Saturday, April 20, 2013


Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut
Delacorte - 1969
186 pages

Kurt Vonnegut's absurdist classic Slaughterhouse-Five introduces us to Billy Pilgrim, a man who becomes unstuck in time after he is abducted by aliens from the planet Trafalmadore. In a plot-scrambling display of virtuosity, we follow Pilgrim simultaneously through all phases of life, concentrating on his (and Vonnegut's) shattering experience as an American prisoner of war who watches the firebombing of Dresden.

Honestly, at first, I was a little confused reading this novel. That's because chapter one is more like an introduction to the novel, where Vonnegut describes how he poured his life into this novel, but it was truly terrible and jumbled. Vonnegut inserts himself into two more situations, one where he is suffering the consequences of food poisoning and suggests that his brains may be coming out, and again where he says "Oz" as the characters are going to Dresden.

That being said, once it got into the actual novel, it turned wonderful. I was glad to see that it was supposed to be funny, because there were times I disturbed people around me with my laughing. For example, the protagonist Billy Pilgrim is reading the Bible and thinks that the message of the Gospels is: "If you are going to kill someone, make sure it is someone who is not well-connected."

In the beginning, I felt that Slaughterhouse-Five was a little too jumpy with the time-travelling, going from World War II to Pilgrim's childhood to visiting his mother in the nursing home in spans of only a few paragraphs, but then it finally levelled out to focus mainly on its topic: the firebombing of Dresden in World War II.

While I was a bit hesitant to pick up World War II fiction, as it's not exactly my favorite period of historical fiction (that one's actually tough: maybe Black Death in England, the Industrial Revolution, World War I, or Anglo-Saxon times), it is easily wonderful.

Grade: A-

The Wild Road

The Wild Road by Gabriel King
Del Rey - March 1, 1999 (first published 1997)
460 pages

Secure in a world of privilege and comfort, the kitten Tag is happy as a pampered house pet--until the dreams come. Dreams that pour into his safe, snug world from the wise old cat Majicou: hazy images of travel among the magical highways of the animals, of a mission, and of a terrible responsibility that will fall on young Tag. Armed with the cryptic message that he must bring the King and Queen of cats to Tintagel before the spring equinox, Tag ventures outside. Meanwhile, an evil human known only as the Alchemist doggedly hunts the queen for his own ghastly ends. And if the Alchemist captures her, the world will never be safe again...

First off, I have a deep and unrelenting hatred for the typographic choices of this novel. The copy I got from the library was only 380 pages, and so I thought that it was going to be a quick read. This was made even more likely by the table of contents and other opening stuff being in 13-point Goudy Old Style, which is large with great spaces in-between. Then I got to the actual story, which was in 11-point Times New Roman and I think had spacing of 0.8. I would rather this book be 700 pages and a readable font.

The "spring equinox" part is, safe to say, ridiculous. While that might have been a good starting point for the book, so much is mentioned of the cats walking around for months doing nothing that the whole idea of the impending equinox is thrown out the window.

And then there's the whole language issue. While the cats love the minced oath "stuff", e.g. "stuff off!", they will use pretty much other word as it was intended, some of them frequently. At first I was taken aback by the use of the kitten Tag's use of the word "damn", as it didn't really seem like something a cat of his age would say. Then I got to all the "stuff off" and thought that it was just a personality thing and they'd be unlikely to use any real obscenity. Then the characters Sealink and Mousebreath, who would swear like sailors at every given opportunity, started saying "stuff", and at that point I was just plain confused.

That's not to say that I hated the book. I would pick it up day in and day out. However, the urgency was more to finish, and not to see what happened, if that makes sense. It wasn't like, say, Tailchaser's Song or Watership Down, where I desperately cared about everyone and needed to make sure that they were okay. I wanted to finish, that was all.

Grade: B

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Varjak Paw

Varjak Paw by SF Said
David Fickling Books - 2003
255 pages

Mesopotamian Blue cat Varjak Paw has never been Outside before: he and his family have always lived in the isolated house at the top of the hill. But Varjak is forced out of the city when the sinister Gentleman and his two menacing cats take over his home. With help from his mystical ancestor, Jalal, Varjak manages to overcome challenges such as self-survival and a threat from menacing gangland cats, and he ultimately discovers the terrifying secrets behind the Vanishings. But can he save his own family from their fate?

(Spoiler rate: Moderate)

I literally read this book in about an hour and a half. I was watching a rerun of Best Week Ever early in the morning when there was an outage and I was left with nothing to do. That's when I saw that the next book on my list was Varjak Paw. Naturally, I picked it up and began reading. With 255 pages, big font, and pictures, it didn't take me very long. To put it simply, for someone older, this is definitely a library read (meaning, of course, that it's so short it's not worth owning.)

The characters are rather highly developed to the point where you greatly care about them. My favorites were Holly and Tam, two female cats that Varjak meets on his journeys. Ginger and Sally Bones are less well-developed, but the stories behind them are rather rich.

Sometimes there is repetition of details as if we are being presented with it the first time. I can only assume that this is a result of editing, where something was introduced in one chapter and the chapter before that was changed to include this piece, but the chapter afterwards was never fixed. I've always been careful to make sure that there's no repetition in my works. As an example, we are presented with the fact that Holly's eyes are the color of mustard in one chapter and then the next as if it is new.

And then there's the deus ex machina at the end. Varjak is sent out by the Elder Paw, his grandfather, to find a dog to save his family from the Gentlemen. The problem is that there's no way for the dog, Cludge, to come up, because he can't climb and there's something about how the house is structured that the dog can't jump. So Varjak is fighting the Gentleman and his two cats on his own and you think that he's about to use the skills that Jalal taught him to kill the Gentleman.


Cludge wants to climb for his friend Varjak, so he learns how to climb and comes up in just the nick of time to kill the Gentleman. What the what?!? Dogs don't just learn how to climb in ten minutes because they feel bad about letting their friends down!

Up until that point, I was feeling pretty good about Varjak Paw. Oh well.

Grade: B

The Tygrine Cat

The Tygrine Cat by Inbali Iserles
Candlewick Press - April 8, 2008
256 pages

Alone and lost, a young cat named Mati is struggling to be accepted by a colony of street cats in the bustling marketplace of Cressida Lock. What Mati doesn't know is that he is the last of a vital, age-old breed and that a mysterious feline assassin named Mithos is close on his trail. With his enemy nearing, can Mati learn to harness his ancient powers --- before a deadly feline force destroys both him and his newfound friends and takes the spirit of every cat on earth?

One of the things that I absolutely adore about this book is the design. Mati is the last of a cat dynasty that comes from the Middle East, and both the main font (Weiss) and the chapter heading font give you that Arabic feel. The cover (though very low-resolution in this view) is amazingly detailed, giving you images of nearly every cat that's important to the story.

As for the story itself, it's better than most, though nothing Tailchaser. Iserles says that she got the idea from flipping through a book of cat breeds and thinking about two rivaling cat dynasties. The idea is excellent, but the execution is merely good.

When Mati first washes up on Cressida Lock, there are three cats that meet him right away: Binjax, Ria, and Domino. Binjax and Domino are mighty important to the story, but Ria just sort of disappears by part 2. Another character, a Siamese named Fink, exists only to hate Mati for a couple of chapters. I don't know what got left of the cutting-room floor, but these characters are half-baked.

The novel takes an entirely different tone halfway through. In the first half, Mati is struggling for acceptance with the Cressida Lock cats, but in the second half the assassin Mithos finds him and begins chasing him. The story is instantly much darker and quite a bit better, at least in my opinion. If there had been more in that tone and less in the previous one, I would have liked The Tygrine Cat more.

Still, it's not a bad book. In fact, it's a pretty good one. There were some genuinely suspenseful parts to it, and the primary character Jess had a rather interesting story to her where you weren't sure which way you wanted it to work out.

It was a pretty good book, but not extraordinary.

Grade: B+

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Check this out!

If you're looking for a humorous, in-depth, NSFW fiction review site that specializes in fantasy and science fiction and ignores publication date at times, check out Fiction Frenzy:

Which reminds me: inspired by Fiction Frenzy, I am going to go back through the reviews I've done and update them; in other words, replace the summary with the Amazon summary and go more in-depth as to what I liked and didn't like. I'll try to keep my reviews PG, though.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Tailchaser's Song

Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams
DAW Books - November 21, 1985
333 pages

Fritti Tailchaser is part of a group of cats called the Folk in the Meeting Wall Clan. Mysterious disappearances have been happening across the Clan, including Tailchaser's crush Hushpad. When the issue is brought up at a meeting, a group of cats are sent to go to the Royal Court to notify Queen Sunback of the disappearances. However, the cats forget Hushpad as soon as they leave, and so Tailchaser goes out to find her by himself. When Pouncequick, a kitten who sees Tailchaser as a role model, follows the cat, he finds himself playing caretaker as well.

You may have asked yourself why I included this as a classic. The answer is simple: to fantasy and animal fans, Tailchaser's Song is the Watership Down of cat books. Everyone who reads anthropomorphic cat books thinks of Tailchaser. I can definitely see elements of Tailchaser in the Warriors books: two-part names (Stretchslow, Pouncequick, Sunback, and Firefoot especially were Warriors-esque) and Clans in particular are similar. The adventure is high and engaging, and I could not put this book down. I even read it in the car to finish it one day.

Grade: A

A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin
Bantam Spectra - August 6, 1996
694 pages

After Jaime Lannister killed Mad King Aerys Targaryen II in the Sack of King's Landing, the Targaryen line of rule was broken and King Robert Baratheon was appointed king of Westeros, starting a happy rule. Then Jon Arryn, the Hand of the King, dies mysteriously and Eddard Stark discovers the secret that Arryn died for, putting his life at risk when Baratheon is killed by a boar. Jon Snow, Eddard's bastard son, joins the Night's Watch to gain some sort of respect. The Watch guards the Wall at the northern border of Westeros, which keeps out the Eskimo-like Wildlings and the mythical Others. And Daenerys Targaryen, one of the two surviving Targaryens, is sold to the Dothraki people by her brother Viserys to get money, where she is wed to Khal Drogo. In addition, the seasons were made supernaturally long by a magical event many years ago, and after a ten-year summer a ten-year winter is coming.

As someone who doesn't have HBO, I was excited to find a high fantasy show until I learned that it was on digital. Then I found out that the series is based on the A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin and picked up the first book. While I was a little suspicious at the beginning that there may be too many characters, it turned out to be perfect. Some fantasy novels prefer taking a lighter approach with a tight cast of characters and one point of view, but I prefer the sprawling, epic sagas with a few storylines (but still enough to handle). Sansa Stark, however, I wanted to be killed by her own direwolf. She was the one low point of the entire thing, but I suppose that you can't have it all with such a large cast.

Grade: A-

Duncan, Son of Sagira

Duncan, Son of Sagira by E.C. Holley
Amazon CreateSpace - May 28, 2012
280 pages

Legend has it that there was a cat named Sagira that possessed five magical powers. At first she was worshipped, but then she was hunted down. Before she disappeared, she had five children: three queens and two toms. Each of them had one of her powers and went on to create generations of cats with these powers of Sagira. The children of Sagira were feared, and so cats were killed by humans. An organization of purebreds was established to kill the children of Sagira and stop this war. Now the children hide, and none has ever had more than one power of Sagira...until Duncan.

I don't normally read self-published books. This came up as an Amazon recommendation and I decided to check it out, interested. The world is deeply engrossing and richly imagined. Of course, there comes a major fault with self-publishing: typos. There were no grammatical errors that I can think of outside of dialogue, which of course you get a free pass for since someone (especially a juvenile of any species) may actually speak that way, but there were a few instances of misspellings, misitalicizings, and forgetting to break into another paragraph. These made me pause for a second before continuing, and these little blips were infrequent enough that they didn't disturb my enjoyment too much.

Grade: B+

A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
William Heinemann - 1962
192 pages

In a dystopian near-future England, teenage gangs, their members called "droogs", speak a Russified English with some Cockney rhyming slang and Roma and roam the streets at night. One of these such "droogs" is Alex, whose only solace is classical music. Alex gets arrested and is put on a new technique called the "Ludovico Technique", where he is forced to see horrifying images put to the classical music that he so loves.

The book that I read was as it was published in the United Kingdom: with a full twenty-one chapters. The early English versions, including the one that the film is based on, leave out the twenty-first chapter because they felt it had a different tone and American audiences wouldn't like the new version. Twenty or twenty-one chapters, the novella is still wonderful. The Nadsat was difficult to understand at first, and I had to read slowly, but as I went on I got more of it and could pick up the pace and could truly enjoy the book.

Grade: A

Destiny of the Republic

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candace Millard
Doubleday - September 20, 2011
339 pages

President James Abram Garfield was the twentieth president of the United States and a dark horse who never wanted to be president. He was a relatively young man, forty-nine when inaugurated, and liked hugs and reading. Meanwhile, Charles J. Guiteau was a conman who was kicked out of the Oneida community for his arrogance and published a plagiarism of the community's founder's book, calling his version The Truth. Guiteau survived a shipwreck and decided that God had singled him out for something special. When Garfield is inaugurated, Guiteau asks to be ambassador to first Austria and then France. When Garfield and Secretary of State James G. Blaine refuse him this, Guiteau realizes that God singled him out to kill the president.

I first got an interest in the Garfield assassination when I saw the musical Assassins by Stephen Sondheim, which is about, you guessed it, assassins. Guiteau was almost like the fop of the musical, a bold figure who believed that the Garfield administration said he could be ambassador to France and who eventually cakewalks up to the gallows singing a song he penned on death row. Interestingly enough, the song that he sings up there, "I Am Going to the Lordy", he actually did write on death row! I had not learned much about Garfield from the musical, and yet I grew to sympathize with the man who never wanted the job that ended up killing him all while laughing at Guiteau's attempt to kill the president when he was at a sermon, but Guiteau was so enraged at the preacher's ideas he yelled out and then ran away. The book is informative, humorous, and engaging.

Grade: A