Category Archives: Book Reviews

Inferno by Dan Brown: Book Review

As I was visiting my local Costco (I do that a lot) gathering some much needed necessities for my upcoming trip to the ocean, I chanced upon Dan Brown‘s latest offering, Inferno. For only $10.99, it seemed like just the type of beach book I was looking for, so I bought it.

I honestly did not think I would write a review on this one; Dan Brown is a formulaic writer if there ever was one, and because of that, it is difficult to talk about the book itself without giving away too much of the plot, and of course, its resolution.

Inferno by Dan Brown, Book Review

Inferno by Dan Brown, Book Review

The characters in this book are clearly defined, although and as you can imagine if you’ve read any of his books before, there is more to them than it seems at first glance. The exposition of the main characters, excluding of course Robert Langdon, who needs no introduction, seems somewhat forced. A definite shortcut was taken there, you’ll know it when you see it. That being said, it’s done properly and it’s not annoying to read.

There is just enough meat on the secondary characters to keep them interesting, but not too much that it becomes involved and overbearing. Dan Brown knows his formula quite well. Nothing wrong with that.

The plot of the book is pure Dan Brown; this time, everything revolves around Dante Alighieri, medieval Florentine poet and statesman, and author of the renowned Divine Comedy. I really wish I could more in detail about the plot, as its denouement, so to speak, is not what you would expect. Of course, that is also the whole idea behind most of Dan Brown’s books, so maybe it is not unexpected. In any case, the plot is definitely worth a read.

What I most like about Brown’s latest books, including the Da Vinci Code, is the obvious care that is taken in describing works of arts, literature and architecture. Most of this book takes place in Italy, in Florence and Venice specifically, and you can tell that Brown really cares about what he’s describing. Florence was never on my Top 10 travel destinations, but you can bet that it now is!

Overall, I’m very satisfied with my reading of Dan Brown’s Inferno, and I hope my short book review reflects it. It provided me with all the fun and entertainment I wanted on my vacation, and at 560 pages, was neither too short nor too long.

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson: Book Review

I’ve been a fan of Brandon Sanderson ever since I picked up Mistborn a few years ago. I was interested by the author, since he’d been picked to complete the Wheel of Time series after the unfortunate demise of its author, Robert Jordan.

The original Mistborn trilogy was absolutely fascinating. It took place in a more or less traditional fantasy setting, but what really set it apart is the magic system, in which you consume and burn metal to have access to various powers.

In Sanderson’s own words, The Alloy of Law was written as an exercise to refute most classic fantasy settings, in which things are static and never change, year after year and eon after eon. David Eddings, anyone?

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson: Book Review

The Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson: Book Review

In any case, The Alloy of Law takes place in what would be about the mid-19th century, with a definite Old West tinge and a general Steampunk feel. Magic still exists, although it is much more diluted in the general population; people have access to a single Allomantic power, as opposed to the God-like Mistborn of the previous series.

The story follows Lord Waxillium Landrian, better known as Wax, the scion and heir of an old but impoverished noble family. He abandons his life as a lawman in the Roughs – and this is where it sounds very Old West – to take up the mantle of Lord Landrian at the passing of his uncle.

He is accompanied in his adventures by his friend and sidekick Wayne, a sticky-fingered dueler and former criminal.

Both are powerful Allomancers in their own rights, although with very different powers.

Without giving away too much, the plot revolves around a gang of thieves performing heists in the City of Elendel, and kidnapping young women for a intentionally vague but certainly nefarious purpose.

Brandon Sanderson is without peer at describing awesome battle and action scenes, and the book certainly doesn’t disappoint in that regard. Moreover, the story and characters are both well-developed and satisfying.

If there was anything even remotely negative I would have to bring up, it is the fact that the book is quite short, weighing in at only 332 pages. Certainly shorter than anything else I’ve read by the same author, and much, much shorter than the epic novels I usually enjoy. I did leave me with a sense that the story was only starting.

On that note, it is clear by the end of the book that Mr. Sanderson has left the door wide open for sequels or additional novels, featuring the same characters. I look forward to reading them!

On the topic of cheap entertainment, I have borrowed this book, and even though I’ll now have to give it back, it doesn’t get much cheaper than that. If I’d had to purchase the book to read it, I would certainly have waited for the paperback, as the length of the book did not warrant a full hardcover price, even discounted.

Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs: Book Review

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know I’m serious about books; not only as one of the ultimate forms of cheap entertainment – in the same league as quality video games, but cheaper – but also for their own sake.

I have problems with borrowing books, either from the library or from friends. I like to display them when I’m done reading them, even though the odds are good I’ll never read them again. Of course, I’m always eager to find a bargain!

Imagine my pleased surprise when I found a book by an author I really enjoy, AJ Jacobs, in the discount bin at my local bookstore (that would be Indigo, the Barnes and Nobles of Canada). The book is titled Drop Dead Healthy, and I paid a whopping $6.99 for it, in hardcover no less.

Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs Book Review

Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs

AJ Jacobs is the author of two other books I thoroughly enjoyed: The Year of Living Biblically and The Know-It-All. In the first, he spends a year living *exactly* as mandated by the Bible, and let me tell you, modern Jews and Christians: no matter how devout you are, you’re not even CLOSE to what the Bible actually demands of you.

In the second book, he reads the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover in an attempt to know everything, with the predictable result that he becomes an insufferable know-it-all.

As you can imagine, Drop Dead Healthy follows in the same vein. In this case, the project takes him two years. Bit by bit, AJ modifies his habits in a bid to become the healthiest human who’s ever lived.

What I Liked about Drop Dead Healthy

The Format: I love how AJ presents his progress, chapter after chapter, and how he truly tries to apply what he discovers from numerous interviews. The fact that the projects – all the books are similar in that way – seem to completely take over his life, with obvious and often hilarious results, makes for a really easy read.

The Knowledge: AJ Jacobs is obviously a really smart guy, and he interviews really smart people. He knows which questions to ask, or at least he edits properly and puts only the good stuff in his book. I feel like I’ve actually learned a lot of facts from reading this book.

  • Did you know that having a 6-pack might not be great for your health?
  • The best way to walk, health-wise, is leaning forward (falling in to each step)
  • And a thousand other well-researched facts

The Humor: AJ Jacobs is very funny, or at least that’s how he comes across in his books. Think self-deprecating Jewish humor. One of the best. It makes his books fun and easy to read.

The Lists: Mr Jacobs has kindly provided many lists, at the end of his book, which sum up his observations. If you read this looking for inspiration, it’s a great way to get on track without re-reading the whole thing. Some of the topics include:

  • How to Eat Less
  • How to Turn the World into your Gym
  • Five Tips of Treadmill Desks
  • Five Foolproof Methods for Stress Reduction

What I Didn’t Like About Drop Dead Healthy

Ironically, The Format: This is the third book AJ Jacobs has written in this style, by which I mean the project taking over his whole life. I’ll probably buy the next one he writes, if he does, but I’d love to see him try his hand at something else. I’d buy that, too.

The Pacing: This is true of all his books, and that may just be the nature of The Projects. The first half to three quarters of each books are detailed, intricate, hilarious and fascinating, and the rest feels… rushed, for lack of a better word.

The Verdict

Buy the book. AJ Jacobs’ books are always funny, very informative, and written in a way as to keep you turning the pages. You won’t be bored, and it’s important to put some good stuff in your brain from time to time. You only get out of it, what you put in, or so I believe. Also, you’ll be supporting AJ, who seems like a really nice guy.

Book Review: Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence

When I don’t like a book, I usually don’t feel too bad about giving away spoilers… After all, I don’t want the author to feel encouraged by sales to write other terrible books. When I do like it, however, as is the case with Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns, I feel differently. You can count on this review to be generally spoiler-free, although my understanding of a spoiler may be different from yours.

On the book itself. At first glance, Prince of Thorns is kind of a lightweight, and much shorter than my usual, preferred fare. Weighing in at only 318 pages in paperback, Mark Lawrence manages to make each of those count to achieve his goal.

Mark Lawrence: Prince of Thorns Book Review

Mark Lawrence’s Prince of Thorns (Book Review)

The book is published by Ace Books (Berkley Publishing Group), the copy I have is in paperback and was published in August, 2012. I purchased it at my local Indigo store for the price of $8.99, Canadian dollars.

The genre of the book is a different take on the high-fantasy, medieval-like setting common in so many fantasy books. While it clearly aims to be medieval, it is violent and cruel and an almost cartoon-ish way, unlike George RR Martin’s realistic, gritty feel. This is by no way negative, but rather a statement of fact. I found it refreshing and fun to read.

Geographically speaking, the map seems to suggest northern Europe as the setting, specifically northern France, and while the names of the countries and cities seem to match – Normardy, Conaught, Orlanth, Limoges and Lions, there are no references in the book itself about these places being anything other than figments of the author’s imagination. The ‘world’ itself is simply referred to as ‘The Broken Empire‘, a political entity that is discussed and explained in the book.

The hero of the story is the young Prince Honorous Jorg Ancrath, who witnessed his mother and brother’s horrible and protracted murders at age 9. He then ran away from his royal household to join with a bunch of thieves and murderers, who he eventually came to lead. He returns to confront his past and claim his heritage, although he clearly won’t be satisfied with simply lead

Without giving away too much – as promised – this is a classic tale of betrayal and revenge, on every level, with a strange new twist. It is suggested that Prince Jorg himself is extremely cruel and violent, but he mostly engages in traditional fighting in the book’s pages. Most of the extreme cruelty and sadism is performed by various members of his ‘Band of Road Brothers’, although there are some notable exceptions.

*** SOME SPOILERS ***

The story itself, a tale of revenge, is quite gripping; reading this short book took me no more than a few days, which is remarkable considering my schedule. One of the things that has bothered me somewhat is the author’s tendency to almost break the fourth wall by referring to things that we as readers understand but are completely alien to the protagonist, such as skyscrapers, concrete, rebar, modern vaults and other assorted modern technology.

This is extremely well done and gives the book a familiar footing, while simultaneously feeling completely alien. In one instance, it is clear that the band is travelling through an underground parking structure, but seen through their eyes, it is strange, mysterious and utterly terrifying.

Another thing that has clearly survived is the Catholic Church, with priests, clerics and bishops, that now live in a world where magic, ill-defined though it is, exists, and where the importance of redeeming one’s soul has not diminished. Interestingly enough, the hero is offered the chance to redeem himself, but doesn’t seem interested.

The Broken Empire is built on and off the bones of our own world, both figuratively and literally, and offers a interesting twist on a story that’d been done over and over. I have very much enjoyed Prince of Thorns, and look forward to reading the next two installments of The Broken Empire trilogy.

Book Review: The Last Templar by Raymond Khoury

Dollar for dollar, few means of entertainment give as much bang for the buck as good old books. Video games are close, but not quite. This brings us to this review of the latest book I read, which is entitled “The Last Templar”, written by Raymond Khoury.

The Last Templar was published in 2005, and weighs in, in paperback, at 523 pages. Thank God I didn’t buy it in hardcover, as I would have been mighty angry. I actually purchased this book brand-new, when it was just out, probably in 2006, but after reading a few pages I stopped, as I found the premise ridiculous.

The Last Templar, by Raymond Khoury

The Last Templar, by Raymond Khoury

Unfortunately, I’m unable to throw anything out, particularly books, so this particular piece of literary nonsense has been taunting me, from its lofty perch on my ‘to read’ shelf, for years, and I figured I’d give it another shot. Now I know, and regret knowing, what I’d been missing.

Stylistically speaking, The Last Templar is not terrible, and it’s easy to see why the author has been described as a ‘cinematic’ writer. He’s also a screenwriter, which helps. The action is fast and sweeping, the descriptions apt and gripping (to a point) and the novel could even be said to be a ‘page-turner’.

Now, there will be spoilers. The whole point of the book is a ‘why can’t we all just get along’ rehash. Turns out, according to the author, that the Templars were at their core a bunch of Cathar heretics out to destroy the Catholic Church by uniting it with the Jews and the Muslims. They did this by (SPOILER COMING RIGHT UP) creating what they passed off as the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ which supposedly proved that Jesus Christ was a simple man and not the Son of God. The Church bought into it, hook, line and sinker, and allowed the Knights Templars to gain vast power and influence through blackmail of the Vatican.

To say that the plot is thin is an insult to books who have to rely on a thin plot. It’s wafer thin and full of holes. But that could be excused if the book itself wasn’t full of tired and over-used clichés. Burnt-out Church ruins as the lair of bad-guy turned good-guy to bad guy again? Check. Car chase? Check. Actual “take my hand or die” cliff-hanger? Check. Continent-hoping in search of clues? Check.  Cute archaeologist heroine falls in love with tough-guy (soft on the inside) cop? Check.  You get the idea, the list goes on.

I’m happy that I finally read The Last Templar for the simple reason that I was tired of seeing it on my shelf. It provided some minor entertainment but overall, it was a disappointment. I’m sorry I bought it in the first place, though. If you’re thinking about skipping it and seeing the TV-movie adaptation (starring Mira Sorvino), don’t. From what I read, it’s even worse. Much worse. Skip both.