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Reviews Written by
Matt Hetling "Matt" RSS Feed (Bethel, ME USA)

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Duma Key: A Novel
Duma Key: A Novel
by Stephen King
Edition: Hardcover
368 used & new from $0.14

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars King outdoes himself, September 23, 2008
This review is from: Duma Key: A Novel (Hardcover)
Early Stephen King books were genre-defining, relatively simple gorefests that bridged the gap between horror junkies and the general reading public.

Somewhere in there, King started flexing his literary aspirations, and the last twenty years have been inconsistent. King's voice is always very evident and well-developed, but he's struggled to find that perfect balance between experimentation, ambition and pulse-pounding entertainment.

Books like Blaze have shown that King can boil pots with the best of them, while more complicated outings like Bag of Bones have shown a tremendous capacity for literary writing, but at the expense of a forward-moving plot.

I would call Dumas Key the first perfect blend of the old King with the new. The story is complex, multi-layered, and epic, as with most of his more cerebral works. And yet? It's fast-paced, emotionally stirring, and damned interesting to boot.

Narrator Edgar Freemantle is sympathetic without being a goody two shoes. The finale is bittersweet and unpredictable. And, like most of King's best work, the characters exercise a level of ingenuity that doesn't leave the reader rolling his eyes and asking "Why doesn't he just _____?"

If you don't like horror, or have already decided that you don't like King, this might be the book that changes your mind.

Hopefully, King will continue to write books of this quality, and Dumas Key signifies the beginning of a new golden age in his enormously prolific writing career.

Garfield at Large His First Book
Garfield at Large His First Book
by Davis. Jim
Edition: Paperback
5 used & new from $1.25

3 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Where the legend began, September 14, 2008
This book marks the first time Garfield ventured from the comic strips.

Since this book was published, he has been featured in books, cartoons, movies, and countless tie-in toys and products.

In this early outing, Garfield and Jon look quite a bit different from how they look today. Jon looks thin and anemic (even moreso than later), while Garfield looks fatter and uglier, like a grizzled old feline Walter Matthau. Odie looks basically the same.

As the seminal edition, I would recommend this to anyone who likes their Garfield on the bookshelf rather than in the funnies.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 7, 2013 8:21 PM PDT

Garfield Goes Hollywood
Garfield Goes Hollywood
by Davis. Jim
Edition: Paperback
65 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Below even Garfield's quality standards, September 14, 2008
This book takes the Garfield concept out for a drive through Hollywood, and the results are mixed at best.

By presenting a single continuous story, Davis has sacrificed the punchlines at the end of every few panels. The result is fewer jokes spread over more pages, and the payoff just isn't there.

The entire book is in color, which was nice.

The basic plot involves Jon taking Garfield and Odie to compete in a televised pet talent show, "Pet Search." They win a local round and travel to Hollywood to compete against the best in the nation. In the end, their act is not the best, and someone else wins. They go home. If that seems a little anticlimactic, that's because it is.

Even if you love Garfield, this book is going to be a bit of a disappointment. I would buy it only after buying the other umpteen books out there.

Garfield Eats His Heart Out
Garfield Eats His Heart Out
by Davis. Jim
Edition: Paperback
92 used & new from $0.01

1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Quintessential Garfield, September 14, 2008
For better or for worse, this is the Garfield that has become a staple of comic strips across the nation.

As another reviewer mentioned, this is one of the earliest books in which Garfield's appearance is fine-tuned-- in previous books, he is fatter and uglier than the Garfield we know today.

What can you say about the humor of a Garfield comic? He's lowest common denominator funny, but at least the humor is well done within those limitations. Garfield is sassy, but not offensive. The jokes often depend on some droll comment, or a visual gag (like Garfield pulling Odie's ear until one is much longer than the other). He will never push an envelope of any kind. Like the lasagna he loves, Garfield is comfort food for the mind.

One nice thing about Garfield is the breadth and depth of his world, and of his character. He is sometimes mean, and sometimes nice. He is generally selfish, but occasionally generous. He has a wide range of likes and dislikes, many of which appear to be arbitrary.

The supporting cast is diverse and extensive. Nermal the cute cat, Arlene the girlfriend cat, Jon the owner, Jon's farming parents and, of course, Odie the mute sidekick dog.

This particular book is fairly classic. There are a few running themes, but more stand-alone fragments. You can find the strips online for free, but if you're looking to own them in book form, here it is.

A Malady of Magicks
A Malady of Magicks
by Craig Shaw Gardner
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
61 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Mildly amusing, September 14, 2008
Reading this book felt like watching a failed British sitcom-- the humor is ever-present, and wanders back and forth between broad, zany, and occasionally even subtle satire. Yet, the book never finds that intangible element that lends a bit of heart to the proceedings and makes a book worth reading.

The characters lack dimension, which makes it difficult to care about them. The humor is sometimes funny, but more often falls flat.

On the positive side, it is a light read that doesn't take too much effort to get through. A young person to whom reading does not come easily might cut their teeth on this as an introduction to humorous fantasy (although Robert Asprin's "Myth" series would be even better).

The episodic nature also lends itself very well to bedtime reading.

If you're in the mood for a light, trifling amusement, this might be right up your alley.

What the Odds Are: A-To-Z Guide on Everything You Hoped or Feared Could Happen
What the Odds Are: A-To-Z Guide on Everything You Hoped or Feared Could Happen
by Les Krantz
Edition: Paperback
55 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good resource and a fun read, September 10, 2008
It's rare to find a resource book that is fun, or a "fun fact" book that is useful (or, really, fun).

That's why this is such a rare pleasure. The book is organized like a miniature encyclopedia, with alphabetized entries that seek to discuss the odds related to a certain topic, such as marriage or embezzlement.

The book presents the type of information that ages quickly (such as a state-by-state analysis of voter turnout, IRS audit rates, or marriage rates for different demographics. Also, I wouldn't necessarily vouch for the validity of some of the information in the first place. Is it true, for example, that 1 in 117 passenger airplane flights are flown by a drunk pilot? That seems barely credible.

Nevertheless, even if you assume that the facts are only mostly right, I think it qualifies as an excellent resource because it really does gather a wide range of the juiciest facts from a variety of sources, and then present them in an efficient, compact manner.

Anyone who has written a news story, research paper, or article knows that finding a few truly interesting facts can be frustrating and time consuming, even with the internet (sometimes, especially with the internet). If you are lucky enough to find the topic in this book, you can get some instant gratification on that count.

Even if you don't need to do any research, this book can be a fun read. It reminds me of Freakonomics in that it can give you new insight into a wide range of interesting topics, some of which are off the beaten path.

I highly recommend this book.

Guinness book of startling acts and facts (Guinness illustrated collection of world records for young people)
Guinness book of startling acts and facts (Guinness illustrated collection of world records for young people)
by Norris McWhirter
Edition: Paperback
8 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Not worth buying, September 8, 2008
This book represents an effort by the Guinness folks to reach out to young people with their amazing compilations of world records.

They've retooled a series of world records into breathless short paragraphs. Each page consists of a one or two sentence factoid, such as "If you're an emperor, you can have the beast of everything. The Holy Roman Emperor Francis I built the oldest known zoo for his wife, Maria Theresa, in Vienna, Austria, in 1752." The rest of the page is taken up by a black and white illustration in the style of a historical comic book.

I suppose that the book might excite the imagination of a particular type of youngster, but that same youngster would find a much better quality of both information and presentation elsewhere.

The most startling fact might be that Guinness has spread 95 facts out over 95 pages, and sold the result as a complete book.

No matter what your needs, you can find them better met either by other publishers, or by other products that Guinness offers.

The Red Tent
The Red Tent
by Anita Diamant
Edition: Paperback
1043 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, literary, complex, September 6, 2008
This review is from: The Red Tent (Paperback)
This is a fantastic imagining of the lives of women during the time period of the Book of Genesis.

It demonstrates how women can carve out a slice of power in a patriarchal society-- even though their roles were strictly defined by convention, that convention also allowed for them to play an important, if secondary role.

No one who reads this would think that it's ok for women to be subjugated in the manner that the book portrays, but it is an inspiration to see how the characters in the book handle the cards they've been dealt.

The book is extremely nuanced, exploring all manner of familial and societal issues while maintaining an intensely personal focus. The setting is so richly detailed, and so exotic, that it warrants the effort of reading by itself.

The writing itself has a matter-of-fact, flattish tone, which I found to be quite enjoyable. It wasn't as lean and fast-paced as it could have been, but it did succeed in evoking the "flavor" of the bible, which is a neat trick when writing a modern novel.

As a white american atheist male, I suspect I'm not the target audience for this "biblical chick-flick on paper," but I enjoyed every page, and wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone who enjoys heady, thoughtful books.

Source of Magic (Xanth)
Source of Magic (Xanth)
by Piers Anthony
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.99
154 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Flat generic fantasy with a silly premise, September 6, 2008
Many reviewers note that the Xanth books deteriorate over time, but I can't even endorse the first two. The puns are less clever than those found in, for example, "The Phantom Tollbooth," and the light fantastic elements lack the humor of Robert Asprin's "Myth" series or the grandiosity of the Weiss-Hickman Dragonlance chronicles.

The first two books center around Bink's magic power, which is that he cannot be harmed by magic. But this intriguing notion is very difficult to translate into a compelling story, since the protective power is realized in sometimes-subtle (and always arbitrary) ways. If his power causes an evil magician to, say, slip on a banana peel at the critical time, then why wouldn't it instead prevent the mage from finding Bink in the first place?

That Bink's power manifests as what seems to be tremendously good luck is entertaining at times, but also a little hard to pin down or appreciate. It also kills lots of what would otherwise be very suspenseful encounters.

If the funny parts were funnier, or the creative bits more creative, or the writing more immersive, I would have given this a higher rating, but it's simply outclassed on all counts by others in the field.

All of that criticism aside, this book is readable, which is more than I can say for lots of fantasy books. Anthony is clearly a solid writer who knows how to bang out a cohesive story that is well-paced and digestible.

If you've exhausted your fantasy bookshelf of all of the classics, you might want to give the Xanth universe a try. But if it doesn't appeal to you by the end of the first book, move along. There's nothing to see here.

Triviata : A Compendium of Useless Information
Triviata : A Compendium of Useless Information
by Timothy T. Fullerton
Edition: Paperback
11 used & new from $0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Good fun, September 5, 2008
This is a pretty good entry in the trivia book field.

The facts are diverse, interesting, and seemingly well researched. And, of course, completely useless, as the subtitle promises.

The entries vary in length from a single sentence to about a half-page. The writing is matter-of-fact, which is a nice change from trivia books that try to dress up the information with lots of breathless adjectives and exclamation points.

The internet has made any trivia book an artifact of the 20th century, but this is a nice representative of the genre.

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