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First Lord’s Fury

by on Jul.17, 2010, under books

I finished reading the final volume of this fantasy mini-series.  I read the first book borrowed on multiple recommendations.  I went out and bought myself the second and third books as I worked through them.  The fourth and fifth I bought simultaneously while on a recent business trip out west.  And this sixth and final tome was my first ebook purchase for my Nook.  I’ve been a fan throughout the arc and I am a steadfast fan to the last.  But if anyone wants to borrow the series, well I can only really partially help out.

Before I even started this book, I noted something that struck me about the series. As I was finishing the fifth volume, I noticed that Tavi did not end up in the role represented by the subsequent title prior to the end of the book (which tended to be the case in the previous books).  As I found, Tavi ends up having multiple struggles to face through the sixth arc in order fulfill said destiny.  As previously established, the realm is in peril of being overtaken by the Vord and the odds are severely stacked in the invader’s favor.  But Tavi proves to have so many tricks up his sleep you wonder where he must keep his arms.  What also bears out is that many of those faithful to him have pretty keen heads on their shoulders as well.

What I find most fascinating about this series is the way that Jim Butcher weaves such a vivid world with so many well developed races and creatures.  On top of that, he has woven in a subtle stitching of narrative and history to suggest that the origin of the story’s human population could have been a lot roman legion – that a full legion and its follower camp mysteriously came to in this strange and hostile land.  And over the course of the millennia that passed  on Earth where we developed advances in technology, they instead came to harness these elemental furycrafting abilities and used them to similar ends (transportation, communication, etc.).  This narrative also bears the subtle suggestion that societies constantly at war could have the tendency to stagnate and to demur progressive ideas.

First Lord’s Fury proved to be a more satisfying ending to The Codex Alera series than I had anticipated.  And while I’m was happy to enjoy a series with a definitive run, part of me wonders what the fictional future could hold for the people of Alera (not that I’m suggesting a continuation or another mini-series is needed, but if Butcher has any such designs already in mind I know I would enjoy the reading).  I guess I’ll have to get my fantasy kicks elsewhere now (at least for a while) and look forward to more Dresden Files novels.  In the meantime I will keep reading something (there is always something to read).

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My Digital Revolution

by on Jul.14, 2010, under books, technology

As I’ve stated more than once recently, I am now the proud owner of a Nook by Barnes & Noble (great thanks to my parents for the early birthday gift). If you are a regular reader of my blog, you likely know that I have been on a fairly consistent reading kick lately. After wrestling with a few instances of trouble finding a book I intended to read, It only seemed reasonable to consider going digital. And at the current price it is hard to argue against it (though technically in this case my price was free, if I didn’t get it gifted I would likely have bought it myself anyway).

I’ve just finished my first ebook on the Nook and I have to say that I really enjoyed reading as such. There are a number of features I haven’t even fully played with that I intend to explore in the future (such as loading some music on it and playing some tunes while I read). I have a colleague who is all psyched to try out the LendMe feature with me as well as take a lunch to B&N to enjoy some of the perks that come with being a Nook owner (e.g., access to free titles in the store, discounts on food and drinks at the café).  I have also experimented with the text highlighting and annotation features.  I will say that the touch keypad takes a little getting used to for text typing (as is typical to any new handheld device I’ve experienced), but I’m sure I’ll adjust – otherwise I’ve been very happy with the device.  The screen is easy to read, the battery has a long life-span, and navigation is simple and intuitive.

I opted to skip the 3G version as I don’t see a need for constant online access when I only will likely be downloading books as I need them and I have access to WiFi both at work and home.  Though the difficulty of getting onto my work network consistently has made me question this choice at times.  But arguably there are more pressing matters I should be attending to at work anyway (supposedly).  I’ve tested the beta browser on the device and it is sufficient, though a bit slow.  But truly I don’t anticipate spending a lot of time web browsing on the device (though if it were faster and the keyboard easier to use, perhaps I would be able to post my book reviews directly from it).

All in all I am fairly happy with the device and I’m enjoying my reading experiences on it.  If anyone else has one (or gets one) and has books they would like to lend or borrow, feel free to let me know.  So far my library is one 2 books deep, but I’m sure it will expand quickly.

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Travelogue – Vacation Update

by on Jul.04, 2010, under books, technology

Just to be clear, I don’t intend to do daily updates of my vacation events – that would be semi-contrary to enjoying my vacation. Yesterday was an eventful day in leisure. We started by heading to a local swimming hole (a lake nearby that had several swimming beaches) where we enjoyed several hours of swimming, playing in the sand, and picnicking. Then we attempted to go hiking, but due to heat and navigation issues, we gave up after about ten minutes and headed to the mall to watch Toy Story 3 in 3-D. Finally we stopped by Barnes & Noble for an early birthday present – a Nook.

The swimming was fun and went as would have been expected. Cricket spent as long as possible in the water. Grasshopper spent as little time as possible in the water. Gumba (their grandfather) spent the majority of the swimming time fabricating various tall tales for my daughter to consider. Grammy spent little time in the water and mostly sat either in the shade or on the beach playing with my son. The water was as warm as bath water which made the hardest part of the day getting out of the water – despite the air temperature being in the mid-80’s, leaving the water was a chilling affair. Then we enjoyed some sandwiches and chips while we dried off before changing and heading out to eventually arrive at the movies.

Toy Story 3 was much better than I had anticipated. As usual, it tackled the same types of issues typically addressed in this series – themes of loyalty, pride, betrayal, love, and friendship in the face of adversity all masked behind the role of a toy and its relationship to its owner. In this film the struggle came in the form of Andy growing up and going to college, both he and his toys coming to grips with change and learning when to hold onto the past and when to let go of it. I don’t typically find myself emotionally moved by movies (well, except in the forms of excitement or frustration), but this movie moved me to such levels of empathetic joy that I almost started to feel choked up (almost). Of course constantly keeping my son from swinging from the seat or running down the aisle helped keep me grounded.

So finally, the Nook. As is probably obvious by how many books I’ve been reviewing here (and there are several that I read and opted not to review), I’ve been reading a lot of books lately. So I’d been considering going digital with my hobby for a while now. And to my fortune, my parents had also observed my reading affinity and opted to help me achieve my digital goal. Yesterday they sprung for my Nook as well as a nice travel case for it. By the end of the day I’d already setup my account, bought my first ebook, and went to bed having gotten to chapter 7. Now the only outstanding issue is figuring out what other books to download.

There were other events that occurred after the Nook purchase, but they generally blurred together as I was somewhat distracted. Though among those events was my children camping out in Grammy and Gumba’s yard for the night (my wife volunteered to spend the night with them). It seemed to go well – no middle of the night fallout – but they did troop in early this morning at which point they became my problem so that my wife could get a couple hours of rest in a soft, dry bed. So I put on some cartoons, grabbed my Nook, and settled on the couch for a low-key morning (or at least as low-key a morning as is possible with a 3 and 6 year-old).

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Princeps’ Fury

by on Jun.30, 2010, under books

Five down, one to go (for me at least – Jim Butcher finished his work quite a while ago).  My only dilemma now is whether to go out and drop the cash for the hardcover of book six so I can start reading right away, or drop hints all over the place for someone to get me a Nook for my birthday so I can download it for half the price … I guess I can attempt to practice patience – perhaps read something else in the meantime.

So far in this series, we’ve seen Tavi progress from a 15-year-old shepherd’s apprentice to a student, a spy for the crown, a captain of an entire legion and finally the heir to the thrown of the realm.  And in that time he has managed to foster peace with factions with whom their realm has been at war for in some cases centuries, defeated foes arguably several times more powerful, and managed to luck his way through some tight spots with little more than quick thinking and good instincts – most of the while doing so without the advantage of the magics that the rest of his kind seem to be able to wield.  In this volume, he has finally come into his power (on multiple levels) and is aims to take on challenges even larger than any so far.

While the previous volumes have all had their degrees of suspense and conflict, this one takes things to a new scale.  Not only are the battles and struggles massively larger and on multiple fronts, but there are many more nail-biter moments.  Many of the main characters seem to play some dangerous gambits which in some cases nearly bring them to deadly ends.  But as usual, the suspense pays off with dividends and in the end Butcher sets the stage nicely for the concluding chapter to come (which only drills home my itch to go read it).

I can honestly say that I would love to see this series realized as a series of movies.  It would likely be difficult to do full justice to the source material, but I think that it is fare that a broad audience would enjoy.  Plus on a practical note, the fact that each book has a built in gap of about 2 years, consistent casting shouldn’t be an issue (easier to manage than the cast of the Harry Potter series who seem to be aging faster than their characters, or the cast of twilight who mostly shouldn’t appear to age at all).  But that is just a dream.  I’m just as content with the reality of the fiction in the form of written word.

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Captain’s Fury

by on Jun.17, 2010, under books

Oddly, this fourth volume had proved elusive (though mostly as a matter of timing).  I attempted to run out and pick it up prior to my trip last week to San Francisco figuring – rightly so – that I would finish the other book I was reading before the week was through.  After visiting 3 bookstores in the immediate area around my house, I threw in the towel.  I finally found it while in San Fran at a Barnes & Noble that was not far from Fisherman’s Wharf (they also had the fifth book, so I picked that up too).  I read half of it during train and plane rides home on Saturday.

What I’ve come to respect in the writings of Jim Butcher is his ability to craft a story with a long-term vision in mind.  He knows how to take his time and build the larger arc while constantly including several smaller arcs along the way.  The pace is never too slow or too rushed and I have yet to notice any loopholes or stretches of the natural suspension of disbelief.

In this fourth book in The Codex Alera series, Tavi is continuing in his role as the Captain of the First Aleran legion, but not without challenges on multiple fronts.  The battles with both the Canim and Kalarus’ army rage on.  In addition, Tavi comes to discover a third force in play that seems to be allied with the Canim – a huge legion of freed Aleran slaves.  Additionally he must content with his own ‘allies’ – his own troops are joined by those of the Senatorial guard forces who seem to be led by a pompous, fool-hardy senator who is a puppet for yet another less overt enemy of the Crown.  All the while, he must keep from getting overthrown or killed as well as contend with some startling truths being revealed to him.

As usual, I was buckled in for the ride.  Besides Tavi’s story, I was engaged and riveted by each of the characters’ tales.  And as usual, I’m already on board to read the next volume (good thing I picked it up already).  I am starting to feel like a fanboy, so if anyone has an criticisms I’d be eager to hear them.  I’m curious who well these books might translate to the big screen, though I worry that a larger audience might have trouble buying into such a tangential version of Earth.

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