Book Review: CROSSROADS OF TWILIGHT, and middle-book syndrome

I just finished reading Crossroads of Twilight, the tenth book in Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. I’ve already mentioned this book a couple times in recent posts, mostly because it took me longer than I expected to get through it. And not in a good way.

Ten books into this series, I’ve run into more than a couple of stretches where there doesn’t seem to be any real narrative movement, and the characters’ insistence on running in place when there’s a path laid out for them has been frustrating.

This book, however, was the hardest installment of this series for me to get through. Rather than running in place, or even building up to something, the characters in this book just did nothing.

There were a lot of conversations, a lot of plans being made without any details as to what they were, or even what they were aiming to achieve, and a lot of schemes.

Always with the schemes in these books.

Schemes within schemes that are so convoluted, so tepidly hinted at by the POV character of the moment, that the reader can’t possibly have any real clue of what’s really happening. There are so many characters now in this series, and they all have their perfect little plans laid out and ready to spring, except the reader has no idea what any of them are, and there are 200 of them!

Ugh.

So, yeah, this book took me some time to get through. I was simply not interested in most of what was happening. I read the last third of this book in fits and starts just trying to get to the end.

The structure of the chapters was at first intriguing to me. The book is structured in such a way that you follow one particular character or set of characters for several chapters in a row before abruptly pivoting to another character. I think this would have been an effective mechanism to develop specific character arcs if most of the chapters didn’t feel like filler content.

Without getting into details, I was particularly interested in both Elayne’s and Mat’s narratives in this book, but I haven’t heard from Elayne since the first third, and Mat’s story took an unexpected if interesting turn at the end.

All of this is to say that I’m happy to be done with this book, and I’m taking a break before getting into book 11.

Jordan has always toed the line between being just vague enough while building suspense. This story did not build anything. The last few chapters are interesting and definitely set up for book 11, but they do not make up for the 700+ pages of what felt like filler content.

Steve D

Book Review: THOR: GOD OF THUNDER, VOLUMES 1 and 2

With Thor: Love and Thunder due to hit theaters (or streaming services?) in 2022, I felt compelled to follow the comic arc that inspired this particular film, as well as Taika Waititi’s previous installment in this MCU franchise, Thor: Ragnarok.

I first looked to the early 2010s Thor comics, The Mighty Thor, in which Jane Foster takes up the mantle hammer of the God of Thunder. After doing a bit more research, though, I realized that Jason Aaron, the writer of The Mighty Thor, also wrote the Thor comics leading up to Jane Foster’s transformation.

Thor: God of Thunder, Volume 1: The God Butcher, book review, comics

So I decided to read Aaron’s entire run. That’s where Thor: God of Thunder comes in. Volume 1 of this series, The God Butcher, is a bit of an introduction to Thor, as well as to Gorr the God Butcher, who is to be the villain in Love and Thunder.

I found this to be a really exciting narrative with interesting jumps between past, present, and future Thor as he battles the God Butcher across the millennia.

We see the brash young God of Thunder, not yet worthy to wield Mjolnir, juxtaposed with Thor the Avenger, who bears the weight of centuries of responsibility on his shoulders, against Thor the King of Asgard, a grizzled aging god. I really enjoyed how closely this character evolution is mimicked by the MCU films.

The second volume of this series, Godbomb, continues the story of Thor(s) fighting Gorr the God Butcher across time, a thrilling and surprisingly uplifting ending to the God Butcher saga. I’m usually not into time travel plots, but seeing the three Thors battle together was pretty awesome.

I’m glad I read these two volumes together, because volume 2 is a direct sequel to volume 1. Across both volumes, the artwork is vivid and dynamic. I found myself flipping back and forth to catch details in the illustrations I may have missed on first reading.

Following on this time-jumping quest, I’m looking forward to seeing where Thor the Avenger, the proper Thor of this arc, goes next. This being my first read of any Thor comic, I don’t really know what to expect. I’m just pleased to see that Aaron has contributed more than a dozen volumes of comics to Thor’s lore in recent years. They should keep me occupied until Love and Thunder comes out.

Steve D

Book Review: STARDUST, a perfect fairy tale for adults

Stardust by Neil Gaiman, cover illustration, fantasy, fairy tale story, short stories

Stardust is the first book I’ve read by Neil Gaiman, and hearing the Audible version that he narrates was a real treat. Gaiman is one of those authors who I’ve seen a lot of references to online, but I could not have named one of his stories. Now I’m kicking myself for never looking up his work before.

Stardust is an incredibly enjoyable story in an authentic setting. The typical English village of Wall where the story begins feels completely mundane in the best possible way, from the little farmhouses that sit on its outskirts to the tavern where the locals pass gossip and the general store where they place their orders for the proprietor to pick up in the nearest large town.

Sitting just outside the village, however, is a stone wall with a gap in it, which is always guarded by two of the villagers, and which the residents of Wall are not allowed to pass through. Through this gap every nine years comes a market of bizarre beings from the land of Faerie, the land beyond the wall. Tristan Thorn, a young lad from Wall, one day decides that he must journey into Faerie to find a fallen star.

Thus begins Tristan’s journey with an intriguing cast of characters and intricate plot building. Even though there is not a ton of world-building or exposition, the world around Tristan feels like it’s full of history, both everyday and fantastical. Every character speaks and acts with such quirks that you can’t help but think that there are unique stories behind each of them — an incredible example of the writers’ adage that each character is the hero of their own story.

The plot was compelling and the arc of the characters felt very natural. Tristan was quite a savvy protagonist, especially for a teenager who had never left his village before, but I think this is established well enough early in the story that it doesn’t feel out of place.

Gaiman is a wonderful narrator whose cadence enhanced the listening experience, more so because he narrates it in the style in which he intended it to sound. The voices he creates for each character are distinct enough while keeping the listener immersed in the story.

I already have a couple more Gaiman stories queued up on Audible, including his telling of Norse Mythology, which — come on. How can I not read that?

Steve D

Book Review: MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING, by Viktor E. Frankl

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl, book cover, book review

I picked up Man’s Search for Meaning on Audible at the recommendation of a friend. I had heard of this work and Frankl before, but I didn’t really know anything about him, or about why he wrote this book.

I gravitate towards books about the big questions and especially existentialism, so this seemed right up my alley. (You will recall I just recently finished a Stephen Hawking intro to cosmology and quantum physics.)

Man’s Search for Meaning ended up being completely not what I expected and also much more gratifying than I had hoped. This post is less a review than a brief look at how Frankl’s book impacted my own perspective on meaning and existence. Continue reading “Book Review: MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING, by Viktor E. Frankl”

Book Review: THE GRAND DESIGN and thinking about the cosmos

I recently finished listening to The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow on Audible. This is one of those books that had appeared in my recommendations, and it seemed like an accessible introduction to physics, cosmology, and quantum theory. Continue reading “Book Review: THE GRAND DESIGN and thinking about the cosmos”

Book Review: THE SAGE, THE SWORDSMAN, AND THE SCHOLARS opens a new fantasy world

The Sage, the Swordsman, and the Scholars, Trials of the Middle Kingdom #1 cover illustration, Pierre Dimaculangan, fantasy, historical fantasy, epic, novelI picked up The Sage, the Swordsman, and the Scholars, Trials of the Middle Kingdom I at Awesome Con 2019, where I met the author. I had seen a banner much like the cover illustration hanging over the tables a couple rows away from my own, and I just had to check out the book.

Pierre Dimaculangan was really friendly, and his passion for his work was immediately apparent.

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book since then, and I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to get to. Still, it was well worth it. Continue reading “Book Review: THE SAGE, THE SWORDSMAN, AND THE SCHOLARS opens a new fantasy world”

#Review: THE RUIN, Dervla McTiernan, a strong detective mystery

The Ruin, Dervla McTiernan, Cormac Reilly #1, mystery, detective, novel

I just finished listening to The Ruin on Audible, and I’m hooked on the series.

I came to this novel length opener to the Cormac Reilly series after coming across McTiernan’s short stories: “The Sisters” and “The Roommate”.

I had enjoyed McTiernan’s writing style, her characters, and Aoife McMahon’s narration, the quality of which cannot be overstated, so I wanted to give one of McTiernan’s full-length novels a try.

Continue reading “#Review: THE RUIN, Dervla McTiernan, a strong detective mystery”

#Review: BRIGANTIA – an excellent part 3 to the Vindolanda saga

Brigantia by Adrian Goldsworthy, historical fiction, Roman Britannia, war, military

Brigantia is the third novel in the Vindolana saga, Adrian Goldsworthy’s epic historical fiction set in Roman Britannia during the early years of Trajan’s reign.

The third installment of the Vindolanda saga is as compelling and full of twists as the first two. New characters are introduced who bring renewed depth to the story, but the mainstays all have their part to play.

The plot also uncovers even richer and more intricate details about Ferox’s past and his dueling identity as both Roman Centurion and Silures Prince. Continue reading “#Review: BRIGANTIA – an excellent part 3 to the Vindolanda saga”

#Review AGENT 355 – Revolutionary spies and one remarkable woman

Agent 355 by Marie Benedict, cover illustration, book review, short storyAnother Audible Original short story!

I recently listened to “Agent 355” by Marie Benedict, the fictionalized story of a New York woman who became an integral part of General Washington’s famed spy ring in and around New York and Long Island. I liked it! Continue reading “#Review AGENT 355 – Revolutionary spies and one remarkable woman”

#Review: A MORE PERFECT REUNION — trying to understand our racial history and integrated future

A More Perfect Reunion: Race, Integration, and the Future of America, Calvin Baker

I picked up A More Perfect Reunion: Race, Integration, and the Future of America by Calvin Baker on Audible, because I felt like I needed to learn more about the current (ongoing) fight for equality in the US, and hear from more black voices.

Baker’s book was a great place to start.

Continue reading “#Review: A MORE PERFECT REUNION — trying to understand our racial history and integrated future”