Book Binge May 2008: Wrap Up

book binge

Book Binge May was my first reading challenge for A Chain of Letters. In the end, I read a little below my normal monthly total, but this isn’t including graphic novels. I think I made the mistake of starting off with a few big books instead of spacing them out. I pushed to read one more book before the deadline, and thought it was only fitting to end with the same author I started with. Looking at the other participants as the final posts roll in, and I am amazed at how many books some people can squeeze into 1 month. INAMP herself read 17.

Here’s my breakdown, each link to the individual reviews:

1. 7th Heaven by James Patterson

2. In the Woods by Tana French

3. The Laughing Corpse by Laurell K. Hamilton

4. The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson

5. The Enemy by Lee Child

6. By the Rivers of Babylon by Nelson De Mille

7. Talyn (A Novel of Korre) by Holly Lisle

8. Maximum Ride: The Final Warning by James Patterson

Total Number of Books: 8
Total Number of Pages: 3,419


Maximum Ride: The Final Warning

23. Maximum Ride: The Final Warning by James Patterson. 256 p. Published march 2008.

I started reading the Maximum Ride series because I heard it was being remade into a manga and wanted to give Patterson a fair chance. Four books later and I sorely regret it.

If you haven’t heard of Maximum Ride, here’s the breakdown. Maximum (Max for short) is the leader of 6 mutant bird-children (and eventually one mutant talking dog). Their recombinant DNA has granted them superhuman strength, avian-esque wings, and various abilities ranging from mind reading to super-farts. The first three books take you through their treacherous youth as lab-experiments, their escape, recapture, betrayal by loved ones, escape, recapture (they do this combo a few times in each book), and the eventual final battle against the evil corporation that created them.

The Final Warning opens in the wake of this final showdown. After Max buries her half-brother, she and the flock, along with her parents, travel to Washington D.C. to meet with the government and see what is to become of them. Max and the rest promptly tell the politicians off and fly away. Max’s mother convinces her to take the flock on a trip with some environmental scientists to the south pole. While there, Max and the others hang with penguins and learn about global warming. Max and Fang (her second in command) are promptly separated from the rest when looking for Angel, the youngest, who has wandered off and fallen into a crevice in the ice with the dog. As Max and Fang save Angel, they are captured by a strange Frankenstein’s-Monster of a man and his robot minions. Max finds that the rest of the flock has been captured as well. The Flock is taken to Miami, which has been evacuated due to an imminent Category-4 hurricane. There they meet the Uber-Director, who has placed them up for auction to the highest bidding evil-power (various anonymous heads of state and industry). It’s up to Max, as always, to help the flock and foil this latest plot against them.

So, might as well start off positively. Patterson uses his gift for fast paced plot and thrilling characters to render The Final Warning a decent addition to the Maximum Ride series. And the new political slant to his work has shed light on an important issue (global warming). But in the end, this entire series is disappointing. His attempts at youthful jargon and internet lingo are pedantic and laughable. His plots consistently prey on the divide between teenagers and adults. Patterson supplements the reader’s imagination of this relationship with depictions of capture, subversion, and torture. And in the end he gives the reader a hollow victory, where the hero escapes to fight another day. Frankly, the one realistic lesson Patterson grants is this: it takes superhuman strength to achieve individual freedom and maintain it. And even then, you end up sleeping in the woods and scavenging out of dumpsters.

Patterson’s work has always benefited from his gift for using simple concepts and thrilling pacing to build a magnificent story. But the Maximum Ride novels read like a midlife crisis put to paper. Most men buy fast cars, find mistresses, and go to Vegas. Patterson writes teen fiction. And while his political statement adds originality to this overused genre of super-teens against the world, his apparent push for militant activism among today’s youth is shockingly irresponsible.

Patterson, stick to the adult thrillers.

Rating: 1 out of 5

Other Reviews of Maximum Ride: The Final Warning: Karin’s Book Nook, Teen Book Review


22. Talyn (A Novel of Korre) by Holly Lisle. 524p. Published August 2005.

This book was recommended to me by fellow blogger Fyrefly. Despite how prolific Lisle is in fantasy, and how often she co-write with some of my favorite authors, I’d never read one of her books before.

Talyn is the story of its namesake, Talyn Wyran av Tiirsha dryn Straad. This isn’t just Talyn’s name – it is her history, lineage, and connection to her people. Talyn is Tonk, a race that, while settled down from life as nomadic tribes, hold tightly to its traditions. and the Tonk have been at war for 300 years with the Eastils, a kingdom occupying the opposite side of their continent. Talyn and her people are bound to the war by honor, kinship, and religion, and philosophy. While much of the fighting is over certain land rights, the clash between the Tonk democratic city-states and the Eastil representative republic is largely political and religious.

Talyn herself was drafted into the Tonk army as a young girl, her gift for magic marking her as one of the elite Shielders. Able to step into the View, Talyn and other Magics can bend the essence of life to defend from and attack Eastil Magics.

But this war that has raged for 300 years comes to a sudden halt as the Feegash, a race respected both for its elite army and diplomatic skills, brokers peace between the countries. The resulting disarmament leaves Talyn and the other warriors in shock, and many of them go overseas for promising jobs around the world. Talyn herself embraces her hobby as a jeweler and tries to come to grips with being a warrior in peace time. She is soon visited by Skirmig, a Feegash diplomat, and finds herself strongly attracted to him. Despite her own misgivings, Talyn begins a relationship with Skirmig and he begins to teach her Feegash magic, a cousin to her own abilities.

Taking a break from lessons, Talyn roams outside and is confronted by an Eastil ex-soldier. He fears his friends have been kept prisoner, not released like the rest at the end of the war. Talyn uses Skirmig and his position to have the prisoners released, and hides them in her own house. But to do so, Talyn must do Skirmig a favor and move in with him. Soon Talyn discovers that something is wrong with Skirmig and the other Feegash – they are amoral and relish pain and suffering. And yet she can do nothing, for Skirmig has magically subverted her will to forget the depravities of his people. Skirmig hopes that, as they continue her training in Feegash magic, she will realize that good and evil are petty concepts.

But Talyn stumbles upon something during their training, and a melding of her magics and Feegash releases her from Skirmig’s hold. But not his grasp, and Talyn undergoes horrible torture at the hand of Skirmig and his servants. Thankfully she is soon rescued by Gair – one of the Eastil prisoners, now recovered, and the two escape while the city burns down around them. Skirmig, enraged by her betrayal, has unleashed his army, who quickly trample the disarmed populace and secures them under his magic compulsion.

Talyn must now lead the fight against Skirmig and his hordes, her only weapons are the magic she has developed and Gair, an enemy bound to her by a common foe. But to do so Talyn must come to terms with her fears, her gods, and her own involvement in the fall of her people.

Lisle manages to pack an amazing story into these 500 pages. The world, people, and language of Korre, raw and alien to the reader at the start of the novel, soon becomes familiar. The story, while oddly paced, is captivating in its description of Talyn and her plight. But I must warn you, the fantasy here is some of the darkest I’ve ever read; definitely adult in nature. Lisle’s depictions of the emotions, actions, and perditions of Talyn are… striking.

In writing Talyn, Lisle merges dark fantasy with equal parts political/moral philosophy and dime-store trashy romance. While reading the book, I found myself comparing Talyn more to the science fiction novels of the 50s and 60s than modern depthless fantasy. And frankly, it was refreshing. Before this book, A Song of Ice and Fire had been as mature as mainstream fantasy had been willing to get. My thanks to Fyrefly for the recommendation; I look forward to the upcoming sequel.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Other Reviews of Talyn: Fyrefly’s Book Blog, Book Wyrm Reads, Scifi Bookshelf

By the Rivers of Babylon

20. By the Rivers of Babylon by Nelson De Mille. 432 p. Published 1978. Republished June 1990.

This author was recommended to me by the friend who brought The Cleaner to my attention. I chose to read By the Rivers of Babylon because it was the earliest published work of his at my library.

This novel opens in France, where a bomb has been hidden aboard a newly constructed Concorde jetliner bound for service in El Al. We jump to a year later in Israel, where preparations for the departure of a peace talk delegation is underway. Every risk, contingency, and threat has been foreseen and prepared for. Or so they think. Two Concordes take off, heading for NYC, with a guard of F-14s beside it. Suddenly, a terrorists’ Lear Jet swings in and stuns the entire country with a daring mid-air hijacking. Suddenly one of the delegation’s jetliners makes a break for freedom and is disintegrated by the terrorists. The F-14s are forced to retreat and the terrorists and remaining members of the delegation disappear into the desert.

Soon after, the Concorde is forced to put down in Iraq near the ancient fortress of Babylon. But sudden disabordination by the pilot lurches the plane from terrorist control, and the delegation sees a chance to avoid captivity. Grounded in the ruins of Babylon and surrounded by vastly overpowering forces, the remaining members of the delegation and its security detail dig in. Beseiged by terrorist attacks, hazardous conditions, and internal power struggles, the survivors grapple with concepts of peace, violence, fate, and the essence of human nature.

I’ll admit De Mille’s novel is compelling. I read the entire book in about 6 hours. His plot is convincing enough to capture the reader and by page 360 I had no idea where the remaining pages were going to take me. And despite the fact that this novel is 30 years old, it fits within a very possible future Middle East.

However, there was one overpowering downside to By the Rivers of Babylon, and that was its characters. Many of them seemed somewhat contrived and only three – Hausner, Brin, and Baxter – came alive.  These three are the coldest emotionally, yet the easiest for the reader to grasp. I don’t believe that this was do to a lack of skill on De Mille’s part, but rather his own innability to connect to the emotions and sometimes zealot-like nature he imbued into the other characters. Furthermore, the plot shifts between character-driven and situational depending on which characters are in focus.

Now, I purposely chose some of De Mille’s ealier work because I wanted to judge a contrast with his later work. That being said, this was an enjoyable read, and not simply because the heroes (and anti-heroes) succeed and villians fail, but because the story is well developed and artfully paced.

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Enemy

19. The Enemy by Lee Child. 496 p. Published April 2005.

It’s New Years Night, 1990, and the Berlin Wall has just fallen. Jack Reacher, an MP Major in the U.S. Army, has just been transferred out of Panama and the search for Noriega to command a base in North Carolina. Still pondering this strange change in orders, Reacher is called out to a seedy motel where a Two-Star General has suffered a fatal heart attack, apparently mid-visit with a prostitute. Even stranger is that this general is half-way around the world from his post in Germany and it appears his briefcase has gone missing. But Reacher doesn’t suspect foul play until the day after, when he and Summer, a female MP from the base, go to notify the General’s wife, only to find that she’s been murdered.

Reacher’s investigation into the General’s demise is cut short when the body of a Delta Forces soldier is found on base in an obvious show of aggravated homicide. But Reacher’s new CO – a sudden overnight shift – orders him to cover up both investigations, threatening to implicate Reacher himself if he does otherwise. And now another body – the commanding officer of the Delta Force himself – has turned up in an apparent drug-deal gone bad.

Summer and Reacher dodge around the globe, from Germany to California and into the Pentagon itself, to track a killer and find out what links these four victims. In doing so, Reacher uncovers a failed plot that risks to future of the Army and finds an enemy far more powerful than he had considered.

The Enemy is apparently the eigth Reacher book, but because of the time frame, I thought it was the first. Even so, it’s a pretty good stand alone mystery. Reacher is an enjoyable character – the upstanding rogue type. The situations are realistic, the story well plotted, and the intrigue bears the reader at a decent pace. Child’s game seems to be pretty standard and I can appreciate the lack of serious surprise twists in her storytelling. It’s nice to have a simple mystery to figure through once in a while.

Rating: 3 out of 5

The Well of Ascension

18. The Well of Ascension by Brandon Sanderson. 590 p. Published August 2007.

This is the second book in the Mistborn Trilogy, and begins about 6 months after where The Final Empire left us. The Lord Ruler, a self-imposed diety and holder of dominion over all men – noble and skaa alike, has been destroyed. But with Kelsier “The Survivor”, hero of the people, dead, the task of rebuilding the world has been left to Vin, his apprentice, and Elend, her noble-born lover. Together with the other member’s of Kelsier’s old crew, they work to bring order and law to the chaos left in the wake of The Lord Ruler’s death. Elend is now King of the Central Dominance and Luthadel, the largest city in the empire, and works hard to keep his fledgling democracy alive.

But with constant threat of assasination hanging over her beloved’s head, Vin spends most of her time stalking the city’s rooftops, slaying the intruders before they become to much of a threat. Vin is troubled by many things: her role in Kelsier’s plan, her place in the new kingdom, and most troubling – the final word of The Lord Ruler before she killed him. And Vin has begun to notice a change in the mists she loves. Their blanket over the land, once so freeing, have grown ominous and threatening.

As Elend and Vin try to keep hold on their kingdom, word comes that three armies are marching on the city. One is led by Straff Venture, a ruthless noble who also happens to be Elend’s father, and another is composed of Koloss, the beastly minions created by the Lord Ruler. Zane, another mistborn, has begun stalking her city, and while she knows that he must be an enemy, she is drawn to him as no other. After all, only another mistborn can understand and accept what she is. The fate of Luthadel delicately teeters on these counterbalancing dangers and deceptions, threatening to topple at any moment. In order to survive, Vin must confront the doubts she harbors about herself, her lover, and her fate. But if she acts, she may risk triggering a fate dreaded for the last thousand years – awakening The Deepness.

This book is epic. Over 500 pages of subterfuge, magic, and bloody battle infuse the reader with the maddening need to push on. With the world building finished in the last book, Sanderson has used this one to fully focus his vision, weaving a story so complex that many of the characters themselves are left struggling to catch up. And yet, speaking to Sanderson’s skill, nothing in the book is too complicated for the reader to comprehend. The pace of the plot seems to vary, but only in order to develop an attachment to the characters and, in the case of Vin’s constant self-doubt, provide reason for the actions which take place.

By the end of the book, many questions have been answered, but entirely new ones propell us toward the final volume. Sanderson’s ability to author such compelling text is truly noteworthy. I find myself earnestly waiting for the next chapter in The Mistborn Trilogy.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Other Reviews of The Well of Ascension: Fyrefly’s Book Blog, Crystals Book Reviews, Lighthearted Librarian

The Laughing Corpse

14. The Laughing Corpse (Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter) by Laurell Hamilton. 308 p. Republished December 2003.

the laughing corpse This is the second book in the “Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter” series, and opens pretty close to where we left Guilty Pleasures.

Anita and her boss are called out to the estate of Harold Gaynor, a mob-tied millionaire. He wants them to raise a 283 year old corpse. The catch is that the older a zombie, the greater the cost such an animation requires. And one this old only comes in one form – the occult term is the white (or hornless) goat, a euphemism for human sacrifice. And despite Gaynor’s offer of a million dollars, Anita turns him down. After all, she has better things to do, like prepare for one friend’s wedding and attend another’s funeral.

Because someone has killed an Animator. And even though they did it through relatively mundane means (i.e. a bullet to the head), the occurrence is rare enough to warrant special attention. What Anita fears is that it’s tied to a case she’s assisting the police with. Something, and Anita believes it to be a rampaging zombie, is breaking into homes and devouring the families, leaving scenes of such gruesome gore that even she has trouble keeping down her lunch.

Anita can only suspect one person of being involved with such a powerful zombie – Dominga Salvador, the most powerful voodoo witch in the area. But going against Salvador will put more on the line than Anita was willing, sacrificing a dear friendship and risking her own immortal soul.

Hamilton does a pretty decent job of keeping the pace consistent. There aren’t many boring moments in The Laughing Corpse, and all of those are necessary recap from book #1. Anita’s character maintains the spunk of Guilty Pleasures, but the surprising and amazingly suspenseful ending really pushes to see how things will change in book #3. Anita maintains her ongoing side story of entangled romance with Jean-Claude, the city’s Master Vampire. From what I’ve heard, this running plot takes a few more books to develop, but I can wait. All in all, this was a fun, and relatively quick, read. I actually preferred this sequel to Guilty Pleasures, since more time was, understandably, spent on the story than world development.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Other Reviews of The Laughing Corpse: Being Myself, Melissa on Book Binge