Monday, November 24, 2014

Witches' Brew

Witches' Brew (Magic Kingdom of Landover, #5)Witches' Brew by Terry Brooks
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'm not sure what to think of this book. This is the fifth book in the series and I loved the first one so much, I've wanted to read all of the others. And most have been decent -- but not as good as the first one.

In this one, Ben Holiday and Willow's daughter, Mistaya, is growing at an astounding rate. She's two, but looks 10 and acts 15. In other words, she's a spoiled little bitch and entirely unlikeable and I didn't like this about the novel. And it centers around her, for the most part, so we're inundated with her attitude. So, someone comes to the castle and issues Ben a challenge for the kingdom of Landover. If he can defeat seven monsters, he'll keep his kingdom. If not, the challenger gets it. Strangely, though, Mistaya is kidnapped almost immediately and used as bait for Ben to follow this stranger's rules. While traveling with Mistaya in a fruitless effort to find her safety, Questor and Abernathy are sent back to Ben's home world of Earth, where Abernathy is turned from dog back to human and he is elated. Of course, not all is as it seems. Nightshade, the witch, is behind everything and steals Mistaya to train her to become a witch -- and to unwittingly kill her father.

In the last book, I complained that Ben seemed pretty dense, which was odd considering that he had been a high priced, successful attorney in Chicago and was now king of the land. In this book, he's just as dense and so is Willow. In fact, they spend most of their time together in the book "holding" each other for support -- and that gets pretty damn old very quick.

There is magic in this book, of course. And we get to see some of the characters we know and like, such as the Earth Mother and her mud puppy and Strabo, the dragon. And Ben does somehow defeat several monsters through the help of his alter ego, the Paladin. But by the time Ben has figured out what's going on, the reader figured everything out eons before and is annoyed by his ineptitude and I've got to fault Brooks for that. I want to give this three stars, but because it's a Landover book and I enjoy the series and because it does introduce some new people and elements to the setting, I'll give it four. Cautiously recommended.

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Friday, November 21, 2014

We Can Build You

I've read nearly 40 books by Philip K Dick and have loved most. This book was only the second sci fi novel I couldn't finish, so that says something. I got halfway through and gave up. It's about two guys who own a company that makes electronic organs who decide to branch out and make robots of Lincoln and other Civil War persons. One of them has a schizophrenic 18 year old daughter named Pris (remind you of anyone?) who's batshit crazy. She and Louis, the protagonist, develop a love/hate relationship, but aside from just how goofy the premise is and how woefully written it is, the thing I really hate is the dialogue. It's terrible! I love you. I despise you. Would you want to have sex with me? No, I don't think so. Let's have sex. No. OK. I'm in love with you even though I don't know you at all. Maybe this is more a reflection of Dick's private life and his affairs with women than anything else. It's just stupid though and entirely unbelievable. I was excited when I got the book because I had heard some good things about it, but I can't get past its weaknesses. It's a poorly written book. Not recommended.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Silent Man

The Silent Man (John Wells, #3)The Silent Man by Alex Berenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is another good book in the John Wells series by Alex Berenson. It's the third book. In the first two, CIA agent John Wells has pretty much saved the world, or at least the US, so it's hard to imagine the author being able to concoct another plot that would live up to the first two. But he does. The book opens with a Russian scientist at a nuclear facility who is pressured into helping to improbably steal two nuclear bombs for Muslim militants. They intend to detonate the bombs in Washington during the State of the Union address. The story of these militants and their travels with the bombs to North America is very interesting.

Meanwhile, one morning Wells and his fiance, Jennifer Exley, are on their way to work at the CIA when they are attacked by Russian assassins who are killed after killing some CIA agents and severely wounding Exley. In the previous book, Wells had seriously humiliated a powerful arms dealer who has, in turn, contracted with some Russians to get his revenge. Needless to say, after this attack, Wells is ticked. This doesn't bode well for the arms dealer. Wells flies to Russia to get at and kill the Russians behind the attack and does kill three of them, but has to fly out of the country as he is pursued by the KGB. The arms dealer is so frightened of a pissed off Wells coming for him, that he offers a truce -- information in exchange for letting him live. Wells agrees when he hears the information. It's about the nuclear bomb theft and all hell breaks loose after that. It's a great race to the finish and the finish is almost anticlimactic, but it's still satisfying, in my opinion.

However, one of my complaints about the book is Exley's very minor role. She's John's fiance and we barely see or hear anything from her. She's an afterthought. Additionally, in the first book, a lot was made of Wells and his conversion to Islam, but that's almost never broached in this book. I found that strange. Still, it was a good book, an exciting read, and the author has this unique knack of taking implausible sounding scenarios and making them seem entirely realistic. The only other thriller author I've read who does it that well is Forsyth. That's high praise, coming from me. I'd read these books in order, if possible, but it's not necessary -- it stands on its own. Good book. Recommended.

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Friday, November 14, 2014

Feet of Clay

Feet of Clay (Discworld, #19)Feet of Clay by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've read most of the Discworld novels now and have loved some and enjoyed most. Feet of Clay is now my favorite. This book has it all! First of all, it's a City Watch series book, which I love, so that's good. Then, there are mysteries to be solved. Two old men have been murdered, presumably by golems, and Lord Venitari is being poisoned. Someone has to save the day! And it's the City Watch, led by Commander Sir Sam Vimes, followed by his loyal group of Captain Carrot, Angua, Detritus, Colon, and Nobbs. Additionally, there's now a new member of the watch, an alchemist, Cheery Littlebottom. His job is forensics. His role in this book is to bring up questions of minorities and gender identity. Because this dwarf is actually a she -- Cheri. It's pretty funny to watch her progress to wearing lipstick and so on while the male members of the Watch look on, not knowing what to think.

The golems, hard working "things," are going crazy in this book. We find late in the book that they have banded together to create a golem king, but it turns out to be really crazy, hence the crime sprees. However, other people are banding together to discuss succession should Vetinari so unfortunately cease to exist. The leaders of the community want a yes man in place, someone who will do what they're told to do because they're too stupid not to. But they've got to have some royal blood somewhere. Enter Corporal Nobby Nobbs. He's found out he's an earl, due to odd lineage, and is treated as such by the upper crust, who try to talk him into becoming king. But he's pretty dense and it doesn't work out as planned.

Vimes still has to find the poisoner. Could it be the Dragon, a vampire who maintains the history of the royal families of the area? Good question. Vimes will answer it too.

We don't see Death in this book much, if at all, and he's my favorite Discworld character, so that's unfortunate, but there's so much action and suspense in this novel, that it more than makes up for it. This is Pratchett at his best and I strongly recommend it.

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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Preserving Machine

The Preserving MachineThe Preserving Machine by Philip K. Dick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Preserving Machine is a pretty good collection of short stories by Philip K Dick from the early 1950s through the mid-1960s. Some of his best work is here. I had already read several of these in other collections, but there were many new ones and I definitely enjoyed this book. Among the stories that stood out for me were "War Veteran," about an old man who is a war veteran from a future war yet to be fought by Earth -- and lost. The authorities move quickly to try and change the future and it's really interesting to see how things work out. Another is the famous "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale," which of course was the basis for the movie Total Recall. For the life of me, I don't see where they got that movie from this story, but it's a good story about a man who yearns to go to Mars and his only way is through a VR-type experience where he goes as a secret agent. However, while the men performing this service for him are engaged, they discovered he actually has done this and just doesn't remember. It turns into a real mind f*ck. Great story. Yet another story I enjoyed was "Oh To Be a Blobel!". A war has been fought between humans and blobels, great amoeba-like beings, and on both sides, spies were used who had to undergo changing into the form of the other. When we read this story, our hero changes from being human to being a blobel throughout the day and is miserable. A coin operated psychiatrist introduces him to a female blobel who changes to human at certain times of day, thinking they would have something in common. And they get married and have kids. Hybrids. Then divorced. Then the unthinkable. At the end of the story, Vivian resorts to blobelian world class science to be converted into a 100% human so she can get back together with George -- who has converted into a blobel, so he can start a business on their planet. Wacky and sad. I do have a complaint, however. PKD wasn't always kind to his female characters, probably cause he had constant problems with his five wives and women in general. In "Retreat Syndrome," John states, "So you doomed our cause, out of petty, domestic spite. Out of mere female bitterness, because you were angry at your husband; you doomed an entire moon to three years of losing, hateful war." Later, in "What the Dead Men Say," Johnny thinks "He did not like the idea of working for a woman...." So, PKD misogyny is present in full force. Take it or leave it -- it's up to you. Even with the flaws, this is still a good book with some really good stories, so I definitely recommend it, not only to Dick fans, but to anyone who wants to become acquainted with his writing.

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