Review: Selected Poems by Gwendolyn Brooks


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ½
Date read: October 27 to 29, 2013
Read count: 1

This is the most well-known set of Gwendolyn Brooks’ poetry. Many of these poems were published in various magazines and literary journals, and now they’re finally brought together in one collection.

If you’re into rhythmic poetry, take a look at this collection. If “We Real Cool” is the only poem of Brooks you know, then you’re barely scratching the surface. She has a way of grafting more meaning into a couple of lines of texts and empty spaces than any poet I’ve ever read.

Life for my child is simple, and is good.
He knows his wish. Yes, but that is not all.
Because I know mine too.
And we both want joy of undeep and unabiding things, like kicking over a chair or throwing blocks out a window
Or trippping over an icebox pan
Or snatching down curtains or fingering an electric outlet
Or a journey or a friend or an illegal kiss.
No. There is more to it than that.
It is that he is never afraid.
Rather, he reaches out and lo the chair falls with a beautiful
And the blocks fall, down on people’s heads,
And the water comes slooshing slopily out across the floor
And so forth.
Not that success, for him, is sure, infallible.
But never has he been afraid to reach.
His lessions are legion.
But reaching is his rule.

— — — — —

I’d like to thank Ryan from HarperCollins for sending me the anniversary edition to enjoy.


Review: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆
Date read: August 16 to October 22, 2013
Read count: 1

If British humor, especially British apocalyptic humor, is not something you enjoy, then look elsewhere.

I like the concept, I like the writing, and I like the story overall; however there were certain time periods that dragged on for a couple chapters too long and a couple subplots that stayed past their welcome. The characters were fun though, and the dialogue was clever, witty (without being punny), and hilarious at times (again, without being punny). All of these things appeal to me because I enjoy British humor and a chatty meandering narration. If neither of these things interest you, then I would imagine you’d have a hard time getting through this book.

That’s also to say I had a hard time getting through this book (notice the date read) even though I liked almost everything about it. The sequences following the opening “baby switching debacle” were most difficult for me. I found Adam’s formative years to be quite a drag, not because this subplot was poorly written or too British for my understanding, but because I just don’t like reading about overly precocious children in general and often find many of stories about clever children to be a bore, regardless of the strength of prose or story. Once I got through Adam’s childhood and adolescent years, the story picked up speed and I couldn’t wait to get to “the end of times.” And what a ride that way.

This book is the first Neil Gaiman book that does not have a disappointing ending, imo. I think Terry Pratchett must have helped a lot on this front.

* * * * *

Still as good and as satisfying as I remembered.

It’s not often I say this, but the audiobook is really good and a joy to listen to. The narrator, Martin Jarvis, really gets much of the book’s humor and you can tell he fully embraced its zany, over-the-top-ness, so listening to him read was almost like watching the book come to life. And I really like the way he portrayed Crowley and Aziraphale, esp during their mad sprint to stop the apocalypse.

The only thing that I still quibble about is the ending. Seems somewhat lacking considering this is a story about the end of the world and all. I just wish there’d been more to the inevitable showdown, instead of an ending that leaves room for a possible–wishful?–sequel.

Review: The Lottery and Other Stories by Shirley Jackson


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: October 10 to 14, 2013
Read count: 5

Still as good as ever and each story is still as chilling as when I first read it, especially “The Lottery.” I’ve read this short story collection from cover to cover at least five times and reread individual stories within this collection countless times, and they still get to me every time I come back to them.

Jackson has a way of turning every day life events into something memorable at the end of the story. Although many of these stories aren’t quite as haunting as “The Lottery,” they’re disturbing in their own rights.

Jackson also has a way of turning mundane situations into something chilling, and that’s what I love most about the stories in this collection. They’re my favorite for one reason and one reason only: they can get to you when you least expect it. A story can start out as calm and dull as any other story about every day life in middle America, but then somewhere along, the narration takes a quick turn and the mundane becomes disorienting. That’s when the fun really begins.

From experience, I find Jackson’s short stories more interesting than her full-length novels because psychological turns in narrative work better in short form, for Jackson.

Review: Strangers on a Train by Patricia Highsmith


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 11 to 18, 2013
Read count: 1

Good and quite enjoyable if you buy into the whole “strangers hitting it off and over-sharing life stories in public” premise, but not so good or enjoyable if you find all of that unbelievable. Unfortunately, I fall into the latter group.

While I enjoyed Highsmith’s prose, clever social commentary, and turns of phrases, I could not buy into the premise nor circumstances of this story. I find both hard to believe and even harder to believe that one of these two strangers just happen to be a cunning sociopath with a penchant for mind games and the other stranger just happen to be stuck in an inconvenient life situation, which the former stranger thinks he can solve. And these two characters just happen to run into each other. It’s all too coincidental for me and requires too much of a leap (or reach) to grasp. I expect there to be more from noir fiction than a required leap of faith, and I expect more from Highsmith because The Talented Mr. Ripley was such a well-crafted adventure.

However, if you do buy into all of the coincidences presented in this book and like noir fiction in general, then you would probably find this book highly enjoyable. Highsmith’s prose adds depth and strength to an otherwise tepid story. The way in which she handles minor revelations is what I like most about this story. She also brings up a few interesting questions regarding social decorum and getting away with murder.

Review: Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion


Rating: ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 10 to 14, 2013
Read count: 1

Not nearly as dead as it could have been, for a zombie tale, that is. If it had been more dead, it could have been a zombie tale I’d enjoy.

As it is though, it’s a hormonal combination of teenage angst and existential crises, typical of what you’d find in a Shakespearean remake with the purpose of appealing to the current generation of YA readers. This relatively new dead spin on the Romeo and Juliet story doesn’t appeal to me personally, just as most revamps of Shakespearean “love stories” don’t appeal to me. What it comes down to is a matter of taste, really, and also because I don’t care for Shakespeare very much.

Overall though, the writing was a pleasant surprise, and many of the prosey descriptive passages depicting barren settings, like abandoned lots and other wastelands, were some of my favorite moments. YA authors are not known for their writing merits or prowess, and so I had been expecting this book to be similar to its weak-in-prose and high-in-angst forerunners. It surprised me though by being more intellectual than your average bear genre YA and more “humane,” for lack of a better word, than average zombie or monster fiction. (Despite the somewhat eye-rolling love story at the heart of it.)

The story is OK overall, but if you’re fed up with Romeo and Juliet remakes or you’re overwhelmed by the amount of zombies in the market, then you’d probably not like this book. But if you’re looking for quick and light post-apocalyptic adventure, you might want to consider it.

As decent as the story is, the characterization is very flat and typical of what you’d find in genre fiction, though not typical of what you might expect in a supposedly character-driven story. Many reviewers say the weakest point of the book is dialogue, and I agree. Too much angst and brooding, not enough getting to the point. I think the book would have been a lot better if most of the conversations between R and Julie were cut out, to be replaced with plot development. And maybe if the “love story” angle was cut out too, to be replaced with…nothing. But that’s just a matter of personal reading preference.

My biggest issue with this book is internal monologue, which seems contradictory to say since I just said I liked the writing. The thing is there are just too many internal monologues running too close together that did little to build up this dark and grim near-future post-apocalyptic world. And while I liked the airport setting, it wasn’t featured enough in between R’s long-winded internal monologues and Julie’s brooding. There’s also not enough story progression for my liking. The plot stays very much flat even as certain events are pushing the story forward, which threw the story off-balance.

And another thing, I don’t like first person POV. When the narration is literally made up of internal monologues strung together, the character spewing these words has to be really, really, extremely interesting for the story to work. Otherwise, it’s just boring.

That’s not to say this book was a terrible read. It wasn’t terrible–more contradiction? It’s just unfortunate enough to have all the things I don’t care for, all pushed into one book.

Whenever I come across a book such as this, I’m always glad I’m no longer a teenager. This book is the embodiment of almost everything I don’t like and don’t like to remember about adolescence. If it weren’t for the zombie aspects and/or post-apocalyptic setting (both flooding the market right now), this story would not stand out in the sea of generic genre fiction. It certainly would not have made an impact (or been turned into a movie) if it was adult genre fiction.

* * * * *

Maybe if I’d read this book before Raising Stony Mayhall, I would have been able to appreciate it more and find the existential concepts it introduced nuanced and interesting. Daryl Gregory is a tough act to follow. I think he ruined the whole zombie genre for me by having written such a great book and a great zombie character.

Review: Quid Pro Quo (The Administration, #2) by Manna Francis


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: October 12 to 13, 2013
Read count: 1

I changed my mind and decided to read on, which proved to be a sound decision after all because the conspiracy theory angle at the end of Mind Fuck takes a sharp turn from just merely conspiracy theory to conspiracy plus corporate sabotage and simmering political unrest. The new story arc has a much broader scope which introduces the possibility of a revolution that The Administration will have to face later on in the series, and I have a feeling Toreth and Warrick will be on opposite sides of this war. And these events on the horizon will no doubt lead to more interesting development.

Unlike the first book, this one is a collection of short stories that feature many different characters’ perspectives, with most featuring Toreth’s and Warrick’s. One of my favorites is “Family” which should be called “In Which Warrick Takes Toreth Home to Meet the Folks.” It’s funny to see Toreth out of his element, but funnier to see the family’s reaction to him. Warrick and his side of the family are strangely well-adjusted, decent people, which Toreth (and I) did not expect. But both he and I were right to suspect that there’s a lot more to these seemingly nice corporate people than meets the eye. Toreth is in for a ride, to be sure, but that’s not to say he’s not responsible for some turbulence as well.

This book or rather short story collection is not what I was expecting at all. And again, I was wrong to expect more sex than story. It actually has more story–plot, character, and conspiracy development–and overall good writing at that. These short stories branch out from Mind Fuck by introducing a new angle while dropping some clues that will, no doubt, play into the larger story arc later on. All very interesting and they keep you invested in the characters and their lives.

Toreth, though, is still up to his old habits, still having fun and sleeping his way around the city, but he’s beginning to feel an attachment to Warrick and that unsettles him. Warrick, on the other hand, kind of knew things to heading down this road, so it doesn’t bother him and he seems to be okay with letting Toreth work out his angst and anxiety on his own. They’re still having a lot of kinky fun together. So, in that, the writing has some lighthearted moments, but they’re overshadowed by a conspiracy plot looming large in the background.

The breakdown

Unlucky Break (The Administration, #2.1)
Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 12, 2013
Read count: 1

Friday (The Administration, #2.2)
Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 12, 2013
Read count: 1

Pancakes (The Administration, #2.3)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: October 13, 2013
Read count: 1

Surprises (The Administration, #2.4)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: October 13, 2013
Read count: 1

Family (The Administration, #2.5)
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆
Date read: October 13, 2013
Read count: 1

Mirror Mirror (The Administration, #2.6)
Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 14, 2013
Read count: 1

Review: Mind Fuck (The Administration, #1) by Manna Francis


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Date read: October 9 to 11, 2013
Read count: 1

An interesting read. Not at all what I was expecting. When I first read the summary and skimmed other reviewers’ responses, I thought this was going to be a mess.

What I was expecting:
Hardcore BDSM with a murder mystery set in a futuristic world interjected into the story. In between extended sex scenes, of course.

What I got:
Decent writing, interesting characterization, and an interesting pseudo-futuristic story. So basically it’s the opposite of my expectations.

The basic set up is this: there’s a murder mystery plot at the center of the story, a few explicit sex scenes thrown in to keep things interesting–sort of noir-ish in tone and atmosphere–and the unfolding of a corporation-centered world that’s built on sabotage. If explicit sex scenes aren’t your thing but you’re still interested in the book’s set-up, then you’re in luck (maybe?) because they are easy to skip in that they are sectioned off by chapters. You can essentially skip a whole scene by skipping a chapter, but I would at least skim it because there are things in it that’s crucial to plot and character development, and also because sex is the basis of the main characters’ semi-hostile budding relationship. They grow to like and appreciate each other later on, but at the beginning it was just sex. And intrigue. Mostly sex and some intrigue.

The world of New London is a futuristic, post-apocalyptic meltdown kind of world where familiar world orders are no longer in place. Instead, all of Europe is run by The Administration, a sociopathic draconian government body that favors a corporation-based society. We’re introduced to Val Toreth, a high-ranking government official who’s an investigator and interrogator by trade. He’s been assigned to a high-profile death that occurred at a fledgling tech company, and he has to determine whether the death is murder or suicide. Keir Warrick is head of the company under investigation. The start-up is in the final stages of testing a groundbreaking simulation technology, which might or might not be the cause of murder. Perhaps the technology is killing its users? Or is someone within the company sabotaging its development?

It’s sad and unfortunate that this book, well written and plotted as it is, isn’t getting a tenth of the attention Fifty Shades of Grey is getting. Well, we all know why that is. (**cough** heterosexuality always takes precedent **cough**) Though the explicit content itself isn’t so much the problem here since both series feature BDSM, or in Fifty Shades’ case, the author’s weird version of it. While Fifty Shades is making the rounds and will be made into a movie (or a series like the books… yikes), not many have even heard of The Administration. That is sad, really.


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* * * * spoilers below * * * *

Continue reading

Review: Saga, Volume 2 by Brian K Vaughan & Fiona Staples


Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: September 30 to October 10, 2013
Read count: 1

Another amazing installment. Not as great as Volume 1 only because the story is still being written. This volume is kind of the middle of the road (the second third of the road?) and many arcs are left wide open with more loose ends introduced near the end.

* Rest of review to be added soon

Review: The Black Prism by Brent Weeks


Rating: (abandoned; never to return…?)
Date read: August 27 to October 04, 2013
Read count: Chapters 1 to 3

After more than a month of making very little progress, I think I’m done with this book and, to an extent, done with Brent Weeks.

Prejudices are hard to put aside when you know you don’t like what the author has previously written. With that said, this book isn’t as bad as I thought. It’s actually much better than The Way of Shadows. (That’s a compliment, btw.)

So I am marking this as “read” as a note to myself that I will not be returning to reread at a later time.

— — — — —

Even though I hated Weeks’ Nightangel series (that name will never not be hilarious), a friend suggested I should do away with prejudices and general distaste for Weeks’ writing and give this book a chance. You won’t regret it, he promised. I better not, was my response.

Original review can be found here.

Review: The Art of Warfare (Classics of Ancient China)

The Art of Warfare (Classics of Ancient China)

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Date read: August 20 to October 02, 2013
Read count: 8

A little background info to put things in perspective:

Sun Tzu was a highly respected general and warlord of his time, and he wrote this book of battle strategies with a purpose and that was to help improve military leaders who came after him. It was never his plan for this book to be spread outside of his “social circle,” let alone to foreigners and foreign lands and foreign affairs/warfare… more than 2,500 years after his death.

I always keep that in mind when rereading this book, which I have done almost every year since I first read it ten years ago, and knowing that this book was never meant for public use, because it’s a secret code among ancient warlords, makes it even more interesting.

So the main issue is how applicable are Sun Tzu’s tactics. That’s really a matter of experience and personality. I don’t think I’ve ever applied his teachings, not purposely or consciously anyway.

* Rest of review to be added later.

—     —     —     —     —

Everyone has an absolute favorite book that he/she revisits once in a while. This book is mine. I try to read a different edition every year. When I run out of editions, which would be never, I will probably go back and reread the older ones. This book transcends time and cultural context.

Original review can be found here.