Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

Inversions by Iain M. Banks

Inversions (Culture, #6)Inversions by Iain M. Banks
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is not your typical Sci-fi book. If you are not familiar with the “Culture” Series by Iain M. Banks then you probably won’t even notice the science fiction that is going on behind the scenes. If you are familiar with the series then, like me, you will probably find this book simply brilliant. “Culture” often meddles with less advanced worlds, helping them evolve into a more advanced civilization.

Since the story is told from the point of view of person from the less advanced world there is no direct mention of the real story, because “culture” helps without the people they are helping having any knowledge.

If you are not familiar with “Culture”, you still get a get an enjoyable story (but will miss the sci-fi aspect of the story). If you are familiar with the “culture series”. You get 2 stories, the one that is told and the one that your insight will allow you see. Brilliant!

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Should You Be Laughing At This? By Hugleikur Dagsson

Should You Be Laughing at This?Should You Be Laughing at This? by Hugleikur Dagsson
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

After reading that this book has reached cult status and that the writer is Icelandic, (where the national drink is called black death, the national dish is putrefied shark, the national literacy rate is 99.9% and the author graduated from an art academy), I was expecting this book to be filled with wickedly dark, intelligent, and well drawn cartoons.

What I got was a book with 172 pages, each page contained one “stick figure” cartoon (so much for graduating from an art academy). The humor was dark but as far as intelligent goes, I found it a bit lacking, though I did get the underlying commentary being made on everything from politics, bad parenting, love and a few other subjects.

So to answers the title question, Should You Be Laughing At This? Well, I can’t answer for you but for me, out of the 172 pages, I think I cracked a smile a handful of times but a laugh was not to be found.

I wouldn’t recommend this book but I couldn’t say it was a waste of time either. It took less than 20 minutes to read the entire thing. Five smiles in 20 minutes may not be the best use of your time but it’s not the worst use either.

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Hagakure by Yamamoto Tsunetomo

Hagakure: The Book of the SamuraiHagakure: The Book of the Samurai by Yamamoto Tsunetomo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hagakure: Book of the Samurai was written by Yamamoto Tsunetomo, a samurai who lived from 1659-1719. The version that I read was translated by William Scott Wilson.

The book was written in short thoughts and anecdotes, this combination gives the reader a look into not only the mind of the samurai but it also helps the reader understand the times and the culture of the samurai.

As one would expect there are many thoughts and stories about what death and honor meant to the samurai. But it also covers some less expected subjects, such as education, religion, compassion, politeness, and even thoughts on homosexuality (seemed that sexuality wasn’t nearly as important as duty).

There are many things in the book for the reader to think about and several may be a bit difficult for people of modern times to understand, like the fact that by the age of 15 a samurai was expected to go to where the condemned prisoners are kept and practice decapitation. Or committing ritual suicide to follow their retainer into the afterlife. One of the things that really made me stop and think; loyalty equals sincerity.

Even though there are things that might be difficult for people of today to relate to there are several thoughts that people of today would be all the better if they incorporated into their lives.

Yamamoto Tsunetomo tells his thoughts on the younger samurais of his day compared to the older samurai of just 50 yrs before and the story reminded me that the more things change the more they stay the same. I can’t remember his exact words, so I’ll paraphrase: “Damn kids today have no respect or idea of how things should be done” (and yes I even pictured him shaking his fist in the air as he said it).

Overall I enjoyed the book and it did give me a lot to think about and a better understanding of a people. Highly recommend Hagakure to anyone interested in samurai, the people or the philosophy.

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Franklin: The Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin

Franklin: The AutobiographyFranklin: The Autobiography by Benjamin Franklin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I am no scholar on Franklin but I knew enough about him to know that I wanted to learn more. Naturally, I thought I would learn the most by reading a book about Mr. Franklin that was written by the man himself. Franklin: The Autobiography is full of interesting facts about most aspects of his life. His autobiography covers things about his family, friends, jobs, travels, and of course it covers some of his inventions and experiments. Benjamin Franklin was a genius that constantly worked at making himself a better person and the world around him a better place.

As I started to read the book I found I had to force myself to keep reading. Though there were several parts that I found very interesting, there were even more parts in the book that I felt would be better suited to putting insomniacs to sleep.

For some reason I was expecting beautiful writing using words rarely used today, which I would have loved, but there was very little use of uncommon words (felicity being about the only exception) and there were no flowery passages at all. I usually go into a book with little or no expectations. So part of the problem I had with this book could have been of my own making.

If this book were a food I would say there is a lot of substance but not much flavor. So, I would only recommend it for someone starving for knowledge on Benjamin Franklin (or insomniacs).

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The Shining by Stephen King

The ShiningThe Shining by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After I read Stephen King’s book, On Writing, I found myself wanting to read one of his novels. The list of books he has written is impressive and picking which one to read first was going to be a tough decision. I have seen many movies based on his books and found most of the movies enjoyable and entertaining. Though, thinking back there was one movie that was head and shoulders above the rest, The Shining. I saw The Shining in the early eighties with a couple of friends and we all were captivated and through the years parts of that movie has stuck with all of us. Using the logic that the book is always better than the movie, my choice was made.

The Shining is about a remote hotel (The Overlook) and a man who was hired to be the caretaker for the winter, and his family. The family consists of the father, Jack, the mother Wendy, and their son Danny. Danny is only five but he shines, meaning he has an ESP ability. The Overlook Hotel wants the power that Danny has and will stop at nothing to get it.

The Overlook Hotel is as much of a character in the story as anyone else. The three main human characters all have an internal conflict raging inside them. The father, Jack, is a recovering alcoholic and really needs this job, the mother Wendy has issues with her own mother and Danny knows that the Overlook is a bad place but thinks it will help his daddy. The Overlook knows that once the snow falls they will trapped and there will be no escaping.

There are more than a few places in this book that will have you turning on the lights, sitting on the edge of your seat, and holding your breathe. I am not much of a horror fan, in books or movies, except during the holidays season (Thanksgiving through New Year’s). However, Stephen Kings use of language and his ability to create both emotional and physical intensity has made me a fan. Though, I think it will be necessary to read more of his books before claiming to be a true “hardcore” King fan.

Highly recommend, one of the scariest, most intense books I have read.

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Cat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut

Cat's CradleCat’s Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cat’s Cradle is another example of Vonnegut’s mastery of using satire and dark humor to get the reader to take a closer look at themselves and the world around them. The characters and the protagonist in many of Vonnegut’s books are not your typical run of the mill characters, yet you can always relate to them and Cat’s Cradle is no exception.

The heart of the story takes place on the island of San Lorenzo. The main character John, a writer, finds himself on the island along with the rest of the characters – a dictator, an ambassador, the three (adult) children of a scientist that invented a doomsday device, an old religious leader/outlaw and a few other characters. But the real star of the book, for me anyways, was the religion that Vonnegut invented call Bokononism. The first page of the Bokononist book warns reader to not read the book because it is full of lies. The motto of the Bokononist’s religion is “Live by the foma (harmless untruths) that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”

Cat’s Cradle takes a look at science, religion, technology and human nature in classic Vonnegut form. In my opinion, reading Vonnegut can lead one to a higher level of enlightenment quicker than any so called spiritual or religious book ever could. I have read several books by Vonnegut and even though I didn’t love them all, all of them has given me something to think about.

I highly recommend Cat’s Cradle to everyone. The truth be told I recommend reading all of Vonnegut’s books to everyone.

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Stonemouth by Iain Banks

Stonemouth: A NovelStonemouth: A Novel by Iain Banks
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stonemouth is a story about Stewart Gilmour, a man who is returning to his home town of Stonemouth, Scotland to attend a funeral. Stewart had to leave town five years earlier, after he got himself into a little hot water with one of the town’s powerful crime families.

I have read more than a dozen books written by Iain (M) Banks. If this was the first book I had read by him I probably wouldn’t have been eager to read any of his other books. Though there were a few redeeming factors about Stonemouth that kept me from giving it two stars instead of the three that it received. The story was good enough to keep me reading and wondering what was going to happen next, and what had happened in the past. When I finished the book Stewart seemed like a real person to me (I found myself wishing him the best of luck). There was also a conversation between Stewart and another character about how the events of the past could have happened, several of which surprised me and made prefect sense. I really liked this conversation, it was the only part that felt like I was reading a Banks book.

I found Stonemouth to be predictable and parts of the story felt awkward and forced, making the flow of the story choppy. There were times in the story that Stewart, sometimes drunk and sometimes sober, had thoughts about global warming, politics, religion and the darker side of human nature. Many books by Banks have similar subjects as an undercurrent and were done well and flowed in the story. However, in Stonemouth they sounded more like a rant and felt out of place.

The thing that bothered me most about Stonemouth was what appeared to be, for lack of a better term, a product placement for Apple computers and the iPhone. When Stewart loses his iPhone he has to replace it with what is referred to for the rest of the book as a “rubbish” phone. And Stewart comments how he can’t wait to get to an Apple store to replace his good phone. When Stewart has to use his dad’s computer he comments on how it felt like preschool compared to his Apple.

Three Stars but not recommended.

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