Hunchback of Notre Dame Rothdas book review RSS
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

This was an interesting book. The basic ingredients are comedy and melodrama, sort of like an 18th century Joss Whedon work. The comedy has aged well, and the comedic passages are enjoyable and move the plot along in an agreeable fashion. The melodrama was a bit off, and I'm not sure if that is due to the effects of age, or translation, or just my response to the work. I kind of feel like the comedic portion overshadows and takes the piss out of the melodrama, as I found myself caring more about Gringoire and Djali than about the maladaptive love polygon that is the main plot of the book. On the plus side, the author treats his characters in a pleasantly cavalier and brutal fashion, a bit like a more fleshed out and extended version of Candide. The poor, the outcast, and the ugly come to terrible ends, while money and entrenched power sail effortlessly by. Oh, and there are occasional chapters where the author just decides to spend 50 pages describing Paris and Notre-Dame, and where there isn't the slightest drop of plot or humor. Feel free to skip those chapters and whatever deep message they may contain.




Ham on Rye
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A delightful book. I went into this expecting it to be difficult, hard core literature that puts hair on your chest, but no, it hums along. I think the only thing that could have made this better is if towards the end, when the protagonist is drawn into the fringes of the Nazi party and its grotesques, the Nazi party was instead replaced with some Mythos cult. This book would have been perfect as a sort of Portrait of the Inbred Savage Mythos Cultist as a Young Man.




The Perfect Spy
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Another wonderful Le Carre novel. This time the main theme is how being a sort of psychologically fluid and ungrounded con-man is an ideal preparation for being a spy. In this sense it is reminiscent of the Tailor of Panama, though I enjoyed the main character in this book much more. Confession: I listened to this as an audio-book. Le Carre is a great reader, and I love his American characters/impersonations to no end. I would listen/read/watch him do portraits of Americans for as long as he was willing to produce them.




Little Drummer Girl
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015




City of Bones
1.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Kind of terrible; the final battle and its re-curring weapon hand offs reads like a parody of itself. Hmm, what else. The main plot beats are obvious from the start even to an oblivious person like me, the protagonist is actively uninteresting, the world building is un-original and kind of crap. All in all it is like a lengthy and sub-par fan-fiction.




The Night Circus
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A decent book that unfortunately collides with many of my hang-ups. I'm not much of a foodie, and this book spends endless words describing all the delicacies that people eat. As far as I can tell, no one ever eats any fiber in this book, but then again they are magicians so maybe they have ways of dealing with that. Then there is the issue that one of the main characters is a sort of mind-mage, who can silently reach in and Create/Read/Update/Delete parts of another person's psyche. Long ago I had an argument about (nerd alert!) Ars Magica and its similar mind mages, and how you could never have a society of such people since they are all basically pointing mental guns at each other all the time. So I always had problems with that character, and how people don't treat his mere presence as an existential threat, and how his use of magic to turn people into slaves is somehow not considered evil. I had other quibbles with the plot, but you get the idea.

On the plus side, this book does have a great deal of inventiveness and lays out some beautiful physical scenes and images.




The Information
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A decent enough book, but its subject matter is almost exactly covered by a Computer Science/Electrical Engineering degree. The interesting bits were in the ancient history; a monk who discovered binary encoding in the 1500's, a Mesopotamian curse that all those who have not come to logic may live in everlasting filth, and the early flag-based telegraph system that France used before the electric version was invented.




The Girl who circumnavigated fairy land in a ship of her own making
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




The Sand Castle
7.0 Stars
1-1-2015




An Unofficial Rose
7.0 Stars
1-1-2015

In this story one of the members of a group dies, thus freeing up her long time partner. The majority of the book is the maneuvering that the characters do to take advantage of this free relationship slot, and see it filled according to their desires or what they think is best. The various concerns are as devious and interconnected as any game of Diplomacy. Reading this book it is hard not wonder whether Britain conquered half the world because it's citizens were so conniving, or whether that trait is a result of their imperial experience. As always Iris Murdoch does a beautiful job of laying out a social graph at the start of the story, just a wonderful flood of info and characterization.




Asteros Polyp
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




Call for the Dead
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015




The Tailor of Panama
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015




Seraphina
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

An enjoyable and well written book, though quite definitely meant for the young adult set.




Wolfhound Century
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

An inventive and mostly enjoyable russian themed fantasy/spy novel. One of the reviewers compared it to Le Carre's work, which is just mind boggling wrong. LeCarre is all about deep psychological study, while in this the characters are all fairly straightfoward. I found this to have much more in common with the Thomas Convenant series, with it's alternating periods of danger and tranquility, and the warring cosmic forces of nature and corruption. Even the golems are very similar to the ones from Donaldson's work.

While this isn't a huge deal, I would also point out the the mystery the protagonist is sent to investigate is just glaringly bad if you think about it for a bit. The solution to the great mystery is written down at the top of the relevant file, the relevant file is in the hands of the relevant officer, and the relevant officer is marked down in the central computer from when she checked out the file. I feel like the conspirators really weren't trying very hard.




The Spy who came in from the Cold
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

A delightfully bleak book. At any point during the story you can ask yourself "Are things going to get worse?" and the answer will be "Yes!"




Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by Scott B. Smith
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Another one of LeCarre's classic spy novels. The hero is Smiley, a wonderfully understated British spy. His approach to concealing his intentions and not giving info away is to always be completely gray and benignly bland. He goes through the novel not raising his voice, asking a series of mostly friendly and harmless questions, and politely mirroring the people he comes in contact with. And at the end he has penetrated to the heart of the conspiracy and woven an unbreakable net around his target. Has one of the most nearly happy endings in any of LeCarre's books.




Teleportation Accident by Scott B. Smith
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015




The Honorable Schoolboy
5.0 Stars
1-1-2015

Another bleak LeCarre novel. This book represents something of a transition from his early works. In those books the Western spies might use truly terrible means in a sort of Special Circumstances way, but they were at least fighting against Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Russia, and there is a sense that basically anything would be preferrable to the enemy. In this book it is not at all clear who the enemy is, and the focus is more on internal corruption, greed, and self-serving, and the human cost paid by individuals caught up in these struggles. In some ways it reminds me of the Wire, and in general the characters who get caught up by the intelligence services fare about as well those drawn into the criminal justice system in the Wire.




The Red Knight
3.0 Stars
1-1-2015

I asked my friend for trashy fantasy books, and he gave me this. He was right on the money. This is basically the novelization of a D&D campaign, something like Keep on the Borderlands, and it works for about the first 300 pages. There are a few editing missteps ("ears" instead of "years")", and a few descriptions which weren't really thought all the way though (describing a pretty lady with long eye lashes, he writes that ~"she could lick her eyelashes with her tongue", which raises all sorts of questions). Overall though the first part is a good fantasy yarn. Unfortunately the book goes on for another 300 pages after that, and the adventures get very repetitive, and then there is another 70 pages of denouement/setup for the next book. It's all a bit much and ruined any chance the book had for a 4 star rating.




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