Review of Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies

Standard

November is almost over, but before it ends, I’m squeezing in my monthly book review. This month, I’m reviewing Terry Pratchett’s Lords and Ladies, the 14th Discworld book.

lords and lades

Fancy new cover art!

This novel takes place in the small kingdom of Lancre. Here enters everyone’s favorite witches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg, and young Magrat Garlick. Upon their return, Magrat is stunned by King Verence’s proposal, considering he already has the entire wedding planned, down to the date–midsummer’s eve. Magrat soon learns that being a queen is no fun, especially when you have no idea what you’re doing . . . or supposed to be doing for that matter. Meanwhile, crop circles and other mysterious happenings hint at greater problems. It seems elves are threatening to reenter the world of men, and with the help of some bumbling townsfolk and a young witch named Diamanda, their threat becomes a reality. Not the beautiful and whimsical creatures of Tolkien’s universe, these elves lay waste to the city of Lancre and torture people just for fun. But they have one weakness–iron, and Magrat uses that to her advantage to save her city and, of course, her King.

imagesCANIBJX4

Everyone’s favorite witches return to Lancre to battle elves and save the day!

Admittedly, I did not enjoy this novel as much as a whole compared to other works by Pratchett. Whereas I loved Magrat, her internal issues, and all the drama that surrounded her, I labored a little over some of the other scenes that, to me, dragged a little. And for all the buildup leading to the elves, the author did not deliver in full. But don’t take this as a bad review, there was so much I loved about this book that kept me reading to the end. I really wanted to know what happened and I was treated to a very interesting backstory of Granny Weatherwax and a certain Head Wizard.

Out of five stars, I’d give this book 3.5. It’s worth the time, but there is some redundancy and slow parts that took away from the overall experience. If you want laugh-out loud humor, this might not be it, except for a few really well-played sex jokes. Dang Sir Pratchett, you rascal! But the characters were relatable and likable. If you’re a fan of Shakespeare, you might want like this book because it’s based loosely on A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

I hope you enjoyed the review. Stay tuned for next month’s literary review! Have a happy Thanksgiving!

Advertisements

A Review of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men in Celebration of Banned Books Week

Standard

In the spirit of Banned Books Week 2014, I decided to review, for the month of September, John Steinbeck’s classic literary masterpiece Of Mice and Men. From the introduction alone, you can probably guess how I’d rate this book. Five of five stars, baby! So, why do I think this book is so great? Is it because of the story? The characters? The writing? All of the above.

imagesCAYSTFMG

A simple story with a powerful message.

Many of us were forced to read this novel in high school. I myself taught this novel to my American Lit students back in my teaching days. But for those of you who didn’t crack the spine or who, for shame, were not allowed to read this book because it is on the banned books list, here is a summary of the story: Two migrant workers, George and Lennie, share a dream of buying their own land, farming it, and living off the fat of the land. Sadly, they lack the resources to achieve said dream, and take work on a California ranch. From there, things only go sour for the two men as they struggle to maintain their dream in the presence of weak-minded men and women who would gain power by oppressing others. Because of the actions of said people, the story ends in tragedy, and the dream is lost.

It’s a relatively short story, (a novella actually) but it makes a huge statement about strength and weakness, the power of friendship, and the impossibility of the American Dream. These themes are successfully carried out, not hammered in, and are relevant to readers today. As a teacher, I enjoyed teaching this novel because of how it relates so easily with high school students; after all, it is not always the powerful authorities who hold kids back, but their weak-minded peers who dismiss their dreams.

Without question, the writing is superb. There is not enough that can be said for Steinbeck’s style and wit, not to mention its readability. As a high school teacher, that was a huge plus.

ofmice

Might I add the film adaptation is also really good. Love me some Gary Sinise!

What impressed me the most about the novel were the characters: George, Lennie, and the other migrant workers were all real to me. They had their own dreams, prejudices, and character traits. They were flawed, selfish, and cynical, while maintaining hope. One trait all of the characters shared was a deep feeling of isolation and loneliness that made each character identifiable.

So, why is this book on the banned books list? Mostly language. Considering the novel centers on the roughest and toughest, it only makes sense. There is also some mature content and racial slurs, but I did not think it took away from the story. To me, Steinbeck captured the gritty environment in which these characters lived, making his work more authentic. As a teacher, I was upfront about these things, and my students handled it with a lot of maturity.

If you are thinking of reading a banned book this week, please consider Of Mice and Men. Of all the banned books, this one is probably my favorite. I promise you will not be disappointed, and you might come away feeling enlightened, albeit depressed.

Thank you for stopping by, and I hope you enjoyed this year’s Banned Books Week!

Review of Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett

Standard

It’s August (Really? Already?) and for this month, I’ll be reviewing Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett, because I promised to review something lighter to cleanse the pallet of Karen Miller’s dirge.

men at arms

The book cover.

Men at Arms takes place in Discworld shortly after the events of Guards! Guards! (If you have not read Guards! Guards!, I’d strongly suggest you go back and read it before reading Men at Arms or you won’t know what’s going on) Captain Vimes has just announced his retirement from the City Guard to marry the richest lady in all Ankh-Morpork. His decision doesn’t sit well with him, because he leaves the safety of the city to Corporal Carrot and the new recruits, which include a dwarf, a troll, and a werewolf. Before Vimes takes his leave, he must first help Carrot solve a series of murders committed with a strange new weapon called a gonne. As usual, the Patrician and the various guilds get in the way. And then there’s the unearthing of an ancient document that reveals the identity of the lost king. The only problem is, he doesn’t want the job.

imagesCA00V6IB

Corporal Carrot and Angua looking cute in LEGO form.

Admittedly, I did not enjoy Men at Arms as much as I did Guards! Guards! The humor was good, but I did not find myself laughing out loud as often. Also, I was not in suspense over who the murderer was or what the weapon was. It was all a little too obvious. Still, as always, I enjoyed Pratchett’s whit and humor. The characters were fun, especially some of the newer ones such as Detritus the Troll and Cuddy the dwarf. Personally, I enjoyed the romance between Carrot and Angua, but even that could have been better developed.

My favorite part of the book was when Captain Vimes got hold of the gonne. It’s not a particularly comedic scene, (actually, it was very dramatic) but Pratchett pulls it off well. It’s a psychological roller coaster ride that makes an interesting statement about guns and power.

imagesCAISAQBN

The Night Watch.

Overall, I really did enjoy the novel, and I would strongly recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy, Brittish humor, and good writing. Just make sure you’ve familiarized yourself with Discworld and The Watch prior to cracking the spine.

I hope you enjoyed the review. Next month, I’m hoping to have completed George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones. We’ll see.

A Review of Lois Lowry’s The Giver & How it Compares to Divergent and Hunger Games

Standard

Considering the popularity of YA series Divergence and Hunger Games, I thought it would be fun to review a novel, I feel, does the dystopian universe so much better, The Giver.

dystopia

What makes the dystopian society so popular with young readers? Why is dystopia so popular today?

Published many, many, many years before either Divergence or Hunger Games, The Giver, by Lois Lowry, tells the story of a boy, Jonas, who lives in a society apart from the rest of the world. In this society, there are strict rules regarding behavior, ceremonies for every milestone, and one man who alone bares the memories and pain they cannot know–the Giver.

When Jonas is selected to become the next giver, he is unaware of the responsibility of knowing colors, temperatures, and emotions. Through his lessons, he realizes how dangerous his society really is and eventually makes his escape.

The_Giver_Cover

Original cover design for Lois Lowry’s novel (published 1993)

This novel is usually taught to middle school-aged children because of the reading level and themes. Even with the delicate writing, some of the themes can be heavy. The author masterfully tackles difficult subjects such as infanticide, sexuality, and death. She also does an amazing job creating a believable dystopian society.

For me, the newer novels did not execute this as well. Don’t get me wrong, I like both novels. They are creative and fun to read; however, the authors fail to properly create believable universes. In order to read both novels, I had to swallow what little background information the authors provided. I know these are character-driven stories, but set-up is still essential to a good novel.

There is also the subject of theme. After reading both novels, I had no idea what I was supposed to gain by reading these novels other than entertainment. What were they trying to say about society? Were they trying to say anything at all? Honestly, I didn’t feel like they did, which is a shame, since these books are geared to older audiences, they could have said a lot.

Overall, I prefer Lois Lowry’s alternative society to the latter’s dystopian universes. She just nailed it; whereas the others fail to fully utilize their playground. Again, not trying to put down the newer novels, but when compared to their predecessor, they just don’t hold up.

My advice: read them all! Seriously. Then, go watch the movies. Even The Giver has a movie adaptation coming out soon, though I strongly encourage you to read the book first as I assume the movie will not do it justice.

I hope you enjoyed April’s book review. In May, I’ll be reviewing something humorous.

 

Review of Karen Miller’s Hammer of God

Standard

The month of March has been . . . trialing to say the least, but even with the set-backs I was able to finish The Godspeaker Trilogy just in time for March’s book review. It may be the last week of March, but it still counts!

As promised, I will be reviewing the third and final installment of the Godspeaker Trilogy by Karen Miller: Hammer of God.

godspeaker

Hammer of God is the final novel in the three-book series by Karen Miller.

The last novel returns us to Ethrea, a peaceful kingdom that values trade over war. Rhian is finding the weight of the crown may be heavier than she had anticipated. While she struggles to resolve local disputes, trouble is brooding abroad with the conquering of Icthia by Mijak’s blood-thirsty army, led by none other than Empress Hekat herself. With the help of Nagarak’s son, she has raised an armada ready to destroy the world, but the mysterious Chung Dynasty’s witch-men hold the trade winds at bay and keep her from sailing forth to destroy Ethrea and the surrounding trade nations. It is up to Queen Rhian to unite the bickering trading nations to take up the fight against the impending evil.

So let’s start with what I liked about the novel: the character relationships. The third novel definitely takes time to further develop the relationships between Vortka and Hekat, Rhian and Helfred, Dexterity and Ursa, etc., showing how power and strife can strain even the strongest of friendships.

The author’s writing style continued to impress me . . . despite the increase in typos and errors that the editors obviously missed. I had to pause numerous times to reread a sentence, not for confusion, but for indulgence. Even the dullest of scenes, and there were many, were enhanced by the writer’s always energetic and prosaic writing style.

But even lovely prose could not distract me from the obvious faults with this novel, primarily the pace. Two-thirds of the novel was spent like the last, with Rhian and her council arguing. And when they were not arguing with each other, they were arguing with the trading nations. Even among allies and friends they were arguing, arguing, arguing. There is no end to the meetings and arguing until roughly 600 pages in when we FINALLY start the war the last two books have been building up to. The battle is, of course, followed by more arguing. It made Star Wars Episodes II and III look action-packed in comparison.

Another complaint of mine is the conflicts that never really got wrapped up. The author opened so many potential problems, some of which never came to light or were concluded, such as Rhian and Zandakar’s attraction to each other–pointless noise that only left Rhian’s relationship with her husband unresolved in the end of the novel.

Then, there is the issue with Zandakar’s character. Throughout the series, his character has felt oddly misplaced, and he is. Lacking clear purpose, conflict, and goals until the end of the third novel, Zandakar’s character has failed to satisfy this reader. And the goal he does make for himself proves fruitless in the end. He really doesn’t triumph in the end. It’s like how Frodo fails to overcome the power of the one ring in the LOTR Trilogy. You’re happy he lives but disappointed that he is unable to overcome evil in the end.

So, would I recommend this series? Actually, yes. Despite all of my complaints and my disappointment in the conclusion of the novel, that was unsatisfactory to say the least, I would still encourage fans of fantasy to check this series out. The writing is enjoyable, the characters are three-dimensional, and their drama kept me engaged through even the dullest of scenes. I only wish the author had spent less time writing council scenes and more time sending the characters on adventures. I also wish the end would have turned out differently. For me, there was little payoff in the series and no real message that I could take with me in the end. I do; however, have a serious reader’s hangover.

If you decide to pick up the series, be warned, it contains graphic material, lengthy council meetings, and more filler than book can hold, but it’s still a great read with some wonderful magic, interesting characters, and exciting battle sequences.

For my next review, I’ll be taking a break from the fantasy genre to review a novel out of my reading comfort zone. Let’s see how that goes.

 

 

Review of Karen Miller’s The Riven Kingdom

Standard
Use this one

Image provided by Google images.

Having loved, loved, loved (and did I say loved?) Karen Miller’s novel Empress, I instantly started on the sequel upon completing the first. One month and several migraines later, I have finally (and did I say finally) completed the second novel in the Godspeaker Trilogy: The Riven Kingdom. It’s not that I didn’t like the novel . . . it was good in its own right . . . but as a follow-up to Empress, it failed to reach the bar, which was set pretty high.

The Riven Kingdom takes us out of Mijak and into the Kingdom of Ethrea, where the king is dying. There, we meet the heroine, Rhian, a princess doomed by her father’s untimely death. Because the king’s sons have also recently died, there is no legit heir to take the throne unless Rhian marries a man of the council’s choosing. In case you have not guessed, this kingdom follows very strict Western cultures. Boring. As ward of the church, Rhian must battle the prolate and his followers to take her place as queen, along with the help of an unlikely  hero, Dexterity Jones the toymaker, the healer Ursa, and Zandakar the banished prince of Mijak. She is also aided by the spirit of Dexterity’s dead wife Hettie who offers him guidance and visions.

Sounds exciting, right? Well, don’t get too excited. Most of the book is spent with lords arguing in dusty old halls, bickering about who should marry Rhian, who should not marry Rhian, how they should stop Rhian . . . instead of actually doing anything about it. Meanwhile, Rhian sets forth on her journey regardless of the consequences only to question all of her decisions in the second half of the book. There is much talking on both sides building up to the showdown between Rhian and the prolate. When the forces collide, God steps in to punish the prolate and award Rhian her throne in the most disappointing case of dues ex machina to date.

For me the worst part of this book was the loose tie in to the first. Hekat and Mijak are hardly in it. You could read the books as two stand alone novels. For me, that is problematic when trying to develop a series. I think the stories could have been more intricately woven together. They just felt disjointed and overall the experience was very jarring.

Okay, so what did I like about the novel? I think I can sum it up in one name: Dexterity Jones. Just the name alone tells you this is an interesting character. From his first scene, I fell in love with his witty commentary, his agreeable personality, and heart. He was a breath of fresh air after meeting the whiney and inconsistent Rhian. Dexterity’s interactions with his friend, Ursa, are as human as they get, full of humor and affectation. Dexterity’s relationship with Zandakar is interesting to me because on several occasions they compare him to Vortka, Zandakar’s father. To me, Dexterity made the novel. I don’t know if I would have stuck it out except to know what happened to him. And go figure, I think he’s going to be banished from the kingdom at the start of book 3. Darn you, Karen Miller!

As far as recommendations, I will not recommend this book until I complete the series. If I’m satisfied with the third book, then I’ll recommend it, but if not . . . I would not see the point. The second book lacks the depth, complexity, and writing quality of the first, making it an unworthy follow-up . . . that is unless the third book is amazing.

Stay tuned in March when I review the third and final novel in the Godspeaker Trilogy. Until then, happy reading!

Review of Karen Miller’s Empress

Standard
cover_340x340-75

Empress: Godspeaker Book One by Karen Miller

For my January book review, I have chosen to critique a novel by one of my new favorite authors, Karen Miller. For those who are not yet aware of her, Karen Miller is a bestselling author who has taken the fantasy genre by storm. In a male-dominated genre, that’s a big deal.

Even though she is more well-known for her work, Innocent Mage, I decided to read her Godspeaker Trilogy first for the simple fact that I wanted to read a story centered around a strong female protagonist. The first in the series, Empress, tells the story of Hekat, a she-brat sold into slavery, who becomes a soldier, a warlord, and finally an empress of all Mijak. Guided by the god, Hekat, along with her High Godspeaker Vortka, travel the godless lands battling demons and smiting sinning people in order to expand their vast empire.

Empress receives a lot of praise for the writing style, the unique environment, and the gritty, edgy details that many authors would shirk from. Karen Miller doesn’t just go there, she goes there and back again. The characters are well-developed and multi-faceted. There were no good or bad guys throughout. Even the main character is not entirely likable; though, seeing as she becomes the villain in the next two books, I suppose she would need to be a little unlikable.

Most of the criticism comes from the main character being “cruel” and “unlikable” and to be honest, she is not always the most sympathetic  character. I think what many readers fail to remember is that the environment is harsh and the people can be cold. Hekat is born in a household void of love and civility, then she is sold as a slave, betrayed by the only friend she has ever known, and forced to become strong in order to survive. Her coldness and cruelty did not upset me. To be honest, part of me enjoyed Hekat’s hardness. Her disgust for her husband’s affections and her resentment of her second son because he ruined her body make her more real and likable for me. I’m tired of reading about women who love their men wholeheartedly and who would sacrifice everything for their children. Not all women are like that. It’s nice to see a woman who has more going on, like ruling an empire for example.

Characters like Vortka, her son Zandakar, and the war leader Hanochek more than make up for Hekat’s lack of sympathy. I enjoyed the character interactions, especially because I never knew whose side to be on. It just depended on the perspective.

I know I did not have a lot of complaints; those I am reserving for my criticisms of the second and third novels that have fallen short of the first novel. Many say Empress is a challenging gateway to the series, but I disagree. The novel was indeed a challenge but a worthwhile one. Sure, the second book has been an easier read, but for what? So far, there is no payoff. Empress delivers.

So, if you are looking for an easy read, Empress is not the book for you, but if you are interested in investing in a fantasy series, the Godspeaker Trilogy is one I would recommend, though less highly as the series goes on. You might want to just hold off getting started until after you read my next review in which I’ll be highlighting the shortcomings of the sequel. Until then, happy reading!