Monday, March 31, 2014

Words of Radiance

by Brandon Sanderson
1080 pgs  (The Stormlight Archive #2)

To give you an idea of just how far down the fantasy-geek-rabbit-hole I've descended, I decided I needed to reread The Way of Kings before starting Words of Radiance. That's saying something when each book is over 1,000 pages long. But I did it, and I'm glad I did. It had been about 3 ½ years since Sanderson wrote TWoK and with that much time having passed, I would have been spending a lot of mental energy trying to recall what happened in it while reading book 2 and I wouldn't have been able to enjoy it like I did. That being said, Sanderson has said that there won't be that much time between books going forward, which I'm going to hold him to. I will not let myself become the type of person that rereads a series from the beginning every time a new installment comes out--hopefully.

I'm not going to provide any type of summary of the book. It doesn't make sense to try to do so in my opinion. While it's a huge book, it's only a small part in a much bigger story that Sanderson is writing. Its scope is remarkable and Sanderson does a masterful job of telling it. Lots of times the downfall of large books like this is in their pacing. They take too long to get moving (Clancy) or they have repeated lulls in the story (Hugo). But Sanderson avoids those pitfalls by quickly jumping back and forth from multiple viewpoints to his story. He's also using each book to tell the backstory of a different central character. This way you don't get bogged down early in the series with the history of each of the main characters. In TWoK we learned Kaladin's story, in WoR we learn Shallan's. I'm hoping that book three will tell Szeth's--the assassin in white.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Double

by George Pelecanos
292 pgs  (Spero Lucas series #2)

When The Double, a painting valued at over $200,000, goes missing from Grace Kinkaid's residence, she realizes that she's been the target of an elaborate hoax. She realizes that the man she recently met and fell in love with was not who he claimed to be and that all along he only had eyes for her painting. Now she wants her painting back and to exact revenge on her ex-boyfriend, and she's willing to pay thousands of dollars for both.

She's introduced to Spero Lucas, a veteran from Iraq who now puts his unique skills to use finding things for people willing to pay. His methods usually fall outside the parameters of the law and the job Grace Kinkaid offers him is right up his alley.

I'm a really big fan of Pelecanos, and I enjoyed The Cut, the book that introduced Lucas a lot. But this one was a little disappointing. The story was interesting, but it felt like Pelecanos went out of his way to show that his new central character is not your stereotypical hero. He's conflicted and at times amoral, not unusual for one of his main characters. But Lucas falls for a married woman in The Double and their repeated rendezvous quickly became a distraction from the story and they never ended up adding any value to it. I'm hopeful Pelecanos will right the ship if he brings Lucas back a third time.

★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Damned

by Chuck Palahniuk
427 pgs

I don't gamble, but I can understand the allure of it to those who do. The disappointment from losing can be severe, even devastating at times. But the rewards and gratification from winning can be tremendous, enough to keep people doing it again and again, even when it's been awhile since they won. For me, picking up a Chuck Palahniuk book to read has been a lot like gambling; there have been some real disappointments recently (Pygmy and Tell-All) but it's the excitement of his earlier winners (Fight Club, Rant, Diary) that keep me coming back to the table for more. I'm hoping for that big payout again. Unfortunately, I didn't get it with Damned.

The book begins when 13-year-old Madison wakes up in hell--literally. She believes she died from a marijuana overdose and finds herself in a hell that is both horrific and humorous. A hell that could only have come from the mind of Chuck Palahniuk, full of people who don't wash their hands after using the bathroom, or who have used vulgarities more than the threshold allowed. It's where telemarketers work, calling the living during dinner time to complete surveys. She and the cellmates next to her: a jock, a rocker, a nerd, and a beauty (a kind of breakfast club group) embark on a tour of hell.

The book is written in epistolary form with each chapter beginning: "Are you there Satan? It's me Madison"--a Palahniuk-esque nod to a book for young girls by Judy Blume. In each chapter Madison describes hell as well as the life she lived before waking up there. She was the only child of mega-rich famous parents, and as such, had no chance for a normal childhood. 

Damned is a step in the right direction for Palahniuk after his last two missteps, but not a giant one. It has its moments and accomplishes what I think he set out to do when he wrote it--spotlighting some of the aspects of religion and the ideas of the afterlife that some people have. At times Palahniuk does his damnedest to try to gross you out with his vision of hell. But overall the book fell flat with me. His most recent book Doomed recently came out which is a sequel. I'll probably read it eventually. You never know, I might hit the jackpot with that one.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆