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The Books I Read: January – February 2018

The Books I Read: January – February 2018

The Elven by Bernhard Hennen

It took me two months of dedicated reading to complete this. Of course, I took breaks along the way, but still, I feel stories can wear out their welcome. We’re not in the era of television-less-ness anymore. We don’t need War and Peace to keep us occupied. And this is a callback to those kinds of books. It’s a saga rooted in high fantasy and Norse/Germanic myths (like elves and dwarves).

We’ve got three main characters. Two are elves who have been rivals for a girl elf’s love for whatever thousands of years elves live. The last is a viking who gets treated like the comic relief throughout the book. Seriously, you think he’s going to be a badass, but the elves treat him like Gimli in the Lord of the Rings movies. Every place they go, the elves cluck their tongues at him for drinking, fighting, and being crude (although no more than any normal viking) and go “look at this boorish human, ha ha”. They’re like Legolas in every way–eagle vision, can do magic, nimble, skilled warrior, and so on. Very few female parts that don’t involve a queen or someone more important’s daughter, so don’t look here for any diversity.

It is well-written, it’s just so damn long. You forget who characters are, what places are. There’s a map in the beginning but it only covers a small portion of the world. Maybe I’m a dummy, but if you’re going to make a novel this big and sprawling, add a few cheat sheets in there.

And as a result, I don’t think I can recommend this book. It’s good enough for a normal size novel, but not for something this long. It took me eighteen hours–I could have read three or four other books in that time. I can’t help but think I’d have been better off continuing The Expanse.

futuristic violence and fancy suits david wong

Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits by David Wong

I found a few books recommended for people who liked “Ready Player One”. And I needed it after finishing some long fantasy sagas. I wanted something funny and contemporary. I’d read David Wong before and liked it so I thought this would hit the spot.

And it did. Wong’s not good at titles (or is he too good?) but it’s exactly what’s on the tin–fast action and men-in-black doing gratuitous violence. It’s a big that stew that combines cyberassasins, superheroes, horror movies, anime, future dystopia. Much of them reflect (but aren’t directly coded as) eighties weirdness like “Rock and Rule” and MTV’s bizarro years.

It’s not a story that holds up to scrutiny. The plot moves so fast you don’t have much chance to learn character backstories or reflect on anything. You’re onto something new before you can digest the old. Characters turncoat from bad to good without explanation. Plot coupons come from nowhere. Chapters are short and action-packed. The character is dragged through events by the seat of her pants, rather than making decisions for herself. And none of the cast is likable. It’s like a Jason Statham movie.

So this should only be used for amusement and entertainment. It won’t give you anything profound. It won’t be taught in high school. But it is a great book for a reader who likes Marvel movies and video games. It’s a trip and a joke and an action movie.

Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

This is the story of a twelve-year-old girl coming to terms with the absence of her mom. It’s told in two parallel narratives. One is in present-time, on a road trip with her grandparents. The other is the story she tells to her grandparents that involve her mom and what happened with her and her dad after she left.

The classic trifecta ensues: 1) they move somewhere she doesn’t like 2) Dad starts seeing another woman 3) No one in school likes her. In the process, she befriends another girl, and HER mother leaves. This is the interesting part, as our main character gets a taste of what a pill she was, having to console someone in the same situation.

It’s a good story, especially if you know what a broken home is like. And the style, full of odd quaint country expressions and quirky humor. It’s not a cheesy Hallmark story. It reminds me of “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian” by Sherman Alexie or “Holes” by Louis Sachar or “I Am the Cheese” by Robert Cormier. All of these have an unreliable narrator and implication of something sinister going on below the surface.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I was nervous about reading this at first. John Green highly recommended it, dedicated a whole vlog to it. But in the past, he’d recommended Kendra by Coe Booth, which I didn’t like. And The Boy in the Black Suit was only so-so. So I thought this genre wasn’t for me, because I couldn’t be more white and it’s a big leap to sympathize with… what are we calling them now? Underprivileged minorities? Then I saw it on a bunch of Year End Top Ten lists and thought I’d give it a try.

Days later, I was still thinking about it. Yes, it’s an “issue” book, but it’s more about the aftermath of what someone goes through. Other issue books miss the point entirely, skipping over roots & causes and capitalizing on a hot button to sell books (like 13 Reasons Why or This Is Where It Ends).

Our main character is split between two worlds. By day she goes to school in a white neighborhood full of preppies, thanks to a school voucher. By night, she’s back in the ghetto, with her family of half-siblings and Dad who’s done time and now runs a grocery store. She never lets either side know of her other life because she’d be called a traitor or ostracized for some other reason.

That all changes when she witnesses a cop shoot her friend and can’t toe the line anymore. But it’s more about what her neighborhood goes through, how they react, from gang leaders to barbers, and the whites & lawyers reactions. It’s about what it means to be “ghetto” when that’s your life, not just a thirty-minute sitcom. Even when you live among gangs and broken families, a young black teenage girl can still want daddy snuggles. No one is a one-note or ghetto caricature. It’s modern life and helps a great deal with empathizing and sympathizing and, most of all, understanding the POV of “Black Lives Matter”.

Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

It’s a solid C. The main character lacks a “Save the Cat” moment, so he’s not very sympathetic. And women won’t find anything for themselves here. The only female in the book is the person the main character is trying to ask out. She’s a prize to be won. Also there’s no plot, no bad guy, no goal (either inner or outer) besides “learn a thing”. So it’s a little like Disney’s The Sword in the Stone in that way. But at least in that movie, Merlin was grooming Arthur to be king. Here, the wizards’ objective is to live easy bachelor lives, geek wish fulfillment, and to conjure burritos whenever they want.

After that, you’d think I’d give it a low rating. But despite its flaws, I realized, halfway through, that I still wanted to know how it ended. This is what I wanted Wizard’s Bane to be–a computer programmer in medieval times using programming to do magic.

This is a book for people who like comic strips, not characters. It’s light-hearted, fun, and humorous. But keep in mind that means the plot is going to be held by shoestrings. So don’t come in with expectations of Harry Potter.

Also, the cover is bupkiss. There’s no video games here.

The Eyes of the Dragon by Stephen King

This was way better than I thought it would be. King’s known for horror, not high fantasy. Before this point, the only other fantasy he wrote (if you don’t count The Gunslinger, which goes beyond genres) was The Talisman. And after this point, he didn’t go back to it for a long time. So I thought it would be a disaster. When an author writes outside their wheelhouse, you get wary. But it was also written in 1987, around the same time as It, Misery, and Skeleton Crew. And before he got sober.

The whole book has a fun storyteller vibe, like an old man in a tavern telling you the saga of King What’s-his-face. And since it’s a secondary world, you don’t have to worry about those Stephen King cliches.

However, the weird thing is the story never seems to start. It keeps describing characters, giving anecdotes, showing the history of the kingdom, etc. but you’re halfway through the book and the inciting incident hasn’t occurred. The narration consistently feels like it’s building towards something all throughout, which is disconcerting.

But overall, yes, I recommend it. It’s a good book even for the non-Stephen King fan and I plan on reading the sequel.

John Dies at the End by David Wong
(reread)

I remember reading this when it was free online, many many years ago. At the time, it felt like a life-changing work. So many books consist of dull introspective characters, plodding plots. This was a story for the MTV generation, with creative monsters, gross-out moments, and complete rejection of post-modern literary crap.

But it’s a flawed narrative. Many scenes take up space and reflect what you’d see in a movie. They don’t drive plot, reveal character, or restate theme. Also, all the events happen without being tied together, so it gets long and boring when the characters don’t want anything except to survive.

It’s like a Transformers movie: every scene is framed as MAXIMUM importance… which means nothing is important.Things happen, but you don’t care. It’s not a character-based story, it’s event, then event, then event. There’s no quiet scenes where we get a chance to absorb the impact. There’s sort of a beginning but there’s no middle or ending. The imagery provides information that isn’t necessary, like reading a book while listening to a different one. It’s all spectacle and no information.

Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View by various authors

This is an anthology of short stories that tells the story of Star Wars, but from the point-of-view of all the little characters that don’t matter. Like the Jawa that finds R2-D2, the Tusken Raider that cold-cocks Luke, various droids and rebels, even the stormtrooper that bonks his head on the doorway. All the parts that didn’t even earn scale.

It’s actually one of the better short story collections I’ve read. Maybe because A) there’s one unifying element tying them all together and leading to a conclusion and B) it’s Star Wars. It was enjoyable, but not pull-you-in enjoyable. There is a LOT of time spent on Tatooine. I think there’s a story for every character in Mos Eisley. If you like Star Wars, this is definitely worth looking into.

Eric J. Juneau

Eric Juneau is a software engineer and novelist on his lunch breaks. In 2016, his first novel, Merm-8, was published by eTreasures. He lives in, was born in, and refuses to leave, Minnesota. You can find him talking about movies, video games, and Disney princesses at http://www.ericjuneaubooks.com where he details his journey to become a capital A Author.


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