Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Dark Talent by Brandon Sanderson


Author: Brandon Sanderson
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Dark Talent
Narrator: Ramon de Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2016)

Previously Read By the Same Author:  Alcatraz Versus the Evil LibrariansAlcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia and Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens
Summary/Review:

The fifth and possibly final Alcatraz book picks up where the previous one ended with Alcatraz having destroyed all of his family’s talents.  Now he must ally with his mother – an evil librarian – to stop his father, a Free Kingdomer whose desire to give every one on Earth a Smedry Talent which could have disastrous consequences.  Smedry and his team go to the Evil Librarian’s Highbrary – a.k.a The Library of Congress in an alternate universe version of Washington, DC.  Unfortunately, Smedry’s friend and defender, Bastille remains in stasis for the better part of the book.  Smedry and Bastille’s love/hate chemistry when they are together is one of the best part of the series and this book suffers from its absence (although when Bastille finally makes her entrance, it’s spectacular).  The book has the usual clever wordplay – including a chapter of delicious puns – but it feels like Sanderson’s heart is not really in it anymore, and it is the weakest book in the series.  Or it could be Alcatraz, who obstinately states this is the last part of his biography after an uncharacteristically dark ending to the book.  But Alcatraz is an unreliable narrator who has lied to us before, and there are clues that this is all just a big cliffhanger leading to yet another book.

Rating: ***

Book Review: Early Riser by Jasper Fforde


AuthorJasper Fforde
Title: Early Riser
Publication Info: [New York] : Viking, [2018]
Other Books Read by Same AuthorThe Eyre Affair, Lost in a Good Book, The Well of Lost PlotsShades of GrayThe Last DragonslayerThe Song of the QuarkbeastOne of Our Thursdays is Missing, and The Eye of Zoltar.
Summary/Review:

I’ve been a fan of Jasper Fforde ever since my now defunct book club selected The Eyre Affair way back in 2002.  He generally pumps out his humorous, clever, metafictional, and totally original novels about once a year, but this time Fforde Ffans had to wait FIVE WHOLE YEARS for his new book.

Early Riser is unrelated to any of Fforde’s previous series of novels, although it shares some elements of the classic Fforde style. Every Fforde novel, while comical, is set in a dystopia and Fforde’s dystopia of choice is the Bureaucratic Hell.  In this novel, the alternate universe Earth is beset by long, brutal winters, so humanity survives through hibernation.  The Winter Consuls, a police force of sorts, stay awake to protect the rest.  Charlie Worthing, a Novice Winter Consul, narrates his first winter in this dangerous job.

One challenge is that Morphenox, the drug that helps people hibernate, has the side effect of putting people in a state of narcosis.  Sometimes they can still perform menial tasks, but if they get hungry, they may also try to eat people.  (And if long winters and zombie-like creatures make you think of A Song of Ice and Fire, there are some tangential similarities).  Charlie also has to contend with a woman who, dolphin-like, sleeps with only half of her brain at time, and has completely different and conflicting personalities.  Then there are dreams that are going viral among the sleepers and even becoming dangerous. And there’s a mythical creature called The Gronk, who loves Rogers & Hammerstein musicals and folding laundry, but will also eat peoples’ fingers (I doubt Fforde is aware of the New England Patriots football player, but its funny all the same).

Fforde novels tend to be high-concept, and Early Riser was the most difficult one for me to comprehend in the early going what exactly are the parameters of this world and getting past the jargon that’s sprinkled liberally in the text.  I eventually cottoned on.  The book is funny, but it feels more grimdark than other Fforde novels.  There’s an obvious parody of climate change in the novel, but there’s also the darkness of people’s’ souls in their willingness to exploit others for a little gain.  Early Riser is a challenging read, but ultimately a worthwhile one, and a worthy addition to the Fforde oeuvre.

Recommended books: Passage by Connie Willis.
Rating: ****

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens by Brandon Sanderson


AuthorBrandon Sanderson 
Title:Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read By the Same Author:  Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians, Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones, and Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Summary/Review:

The Alcatraz series continues with the great humor and cleverness of the previous books, including a great running gag on chapter numbering.  The book focuses in on the history and meaning of the Smedry Talents bringing alight some fascinating details.  The story also finds Alcatraz and his friends in the middle of war, with all the loss and sacrifice that entails.  While humorous and never comes to a point that death seems possible, the book does exposit on the frightening reality of children in war.  Finally, Alcatraz makes an unexpected alliance.  Another great book in this series, and I look forward to the next and final volume.

Rating: ****

Book Review: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand


Author: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows
Title: My Lady Jane
Narrator: Katherine Kellgren
Publication Info: HarperAudio (2016)
Summary/Review:

This work of historical fiction flat-out revels in the fact that it is completely made up.  This version of the story of Lady Jane Grey, a.k.a. the Nine Day Queen, has the boy King Edward being manipulated and slowly poisoned by his adviser Lord Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Edward designates his favorite cousin Jane to be his heir and has her married to Dudley’s son Guildford.

So far, similar to reality, but sillier.  In this alternate history, some people are Effians, that is having the ability to change into an animal.  Swiftly, Jane inherits the throne when Edward is declared dead, and then she and Guildford are forced to flee when Mary in turn claims the throne.  Jane, Guildford, and Edward (spoiler: he’s not dead) all have adventures, discover new powers, and meet interesting people along the way to a happier ending than reality.  The book is riotously funny both in the dialogue and the authors asides.  The audio book is excellently performed by Katherine Kellgren.

Recommended booksThe Princess Bride by William Goldman, The Prince and the Pauper by Mark Twain and The Sword in the Stone by T. H. White
Rating: ****

Book Review: Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman


Author: Neil Gaiman
Title: Fortunately, the Milk
Narrator: Neil Gaiman
Publication Info: HarperCollins (2013)
Previously Read by the Same Author:

Summary/Review:

We listened to this with the kids on a road trip this weekend, once in each direction.  The narrator is a boy whose Dad goes out to buy milk at the corner store and after a long absence returns with an outlandish tale of where he’d been.  His adventures include encounters with aliens in flying saucers, pirates, vampires, colorful ponies, and traveling as a companion to Professor Steg, a very wise stegosaurus. They travel through time, escape an erupting volcano, and never fail to hold on to the milk, all while on board a Floaty-Ball-Person-Carrier (a.k.a. a hot air balloon).  It’s all delightfully silly and a good follow-up to our previous favorite audio book for road trips, Gaiman’s The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, which very likely features the same family.

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending August 3rd


Re:Sound :: Tsunami Song

The true and complicated story of the Confederate anthem, “Dixie.”  Also, tsunamis & migraines, and Romeo and Juliet texting in the afterlife.

Fresh Air :: Documenting Hate in America

Journalist A.C. Thompson’s investigative work into the white supremacist organizations of America.

The Truth :: Bonus: Everything is Alive

This is actually a preview of a new podcast where inanimate objects get interviewed, in this case a can of generic cola.  This sounded like a one-note joke, but the story went into some very odd places.

Hub History :: Boston’s Pickwick Disaster and the Dance of Death

A building collapse at a popular Boston nightclub in 1925 causes the death of 44 people and leads moral crusaders to campaign against the dangers of dancing the Charleston.

 

Movie Review: Inside Out


TitleInside Out
Release Date: June 19, 2015
Director: Pete Docter
Production Company:

The premise of Inside Out is well-established from all the promotion for the movie.  Inside the mind of 11-year-old Riley Anderson are five personified emotions – Joy, Anger, Sadness, Fear, and Disgust.  When Riley and her family move from Minnesota to San Francisco and she has to leave behind her home, friends, and hockey team, and deal with moving into a creaky, little house, a late moving van, and her parents’ distraction, Riley faces new stresses that throw the organized world of her emotions into disarray.

The story goes in places I didn’t expect.  Joy and Sadness are separated from the “control center” of the mind to the “memory banks” and have to find their way back in what is essentially a buddy film.  Joy – the self-appointed leader of the emotions – has never understood the purpose of Sadness and as Riley goes through what is essentially a depressive episode, Joy realizes that they can’t resolve the problem until she lets Sadness take control and allow Riley to express her feelings.

It’s a complicated concept, but it’s done well with a lot of humor and creative illustrations of the inner workings of the mind. It has the gags that will make the kids laugh, and the moments that will make the parents weep (as I did both when Riley’s imaginary friend fades away and at the climax when Riley finally tells her parents how she’s feeling, which lead to my son shouting “hey, you’re crying!).  My son also noted that the emotions display a lot of – well, emotions – leading him to conclude that there must by five smaller emotions within their minds, and so on.

Summary/Review: Walt Disney Pictures | Pixar Animation Studios

Rating: ****

Book Review: Monstrous Regiment by Terry Pratchett


Author: Terry Pratchett
TitleMonstrous Regiment
Narrator: Stephen Briggs
Publication Info: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004
Previously Read by the Same Author: Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch (with Neil Gaiman)
Summary/Review:

I’ve been wanting to find a way into the Discworld series but not knowing where to start, I asked folks on library Twitter, and this book was recommended as an entry point.  This novel follows Polly Perks as she disguises herself as a man and joins the army in order to find her missing brother.  Her ragtag regiment has a lot of individuals not ready for war as well as a vampire, troll, and an Igor.  It turns out that Polly is not the only one in the regiment with a secret.  Spoiler: It turns out that pretty much every member of the regiment is a woman. This leads to a comical plot where they go undercover disguised as washer women.  This is a funny and sharply satirical book, and it does make me want to read more Discworld (recommendations welcome).

Rating: ***

Movie Review: Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)


TitleCaptain Underpants: The First Epic Movie
Release Date: 2017 June 2
Director: David Soren
Production Company: Dreamworks Animation
Summary/Review:

The extremely silly and slyly satirical Captain Underpants books are brought to the big screen in the epononymously-declared first of what will be many movies.  I’ve enjoyed the books as much as someone who was already an adult when they were first published, but I find the adaptation questionable.  Mostly, for a movie with a theme of the importance of laughter, the laughs are few and far between (albeit there are some undeniably hilarious moments).  The sense of superhero satire is lost in the final act when it is subsumed to the type of big action adventure climax they’re supposed to making fun of.  I give it a “nice try” but know that from the source material there is a better movie to be made.

Rating: **1/2

Book Reviews: Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia by Brandon Sanderson


AuthorBrandon Sanderson 
TitleAlcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia
Narrator: Ramon De Ocampo
Publication Info: Recorded Books (2012)
Previously Read By the Same Author:  Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians and Alcatraz Versus the Scrivener’s Bones
Summary/Review:

The third book in this series sees Alcatraz Smedry finally arrive in the Free Kingdoms where he learns he’s quite a celebrity (lots of not so subtle jabs at Harry Potter here) and that there are currently evil librarians meeting with the kings and queens of the Free Kingdoms on a treaty.  Alcatraz’s frenemy and protector Bastille is stripped of her knighthood due to Alcatraz breaking her sword in the previous book.  Alcatraz and a whacky crew – including a daft prince and a “recovering librarian” – work to uncovers suspicious goings on while the librarians are in town.  Central to the plot is the Royal Archives (Not a Library), a running gag that makes me laugh as an archivist who has attended professional conferences, but maybe won’t be as funny to other readers.  As usual, this addition to the Alcatraz series is clever, witty, funny, and still a rather ripping adventure.

Favorite Passages:

“The love books.  However, to them, books are a little like teenage boys.  Whenever they start congregating they make trouble.”

Recommended booksA Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins.
Rating: ***1/2