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!