14
Sep

Review: The House of the Scorpion

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

The House of the Scorpion
The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish I would have been able to read this book along with my bookclub members because I found it intriguing and would love to have talked about it in a group. Instead, I’m about a year behind and have to just leave my own opinions here without discussion.

The book is set in an unspecified future where human cloning is possible, where opium is the drug of choice coming out of what is currently northern Mexico, and where hovercars exist. In contrast to this, there is still superstition from some and longing for the “good ol’ days” from others. The main character in the book is Matt, who is a clone of El Patron, the de facto ruler of Opium.

And, a majority of the book takes place in Opium on the estate of El Patron. The setting is described very well, so that it is easy to picture the estate and the way that El Patron keeps things like they were hundreds of years ago. The view we see is limited to Matt’s perspective, so it starts very narrow at first while he is kept in a small hut and then a small room on the estate, but gradually widens as he is able to explore and as get ages.

The main plot involves Matt learning who he is and how to live in his world. In many ways, it is a coming-of-age story. But it also explores cloning (of course), slavery, love, and sacrifice. I was especially surprised by the twist revealed toward the end about El Patron. But then it all made sense, so the weaving of hints throughout was masterfully done.

Matt sees lots of conflict in his so-far short life. He is threatened by a house keeper and doctor, El Patron’s power-hungry family and especially one boy, dangerous bodyguards, those wh0 would use him for their own benefit, and others. His intelligence, training, and personality (inherited from El Patron, a ruthless and evil man) supply lots of opportunity for conflicts to develop in the story. Matt’s survival is at stake through much of the book, and that drives things forward at an increasingly escalated pace, which helps to keep the reader engaged. I had a harder and harder time putting the book down as I got more and more into the story.

The characters all felt very real to me. In fact, I want to get the next book ASAP so I can keep reading about them. I really enjoyed Matt, Tam Lin, Maria, and Chacho, to name a few. They all felt so different and quirky in their own ways.

The writing was clear. I enjoyed the interspersal of Spanish words throughout the book. I also loved the metaphors and similes used in describing things. They were very fresh and evocative.

I highly recommend this book.

View all my reviews

21
Aug

Review: 11/22/63

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

11/22/63
11/22/63 by Stephen King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had expected some sort of horror novel based on the author, but this was really sci-fi — about time travel. There were some horror elements (violence and psychological), but nothing that I wouldn’t expect in this genre.

I did enjoy the story, despite taking so long to read it. The first several hundred pages took me a long time to get through because I just wasn’t getting into the story. It seemed to drag on and had just so much information. Looking back, I see that it was because King was focused more on the idea than on the results. I wanted to get to the event (for this story, it is obvious from the cover and the title that the event is the assassination of JFK) and the results of that, rather than the concept of time travel and one man’s psychological dealings with it.

Setting: The story starts in New England in the current day. Not much information is really given about the area, apart from the restaurant and Al’s house. Gradually we move back in time to the 1960s or so, and the setting moves to Dallas, Texas and surrounding areas.

Character: We mainly get to know the protagonist, Jake Epping, and some people from a small town in Texas. We also get to know a little about Lee Harvey Oswald from the perspective of Jake. King does a good job with giving us lots of characterization for all the main characters, as well as for some of the minor ones (which makes it difficult to know who to remember and who you can forgot and so the names start to blur together).

Plot: The plot is simple – Jake needs to find out if Oswald acted alone (hello conspiracy theorists) and stop the assassination of JFK in order to make the world better. The idea being that things went bad from that point because his successor didn’t handle things well as president, and so forth. The catch is that he has to live in the 1960s for a few years and he can’t return once he goes back to his own time because when he does, everything resets to exactly how it was and he’d have to do it all again.

There are other subplots involving love and charity and gambling (he’s from the future after all – hello Back to the Future, part 2). I won’t go into detail on those in order to avoid spoilers, though.

Conflict: The first few times Jake goes through the time bubble, he tries to change a couple little events to see if he can do it and how to get things to come out the way he wants. The butterfly effect is front and center throughout the entire book. The conflicts come between him and “time” (or the past), which resists change). These show up as conflicts with nature or with inanimate objects as well as with people. And, of course, the conflict of finding out about Oswald and preventing JFKs assassination.

Text: The writing was extensive. I’m not sure King knows how to write a short novel 😉
Once I got to the part I was interested in, I was able to really fly through the pages, so that tells me that the dialog felt real and the connections from scene to scene were appropriate and useful. There was a lot of explanation in the beginning of the novel, which also helped me to breeze through the end of the book without needing more explanation. So, that worked out well for him.

All in all, I definitely recommend this book. If you are having trouble getting trouble getting through the beginning, as I did, just know that it will get easier and better.

View all my reviews

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child - Parts One and Two
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Parts One and Two by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this book, especially since it didn’t appear to have been written by Rowling herself, but I did enjoy it and was able to get into it after all.

First, anyone who picks this up should know that it is not a novel. It is a script for a stage production of a story. And the play has already been performed (some details are in the back of the book).

Setting: The story is set in modern-day England, with the addition of magic, of course. It is many years after Harry and his gang have defeated Voldemort. They’ve gotten married and had kids. This story involves a couple of those kids.

Plot: The main plot revolves around the relationship between 2 children (trying not to give anything away here) and the idea of time turners. There are a couple side plots involving parent-child relationships, as well as with Harry and his scar.

Characters: The new characters are defined a bit through dialogue and mainly through their actions (this is a play after all). Because of that, a lot of things that would have been internal dialogue in a novel are spoken out loud or to other people in a “I’m wondering about xyz” sort of way. It works for the medium.

Conflict: The main conflict is centered on living up to parental expectations and points to exactly who the “cursed child” is (audience awareness of this fact shifts dynamically throughout) or whether it is multiple people. The main point being to cure/lift the curse and ensure peace and happiness for all (or most).

Text: Since this is a script, it is difficult to evaluate the text in comparison to novel expectations. It would be easier if I had heard it aurally or seen it performed. The dialogue seemed to flow naturally and the scene breaks were appropriate. I’m not sure it followed a standard 3 Act format, but I wasn’t paying that close of attention to it.

View all my reviews

11
Aug

Review: The Martian

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

The Martian
The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I usually see the movie after reading the book, so this was an interesting experience.

I enjoyed the book even though I “knew” what was going to happen. I was pleased to get additional insight and watch the main character go through even more trials than I experienced in the movie (not that the movie was bad or should have included those things – different media formats have different requirements).

The writing was easy to follow and the ideas were easy for me to understand, despite being fairly well in the camp of hard sci-fi. So I appreciated that.

I wanted more when the book was done, which is usually a good thing. In this case, part of it stemmed from a very short denouement. But mostly, the characters and ideas were just so enjoyable that I wanted to keep reading.

View all my reviews

13
Jul

Review: Assisted

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

Assisted
Assisted by John Stockton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It was very interesting to read about Stockton’s experiences and to get a little behind-the-scenes look at all the Jazz players I remember from the “good ol’ days.”

He didn’t really share a lot about his feelings or personal experiences, nor did he spend time explaining himself. So this is not that kind of autobiography. Instead, this autobiography is more about looking at the people and events that “assisted” him in living his dreams and becoming a basketball icon.

It is also a bit about his commitment and drive to be the best that he could be.

And, he includes some of his own ideas and opinions about various things from basketball rules and play to nature. And while I don’t necessarily agree on everything he says (for example, I disagree that flouride is a toxic chemical. It is not, except in very very very high concentrations, which is true for lots of things), I appreciated getting to delve a little into his mind and thoughts because he was so reserved and quiet and humble when he was in the spotlight.

At the end of the book, Stockton talks about how his purpose in writing this book was that he hoped it inspires or encourages someone to never give up. I imagine that many people will get that from reading it. Personally, it spoke more to me about the importance of hard work.

View all my reviews

8
Jul

Review: Writers of the Future Volume 30

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

<a href='http://www.writersofthefuture.com/' rel='external ' title='Contest and Mag'>Writers of the Future</a> Volume 30
Writers of the Future Volume 30 by Dave Wolverton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I purchased this volume because a friend of mine had a story in it!

Since this is a bunch of short stories, I won’t give the in-depth commenting and review that I normally give to novels.

I did really enjoy reading each story. They were all so different and interesting.

My ulterior motive in reading this volume was so that I could learn how to write better short stories. I still have much to learn. Perhaps my ideas are just to big and I can’t get them down to a “short” level. Or perhaps I just like to ramble and need to be more succinct.

I truly recommend this volume, and any other others, to those who are writers and who are trying to break in. These are new and upcoming writers who are being judged by professionals.

View all my reviews

Writers of the Future Volume 30' data-link='http://garrettwinn.com/2016/07/08/review-writers-of-the-future-volume-30/' data-summary=''>
29
Apr

Review: The Dragonriders of Pern

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

The Dragonriders of Pern
The Dragonriders of Pern by Anne McCaffrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I had never even heard of the Pern books before last year, although I am not sure why. McCaffrey published these books in the 70s, and so I would have been able to find them when I started voraciously reading Fantasy around 1985. Perhaps it was because I mainly focused on Dragonlance at the time. In any event, this series of books sets up quite an intriguing world.

This volume is a compilation of the first 3 books in the series: Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon.

Pern is a world where Dragons and humans work together to protect the land from what is called Thread, a burrowing silvery life form thing that seems to come from an orbiting celestial object. The technology is similar to what we think about as medieval, with some interesting additions that come from the “ancients” who seem to have known more about technology than the current inhabitants of Pern. However, I didn’t find that the setting felt medieval or a copy of what I read in dozens of other fantasy settings. The idea of a dragon home (weyr) and government system that supported them and the strange mating rituals of the dragons and riders, were quite interesting and provided plenty of conflict and tension. Since Pern is a whole world (although we only get to see the northern most part for most of the volume), there are lots of different regions and climates to experience so that it feels like there is always something more to see or learn.

The main characters threaded through most of the volume are F’Lar (a dragon rider), Lessa (a weyrwoman), Master Robinton (a Harper in the tradition of gypsy with a dash of court jester and a side of master manipulator), and (eventually) Jaxom (a future Lord of Ruatha Hold). I can’t say too much about them each without delving into spoilers, but I will say that they are each well developed and they grow and learn. It is nice to be able to follow their progress and cheer them on.

There are lots of mysteries and conflicts between Holds and Weyrs to keep things very interesting. I will say that it took me awhile to get into the last book in the set because it felt much slower and more focused on political issues rather than action and danger like the first two. But, I definitely felt myself looking for opportunities to read more and more as I neared the end of the book. I was fascinated by the planet and the discoveries they were making as I tried to anticipate what they might find or how it would impact the inhabitants of the planet.

I am curious about the rest of the series – I just don’t know if I am going to start adding them in now or wait until I’ve gotten my “To Read” pile a little smaller first.

View all my reviews

27
Apr

Review: The Covenant

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

The Covenant
The Covenant by James A. Michener
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Finally made it through this behemoth of a book 🙂

I started reading it because I really want to know more history, because my grandmother gave me the book and had enjoyed it, because I lived in the Netherlands for a couple years and knew a small bit about South Africa from that and a Dutch class in college, and because I’ve been intrigued by apartheid and how it could be considered reasonable for so long by the people there.

Any review I make of this book would be colored by the fact that it took me almost 2.5 years to read it. It wasn’t because the writing was poor or that it wasn’t instructive. Often it had to do with lack of time on my part and because I had a tough time slogging through the parts that didn’t interest me as much. I definitely read through the last few hundred pages much quicker than my previous pace.

I do find some very interesting parallels with apartheid and much of the social conflicts I see happening on social media daily. The use of religion to justify otherwise un-Christian or inhumane actions still baffles me and makes me feel sad.

View all my reviews

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 0 of 5 stars

This was another book club selection. We were supposed to read it in the month of October. However, I found it very difficult to get into it and to be interested. I think the main problem is that I was expecting this to be more about the devil/murderer (see the bigger font on the cover) and less about the white city (Chicago’s world fair), but it was completely the opposite.

It is not that the writing was bad or the information was boring. In fact, the descriptions were generally well done and I could “see” the white city come to fruition in my mind’s eye. I just didn’t necessarily care. I kept wanting to read more about the murderer or even why the boat captain refused to send Burnham’s message to Millett. The information about Holmes, the serial killer, was frustratingly minuscule compared to the mounds of data given about the fair. I felt like I only got tiny glimpses and no real story.

Therefore, it took me until now to finally wade through it and finish the book. I’m not sorry I read it. I’m just disappointed that it was not 2 separate books (or, rather, a book and a pamphlet).

View all my reviews

29
Jun

Review: There Was an Old Woman

   Posted by: Garrett   in Path

There Was an Old Woman
There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I chose this as the book club selection for our group. I based my decision off of a review by Orson Scott Card, because I find that we have similar tastes.

While my book club had problems with it (as did I), I did enjoy it and the discussion that it created.

Plot: The gist of this suspense novel is that Evie is called on to help her mother, who is quite old and who has apparently gone on a massive alcohol overdosing binge. Evie meets the nice older lady next door, who seems to be losing her memory. But someone also seems to be trying to get rid of all the old people in the area. Or is it just in the old lady’s mind? The plot was fairly straightforward, with not a lot of twists or turns. My book group thought the ending was too obvious. I had to explain the difference between mystery and suspense, dramatic irony and tension. The plot, to me, wasn’t a problem because this is an Idea story and that is what interested me.

Setting: The story is set in the imaginary location of Higgs Point, roughly around Clason Point in the Bronx. Most of the description was spent on the dilapidated home of Evie’s mother and the contrast with the neighbor’s home. Scenery was mostly just background and I felt like this could have been placed just about anywhere. The setting didn’t get in the way of the story (except for the idea of a huge basement holding carnival rides on a point of land where the water table would have been fairly close to the surface).

Characters: Most of my book group felt like the characters were all really one-dimensional, with no complexity and no character arcs. There was the obvious bad guy, the jerk boyfriend, the independent and fierce protagonist, the perfect sister, and the nice old lady. While the characters are rather obviously typed, I found that I liked Evie and the old lad, Mina. And I thought that they were developed well through the story.

Conflict: The conflict of growing old and being taken care of and independence were all intertwined here in a lovely way for me. It reminded me of King Lear. The idea that old people are and can be taken advantage of, has some interesting turns. And while this kind of topic might not appeal to a younger crowd, it is relevant in the way we treat each other and the cultural expectations (or lack thereof) of respect for elders.

Text: The writing was unobtrusive and clear.

View all my reviews