Monday, January 18, 2010

I finished it!

Well folks, it's official—The Patrick Challenge has been completed! I finished the 55 books that I collected from around my house. It took me 451 days. I read over just over 23,000 pages. And I feel great! This is one of the biggest personal projects I have ever taken on to complete. And I did it! Woooo hooooo!

In the next few days I'll put up some other musings, observations, and fun statistics about this experience. But you may be asking yourself—with this task completed, what will become of this blog? Well, I intend to keep writing it. I will just write up reviews of the new books I read. Incredibly I kept the amount of books that I bought over the last year to a pretty bare minimum. I have about a dozen books on the reading pile now (nowhere near 55!). Thankfully most of them are shorter and easier to read than almost everything on my big list. So it should not take me as long to get through that stack of books as it has to get through my big stack. And the freedom to buy a new book and read it right now is more than appealing.

I am looking forward to bringing you even more fun in the future, but tonight I'm celebrating my achievement. Later.

Book 55: The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks

Title: The Dark River by John Twelve Hawks

Pages: 368

How it was obtained: I either bought it at a bookstore, or perhaps my parents gave it to us as a gift. I think the latter.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 2 ½ years.

Days spent reading it: 2 days.

Why I read it: This book is the second book in the Fourth Realm Trilogy which starts with The Traveler. I loved The Traveler, this was a no-brainer to pick up and read.

Brief review: Take a dash of 1984, a hint of The Da Vinci Code, and add a sprinkle of spirituality and you have The Fourth Realm Trilogy. I fell in love with the story that began in The Traveler. It was fun, unique, and blew me away. The gist is that a group of bad guys known as the Tabula want to create a Big Brother kind of society. Technology is one way to oversee every part of a person's life. There is no privacy for anyone. The Tabula is resisted by a group of fighters called Harlequins. They live "off the grid." They avoid security cameras, refuse to be processed by "The Vast Machine."  They value complete freedom and privacy above everything else. But the real prophets of the cause are people called "Travelers." They are protected by the Harlequins.  Their task is to go to other realms and come back with ideas that always shake the institutions of the day.  This pits them against the Tabula's institutions at every turn.

John Twelve Hawks traces themes of freedom vs. security, institutions vs. free thought, love vs. reason, spirituality vs. science. Hawks is definitely paranoid of what governments are doing with technology, and he causes me to pause and think about what might really be happening. But some of his ideas are plain wacky. At one point in the book he states plainly the exact location of the Ark of the Covenant. A character just comes out and says where it is, like it is common knowledge.

But in the midst of these themes Hawks weaves a fun story. It is action packed. There is hardly a lull in the plot. And his characters, while a little one-dimensional, are also good contributions to pop lit. If you love girl power, you will love the main character, Maya. She is a beastly fighter who I would never want to meet in a dark alley.

I would definitely recommend picking up this series. It is a quick read, but it has a unique perspective on what is going on around us. And in the end, you might be a little more paranoid about being on the grid than you were when you first began. I look forward to reading the last book in the trilogy, it has been a good ride so far.

Favorite quote: "The Bronx Tabernacle of the Divine Church was an impressive-sounding name for two rented rooms above the Happy Chicken restaurant."

Stars: 4 out of 5.

Final Word: Paranoia?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Book 54: August 1914 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Title: August 1914 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Pages: 622

How it was obtained: I borrowed this from my parent's house.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 4 or 5 years.

Days spent reading it: 6 days.

Why I read it: In high school I was forced to read "One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich." I remember not liking it at all. I thought it was boring. But many things I found boring in high school I now enjoy. So I thought I would read another novel by Solzhenitsyn, and see how it went.

Brief review: I am not sure what I was expecting, but this book was not it. From Solzenhitsyn I guess I expected a little more. The characters were fairly flat, thus it was difficult to tell one officer from another. The fighting sequences were complicated. I had no idea if an advance was good or bad, even after the battle was explained. I have read good war novels that explain complicated maneuvers. The Killer Angels comes to mind as a good example, where I could envision the entire battle and basic battle plans were given as pictures on occasion so I understood the flow of the battle better. That was not present in August 1914 and I think the book suffers because of it.

I have no deep understanding of the Russian front during World War I. So this was my first real exposure to that era. One thing that is brought out in this book was how terrible the conditions of war are. My tenth grade English teacher once summed up every war novel. She said their theme is always very simple: "War is hell." August 1914 does not press this point as much as other novels, but it does convey the hardships endured by the soldiers of the day. The one overriding theme that I did understand was that the Russian generals were completely incompetent in this battle. From start to finish Solzenhitsyn blasts the generals in charge of this offensive (and defensive) blunder.

I had a few qualms with this book in its current form. First, every now and then the narrative stops and we are given these "scenes" that are written with screen play directions. These directions were apparently how Solzenhitsyn envisioned this book on film. It was strange to break the flow of the story in order to introduce his vision for another medium. It felt like the book was 90% complete, not 100% complete. And, oddly, chapter 22 was omitted "by the request of the author." Strange. I have read that this book was revised later and nearly 200 pages were added to it. I don't think I could read through 200 more pages, but I wonder if it would clarify some of the issues I had with the work.

Anyway, in brief, this book was alright, but I would not read it again and I would not recommend it to anyone unless they were extremely interested in Russian literature (or possibly Russian history).

Favorite quote: Evil people always support each other; that is their chief strength.

Stars: 2.5 out of 5

Final Word: Bland.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Book 53: The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum

Title: The Bourne Ultimatum by Robert Ludlum

Pages: 662

How it was obtained: I bought it at Borders I think.

Time spent on the "to read" shelf: 5 years.

Days spent reading it: 8 days.

Why I read it: To finish off the Jason Bourne trilogy by Robert Ludlum of course!

Brief review: This final book in the Jason Bourne trilogy was what I guess I hoped the second book would have been. I enjoyed this last installment, but still spent most of my time scratching my head. Here are a few things I liked and did not like.

Liked: The final show down between Jason Bourne and The Jackal. This makes the book great. It is too bad that it happens as these two assassins are getting old and losing their skills. But the constant cat and mouse plays in this final installment were great. Finally Bourne is matched against someone who is a worthy adversary.

I also liked the fact that Jason Bourne is older. He makes mistakes. Sometimes really bad ones, and that adds to the credibility of this crazy adventure. Although the invincible Jason Bourne from the first two novels has disappeared, this weary Jason Bourne is a good character.

My favorite part of this book? Jason Bourne getting shot in the neck! That was awesome.

Did not like: Ludlum writes in cryptic phrases and has cryptic characters, this makes it difficult to follow the bigger picture sometimes. In this particular installment it seemed to happen more than in previous novels. I wish Ludlum would clarify what the heck is going on in many scenes.

I did not care for the secondary plot in this book either. I found it confusing most of the time, irritating some of the time, and had no real idea how it all tied together by the end of the book. This goes back to my other complaint of an excessively cryptic plot.

I would recommend this book to anyone who started their journey with Jason Bourne and would like to finish it. This book was superior to the Bourne Supremacy and reminded me of why I liked the Bourne series in the first place. Frankly, you could read the Bourne Identity and skip straight to this book and not miss much. The events in the second novel are rarely mentioned and add almost nothing to the plot (unlike the first novel which is frequently referred back to for the plot). The Bourne Ultimatum is a worthy final book in this series, and a definite for fans of Jason Bourne.

Favorite quote: "Why do you have to use a dozen words when one will suffice?" 
"Because I'm supposed to be a scholar. We academicians never take a direct route because it doesn't leave us any offshoots to claim if we're wrong. What are you, anti-intellectual?"

Stars: 3.5 out of 5

Final Word: Ultimate!