Tag Archives: Book review

Book Review: The Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

28 Jun

This first venture for the author into the world of fantasy adult literature was a surprisingly addictive read with a huge supernatural mystery and a flawed and tormented protagonist at its heart. The narrative is broken into three parts (or acts) with many inter-chapter sections acting as epistolary insertions (government files, news articles and journals) to catch the reader up or fill in the details of this multiversal plot. I have always loved when authors do this, and it successfully kept the mystery alive and allowed for a lot of cool exploration of the world(s) involved without bogging down the plot in exposition.

The story begins with the 10 year aftermath of a battle to save the world between a mysterious “Dark One” and the five teenagers who were prophesized to defeat him. As the world commemorates this victory over evil, the reader gets to know these characters through their continuing pain and trauma and dysfunction from their experience. At the center of this is our anti-hero, Sloane Andrews, a troubled survivor who shuns the world of publicity she is immersed in having been in a long-term relationship with the celebrated “chosen one” Matthew Weekes. Sloane is not my favorite type of protagonist, but she is masterfully executed by Ms. Roth into a very memorable character. The difficulties of living through trauma (whether from a bad childhood or from fighting the world’s first supervillain) is explored thoroughly. Then in the second act, the reader is thrown for a loop as Sloane and some of her compatriots become immersed in an inter-universal conflict.

My favorite elements of this book are the powerful characterizations, the building mystery and the exploration of “what if?” that when done well (which it is here) always helps us look at our own world with new lenses. I would recommend this book to anyone who is intrigued by modern worlds infected with magic, parallel universes, or just love a strong female protagonist.

A word of warning: the book introduces itself using compilated news articles, the second and most lengthy being an entertainment column written by a sexist idiot. It is our first foray into the world and our first introduction to the main character, before we get to the main narration, and it turned my wife off from reading further. I pushed on and was glad I did. I enjoyed this grueling adventure through alternate worlds and the trauma of being a hero.

4 stars out of 5.

Book Review: Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb

28 Jun

If you are looking for an escape, love dragons, or want to read a triumphant saga brimming with fully realized characters then I recommend the Rain Wilds Chronicles by Robin Hobb. Dragon Haven, the second in this four volume series picks up where Dragon Keeper left off. The crew of the Tarman, Alise and Sedrick of Bingtown and the outcast dragon keepers take the long and hazardous journey up the dangerously acidic river of the Rain Wilds to find a place where their charges, a group of immature dragons can find refuge in the mythical city of Kelsingra. Everything that Hobb built up in the first volume, a rich cast of characters, dramatic and tense situations, and an intricately constructed fantasy realm with its own rules, comes to fruition in this fraught journey to find a haven for the remarkable dragons in the story.

Never have I so enjoyed and marveled at dragons as I have in this work. These telepathic and rounded characters are filled with the complexity, pride and wrath one can expect from dragons, and their evolving relationship with their keepers and the crew of the Tarman will keep you turning the pages. For the lovers of romance there is a 750 page “will they or wont they” situation between the captain of the Tarman and the noble character of Alise. And although I thoroughly enjoyed the Assassin’s Apprentice series Hobb wrote earlier in her career, I prefer this marvelous journey through uncharted regions. She has once again created a wondrous world which becomes real for the reader of this superb series. Perhaps most fascinating is the mythology of dragonwood, liveships and the mythical race of elderlings, and how they come to be.

I can’t recommend this book more. This series had risen in my esteem with every page to be one of my all time favorites. I am saving the final two volumes as long as I can to prolong the wonder and satisfaction of being immersed in this lovely series. Take the journey, you won’t regret it.

5 stars (out of 5)

Book Review: Stamped From the Beginning by Ibram X. Kendi

3 Aug

When terrible times are upon us, we tend to turn our backs and busy ourselves with things that are less upsetting. Although, personally, I had to make the effort to keep the phone turned down each morning so that I wouldn’t scroll down through reams of infuriating events and the comments from people who have radically different outlooks on those very events, and thereby ruin my whole day, I decided to educate myself so that I was armed with facts that would help me navigate the confusing and unprecedented time we face today in America.

If you are like me and you would like a wealth of information that traces the history of racist ideas and actions in our country, than I couldn’t recommend more highly Ibram X. Kendi’s scholarly (yet accessible) account. The book begins with the first real racist work (from a Spanish propagandist for a Prince who saw lucrative opportunities in the market for human slaves), and then follows the history of racism through the lives of five influential people in history: Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison, W. E. B. Dubois, and Angela Davis.

Why would I want to do that? You ask. Well, I believe it is as good or better a time as any to take a deep look into your own misconceptions about race, history and society, so that you and I can be better fellow citizens to all of our American countrymen and women. It is a difficult journey and, honestly, there were many moments when I had to put the book down and do something mindless, or routine. The book is revealing, disillusioning, and does the job of shattering some of those hard worn conceptions about why things are the way they are.

I do not feel qualified to give this work a full review, but I feel compelled to share that my reading of the work has been transformative for me and how I might think about our history, our current events and even how I might better instruct young people about history.

For those of you who don’t have the time to read this long account of the many instances and movements of segregationists, assimilationists and anti-racists throughout American history, then you should check out Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism and You by Jason Reynolds and Kendi. Reynolds did a masterful job of boiling down the essence of Kendi’s work for a quicker, yet still insightful, read.

Some quick draws for me personally in this book was the inclusivity Kendi used in drawing together the events and people described in his book. He addresses sexual and gender rascism throughout and highlights many, many powerful women who have led the fight against racism. He also gives note to racism in culture, covering radio shows, and movies, showing how the different attitudes with race are metaphorically “stamped” into classic movies from Gone with the Wind, Tarzan, King Kong, Planet of the Apes and Rocky.

If you love history, wish you had a better grasp of the forces interacting still to this day on the very streets of our nation, or you just want a clearer perception of history, than I cannot recommend more this important work.