Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Patricia A McKillip - The Forgotten Beasts of Eld

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a classic fantasy that is a must-read for anyone who enjoys the genre.

A young woman raised alone as a wizard can call and control the greatest and most wondrous beasts of the world. She has great power but has little knowledge of the 'real' world.

She learns what it means to be human among people through raising a baby and falling in love and marrying. Through self-knowledge she finds the most sought-after magical creature, and also happiness with her son and husband.

A well-written story. There is not a wasted word in the crafting of this fable/fantasy. The characters are well-defined and well-placed within the story. Even minor characters and once-off names and events fit the story's smooth-flowing pace towards its satisfying conclusion.

After reading so many Forgotten Realms books one after another it was refreshing to read a book in the same genre that is not a cookie-cutter swords-and-sorcery adventure.

I'd place this book in the top ten greatest fantasy classics.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Martin Amis - Time's Arrow

Time's Arrow is a peculiar book from Martin Amis. This is the strange story of a 'person' who lives inside of a man. He can see out of the man's eyes, hear, feel physical sensation, and to some extent the emotions of his 'host.' The 'person' cannot act or in any way affect his environment in any way. The peculiar thing about this co-residency is that the 'person' experiences the host's life backwards.

Beginning with an old man in an old-age home being shocked with paddles, this character, with basic knowledge of the world already present, must learn to understand people talking backwards (he springs to life already knowing English).

Amis masterfully describes this character's life as it tries to make sense of things appearing whole out of a fire, eating, and using the bathroom. His descriptions of interactions with people is incredible: from making sense of a single conversation, to long term relationships with co-workers and lovers.

In particular, since the host is a doctor, we find a bizarre world where hospitals are places where the injuries are created, dead come to life, and babies disappear.

We clue in, to some extent, as to why this has happened, by the time the host character becomes a vigorous middle-aged man and his 'career' in Europe during world-war II is revealed.

Definitely the kind of book that deserves re-reading. Both entertaining and thought provoking.

Monday, March 29, 2010

F Paul Wilson - Implant

A political thriller of sorts. A mad doctor implants mind-altering drugs into a congressman who had ruined his life and ultimately caused his daughter to commit suicide. The science and politics is all quite realistic and the Washington D.C. setting is described in good detail.

The hero is a young female doctor, whose life the mad doctor had saved when she was very young. Her journey to discover who is killing/drugging the members of the Doctor Guidelines committee is done quite well. The addition of a romantic interest does well to flesh out her character in counterpoint to the less than cinematic action.

Interesting gimmick: The mad doctor and the hero trade comments using uncommon out of use words, like 'kakiocracy'. Handy to have an online dictionary to look up words so that reading wouldn't be interrupted.

The suspense heightens to the predictable conclusion with a satisfying pace. A satisfying read. Well written, with no deus-ex-machina-type surprises.

Very valuable description of how to create the perfect cup of coffee. Hint: don't use paper filters.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest is the last book of the Millenium trilogy. It ties up all the loose ends without a make-believe Disney happy ending. The political complexities at the beginning of the novel seemed unnecessarily detailed and slowed the pace of the story. I found it difficult enough to keep track of street names and towns and regions without having to make sense of tangential political events.

The most satisfying aspect of the book was that Lisbeth Salander stayed true to character right up to the end. No cathartic breakdown at the end, nor a 'got my lifemate: now I'm happy/complete' type ending. She was the same person, flaws included, when she was at her lowest as when she finally wins. Its not pretty but it was satisfying.

Blomkvist, Erika Berger, and the supporting cast of characters, are well fleshed out and integrated into the story. The 'bad guys' are varied and interesting, but are not major characters in the story. They get their appropriate comeuppances but the issue is the political system and society in general that Larsson wants to be the focus of out disapprobation. As Blomkvist says near the end of the book, "When it comes down to it, this story is not primarily about spies and secret government agencies; it’s about violence against women, and the men who enable it."

In all, an excellent crime/thriller trilogy with interesting characters, an exotic (for me) location, and a compelling story.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Check out this hilarious comic at Shortpacked. Its a comic about a group of employees working at a toy store. I don't want to give away the punchline but I need to say that both BUTT-TACO.ORG and are real websites.


Friday, March 26, 2010

Wheel of Time 12 - The Gathering Storm

Brandon Sanderson was given the task of completing the Wheel of Time series after Robert Jordan died in 2007. The Gathering Storm is the first of three novels that will make up A Memory of Light, the trilogy to conclude the series. Jordan left behind the outline and most of the text of the final book(s). Brandon has done an excellent job of continuing Jordan's vision. . The Gathering Storm shares the same strengths and weaknesses as the rest of the series. I haven't read any Sanderson Novels, but I plan on reading his Mistborn trilogy in the next few weeks

Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed the series. Jordan's take on the circular nature of time, the nature of good and evil, and his perspective on political and cultural systems among the different groups are original and fascinating. His characters are well-fleshed and have grown in interesting ways. However I found that sometimes descriptions of clothing and furnishings were unnecessarily lengthy. This series may also win some award for most spankings in a high fantasy series. Nonetheless it would have been a great tragedy if the series were never finished.

In this installment Rand al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn, works to control the kingdoms he has conquered while trying to turn the Seanchan into allies instead of enemies. Egwene struggles to unite the White Tower under a single Amrylin. Rand's friends try to stay close to him and remind him of his humanity while he struggle to control his emotions and become the killing machine he expect he will have to be when he confronts the Shadow. The pieces start falling into place for the final reckoning. Will the Wheel continue to turn?

If you haven't read any of the Wheel of Time this book certainly isn't the place to start. If you stopped after reading the first few books I recommend taking up where you left off to fully enjoy what should be a spectacular conclusion.

If you are looking for another series while waiting for the next installment I strongly suggest the Malazan Book of the Fallen series by Steven Erikson. It is a nuanced and layered high fantasy that has superior action and a good sense of humour.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My ebookwise 1150

Besides visiting my local library, I get most of my reading material over the net and read it on my ebook reader.

I bought this ebookwise reader back in October 2007. It was an old product even before I picked it up on eBay from kascarlett for $120 US. I've been using it practically every day since then and the battery is still in good shape; it still holds a 15 hour charge.

You can learn more about the reader and its online services at

I has a back-lit 5.5” diagonal 4-bit grayscale LCD touch screen, 8Mb internal memory and supports up to 128Mb on a Smartmedia card.

If you want more details about the ebookwise and all ebook reader-related matters you should visit It had the depth to provide the technical details I needed to recalibrate my ebookwise. It also keeps up to date with the latest products.

My most compelling critereon when I first purchased the ebookwise was the price. I wanted something inexpensive so that I wouldn't be too upset if it got lost, stolen or damaged. If I was going to replace it today the most likely candidate would be the Delstar OpenBook E-Book Reader available at Walgreens's for $95.

I'm keeping my eyes open and I'll pass on what I find.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Girl Who Played with Fire

The Girl Who Played with Fire answers all the questions about Salander's past that we had in the first book of the Millenium trilogy. Of course we end up with more questions by the end of the book.

Mikael Blomkvist's next case takes him into the world of the sex trade. When a journalist and his girlfriend are assassinated and Salander is accused of the crime, Blomkvist must solve the murders to clear his friend. His sleuthing uncovers government corruption and the horrific history of Salander's treatment by the system.

Lisbeth Salander finally achieves some measure of independence, security, and contentment in her life. It all falls apart when she is implicated in the deaths of the Millenium journalists. Never a victim, Salander uses her unusual skills to track down the real killers and confront her past “when ‘All The Evil’ happened.”.

A well-crafted second book in a trilogy. The suspense and action was well balanced. When Lisbeth disappears after the murders she does not reappear in the story for quite some time. It was hard to put the book down when you didn't know if she was laying on a beach somewhere or tied up in a basement. The conclusion was satisfying in a bittersweet way and there were enough loose ends needing tying up to make a the last book a must-read.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson is the first book in the Millenium trilogy of books. Frank Rich's article in the New York Times describes the financial industry corruption and incompetence as a theme in the book and that resonates so much these days.

I found the book easy to put down at first. After reading a dozen or so fantasy/scifi books in a row I thought it was time to touch base with more mainstream fiction. The Millenium series seemed to show up on many best-seller lists so it seemed like a good candidate. By the time I has half way through I could not put the book down; and after staying up all night to finish the book I was cracking the next book while the birds outside were greeting the new day.

Financial journalist Mikael Blomkvist investigates an old missing person case that leads to uncovering a number of gruesome murders. He and his magazine, Millenium, provide insight into Swedish culture, politics, and economy. Blomkvist is a normal man put into an unusual situation. His partner is another matter.

Lisbeth Salander is a four foot eleven, 90 pound, misanthrope who truculently and sometimes violently deals with the obstacles set before her. She is hired by Blomkvist to do research for him and they soon settle into a friendship of sorts. Salander is not a the sort of character one warms up to. Her past is wrapped in mystery. She has been dealt a bad hand by life yet refuses to be a victim. A complex character, the reader is left wanting to know more about her.

Definitely worth reading.

Monday, March 22, 2010

First Blog Post

As a first blog post I should introduce myself explain what I'm going to write about.

I've been reading literature on a computer since the mid-eighties. Now that everyone has caught up I'll be talking about what I'm reading as well as the new hardware and software coming out dedicated to reading books.

I've also written a bunch of short book reviews in the past and I'll be polishing them up and re-posting them here from time to time. I decided to start the blog when I got an e-mail from the Amazon Associate program so I hope eventually someone will click through and buy some of the books I'll be reviewing.

If you want to see an earlier attempt at Billbo's Books you can visit it here.