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The Books I Read: March – April 2019

The Books I Read: March – April 2019
scott lynch lies of locke lamora

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

It took a little effort to get into it, but it’s worth it. The writing style is sharp, funny. The narrative jumps around a little–both in setting and time–making it difficult to latch on. Like trying to ride a wild fire hose. And there’s a lot of world-building that has to occur. But once you get past that, this book is on par with The Name of the Wind. And that’s a damn good book.

At first I was intimidated by its long length. But it’s worth it. You get really invested in the characters. (Minus points for having so few women). And it’s fun as hell to follow a main character who’s a cad and a thief, not a noble hero. But he’s still loyal to his friends and never acts unfairly. And unlike The Name of the Wind, it’s not so much a series of vignettes but a plot that tapers down then weaves up everything back together. So in some ways, it’s even better. It reminded me a lot of the world of Dishonored. But whereas the tie-in books for that are churned-out junk, this is the kind of world-building, atmosphere, and character development we’re all looking for. Don’t get me wrong, it’s less assassins and more Errol Flynn.

One of the few flaws is that it gets pretty complex. Everyone’s got two, maybe three identities going at one time. But it’s not much harder than following the MCU–who everyone is, what their roles are. Some people might think it takes a while to get to the good stuff. I say there’s good stuff up front, and better stuff as it goes along.

This is a slow burn novel. It takes its time with character development and puts plot-building in the background. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t tension and wanting to learn more. I personally like books that hinge on the relationship between characters and how those dynamics affect what happens next. In fact, I’m writing one right now (so maybe I’m biased).

dungeons and dragons player's handbook

Player’s Handbook by Wizards of the Coast

Well, it’s what you expect–a standard manual for playing Dungeons & Dragons. As I understand it, version 5.0 simplified many of the rules from previous editions. I don’t have any frame of reference, but I’ve played Pathfinder, which is based on D&D 3.5 and can vouch for that.

This is both good and bad. It allows the players more freedom, more imagination to do and go where they want. And obviously, this has its other side of the coin too, which you’d know if you subscribe to the RPGhorrorstories subreddit (quick clue: It’s not about RPGs like Vampire: The Masquerade or Call of Cthulu). So that means the game is easier to play without a bunch of implements, like minis and maps. You could play it around a campfire. There’s a bigger focus on storytelling than Pathfinder. But that means it’s missing the mechanics that make combat so fun, like flanking and combat manuveur damage.

As a book itself, it’s very beautiful. The art is spot on and the charts are easy to read. The text gets fairly dense, and it’s not as subdivided in the general categories as I would like (meaning, I would like things to be sectionalized more for easy lookup). And don’t forget to read the disclaimer in the front.

So if you thought previous D&Ds were too combat heavy, you might be into this. Otherwise, I suggest Pathfinder.

philip reeve no such thing as dragons

No Such Thing as Dragons by Philip Reeve

I got this recommended from a list of straight sword-and-sworcery fantasy novels.

There is too much of what I call “scenery porn”. That’s when the author spends a lot of describing the trees and the forests and the desolate wind and the chilly night air and the warm fireplace. They have long passages of what the character sees. It’s so obviously filler, meant to establish mood and atmosphere. But it stops the plot dead to rights. Especially in a rural setting like this. I know what a friggin’ forest looks like, ya see me?

It’s unfortunate because the plot is fairly interesting. The two are shysters who go into towns which think they have a dragon bringing bad luck. Then they go and “kill it” and collect the reward. Because everyone knows dragons don’t exist… OR DO THEY? And if you’re smart you’ve guessed the plot by now.

It’s somewhat satisfying to read, but it’s also a plot I’ve seen many times before, and ends in no special way. That plus the scenery porn means it’s entirely skippable.

ellie kemper my squirrel days

My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper

I had just finished The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, one of the funniest and more inspiring TV series that I’ve ever seen. I picked this up because of it, but this book has barely any content from that part of her life.

I imagine I would have hated Ellie Kemper in school. She seems to be the type of girl that always gets what she goes after with no meaningful obstacles or weaknesses. She wants to be a comedian, so she takes a few improv classes and bam, she’s in the top touring troupe, auditioning for Saturday Night Live. She wants to be an actress so bam, she’s on The Office (which I didn’t even know). She wants to see squirrels from her treehouse so she can pretend she’s a Disney Princess, she waits hours, motionless… and the squirrels come up to her.

Reminds me of Student Council students in high school. The ones who complain how tired they are… when they’re the ones who signed up for a hundred activities in the first place.

So we come to the problem of a biography/memoir that stars a person with no conflict in their life. Whatever Ellie Kemper wanted to be, she became. Wife, actress, goofball, friend. Fortunately, when you read the auto-bio of a comedian, at least it’s funny even if the material is boring. And this one is. I’m surprised how much of Kimmy Schmidt is in Ellie Kemper, if what she puts on paper is who she is in life. Even if there’s not much about The Incredible Kimmy Schmidt, it feels like the book was written by her.

It’s cute, maybe overly so, but the stories are good. It’s better than Anna Kendrick‘s, but worse than Lindsey Stirling‘s.

You Think It, I’ll Say It by Curtis Sittenfeld
(unfinished)

I’ve never read a short story collection from anyone other than Stephen King. And I still haven’t.

I read the first two stories, including the titular one. Then I decided that, if this is what the rest of the content is like, no thank you. I don’t need to read about asshole people doing asshole things. Got enough of that in my life.

Moreover it’s about asshole women doing asshole things, in ways which are misogynistic and “yeah, but women too…” The first story is about a gender studies professor sleeping with a one night stand. She’s a proper woman, all third wave and professional. And she gets drunk and almost sleeps with her uber driver… who lied to her to get into her pants. What is it trying to say? I don’t know, but I sure didn’t feel good about the representation of women after reading it.

The second is about a married woman who falls in love with a married man because they bond over her bitchiness. She wants to sleep with him, she obssesses over him, ready to break her family apart over it. He rejects her, and then he turns out to be an asshole anyway. And it makes the woman look like the bad guy–victim to desires, making bad decisions.

I thought one story like that might be an outlier. But two in a row like that? No thanks.

eric idle always look on the bright side of life

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography by Eric Idle

I’m of two minds about this book. On one side, it’s a dull narrative of celebrity encounters. He tries to be humble about hanging out with rock stars like the Rolling Stones, the Star Wars cast, various Beatles, and all the various women and drugs he did and slept with.

On the other, it’s Eric Idle, one of the leading Monty Pythons. A progenitor of modern humor. Is it witty? Intelligent? British? Charmingly droll? Most definitely.

I figure, unless you’re a Monty Python fan, there isn’t a lot you’ll get out of this book. But you won’t know who Eric Idle is unless you’re a Monty Python fan anyway. So the question becomes, will you enjoy it if you are?

And the answer’s yes. It’s not a quick book, and there isn’t much about Monty Python therein. It includes the origins and the aftermath though. And really, you’ve probably already seen all that Behind the Scenes already, so there’s no need to repeat it. There sure is a lot about his relationship with the book’s title. One could say it’s partly about that famous song as much as its author. Ellie Kemper’s biography was a little punchier, but not as much stuff in it.

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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