real name, and he sees Sheila, the teenager, as Gwen Stacy, Spider-man's love interest early on before she dies. The story is a lot of dealing with our two protagonists, as Parker had a rough childhood and thus uses the Parker name to distance himself from it, and Sheila forces herself to play along with it a bit.

If that's it, it's a perfectly serviceable story. It moves along quickly, doesn't try to do too too much. This might also be a story about mental illness, or about mental detachment from the past, or about teen angst if you see Sheila as the chief point. There's a lot of weird stuff to go along with the story, and it never becomes fully clear where it's going. There are often pros and cons to that sort of thinking, but it didn't always work here and I can't tell if it's me thinking too much about the story or if the story itself didn't 100% succeed at what it was trying to do.

Overall, an okay read. Not sad I finished it, not sure I'd recommend it, either.

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10 March 2014

Review: Words of Radiance

Words of Radiance
Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm someone who typically reads 2-3 books a week. It took me a good six days to get through the second book in Brandon Sanderson's epic fantasy series Words of Radiance, and it dawned on me that it's a pretty decent clip to read nearly 1100 pages in a five day span. The book was so good, though, that the time spent was far from a chore and more of an overall experience.

The book takes place basically right where Way of Kings ended, so be aware of spoilers for a lot of Sanderson's books from this point on.

The book is mostly Shallan's to carry. She is now travelling with Jasnah and has a plan in place. Kaladin is no longer a slave and Bridge Four, his bridge crew, are members of the army. We get more points of view from Dalinar as well, who has been essentially set up with a betrothal to Shallan for political and financial purposes. The run-up to what we're getting at is really solid, and it truly left me guessing as to where this was heading.

What I really enjoyed about this volume, however, was beyond the fact that it doesn't suffer from middle book syndrome like so many long series do. It's also not suffering from the type of hangover that The Wheel of Time suffered from. Every scene feels like it has purpose, and Sanderson continues to be a master of scenes that contain lots of action. In particular, an epic scene toward the end in particular, while definitely reminiscent of some of his work on the Jordan series, is among some of the best stuff he's ever written.

Also, if you're a Sanderson fan, there are multiple callbacks to a few other books. The final scene in particular is surely a link at his book Warbreaker, and there are hints of Mistborn in a few key spots as well. This is really top notch worldbuilding, and if that's why you read fantasy, you're absolutely going to find something to love here.

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03 March 2014

Review: Dead Beat

Dead Beat
Dead Beat by Jim Butcher

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After being somewhat underwhelmed with book six, I'm extremely happy that book seven not only got us back on track, but is now probably my favorite of the series. How does this keep getting better?

So this one is really a lot of fallout, a lot of dark stuff happening, and, yeah, Harry's in trouble again. This one got really dark in places, with Necromancy and death and bindings and such, and it's really a somewhat fascinating shift even though we've previously had vampires and such. I didn't expect that, but it all really works.

What's interesting is that Butcher isn't afraid to bring the camp on this one, either. I mean, and I assume there's no spoilers for a book this old but just skip to the next paragraph if you're worried, the end climax point with Sue is both genius and ridiculous all at the same time. HUGE grin on my face when that occurred.

Again, however, Butcher does a great job of putting Dresden in what appears to be a rough, insurmountable spot, and somehow our wizard wriggles out of it. It's both great and probably the one massive flaw in the series to this point where I feel as if Harry's going to always find some weird deux ex machina of some sort. It's becoming enough of a trope where it's still fun, but I can imagine if we were reading these as they came out, I wonder how long I'd be able to tolerate the lack of real danger for our hero.

Overall, though, I really liked this book. Tore through it like I haven't with any other one so far, and it's a testament to the continuing quality, especially the increases in quality as we move forward. Yes, The Wheel of Time is still wounding me more than a year later...

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