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REVIEW: Words of Radiance

[This high fantasy novel is the latest C4 Great Read. Find the first book in the series here.]

words-of-radiance

Author: Brandon Sanderson

2014, Tor

Filed under: Fantasy

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 10
Depth..... 8

[This review is entirely spoiler-free. Maybe even to a fault.]

I picked up The Way of Kings, the first book in this series, almost at random, looking for a long audiobook. The Way of Kings clocked in at over 45 hours, and after finishing it, I pre-ordered Words of Radiance, and when it came out earlier this month, I ripped through all 48 hours in eighteen days.

Sanderson is a rare talent, and this series is a rare accomplishment even for him—I’ve read the first books of two of his other series, and they don’t compare. In short, I’d recommend this book to just about anybody, but especially to those who like Game of Thrones, or Lord of the Rings, or any other epic fantasy. 
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REVIEW: The Way of Kings

[This elaborate high fantasy is a C4 Great Read.]

way-of-kingsAuthor: Brandon Sanderson

2010, Tor

Filed under: Fantasy

This review refers to the audiobook version of the novel.

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 9

I don’t read too much high fantasy these days. As a teenager, I read the first few books of the Shannara series, and the first four or so of the Wheel of Time series (which, coincidentally, was finished recently by Brandon Sanderson after the original author’s death). My favorite part of these kinds of books tends to be the initial flush of world-building, and I got bored with the endless twists, reversals, false climaxes, and protracted meanderings that tend to plague these books after their worlds are well established.

In the Shannara books, I vaguely remember, the main character saves the world, then has to save the universe in the next book, because each false climax much also be more dramatic than the last. Which is not to say that they aren’t still great books, just that I tend to tire of the formula after a few volumes.

I started listening to this audiobook not because of a desire to find another fantasy series (it’s projected to be ten novels long, each weighing in at a thousand pages or more), but because I’m doing a lot of woodworking lately, and I need more than podcasts and radio stations in my ears. I signed up for Audible and I’ve been using the bang-for-your-buck shopping model (with mixed results, I’m quagmired a quarter through the 29-hour version of Booker prize-winning The Luminaries), and I’ve discovered that fantasy novels offer a ton of bang for your buck.

So I waded into The Way of Kings having only heard a couple of tidbits about Sanderson and his massive books. I found exactly what I was looking for: a well-rendered world with enough drive to keep me invested in the story over the course of tens of hours, and enough entertainment that I enjoyed all those hours along the way.
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REVIEW: The World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti

[This coffee-table/Christmas-gift-ready overview and history of street art is the latest C4 Great Read.]

world-atlas-of-street-artAuthor: Rafael Schacter

2013, Yale University Press

Filed under: Nonfiction, Other

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 7
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 8
Art.... 10

I’m an amiable fan of street art, not quite an enthusiast, and certainly not a scholar of it. As such, the aptly named World Atlas of Street Art and Graffiti fits me quite well. It’s first and foremost a coffee table book and it features a wealth of beautifully presented images, but it also links them together with a unique and quite informative organizational strategy: it’s literally an atlas, organized by geography and grouped into continents and cities. In addition to profiles of artists, Rafael Schacter details specific places and gives site-specific mini-histories of localized street art movements.

He starts in New York, in the 1960s, when the first taggers competed to make their names stand out in a sea of graffiti, and moves on to anti-dictatorship pixação in São Paulo, the heavy historical politics of graffiti in Berlin, the painting brigades of late-’70s Stockholm, and many more cities and street art cultures. It’s simultaneously a light and browse-able format (each city profile is only two pages), and a quite thorough introduction to the fascinating history behind a street art movement that has been gathering steam for decades, though it has only recently come into the public zeitgeist.
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REVEW: On Love

[This philosophical, yet humorous novel chronicling the different stages of a love affair is a C4 Great Read.]

Author: Alain de Bottononlove

2006, Grove Press

Filed Under: Literary

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 10

We’ve all been through break-ups. When a relationship ends, our response falls somewhere between shrugging our shoulders and crawling in a hole. In either case, rumination and reflection is inevitable, as massive life change demands at least a glimpse from that hole. On Love is surely the result of an extended such stint, a perspicacious novel that does a remarkable job of detailing the finer points of a nearly universal human experience through a singular example.

Exactly what this book is is difficult to pin down. It’s a novel, of course, but one that’s part humorist’s rumination, part case study, and part philosophical treatise. It’s an intellectual book, drawing all sorts of connections to philosophical thought. Yet at the same time it is grounded in a cultural reality, very much an investigation of a love affair particular to the post-sexual revolution era, one in which the power dynamic in a couple is both liberated and, perhaps in its freeness, more fractious. There’s a certain longing on display here, one which we’ve all experienced to some degree, for the type of everlasting storybook love promised us by media, or by the superficial observation of those around us, maybe even by the postwar social mores that demanded the suppression of marital discord by our grandparents’ “greatest” generation.


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REVIEW: Spin

[This well-written sci-fi novel is the latest C4 Great Read.]

spinAuthor: Robert Charles Wilson

2005, Tor

Filed under: Sci-Fi

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 6
Depth..... 9

I’ve been on the hunt again recently for a good sci-fi novel, and since I can no longer trust io9 reviews, I found a few best-novels-of-the-decade lists, and discovered that this highly recommended book already lived in my bookshelf.

Happily, it lived up to high expectations. I have a few quibbles (the pacing is lopsided, and the prose, while deft, can be dry), but in sum this is one of those rare gems: a well-written novel with a genre plot.


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REVIEW: The Fault in Our Stars

fault-in-our-stars[This heart-breaking young adult cancer novel is a C4 Great Read.]

Author: John Green

2012, Dutton Books

Filed under: Literary, Young Adult

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 10

A week ago, I had the urge to read John Green’s phenomenally popular young adult novel about a girl with cancer. I just assumed that we’d already reviewed The Fault in Our Stars, since it’s absolutely everywhere, so when I went to find out who I should borrow it from, I was shocked to find no mention of it anywhere on Chamber Four. So let’s correct that now.

I’ll keep this short, because I don’t imagine I’ll be telling you anything you haven’t already heard, as TFIOS is that rare, pleasurable case where a huge hit lives up to considerable expectations.
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My Reading Annex #2: Dune, by Frank Herbert

[I’ve been making an effort to catch up on classic genre writing that I probably should have read as a kid, but for whatever reason didn’t. There’s not much use in writing reviews of years-old books mostly accepted as classics, so I’ll write them up under this column instead. Follow it here.]

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If you listen to to our podcast, you might remember me talking about Dune almost a year ago. After putting it aside for a while, I picked it back up recently. With a little more time to sit down and become absorbed in the book, I finally finished Dune and loved it.

Dune‘s greatness (and even though this isn’t an official review, I’ve added it to our Great Reads section) lies in in how comprehensively detailed Herbert makes his universe. Many sci-fi books attempt to create a unique world, but only end up with a bunch of needless explaining of invented terminology and a story that could just as easily work in a different setting. This is not the case with Dune. Like any good sci-fi saga, the setting is as central to the story as the plot and characters.

Herbert seamlessly blends fantasy and sci-fi conventions in a way few franchises besides Star Wars have been successful at. Aristocrats playing politics, sword fights, space ships, and giant sandworm alien monsters punctuate a story that is full of rich lore rivaled only by books like the Lord of the Rings series and creative technology and terminology–but that story never insults the reader’s intelligence by spending the first third of the book pedantically explaining everything.
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REVIEW: Pacific

[This sparse, lyrical literary novel is a C4 Great Read.]

Author: Tom Drury

2013, Grove Press

Filed under: Literary

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 7

I picked up this book because I came across Lemony Snicket’s rave review of it last week, and though I felt disappointed by the latest Snicket book, I still trust his judgment. And this time I wasn’t disappointed.

Drury is a sure-footed, lyrical novelist—as I’m sure you know, because he seems to be one of those writers that everybody’s read except me. Pacific follows two forks of a tangled family: a 14-year-old boy whose biological mother reclaims him from his adopted family and moves him out west to Hollywood, and that adopted family itself.

There are a few more plot flourishes than your average introspective literary novel—the search for an ancient rock leads to a swordfight and a murder—but those more baroque twists don’t ever quite lead to the completed puzzle they imply.

Drury’s real strength is simply his writing. His prose has the effortless sheen of an experienced stylist, and his character work communicates more than seems possible, given its brevity. Drury’s dialogue is masterfully pared down, to the point where it seems fast forwarded.


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REVIEW: Constellation Games

This inventive, hilarious sci-fi novel is a C4 Great Read.

Author: Leonard Richardson

2012, Candlemark & Gleam

Filed under: Sci-Fi

Find it at Goodreads

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 8
Entertainment..... 9
Depth..... 8

Boing Boing is something of an unreliable place to get book recommendations. In 2011 Mark Fraunfelder called Ready Player One “the best science fiction novel I’ve read in a decade,” which made its shruggable mediocrity an unpleasant surprise.

So when Cory Doctorow said that Constellation GamesIS AN AMAZING BOOK,” I wasn’t expecting much. A debut novel, from one of Doctorow’s writing students, about a video game reviewer who makes contact with aliens. That could go wrong about a million different ways, and it can only go right maybe three. Its cover seemed to sound an extra warning; I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an uglier one, including this one.

But the Kindle version was only $5, and I’d been jonesing for sci-fi lately, so I ponied up, expecting almost nothing. Imagine my surprise when I found that Constellation Games IS AN AMAZING BOOK.
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REVIEW: The Round House

[This coming of age quasi-mystery novel set on a reservation is a C4 Great Read.]

Author: Lousie Erdrich

2012, Harper

Filed Under: Literary, Mystery

Find it on Goodreads.

C4 Ratings...out of 10
Language..... 9
Entertainment..... 8
Depth..... 8

I went into this book (which won the 2012 National Book Award) completely blind, on purpose. When it comes to books that I expect a lot from (hype is one thing, collecting a bunch of awards is another), I sometimes prefer to not read even the jacket copy. So i had no idea what this book was about. My immediate association was to think of Patrick Swayze (Roadhouse; round-house kicks in Roadhouse), and thankfully that was way off the mark.

Before anything else, I was struck by Erdrich’s descriptive prose. Here’s the beautiful opening paragraph: 

Small trees had attacked my parents’ house at the foundation. They were just seedlings with one or two rigid, healthy leaves. Nevertheless, the stalky shoots had managed to squeeze through knife cracks in the decorative brown shingles covering the cement blocks. They had grown into the unseen walls and it was difficult to pry them loose. My father wiped his palm across his forehead and damned their toughness. I was using a rusted old dandelion fork with a splintered handle; he wielded a long, slim iron fireplace poker that was probably doing more harm than good. As my father prodded away blindly at the places where he sensed roots might have penetrated, he was surely making convenient holes in the mortar for next year’s seedlings.

It’s a great description that does a great job of foreshadowing the story to come. This is a story about about a family’s seemingly futile struggle against unseen forces and the pull of decay. It centers around Joe, a young Native American teen on the cusp of maturation, who suddenly finds his world crashing down around him–and the gritty realities of his world weighing on him heavily.
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