Alphabet of Thorn ★★★★½

alphabetofthorn (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Alphabet of Thorn
Series: ———-
Author: Patricia McKillip
Rating: 4.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 300
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

A foundling, named Nepenthe, is working at the royal library. She has a talent for interpreting odd languages. She meets a young mage-in-training named Bourne and gets a book written in an Alphabet of Thorns. She begins to translate the book and it appears to be the story of Axis and Kane, a king and wizard from so long ago that they are only myth.

The more Nepenthe translates, the more confused she becomes. Kane records Axis conquering kingdoms that don’t exist, yet. Nepenthe and Bourne figure out that Kane has figured out how to move through time. And next on the agenda, is the Kingdom that Nepenthe lives in.

During all of this, Bourne’s uncle has risn in insurrection against the new Queen. The Queen, a mousy recluse, must master her own unknown powers while the old Magician who runs the school that Bourne attends, must keep the kingdom from falling apart.

In the end, it is revealed that Nepenthe is the daughter of Axis and Kane but she forces her mother Kane to choose between her and Axis. A life of conquering all in her path or a life of peace. Kane chooses her daughter.

 

My Thoughts:

This was one of those tough reads. I wanted to shake Nepenthe so much, even knowing she was under the spell of the Alphabet. It was rough watching her keep secrets knowing that if she could only tell someone things would be better.

But other than that, this was another fantastic book. It had the taste of a fairytale with the story of Axis and Kane but it was the old school kind of fairytale, the one with that darker edge. It was mysterious as we the reader didn’t know what was going on or how everything was going to tie together.

Some books you can just rush through and let the story kind of overwhelm you, like eating 5 hamburgers at a picnic. This was not that kind of book. None of McKillips’ books are though.This was a smooth vanilla icecream with a peanutbutter ribbon running through the whole thing. The sweet smoothness of the icecream is offset by the rough saltiness of the peanutbutter. It just doesn’t get any better! Well, chocolate icecream makes it better.

alphabetofthorn

 

★★★★½

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

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Play the Man ★★★★☆

playtheman (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Play the Man
Series: ———-
Author: Mark Batterson
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Inspirational Non-Fiction
Pages: 224
Format: Hardcover

 

 

Synopsis:

Synopsis taken from the book:

“Somewhere along the way, our culture lost its definition of manhood, leaving generations of men and men-to-be confused about their roles, responsibilities, relationships, and the reason God made them men. It’s into this ‘no man’s land’ that New York Times bestselling author Mark Batterson declares his mantra for manhood: play the man. In this inspiring call to something greater, he helps men understand what it means to be a man of God by unveiling seven virtues of manhood. Mark shares inspiring stories of manhood, including the true story of the hero and martyr Polycarp, who first heard the voice from heaven say, ‘Play the man.’ Mark couples those stories with practical ideas about how to disciple the next generation of men. This is more than a book; it’s a movement of men who will settle for nothing less than fulfilling their highest calling to be the man and the father God has destined them to be. Play the man. Make the man.”

 

My Thoughts:

I read this book over the course of July for our men’s group at church. One of the reasons there were so many “man” posts in July.

It started out a bit rough. I felt like it was an updated version of John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart and I didn’t find that particular book at all helpful. But once Batterson got into the 7 Virtues of Manhood, things turned around.

The specific 7 Virtues didn’t really enter into the equation. I was more encouraged in how Batterson showed that being a Man of God was something purposeful, something you had to set your mind to. It was goal oriented and something that will last for your whole life. Just because I’ve done X, Y and Z in the past doesn’t mean I get to slack off and coast later on. A Godly Man is always striving after God and since God is Infinite, our striving will never end. Some days I might have found that thought discouraging, but not during this book. It reminded me of just how great our God is and how much He loves us.

Batterson also goes into Jesus as Man a little bit and that was good too. Too often I think of Jesus as a superman just gliding through His life, snapping His fingers and making everything work. It was good to be reminded that He had to learn to read, that He pooped His diapers (or whatever the equivalent was in 4BC) and that He had hormones too. And yet through it all, He was Perfect.

The final thing that really made this work for me was that Batterson isn’t trying to change the whole culture with some “7 Virtues” program. He doesn’t say that this book will change the whole nation if only we all follow it. He presents it as something that each man must do on his own and must pass on to his sons. He makes being a Godly Man that individuals responsibility. He looks at the building blocks. If the foundations are solid, you can then build a good house. He also practices what he preaches with his kids and I found that immensely encouraging as well.

★★★★☆

bookstooge (Custom)

Nicholas Nickleby ★★★★★

nicholasnickleby (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Nicholas Nickleby
Series: ———-
Author: Charles Dickens
Rating: 5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Classic
Pages: 1029
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Nicholas Nickleby dies of a broken heart after speculating all his families money and losing it. He dies and leaves behind a wife and his young son Nicholas and a younger daugher Kate. He leaves them to the tender mercies of his brother Ralph, a rich money lender.

Ralph sends Nicholas to a school master as an aide with the promise that Ralph will take care of Mrs Nickleby and Kate as long as Nicholas stays the course. Said schoolmaster, one Wackford Squeers, is in cahoots with Ralph on various usurous objectives that Ralph has in mind. Squeers uses and abuses his charges and also gets free labor from a simple minded orphan named Smikes. When Squeers begin to beat Smikes almost to death, Nicholas intervenes even though he knows it means his Uncle Ralph will kick his Mother and sister out onto the streets.

Nicholas and Smikes join an actors troupe to earn a living. Nicholas receives a letter from an employee of his Uncle begging him to come back to London.

During this time, Ralph had used his niece Kate as bate to entice a young lord to get money from him. Kate begs her Uncle to spare her the shame of such a thing but Ralph will not relent. Money is his god.

Nicholas returns to London, defies his Uncle, starts a new job with the Cheeryble brothers. He comes across a beautiful young woman and has to contend with his Uncle and Wackford Squeers trying to kidnap Smikes. Many schemes of Ralph all come together around Nicholas and with the help of various friends, Nicholas overcomes all and sees Ralph ruined.

Nicholas marries the beautiful young lady, Kate marries Frank Cheeryble, the nephew of the Cheeryble brothers and everything works out well for the good guys and the bad guys all get their just desserts, whether prison, murder or exile.

 

My Thoughts:

First, let’s deal with something here. Wackford Squeers. I have been saying that name in dulcet tones for the last 2 weeks. I mean, how PERFECT is that name for a villain? Wackford Squeers, Wackford Squeers, Wackford Squeers. This could probably have been a 5star book just on the strength of that name alone. Thankfully, the rest of the book carries its weight as well.

The characters, all of them, are fantastic. From youthful, hotheaded and sometimes silly Nicholas to grasping, hate filled Uncle Ralph to poor, pathetic, heart breaking and sympathy inducing Smikes to cruel, petty and cowardly Wackford Squeers. Dickens doesn’t just write ABOUT these characters, he brings them to life, in all their glorious ups and downs. I know that Dickens is shamelessly manipulating me with how he describes poor Smikes but I don’t care because he does it so well. My heart broke for the poor wretch even while I KNEW that Dickens was doing this cold heartedly to bring about just such a reaction from me. And Wackford Squeers, my goodness, such a vile pot of avarice, cowardice and bulliness that I loved to hate him. Plus, singing his name to the tune of ♪Davey,♪ Davey Crockett,♪King of the Wild Frontier♪ fit perfectly and almost had me dancing with glee.

The trials and tribulations of Nicholas, Kate, various other side characters, all tie into a wondrous tapestry that simply enchanted me. Now, this being Dickens, and originally serialized, and Dickens being paid by the word, there were times that I was tempted to skim or let my mind wonder during some of the more descriptive pages or while Mrs Nickleby would wax eloquent about something that nobody cared about, but I overcame and read every word and I must say, I am richer for it. While Dickens isn’t by any means a sparse writer, neither is he a wasteful writer. His descriptions bring the people walking the street alive. His words make the characters as real as real can be. When I was tempted to simply skip anything involving Mrs Nickleby and her pointless reminisces and get annoyed by her, it was what Dickens was aiming for. He wanted a character just like that and he created her from thin air.

While I gave this 5stars back in ’07 and 5 stars again, I don’t know if I’d recommend anyone starting their exploration of Dickens with this or not. First off, it is over 1000pages for the entire novel. Even the broken up edition I read back in ’07 was almost 600 pages for each volume. However, thanks to the likes of Sanderson, Martin and Co, the Mega-Novel (trademark pending) is becoming main stream and the mere size of Dickens might not be quite the impediment it would have been even 20 years ago. The other thing would be this showcases the Victorian ideals to a T(ea) (haha!!!!) and that might be off putting those of modern culture. Nicholas not pursuing Madeline Bray because it wouldn’t be proper as he wasn’t of the same class anymore (she was monied while the Nickleby’s weren’t anymore) and Nicholas persuading his sister Kate to not accept Frank Cheeryble’s proposal (at first) because it wouldn’t look right since Nicholas worked for the Cheeryble Uncles. It is very much outside the egalitarian ideas we carry around today that I can see it turning people away. Now, that being said, anyone who IS turned off from Dickens because of something like that doesn’t deserve to read the Master anyway. So no great loss.

After arguing with myself in the above paragraph, I have realized this book not only gets my unadulterated acclamation, but my highest recommendation AND the first of the year Best Book of the Year tag. I wish I could praise this book more, I really do but this will have to do.

Sincerely,

Bookstooge

 

★★★★★

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

 

Red Nails (The Essential Conan #3) ★★★★☆

rednails (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Red Nails
Series: The Essential Conan #3
Author: Robert Howard
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 295
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

Another collection of stories about Conan with the final part of the book being a “history” of the Pre-Cataclysmic world and the post-Cataclysmic world leading up to our own known history.

 

My Thoughts:

I enjoyed this book the most of all 3 of these Essential Conan books and I think it was a combination of slightly longer stories coupled with not having as many. The final part of the book, the “History” part was boring as all get out but I expected that as History and me are acquaintances by circumstances instead of friends by choice.

The History definitely showed up Howard’s racial bias more than anything in the stories. Purity of blood and the continual references to racial superiority or inferiority really began to grate.

The titular story, Red Nails, was probably the best Conan story of all I’ve read with these. From the killing of a monstrous lizard to an enclosed city with near insane inhabitants to a sorceress who feasts on live sacrifices, it just had it all. You could probably read that story alone and get enough of everything to decide if more Conan was for you or not.

I’m pretty pleased with this Essential omnibus that I read. I felt like I got a real taste of who and what Conan is about, what kind of author Howard was and it was just the right size so I’ve had enough without having too much. There are more Conan stories by Howard, and tons by other authors, but this has sated me so I feel no need to seek out more. I’d highly recommend this if you wanted to try out Conan or even simply wanted a better understanding of Fantasy from the early 1900’s. You are never going to go wrong by reading works that are foundational to the genres we have today.

★★★★☆

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

 

 

The People of the Black Circle (The Essential Conan #2) ★★★☆½

peopleoftheblackcircle (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: The People of the Black Circle
Series: The Essential Conan #2
Author: Robert Howard
Rating: 3.5 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 220
Format: Hardcover

 

Synopsis:

4 stories involving Conan. While not exact, they do seem to move backwards in time, so while he’s king of the Hetman in the first story, by the time we get to the final story he’s a Sword for Hire.

Conan fights something, whether wizards, peoples or monsters, rescues nearly naked women and usually makes off with a boatload of treasure.

 

My Thoughts:

I wasn’t sure how this Conan read would go so soon after the first instalment. Thankfully, moving away from a full novel to shorter, more serialized stories worked rather well.

The first thing I noticed is just how well Howard can write. While the Conan stories are not in any way deep character sketches, Howards writes him in such a way that while sparse doesn’t feel flat. Conan was a real barbarian and Howard brings that to light with a deft touch. He also describes things in such a way as to evoke whatever emotion he is going for in the scene. He knows how to describe things precisely so as to guide you yet it never fell into purple prose territory either. It was a delicate tightrope and I thought he did a fantastic job.

However, the short story format fails us the readers. While all varying enough that they aren’t identical, in either scene or foe, the overall plotlines run almost along identical tracks. That wouldn’t be a problem if you read one story every other month or so. But reading 4 in a matter of weeks, well, it becames a little difficult to ignore.

Overall, I am pretty pleased with Conan and how this Essential Series is working out. I’ve got one more to go and then I think I’ll be satisfied with having tried this particular Hero out.

★★★☆½

 

bookstooge (Custom)

 

 

 

Toll the Hounds (Malazan Book of the Fallen #8) ★☆☆☆☆

tollthehounds (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission
Title: Toll the Hounds
Series: Malazan Book of the Fallen #8
Author: Steven Erikson
Rating: 1 of 5 Stars
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 1299
Format: Digital Edition

 

Synopsis:

I’m really struggling with this.

The Tiste Andii have a big part. Nimander and the young Andii, led by Clip, are on a journey to Black Pearl to pledge allegiance to Anomander Rake. During this journey Clip is possessed by the Fallen god and it is up to Nimander to stop him. Rake himself leaves Black Coral and faces down Hood himself and kills Hood with Dragnipur, thus bringing Hood into the realm of Dragnipur. This allows Hood to bring his armies of the dead against the forces of Chaos within that realm. Rake then faces Traveller, who is revealed as Dassem Ultor, First Sword of the Empire and not only dies in a battle with him, but is killed by Dragnipur as well. This places him in Dragnipur’s realm as well and somehow makes it possible for him to confront Mother Dark and convince her to take her children back.

Karsa Orlong and Samar Dev had been travelling with Traveller and are witnesses.

There is a lot going on in Darujhistan itself. Cutter and others have returned. The remaining Bridge Burners who run a bar, have a contract taken out on them by the Assassins guild. Rallick Nom and Vorcan both recover in the Azath House and get back into the thick of things. Gruntle ends up working for the Trygalle Guild and Mappo takes their services to try to get back to Icarium. Only Mappo and Gruntle get called into the Realm of Dragnipur to help lead the forces of the Dead against Chaos.

The Broken god is also making a play outside of Black Coral to subsume the newly ascended Itkovian, now known as the Redeemer. Using his own corrupted blood, a black addictive druglike sludge, he enslaves the high priestess of the Redeemer and it is up to a former Pannion Domin of all people to defend the Redeemer, who has chosen not to defend himself.

After the battle between Rake and Traveller, and the battle that ensued for control of Dragnipur, Caladan Brood emerged in control of the sword. With the help of the remaining Torrud Cabal, he destroys the sword with Burn’s Hammer, thus releasing all the souls still in existence within the sword.

 

My Thoughts:

Last time I read this, I called this a bloated piece of crap (to summarize). This time around, I have much more to say.

It IS a bloated piece of crap. At 1300 pages, this easily could have been pared down to 800 or 900 pages simply by removing the monologuing by every character about despair, hopelessness, the pointlessness of existence, etc, etc. I found myself skimming pages at a time and not missing any actual plot points. Erikson becomes as bad as Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged with the monologue by John Gault. Erikson gives full vent to his existential beliefs and in all honesty, it is horrible.

Lots of Christian theology and personal philosophy coming up, so be warned.

Sometimes, books can affect us in deep and profound ways. We always hope that it is for the better but sometimes it isn’t. This time around, it wasn’t for the better. Over the last 10 years I have learned that I am particularly susceptible to the weakness of hopelessness and despair. Whether in a sermon or in a book, if the negative is at the forefront, it will bring my spirit down and affect me physically. I can not live without Hope. That is part of why I am a Christian.

Erikson puts forth that Oblivion is the end of everything. Good, bad, right, wrong, all will end in nothingness. You can only witness existence and hope someone else will witness you as well. This directly cuts across the fact that God Himself is our witness. He has always been and He will always be. Oblivion is not the end of God, even though it is the end of humanity who are not saved by Jesus Christ. Our lives are being watched and recorded by God and we are not alone.

Erikson also writes how everything good is essentially pointless since it is tainted in one way or another. God is not tainted. God is Good. Everything good flows from a Perfect God and it IS good because it aligns with His character. Erikson takes everything that is written on our very hearts as good and drags it through a shit hole and stabs it with a rusty butter knife all in an effort to show how it really isn’t good.

Sadly, it wasn’t until I was at the 80% mark that I realized how this was affecting me. My attitude was horrible about pretty much everything and the world seemed grey and blah even while I was objectively having a good time. I could have taken steps to counteract this much earlier if I had realized what was going on. I do plan on reading either Mark of a Man by Elizabeth Elliot or one of C.S. Lewis’s books immediately after this.

In the future, I will never read this book again. I also plan on waiting an extra cycle before attempting the next Malazan Book of the Fallen. I’m giving this book the “Worst Book of the Year” tag as well to help remind my future self to never even look at this thing again.

★☆☆☆☆

bookstooge (Custom)

 

 

The Little Grumpy Cat that Wouldn’t (Grumpy Cat) ★★★★☆

littlegrumpycatthatwouldnt (Custom)This review is written with a GPL 4.0 license and the rights contained therein shall supersede all TOS by any and all websites in regards to copying and sharing without proper authorization and permissions. Crossposted at WordPress, Blogspot & Librarything by Bookstooge’s Exalted Permission

 

 

 
Title: The Little Grumpy Cat that Wouldn’t
Series: Grumpy Cat
Author: Little Golden Book
Rating: 4 of 5 Stars
Genre: Children
Pages: 24
Format: Board Book

 

Synopsis:

Grumpy Cat meets lots of other friendly little animals and has a horrible time until they leave her alone.

 

My Thoughts:

Another cute little Grumpy Book by Little Golden Books. Unfortunately, Little took the easy route and simply used the better known Grumpy Cat meme answers whenever one of the friendly little animals would ask Grumpy Cat a question. Whether that answer made the most sense or not. Dinged ½ a star just for that.

My second, and definitely biggest issue, is how this book tries to brainwash the children with it’s politically correct gender politics. Grumpy Cat is referred to as a female. Now, just because the real life grumpy cat is a female and it is a female in A Very Grumpy Christmas doesn’t actually mean that Grumpy Cat IS a female. Grumpy Cat is kind of like zen, more of a state of mind than a state of actually being. You wouldn’t go up to a zen monk who was meditating, push him over and feel him up, would you? At least, I hope you wouldn’t. If you would, please don’t follow my blog any more! Dinged ½ a star for that.

Other than that, this was another great instance of Grumpy Cat standing up for all of us who hate other people and company and pretty much life itself. We have our Champion now!

★★★★☆

bookstooge (Custom)