Tag Archives: Kindle

The Ballad of Black Tom

As a part of the ongoing series, Chris Reads Books Years Past When People Were Recommending Them, sponsored in this case by Tor who had the ebook on offer for free a few months ago, I present: a review of The Ballad of Black Tom.

I guess this is what they call a novella. I’m not sure how many pages it weighs in at, since the Kindle only tells me what percent is left, but it’s maybe a hundred? Anyway, it focuses on a 1920s Harlem hustler musician who attracts the wrong kind of attention from, well, pretty much everyone. A creepy voodoo(?) lady in Queens, a beleaguered millionaire in Brooklyn, and of course the cops. Oh, and casual 1920s racism of the type unintentionally documented in the works of HP Lovecraft and Robert E Howard, who I should say both figure heavily in the thematic ground the work covers.

I accidentally understand from research that this is the story The Horror at Red Hook, retold from a different perspective. This reminds me that I want to read more Lovecraft, while simultaneously cautioning me that, man, maybe I don’t want to after all.

The Maze Runner

I finished the second second Robin Hobb book and its review just before my annual five day camping trip, which was good timing because I wanted small easy books to read, instead of dragging around a doorstop in the woods. But then I made a terrible mistake. In the midst of packing, every book I intended to bring (and the Kindle) were left on a shelf. Which meant, a day or so later when it was time to read, I had nothing!

This is I think the third worst thing that has ever happened to me on a camping trip.

So, I downloaded Kindle software onto my phone and picked the book that sounded the most like what I wanted at that moment, out of the books I have Kindleized. Which was The Maze Runner.

I already saw the movie (but apparently did not review it? wtf), so there were not like a ton of surprises? Though, much like the movie, motives are still unclear to me. Anyway, it’s a teen book about teens in a maze. Also, they have no personal memories. But mainly there’s this maze, and they’ve been there a while, but everything it about to change. (Also, mazes are cool.)

This book mostly asks questions that I assume future books will answer. Why are there a bunch of teenage boys left in a maze with no apparent solution? Why are they supplied? Why do new boys keep coming? Why can’t they remember anything? Why are there murderous monsters in the maze? Why only boys? (I’m not sure if I expect an answer to this one.)

I only read like one and a half chapters while camping, but it felt a lot better knowing I had something to read if I wanted to than before that, when I didn’t and everything to read was like 150 miles away.

Z 2135

51r4bMhNxML._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Once again, my review material comes from the author’s afterword. This time, apparently, the authors of Z 2134 were disheartened by people who gave them crap for gleefully stealing from popular literature to mish mash their dystopic zombie-laden future. The goal for Z 2135 was to amp up the characterizations and the plot turns and prove everyone wrong while once again exciting their true fans.

Well… first of all, the series suffers from Harry Dresden disease. Despite being named after the year in which it occurs, everything took place over the course of two or three weeks, just like last time. Which doesn’t actually matter, but I always side eye that kind of thing a little. Otherwise? The characterizations were fine, but nothing to write home about. The plot turns are frequent and dramatic, that I’ll grant. In the end, though, the problem is that there’s hardly anyone to like. Sure, the teenage couple are nice enough, but the kid brother is too annoyingly indecisive to really latch onto, and while the government were always the bad guys, of course, I ended up with no interest in the rebellion either.

So there’s just this one family in the whole world that’s especially worth a damn? That makes for a pretty lonely world, even if they figure out a way to win in the third serial novel that doesn’t reward either horrible side of the struggle and only the innocent bystanders.

I mean, I’ll read it.

Z 2134

z-2134-coverIn the afterword to the book, the two authors discuss how, in the wake of a few successful turns as serial authors (a la Dickens, Doyle, or once, briefly, King), they decided that a good idea for their next plot would be, “What if The Hunger Games had zombies in it?” And, you know what? Yep, that is exactly the book they wrote.

Okay, that’s unfair in at least two ways. 1) The teenage female character is nowhere near as unlikeable as the book version of Katniss Everdeen. 2) The authors developed a world that is… okay, look, neither this world nor the Hunger Games one hangs together very plausibly if you actually start staring at the underpinnings. But this world makes at least as much sense after correcting for the zombies, and honestly maybe a little bit more, even.

Still, though. You cannot really define derivative more precisely than a book whose authors gleefully admit they combined a different successful book with a pop-culture staple. And as much as I’m a sucker for Rube Goldbergian arena combat to the death, that wasn’t even more than a third of the focus of the book. I guess I actually liked the characters and the premise enough to want to know how things turn out? Huh. Okay.

Warning: Z 2134[1] has two sequels and ends on several cliffhangers. Anti-warning: I think maybe there are only two sequels? And they’re all published, so. I know it sounds like my standards have plummeted here, but a) let’s be honest, they were never really so high as that, and b) it’s always nice to have a mindless book to read at a burn.

[1] Oh, also, the title is super-imaginative, right?

The Lies of Locke Lamora revisited

91Lq5qpHKxL._SL1500_A really cool thing happened a couple of months ago, which was that a new Locke Lamora book was released. Since I rather liked the first one a lot[1], this was naturally exciting to me. But then, I realized that it had been five years since I last read one of these books, and, well, I didn’t exactly remember what had happened. Broad strokes yes (and mostly accurately, as it happens), but fine character and plot details, not so much.

I won’t drag this out, both because I’ve already been here before and because I have plenty of things I’d like to be reading right now. First: yes, I still like this book a very great deal. With a five year veil, everything I didn’t remember took on the sheen of awesomeness, amusement, sick horror, and exhilaration that I’m sure it had the first time through. The one thing I did pick up on that I certainly missed before was Locke’s overwhelming pride in the first third of the book. It really stands out in sharp relief when you know just how hard the left turn is about to be.

Anyway, really cool story, stands alone, well worth the read. And I’ve been told that you don’t actually have to reread these to prepare for the new book in the series. While I’m sure that’s true and while I regret that I haven’t read the new one yet myself, I regret it in the way I regret the other dozen or so books that I want to read right this instant. In no way do I regret the reread.

[1] And also the second, but all in due time.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle

41E4+fttDjLIn case you are wondering why I should read such a very Snow Falling on Cedars type of book, and nevermind that I haven’t read comics in ages or that there’s a new Stephen King book in the world? Book club.

So, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. There’s this Japanese guy, living in a house with a wife and a secret alley that wanders through the neighborhood and a missing cat and some fortune tellers and a Lolita neighbor, all of which are also Japanese[1]. And…. okay, I have no idea where to start or end this review, spoilers-wise, because very little of what actually happens is the point, and I’m going to spoil the hell out of the themes of the story, because that’s what I usually do, except this time if you take away the themes there’s actually nearly nothing to discover, so I may be doing it wrong. If you’re worried about that kind of thing or this particular book, you should skip the rest of this, only then you’d have no review at all. So here’s what I’ll do.

Before all the despoiling of the fecund thematic territory I am about to perpetrate, I will say that I did not particularly like the book, and mainly it was because of a probably cultural difference between myself and the author that leads me to strongly disagree with the points his book is making. (I am not so sure he himself is making them, but it’s hard to explain why. Hopefully I succeeded below, in the spoiler part you aren’t reading? Still, it seemed like I ought to say so, in case.) However, and this may strongly tie into the recent parenthetical distinction, the way it wrapped up was pretty satisfying, so at least I don’t resent the whole endeavor.

Anyway, though, themes. Well, theme. Toru Okada (the Japanese man I mentioned earlier), as he wanders through his world, growing more and more confused by the ever stranger events and people he comes into contact with, is presented with one unifying message from every single character, except possibly the cat: “there is no way to control fate, not yours, not mine, not anyone’s.” And I mean, the name of the book itself: there’s this bird that nobody can see, up in a tree somewhere, winding up the world every morning, and then the world goes off on its preordained path until it winds down again. And while that’s an interesting thought exercise, it makes for a pretty horrible world. Nobody can fight for happiness. Nobody can feel good about any accomplishment, nor feel regret about any shortcoming. It all just is, and that’s the end. My ability to maintain interest in characters for whom I don’t feel the slightest shred of empathy? Turns out to be vanishingly small.

The one good thing about all that is that I’m pretty sure the pivot on which the story swings is Toru’s decision whether to accept that message or not. If you are saying to yourself, “He can’t decide that or it undermines the entire premise!”, well, a) that’s what makes me feel a little better about things but also b) that’s why I’m not sure if I read the book correctly. Because, seriously, if I’m right, it’s 95% “everything is outside your control” and 1% “I disagree”, and that’s a weird proportion when you are arguing the converse. So I may really just be inserting what I wanted to happen instead.

(The remaining four percent is Japanese history lessons, ca. World War II.)

[1] I point this out repetitively because it will be important later. I pointed it out with one repetition instead of one per noun because that would have been as horrible to type as it was going to be to read.

The Map of the Sky

9102OsNohAL._SL1500_You know that book The Map of Time that is so intimately tied up in my Kindle ownership? It turns out that it was the first book of a trilogy of standalone books. Who knew? The important thing to focus on here, besides that I also definitely liked The Map of the Sky, is that word “standalone”. Because while this book makes more sense if you’ve read the first one, that is not necessary and there is definitely not a cliffhanger at the end, or even any more hint of a third volume than the first one implied that this book was coming. So if you’re worried about reading it? Don’t, it will be fine.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way: You know how the first book in the Victorian trilogy riffed on the Time Machine? This one riffs on the War of the Worlds, albeit a lot more straightforwardly than that other time. And really, I think that should be all you need to know? Yes, it’s in the same tone and voice as the first book, like you’d expect, and since that worked for me just fine then, I’m happy with it here as well. And what it somewhat lacked in byzantine twists, it made up in my deepened emotional attachment to the characters (and their deepened emotional attachments, for good or ill, to each other).

Also, one part of the book, set in the 1830s instead of 1898, is possibly based on a Poe novel instead of War of the Worlds? I am saddened to be unfamiliar with it, if so, and especially saddened that I did not get to choose him as my American Literature senior focus, back when I was getting my lit degree. I tried, but one can only wait so many semesters before you just have to agree to get on with graduating instead. In any event, it reminded me a great deal more of a completely different narrative which I shan’t mention here, to avoid spoilers.


If you were looking for the book with the most understated title, I would definitely offer into contention Changes, the Dresden Files book that puts me only two behind (I think). I received a spoiler for this book in the first sentence of someone’s review of its sequel, before I had quite realized what was happening. And so (after the annoyance faded), I stroked my chin and nodded wisely and said, “Ah, Changes. Indeed.” The spoiler I received, you see, was… no, wait, come back. Of course I’m not going to actually spoil it myself! Who am I here? I am only identifying its placement in the text, for the benefit of folks who have already read it. You know the last thing that happens? That one.

The point, my friends who have not read these books, is that everyone else is now snickering at me for thinking I understood what was going on in advance, and also for being quite so put out as I had been. In retrospect, considering a book whose first major change occurs in the opening paragraph[1] and who does not let up on Harry Dresden either being confronted with or choosing for himself one major change in the way his life works (worked, I should say, because boy howdy are things fundamentally different now) after another, I can even almost understand how said reviewer of the sequel could have tossed out that one spoiler so casually. As huge as it seemed to me at the time, it feels pretty small potatoes now. I, uh, think I’ll probably read the last few of these soon now. Not to avoid spoilers, that’s a fringe benefit, but because I really need to know where this is going.

[1] And that change is arguably bigger than the one I was spoiled for!

Towers of Midnight revisited

Yeah, it’s fair to say that I really don’t know what I’m doing at this point. My previous review was right, and that covers almost anything non-spoilerish that I am able to say. It’s a big exciting brick of a book with very few flaws that aren’t related to my personal sadness with being so very near the end now. It sets up a big ending, it shows a world in as much turmoil as I think I’ve ever seen a world be in, and it leaves me as worried for the outcome as I have ever been in long-form fiction, which actually says quite a lot considering the decades of snickering about how no major character can ever die.

And you know what? The spoilers I would have discussed all come down to the second half of the previous sentence anyhow, so why bother with actually spelling out said spoilers at this point? So, to be clear: I haven’t read the last book yet, and so of course I might change my mind. But if it’s anything like this one, I’m going to be impressed with it. If it’s too much like this one, I might hate it, but not because of any lack of skill or care for the plot. (Man, it would be a hell of a thing if I discover after 20 years that the story Jordan has been telling is not actually the story I want to hear.)

The Gathering Storm revisited

You know, my experience reading The Gathering Storm has not been much different this time than last. Most everything was the same, but a little bit more muffled[1]. Egwene was every bit as cool and seemed less troublesomely preachy, Mat seemed less wrong, Rand was… well, okay, that’s a difference. I don’t precisely recall how I felt about him last time, but I know that this time all I felt was pity. And that’s really all I have to say about the things that happened in the book.

Yet the experience of reading it, that I have a bit more to natter on about. Every time I opened the book[2], I plunged ahead voraciously, for hours at a time. And I’m quite apt to do the same tomorrow as I continue the early chapters of this book’s second half. But every time I didn’t have it open, I would stare at it in trepidation, thinking about how little is left. (Well, also, the book was telling me that. I know I knew how bad things are in Randland, but it seems that watching it happen all in a row is actively horrifying. How do you defeat an enemy whose very existence is so antithetical to, well, everything, that reality fails the closer he gets? And, y’know, how did he get here and why does he exist in the first place? There are a lot of open questions to be addressed in the finale, is my point. But all of this is a digression.) And this is the essential tug-of-war I’m dealing with. I want to read something else. I want to be done. I want to know what happens. I want the false comfort of believing there will always be more of this story left to tell. I want to live in this book forever, just like I want to live in…. okay, at least a few other books that I love, anyway, just like I want to live in those ones forever. It doesn’t make sense, obviously, the logical conflict at least and probably the rest of it.

I guess my point is, I’m afraid of change.

Well, what else is new?

[1] I’m not sure how to describe what I mean. Maybe everything was a little less immediate instead. Probably all I’m saying is, “I knew what was going to happen, so there weren’t as many surprises”, but it doesn’t feel like I’m getting it right when I say that.
[2] Even more than the protection and the built-in light, what I think I appreciate most about my Kindle case is that act of flipping the cover open to read it. The touchstone to how books used to be is of great comfort to me, and not only because it gives me an excuse to make otherwise dishonest claims.