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Review – 1Q84 March 4, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 5 stars, Foreign, Literature.
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1Q84

by Haruki Murakami

(also available in hardcover and on NOOK)

The year is 1984, but not for long. Aomame, on her way to meet a client–the gravid implications of which only come clear later–sits in a taxi, stuck in traffic. On a lark, she takes the driver’s advice, bolts from the cab, walks onto the elevated Tokyo expressway, descends an emergency ladder to the street below, and enters a strange new world.

In parallel, a math teacher and aspiring novelist named Tengo gets an interesting offer. His editor has come upon an entry for a young writer’s literary prize, a story that, despite its obvious stylistic drawbacks, strikes a deeply moving chord with those who’ve read it. Its author is a mysterious 17-year-old, and the editor proposes that Tengo quietly rewrite the story for the final round of the competition.

So begins Haruki Murakami’s magnus opus, an epic of staggering proportions. As the tale progresses, it folds in a deliciously intriguing cast of characters: a physically repulsive private investigator, a wealthy dowager with a morally ambiguous mission, her impeccably resourceful bodyguard, the leader of a somewhat obscure and possibly violent religious organization, a band of otherworldly “Little People,” a door-to-door fee collector seemingly immune to the limits of space and time, and the beautiful Fuka-Eri: dyslexic, unfathomable, and scarred.

Aomame names her new world “1Q84” in honor of its mystery: “Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.

This was truly a monumental book at over 990 pages and it took me awhile to digest it. Murakami did a magnificent job with this book. He gives so much detail you really get a feel for each character. Although they’re swept away by the plot and the events that surround it, the focus is mainly on the characters.

The book is divided into chapters focusing on the divergent perspectives of Tengo and Aomame. This is, in no way, disharmonious. In fact, the rhythm of the book is quite lyrical. There’s a gentle cadence to the book that lulls you and invites you to continue reading.

 As the book progresses you become more and more anxious for Tengo and Aomame to meet and cross paths. This also makes you even more anxious for the pages to turn. At the same time, I found myself savoring each word and letting the book take it’s time with me. I think I took the most time with this book then with any book I’ve ever read.

With the exception of Aomame, Murakamai manages to convey feeling without having his characters display overt signs of emotion. In this way he manages to display the perfect Japanese economy of demeanor without sacrificing any insight into the characters thought, feelings, and motivations. I thought this was particularly masterful of him as many authors are unable to do this.

Even though I was a teenager at the time, it was hard for me to grasp the technology gap between 1984 and the present. Computers weren’t so prevalent. Records weren’t all digitilized. You couldn’t just hack into the mainframe to get information and I’ve taken that kind of thing for granted.

The truly defined antagonist wasn’t introduced wasn’t introduced until the third “book”. Like an opera slowly building to a crescendo, that’s when the pace of the story really quickened. He was a sympathetic character that made me feel as much pity for him as loathing. Part of me didn’t want him to fail for his sake, but most of me didn’t want him to succeed for the sake of Tengo and Aomame.  It is this conflict of emotion that makes a perfect villain in my opinion.

This book has love. It has mystery. It has the light spinkling of surrealism/fantasy that I experienced in After Dark. It has a dystopic society. It’s about good versus evil and all the gray shades in between. It’s about so much more.

When I was done with this book, even though this was well over 900 pages, I still wanted to read on. I wanted to remain in Tengo and Aomame’s world. That’s the mark of a good book!

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Review – The Fall of the Haunted City February 23, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 4 stars, Fantasy.
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The Fall of the Haunted City

by A. D. Bloom

Molly must learn to rule the Haunted City. Instead the people fear and hate her. The Hales are on the way to attack. Molly desperately tries to save the Haunted City; along with Juan Chang, leader of the Populist Rebellion, Teddy-Da, a witch-altered vorpal clawed bear, and some vengeful noble Waltons.

While this was a more plot-driven novella, I enjoyed this second installment a lot more then I did the first one. The different characters introduced made it a lot more interesting despite the fact they weren’t very well fleshed out.

I liked the imaginative plot devices used throughout the book. Some were a continuation from the first book that I liked but took more notice of this time around. Some were introduced in the second book. I especially liked the eight-foot tall nobles!

I’m looking forward to reading the third installment. I do wish these weren’t novellas though, I’d rather they were full-length novels.

Review – After Dark February 22, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 5 stars, Foreign.
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After Dark

by Haruki Murakami

(also available in paperback and NOOK

A short, sleek novel of encounters set in Tokyo during the witching hours between midnight and dawn, and every bit as gripping as Haruki Murakami’s masterworks The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Kafka on the Shore.

At its center are two sisters—Eri, a fashion model slumbering her way into oblivion, and Mari, a young student soon led from solitary reading at an anonymous Denny’s toward people whose lives are radically alien to her own: a jazz trombonist who claims they’ve met before, a burly female “love hotel” manager and her maid staff, and a Chinese prostitute savagely brutalized by a businessman. These “night people” are haunted by secrets and needs that draw them together more powerfully than the differing circumstances that might keep them apart, and it soon becomes clear that Eri’s slumber—mysteriously tied to the businessman plagued by the mark of his crime—will either restore or annihilate her.

Experiencing this novel, because it was indeed an experience, was like watching a citified episode of Twin Peaks. It had all the elements of surrealism and all the eccentric characters you’d come to expect out of the show. While disconcerting at times, it was also all the more intriguing.

It also had an eloquent prose that was like music to the ears. It urged me on to read until late into the night.

This was a more plot-driven novel. From seeing Mari in a Denny’s meet Takahashi the trombone player to having her propelled to a love-hotel. Then onwards into the night, you’re taken on a fascinating trip into the deep night of Tokyo.

While Eri remains asleep throughout the book, she’s not left out of the book. You get a definite sense of who she is and what her personality is like from the story. In fact she’s a key player.

I especially liked the way Murakami drew you in as a reader, cajoling you to take part of the experience along with himself as the narrator. You weren’t simply reading. You were, like I said, experiencing.

Ukishima February 21, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 3.5 stars, Fantasy.
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Ukishima

by Nigel Sellars

Instead of ending his days to the mercies of a wasting disease, Minamoto Ichiro decides to become a Kamikaze fighter pilot in the final legs of World War II. Before he can complete his mission, the Japanese war god Hachiman plucks him from the skies and offers him another chance at life as a Samurai. To save the universe from chaos, Ichiro must go to  a parallel universe where magic exists and save it from the evil daiymo Lord Taira.

This was a wonderful fantasy adventure into the not very often explored realm that is Japan. I enjoyed this book as I’ve always loved samurai books and movies. I grew up on them.

I have only a peripheral knowledge of Japanese culture and I’m no expert, but I did find it hard to believe that two female warriors would be so easily accepted in an all-male society. I also had a hard time believing that a left-handed, club-footed samurai would be so readily accepted as a hero and general. Instead I tried to suspend belief and I tried to enjoy the tale for what it was.

It was a fast-paced plot that didn’t slow down despite paying attention to the niceties of Japanese culture. A culture which can be tedious in its polite form. Sellars managed to pay homage to things like the tea ceremony while still keeping it interesting.

While the characters weren’t what I’d call fully formed or developed, they were still interesting and fascinating. Maybe it was because of the exotic setting.

I was disappointed in the development of the villain though. He came off as a bad actor in a vaudeville. He wasn’t as menacing or as truly evil as I’ve have liked him to be. One-dimensional villains always come off as second-rate. I would have liked to have seen more effort put into Lord Taira.

Ichiro is a good hero. He’s very likable and believable, but the question remains. How does he adjust to life in this new parallel universe? The book skips over that question by fast forwarding in time by two years. Effectively glossing over any adjustments he’s personally had to make in order to adapt.  I would have found it more believable if this topic had been addressed a bit more in depth.

The ending is open for more books in the series. I must admit I’m curious to see how the next one comes out.

Review – Bone Blade Girl February 19, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 4 stars, Fantasy, Novellas.
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Bone Blade Girl

by A. D. Bloom

Molly was forced to kill to protect her brother. In the eyes of her people, this makes her  a monster.

Vora is a Stitchlife witch who has discovered Sugar Music. A powerful magic that can save the ruins of the cities. She’s run away from the noble family she’s supposed to serve so that Sugar Music won’t be misused.

In the wake of a massacre, Molly has runaway only to run across of Vora. Vora rescues Molly and changes her into a witch-sped warrior.

In order to save Sugar Music, many sacrifices must be made. Some of them might include some monstrous acts on Molly’s part. For while young, she can be ruthless but she doesn’t want to be considered that way. She also shows a very vulnerable side that is very endearing.

Sugar Music offers Molly a means to Molly’s salvation or a means to her damnation. It all depends on how much she’s willing to sacrifice.

This character driven novella was highly entertaining and the pages seemed to fly by. It’s a fast-paced adventure that’s highly imaginative.

Molly is someone I took to immediately. You really feel for her plight. You want to comfort her. You want her to succeed. You want life to go right for her.

She becomes more of a superhero as the book goes on and as she gains her witch-sped powers. This makes her all the more special because she’s still just a little girl at the same time.

The problems I had? For one thing, the villains seemed one-dimensional to me. They were shallow and lacked intensity. To me, a truly great story has antagonists with some fire in them.

For another, despite my great liking for Molly, she still lacked a certain depth that I like to see in my characters. Vora also could have been more fleshed out as well. For some reason, they had a certain superficial air.

Finally, a few plot devices seemed corny. There were over-sized flying wasps that reminded me of 1950’s movie props. They were a little hard to swallow.

I’m still really looking forward to reading the rest of the novellas in this series.

Review – Devil's Lair February 17, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 3.5 stars, Fantasy.
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Devil’s Lair

by David Wisehart

Devil’s Lair is an epic fantasy set in Dante’s Inferno.

A medieval knight leads a quest through Hell to recover the Holy Grail from the Devil. The knight, Marco da Roma, is joined by: Giovanni Boccaccio, an expert on Dante; William of Ockham, an English friar; and Nadja, an epileptic with the gift of prophecy. As the Black Death sweeps through Europe, these unlikely heroes confront the Devil–and their own demons–to forestall the Apocalypse.

This historical fiction/fantasy novel is slow moving with lots of religious intonations. Good and evil weigh heavily on the questers. The friar, William of Ockham, is the quests real leader in spirit as it’s his faith that sees them through their doubt that Hell even exists.

I warn you that they don’t even reach Hell until a little more then halfway through the book. A lot of the story is about the journey to Hell and about the difficulties that they encounter on their way there.

A lot of the book centers on God and his love. So if you don’t want to be preached at, this book probably isn’t for you. The friar is constantly espousing the virtue of God’s love to those who have doubt in their hearts. There’s a lot of theological debate as well. This theme got a bit a tiresome after awhile.

There are some bawdy and evocative bits as well, but they’re few and far between. I can count them on one hand.

The character development in the book was well done. You got to know the main figures on the book quite well and in a short time you got a good feel for them. From the rough, amnesiac Marco de Roma to the poet who was desperately hoping to hold on to better times, Giovanni Boccaccio and the pious friar, William of Ockham. Also the naive and pure Nadja.

I did have a problem with Nadja. It seemed like she was put on a pedestal as the only woman in the group. She had her problems, but for the most part she was a bit too pure and a bit too naive.

The climax of the story had a good twist. I was quite surprised in the end and it was a good surprise. Although one portion of the climax did leave me wondering if that was all there was. I can’t say anymore without giving away a huge spoiler.

On the whole the book was well-written and I really wanted to like this book. Instead it just bored me with it’s tedious and endless repetition of the merits of good vs. evil and it’s unceasing preaching of the author’s brand of religion.

Review – Devil’s Lair February 17, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 3.5 stars, Fantasy.
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2 comments

Devil’s Lair

by David Wisehart

Devil’s Lair is an epic fantasy set in Dante’s Inferno.

A medieval knight leads a quest through Hell to recover the Holy Grail from the Devil. The knight, Marco da Roma, is joined by: Giovanni Boccaccio, an expert on Dante; William of Ockham, an English friar; and Nadja, an epileptic with the gift of prophecy. As the Black Death sweeps through Europe, these unlikely heroes confront the Devil–and their own demons–to forestall the Apocalypse.

This historical fiction/fantasy novel is slow moving with lots of religious intonations. Good and evil weigh heavily on the questers. The friar, William of Ockham, is the quests real leader in spirit as it’s his faith that sees them through their doubt that Hell even exists.

I warn you that they don’t even reach Hell until a little more then halfway through the book. A lot of the story is about the journey to Hell and about the difficulties that they encounter on their way there.

A lot of the book centers on God and his love. So if you don’t want to be preached at, this book probably isn’t for you. The friar is constantly espousing the virtue of God’s love to those who have doubt in their hearts. There’s a lot of theological debate as well. This theme got a bit a tiresome after awhile.

There are some bawdy and evocative bits as well, but they’re few and far between. I can count them on one hand.

The character development in the book was well done. You got to know the main figures on the book quite well and in a short time you got a good feel for them. From the rough, amnesiac Marco de Roma to the poet who was desperately hoping to hold on to better times, Giovanni Boccaccio and the pious friar, William of Ockham. Also the naive and pure Nadja.

I did have a problem with Nadja. It seemed like she was put on a pedestal as the only woman in the group. She had her problems, but for the most part she was a bit too pure and a bit too naive.

The climax of the story had a good twist. I was quite surprised in the end and it was a good surprise. Although one portion of the climax did leave me wondering if that was all there was. I can’t say anymore without giving away a huge spoiler.

On the whole the book was well-written and I really wanted to like this book. Instead it just bored me with it’s tedious and endless repetition of the merits of good vs. evil and it’s unceasing preaching of the author’s brand of religion.

Review – Changelings & Other Stories February 16, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 4.5 stars, Fantasy, Uncategorized.
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Changelings & Other Stories

by Leah Cypess

(also available on NOOK)

Laura is telling the truth about being from Faerie. But not about anything else.

Darri has been waiting years for her brother’s return… because only she can protect the rest of her family from him.

Sarli is one of a long line of abandoned girls chosen to be a human sacrifice. But she’s planning for her turn to go a little differently.

Seven previously published fantasy stories by Leah Cypess, author of Mistwood & Nightspell.

These seven stories were all particularly well done and I liked them all except for the last one. The last one was a little haphazard and confused. I especially liked Changelings and Silent Blade.

Changelings was about two fairies in human bodies and their attempt to get back into faerie. Silent Blade was about a girl who was waiting for her assassin brother’s return.

In all the stories the characters seemed to leap off the page in just the short amount of time you got to spend with them. The stories revolved around them and Cypess did a very good job of it.

These were a quick read and were very enjoyable.

Review – Twin-Bred February 15, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 3.5 stars, Sci-Fi.
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Twin-Bred

by Karen A. Wyle

(also available in paperback)

Can interspecies diplomacy begin in the womb?

     Humans have lived on Tofarn, planet of creeks and rivers, for seventy years, but they still don’t understand the Tofa. The Tofa are an enigma, from their featureless faces to the four arms that sometimes seem to be five. They take arbitrary umbrage at the simplest human activities, while annoying their human neighbors in seemingly pointless ways. The next infuriating, inexplicable incident may explode into war.
     Scientist Mara Cadell’s radical proposal: that host mothers carry fraternal twins, human and Tofa, in the hope that the bond between twins can bridge the gap between species. Mara knows about the bond between twins: her own twin, Levi, died in utero, but she has secretly kept him alive in her mind as companion and collaborator.
     Perhaps Mara should have expected the enigmatic Tofa to have their own reasons to support her project. Perhaps the ever-cynical Levi should have warned her that members of the human government might use her twins as weapons against the Tofa. Will the Twin-Bred bring peace, war, or something else entirely?

I had a hard time connecting with anyone but the “main” character until much, much later on in the book. It wasn’t that anyone wasn’t appealing to me, it was that character development was very slow in coming. There were also too many points of view in the book and it left me feeling disconnected.

The pace of the book was very slow. There wasn’t much action to the book as it centered more on the development and the growth of the twins. It turned out to be more of a drama rather then an action/adventure type sci-fi story. On the whole the twins were endearing though. Their antics were quite sweet even if I did get a trifle impatient with them.

I found Mara Cadell’s interactions to be the most insightful. She was a very complex character and I enjoyed her. She had a lot of depth of feeling. For that Wyle gets a lot of points.

Everything comes together in the end of the book nicely. The pace of the book picks up. Key points of the plot comes into play. I thought it was well done, but it didn’t quite make up for the earlier disappointments I experienced earlier in the book.

On the whole, the book was very imaginative and ingenious. The Tofa were fascinating creatures and the idea of having fraternal twins of alien species was a great idea.

3.5 stars

The Great Convergence February 9, 2012

Posted by thehypermonkey in 4 stars, Fantasy.
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The Great Convergence

by Joseph Lallo

(also available on NOOK)

From Amazon:

The second in the Book of Deacon series, The Great Convergence continues the tale of young Myranda Celeste. With fresh knowledge of magic and steadfast resolve to see the end of the war that plagues her land, Myranda sets out to find and unite the five fated heroes, the Chosen. Each new warrior brings her world a step closer to peace, but does she have the strength to survive the trials ahead?

In the start of the second book, I found Myranda to be rather naive and petulant. In fact, I found her childish and annoying. It made it very hard to enjoy the book.

I also found the beginning of the book slow to start. That and the fact that the heroine was being such a prude made it hard to read.

After that troublesome start, things looked up for the better. In fact, things got considerably better. Enough so that it made up for the beginning.

The book took unexpected twists and turns in the plot that left me wondering what in the world Lallo would do next. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, things did get worse. It definitely wasn’t a light fantasy. This added to the high drama of the story and I loved it.

As in the first book, Lallo did a good job switching from one perspective to another. I always thought this was something of an art form. If the author can do this without making the reader dizzy and in an effective manner. It’s something of an art.

The book does end on a cliffhanger. Luckily the third book is already out. Just make sure you have it handy!

4 of 5 stars