Monday, February 28, 2011


Sons of the Oak

This is the fifth book in the Runelords series. One of those long drawn out fantasy epics. Thousands and thousands of pages, filled with far flung mythical ideas to make the mind escape into another world...which I guess is the point of most fantasy books? I'm going to throw a big disclaimer in here - This book is very far flung fantasy, maybe even 'hardcore' fantasy would be a good descriptions. I'll justify this point by giving you a quick rundown of the story; the Earth King dies, the evil demon Shadoath is back, the Son is a fireweaver, the forcibles are in sort supply, old souls are being reincarnated...'nuff said? To stress my previous point, you have to be really into fantasy to appreciate this one.

Luckily, I am into 'hardcore' fantasy. So, this book was a page turner for me.

You really need to read the first four books of the Runelords to get the full experience that is offered up in Sons of the Oak. If you recall, the previous books centred around a guy named Gaborn. This seemingly regular guy's destiny was to become the Earth King, which meant he could use the powers of nature to defeat evil. As I stated earlier - a far flung fantasy. Sons of the Oak turns the page on the Earth King novels and enters a new chapter, the life of his sons.

What big shoes those sons have to fill! If your father was the Earth King, the guy who saved the world from an eternity of darkness, how can you ever live up to that? This book explores that question. The books begins with a big battle scene. A gruesome extremely detailed battle scene. One, that even disturbed me...when there is descriptions of brains hanging out of heads, that are stuck to some knight's lance..that disturbs me a bit. After this action packed beginning the majority of the book is your typical journey/discovery story (I call it). You know? One of the characters journey halfway around the world to end up fighting the heartless, souless, evil villain. Along the way they discover their hidden mystical power, and eventually accept that it is their destiny to battle evil. In this case Fallion, the Earth King's first born, journeys to 'the ends of the earth' in an attempt to escape death. Along the way he discovers he can control fire. Luckily for him fire brings light, and evil heartless villians are controlled by 'darkness' can guess the ending by where I'm going here.

Even though many of the fantasy books I've read have very similar stories they never seem to get old. Take a look at the infamous fifty year old classic The Lord Of The Rings. What happens in this book? A young hobbit journeys halfway around the world and on the way there realizes he has some mystical power (in this case the ring) and that his destiny is to fight the darkness.

What makes this book different? There is an idea Farland calls 'endowments', where a mixture of magic and metal is used to transfer traits from one person to another. People can give up things like strengh, endurance, beauty, eyesight to another. The person taking these endowments can then have double the strength or double the eyesight of the common man. They are then called Runelords, hence the name of the book series. The good and bad points of endowments are examined in the books. Obviously there are some good points, like you can 'make' a super warrior to defend your kingdom. But, there are so many negative aspects. What happens to the people who give up their traits? Who cares for them? How far will someone go to get endowments...from children?

Overall, this book had a great story, lots of deeper ideas/theories to leave you pondering late into the night, some really gruesome scenes (if that is what you are into?), and best of all an ending that leaves you hanging...because there are more books! Gotta love finding a good series that has book after book.


Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Resurrection Men

When I classify my reading preferences I do not put myself in the mystery reader category, I always say I'm a fantasy reader. I have noticed that there are a few similarities between mystery readers and fantasy readers, most notably the volume of books. I'm confident in my opinion that fantasy readers tend to read a lot of fantasy books. I'm just as confident that mystery readers read a lot of mystery books. My proof - take a good look at the set up of your local book shop and you'll notice the large sections dedicated to mystery and fantasy (they are not mixed up in the general 'fiction' section).

Being in the fantasy camp, I have only dipped my toe in the ocean of mystery books. A few mediocre books is all I have read. This led me to think all 'mystery' gendered books were cheap, cheesy, cookie-cutter non-masterpieces. Having been around the block, or bookshelf, in the fantasy section I realize there are just as many cheap, cheesy, cookie-cutter fantasy books out there. So, a fantasy novice could easily stumble upon a few bad fantasies and write off the entire genre. It's as if you need a guide to lead you through the vast selection of books in the section. I was lucky, I had a guide who sent me towards Rankin...and since then I've polished off a few of his books with glee. This guide was a short term member of my now defunct bookclub who only chose one book and it was by Ian Rankin. He mentioned liking the detective 'Rebus' at one of our bookclub meeting and was met by blank stares (as the majority of the readers were fantasy readers). Who was this 'Rebus'? Well we were about to find out.

Rebus, a maverick in all ways. A police detective who works for the Scottish police in Edinburgh. He has a problem with authority and is often bending the rules to get things done. He is a copper who fraternizes with criminals on occasion, in seedy bars where he indulges in his massive drinking problem. His life is a mess. But, under this tough skinned exterior is a good cop, who always gets to the bottom of a case (typically a murder) no matter what it takes. He is that gruff character who you question the entire novel and end up applauding at the end. That is who 'Rebus' is.

In this book, Resurrection Men, Rebus is sent under cover internally to bust some corrupt officers. The only problem is Rebus does not have the best/cleanest past, so his previous cover ups are popping up all over the place...he could end up 'busting' himself in this process! I won't give much away by saying he eventually succeeds in getting these corrupt cops, but, it's an adventure getting there...and seeing how it all ends up (as in, who dies!).

The thing I like about Rankin books is all of the Scottish slang thrown in. You get a wonderful taste of Scottish culture and even the odd description of scenery (other than the inside of a bar). There are great explanations on how Scots are different than the English, which ignorant me didn't know anything about...what? They all live on the same island right? What really surprised me was how much instant coffee they drink.

My only concern with this book was the number of characters. There were just too many; Rebus and his 'sidekick' Siobhan of course, then a few murder victims from the cases they are working on, four or five co-workers, then the suspects which number a few, then the handful of underworld denizen (snitches, gangster leaders, prostitutes etc). This tactic of using a lot of characters is a double edged sword. On the one side, there are lots of characters that can be used in a variety of different ways to further the story along or make it that much deeper (and hence, a more fulfilling read). On the other hand, keeping track of thirty names can get kind of confusing, especially when you have an ignorant reader like me that keeps mixing up city names with people's names. So, this is not a book to read in short burst or when you are very tired. It is best to set aside some quality time and make an effort to concentrate on memorizing all the names.

Rating: READ

Friday, February 11, 2011


Eat The Rich

- P.J. O'Rourke -

This is a book that I keep hearing about. I first ran across mention of this book while reading some random article about 'the best humour books' that came across my webfeed thingy on the top of my email (at work I might add...I read it on my lunchbreak ok?). Then it turns out to be February's bookclub book on the BBC's radio program The Strand. So, I instantly went to the library's website and looked it up...yes! It was in! I could start my humourous journey through the world of economics. Yes, I'm that dorky!

Just before starting this book I read through an issue of MAD magazine. Remember MAD? Well, our library has a few copies, they are in the basement in the 'teen' section...yes, I'll admit it, I was wandering through the teen section, but, I like to make full use of all areas of the library. Funny though, I should read MAD and then start Eat the Rich. They are strikingly similar. Both are satires to the extreme...and in fact, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if O'Rourke was a writer for MAD.

Back to the world of economics in Eat the Rich. O'Rourke dishes out a very tongue-in-cheek summary on the basic theories of economics. You may be familiar with a few; supply & demand etc. Being a business major in university I had the joy of taking the required micro/macro economics for years so I found this sarcastic view of economics very funny. As for the non-business minded people - you won't understand a thing. When he starts into the theory of comparative advantages I'm sure all you'll get is that he is insulting John Grisham and Courtney Love through a chart somehow! Actually, this is only one small section that is laid out like a textbook with graphs and charts (this is the part that made me think of MAD the most) which look almost exactly like my first year econ book. O'rourke's charts end up making funny jokes like point B and point S make BS (haha). This is funny, but, I have a real world example that made this even funnier. In my first year econ we had a 'cool' prof. She let us have cheat sheets, told us exactly what was going to be on the exam, and get this : she made charts with the supply/demand curves for funny things likes smokes and booze! How cool was she!?

PJ also takes us on a trip through the world looking at different economies to try and figure out which one is the best. Being an American seems to have tainted his vision a bit, er a lot. His travels consist of criticizing the country he is visiting and slyly comparing it to the overwhelming success (his opinion) of the US. The only positive visit he had was to Wall Street! He thought those screaming/rushing/greedy stockbrokers were just wonderful guys. The polite reasonable citizens of Sweden did nothing for him. In fact, their generous 'welfare' state benefits (like maternity leave) were almost criminal in his mind. How can a country just pay people to 'not work'? Then he berates their high taxes and their word/philosophy 'lagom' (which means something similar to 'just enough', as in not greedy not impoverished just just click the link). From the ol' capitalist point of view I can see his argument that money in the US may make more profit than that in Sweden...but, strangely he completely left out any of those surveys/rankings that put quality of life in Sweden in the top few countries, while his precious US always hovers around the double digits. There is a lot more to life than money O'Rourke! Ok, enough with my soap box speech back to the book.

There were a few good points to the book. The wide range of vocabulary PJ uses is astounding. He sent me searching through my dictionary a couple of times - per page! Unfortunately, many times the word did not show up. I guess many of his words were quasi-fictitious words, as in understandable but not dictionary-worthy (see I can make up words too!). Even with all these rarely used words, in a veiled attempt to confuse the reader, the writing was clear.

Now onto the 'bad' parts. How about we start with O'Rourke's remarks about Canadians? The only mention about Canadians in this book is when PJ is visiting Cuba strangely enough. While explaining the tourist industry in Cuba he throws some off-colour remark about the only visitors seem to be Canadians who's idea of a good time is visiting the all-you-can-eat salad bar for seconds. How insulting! Even before this hurtful comment I noticed the book had a very negative tone. Most of the 'witty' comments/jokes were just blatant insults of other countries.

I did manage to catch part of the BBC's bookclub when they had their interview with O'Rourke and I was a bit taken back. He sounded nice! No insults, no negative fact, he said he felt very positive about the future of the world, even after the 'economic meltdown' in the US. It was a complete 180 from his writing in Eat the Rich!

Rating: DO NOT READ*

*Only read if you have run out of MAD magazines and want to hear more American-centric world views...and it helps if you have a degree in Economics and can catch the subtle econ-jokes.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


The Housekeeper and the Professor

This book came to me via Jen, or more specifically her bookclub. It's a smallish book, so when Jen finished it quickly, said it was good, and left it lying about...well, I had to read it. Right?
If you google this book a ton of reviews come up and a majority of them, to my surprise, use the exact same description - CHARMING. And, it's true. This book is a charming book.
Ogawa does a great job of blending a simple story, about a Japanese housekeeper forming a friendship with her employer the professor, with quirky facts about math. This book follows a well used story line, where you have two people who have trouble forming a relationship because of some strange reason/problem. In this case, the professor only has 80 minutes worth of short term memory and cannot remember anything past 1978. So, every morning when the housekeeper comes over it is like they are meeting for the very first time (hmm, 50 first dates anyone?).

What I found interesting right off the bat, and I don't know if this was Ogawa's intention, is that these two characters seemed to be both social outcasts in a way. From what little I know of Japanese culture outward appearance is very very very important. The housekeeper, whom had a baby when she was a teen and is now a single mother, and the Professor, who is covered in scraps of paper he attaches to his old suit to jog his memory, both seem to be on the outs with society's expectations.

After we get into the book a bit we find the professor is a genius in math. He can find the most fascinating facts about any number; shoe size, phone number, IQ? And, he has a way of explaining the most advanced math theories in simple language that we can all understand. This math obsession brings a lot to the book. First, it brings up some interesting/fun math facts. Two, it make this book more interesting than a story strictly about a relationship (blah). Three, it gives me something to think about outside of the book. I found myself thinking about this math genius and how it was so interesting that he could have all of this math knowledge stored up in his brain. I wondered how much time he has spent working with numbers? How ones brain could concentrate on something like that for so long? What makes a brain be able to do that? I found I was a bit jealous knowing I'd never be that knowledgeable about one subject. Then I thought about how sad it was that he was so obsessed with numbers. How he seemed to lack social skills, and any kind of life outside numbers. He had no other domestic skills, not even basic cooking or cleaning. His whole life was wrapped up in thinking about numbers. Even his small interest in baseball was only there because of all the stats and numbers. I thought the baseball story line just accentuated how much the professor was like a kid in many ways. It was almost like the housekeeper was taking care of two kids?

However, the way the professor worked with numbers made you just want to meet him. I just wanted to throw a random number at him and see what he could make with it. He was a lovable character who came across with a good heart. He seemed to make the most out of his life and rarely let his 80 minute memory get him down. The housekeeper seemed to be a good hearted character as well, with tireless energy making everyone else's life happy and clean.
There seemed to be no 'villain' in this book. I was half expecting a rival mathematician to show up one day and have an algebra dual just to add some action to this book. But, alas no evil math wizard showed up. We are just left with the stresses of everyday life to add climaxes to the story.

I'll gladly repeat what many others have said before me, this book is charming.