Wednesday, February 27, 2013

CBR V Review #14: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

“It's like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.” 

This is going to be an incredibly glowing review, so prepare yourselves.  It's my second read through of this fantastic fantasy book (which is volume one of The Kingkiller Chronicles) and I loved it even more the second time.  I am an unabashed fangirl of this series.  I belong to a group that discusses theories on what has happened and what is going to happen.  I follow Rothfuss's fabulous blog and facebook page.  And I desperately want a set of talent pipes, but I'm such a nerd that I feel badly buying them for myself because I feel they need to be earned.  So this review is going to be filled with nothing but praise, and all of it well deserved.

The Name of the Wind is a fantasy epic following the story of Kvothe, who is a man of many names and stories.  The narrative is framed by our hero, who is currently in hiding as an innkeeper named Kote (in a beautiful play on words, this name means "disaster" in Siaru, one of the languages in the world this is set in).  Kote comes upon a man one evening known as The Chronicler, and is compelled to tell his story and set the record straight.  He tells Chronicler that he will tell the story over three days, and that nothing is to be omitted or changed in any way - this is *his* telling.  The books, then, are set with each volume of the trilogy representing a day of the story being told, with some bouncing back and forth between Kvothe's story, and what is happening to Kote, Chronicler, and Kote's student Bast during the telling.  The Name of the Wind is Day One, and what a day it is.

In Kote's timeline, war rages and times are tough.  We know from Bast, who is of the Fae, that Kote is not the man he used to be, though we aren't really sure why.  An innkeeper's life seems a strange choice for a man of legend, whose stories are told over fires countless times till any seed of truth seems to be lost.  There are terrible things on the horizon in this present, with horrible demon spiders called Scrael appearing unexpectedly.  But the thing that really pulls everything along is the story that Kote is telling, the story of our beloved Kvothe.

I've heard a lot of people hate on Kvothe.  He's arrogant and impulsive.  Sure, that's true, but I find it to be part of his charm that he's flawed.  Kvothe's story begins with the Edema Ruh, traveling troupers who are his family.  Kvothe's Ruh roots are essential to the story, both because his upbringing shapes who he is, and because what happens to his troupe is the catalyst for everything that comes after.  Kvothe is a brilliant boy, the type of kid you only have to show something once and he's got it.  An arcanist travels with the troupe for a time, and this lights a fire of learning under Kvothe.  He wants desperately to attend the University and learn more, and it's obvious that he's more than capable of handling the workload.

I hesitate to go further into the plot.  It's such a beautiful story to discover piece by piece, layers of success on foundations of tragedy.  Kvothe's journey is far from a simple one, and it's a joy to see the world through his eyes.

Rothfuss has done such a beautiful job in world creating here.  I'm a big fantasy reader, and the more thoroughly developed the world is that I'm being brought into, the happier I am.  Rothfuss has gone so far as to have a currency converter program you can play with on his website - THAT is some serious dedication to world building.  The cultures, currencies, languages - all of it feels organic and complete as you read, like you could really go and live there, study at the University, listen to the musicians at the Eolian. 

Oh, the music.  I have to mention that.  I am a musician - I've been a singer most of my life.  Kvothe's passion for music is one of my favorite things about the series.  The culture of the musical world in this book is rich and vivid and I adore it.  I want to go listen to people play in the Eolian.  I want to try for my talent pipes.  I want to throw back a tankard of sounten with Deoch and Stanchion.  It's not a common thing to pay so much tribute to music, and this series does it in the best ways possible.

The characters deserve a mention, too.  Everyone in this is so well developed, I feel like I know them.  Well, except maybe Denna, but how well does anyone know the mysterious, captivating, cruel (but not unkind) object of Kvothe's fascination?  Each person who crosses paths with Kvothe feels real.  They have histories, and cultural ties, desires and fears.  They are real people, characters that could each have their own book to tell their story if they wanted, as I have no doubt that Rothfuss knows what those stories are somewhere in that labyrinthine mind of his.  And Kvothe...oh my Kvothe.  I adore him, flaws and all.  He may be one of my favorite characters in literature.

This book, and the series thus far (the final day, aka the book The Doors of Stone, is as yet unpublished) ranks among my favorite books of all time.  If you are a fan of fantasy, or even just a fan of good literature, I implore you to run out and buy this book immediately.  Go to and order it for your Kindle.  Go to B&N and pick up a hard copy.  I don't care what form of media you use, but get it now - you're only cheating yourself by skipping it.

Monday, February 18, 2013

CBR V Review #13: I am a Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want to Be Your Class President by Josh Lieb

“Crime is for poor people. You don't need to rob the bank if you own it.”

Another audiobook.  It took me a long time to think of what I wanted to say about this book, and I still don't really have an answer.  It left me completely apathetic.  It's not good, it's not bad - it just is.

Genius is about Oliver Watson, an evil genius 12 year old who plays the idiot in his daily life to hide the fact that he is the third richest person on earth.  In an effort to earn his father's approval (something he continually denies needing), Oliver runs for student government, using all his evil skills and connections to succeed. 

Reviews on GoodReads would suggest this book is totally hilarious.  I didn't really find it to be so.  Oliver is profoundly unlikeable, and since he is both our narrator and protagonist, it makes it a little hard to give a crap about his story.  A lot of the humor is fairly obvious, and I think I expected something a little more subversive from someone who works for The Daily Show.  It's comedy.  I found my mind wandering during passages.  I'd be more interested in a book that explored Oliver and Tatiana, as her involvement in any scene made me more interested in the proceedings.

In terms of audiobook review, the reader does a great job.  He employs a large number of voices for the characters, and generally to great effect.  I HATED the interstitial music.  I have no idea why it was there, or how they chose when it was employed, because it seemed to just play sometimes for no reason at all.  And was annoying. 

Best scene?  The scene between Liz Trombley and The Motivator.  Every beat of that is comic gold and I loved it.

I'm not even giving this book stars because I don't wanna.  I don't want it to be compared with other things I've rated with whatever star number, because I genuinely don't feel feelings about this.  Maybe I was just in the wrong frame of mind when I played it, I don't know.  This book is beige.

CBR V Review #12: I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron

Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.

So...this book happened.  This was another audiobook, and it was read by the author.  Unlike when Mindy and Tina read theirs, I felt like a bit of this was hindered by the odd cadence to Nora's voice.  It was occasionally off putting for me.  So tip one - if you want to read this, pick up a copy instead of listening to the audio version.

I know I've already compared this to Tina's and Mindy's memoirs, and it's hard not to.  All three are comedic, and all three were audiobooks read by the author.  The problem with this comparison is that Mindy and Tina are much closer to my age, and as such, Nora suffers by comparison.  She writes in a way that I imagine is wonderful for women a decade or more older than I am.  My mother, for example, loved this.  And I can totally see that.  But whereas the lives of Tina and Mindy felt at least vaguely familiar to me, I had nothing in common with Nora.

This is not to say this is a bad book.  I love Nora Ephron - she built a beautiful career making movies I adore.  But she also wrote this in her later years, and being in my twenties, we don't exactly have a lot of overlapping perspectives on the world.  I don't honestly remember laughing out loud at anything in this one, though some of her stories did put a smile on my face.

Final thoughts? Not a bad book, but a much better choice for a different demographic than my own.

Friday, February 15, 2013

CBR V Review #11: In the Land of the Long White Cloud by Sarah Lark

This one came to me free with my Amazon Prime membership.  The free book options for Prime are a mixed bag at best.  I've had some really lovely choices, and some truly terrible ones (and there is a LOT of heavy handed religious lit available for free).  This had so much more potential than I feel it actually reached.

In the Land of the Long White Cloud is an immensely long story of, at its core, two nineteenth century women who venture from England to New Zealand to marry and start their lives.  Helen Davenport leaves for Christchurch to answer an advertisement for brides for "gentlemen of quality" living in the colonies.  As a governess with no appreciable dowry, she knows her chances of a good match in London are remote, and so she takes a chance, escorting a group of orphan girls being sent over to work.  Gwyneira Silkham (whose name I never figured out how to pronounce and shortened to Gwyn whenever I read it), whose situation in life is better than Helen's, goes abroad after her father loses a hand of blackjack to a sheep baron playing to win Gwyn's hand (and quite a lot of sheep and sheepdogs) for his son, Lucas.  Both woman take a ship, with the orphans, over to the colonies to make a go at life and love and become quick and long lasting friends, despite their class differences and the conflict they discover between their husbands.

I wanted to love this book and rate it well.  Truly.  And it's a good book, with characters you care about.  The issue at hand is the lack of editing.  The story takes places between 1852 and 1877, and you feel every one of those 25 years.  This needed to be a series rather than one book.  There is a point where we jump from the perspectives of Gwyn and Helen (with occasional views of other tertiary characters in their age bracket) to those of their children.  The issue I have with this is that it creates a whole new set of circumstances.  You could easily have ended it when the kids were little, and then started a new book with the jump ahead, letting it focus on the youths and their relationships.  Gwyn and Helen experience important things during that segment as well, but you could tie that into a sequel with more ease than keeping all of this in one book.  The way it reads currently, you reach Otago and start to wonder if there is actually an endgame in sight.  According to Goodreads, this book is Volume 1, but I hope the others are more succinct than this one.  Volumes 2 and 3 appear to only be published in their original language (German), and while my German is good, it's not THAT good, so I'll be skipping them.

That being said, I did enjoy Helen and Gwyn's stories.  It was sad for me that so much less time was spent on Helen - it's really Gwyn's story once they cross the seas.  The women are interesting characters, and they grow into really lovely, strong women.  It's also a very interesting look at the settling of New Zealand by the English, which is, admittedly, not a subject I'm terribly familiar with.

Trigger warning - this is a small spoiler alert I suppose, but I'd rather warn you than not.  There's some unpleasant sexual content, including a rape.  It's unflinching in what happens, so prepare yourself, or skip it if you know that is something you can't handle.

Overall, a book I enjoyed, but definitely wished was separated into more than one volume.  Good historical fiction, but still shy of great.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

CBR V Review #10: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

“Friends see most of each other’s flaws. Spouses see every awful last bit.”

This is going to be a first for me - this post will include spoilers.  There is going to be a section below, with a warning above it, that has spoilers.  You have to highlight it to read them, so you can't spoil yourself unless you choose to.  I just can't talk about this book completely without discussing things that will ruin it for a person that hasn't read it.  The rest of this review will be spoiler free and safe.

I waited on a list for Gone Girl for quite some time, and I was thrilled when my library finally sent me that happy little email that a copy was waiting for me to download.  My friends had been talking about it for months, and now casting rumors are going around for the movie.  I needed to read something this talked about and know what was so shocking and fascinating about it.  I was not disappointed. least in general.

Gone Girl tells the story of Nick and Amy Dunne, two NYC transplants living in Carthage, Missouri.  They move out two years before the start of the action in this story to care for Nick's mother, and because both have lost their jobs.  On their fifth wedding anniversary, Amy goes missing.  Nick doesn't react the way he's expected to, and a suspicious pallor is cast over him.  Could this man have killed Amazing Amy, inspiration for the beloved children's book series?  Isn't the husband always guilty?  Nick defends his innocence as the police keep discovering new twists in the case, and we're given Amy's diary entries to fill in some of their history.  Is Nick to blame, and if not, then where the hell is Amy?

The writing in this is absolutely brilliant.  It's the type of prose you enjoy like a good meal - it leaves you feeling satisfied as you read it.  Amy and Nick are VERY well developed characters, and even the people on their periphery, like Nick's twin Margo, and Amy's parents, get some good development.  This is a twisty, turny book, and there are a lot of questions to answer as you go.  Flynn does a lovely job with red herrings and MacGuffins.  It was a book, as a whole, that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.  I tore through it in a couple of days.

That being said, SPOILER ARE AHEAD.  Seriously.  If you don't want to know what happens, DO NOT highlight this text.  I will completely ruin the book for you here if you haven't read it; I just have to voice this stuff or I will go crazy.


The end of this book was the biggest pile of bullshit I've seen in a long time. I can't even say it's the "wrong" way to end the book, exactly.  It's an ending.  It's a choice.  But holy sweet Mother of Pearl is it unsatisfying for them to end up together like nothing happened.  AMY IS A SOCIOPATH.  SHE IS A MURDERER.  This crazy chick doesn't have ANY GODDAMN CONSEQUENCES.  She gets away with EVERYTHING!  I was so mad I almost punched something (I was on a commuter train at the time, so I refrained).  Look, I was not surprised that she was crazy, though maybe a bit at just *how* crazy.  I was not surprised that she set him up - I figured that was the case, though I didn't figure out that the diary was a fake till later in the game.  But I FUCKING WELL DID NOT EXPECT HER TO GET AWAY WITH IT.  WTF??  Oh, and even better, now they can raise a super psycho child together.  Cause that will end well.  Y'know, until Nick steps out of line the tiniest bit, or the baby pisses Amy off because she can't control it, and she murders them both and disappears to Tahiti to live a life of luxury alone.  WORST. ENDING.

And thus you are now safe from spoilers.

While the book's conclusion was not what I wanted from it, the book as a whole is brilliantly written, and I highly recommend it.  It's the best thriller/mystery that I've come across in a long time.

CBR V Review #9: Bossypants by Tina Fey

“I was a little excited but mostly blorft. "Blorft" is an adjective I just made up that means 'Completely overwhelmed but proceeding as if everything is fine and reacting to the stress with the torpor of a possum.' I have been blorft every day for the past seven years.” 

I listened to this memoir of the fabulous Ms. Fey on audiobook, read by the author herself.  And I loved it.

Tina is a delight, which I'm pretty sure most of the world is aware of by now.  This was such a lovely, funny, humble look at her own life.  As a performer, all of her stories of working in Chicago and New York were so relatable to me.  I loved the relationships she had at the performing arts summer school, and her experience with Second City.  I just loved all of it.  There were parts that I could relate to less, as I am not the same age as Tina, but even those were written so amusingly that I laughed anyway.

I will say, there are some flaws in terms of her reading of it.  She has the tendency to drop off the volume of her voice at the end of some phrases, and speed them up.  As such, I found on occasion that I had no idea what she just said.  It's a small thing, but it happens frequently, so it's worth noting.  It doesn't really take away from the experience of listening to the book for me, but if she were to write another (and I hope she does!) I'd love it if she didn't drop off like that.  It's hard to rewind and change volume quickly while you are driving!  So mostly I'd just miss those little nuggets and be sad.

A fun, quick read that I highly recommend, especially if you are a fan of any of her previous work.

CBR V Review #8: Cinderella's Secret Diary: Lost by Ron Vitale

In the interest of full disclosure, this is a book I received free from the author (along with its sequel, which I will not be reading/reviewing for this blog).  He was kind enough to send a number of copies of both books to those of us participating in CBR this year, and that is wonderful, and I thank him for his generosity.  I hope more authors continue to do the same, regardless of how we review their works, because it's such a lovely way to get your material out there and read.  And I imagine other people who happily accepted this offer may have more positive feedback than I'm about to.  It's hard to be less than glowing about a book someone was nice enough to send you for free, but being anything other than honest defeats the purpose of writing these reviews in the first place.

Everything about this book suggested it would be a hit for me.  A twist on the classic fairy tale of Cinderella?  Good.  Historical fiction from the Napoleonic era?  Good.  Mixing magic with history?  Good.  (If you don't get the Friends reference I'm making right now, I'm sad for you.)  The real hang up for me, I think, is the final element of this - the diary format (if you kept up with the Friends reference, it was the beef in my English Trifle).  Now, I've read a number of diaries over the years, both real and fictional.  Go Ask Alice was one of the defining books of my adolescence, and The Diary Of Anne Frank should be a touchstone of everyone's literary background.  But in this case, the format lost me.  Let me back up a minute.

This diary is the story of Cinderella (actually named Sophia, which is name dropped a few times with very little impact).  She's married to the prince, who in this case is George IV, though that is never explicitly stated.  As this is clearly set in the English monarchy, and Napoleon is battling in Egypt at its start, the timeline is easy to locate in history.  Anyway.  Her marriage is a disaster - the prince cheats on her, she can't seem to produce an heir, and she's miserable and wants to go to Paris.  Her diary starts as being addressed to her Fairy Godmother, although this changes later in a way I'll abstain from mentioning to avoid spoilers.  She gets the chance to go to France, and from there the story spirals wildly out of control.

Back to the format issue for me.  Diaries are hard, y'all.  Have you ever kept one and attempted to read it years later?  It will make you want to go back in time and smack the shit out of yourself, I promise you.  We are all incredibly self indulgent, naive, and melodramatic when we think no one is watching, and Cinderella is no exception.  In addition, Vitale does an excellent job of making the language appropriate to the time period.  While I appreciate this attention to detail, it makes it an incredible pain in the ass to read.  I spent so much time annoyed with how petulant Cinderella was, how incapable of doing anything herself, that it made me really not want to root for her.  I have no idea if asking the same question a hundred times was a fixture of the time or just a flaw in the character, but that got on my nerves.  Lady, you've already asked that question 6 times.  In this entry.  Move on.  But the way she is written is authentic to women of that period, so I get where Vitale is coming from - it just doesn't work for me.

The other problem is that I feel like it wants to be a grand fantasy novel, and it really...isn't?  I think the limitations of a journal make it hard to embrace a world where you need, honestly, to explain how witches and fairies fit into the history you are also tying into.  We go from "this is a normal world, and maybe there's some fantastical elements to it" to "OMG THE FAE ARE GOING TO MAKE WAR HAPPEN EVERYWHERE" and the transition isn't particularly smooth.  I'm also not really sure why The Silver Fox seems to think that sowing the seeds of war is going to somehow get him what he wants (again, avoiding spoilers - but what he wants is a very specific thing). 

I wanted to like this book, I really did.  And I didn't hate it - the writing is good, if stylistically different than what works for me.  Some of the ideas working there are really good ones.  It just didn't quite hit the mark for me.  I'll be skipping its sequel, and wishing Ron Vitale well on his future endeavors!