Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie

The Blade Itself
, released by Joe Abercrombie in 2006, is the massive introduction to his First Law Trilogy, now an ongoing series. It is excellent, well constructed and well written, but for very specific tastes.

To say it is from the Grimdark subgenre is an oversimplification. It certainly is, but it's from the lighter end of this notoriously heavy subgenre, and agile enough to play with expectations.  This is a very character-driven book, taking the now-popular convention of having multiple point-of-view characters following their own plots, with their own backstory, and their own inner lives. This is not a book of heroes and villains, but rather of greys and blacks. You'll spend time in the minds of good people doing bad things, and bad people doing good things. For example, the author does a masterful job of creating sympathy for a professional torturer, contempt for a strong-jawed swordsman, and hope for a reluctant berserker.

The world is wholly invented high fantasy, a curious mix of early colonialism tropes, savage Northmen tropes, and high wizard tropes, but delivered with a modern insight and a fair amount of humor.  The central story that develops as the plotlines merge is about the reappearance of magic in a world that sees sorcery as a relic of bygone eras (if not imaginary), complete with a Merlin-analogue returning. The technology is up to the level of naval armadas and saber duels, but just shy of gunpowder. The author is dealing with repugnant elements - colonialism, torture, sexism - but is fairly adept at allowing for modern insights to peek through the text, and cutting the darkness with humor and trope subversions. The author comes closest to crossing the sensibilities of the reader with the use of "savage other" tropes that echo colonialist attitudes toward the middle-east, but they are delivered by unsympathetic in-text colonialists in a way that allows the reader a wider perspective. You should know going in that torture is a recurring element of this book, but the author leaves the graphic details to the reader's imagination.

All of this is not to say this is not a dark book. It is made of ugly politics and callous manipulators and false friends, in a world where the sheen of high culture hides humanity's ugly nature. I have not read the second book yet, but the first left me eager for more. For those who like Grimdark, this is one of the best examples I have read, rivaling G.R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) in scope and similar in tone and approach. This would be a fine recommendation for what to read next after catching up on Martin's grand opus. The Blade Itself is a brilliant introduction to a promising series, an excellent choice for any fantasy fan, and a must-read for Grimdark fans.

- review written by Scott Bonner

Friday, December 18, 2020

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

 Are you a fan of autobiographies?  Do you follow politics closely?  Then check out Barack Obama's newest book, A Promised Land.

This first volume of Obama's presidential memoirs tells the story of his journey from a young man to the president of the United States.  He takes leaders through his political education, organizing years, and first term in the White House.  Offering thoughtful insights on presidential power, politics, and diplomacy,  this personal and beautifully written book perfectly captures Obama's belief in democracy and progress.

I listened to the audiobook version of this memoir and cannot recommend it highly enough!  Obama takes you through his life and early presidency with good humor and profound understandings, matching warm stories about his family with a deep dive into his work.  Listening to him read all of his thoughts to you definitely improves the experience, though it is a longer audiobook - nearly thirty hours long.  I didn't know going in that this is just the first in a series of his presidential memoirs, so now I'm excited to see what he'll be writing next!   

Monday, December 14, 2020

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

I recently read a book called “The Lightning Thief.” I’m very familiar with this book series. This story dives into Greek Mythology and introduced me to a lot of the Greek gods and goddesses. The story starts in upstate New York with Poseidon’s son “Percy Jackson” unaware of who his real father was. He is a 12 year old troublemaker that got kicked out of many schools in his past. He lives this miserable lifestyle with his mother being his only delight.

A time came where Percy’s mother took him on a trip to a beach. This was a chance to sit down and talk about his mental problems in and out of school, with plans to let him know his real father’s identity. Until an unfriendly 7 foot creature comes into play and takes his mother’s life. Percy manages to kill the creature and passes out in the process. He then wakes up at a place called Camp Half-Blood, a herd of Satyrs and unusual creatures from Mount Olympus. Zeus accuses Percy of stealing his master lightning bolts and it's up to him and his two companions, “Grover” and “Annabeth” to use the 10 days they’ve been given to return Zeus’s stolen property. In the process he learns who his father is with questions of his abandonment, and uses what he learns at camp to get back his mother.

This book was very adventurous and a great way to start learning about Greek mythology. It was the first advanced chapter book I read. Being a chapter book without any pictures and a blank theme, this would be the first book in that category you would actually enjoy. The author gets very detailed with his words. The book helps work your mind and has you re-imagining certain things from the book. This book is a great way to start diving into bigger and more detailed stories.

Review written by Devon W.

Friday, December 11, 2020

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Are you a fan of thrillers?  Then check out this chilling New York Times and USA today bestseller by Alyssa Cole.

Sydney Green grew up in the Brooklyn neighborhood she calls home, but lately it feels like gentrification is changing her community overnight.  Hoping to reconnect to everything that is slipping away, she and her new neighbor Theo start creating a tour to highlight the neighborhood's past and present.  But what if all the people who've vanished from the block haven't just moved to the suburbs?  And what if their research puts Sydney and Theo right in the sights of some sinister forces?  Is it all in Sydney's head, or is something bigger at work?

I really enjoyed Cole's sharp, witty writing style. This is one of those psychological thrillers where something just feels... off for much of the book, but you can't tell who or what is to blame. It also did a good job of making everyday encounters a plausible part of the unsettling vibe, so you're never sure which sinister things are sinister on purpose. Check it out if you're looking for a fast, suspenseful read!

Friday, December 4, 2020

Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory

If you're looking for something merry and bright to read this Christmas, look no further!

When Vivian Forest's daughter invites her along on the work trip of a lifetime, she's excited to take in the British sights and spend a relaxing holiday away from her home in California.  She isn't expecting to meet the charming, intriguing Malcom Hudson, the Queen's private secretary.  The spark of flirtation between the two of them is instantaneous, but can their relationship last past Vivian's return flight on New Year's Day? 

This book was such a fun way to kick off December.  Some of the tropes and the beats in this novel will be familiar to romance readers, but Guillory's clever writing and sweet characters were more than enough to keep me reading with a smile on my face.  I would definitely recommend curling up with this quick, cozy read this winter.