Category: book review

Book Review: The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives

The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin

I assume most of you have seen the movie, or at least know the general concept of this book: A couple moves into an idyllic neighborhood, excited for the future. Soon after moving in, however, they begin to notice something’s strange. The women are all so submissive, putting housework before everything else, and expressing no desires to do anything other than what their husbands would want them to do. The wife is alarmed by this. The husband . . . thinks she’s making a big deal out of nothing. Mystery ensues

It’s a fast read (just 144 pages), one of the reasons I was drawn to it, honestly, since I was behind my reading schedule for the month. But it’s very compelling, and it holds up as well (or better?) today as it did when it was written, 47 years ago. The ammunition men use in the book to keep the women in their place is still used today. Gaslighting. Dismissing the problem. It all raises the question of what a woman’s place is in society and what men really want out of the situation. (Since the desires of the women turn out to be, shall we say, less important?)

As a man reading this, I wonder what I’ve done unconsciously to exacerbate this problem over the years. When you live with a system that supports sexism, it’s very difficult to get out of that system, even if you’re aware of the problem. In other words, I read this and am horrified that anyone might do this sort of thing to women, but then I think back on my life and see that I’ve done it (to a smaller degree) myself. Case in point: I think I still subconsciously view “cleaning the house” as a problem that’s not my responsibility. If I help out, I’m going above and beyond what I need to do, and I should be lauded for whatever I feel like contributing.

I know that sounds stupid. I know it makes it seem like I’m full of myself, and I don’t agree with the mindset at all. And yet I still end up falling into that routine. So if I can see myself doing that in areas that I can recognize, where else do I do it in areas that don’t even occur to me?

Maybe I’m having trouble expressing the thought, but hopefully it’s making sense to you.

The book’s been adapted twice, once faithfully in 1975, and a second time that was a bit . . . looser with the interpretation in 2004. If you’re looking for a thought provoking, quick read, I highly recommend this one. It would make for an excellent discussion afterward. 10/10

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: Fall, or Dodge in Hell

I always look forward to a new Neal Stephenson book. I love how he takes ideas and builds around them. His books make me think in ways few other books can and Fall is no different. Except . . .

The book’s first half was completely solid. Stephenson explores a whole slew of different concepts. What “identity” really means, and what it might be like to have your consciousness uploaded to the cloud. It’s a near-future science fiction book that ultimately asks the question: “What would it be like to live inside a simulation,” and the natural follow up: “Are we living inside a simulation right now?”

That’s a concept I’ve already devoted some thoughts to, so it was great to be able to read Stephenson’s take on things. (As far as my own personal thoughts, I find it fascinating that computing is getting to the point now that it’s not an entirely huge stretch to extrapolate a system where we all could live permanently without ever needing to leave. A sort of Matrix-esque lifestyle, without the nefarious machine overlords. There’s a whole slew of religious overlaps this could have implications on, but I’m not going to go into those in the middle of a book review.)

The big problem for me with this book happens once it goes into its second act and begins to explore an example simulation more fully. I don’t want to give any more spoilers about that content, but I will say my central complaint is the rules and restrictions of this new world are so vague that I never had a real idea of how the central obstacles could be overcome. Instead, there’s a series of problems that pop up one after the other that make the central objective feel very arbitrary, as if it’s all being made up as it goes along.

That’s a problem in a novel. You don’t want to get to the point where it feels like the author’s just stringing things along to stretch the conflict out. Any story can be short. “Frodo took the ring to Mount Doom and threw it in.” The end. What makes a story interesting and captivating (for me, at least) is when I understand ahead of time what the obstacles are between Frodo and Mount Doom. Why it’s so difficult. Once that’s set, then I’ll happily go along for the ride to see how it all goes down.

Imagine, however, what it would have been like if you don’t hear anything about what’s between Frodo and Mount Doom or even how far away it is, and instead you get a series of “and then a bunch of . . . goblins showed up! Yeah. Goblins!” And you didn’t even know goblins existed, let alone that they might be a problem for Frodo. It would all just start to feel like padding.

That’s what the second half of this book felt like to me, and that was deeply disappointing. Not to the point that I’d give it 1 star or anything. I still enjoyed the work overall. But the second half had none of Stephenson’s strengths, which was a shame, especially since at that point, the ending was fairly clear, and so it was just a matter of getting to the point where it could finally finish.

Overall, a great first half and a meh second half that together just ends up with “mid to good.” 6/10 stars. If you’re a fan of Stephenson or the concept, I’d still check it out. Otherwise . . . might not be worth the long read.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: Les Miserables

Back in August, I found myself in the wonderful position of being ahead on my reading schedule. I shoot to read a book a week, and I was about 2.5 weeks ahead of where I needed to be to get 52 books read in the year. It was still before the semester started, and so I decided I’d like to try tackling something more difficult. Really push myself. Sure, the stereotypical response to that would have been “Time to read War & Peace,” but I’ve never really had the hankering to tackle that novel. There’s been one I’ve long wanted to read, however, and I thought I’d be able to get it done on time. I’ve always loved the musical adaptation of Les Miserables, and I’d wondered just what they’d done in the adaptation process. Taking the time to read a 1,500 page translation doesn’t just come up every day, though, and I’d never got around to it.

I decided to try it this time.

When reading a translation, I firmly believe the first step is to find the best translation you can get. (Assuming you’re unable to read it in the original language.) So I asked around and did some searching online. There are quite a few translations of Les Mis, and there are advocates for each of them online. In the absence of any real way of gauging which of those conflicting viewpoints I should pay attention to, I did what I typically do in those situations: I turned to a knowledgable friend.

In this case, that friend was Dan Wells, who’s long been a proponent of Les Mis. He’d had such a good experience with the book, I asked him which translation he’d read. He recommended the Fahnestock unabridged version, and so that’s what I went with.

I loved the book, though let me be clear: it was not a fast or easy read. The book is often abridged because Hugo will go on long drawn out explanations of things that relate to the plot only tangentially. The history of the Paris sewers. The entire Battle of Waterloo. The backstory of almost every character ever mentioned in the novel. Long, complex discussions of philosophy and meaning,

Are those sections necessary? Should you read the abridged version instead? That’s a tough question to answer. I believe many of them added to my experience reading the book, but some of them didn’t do much for me. The thought of turning over the decision of which parts are “unimportant” and which aren’t to someone I don’t even know . . . I don’t like the thought of that approach. In the end, I’m very glad I got the unabridged version. Were there parts I skimmed? Yes. But they were parts of my own choosing, just as with any book I read. I loved getting the context of characters, and I found Waterloo fascinating. The sewers were intriguing as well. The philosophy was something I often found myself zipping through, since Hugo has a tendency to say the same thing multiple different ways.

But the characters and the plot of this book? Incredible. I found them moving and engrossing. Much of what happens is intertwined to a point that strains belief, but then you have Hugo’s description of how much of Waterloo came down to decisions that seem far too contrived to make sense, and it all fits together nicely.

I had to really push myself to finish the book on schedule, despite the fact that I really enjoyed it. It was hard reading often, but just because something’s hard doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing. I loved seeing the connections between the musical, and I was impressed at how they adapted this huge work into something so consumable.

Should you read Les Mis? That depends. I loved it and appreciate it as the work of art that it is. Do I give it a 10, then? I’m not sure. There were parts I skimmed, after all. In the end, I still gave it the perfect score, acknowledging the fact that almost no book I’ve read has made me get anywhere close to tears. (No book has made me cry. Ever.) But this one really moved me, and so taken as an entirety, it was an incredible book. What parts were unnecessary? I’m not sure. Take away any of it, and does the experience lessen? Possibly.

In any case, I’m glad I’ve read it, and I recommend it to anyone looking for a challenging but rewarding read. 10/10. Just give yourself plenty of time.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Book Review: The Reluctant Swordsman

The Reluctant Swordsman by Dave Duncan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Seventh Sword series went on sale on Amazon a while ago, and so I picked it up. (Four books for $3 total? Why would I pass that chance up?) It was well-reviewed on Goodreads, though almost none of my friends had read it, but I grew up reading 80s fantasy, and this was an author I’d missed. Still, high fantasy can be a real time commitment, and so I kept passing the series by, waiting for a better time.

At last, I started the book on Sunday. I finished it on Tuesday, which is really all the endorsement you need from me. I couldn’t put it down. Of course, some of that is because much of it was right up my alley: it’s got a straightforward premise that’s executed in ways that are surprising. A normal man from our world finds himself transported into a fantasy world, where he’s put into the body of the best sword fighter in that world. Sounds great, except right before he was put there, the best sword fighter in the world got himself into an almost certain death situation, full of political intrigue the guy from our world knows nothing about.

Adventure ensues.

Along the way, there’s some discussion of religion and free will, plenty of fascinating world building, portrayal of different societies and how they function, and more. I was kept moving not just by the plot, but by the desire to know more about the world and how it functioned. The writing is immersive, doing an excellent job of describing the land without bogging you down with too much detail. It’s a fast read, and a ton of fun.

That said, it does have some issues that might be major stumbling blocks for some. Its portrayal of women leaves much to be desired. Maybe the series improves in this aspect later on, but for the first book at least, they’re often viewed much more as objects than as individuals. Yes, the protagonist does object to this, so it’s not a complete fiasco, but the objections feel more like window dressing than anything else. If that’s an issue that would massively interfere with your ability to read and enjoy a book, this isn’t the book for me.

Then again, it’s a class sword and sorcery book, and the portrayal is typical to the genre and the time it appeared. I was able to read around it, though that might say something about me. Not sure, but I’m not going to read too heavily into it. I viewed this book as escapist, and it scratched that itch perfectly. There’s some adult content, but it doesn’t delve into the details the way so many modern books do.

If any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, I encourage you to give it a shot. I’m already well into book two and still enjoying myself immensely.

View all my reviews

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

When Do You Make Your Mind Up About a Book?

I’ve had a string of bad luck with my reading choices for the last while. I haven’t given any of the last four a rating higher than a 5/10. (I gave one 5, two 4’s, and one a 2.) No, I won’t tell you which books they were, but I will say that they were well reviewed. One has even picked up some major awards, so I had high hopes for it. My disappointment is what led me to want to write about this topic.

I typically wouldn’t finish a book I’m enjoying so little. I’d set it aside, give it no rating, and move on with my life, because who has time to read books you’re not in love with? Except I also have this goal to finish a book a week. When I’m under the gun to keep up with the pace, then that means abandoning a book partway through is abandoning the progress I made in finishing it. I think I need to come up with some sort of a compromise to solve that, because I know from experience just how easy it is to dislike a book you’re being forced to read. (Even if you’re the one forcing yourself to read it.)

But even setting that forced reading experience aside, I wasn’t going to like the book in question. I respect the fact that others did, but it didn’t work for me at all, and I wanted to figure out why. I’ve come up with a few possible scenarios.

First off, a book can have a bad start. If I don’t find a reason to be engaged with the characters right off, I start getting bored. Scratch that, actually. It doesn’t just have to be the characters. There needs to be something about the book that digs into me. It could be the style or the humor or the mystery or the characters. But it needs to engage me. Ideally, it compels me to keep reading.

This book had that. I liked the setting and the character development at the beginning, but sometimes that’s not the case. So much can hinge on getting a reader’s buy-in right from the beginning. Once an author has made me care about what’s happening, there’s a lot more leeway for him or her to work with. I can be much more forgiving about some things like pacing or believability because I’ve invested some of myself into the text.

That leeway is not inexhaustible, however. In the cast of this book, I couldn’t swallow the plot, the character motivations, and the magic system. I don’t think it was all three of them that turned me off, however. I think one of them likely began to not sit well with me to the point that I began to lose faith in the others, like a disease spreading from organ to organ. If I were pressed to identify one thing . . . it would probably be the plot. There were a couple of romantic subplots that felt like they’d been shoehorned into the book, and every time they came up, I gave them an inward eye roll.

And they came up many times.

After enough of those times, I didn’t want to read the book anymore. But I was so far into it that I felt I needed to finish it. A bad combination. But whenever I have a bad or good experience with a book, I try to figure out what it was about the experience that caused it. Mainly so I can avoid it or use it in my own writing. For example, I’m always amazed by how good Stephen King is at writing characters and putting them in relatable, compelling circumstances. If I could pick one thing that I could get better at, that would be it. So I’m paying close attention to books and character introductions to see how the good ones really shine.

In the meantime, I’ve just started a new series, and I love it so far, which is such a refreshing feeling after such a long run of the doldrums. Here’s hoping it keeps it up!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

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