Monday, February 27, 2012

Book 20: The Left Hand of Destiny Book One

The Left Hand of Destiny Book One by J.G. Hertzler and Jeffery Lang was a fantastic book if you love Klingons. The book is well balanced between action, plot, and character depth.

I’m unapologetic lover of Klingons.  When I went to the Vancouver Star Trek Convention, the thing I was looking forward to the Breakfast with the Klingons the most. While on the outside I was all calm, on the inside the little girl in me would have thrown my autograph book on my head with glee just as my sister did when she met Mickey at a Breakfast with the Disney Characters on her first trip to Walt Disney World. It was my chance to meet J.G. Hertzler (General Martok) and Robert O’Reilly (Chancellor Gowron). They were so much fun. They were in character and out of character. My photo with them is one of my favorite photos to look at on a bad day (the other ones include when my friend and I went to a Flyers game together and one with my dad when we went to NYC).  So I was excited to see that J.G. Hertzler had a couple books on my eReader when I was recently going through the library. I knew right then and there I would have to read them quickly.  Admittedly, I had somewhat low expectations on J.G.’s ability to write a book. I just didn’t know what to expect since he’s an actor but I was so pleased by what I read. It really showed me how much he really knew his character on the show. Plus what added was magnificent.

In a nutshell, the book is about how General Martok had to deal with the biggest struggle of ruling the Klingon Empire.  Sorry it’s the title I have for him, I know it’s Chancellor Martok since Worf killed Gowron and passed the power on to Martok prior to the book starting (since this book starts right after the last episode of DS9). Old habits die hard and besides the general is still struggling with the transition from general to Chancellor.  On the day of the big ceremony really giving power to the General as Chancellor of the Klingon Empire, Morjod attacked the Great Hall and usurped the position. Plus to make matters worse, Morjod takes Sirella hostage and threatens public execution of her. So Martok is lead by not only a desire to save his own honor, he wants to save his wife.

Great themes and action in the book. I didn’t want to put it down at times. Like the Hunger Games, it’s plot driven. Plus this had a hint of a Arthurian legend to it. I love the grandeur of Klingon honor, the presence of a madwoman who has vast amounts of power (possibly mystical power), and saga itself.

But the thing that really stood out, was how well JG really knows the Klingon characters he put into the book. I got to hear the voices perfectly and even could envision every act. I loved how he expounded on Sirella’s character. You can see why Martok gets that little gleam in his eye when talking about Sirella in passing on DS9. Plus he even got Alexander right. That’s a difficult Klingon to work with when you compare the small boy from TNG to the awkward Klingon soldier that showed up on DS9. He nailed Martok. But when you portray that character in 27 episodes and then decide to write a book about the same character, that should be a given. I relished how the reader got to see the relationship between Martok and Worf where you got to see the little things that would annoy the General and yet he admired his brother.

The one thing that drove me nuts was the ending. It was so good and I was so enthralled and then it ended with a cliff hanger. I hate cliff hangers. So much so, if I know a show like DS9, Eureka or Doctor Who has one, I will just wait for the second episode to air and just watch the two episodes together. Thankfully, I have book two on my eReader. So unlike with The Hunger Games books, I don’t have to wait a night to get my next fix.

I really enjoyed The Left Hand of Destiny Book One. It grew my esteem of my one of my favorite Klingons and of JG. Hertzler. I’m so glad I got to read this book. Now off to read a little bit of book two and then get some rest before the next day of work.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book 19: Grave Witch

For something a little bit different, I decided to go back to my pet genre (urban occult/fantasy/paranormal). Grave Witch was a book that was a nice diversion that uses the essence of the genre.

        Grave Witch is the first book in the Alex Craft series by Kalayna Price. I wasn’t in love with the way this being a first book in a series. There was too much that seemed to beg for a book prior to Grave Witch. The book kept referring to friendships and cases not shown.   It’s good to walk into a series with things set up between characters but you don’t want to make the reader feel like they are missing something. For me, I felt like I was missing some of the earlier details.

        The characters are the strength of the book. I really like Alex. She’s a tough private eye who is broke. She has an unusual skill of being a grave witch (a witch who can raise shades (memories of the dead), talk to ghosts, communicate with Death and etc).  I liked how she was a bit of a softie too. But there were times, she would jump from soft to tough in a too quick of a turn around.  I also really like Det. Andrews. He’s a bit of a hard nut to crack. He’s a tough, hard nose but later you learn he’s been hired by Alex’s estranged father. But my favorite character was Death. He would just come in and add so much juice to the plot. Plus I love how he comes out and tells Alex that he loves her.

        The plot wasn’t bad. It was a classic type of set up. Girl gets tied up by a paranormal case and the world seems to be fighting against her succeeding in learning the truth. Along the way she finds a love interest who she may or may not be interested in. I’m just so glad that my initial thought about Andrews was quickly proven to be wrong. Last thing I needed was another book have an ending telegraphed way too early in.  Due to my love of the genre, the ‘surprising’ plot twists hardly that.

I’m not in love with this book yet it’s not a bad book. I would definitely read more of the series but it’s not something I will go out of my way to find. A classic 3 star out of 4 star rating for me.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book 18: I'm Staying With My Boys

I’m Staying With My Boys: The Heroic Life of Sgt. John Basilone, USMC by Jim Proser with Jerry Cutter was a letdown. Sgt. Basilone is a great soldier and I learned a lot about him but I hated the book.

I picked up this book because it had a high rating and I knew this year, I should pay homage to my graduate advisor (Goldy). Donald Goldstein helped to write so many books about World War II. His work with Gordan Prange and Katherine V. Dillon has some of the best documented work about the World War II when you are talking about the fights against the Japanese. They wrote At Dawn We Slept, God’s Samurai, December 1941: Tvewle Days that Began a World War and others. Goldy is right it’s too easy to focus on the Holocaust and you lose the larger picture especially at the time, it was about fighting the Japanese (who were most commonly referred to as Dirty Japs). We forget that US citizens were imprisoned for the mere fact they were of Japanese and Asian dissent. We entered the war due to the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor. Plus we had some of our largest battles in places like The Miracle of Midway, Iwo Jima and Gaudalcanal. So this year, I want to see read more about the parts of World War II not related to the Holocaust (except some books that are about the OSS).

This book drove me nuts. I’m sorry but a first person narrative with lots of internal thought is not appropriate for a biography especially when Sgt Basilone died in battle. This is the first time I had to check the genre a couple of times hoping it was misclassified by Amazon. It read like historical fiction.  In fact, if it would have been called historical fiction then the book would have been fine.  It would have allowed using your best guess at what was going through his mind (especially during battle) without seeming like he was making it all up.

Then I read the citations, hoping that there was a diary or something along those lines. I was sorely disappointed. The book was under-research in many ways. While it had the help of Basilone’s family, there was little to really see believe what was being said as being Baslione’s mental state. It only had thirteen books in the bibliography and one was self-published (which according to academic standard is a second tier research book).  I won’t lie, I was hoping Goldy would have been cited. But I can't believe that it was allowed to be published with so few resources. I am one who does read the bibliographies even for my historical fiction. I like knowing how much faith I can put into the book as being an expert especially when I'm doubting the writer.

The other thing that drove me absolutely nuts was the organization to the book. At first, it made perfect sense to flashback to childhood. But it should have been done only once and there shouldn’t have been done when talking about events from the same trip to Manila. The constant back and forth seemed random and then ended suddenly once it got to Gaudalcanal, it stuck to a constant time line.  I would have loved to restructure the book.

In the end, I hated the book when it’s billed as a biography. It was not written in an appropriate manner which you can take for fact. If it was done as historical fiction, it would have been a much better book ( I would struggle with the organization but it would have been a lot better). Billing matters. Being honest with the reader matters (just like taking the time to edit a book properly matters).I enjoyed learning about Sgt. Basilone’s life, the book itself was pretty bad.

Book 17: Mockingjay

Mockingjay was the final and least captivating book of the Hunger Games series. I’ve been enthralled with these books for a week. They were so interesting and so good. It was a bit of a let down to see the final chapter work out the way it did.

The book started off pretty well. Katniss was in District 13 and adjusting to a much more regimented life. Well sorta, she was skipping out on some of her scheduled activities  for a while and was just not herself. The last hunger games really started to catch up to her and she was upset that Peeta was in grave danger by being in the Capitol’s clutches. After a lot of prodding a few promises, Katniss agrees to be the focal point to the rebel cause.

There was a part when they get Peeta back only to find out that he’s not the loveable Peeta that we got to know in the first two books. It was something where you go, that’s so not right. You expect him to be damage but to try and kill Katniss on first sight was not expected (sorry about the spoiler, I promise it will be the last one-but did you really expect him not to make an appearance in the book?)

One of the major points that come up in this book is the love triangle between Peeta and Gale. That became a talking point between a couple of my friends. I was outvoted on which was the better guy for Katniss. I like Gale. He was well suited for Katniss but he didn’t let love blind him from reality. Peeta is much more the romantic. I guess it comes to down to the fact, I don’t want someone to give up their dreams and hopes just to be chosen by the one they love.

But my favorite character in the book was Finnick. He was one who just continue to grow for me. I love that. He was someone who was sweet, a little weird but has so much heart.  It was the character I probably ended up loving the most.

Mockingjay also brought up my frustration with Scholastic Publishing. They have great talent at finding and publishing great series. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and others. But the problem with these hit series, the final books in the series seem to be printed and published too soon in order to satisfy public demand.  Quite frankly the books lack the polish you come to expect from the author.  In the first two books, I didn’t have to reread any parts of the book for clarity. But in Mockingjay, I had to reread earlier parts to see when a character would appear or reread a sentence three times. Quite frankly, I would have preferred to wait a couple more months so the gaps are filled in and the book has the same level of writing the first two books had. This is my same exact thought with Harry Potter when I read the seventh book.  It’s not always better to print a book in order to get a quick buck from the readers. I’m tired of subpar books to finish out a series when half the problem is poor editing.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Book 16: Catching Fire

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins didn’t disappoint in the second Hunger Games book. It took the plot-driven book to almost a new level.

I was so glad that my friend Susan had this book waiting for me when I finished up The Hunger Games. Especially after she was telling me that the second book was even worse then the first book in terms of cliff hangers at the end of chapters that you have to ignore. It’s more about finding out what happens next.

Catching Fire definitely took it up a notch. First Katniss and Peeta are dealing with the being the Victors. Katniss is visited by President Snow just before going on their Victor’s Tour. He threatens that they have to convince the other districts that their actions in the arena were caused by love only and not acts of rebellion. The tour doesn’t go as planned. Then to make things worse, they find that Quarter Quell is not going to have new tributes that Katniss and Peeta will help to mentor. Instead it will be the victors against each other in another round of the Hunger Games (and thus dooming Katniss to round two and pretty much ensures Peeta the same faith).

Now I won’t discuss the matters that happen in the Quarter Quell at all. That would be giving too many spoilers. But oh my word…. Once I got to the Quell, I was just having to read more and more. Then the final chapter. I literally texted Susan and asked: “omg, did that really just happen?” at midnight.  I was in shock and was hoping I didn’t have to wait at all for the next book.

The characters felt so much stronger in this book. The competitors actually started to stand out in this book. They weren’t just their and objects to kill. She actually interacted with them and knew their names. I liked how Katniss teamed up with more then one or two people. This time she really worked with basically a pack who didn’t really try to kill many of the other victors right away. Instead they were just trying to survive the arena (which was just as dangerous as the Victors since each hour there were new dangerous thrust upon them).

The one thing I felt that was weak was how the Capitol kept pressing on Katniss and Peeta to show the districts were crazy in love as a way to put down the rebellion. Rebellions grow over time and celebrity love lives don’t really have much say in that. It seemed a bit crazy that two children could help stop political actions that were at work. It’s a dystopian society and that causes unrest. But I love how Katniss was able to work out which districts were rebelling due to the shortages that were cropping up in the Capitol.

I really enjoyed Catching Fire. It was so addicting and I just had to finish up what happened Then the ending just shocked me after being shocked all the way through. Loved the way the plot just drives the reader into exhaustion and still finds ways to shock in nearly every chapter (not that chapter endings were all that noticeable since I just had to keep reading to find out what happens next). 

Friday, February 10, 2012

Book 15: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins is one of the electrifying young adult books in a long time. After hearing a lot of buzz, I expected great things from the book and thankfully I wasn’t disappointed.

I’ve never seen a book that has been talked about nearly as much as The Hunger Games. Sure there was Harry Potter and Twilight, but I will admit those books were wide read but never hit as many different groups of people like this book has. I’ve seen my Trekker friends, co-workers, and even family members all enjoy this book and plow through it.  It’s a book that has literally cross boundaries in a board way. Cause with Harry Potter, my co-workers weren’t so into and there are so many people who dislike Twilight. So I was getting very curious about the book that captured so many people’s attention.

I’m always a little mixed on dystopian stories. Most of them tend to fall into the same general patterns, which starts to frustrate me very quickly. But at the same time, Brave New World and 1984 are some of my favorite books.  I was glad to see that the Hunger Games fell into the creative dystopian story that catches your attention and then holds it.

The Hunger Games start on the Reaping day. As a reader, you start to sense something very sinister about the reaping. Then at the reaping ceremony, you see the real danger. It’s when a boy and a girl are chosen from each district (there are twelve) to fight to the death for the entertainment for the capital and as a punishment to a rebellion by the twelve districts seventy-three years earlier. So you can tell that when Katniss’ sister is called, you know that all is not well. Her sister is more of a healer and doesn’t know how to hunt like Katniss does. Immediately, you are pulled into reading the next chapter.

Fortunately for the reader, Katniss steps in and volunteers to take her sister’s place. This means she has saved her sister but almost guaranteed her own death. Then the pull the boy’s name.  It was Peeta, the baker’s son who Katniss barely knows but is fond of due to the fact he once saved her life. The two of them are immediately taken to the games. The Hunger Games has as much pomp and circumstance as the Olympics. There are three districts known for training the best players in the games while other districts like Katniss’ were more known as being cannon fodder.  There is the opening ceremonies, group training sessions, private session with the game makers, an interview session, and of course the time when the kids have to start killing each other in the arena.

Katniss and the reader are caught off guard in the interview session when Peeta admitted he had a lifelong crush on Katniss. This love would be played upon from that moment on. Both by the mentors and Katniss/Peeta. But what is interesting is that while Katniss isn’t in love with anyone back home, she does have extremely close friend in Gale.  A start to a love triangle.

The games are interesting. But I won’t discuss that. Too many spoilers if I talk about those.

The characters and the world are very strong.  There are no complaints on my end other then you don’t really know much about the tributes but that is done on purpose. Katniss doesn’t get to know those she has to kill. She just knows which district they are from and general traits.

I loved this book. I read it in two days and my first thought when I finished up reading the book, “Read faster Susan”. I thought that for one simple reason, she is loaning me the series. So I wanted the second installment as soon as possible. Fortunately for me, when we were doing our talk about the book (always a sign of a good book when you talk about it to one of your friends and compare notes/thoughts) she said she finished it up.