Friday, November 20, 2009 | | 1 comments

The Gathering Storm by Robert Jordan/Brandon Sanderson



The Gathering Storm is the first of the final three books of The Wheel of Time. If you're a fan of fantasy, or have ever looked at a bookstore fantasy shelf, you've probably seen at least one of these books. They're incredibly popular, with numerous websites set up entirely to discuss the books. They've inspired many a would-be writer to step up to the keyboard and get their own great adventure out there, and they've generally been well received. With the passing of Robert Jordan (real name James Oliver Rigney) in 2007 the torch was passed to Brandon Sanderson to finish was Mr. Rigney started back in 1990. Though there was initially only one planned final book, after writing and looking at what they had it was decided that it would take at least three books to complete the series and tie up all the loose ends. The Gathering Storm is the first of three final volumes, which all together will be called A Memory of Light.

Due to the length of the series, I think I'll simply stick with my critique of the plot, pacing, etc. of the novel rather than try to give you a synopsis of the series.

First, I absolutely LOVED the pacing of this 12th book. Now, there are two schools of thought on this. Either Brandon Sanderson naturally writes with a quicker pace than Jordan (aka more stuff happens) OR Jordan always had a faster pace in mind for the final volumes. Either way, fans of the series (myself definitely included) seem to have enjoyed this book a great deal simply because "stuff happens." Lots of stuff, things that have been hinted at for years now are finally coming to fruition, and as a reader that's a beautiful thing to see.

My minor gripes about the twelfth book include the fact that Mat Cauthon doesn't seem completely like Mat Cauthon. Don't get me wrong, I'm actually just fine with Brandon Sanderson's depiction of Mat, but it bears mentioning that he's just not quite the same as in previous books. Again, could have been a planned thing by Mr. Jordan, but I doubt it.

Overall, I absolutely LOVED this book. Things are coming together very nicely for a fantastic ending, and since I was already a big fan of Brandon Sanderson, I'm very excited that he's the author that will deliver that ending for us. He's a hell of a writer, and a workhorse when it comes to completing books, so we've really got something to look forward to twice more before Robert Jordan's great work is complete.

Final Score: 9.5/10 Brandon Sanderson took on an incredibly daunting task, and delivered 95% believable characters, 100% wonderful pacing, and a fantastic beginning of the end in one of my favorite series of all time.

Friday, October 23, 2009 | | 1 comments

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant by Darren Shan






Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant is a novel written several years ago by Darren Shan. It first caught my attention when I saw the commercials for the soon-to-be-released movie. The movie seemed a little hokey, but it was nice to see something about vampires where they didn’t sparkle, so I decided to give the book a shot. It was actually the second book in the series, but it seemed like a quick read, and the first page was a synopsis of the first book, so I wasn’t lost for long.

The book revolves around Darren Shan, a young boy of about 15 or so, newly created half vampire and apprentice to Mr. Crepsley. They work together in a circus with all sorts of strange freaks. Darren befriends a boy who works with a giant snake, but things start to spiral out of control when a boy from town makes friends with Darren and gets too close to the circus and its dangerous creatures.

The plot was simple, straightforward, and very quick. The book read much more like a middle grade book than a young adult book. I sped through this almost as fast as Odd and the Frost Giants though it was over twice the size. To be honest, I wasn’t terribly impressed with this book. It was a page turner, but for an adult of 25 years the plot was terribly easy to figure out, right down to the last detail. Having read enough young adult in my life to spot an easy plot, I can reasonably assume that an intelligent 13 year old could figure out the ending to this book about 2/3 of the way through. I can see the potential in a movie, especially with this series being 12 books long, but I have to imagine that due to the small size of each book they’ll be combining at least the first two or three books into a single movie.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (7/10) is a quick read, and enjoyable, but there are meatier tales out there for fans of vampire novels, and more well-written horror. It’ll almost certainly be better than the movie, but that’s probably not saying much, judging from the previews.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009 | | 1 comments

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman



Odd and the Frost Giants comes from Neil Gaiman, who is quickly climbing into my list of all-time favorite authors. I think he's great because it seems like he can write effectively for any audience, and this latest book seems to show that.

Odd is a small boy with a tough life. His father is gone, drowned, and all the vikings in the village he lives with are upset, having been beset with what seems a never-ending winter. Odd runs into a bear, an eagle and a fox, who are much more than they seem. Soon he's off on a quest to help the animals return to their home, the city of Asgard.

Make no mistake, this a very small book for younger children. That said, I loved every page. It's simple, wonderful writing that drew me in and gave me the chuckles at several points. There are a few jokes thrown into the book that are clearly of the Spongebob variety (jokes that seem to be pandering more to the adults in the room than the children watching the program) and I loved them all. The book was incredibly short, and clearly written for a different audience, so I'm having a hard time giving it a really in-depth review. I was surprised by the higher than usual level of vocabulary in the book, but maybe I just assume that little kids can't read at as high a level as they really do. Someone let me know, I'm not a teacher and don't have a child this age, so I'm only guessing.

Gaiman impressed me with The Graveyard Book last year, and has done it again this time, with a much smaller book for an even younger audience. I'm more and more impressed that the guy can write so well for just about any age group, and though I still haven't jumped into American Gods, it's definitely on the list. I hear I should also check out his Sandman graphic novels, so I'll be looking into those sometime next year.

Odd and the Frost Giants (9/10) is a fun and quick adventure for a young audience. I'd guess that ages 8-10 should really enjoy this book, though I'm 25 and had a great time. If you're an adult and have about 45 minutes to kill, pick this one up. Gaiman wrote this book for World Book Day, to promote reading, and has stated that he would perhaps eventually return to the world to write more books about Odd. I'd certainly return to read them.

Saturday, October 17, 2009 | | 0 comments

Alcatraz versus the Knights of Crystallia




Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia is the third volume in Brandon Sanderson's middlegrade series about a boy who breaks things. In the previous two volumes, Alcatraz has learned that he has special powers, and has done some incredible things with them. He's fought the librarians in a daring invasion of one of their libraries, he's braved the famous Library of Alexandria, and its ghostly curators who want to steal your soul, and much more. This time, he's headed back to Nalhalla, the homeland that he's never seen, having been just recently rescued from the United States, a librarian occupied land. Perhaps the biggest surprise in his trip home is the realization that he's famous. Very famous. People are writing FanFic famous. It's a little much for Alcatraz, who has to battle not only evil librarians set on taking over the Free Kingdoms and enslaving them just like they've done the United States and other places, but also struggle to deal with fame and fortune that he's never had before. Will he let it go to his head? Will he be able to expose the plot of the Librarians and their supposed "peace talks" and show the king who they truly are?


There's really only one negative thing I can say about these books, and it's more of a warning than an actual knock against them. If you're not a fan of a very heavy narrative voice, these are probably not up your alley. They're in first person, written as though Alcatraz were chronicling his story, and he isn't afraid to step in and chat about random things in the middle of his story. It's all done well, and very effectively from a comedy standpoint, but it's very over the top. Now, these books are written for a twelve year old, so I might not be the best critic available, but my son's only five months old, so I'll have to do (If you'd like to wait until he's 12 and can tell me what he thought, email me, and I'll get back to you in 2022). That said, the very heavy feel of the narrator isn't for everyone. One example that I found particularly amusing was a point where Alcatraz reminds you of a scene he described from a previous book, and lets you know that it's coming, but not until book 6. This breaking down of that fourth wall might be a little too much for some, so reader be ware.


Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia (8.5/10) is a lighthearted, hilarious adventure from an author that I love. If you're a fan of other Sanderson works, like Mistborn or Elantris, it's worth checking out these younger audience books just to get a glimpse into Sanderson's mind. These books reveal a lot about his personality, and I enjoy the brief time I get to spend with each one (adults can blaze through each book in about an hour, maybe a little bit more with a potty break and dinner).

Friday, October 9, 2009 | | 1 comments

Servant of a Dark God by John Brown



Servant of a Dark God is a new novel by up and coming author John Brown. I received an advance copy of this a little over a month ago (You're Welcome, FTC), and devoured it in just a few days. Now, time to put the fanboy attitude aside and do some honest reviewing.

This book struck me as falling into the mold of classic fantasy somewhat, while at the same time doing everything just different enough to be seen as original. Sure, there's a young boy with a destiny of sorts, but his interaction with his family and their involvement in that destiny are very different than other fantasy offerings. Yes, there's an evil power seeking dominion over the entire world, but it's basically already got it, and we're looking at the beginning of a rebellion. This, too, has been done, but I think it was just different enough with the political intrigue and terrible power of the evil forces to keep things fresh and new.

The story revolves around The Order, a group of people who want to give the power to the people. The magic power, that is. The Divines rule the land with an almost godlike status, hiding the reality that magic is for everyone in order to hold onto their power over the people. The story mainly revolves around two families who are caught up in the trouble brewing between the Order and the Divines.

I really enjoyed the emotional attachment that I developed to the characters, particularly to their interaction with one another. From the outset I was drawn in as Talen embarked upon the noble quest of finding his pants. It was a fun way to start a book, and a good way to see the humor in the characters before the try/fail cycles of the novel kicked in and we got to see the deeper side of each character. For me, the interaction in the emotional scene between Argoth and his son Nettle was particularly heart-wrenching, and signaled strong writing on the part of Mr. Brown. I also enjoyed the inner demons of Sugar, having to deal with the terrible things that she saw, particularly her reaction to them. Hunger was an excellent sort of anti-villain, someone you felt terrible for and routed against almost at the same time. In short, characters make a book, and this one is full of quality characters.

Rather than start with the young boy who gathers friends along the way for the great quest, this book begins with a well organized group, and that was refreshing in a way. Readers who aren't as experienced in the genre might struggle a little bit to understand everything that's going on, since Brown doesn't just hand it out to everyone. However, it's not nearly as difficult as, say, Gardens of the Moon by Erikson, where as a teenager I remember reading the entire first book and still asking myself, "What's going on here?" In fact, I now enjoy this approach, where the author doesn't explain every single detail of the world or the magic system. It should, in my opinion, come in parts, just like everything we learn in life comes in chunks that build together to become total knowledge. Think about it, when was the last time you went to Pep Boys for an oil change and the mechanic talked with you for nine hours about exactly how the car runs?

The book did have a couple of slow spots, where I felt like my emotions, fears and trust in the characters  should have been building a little more dramatically rather than just maintaining, but I can't point them out specifically without a re-read, so that means they're not glaring enough to hinder anyone's reading of the tale.

The best compliment that I can give John Brown is this: Servant of a Dark God does not feel like it's his first published novel. It's more mature, and far more well-written than some of the first offerings of other authors I've come across. I would compare Servant of a Dark God to Brandon Sanderson's first offering, Elantris. Now, I didn't stay up all night reading Servant of a Dark God like I did Elantris but I'm also not 17 anymore, and have a 5 month old baby, so I can no longer base the quality of a work on how late it keeps me up at night. Also, let's remember that Sanderson wrote something like 12 books before he got Elantris published, so I'd say Brown's writing is definitely up to snuff. I'm eagerly awaiting the second book, and John, if you need an alpha reader, I'm right here baby!

Final Verdict: 8.5/10. A fresh new voice in fantasy is always welcome, and Mr. Brown's epic will undoubtedly claim its place on my shelves, right next to those other people I like enough to buy. A solid mix of humor and heart-wrenching sadness combine with plenty of well-done action to produce a novel that new readers as well as experienced hands will enjoy.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009 | | 0 comments

Interview with new author John Brown


0.      Ah, the ever-unappreciated question zero. This isn't really a question, more a place where you get to describe yourself, and give a brief "how I got published" story. For the record, fans, John has a fantastic "how I got published" in technicolor at his blog. Also for the record, this is a family friendly blog, but I'm allowing John one swear and one fake swear.

I swear by the Six! That’s a real swear in my novel and a fake one in Logan, Utah. So that should please everybody. I’m a city boy living up in the hinterlands of Bear Lake. As for breaking in, I won a first prize in the monster Writers of the Future contest in 1997. That was my first publication, which they paid me a total of $2,000 for. Not a bad opening. But then I failed to finish anything for many years. There was life, kids, a new career, and making the big beginner mistake of not putting in the hours. My mind is like big old boiler. You have to get it hot before it starts to work well. But I wasn’t putting in the time I needed to keep it hot. I’d write a few hours one week, none the next three. Or I’d pump out 20,000 words and then put the writing aside for four months. That just doesn’t work. It makes it impossible to finish. So after I figured out that dumb and obvious problem, I began to produce. That was in 2002. I soon sold a few shorts, finished two novels. I queried a bunch of agents on both of the novels. On the second, I snagged Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson who is a fabulous agent. The rest is history.

1.      As a new author, what was your greatest difficulty in moving from brainstorming to actual publication?

Time. TIME! As I stated before. I have to put in hours. But that’s the same with anything, playing piano, flying airplanes, running criminal organizations. I also had to learn how to deal with writer’s block and rejection. Writer’s block is actually a gift. But that’s another topic.

2. Did you learn anything new about the publishing industry from this process?

One thing I learned was that in my case the relationships some agents have with editors can make a big difference. Caitlin, for example, used to be an editor with Avon. She knows a number of people personally. And they trust her opinion. I knew such relationships were important, but didn’t realize how important until we went through the sales process.

2.      Was it difficult to get an agent, get a deal, etc? 

In my case it was fairly straight-forward. Write a book, submit, write another book, submit. The difficulty really was in making time to finish and then making sure I didn’t let distorted thinking run away with me. For example, I sometimes read a favorite author and then think: “holy crap, how can I compete with that? I should just throw in the towel.” Or I see that another author started much later than I did and got a deal more quickly. And I’d think, “maybe I just don’t have what it takes; I must have the wrong brain DNA.” But those and similar thoughts are distortions of the truth. In some cases, I had to consciously highlight the distortions and the actual truth of the matter to be able to move forward without too much anxiety or doubt. I plan on writing a series of blogs on my site dealing with these distortions because I’ve found they’re so very common among writers. And none of us should let them hinder us.

3. Who were the authors that you read growing up and even into adulthood that made you want to get out there and write the next great fantasy epic?

I actually never considered writing fantasy until very late. As a teen, the Rankin/Bass animated Christmas specials thrilled me (Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph, etc.). I wanted to become an animator to tell such tales. But those weren’t epic fantasies. And that dream was soon laid aside. So since my teens I had an urge to develop and tell stories because I enjoyed them so much. But I really never thought it was possible to do it for real. So even when I took creative writing classes, it wasn’t with an eye towards publication. However, about the time I was finishing up my English degree at BYU I attended a workshop put on by Dave Wolverton who was the coordinating judge for the Writers of the Future contest. It was transformational. I began to think I could write for publication. Real publication. Of course, ever since I was a wee lad I’d loved fantasy. The Hobbit was what got me on the road to literacy. Until I read that book in sixth grade, I don’t think I’d read more than two dozen books total. I just wasn’t a reader. But Tolkien turned that all around. So because I loved fantasy, it was only normal I follow that genre when I began to write, hoping to entertain.

4. In your opinion, who are some of the great authors putting out works right now that we need to be reading?

I’m dismayed at the number of novels that come out every year. There is NO WAY for most people to keep up with it. Now you have your Harriet Klausners who read one to three books each day, and they can keep up with a small genre like SF/Fantasy. But they’re forces of nature. I can’t do that. So I can’t say that I’ve surveyed the field and know you should watch Bob, Bill, and Pedro. Nor can I say that my taste is predictive of what’s going to redefine literature. All I can do is highlight books I’ve read that I’ve loved, which I do on my site. Recently, I read the following and enjoyed them very much: Bernard Cornwell’s AGINCOURT, Dan Well’s I AM NOT A SERIAL KILLER, Brandon Sanderson’s THE HERO OF AGES, and Jonathon Stroud’s BARTIMAEUS TRILOGY. I also enjoyed BROTHER ODD by Dean Koontz. There are more, of course. But I do have to say that I find I’m reading a lot of non-fiction these days as well. One of the most interesting books of late that I read was WHERE THE WILD THINGS WERE by William Stolzenburg. As for what people NEED to read, I’d say just read. Anything. Old, new, weird, popular. If it draws you in, read it.

5. Given the scope of Servant of a Dark God it's easy to see that we're definitely in for an epic tale. Was the story always this big, or did it increase in size and scope as the pen hit the page (or fingers hit the keyboard, as it were)?

I knew it was going to be a few books from the get go and when I took it to market I did so with a synopsis that outlined three books. But all my plans change. It’s still three books. I am not going to extend it beyond that although I may write something else in this world. But ideas I started off with morphed into something else. Characters appeared. So there’s a lot of growth and discovery that comes through the writing process.

6. For the folks from other countries around the world: Any news on foreign rights?

Nope, none yet. I understand that in most cases foreign publishers like to wait and see how a book does with its initial release. I know my agent has included my book in their catalogue for publishers overseas. But I don’t expect to hear anything for a few months.

7. My favorite character to read from your novel was probably Hunger. The question is, who is your favorite character to write, and why?

I loved them all for different reasons. In fact, I can’t really write a scene unless I’m plugged into the people and situation. But I did like Hunger quite a bit as well. I knew I needed a henchman for my main villain. I’d written a short story set in this world that wasn’t quite ready for publication. But it did give me an idea for him. His voice and character came to me surprisingly easily. The image of him awakening in the spruce glen was so strong. It was delicious to write.

8. Fans of the wonderful podcast Writing Excuses know that you're very active in the comments section, as well as making several guest appearances. You've also got an active blogThrough the interwebs, meaning blogging, social networks and microblogs like Twitter, it has become easier than ever to stalk...er, follow new authors. How do you feel these relatively new means of communication are affecting the publishing industry and the authors that use them?

How do you know it’s not me stalking you? Mwuhahaha.

The two big effects I see are ways social networks affect word-of-mouth and the whole e-book revolution that’s coming. Social networks and blogs will become more and more important as newspapers and other media decline. Some will have more readership than others, but what the growth of that media does is allow a much more organic reading industry to evolve. And with ebooks the barriers to entry will diminish as will the constraints on book sizes.

It won’t be a free-for-all. Publishers and other sources of recommendation right now perform an important function—they remove unlimited choice from the consumer and point to “quality” works. In study after study it’s been proven that consumers just don’t want unlimited choice. They want unlimited availability. They want to find a few sources of recommendation that get it right for them. Nobody has the time to review all the choices. They’ll want someone to say, here, make a choice between these fifty or hundred books. We’ve narrowed it down. Isn’t that what happens with Oprah now? Of all the hundreds of thousands of books, she chooses just a handful. And it works for her viewers. We’ll continue to have mega platforms like that. But we won’t be limited to them. That function will spread out among the many blogger, sites, tweeters, etc.

9. Last, but certainly not least, here's a section for you to shamelessly plug anything related to you, the new book, the short stories, the current economic crisis, the local zoo, wombats, great places to eat, or just whatever.

Wow. Since it’s wide open, I’m going to plug the Kamin restaurant in Logan, Utah and Thai Evergreen in Orem, Utah. My wife and I both lived for a few years in the Netherlands as missionaries. We learned to love the Indonesian food there. But there aren’t many Indonesian restaurants in the US. However, there are quite a few Thai ones, and that was close enough for us. We used to live in the Bay Area in California and bemoaned our loss of Thai cuisine when we moved to Ohio. It took us two years to find a place out there. We were so happy to find these two places when we moved to Utah.

I’ll be doing a book tour with David Farland (Runelords) and Larry Correia (Monster Hunters International). You can see the schedule on my website. We’ll hit four spots in Utah. I invite folks to come out. Your readers might also want to know that X96 radio will be doing book giveaways all week long starting Monday October 19th. So tune in on the radio or internet.

Other than that I’ll just say it was great to do this interview. Thanks, Bryce.

NOTE: John will be signing books in Logan UT, for any of you other Utards that live around here, on October 22nd at 6 pm.

Monday, October 5, 2009 | | 2 comments

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins ***Small Spoilers, Clearly Marked***





NOTE: To get my overall opinion of the book, spoiler free, just skip the clearly marked spoiler section. If you can't see it, please go back to bed grandma, you know the little text just isn't your thing. I'll print it out for you in the morning. Sheesh.

As a reviewer of new fantasy and sci-fi books, I am a glutton for punishment. I almost never think about whether or not a series is complete before I start reading. In fact, since the blog attempts, albeit weakly, to stay on the cutting edge of what's out there, that's usually the last thing on my mind.

This brings me to Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, the second book in the incredibly popular Hunger Games Trilogy. You can read my review of the first book here. In short, I loved it in that "can't get enough" way that had me clamoring for more.

***************************here there be spoilers****************************

This second book in The Hunger Games didn't disappoint. Katniss realizes, on a somewhat smaller scale, that she's the face of a rebellion starting to take place throughout the districts. President Snow, in an attempt to quell the rebellion before it can spread to all the districts, uses the Quarter Quell, an event that takes place every 25 years, to kill the poster child of the rebellion by placing Katniss and Peeta in the games yet again, this time against the victors from previous years.

**************************here be the end of them***************************

Hopefully that paragraph isn't too spoilerific for you. If so, sorry. It's my review, and I did mention that there were slight spoilers, so you had it coming.

The inherent weakness in a second book comes, I feel, from expectations ingrained in us from birth as readers. We want a happy ending, and a second book simply cannot deliver that. So, I fully expect there to be much gnashing of teeth and bemoaning the fact that we'll have to wait another year, perhaps more, to see the grand finale of what happens to our heroes. That's to be expected, and I'll try not to let that cloud my judgement in reviewing the book.

Something that was somewhat unexpected was the seeming drop in intelligence of our hero, Katniss. I expected her to be a little more on the ball, considering what she'd been through in the last book. I was left wanting somewhat in that regard. Don't read too much into this, she's still a great character. I was just looking for her to brighten up a bit, and I suppose she did, just not as much as I wanted.

Another minor beef I had with this book was the entirely-too-convenient plot twists. It's almost like Collins couldn't think of anything more dramatic than the original Hunger Games as a story, and so she just moved the characters back into that environment. I'm not complaining too much, since it's always good to see Katniss at her best, killing and surviving, but I was hoping for a little more character growth. This section of the overarching plot almost seemed more like a middle grade book rather than a young adult, in that Katniss spent entirely too much time reacting to things, and not enough time acting. All the clever defiances of the capitol were set up for her, and the big reveal of what's really going on at the end (a staple of almost any second book) was completely given to her, rather than puzzled out. She did make a couple of discoveries, so I guess I might just be grasping at straws here....no, I'm not. This was a weakness in the book, and that's that. For a character as strong as Katniss is, she was weaker in the thinking department in this second book.

On the plus side of things, I felt that the writing was top notch, again. The love scenes and the romance of Katniss and Gale, and Katniss and Peeta was well done, and thankfully much briefer than I expected given the first act of the book and what Katniss and Peeta were trying to accomplish. Also, the contrived plot that I mentioned above could be forgiven for being thought up by the antagonist rather than the author trying to write her way back into her comfort zone.

Despite my complaints above, I give this book a 8.5/10. It's a must read for fans of the series, and fans of post-apocalyptic sci-fi in general, especially if they happen to be between the ages of 14 and 18. My hats off to Collins, for delivering an excellent second book. I'm sure that the second book is the hardest to write, and although she didn't break any ground here as far as how to write it, it was still well done. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go back to surfing the web, looking for a convenient way to get an ARC of the third book and avoid the pain of waiting a whole year.

Thursday, September 24, 2009 | | 1 comments

On Stranger Tides by Tim Powers



First, let me just say that...I like pirates. There's just something about a swashbuckling adventure that I can't help but love. So, obviously, I had to try very hard to put my nerdy love of pirates aside and make at least a half-hearted attempt to review the book as a book and not as "dude, it's got pirates."

On Stranger Tides is a novel by Tim Powers. Qualifications? Yep, he's got 'em. Two World Fantasy Awards, and this novel is now being optioned for adaptation as the fourth Pirates of the Caribbean movie. After reading this book, I could easily see why.

All the elements of a great pirate movie are there. Humor, action, and a surprising amount of dark magic are contained in this 300 page novel. I felt that the pacing of this novel was excellent and the characters were deep and enjoyable creations. One thing that disappointed me a little bit was the characterization of Beth. To be honest, she felt a little too flat for me, being the only female character with more than 3 lines, but I was willing to forgive her, since for large portions of the novel she didn't really have much of a chance to stand up for herself and really be a strong character.

Also, I have to say that the ending of the book didn't really appeal to my need for completion. I'm the kind of guy that, if I can get it, wants every loose end tied up nicely. However, given the way the novel ended, I can understand that Powers was going by the old addage, "In late, out early." The main conflict was finished, and everything else after that couldn't have possibly been as exciting, so he gave us a little bit of closure and dropped the curtain. I don't really think tying up all the loose ends would have made it a better novel, and it certainly could have made it worse.

Overall, I'd say that if you're a fan of high seas action, dark voodoo style magic, or Monkey Island (yes, the creator of that game sites this as a big influence) you owe it to yourself to give this book a go. You'll enjoy the characters, and you'll feel super-informed when you go to see Pirates 4 in 2011. For me, this book was an excellent way to discover Tim Powers. Obviously he has other novels that have met with greater critical acclaim, but this was fun, well written and enjoyable. This book definitely convinced me that I've been missing out on a great writer.

Final Score: 8.5/10. An exciting, well paced swashbuckling adventure that's deserving of a movie all its own, but I guess Pirates 4 is the next best thing.

Saturday, September 19, 2009 | | 4 comments

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins



The Hunger Games is a novel by award winning author Suzanne Collins. This book was recommended to me by the dude at my local Waldenbooks store, and since he's practically my twin in terms of what we enjoy, I assumed this would no doubt be another excellent recommendation.

I know that it seems a bit fanboy, but I can honestly say that I was blown away by this book. I was in no way prepared for the story inside. Well, maybe a little prepared. The guy at the Waldenbooks did tell me that it was like Thunderdome for kids. I guess that should have tipped me off.

Katniss lives in District 12, a coal mining district in what was once known as the Appalachian Mountains. Each year, one boy and one girl from each district compete in the Hunger Games, a fight to the death that the Capitol uses to show its dominance over the Districts. Only one person can emerge victorious, and that person is then set for life. Katniss always worries about being chosen, about what will happen to her family if she is. District 12 doesn't have a reputation for winning the games, and Katniss, though just 16, is the main bread winner for her family. Things take a turn for the worst, however, when Katniss' twelve year old sister is given the "privilege" of competing.

Collins weaves an incredible post-apocalyptic young adult tale that had me spellbound from the first few pages. The vocabulary is at an appropriate level for younger readers, and yet the story doesn't feel like it's being watered down in any way. This makes for a quick and suspenseful read. Collins chose to use the first person present tense to tell the story, which I thought was quite interesting. At first, this bothered me, but eventually I think it led me deeper into the story, closer to Katniss' tale.

Katniss is fantastic as a narrator. Humble to a fault, and unable to trust others, her logic and thought process is interesting and slightly disturbing for a person her age.

I've never read another story by Collins, but if they're anything like this one I'll have to get the whole library. I highly recommend this book. It was my favorite book of 2008, and as soon as my local library gets a copy of the recently released sequel, Catching Fire you can bet I'll be all over it.

Final Score: 9.5/10 An quick read with an overarching story line that will easily span the three volumes of the planned trilogy, but with the kind of satisfying ending that rarely accompanies the first volume of a trilogy.

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Rant of the Week: Authors That Take a Long Time to Finish Stories- My Thoughts

Now, I'm probably half the age of some of my readers, and almost certainly half the brain power , but I've got a few points I'd like to share with you today. So, everyone sit down, form a nice circle (an oval will also be accepted) and listen up. It's story time.

There are currently no less than 5 or 6 series that I'm into that aren't finished. Now, I know that some of you will simply consider me a glutton for punishment, while others will mock the fact that I've only got that many going right now. But hear me out, because I've got three points that just might help you along the way.

1. Remember, a series is what it is. 

Some people will lose interest and never finish reading it. Some authors will lose interest, drive, passion, whatever you wanna call it, and never finish writing it. Authors are human beings. If you are a prick to them, do they not bleed? with a book, above all, you're paying for the escape; the chance to be somewhere else and read about something that interests and intrigues you. If you can't wait a couple of years in between books is a series, the second point might just help you out.

2. Please Read More Than One Series. 

I know a guy that got started with fantasy about fifteen years ago. He devoured everything that David Eddings ever wrote, and then moved on to Robert Jordan. Well, he's still reading Jordan, and in the 10 years that I've known the guy he's read the following authors: Eddings, Jordan. He's always bitching to friends about how long it's taking The Wheel of Time to get finished, and I have to just shake my head and wonder why this guy has never thought of trying to read something else.

If you're in the middle of a series and waiting for the next book, try reading something else. Who knows, you might find that while Patrick Rothfuss and Scott Lynch are pretty cool guys, Steven Erikson is really your cup of tea. Then you get to where Erikson's not done. What do you do? Find another book or series. There are literally hundreds of blogs that review new books every week. Hell, even I've got one, which I'll gratuitously pimp by linking it at the bottom. These places will give you a better idea of what's out there. Don't like the interwebs for your recommendations? Go to the book store and ask that slightly pudgy, goatee-wearing, latte-sipping dude behind the counter what he suggests.

I don't know where I read it, but I recall some blog somewhere saying that there are roughly 150 books a week published in the US. That means that there's almost surely something worth reading while you're waiting for Mr. Martin to finish his magnum opus.

3. If promises by authors piss you off, and blog posts about progress make you want to find a knife and a home address, stay away from where you might hear them. 

If you're a pretty severe case, and just can't get over a particular series you're waiting to get finished, I wouldn't recommend reading that author's blog or twitter posts anymore. You've got to remember that the internet is a relatively new means of communication, and people are inevitably going to shoot themselves in the foot now and again.

Blogs and tweets and facebook updates are awesome, and these technologies have let us see inside the machine of publishing like never before. But seeing the inner workings of the publishing industry is a double edged sword, people, and a mighty sharp one at that. It's sad to me that so many authors lately have had to go on the defensive about why their works of art are overdue. Rothfuss, Martin, Lynch and literally dozens of others have all chimed in in the past year or so on the topic. I think that says something about our society as a whole. The publishing industry is definitely NOT McDonalds. It's a wild mechanical creature, pieces of old and new technology all glued together somewhat haphazardly, and to say it's efficient would make most agents, editors and authors laugh their collective asses off. And there's nothing worse than going outside to get the morning paper and finding a pile of asses.

So, in summation, please please please have some patience. Don't misunderstand, I've been upset at authors before, too, and I'm still a little irritated at how long A Dance with Dragons is taking to get done. But I've found ways around it, and so can you. If, however, you insist on believing that authors can turn out thousand page books like McDonalds does cheeseburgers, then I guess you can just "Have it Your Way." No sweat off my back, dude.

Sunday, September 13, 2009 | | 1 comments

The Magicians by Lev Grossman



From Amazon:
     Quentin Coldwater, a Brooklyn high school student devoted to a children's series set in the Narnia-like world of Fillory, is leading an aimless existence until he's tapped to enter a mysterious portal that leads to Brakebills College, an exclusive academy where he's taught magic. Coldwater, whose special gifts enable him to skip grades, finds his family's world mundane and domestic when he returns home for vacation. He loses his innocence after a prank unintentionally allows a powerful evil force known only as the Beast to enter the college and wreak havoc. Eventually, Coldwater's powers are put to the test when he learns that Fillory is a real place and how he can journey there. Genre fans will easily pick up the many nods to J.K. Rowling and C.S. Lewis, not to mention J.R.R. Tolkien in the climactic battle between the bad guy and a magician.


     The Magicians by Lev Grossman is a great book. If I had to describe it to someone, I would probably tell them to imagine what a book would turn out like if J.K Rowling, C.S. Lewis and Ernest Hemingway all decided to write a fantasy book together.


     As one Amazon reviewer puts it"In 'The Magicians,' Lev Grossman has done something unusual, and remarkable, perhaps even unique: this is a grown-up fantasy. This book is to fantasy what "The Grapes of Wrath" is to travel books, what "The Metamorphosis" is to self-help: so much more depressing and visceral and funny and horrifying, and genuine, and fascinating, and hard to read and therefore valuable..."....Yeah, I guess that's a pretty good way of saying it, too.


     This is one of those novels that a guy like me won't read over and over again, but I'll always remember it. It's got that special something, that something that makes a book stick with a person, makes them think about it at the strangest of times. Understand this, I'm generally a pretty happy-go-lucky fellow. I enjoy a fantasy with a happy ending, I enjoy the confrontation of good and evil. The fantasy written by Brandon Sanderson, Patrick Rothfuss, or even Scott Lynch, is much more up my alley than things like Abercrombie, Baker or Lev Grossman. But, there is no doubt in my mind that Lev Grossman is an incredibly talented writer, and that The Magicians is a great novel. 


     I feel a lot like Patrick Rothfuss who couldn't quite put a finger on what he liked about the book. I think it was very well written, and written in more of a literary style than typical fantasy. The pacing was excellent, plenty of action at the right times to keep you turning the pages. The last half of the novel was miserably depressing to me. It reminded me a lot of The Sun Also Rises by Hemingway, characters that seemed so full of potential, but the timing was off for a love story and everyone was far too busy being an alcoholic to really do something with their lives. In this way, it made me think of Baker and Abercrombie, writers whose characters are much more gray, and where terrible things can happen to any character, at any point. 


     In conclusion, if you're a smarty pants, a person who loves the classics, or just a fan of gritty "Hemingway Fantasy" (I think Dark Fantasy just sounds stupid, and I haven't heard anyone come up with a better term to describe this type of writing) I think you'll really like The Magicians. This book definitely isn't for everyone, and I'm only about 60% sure it was for me, but I still give this book a 9/10, and highly recommend it.

Saturday, September 12, 2009 | | 0 comments

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

 
     The Last wish is written by Polish sensation Andrzej Sapkowski, recent winner of the David Gemmell Legend Award for Fantasy
     
     Geralt de Rivia is a witcher. A cunning sorcerer. A merciless assassin.
     And a cold-blooded killer.
     His sole purpose: to destroy the monsters that plague the world.
     But not everything monstrous-looking is evil and not everything fair is good
     . . . and in every fairy tale there is a grain of truth.

     The book is basically a collection of short stories involving Geralt of Rivia, aka The Witcher. The Witcher is one of those tough guy heroes that's easy to get behind. Taken as a child, trained, given potions and other treatments to turn him into what he is. Deadly with a blade, Geralt is tough, sarcastic and thoroughly enjoyable. I wouldn't say that this book gives the kind of depth that I would have liked to see to a character like Geralt, but things certainly could have been worse.
    
     My only complaint about the novel was that the text seemed a little short, almost as if it somehow suffered from translation. Then again, I have been reading The Wheel of Time, so I'm used to a little more exposition and a little more detail....okay, a lot more detail.
     Overall, I enjoyed this book. It was fun to see how Sapkowski twisted fairy tales and fairy tale creatures into something bold and interesting. I'll look forward to reading Blood of Elves, and getting my first crack at an entire novel with The Witcher.
     Score: 8/10. An exciting, fast paced group of short stories with a bold protagonist.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009 | | 6 comments

Interview with Dan Wells


For those of you who don't know, Dan Wells is an up and coming author, whose book I Am Not a Serial Killer will be coming out in the US on March 30th, 2010 (at least that's when Amazon says it will, and we all know of their legendary reliability in that department). Our interview went as follows:

0. Not enough people utilize question zero. Anyway, this is the place that you tell us the story of who you are and how you got to where you are. Please be brief, and remember this is a family blog. I will allow you two swears.
My name is Dan Wells, and I've been writing since second grade, when I announced to my parents that I was going to be an author. Actually, I think I told them that I was already an author. I wrote a Choose Your Own Adventure book about a maze, specifically written so you could never get out of the maze. There was a page in there that said "congratulations, you've escaped the maze!" but you could never actually get there; it was just there so you could see it as you were flipping back and forth to make you think there was actually a way out. So I've been unnecessarily cruel to my readers since the beginning, is I guess the message of that story.

Anyway, I grew up and went to college and took a creative writing class from Dave Wolverton where he told us that it was 100% possible to make a living as a writer, and I was sold. Brandon Sanderson was also in that class, and we started a writing group and started going to conventions together to meet editors. There was also a girl named Stephanie in the class, who wrote vampire books--and this was at the right university at the right time to maybe be Stephenie Meyer, but honestly I have no idea if it was or not. I never saw her name written down, so I don't know if she spelled it wrong or not.

 
1. As a new author, what was your experience like getting into the publishing world? Was it hard to get an agent, get a deal, etc?
Like I said, I went to conventions with Brandon (another good friend named Peter Ahlstrom), and we hunted for editors. We met a guy at the Tor party named Moshe Feder, who had only just become an acquiring editor for Tor, and we pitched him our books, and a year later after he read them he accepted Brandon's and rejected mine. Years later (and three or four books later) when our writing group was reading I Am Not a Serial Killer, I started sending it to other editors I knew, but Brandon went behind my back and emailed a copy to Moshe, correctly guessing that he would love it. Moshe called me the next day, eager to buy the book, and I immediately started looking for agents to help with negotiations and foreign sales and so on. It all went very smoothly from there.
 
2. What is one thing you learned about the industry that you didn't know before getting published?
It's an incredibly "nice" industry. Shop a screenplay in Hollywood, for example, and anyone you show it to is just as likely to steal it as accept it. That doesn't happen in publishing--authors and editors from completely different publishing houses will sit around and talk to each other for hours, sharing ideas and talking about upcoming projects, and nobody steals from anybody else. There's a lot of respect and, in a way, nobility about they way they do business. It's great.
 
3. One of the things I loved about your novel I Am Not a Serial Killer is your main character John. He's creepy and more than just a little awesome. Many authors write themselves into their first novels, either by accident or very sneakily. If you did that with John...what's wrong with you? Seriously, though, would you say that you have your own obsession with these type of characters?
Part of the reason I wrote this book was that I already knew a lot about serial killers. I study them in my spare time and I find them very fascinating, so in that sense John is a reflection of me. That's more or less where the similarities end, though; I'm not a sociopath, I don't dream about killing everyone I meet, and so on. I have found, however, that people who know me are far more disturbed by the book than most because they start to wonder if their normal friend Dan is actually a crazy person in disguise.
 
4. I (and many others judging by your shiny new Parsec award) am a fan of the podcast you do with Brandon Sanderson and the irrepressible Howard Taylor. How much would you say your podcast influences sales of your book/builds your audience?
Are you kidding? Howard has daily readership in the hundreds of thousands, and Brandon is writing the fricking Wheel of Time series--they're both incredibly big, very famous writers, and I'm riding their coattails for all I'm worth. I don't think we'll really see the "Writing Excuses" effect in my sales numbers until the US launch next April, but even now I'm sure I owe a lot of my visibility to the podcast.
 
5. Your podcast seems to have helped many would-be authors get over that writing hump and gain some confidence in their work. If you could give one piece of advice for people struggling to get that first novel written, what would it be?
Allow yourself to write a bad book. Your first book is usually your baby, especially for fantasy writers, and you want it to be epic and huge and perfect right out of the gate. That doesn't happen in real life. Just write it, learn from the experience, and move on; I wrote five books before I finally got this one published. Every book you write will make you a better writer, and every idea you use will create another ten in the back of your mind, so don't feel like you have to make THIS book the BEST book ever. Write a bad book, then write another, and eventually you'll be writing the awesome, epic books you've always wanted.
 
6. Back to your novel. John is a great character, and I was honestly shocked when I heard that this would be a trilogy. Props to you, my good sir, for being an author that can actually "end" a book. You finished everything up in that first book so tidily. Where does John go from here?
The arc of the first book, as spelled out in the cover copy, is essentially "John follows strict rules to keep himself from hurting anyone, and then a real killer turns up and he has to let his inner monster out in order to stop it." Book two follows very logically from that point: John has let his monster out, and now it's very hard to put it back again.
 
7. David Farland recently sent out an email praising your book, and mentioned how well it was doing, especially in Germany. What do you think has made other countries such a big fan of the book?
Each genre translates very differently into other cultures; England, for example, very rarely buys American fantasy, because they have an enormous and very successful fantasy scene of their own. Asia loves American fantasy but rarely buys American horror, because their culture is scared by different things than we are. I feel kind of lucky with this series because "I have a dark side I don't want anyone to find out about" is a very universal thing, and people are responding to it regardless of what culture they come from.
 
8. Through the interwebs, meaning blogging, social networks and microblogs like Twitter, it has become easier than ever to stalk...er, follow new authors. How do you feel these relatively new means of communication are affecting the publishing industry and the authors that use them?
When I first started using Twitter (and these principles apply to things like Facebook as well) I started by following all of the big names in publishing, like Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow, to see what they did and how they used the medium. What I found is that the way they use Twitter is completely inapplicable to most authors, because we are not as famous as they are: people care about what Neil Gaiman has for breakfast because he's a rock star, and people care about EVERYTHING he does. If I posted what I had for breakfast, all my followers would get bored and leave. After a few weeks I went through and purged my twitter list of everyone I thought was boring, and I took a long look at who was left and why I found them interesting. Without exception, it was the people who used social media as a showcase for their talent instead of simply a news outlet--people like John Scalzi and Jim Gaffigan and Eric Snider. They use their media feeds to say "See how entertaining I am? You should totally buy my books/read my blog/etc." Gaffigan tweeted something about what he had for breakfast and I laughed about it ALL DAY. I can't say I'm as interesting as they are, but I'm trying to follow that model and use social media as a form of mini-entertainment.

9. Less of a question, more of a section for you to type up some shameless plugs.
We already mentioned the podcast, but please: if you haven't checked it out yet, please do: www.writingexcuses.com. Also, feel free to visit my website at www.fearfulsymmetry.net, where I post a semiregular blog. And, of course, follow me on twitter: @johncleaver.

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Retro Review: The Great Hunt by Robert Jordan

In my neverending quest to prepare myself for the twelfth book in The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan, I re-read The Great Hunt for, I wanna say, the third time? Maybe fourth, not sure.

Rand Al'Thor, a man who can channel, who will surely go mad, is drawn in further by the pattern, with every step working toward his ultimate destiny, becoming The Dragon Reborn. The horn of valere has been stolen, and it's up to Rand, Mat, and Perrin to ride with the Shienaran soldiers to retrieve it from Padan Fain. Egwene, Elayne, Min and Nynaeve are all locked in their own struggles within the White Tower of Tar Valon. And a new threat comes from the other side of the ocean. Artur Hawkwing's blood, returned to conquer and enslave all women who can channel the one power.

The Great Hunt is, in my opinion, better than The Eye of the World simply because the characters are finally starting to grow up. Now, eleven years ago when I read this book for the first time, I wouldn't have said that. A decade later, I'm not really in the mood for books starring sheltered backwoods kids anymore. The Great Hunt delivered much more intrigue, and showed the fans of the first book that there was much more going on in this world than they had ever imagined, and secret plots at every turn. Best of all, the characters started to think for themselves, rather than just react to everything going on around them. No longer starstruck by the lives they are forced by prophecy to lead, they begin to act according to what they feel is best, making their own decisions.

In this book, unlike some of the books that followed, I really enjoyed what every character added to the story. Yes, even Egwene, for all you haters out there. She had a great story right at the end of the book.

Now, as to what I didn't enjoy in this book. Two scenes both stand out to me, one with Rand and one with Egwene. They were just too dimwitted to be believable, I guess. I found myself acting like one of those crazy people at the theatre shouting at the woman to get out of the house because the killer's after her. I mean, could they really be so dumb that they couldn't see what was right in front of them. If you've read the series, you probably can figure out which two parts of the novel I'm thinking about. If not, read it again and I'm sure you'll see Rand and Egwene acting like morons a couple of times. Yep, there they are.

Verdict: 9/10. A deeper, darker, more interesting book than The Eye of the World. Well worth the read, and if you've already read the first, you had darned well better read the rest.

Sunday, September 6, 2009 | | 6 comments

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman tells the story of Nobody Owens, a young boy who fortuitously wanders off just as an assassin kills both his parents. The toddler is protected, and raised by the ghosts of the graveyard he waddles into.

 A new twist on The Jungle Book, I found this book to be a real page turner. The story seemed a little too deep in places for what was going on, and a little open-ended, leaving me to wonder if perhaps there's some sort of sequel in the not-too-distant future, but otherwise, I have very little to complain about with this book. It's joined the prestigous ranks of "Books I Bought While Poor" meaning that I snatched it up for my personal collection despite my paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle. Oh, and it won the Hugo, so obviously at least a few other people think it's a decent book.

To be honest, I haven't read much Gaiman, which makes me (and likely you) very sad. I'll be correcting that soon, starting with Neverwhere, and moving right into American Gods and Anansi Boys. I have Good Omens on my bookshelf, so I suppose I'll get to that one at some point, too.

Final Score: 9/10. A great book for younger readers, and a great way to kill a boring afternoon for adults. Enjoyable, highly readable, and quickly read.

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My Ten Favorite Free Windows Software

#1- Firefox- Firefox is better than internet explorer for one reason: extensions. The community that supports firefox and helps to develop the new versions is extremely active when it comes to developing add-ons to improve the program. Internet explorer has some of these, but you have to pay for the better ones.


If you download firefox, you need to make sure and search for Adblock Plus. This add-on will block almost all the ads that appear on web pages, meaning that you are less likely to run into dirty ads and that your pages will load faster. That alone makes firefox better than Internet Explorer

#2- Abiword. For just quickly typing up a document, I have yet to find anything that beats Abiword. It’s small and fast, but full featured, so it works on just about any system, no matter how old. IT saves files as .abw by default, but you can save files as .rtf or .doc. In fact, At their webpage, you can also download plugins that will let you read and write in the new .docx format of Microsoft Office 2007, so that’s a huge plus for those of you that don’t want to shell out the cash for Microsoft Word.

#3- Openoffice.org. If you need a full word processor, spreadsheet, database, presentation, and more, openoffice has it, and it’s free. I will admit that for hardcore Microsoft Office users, especially Excel geniuses, Openoffice is a tiny bit lacking. But those people probably already have Microsoft Office, so it doesn’t really matter. For the rest of us, there’s Openoffice, and it’s great. Why pay $300 for something you can get for free?

#4- The Gimp (Gnu Image Manipulation Program). Speaking of free stuff that’s almost as good as payed stuff, if you’re into Photoshop, but short on cash, you need the Gimp. Gimp was designed for Linux, but ported over to Windows because it’s just that awesome. If you dig around on the net for a little bit, you can find literally Hundreds of tutorials on how to make The Gimp work more like Photoshop. Again, if you don’t already have Photoshop, get the Gimp.

#5- Revo Uninstaller. After installing as many programs as I have, you tend to end up with leftovers after you try and uninstall them. Revo Uninstaller is like built in Windows one, if it were a ninja in a monster truck…oh, and the monster truck and the ninja were both on fire. Revo uninstaller is smart enough to find the leftovers and let you get rid of them. It’s a brilliant program, and I use it every time I clean up someone’s computer.

#6- Ccleaner. Short for Crap Cleaner, this program gets rid of all the junk files that your computer saves, giving you more space for your files, and getting rid of temporary internet stuff that you don’t really need. It also has a program to clean your registry, uninstaller for programs, and one to delete those annoying startup entries that launch programs when windows starts. In short, it’s priceless.

#7- MediaMonkey. This program blows every other music player out of the water. For one thing, it can search Amazon.com to find the album that you have in your collection, and get you the album art and tag all the files so they have the correct names. That alone made me switch, and I never looked back. Ipod support? Yup. Can it burn CDs? Yup. Can it level the volume of the tracks so they’re not too loud or too quiet? You betcha (best Sarah Palin impression). If you like music and you run Windows, you owe it to yourself to try this one out.

#8- KMPlayer. The KMplayer is far and above the best media player around. I haven’t found a file type that it can’t play. It’s fast, looks good, and just plain works. And I mean works, for every file type under the sun. Take a look at this Comparison of Media Players, and you’ll see what I mean. KMPlayer does it ALL.

#9- Foxit Reader. If you’re still using Adobe Acrobat, I feel for you. The program is now 8 times the size of the original Adobe Acrobat Reader, and has to install a program at your computer’s startup just to make it run fast enough to use. That’s pathetic. 95% of people open a PDF, read it, and then close it, right? So why does that require so much computer muscle?

Enter Foxit Reader. It’s simple, lightweight, and fast fast fast compared to Adobe. That’s really all you need to know about that (best Forrest Gump).

#10- DVDSmith movie backup. With today’s computers coming standard with huge hard drives, unless you’re a super music buff or have a collection of porn the size of Michigan you’ve probably got some unused space on there. Enter DVDSmith. This little tool is a one click to backup that movie that you just rented bought completely legally. From there you can watch it using KMplayer and then delete it at your leisure or burn it do a DVD with one of the dozens of programs out there (if it fits, that is). This program doesn’t shrink the file size to fit on a regular DVD, so if you’re going to try and burn it you’ll want to select just the Main Movie to make sure you stay under the 4.5 GB limit of a DVD. If even that doesn’t work, you might look into another free program called DVDShrink to get that file down to size.

So, that’s it folks. I know that I haven’t provided any links for this software. Well, that’s what Google’s for, and I’m lazy, so that’s all you’re getting. Have fun!

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I am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells


I am Not a Serial Killer is by a brand spanking new author to most of us named Dan Wells. He’s a buddy of famous fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, and helps him out on weekly podcasts. His first published book, I am not a Serial Killer is about a teenage sociopath with all the common characteristics of serial killers, who has designed very strict and important rules in his life to make sure that he doesn’t fall into the horrible life of a serial killer. His rules and his life are on the line, however, when an honest to goodness serial killer starts picking off middle aged men in his hometown.

Wells did an excellent job with John, the main character. He’s, well, creepy. So creepy that you just have to keep reading, because you don’t know if he’ll actually let loose and do something terrible or not. For those of you that can’t stand to read about people getting killed, blood or guts, you might want to avoid this one. If that’s not an issue, this is a very exciting and page turning read. Dan and I met at Life the Universe and Everything, and after listening to his humor on the panels he was involved with, and his book reading, I knew that I’d have to check him out. Don’t get me wrong, the book’s fairly dark, but it’s also hilarious and a very interesting situation to have a teenager grow up in.

Score: 8/10- A good beginning for someone that I hope has a long and successful career.

Note: This book isn't yet available in the US. Check out Amazon.uk if you're really interested. Either that, or make a trip to Logan UT and I’ll lend you my copy (with a tracking system to make sure it gets back to me).

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The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

Don't let this incredibly awful awesome cover stop you from checking out Patrick Rothfuss.
Okay, Liz (my wife) will tell you that I’m a nut about The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, and it’s somewhat true. I’m a huge fan of this book. I peddle it like crack to everyone that comes into my house.

If you liked anything at all about Harry Potter, you will love these books. Take my word for it.

If you thought Harry Potter was totally lame and predictable, you will absolutely love these books as well. It’s much better than Harry Potter. More beautifully written, more intense, better plot and more depth to the story.The main character is (for a decent part of the book) a teenager, and does go to a school where some magic is taught, but that's where the similarities end. These books seem to ride a line somewhere between Young adult and (regular adult?) regular fantasy. The character is young, and it's very much a coming of age story, at least as far as the first book is concerned. But, you'll understand from just the first few pages that this series will not end as a young adult story by any means.

For those of you who think, “I just don't like epic fantasy. All those dragons and wizards just don't work for me.” Well, how about the story of a boy whose parents die, and who is forced to live a life of fear and abuse on the streets. How about a person that has rumors spread about him that make him sound much cooler than he is? There’s much more to this book than magic, and no dragons (well, there IS a large lizard addicted to drugs, but that's a review for another day).

The Name of the Wind is told from the first person. It’s absolutely fantastic and I can’t help but recommend it to anyone that wants something to read. I even teared up just a little as I read parts of this book, and yes, I’m tough enough to admit it. Great book, just great, especially for a first novel. 9/10.

Several people I've talked to lately have mentioned that they think this book seemed just a little too cliche for them. I think that the style Rothfuss has chosen to write this first book in was chosen on purpose. We've got a first person book here, and I think that he may be playing with the concept of the unreliable narrator just a little bit. I believe the tone and feel of these books will change, especially in the final volume, as Kvothe, the main character, grows to adulthood.

Oh, and if you trust the people that publish books to recommend a good one, know this: The President of Daw books personally wrote to many people to give them advanced reader copies of this book, telling them it was the best book she’d read in decades.

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Read and Find Out

For those of you who are fans of Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time, there's a new kid in school....well, it's more like some old kid's cousin just moved into town. wotmania.com just closed down a few days ago, and the site that the die hard members have all transferred over to is readandfindout.com. It's got the same look and feel, minus a few of the old site's sections (theory post, chatroom). Go and check it out. I'll give you a sample of an excellent discussion someone started on fantasy books that don't get enough praise (I don't know who started it, but he sure is handsome). Check it out here

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The Last Apprentice Series by Joseph Delaney

The Last Apprentice is a series by Joseph Delaney. I would say it's for those kids that are about 10-14....or people like me. I really enjoyed every book in this series. The seventh book just came out recently, and I'm looking to get ahold of it as soon as possible.


The Last Apprentice is a series about a boy, the seventh son of a seventh son, who apprentices to the local Spook. I would describe the Spook as a sort of magical garbage man; he does a very important job, and it's very dirty, but no one ever really thanks him for it. He's in charge of getting rid of boggarts, witches, and all sorts of nasty evil creatures. The series grows deeper and deeper with each book, giving the world more of an epic feel with each new volume. The Spook is an amazing character, very well done. I'll grant you that there are definitely some stereotypes going on here, but there's enough of a twist that I continued reading.

Make no mistake, these books are for kids. Like Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz series, an adult could sit down and easily fly through one of these books in just a few hours. Hell, I read the entire 5th book just sitting in Walden Books with some time to kill before work. Don't let the readability give you the impression that these are second-rate, however. Each book has been an absolute page turner for me.

Though they're kids books, they are fairly graphic. We've got people getting stabbed and dying, and Satan walking the earth by the 6th book. So yeah, be warned, ye doers of good, they might not be for the Flanders family.

So, in summation, these books will:

-Give you a short, fun, and surprisingly deep look into the characters and their struggles.
-Show you that kids books can, in fact, be pretty gory and somewhat scary (not horribly gory or scary, but enough that I was surprised. Granted I don't read all that many kids books).
-Keep you turning pages as the story unfolds very organically.

They will not:

-Give deep, meaningful, viewpoints about the nature of God and our relationship with him.
-Cure cancer.
-Go bowling with you on Fridays. I know you're lonely, but they just won't, okay? Stop bugging me about it!

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Retro Review: The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan is the first book in what many consider one of the greatest epic fantasy series of all time, The Wheel of Time. Book one of a proposed fourteen books, (twelve are written thus far, the twelfth to be published this October) it doesn’t get much larger or more epic than this. Mr Jordan (real name James Rigney) passed away not too long ago, leaving an incomplete series which will be completed by Brandon Sanderson, author of the Mistborn Trilogy as well as the standalone fantasy novel Elantris and the Alcatraz series of young adult fantasy.


The one major complaint that I hear time and again about the first book of this series is that it started much too slowly. I, too, have felt this, and it makes for difficult reading up until the 50th page or so. After that, it’s quite the page turner in parts, and in no way boring for the rest of the tale. Given the broad scope fo this series, with multiple main characters, points of view, and heavy description of a foreign world, I can forgive its slow start.

Mr. Jordan has created a world that for nearly twenty years has sucked readers in and not let them go easily. As a fantasy fan, I would suggest this series for all fans of epic fantasy, with one caveat. Make sure you have plenty of time to dedicate to this, either that or don’t mind reading a fantasy series for several years. Each book weighs in at over 600 pages, the largest coming in at over 1000. Reading the new testament worth of pages 14 times, it might take some folks a while to finish this series. Also, the last two books haven’t been written by Mr. Sanderson yet, so it’ll be another few years until it’s all said and done.

That aside, this series deserves to be read. Many of the current crop of American fantasy writers grew up reading and loving Robert Jordan, so if you want to see what influenced them, or just have a great read, it’s well worth your time.

Other (somewhat) similar series that you might enjoy: George R.R. Martin's A Song of Fire and Ice, Steven Erikson's Malazan series.

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Brandon Sanderson's Alcatraz Series

Alcatraz is a young boy who breaks things. Radios. Televisions. Chickens. He can’t seem to touch anything without it breaking. He’s an orphan, who upon his 13th birthday receives his inheritance in the mail from his father…a bag of sand. Oh, and did I mention that there are evil librarians seeking to conquer the world and spread their lies about its history? These books are comedic fantasy, very well written for a young audience, and fun for the whole family. There are two books out so far, with a third planned for the end of this year, and a fourth tentatively planned for some time in 2010. The first book is titled Alcatraz Vs. The Evil Librarians, just so you can get started.


The Alcatraz books are for younger readers, probably somewhere between 10 and 15 or so, or perhaps younger readers who read very well. They’re written by Brandon Sanderson, the same bloke who is going to finish the Robert Jordan series. The guy puts out about 2 books a year, usually one young adult book, like these, and one epic fantasy book. I really don’t understand how he writes so many books so quickly, but I can vouch for the quality of his works.

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About This Site

First of all, this is a place to find reviews. Lots of them. Everything that I read will go up here, for better or for worse. It's also a sight where I will occasionally rant and rave about things, recommend books, movies, websites, software...whatever's on my mind. I want everyone to know that I'm not paid by anyone, and I don't have any loyalty beyond what I think is quality work that deserves my praise. I try my best to be fair, but I'm human, and I'm much more of an average joe reader than an uppity high-class reviewer. I'm not a professional, and don't aspire to be. I will make mistakes. I might even make spelling mistakes. I just want people to understand what's out there and help them find something good to read. If you're okay with that, then welcome and enjoy!