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2012’s 5 Star Reads!

January 4, 2013 3 comments

Last year I decided to dedicate a separate post from my annual reading stats post to the 5 star reads of the year.  I not only thoroughly enjoyed assembling that post, but I also still go back to it for reference.  It’s just useful and fun simultaneously!  Plus it has the added bonus of giving an extra signal boost to the five star reads of the year.

Please note that if the 5 star went to a book in a graphic novel series, I am just listing the whole series.  If it’s a non-graphic series, then the individual book is listed with a note about what series it is in.  With no further ado, presenting Opinions of a Wolf’s 5 Star Reads for 2012!

Acacia tree against a sunset.
Acacia: The War with the Mein
(Acacia, #1)
By: David Anthony Durham
Publication Date: 2007
Publisher: Doubleday
Genre: Fantasy
Themes: the complexities of good and evil
Summary:
The Akarans have ruled the Known World for twenty-two generations, but the wrongfully exiled Meins have a bit of a problem with that.  They enact a take-over plot whose first action is assassinating the king.  Suddenly his four children are flung to different parts of the Known World in exile where they will need to come to terms with who they are, who the Mein are, and the wrongs past generations of Akarans committed in order to help the Known World make a change for the better.
Current Thoughts:
I have to catch myself whenever I start to say I don’t like high fantasy now, because I do like it. I like it when done right. When it questions patriarchy and race and tradition in the context of a fantastical world.  I definitely feel like this book has cross-over potential, so I recommend it to anyone with an interest in multi-generational epics.

Glowing jellyfish against blue background.
Dark Life
(Dark Life, #1)
By: Kat Falls
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Genre: YA, Post-Apocalyptic, Scifi
Themes: ocean exploration, pioneering
Summary:
Ty was the first person born subsea.  His family are settlers on the bottom of the ocean, a new venture after global warming caused the Rising of the seas.  Ty loves his life subsea and hates Topside.  One day while adventuring around in the dark level of subsea, he stumbles upon a submarine and a Topside girl looking for her long-lost older brother.  Helping her challenges everything Ty believes in.
Current Thoughts:
I still sometimes think back to the delightfully creative underwater world that Falls presents in this book.  This is a YA book that manages to avoid the painful tropes that a lot of them fall into, plus it has a great setting.  I will definitely be reading the rest of the series.

Book title against American flag background.
Diet for a New America

By: John Robbins
Publication Date: 1987
Publisher: Stillpoint Publishing
Genre: Nonfiction–Diet, Nonfiction–Environmentalism, Nonfiction–Science
Themes: health, responsible choices
Summary:
John Robbins was born into one of the most powerful corporations in America–Baskin-Robbins.  A company based entirely on selling animal products.  Yet he took it upon himself to investigate the reality of animals products and their impact on Americans, American land, and the world overall.  This book summarizes his extensive research, including personal visits to factory farms.
Current Thoughts:
Although I already knew a lot of this information before reading this book, I believe that Robbins does an excellent job both of writing it out clearly and backing it up with respected, academic citations.  It’s my go-to book to hand to people who want to know why I’m so against factory farming and what the scientific arguments in favor of vegetarianism are.

Face of golden retriever.
A Dog Named Slugger

By: Leigh Brill
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Genre: Nonfiction–Memoir
Themes: animal/human relationships, disability studies
Summary:
Leigh Brill recounts in her memoir her life before, during, and after her first service dog, Slugger, a golden retriever with a heart just as golden.  Leigh had no idea her cerebral palsy could even possibly qualify her for a service dog until a similarly disabled fellow graduate student gave her some information.  Her touching memoir tracks her journey, as well as the life of Slugger.
Current Thoughts:
My love for animals means that any book about relationships with them tends to top my list.  This one stands out for its focus on issues for the disabled, and I believe that Brill’s love for her dog, both for his personality and how he helps her, really shine through.  I’d recommend this to any animal lover or to those curious about life with a service animal.

Kenyan woman standing in a field.
The Last Hunger Season: A Year in an African Farm Community on the Brink of Change

By: Roger Thurow
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: PublicAffairs
Genre: Nonfiction–Social Justice
Themes: hunger, farming, global warming, putting a face onto the issues
Summary:
Smallholder farmers make up the majority of Kenya’s food production and yet they face multiple challenges from inefficient planting techniques to bad seed markets that lead to an annual wanjala–hunger season.  One Acre Fund, an ngo, saw the gap and came in with a vision.  Sell farmers high quality seeds and fertilizers on credit, delivered to their villages, on the condition they attend local farming classes.  Roger Thurow follows four families as they try out becoming One Acre farmers.
Current Thoughts:
I credit this book with giving me perspective in the worldwide hunger and GMO debate, and of course with giving me that ever-useful reminder that in some ways I have been very lucky.  What I tell people in order to get them to read this book is one of two things.  Either read this book because it will show you the true face of hunger or read this book to understand why some GMOs are necessary.  Most of all, I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the worldwide food debate.

Women running on a beach.
Sisterhood Everlasting
(Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, #5)
By: Ann Brashares
Publication Date: 2011
Publisher: Random House
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Themes: the pain of growing up and maturing, changing relationships
Summary:
The Septembers are all 29 years old now and spread out all over the globe.  Bee is expending her energy biking up and down the hills of San Francisco while Eric works as a lawyer.  Carmen has a recurring role on a tv show filming in NYC and is engaged to Jones, an ABC producer.  Lena teaches art at RISD and lives a quiet life in her studio apartment, except for the one day a week she practices Greek with an elderly woman.  Tibby took off to Australia with Brian months ago, and everyone else is in limbo waiting for her to get back.  They all feel a bit disconnected until Tibby sends Bee, Carmen, and Lena tickets to come to Greece for a reunion.  What they find when they arrive is not what anyone expected.
Current Thoughts:
It’s unfortunately rare that a series grows up with the characters, but Sisterhood has.  Although a lot of women’s fiction with similar themes frustrates me, this series works because I started reading it as a teenager when the women were teenagers. I understand where they’re coming from and am more willing to give them a chance.  If you ever read any of the Sisterhood books but neglected to finish the series, definitely pick them back up. It’s worth it.

Women ironing.
To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War

By: Tera W. Hunter
Publication Date: 1997
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Genre: Nonfiction–History
Themes: race, class, gender, Atlanta, domestic workers
Summary:
Hunter examines the lives of southern black women, particularly southern domestic workers, by narrowing her focus in on the development of the city of Atlanta after the Civil War.  Since many ex-slaves moved to Atlanta and then migrated again north during the Great Migration decades later, this makes for an excellent focal point for the topic.  By examining black women’s lives in Atlanta both in and out of their employer’s homes, she is able to dissect the roles of race, class, and gender in the elite’s attempts to maintain dominance in America.
Current Thoughts:
This book not only gave me the thought-provoking examination of the intersection of race, class, and gender, but it also gave me an awesome historical introduction to the city of Atlanta.  I always think of this book whenever Atlanta comes up.  It’s also a great example of readable, accessible nonfiction history writing.

Image of a country kitchen.
Vegan Vittles: Recipes Inspired by the Critters of Farm Sanctuary

By: Joanne Stepaniak
Publication Date: 1996
Publisher: Book Publishing Company (TN)
Genre: Nonfiction–Cookbook–Vegan
Themes: down-home cruelty-free cooking
Summary:
A farm sanctuary is a farm whose sole purpose is to save animals from farm factories and slaughter.  The Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York was started in 1986.  In this cookbook, one of the proprietors has gathered vegan recipes inspired by farm life.  Think down-home cooking that is cruelty-free.
Current Thoughts:
The recipes I selected out of this cookbook have solidly entered my repertoire and are repeated hits with omnis and veg*ns alike!  They are simple, easy, and adaptable.  They also fill that comfort food niche I had honestly been missing.  Highly recommended to anyone who loves comfort food.

People and zombies in snow.
The Walking Dead

By: Robert Kirkman
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Image Comics
Genre: Graphic Novel–Horror
Themes: creation of a new society, living in fear, unjust wars, truthiness, self-protection, zombies, Georgia, survival
Summary:
When cop Rick wakes up from a coma brought on by a gun shot wound, he discovers a post-apocalyptic mess and zombies everywhere.  He sets off for Atlanta in search of his wife, Lori, and son, Carl, and soon teams up with a rag-tag group of survivors camped just outside of Atlanta.
Current Thoughts:
I’m still working my way through this series, but it just progressively gets better and better.  Although the beginning is cliche, it does not take Kirkman long to become unique, surprising, and thought-provoking.  This now also features a spin-off, non-graphic, prequel series about the villain, The Governor.  I consider these to all be the same series, in spite of different formats, and I’m finding that spin-off just as enjoyable.

Living hand in dead one.
Warm Bodies
(Warm Bodies, #1)
By: Isaac Marion
Publication Date: 2010
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic
Themes: hope, love
Summary:
R is a zombie, and he remembers nothing about his life before he was one–except that his name starts with the letter R.  He and his group of the other living dead inhabit an old abandoned airport and are ruled by the bonies.  They hunt the living not just for the food, but also for the memories that come from ingesting their brains.  It’s like a drug.  One day when he’s out on a hunt, R eats the brain of a young man who loves a young woman who is there, and R steps in to save her.  It is there that an unlikely love story begins.
Current Thoughts:
This book reminds me that even a post-apocalyptic story can be hopeful.  I also still look back on R’s unlikely love story with a warm heart and smile.  I recommend it to those looking for an off-beat love story or a different take on zombies.

Tiger in a cage overlooking a gorge.
The Wind Through the Keyhole
(The Dark Tower, #4.5)
By: Stephen King
Publication Date: 2012
Publisher: Scribner
Genre: Fantasy, Horror
Themes: growing up, leaving aside childish things
Summary:
There’s a tale we have yet to hear about the ka-tet in the time between facing the man in the green castle and the wolves of the Calla.  A time when the ka-tet hunkered down and learned a special billy-bumbler talent, an old tale of Gilead, and the first task Roland faced as a young gunslinger after the events at Mejis.
Current Thoughts:
The Dark Tower is just a series that is flat-out worth getting into a fan girling over.  I could never ever perceive of reading and re-reading it as being a waste of time.  I’ve also noticed that growing up is a recurring theme in King’s books, and apparently is one that I enjoy.

Hand pressed against glass.
Y: The Last Man

By: Brian K. Vaughan
Publication Date: 2003
Publisher: Vertigo
Genre: Graphic Novel–Scifi–Post-apocalyptic
Themes: gender, gender norms, organization of society, Boston, United States, Israel, coming of age
Summary:
The world is changed overnight when all the men and boys in the world mysteriously drop dead.  Factions quickly develop among the women between those who want the world to remain all female and those who would like to restore the former gender balance.  One man is mysteriously left alive though–Yorick.  A 20-something, underachieving magician with a girlfriend in Australia.  He desperately wants to find her, but the US government and the man-hating Amazons have other ideas.
Current Thoughts:

Another series that I am currently in the middle of.  It is also steadily improving from the first volume.  It is colorfully illustrated, consistently funny, and thought-provoking.

Dollar bills on a white background.
Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century

By: Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez
Publication Date: 2008
Publisher: Penguin Books
Genre: Nonfiction–Lifestyle
Themes: getting what you want out of life, debt slavery, finances
Summary:
Dominguez achieved Financial Independence at the ripe old age of 30 and proceeded to provide his method to friends who encouraged him to offer it as a class.  He finally wrote a book, and this edition is revised and updated for modern times by his friend and fellow achiever of Financial Independence, Vicki Robin.  Offering steps and mind-set changes, not magic formulas, they promise that if you follow the steps, you can be Financially Independent in 5 to 10 years, no matter how much debt you are currently in or how much money you make.
Current Thoughts:
This is definitely not a quick-fix book. It’s a realistic look at your finances and debt and ways to come out on top financially independent.  Following the steps is time-consuming and, admittedly, difficult to do on a month-to-month basis, but even just reading the book and following the steps for a bit gave me more of a solid structure for my finances. I paid down a significant amount of my debt in 2012 and am hopeful to pay down even more in 2013. I’m not sure I’d have been so successful with that without this book.  Plus it gives hope when you’re feeling buried in debt.

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Book Review: The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (Series, #4.5)

July 26, 2012 4 comments

Tiger in a cage overlooking a gorge.Summary:
There’s a tale we have yet to hear about the ka-tet in the time between facing the man in the green castle and the wolves of the Calla.  A time when the ka-tet hunkered down and learned a special billy-bumbler talent, an old tale of Gilead, and the first task Roland faced as a young gunslinger after the events at Mejis.

Review:
When I heard there was going to be a new Dark Tower book, I had basically three reactions. 1) Yay! 2) Shit he better not ruin them. 3) Guess I didn’t actually finish that series after all, did I? May have written the series review a bit too soon…..

But mainly my reaction was a skeptical excitement.  I love the world of the Dark Tower and was ecstatic to be able to get more of it (yes, I know there are the young gunslinger comic books, but they feel slightly less the same to me since they are in a different format).  However, I was also terrified because well we’ve all been in an instance where we mess with something that was good to the point where it’s not good anymore, right?  I was worried King was going to do that to the Dark Tower.  I am so so so happy to be able to say that worry was unfounded.

This book goes to show just how clearly the entire world of the Dark Tower series exists in King’s mind.  The format is a story within a story within a story.  The ka-tet have to hunker down to wait out a storm, so Roland starts to tell them a story from when he was a young gunslinger.  Within that story, the young Roland tells someone else an old story of Gilead.  The Gilead story wraps up, then the young gunslinger, then the ka-tet.  A writer must know his world very well to be able to handle such a structure smoothly without confusing his reader, and King does just that.  There was no confusion and each story felt fully told. Or as fully told as anything is in the world of the Dark Tower.

I’ve said before that every book in the series basically is a different genre, which is part of what makes it so fun.  So what genre is this one?  I’d say it’s fairy tales. Once upon a times.  And fairy tales generally have a lesson to be learned within them, so what is it in these three?  Well, they vary, but I would say overall it’s about leaving aside childish things and childish ways to become an adult.  (And, I might add, that happens much much earlier in the Dark Tower than it does in our particular world).

I will say, although I certainly had the impression that this book was going to be about Jake and Oy, it really isn’t.  It isn’t much about the ka-tet at all.  It’s about Roland and the role of billy-bumblers in the world.  Although, personally I wanted more billy-bumblers, but I *always* want more billy-bumblers, because they are definitely my favorite fantastical creature.  I’m still holding out hope that King will write something sometime entirely about Oy or billy-bumblers.  But this book is not it.

That said, I was oddly not disappointed to see far less of the ka-tet than I was expecting, because the two stories within the frame of the ka-tet are so strongly told.  They are just….wow. Terrifying, horrifying, unpredictable, and hilarious simultaneously.

That’s the thing that makes any Dark Tower book fun.  It contains all of those things.

Lines can go from laugh out loud humor (with a touch of truth):

Turn yer ears from their promises and yer eyes from their titties. (page 43)

To the starkly sad truth:

Those were good years, but as we know—from stories and from life—the good years never last long. (page 110)

To the simply universal:

“What if I fail?” Tim cried.
Maerlyn laughed. “Sooner or later, we all do.” (page 255)

*shrugs* I admit I’m a bit of a fan girl of the series, but even a fan girl can be sorely disappointed, and I was really and truly not disappointed at all.  I laughed, I nodded, I wondered, I quaked, I wished for an illustration sometime somewhere of billy-bumblers dancing in a clearing in the moonlight.  Although, speaking of illustrations, how gorgeous is the US kindle cover?! So fucking gorgeous, that’s how.

Back to the point, I was not disappointed at all. I was ultimately elated and wishing for more. And other fans will be too.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

Buy It

Books in Series:
I’m listing all of the books so you can easily see where The Wind Through the Keyhole falls.
The Gunslinger (review)
The Drawing of the Three (review)
The Waste Lands (review)
Wizard and Glass (review)
The Wind Through the Keyhole
Wolves of the Calla (review)
Song of Susannah (review)
The Dark Tower (review)
Series Review (written before we knew there would be more)

Series Review: The Dark Tower Series by Stephen King (spoiler warning)

October 25, 2010 6 comments

Introduction:
I post series reviews after completing reading an entire series of books.  It gives me a chance to reflect on and analyze the series as a whole.  These series reviews are designed to also be useful for people who: A) have read the series too and would like to read other thoughts on it or discuss it with others OR B) have not read the series yet but would like a full idea of what the series is like, including possible spoilers, prior to reading it themselves or buying it for another.  Please be aware that series reviews necessarily contain some spoilers.

Crow in front of silhouette of man.Summary:
“The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.”  This famous opening line begins the distinctly American fantasy epic tale of Roland the gunslinger’s quest for the Dark Tower.  In this fantasy, there are multiple parallel universes, referred to as whens and wheres.  The one Roland inhabits that is home to the Dark Tower and beams that keep all the worlds together and operating functionally just so happens to distinctly resemble the old American wild west.  Gunslingers in this world are like the knights of the round table in old England, and Roland is the last of his kind.  He’s on a quest both to reach the Dark Tower and save it and the beams, as Three doors.they seem to be breaking.  Through the course of his quest, Roland draws three new gunslingers and a billy-bumbler to become his ka-tet–his family bound by ka (fate) not blood.  These new gunslingers all come from America, but from different whens and versions of America.  Eddie is a heroin addict.  Susannah is an African-American woman from the 1960s who is missing both of her legs from the knees down and has Dissociative Identity Disorder (more commonly known as multiple personality disorder).  Jake is a boy from a wealthy family in NYC that hardly pays attention to him.  Oy is a billy-bumbler; a creature from Roland’s world that looks a bit like a dog with a long snout and a curly tail but is able to talk.  After training and bonding together, they continue on their quest for the Dark Tower.  A quest that leads them through old ruined cities in Roland’s world, gangster territory Spooky train.and rural Maine in America, a countryside farming community where almost all births are twins, and much much more.  The ultimate questions of ka, how the worlds are bound together, and just what role this gunslinger has to play in all of it loom at the center of this epic tale.

Review:
The interesting thing about the Dark Tower series is that each book has its own unique vibe, feel, and style to it, yet they together work to make up a complete whole that has its own unique feel to it too.  Because of this, certain entries Purple glass ball.in the series may appeal less to some people than others.  For instance, I did not enjoy Wizard and Glass, because it was essentially a slow-paced wild west romance story, yet I know some readers enjoy that entry immensely.  Similarly, I love Song of Susannah for both its horror and the way King structured it using song stanzas to correlate with the sections of the book, yet I know some people who found it too dense for one entry in the series.  The thing is though, to me, the Dark Tower is more about the experience of reading the series as a whole than the individual books.  I’m perfectly willing to work through a book or a few chapters that aren’t quite the genre I prefer, because I know that will change up later on and whatever is being discussed is important to the story as Building in a field.a whole.  It frankly is interesting to read a series that explores so many different genres within itself.  It makes the whole concept of parallel worlds more believable as each area they go through feels different.

The characterization at first seems simplistic.  There’s Roland the gunslinger.  He’s got a one-track mind in pursuit of the tower.  He’ll do anything to reach it, even if it’s questionable.  Is he justified in his vehemence?  It’s hard to tell at first.  Similarly, the man in black who he is originally pursuing is extraordinarily one-dimensional.  He is just an evil magician, and that is all.  Similarly, when Eddie, Susannah, and Jake are first drawn into Roland’s world, they are also one-dimensional.  Eddie is just the junky.  Susannah is the crazy woman with multiple Park bench in blue fog.personalities.  Jake is a lonely, frightened little boy.  Yet as the series progresses, King gradually develops the characters to be rich and multi-dimensional.  Their characters are so intensely vivid, including even Oy, that I actually found myself crying as bad things happened to various members of the ka-tet.  Eddie overcomes his addiction, as well as the emotional wounds inflicted on him by his older brother to grow up and become a true man.  Susannah does not lose her multiple personalities, but she learns to work with them.  They are a part of her, and she grows to accept that.  She stops being bitter about her accident and her lot in life and comes to be self-sufficient and caring of those around her.  Jake quickly grows to become a confident young man who cares for his ka-tet, but especially Oy and Roland.  Finally, Roland gradually learns to open himself up to relationships.  Although Rose in the foreground. Tower in the background.the tower still calls to him, he finds himself questioning if maybe the ka-tet is better than the tower.

The horror elements in the series definitely live up to what one would expect from King.  There are disgusting moments, such as a man sick from the weed drug in Roland’s world that makes users go insane.  There are also truly terrifying moments such as when a baby boy turns into a spider and eats his own mother via her breast.  Then there are mentally disturbing themes such as the children who get stolen by the wolves and are returned with their brains completely ruined.  It is later discovered that their brain power was fed to telepaths in service of the Crimson King who is seeking to destroy all the worlds.  Whatever flavor of horror suits you best, you will find it in the series.

The themes of love and building your own family and being at the hands of fate are what truly carry the series, though.  These themes are what make the reader care about the horrors that are happening to Roland and his ka-tet.  They’re what makes it possible to suspend disbelief about multiple worlds being held together by a tower, a rose, and beams.  The ideas of self-sacrifice, serving your purpose, and caring for others who ka has brought into your life are powerful and subtly expressed.  To me the whole concept of making your own family is the most endearing part of the series, and I loved seeing it portrayed in such a subtle, tender manner.

Of course what really brought the series to a whole new level for me is the ending.  It blew me away.  It was completely unexpected.  Roland reaches the tower after having lost his ka-tet.  He goes in and climbs with each floor displaying items and smells to represent each year of his life.  He reaches the top door and pulls it open only to realize, horrified at the last moment, that he is being pulled through back to the desert where the series began.  The voice of the tower speaks to him about his journey.  That he’s done it before.  That he’s learning a little each time.  It points out that Roland realized his mistake in not taking a few moments to pick up the horn of Eld, so this time, it is strapped to Roland’s side, where it wasn’t originally.  For a moment Roland remembers what has just occurred, but soon he just feels it was all a mirage.  A heat-induced daydream of finally reaching the dark tower.  He continues on, ending the series with the same sentence it began with.

Personally, I feel that this puts the series in a whole new light.  Who exactly is this Roland that he is so important that he has to redo this quest until, presumably, he gets it right?  Why did King choose to tell us about one of the times he didn’t get it right?  What did he get wrong?  What lessons is Roland supposed to be learning?  Will Roland ever escape the cycle or is it some sort of hell punishment he’s doomed to repeat forever?  Of course, it all reads a bit like the belief in reincarnation and learning something each life cycle.  In any case, it made me personally want to immediately start rereading the series, searching for clues about the repetition of the journey.  It brings the series to a whole new philosophical level that truly elevated it in my mind from a fun fantasy to an epic.

Overall, there are parts of the series I didn’t enjoy, and due to the vast variety of genres represented in the series, most people will probably dislike or struggle with at least bits of it.  However, when the series is put together and all the pieces click together in your mind, it becomes an unforgettable, completely American epic.  A wild west fantasy is unique, and the themes and philosophical questions explored underneath the entertaining prose make for something even deeper than that.  I am incredibly glad I took the time to read this series, and I would recommend it to anyone.  It is well worth the time invested.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: borrowed, Harvard Book Store

Books in Series:
The Gunslinger, review, buy it
The Drawing of the Three
, review, buy it
The Waste Lands, review, buy it
Wizard and Glass, review, buy it
Wolves of the Calla, review, buy it
Song of Susannah, review, buy it
The Dark Tower, review , buy it

Book Review: The Dark Tower by Stephen King, (Series, #7)

October 19, 2010 13 comments

Tower in the background of a field of roses.Summary:
Roland and his ka-tet face their greatest challenges yet.  First they must successfully save the rose in NYC.  Then they must find each other, and Susannah and Jake need to escape the low men who would harm them.  Also on their list before continuing to pursue the Dark Tower is to stop the breakers who mean to destroy the beam, thereby leading the worlds to ruin.  Can they save the beam?  Will Roland reach his beloved Dark Tower with his ka-tet whole or shattered?  Will he reach it at all?  The Dark Tower looms with a far greater presence than ever before, calling to both Roland and reader commala-come-come.

Review:
Now I understand why people who’ve read the entire Dark Tower series rant with showers of praise about it.  This final entry in the series totally blew my mind.  The settings were perfectly drawn and easy to visualize.  The multiple plot lines were all complex and yet simultaneously easy to follow.  I cried multiple times reading this book, including in public, and those who know me know that I generally don’t cry at stories.  All of the characters of the ka-tet are treated with full-formed character development.  They are richly drawn, but it is also easy to see how they have grown and changed throughout the series.  The multiple, inter-locking worlds of Roland and his ka-tet suddenly snap into place in the reader’s mind, and suddenly everything is nearly as clear as it probably is for King.

This book is quite long, but it didn’t feel like it.  I wanted to read it nearly constantly, yet I had to put it down periodically due to the emotional wringer King was bringing me through.  It’s been so long since I read a series that wasn’t either a trilogy or a serial romance that I’d forgotten how emotional it can get to have a long, fully realized tale told with characters you’ve grown to know and care for.  These people read as real people, and the world feels real.  It makes me want to go look for my own unfound door to journey to a parallel reality.  Even though at first I kind of laughed at the idea of a rose and a tower and beams somehow controlling and seeing over multiple worlds, at some point I bought into it.  I suspended my disbelief, and that’s exactly what a spinner of tales is supposed to be able to help his readers do.

What made me truly fall in love with the story and make me want to instantly start re-reading the series over again from the beginning is the ending.  I wouldn’t give it away and ruin the experience of discovering it yourself for anybody, so just let me say, it totally blew my mind.  I did not see it coming.  It made my perspective on the whole tale change, which explains why I want to re-read it so much.  (Maybe next year).  I can also say that the ending makes reading the rest of the long series entirely worth it.  Definitely don’t give up on the series part-way through.  Continue all the way to the end.

If you’ve been reading the Dark Tower series and are uncertain about continuing, absolutely do.  I don’t hesitate to say that the last entry in the series is tied for the best and will totally blow your mind.  I highly recommend the whole series, but I especially encourage anyone who has started it to finish it.  It’s well worth your time.

5 out of 5 stars

Source: Harvard Book Store

Previous Books in Series:
The Gunslinger, review
The Drawing of the Three, review
The Waste Lands, review
Wizard and Glass, review
Wolves of the Calla, review
Song of Susannah, review

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Counts for R.I.P.V Challenge

Reading Challenge: R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril

September 2, 2010 16 comments

Woman in green hue.I love horror.  Love love love it.  I know a lot of readers don’t.  They say it scares them too much or keeps them awake at night.  The thing is, I used to be one of those readers!  I used to avoid horror because when I was younger horror would absolutely petrify me for weeks on end.  I’d think every squeak my old house would make was the boogey-man coming to get me.  But then I decided, “Enough of this shit!  I’m letting my fears get in the way of an entire genre.”  So I dabbled my toes, then I jumped in, and now it’s one of my favorite genres.  Horror lets me get lost in a world where it’s ok to be scared and supernatural things occur and I basically get to watch car crashes repeatedly.  It’s awesome.  The whole genre.  I can’t believe how much I’d be missing if I’d continued to avoid it!  For instance: Zombies. Tree porn. Everything Stephen King ever wrote.  You get my point.

Anyway, so when I saw via Chris at Book-a-rama that Carl of Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a mystery/suspense/thriller/dark fantasy/gothic/horror/supernatural reading challenge for the spooky fall months of September and October entitled R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril, I knew I wanted to sign up.  Not that I won’t be reading horror for these two months anyway, but I thought if I signed  up, it’d alert you guys to the challenge.  Maybe one of my lovely readers is tentative about one of those genres?  Well this is the perfect opportunity to stretch your boundaries!  Plus you’ll be in the company of a lovely bunch of people for a couple months to do it.

Of course, that’s my other reason for participating.  I want to virtually meet other book lovers who are reading horror!

Originally, in light of the fact that I try to keep my reading unstructured and fun, I was going to sign up for one of the lower levels of the challenge….then I saw how much of my TBR pile fits! Lol, so I’m signing up for the Peril the First level: read four books that fit into any of the genres I mentioned above.

My potential reads for the challenge (direct from my TBR pile) include:

I hope you’ll sign up and do the challenge with me!  Especially if you’re afraid of horror.  You can sign up for one of the lower levels and just dip your toe in. 🙂

Any votes for which four out of my list I should read?

Book Review: Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King (Series, #5)

March 22, 2010 6 comments

Railroad tracks and church steeple against a golden sky.Summary:
The gunslinger’s katet have a lot more on their plate than just continuing along the path of the beam.  Susannah is pregnant and has developed another personality, Mia, to deal with the pregnancy as it is most likely demonic.  The Rose is in danger in then when of 1977 New York City.  The man who owns the empty lot it grows in is under pressure from the mob to sell it to an unseen man.  So the last thing the katet needs is to run into a town desperately in need of the help of gunslingers.

The Calla, a town made up of rice growers and ranchers who mostly give birth to twins, has been facing a plague once every generation.  Creatures referred to as Wolves come and take one child out of every set of twins between the ages of about 4 and puberty.  The child is later returned mentally retarded.  Their local robot messenger, Andy, has warned them that the Wolves are coming in about a month, and their holy man believes gunslingers are on their way.

Unable to turn down their duty as gunslingers or give up on their quest for the Dark Tower, can the gunslingers pull it all off or is it just more than any katet, even one as strong as theirs, can handle?

Review:
Toward the beginning of the book, Roland says something like, “Being a gunslinger means weeks of planning, preparation, and hard work for 5 minutes of battle.”  That’s really a good description of this book.  It’s a lot of exposition, albeit very interesting exposition, followed by a rather anticlimactic battle that is really the exposition for the next leg of the katet’s journey.  This could have gone really badly, but thankfully there’s a lot of information King needs to tell us, and most of it is interesting and relevant to the gunslingers’ world, so it works.

King is good at creating a culture.  The Calla and its people possess a very distinctive speech pattern and colloquialisms that are simultaneously easy enough for the reader to learn and to follow.  He hints that he just took the Maine accent and exaggerated it.  Maybe that’s why a New England gal like myself found it so easy to follow.  In any case, the town of twins, ranchers, and rice is rich with local legends, folklore, and traditions.  It is enjoyable to read about, and the town also manages to provide information about the katet’s greater quest for the Dark Tower.

It is well-known that King’s Dark Tower series brings in elements and characters from his other works, as he sees all of his stories happening in the same world and being connected.  To that end, the holy man of the Calla is the priest from Salem’s Lot, and a part of Wolves of the Calla is him relating his backstory to the katet.  Something that irritated me about all of the tales told in the “Telling of Tales” section of Wolves of the Calla is that it would switch from the character speaking to an italicized third person narrative.  I don’t know if all of the italicized portions were previously written for other books or if King felt that he needed to be an omnipotent narrator in order to properly tell everything that had happened, but I found it disjointing and jarring.  It was only my unanswered questions about the Wolves and the Dark Tower that kept me reading through that section.

I enjoyed the growth in the relationship between Roland and Jake.  Roland is gradually growing into a father figure/adviser, while Jake is gradually becoming a man and an equal with the other gunslingers.  King handles this transition well, and it is believable.  Meanwhile, Eddie and Susannah’s relationship doesn’t change per se, but Eddie does realize that he will always love Susannah more than she loves him.  It is evident that both of them are uncomfortable with her multiple personalities.  This is an issue that clearly has not yet been resolved.

I do have three gripes with King.  The first is that he persists in calling Susannah’s multiple personalities schizophrenia, which is just wrong.  Schizophrenics hear voices, at worst, they do not have multiple personalities.  What Susannah has is Dissociative Identity Disorder, and it is just inexcusable that he would get this wrong.

Second, although previously in the series the reader isn’t allowed to know or see something Roland knows, the reader always gets to know what the other gunslingers know.  Here, information is pointedly held back from the reader.  I can only assume this was an attempt to maintain suspense about the Wolves, which I found to be a cop-out.  Either come up with an idea creative enough that we’ll be surprised anyway or have the characters be surprised as well as us.  Also, I already had the wolves figured out long before they are revealed anyway.  The suspense came in wondering how the final battle would play out, not in wondering who the Wolves were.

Third, I don’t like the fact that Susannah’s main storyline is a pregnancy.  I don’t like that one of her key roles so far as a gunslinger was to fuck the shit out of a demon so that Jake could be pulled through (The Wastelands).  I also really don’t like that something as simple as her being pregnant causes her to abandon her husband and her katet in the form of another personality, Mia.  It almost seems that King uses the multiple personalities just so that he can have a sweet woman around when he needs one but then can instantaneously turn her back into all of the negative images of women out there.  I need to see where Susannah’s storyline winds up before I can offer a final analysis of the character and its implications, but at the moment, it reads as a very negative view of women.

The overarching storyline of the quest for the Dark Tower, however, is still going strong in this book.  We learn a bunch of new, important information about the Tower, the beams, and the worlds, and new questions pop up.  With each book it becomes more evident that saving the Tower is important to the well-being of all worlds.  I am pleased to report that this was a marked improvement over the previous book, although not quite up to the intensity of The Waste Lands or pure readability of The Gunslinger.  It still manages to suck you in and gets the story back on the path of the beam.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

Previous Books in Series:
The Gunslinger, review
The Drawing of the Three, review
The Waste Lands, review
Wizard and Glass, review

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