Review: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: April, 2009
Read count: 3

Not that I put much stock in The Huffington Post, or literary awards and accolades for that matter, but this book and its author are getting some much deserved recognition from the lit-awards crowd (source). Finally. A few decades too late.

Original review can be found here.

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Review: Bittersweet Kaleidoscope by Bill Mohr

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: November – December 2008
Read count: 1

I don’t often read poetry, and when I do, it’s for an assignment or research, not usually for fun. I picked up this collection for a class with the intention of showing the class what makes “contemporary” short poems effective and unique.

A couple of examples:

THE ORIGINS THAT MEMORY CONSIDERS

Objects linger when they move,
unaware of the day’s alignment
between your death and mine.

BIG BAND, SLOW DANCE

Were you close?” I’m asked, as if grief
Would sting less deeply were we friends
As well as son and father. Further apart
Two men could never meet, though blood bends
Through arteries, veins and capillaries
Summoned into Presense by his pleasure.
Oh that I could have grown more slowly—
Remember being small and cradled like treasure.

What I didn’t expect was to enjoy this short collection. What I also didn’t expect was why I like these poems so much. They’re simple in form and clear in their turn of phrase.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Wizard’s First Rule (Sword of Truth, #1) by Terry Goodkind

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: November, 2008
Read count: 1

After watching a couple of episodes of Legend of the Seeker*, I became interested in the Sword of Truth series and had to pick up the first book.

Wizard’s First Rule starts out okay but kind of slow. There’s some action and some interesting things happening that gradually build up to more action and those interesting things coming to a head as the story unfolds. So basically classic fantasy plot with a classic fantasy setting (with some interesting embellishment).

The world is divided into three lands: Westland, the Midlands, and D’Hara. D’Hara is ruled by the evil tyrant Darken Rahl who is in the process of taking over the Midlands and has plans to breach the magical barriers separating D’Hara and the Midlands from Westland (or is it Heartland? It’s called the Heartland in the show, I think… I don’t remember).

The story opens with Kahlan Amnell, a Confessor (a powerful mage of high ranking), on her way to find the Seeker (find the Seeker…hah) to bring him back to the Midlands so he can fulfill his destiny, defeat Rahl, and bring peace to all the lands. But first, Kahlan must find a powerful wizard who lives in Westland. Only he knows who the true Seeker is…or something like that. Kahlan breaks through the magical barriers separating the lands and stumbles into Westland while being pursued by D’Haran assassins. She runs right into Richard Cypher, a trail guide (and the Seeker, though unbeknownst to himself and everyone else). He helps her escape from the guards and then takes her to his village where she finds the wizard she’s looking for. The rest of the story is about Richard discovering who he really is, with help from magical and non-magical people he meets along the way. And his journey leads him ultimately to confront Rahl and bring him bring down. The end… to be continued.

The adventures are somewhat fun and interesting for most of the book, but they take a dark turn close to the end. So basically what you’d expect from high fantasy with the exception of a gratuitous amount of torture. Well, I suppose that depends on your threshold for torture in books. What’s in this book is gratuitous to me. But for much of the book though, story revolves around just Richard and Kahlan (and sometimes Zedd) traveling through the lands and running into all sorts of trouble in the form of assassins and mythical creatures, sent by Rahl. And that’s fun, more fun to me than the gratuitous torture scenes.

Like the adventures, the characters are also somewhat fun and interesting, but somewhat generic too. Richard and Kahlan are likable enough, and the secondary characters like Zedd and Shota are amusing in their own way. They all add something to the overall world in which they exist. And that world is an interesting study in turmoil and suffering; there’s a lot of tension between the different factions and magical creatures that live within these lands, and that’s all part of the charm of this world. Another charming part of this world is the magic. It’s dark, mysterious, and violent, and the epic hero’s rites of passage set against this backdrop, with everything working against him, is an interesting take on a worn-out trope. Richard is put through a lot and suffers a great deal before achieving hero status.

Normally I give books I like well enough 3 stars, and the first half of this book is a solid 3 because I enjoyed the journey and world building and was all prepared to jump into the second book, but alas I can only muster up 2 stars because the second half was just too long-winded. The plot took too many detours and they just went on for pages and pages. I was left exhausted by the end of each leg of the journey. And also, did I mention there’s a copious amount of torture in this book? Much of it borders on BDSM. A few mentions here and there might have been good enough to portray how much Richard had had to suffer, but no, all torture scenes are described in gratuitous detail. By the end, I couldn’t see the point of it anymore. (Like, is this supposed to be erotica or not…? I couldn’t tell.)

After reading reviews of the other books in this series, I don’t think I will read on. As interesting as the landscape and magics are, I don’t think I can stand more of Terry Goodkind’s style of storytelling. The consensus is the author becomes too preachy further into the series and interjects too many of his own personal beliefs into the story, and so the rest of the series after the 4th book reads like propaganda manuals. Another thing is Goodkind is convinced he doesn’t write fantasy…as though “fantasy” is the worst thing to call his books. Right, because a wizard character named “Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander” makes it definitely not fantasy.

* not bad for a sword & sorcery show, but you know, probably not something you’d watch if there’s something better on TV. This was a time before I had decent internet service, so streaming/Netflix wasn’t an option. You couldn’t just pull up any show or movie you wanted to watch on a whim because you were at the mercy of the Regularly Scheduled Programming gods. Those were the days. How far we’ve come…

Review: Twilight by Stephenie Meyer

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Rating: (nope)
Date read: October – November 2008
Read count: 1 (more than enough)

Now comes the book review I’ve been dreading. I knew I’d have to deal with it sooner or later. Oh, well.

This book is not romance nor is a tale about vampires or vampire romances. This is Stockholm Syndrome dusted with a light coating of glitter and slapped with a heavy side of high school nuances. I still maintain that whatever goes on between the teenage girl and the vampire is not romance. It’s psychological abuse, is what it is.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Women by Charles Bukowski

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Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: January, 2008
Read count: 1

There’s no denying that Bukowski writes well. The content which he writes about, though, is another matter entirely. There’s also no denying that his writing just isn’t for me. Although I can sit back and appreciate his prose, quick and clever turn of phrases and all, I still can’t separate the literary body of work from the man himself, and that will always influence how I experience and interpret a text.

Original review can be found here.

Review: A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

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Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: March 2007
Read count: 1

This was just OK. Rather inoffensive, and therefore not memorable. There’s a sense that it’s trying too hard to pluck at the heartstrings, which left me mostly annoyed because I can’t stand books that are emotionally manipulative.

I wanted to see what all the fuss was about with this writer, and now I can sort of understand why people gravitate to Sparks’ books. They’re like a light home-cooked meal: comforting, easy to get through, don’t require much energy to digest. Sometimes it’s nice to relax with a book with these quality ingredients, but such a book is not for me and it all comes down to all matter of taste and how much energy a book requires of me as a reader. I like books that make me work for it, but if I’m stuck at an airport during a snowstorm and I lost my book and the only reading material is either a SkyMall magazine or bestsellers on a rack, I would go for a bestseller… after I finish the SkyMall.

Original review can be found here.

Review: Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: January, 2006
Read count: 1

I fell for the hype. Fortunately, this time the hype didn’t disappoint.

Palahniuk has a crisp, clear style that propels the story forward, though not too fast that you can’t appreciate his irony or ironic anti-everything social commentary. The writing–style, pace, voice, inner voice(s)–is novel to my eyes, but I have a feeling that it, accompanied by Palahniuk’s particular flavor of violence, can become grating after a couple of books.

I had not read anything by Palahniuk before picking up this book, and after watching the movie, I was curious how such an absurd book made it to the big screen. It’s obviously not an easy adaptation by any means, and as a result, many of the more poignant, or rather meaningful, moments from the book were cut out to make the movie more “stylized.”

The book by itself, though, really impressed me. I expected flash and gimmicks all over the place, but it’s actually a well-written, well-structured journey into a deranged mind. Impressive and organized for a piece of writing about psychosis.

Book vs. Movie
I’m obligated to say, though a valiant effort, the movie just isn’t as good as the book. It left out too many of the better parts of the book.

Review: One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

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Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: August, 2005
Read count: 3

Growing up, this was one of my favorite books. People always think it’s weird once I say that, and I agree, it is weird. But I grew up in a unusual household that appreciated all forms of Soviet literary dissonance. My father was a big fan of any text that criticized Communism down to the very last detail, and no surprise, Solzhenitsyn was–still is–one of his favorite authors, along with many others. He and I used to discuss these texts extensively; these were some of the most memorable moments of my childhood. And that’s why I can never give an objective review of this particular book because, no matter how skewed the subject matter, it would always remain a favorite.

It wasn’t until years later that I learned Solzhenitsyn was a an anti-semite, and he’d published a series of “critical” essays spouting his brand of anti-semitism. Dad and I took a huge step back from Solzhenitsyn’s books at that point and we don’t read him again, but would occasionally discuss things related to his books when/if they come up.

Solzhenitsyn will always remain a powerful critical voice in Soviet literature, but his personal views shouldn’t be ignored. There are people who can separate the author from his/her work; I’m not one of those people. To each their own, however I hope readers don’t overlook Solzhenitsyn’s essays and call them a fluke.