Monday, December 31, 2012

A Gentleman Pirate's Life for Me

Book #36 - Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

This is the second Locke Lamora book, and while I enjoyed it (and I did), I also have quite a few criticisms of it.

I found it to be nowhere near as tightly plotted as Lies. Even with all the flashbacks in Lies, there really was only one overall objective; defeating the Grey King. But here, in Red Seas, it starts with what looks to be an Ocean's 11-type casino heist, but then we go to an actual ocean and get a pirate yarn, and then we're back and manipulating city politics and turning it into an art heist and it all just felt... confused. And the divergence into the gladitoral-like games of another near-by city state really seemed unneeded. Especially since it contributed only to a part of the overall plan. An important part yes, but it still felt like the emphasis on this outweighed it's actual importance in the structure of the story.

That isn't to say I didn't like many of the aspects going on. I always like a good pirate tale, and when the pirate captain here is a badass forty-something mother of two, yeah, I can get into that. My only problem with Drakasha was she wasn't a terribly well-developed character. She has potential, and I'd like to see her again, but the fact that she was a strong pirate captain who just happened to be a woman, I did like that.

The relationship between Locke and Jean is rather strained throughout this, and I found that got annoying after awhile. I understand completely why it is, but I would rather they get over it and revert to their normal bantering and not the continual pity party that conversations between the two often reverted to.

SLIGHT SPOILER: I also really needed them to have succeeded in their objective. Lynch has laid them low, taken pretty much everything from them (again!) and so one victory, even if not as big as they hoped, would've been good. Especially since Lynch has left them in a rather dire predicament again, a bit of a cliff hanger for when he finally gets around to finishing the next book.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Book 35# - The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

I do so love a good con man. And Locke Lamora is a a con man extraordinaire  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, fun characters, witty dialogue, elaborate ruses, a dangerous foe, well-told flashbacks and some good world-building. 

Lynch does a fabulous job of building Locke and his gang of Gentlemen Bastards up and then completely tearing them down, to the point where one does wonder how the hell Locke will come out of this. But unlike so many fantasy novels, there isn't a nice handy deus ex machina to make things all better for them, it is strictly Locke's wits, that have gotten him into as much trouble as they've rescued him, that save the day, and that's the way it should be.

Definitely onto the second book.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Book #34 - Red Country by Joe Abercrombie


So Red Country... ah how I love Joe Abercrombie. So wonderfully violent and dark and damn funny at times. And here we have his foray into blending the Old West into his fantasy world.

We don't even have a catchy name for the world Abercrombie introduced to us in The Blade Itself. No Middle-Earth or Narnia or Midworld or Westeros (ok, yes I know, that's just a continent  or anything like that. It is what it is. And yet, I'm getting that wonderful feeling of familiarity now each time I come back to Abercrombie's books. And this is mainly because he threads characters through them all, to the point where you're not sure who might show up again, or where.

Which brings me to the best freaking part of this book...

Logen Ninefingers is BACK!!

To say he's one of the best characters I've come across in a long time is an understatement. And he was left in such a literal cliffhanger at the end of Last Argument of Kings, I really had no idea if he lived or not. But he did, and he went far away from the Northlands, assuming the name Lamb, and turning into 'some kind of coward' as his adoptive eldest 'daughter' Shy South constantly reminds us. Seems Logen has done everything he can to shed his past, but of course he couldn't stay away from trouble forever.

When Shy's brother and sister are stolen, off they go across the Far Country on an epic journey into the wild frontier to get them back. All the tropes are there, dangerous 'savages' just trying to protect what's there's, the motley band of settlers bonding against adversity, the frontier town that is a wretched hive of scum and villainy... yeah, it's all there and it should all be cliche, but Abercrombie makes it work and I enjoyed it thoroughly.

Some of the characters were a little under developed, and I'm still not quite sure what Abercrombie was getting at with his introduction of the Dragon People (I got the idea that this might be set up for another book?) and some of the dialogue got a little repetitive (the endless renditions of 'can't escape your past' and 'I'm too old for this shit' could've been cut down some), but those are small quibbles in what was generally a fun (and violent) romp through new territory in Abercrombie's world.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Yes, THAT James Franco

Book # 33 - Palo Alto Stories by James Franco.

To be honest, I wasn't really sure what to expect when husband brought this home for me (he found a copy of it cheap at our favourite used/remainder book store). I like James Franco as an actor a lot, but that doesn't mean he's going to be a good writer.
Well, some of his short stories aren't bad. They're all terribly uncomfortable in a lot of ways, all dealing with teenaged drugs and sex and drinking and violence (and admittedly, I was an extremely straight and narrow teenager, so events described in these stories are very much out of my frame of reference). I think "American History" was the best one, because it was uncomfortable, but there did also seem to be some emotional payoff there, a little more resonnance.

Because, while the stories all seemed to be interlocking with some reoccuring characters, but I began to find that they all spoke with the same voice. Which gets really repetative when they're all talking about the same thing all the time. I don't know though, maybe that was the point and Franco was trying to point out that all the kids of this generation speak with the same bored, disenfranchised, violent, teenaged ennui. And if that's true, then this book was also fucking depressing.

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Book #32 Outlaw by Angus Donald.

When I was three years old, my absolute, hands-down favourite movie was the Disney version of Robin Hood. I was obsessed with it. There were no DVDs or VCRs back then, but I had the storybooks, and any and all toys associated with that movie that my parents could find me. And of course, a toy bow and arrow.

That obsession grew to an overall in Robin Hood as a legend for awhile, but strangely, as a teenager, my obsession with larger-than-life English legends who were based on a real person but completely embelleshed upon switched to King Arthur and my childhood love of Robin Hood was mainly forgotten. I have nearly an entire bookcase full of books on King Arthur, whereas the only Robin Hood book I own is a taped together, scribbled on adaptation of the Disney movie I got when I was four.
So yes, Outlaw is about Robin Hood. It's told from the POV of Alan Dale (who was the awesome rooster in the Disney version, voiced by Roger Miller) and it's... ok. It definitely tries to give a Bernard Cornwell feeling reality to the legend. I mean, Robin is definitely shown to be a legend and a leader and all that, but he's also not unrealistic. Of course, the problem with reading this tale told by a member of his band (and Alan here is young and only recently joined), Robin is definitely a secondary character. Which I guess is ok since we are supposed to just see Alan's indoctrination into Robin's Merry Band.

The timeline here is different than the one I remember from the Disney version, or even from that awful Ridley Scott/Russell Crow version of Robin Hood from a few years ago (saw a free screening of it and still wanted my money back). Here, Robin is outlawing during the reign of Henry II, and towards the end of the book, Richard ascends the throne. I find this interesting, as usually the given reasoning behind Robin's robbing the rich to give to the poor is due to the oppressive taxation carried out by Richard's regent and brother, Prince John (y'know, the guy who screwed the pooch so badly when it comes to being king that his nobles come up with the Magna Carta and force him to sign it). So I admit, this threw me a little.

The characters are all fine, if a little... dull. No one really stands out. And I even got tired of the meticulously detailed battle scenes by the end. (also rather reminiscent of Bernard Cornwell). But there are a number of nice touches here and there, and he does capture how shitty it was to be a peasant back then, and how there weren't many opportunities to escape being destitute. His attempts at intrigue are a little transparent though.
  There is a sequel, which is basically Robin goes to the Crusades! but not sure I want to continue on or not...

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

To the Top of the Tower. Finally.

Book # 31: The Dark Tower by Stephen King.

Holy crap, I'm done. I'm done, I'm done, I'm done. It's such a freaking relief. Ok, well there is actually one more book, more in the vein of Wizards and Glass, but I don't have the strength to continue on anymore. I just need a break from these books and from Stephen King in general.

But when it comes right down to it, I honestly don't know what to say about this beast. There were times when I hated it vehemently, and times where I was just not liking it, and times when I was apathetic towards it.

At one certain point, I had to put the book down and walk away from it I was so angry at Stephen King. The whole him as a character in his own work trope was getting more out of hand in this book, and then he took it to an incredibly maddening extreme, and I had to question whether or not I even wanted to continue.

But I did.

The ending? Meh. How very tilting at windmills of you Stephen.

When new characters are added with obvious deus ex machina powers, you can immediately see how they're going to shake out. And I was right.
The showdown with Mordred? How very anticlimactic. I was expecting something grand and Arthurian. No. Not really.
Susannha's 'reunion'? That didn't leave me happy. Although not that I really wanted to be. Hate that character, so her being happy at the end wasn't really a thing for me. But these aren't the same people she had all those adventures with. They don't share those experiences with her or one another. So no, it didn't hit that Lost chord with me at all there. It didn't hit a chord with me at all.

The man in black fled across the desert and the gunslinger followed.

I'm done following. Thankee sai.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

The Heroes

Book number 30 - The Heroes by Joe Abercrombie

((I'm now WAY behind on my reading because I totally ran aground on the huge fucking problematic rock that is Stephen King's the Dark Tower. I hit a point in that book that made me so damn mad I had to put it down and pick up The Heroes and cleanse my palate. I'm glad I did.))

Set in the same world as his other novels, we see some familiar faces engaged in a familiar past time; war. But this book is very interesting, as Abercrombie gives us one decisive battle, and the whole story takes place over the three days of this battle between the Union and Black Dow's Northmen.

The Heroes refers to both the place of the fight (a stone circle at the top of a hill) and of course, those who are fighting. And of course, some find that they are heroes or not.

There are multiple POVs throughout the novel, and it's one of Abercrombie's great strengths that he can pretty much make all his characters likeable enough that you end up wanting them to survive, no matter what side they're on. He's also wise in not giving us, for the most part, POVs of the more 'villianous' characters such as Black Dow or Bayaz or even poor old Caul Shivers, returned home from Styria.

But for the others, old vetern Curnden Craw, deposed Prince Calder, new recruit Beck, disgraced bodyguard to the King and combat monster Bremer dan Gorst... even when they're not likeable, there's still something about them to like. Abercrombie is so good at this it's a little scary sometimes.
There were a couple of POVs I could've done without (I understand Corporal Tunny's inclusion in the narrative, but I didn't really need him.), but nothing so bad it detracted from the overall story for me.

He does an admirable job of showing war in none of it's glory. Even those who are there for glory realize it's not. War is bad for everyone, even for those who are good at it. Also, he did a fantastic job of making Finree dan Brock's capture horrifying, without resorting to violating her. Although I'm sure poor Alize didn't fare as well, I appreciated him not putting that out there.

The ending is a little... pat, where we find out that a certain someone is pulling all the strings again. I'm hoping that Calder's little move at the end may have thrown a wrench in that someone's plans, 'cause I didn't really anticipate Calder doing what he did.

Looking forward to Red Country even more now.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Not so Super Heroes...

Book # 29 - A Once Crowded Sky by Tom King

I really loved the premise of this book; that there was a world-ending threat, and in order to defeat that threat, all of the superheroes give up and combine their powers and give it to one hero, who goes into the the threat and seal it off.

The plan works, Ultimate saves everyone and all the heroes are now without their powers.

Except for one who didn't answer the call...

Ultimate's (the Supermanesque character) sidekick, PenUltimate had retired from superheroing years before the threat (an all-encompassing energy field called the Blue) appeared, and so when the call went out to all the heroes, Pen did not answer.

So I liked the idea of all the heroes having to live as shadows of what they once were, some of them completely unable to let go of the lives they had before, and the idea that the one lone superhero who still has powers doesn't want those powers and is reviled by the others as a coward.

But of course, as always in comics, everything comes back.

There are new threats and new problems that force Pen back into heroics. New mysteries connected with old and betrayals and hidden truths and everthing else that makes a comic book good.

So there are lovely ideas and some lovely turns of phrase, but I sometimes found this book very... muddled. Almost as if King were writing a comic script but somehow, the pictures didn't full get added.

I do think that, pared back, this would've made a magnificent graphic novel. But as an actual novel... something just doesn't quite fully work.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Dark Tower VI

Book # 28 - Song of Susannah by Stephen King

What can I say? Perhaps, since I'd been forewarned of the ridiculousness of this book,  I didn't end up wanting to throw this one across the room as much as I did with the Wolves of Calla. Surprised? Me too :)

Yes, I got to the ridiculousness and it was VERY ridiculous, but I guess that after my dissatisfaction with Wolves, I couldn't really be surprised by anything that King pulled anymore. So that made it easier to get through this.

Also surprising? I felt this one moved along at a pretty decent clip. There was the very nice gunfight Eddie and Roland had immediately upon arrival back in their world. I was good with that. And I liked Callahan and Jake as the other buddy cop couple. Their brush with Black Thirteen waking up was pretty awesome. Oh, and that street preacher who shows up twice? Loved him. Don't know why, but I thought him grand. 

But yes of course, there was an awful lot of Susannah/Mia/Detta blah blah blah. I know it was kinda the point of the book, but could've gotten there faster. And with less her talking to herself. Ugh.

Also, that turtle she finds? Didn't like the deus ex machina aspect to it. I kinda wanted to see her struggle a bit with having to be in modern day New York, but the turtle took that aspect out of it immediately. Meh.

So perversely, even though I expected to absolutely despise this book more than the last one, it's actually energized me enough to move onto the final act in this huge ass play. Onto the Dark Tower.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Book #27: Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin.

It's strange that, despite my love for his Song of Ice and Fire books, I've never read anything else by GRRM. I say it's strange because usually when I find an author I enjoy as much as I love those books, I run out and devour that author's entire catalogue. But that's not been the case here. I had a graphic novel of Fevre Dream, so I knew the story, but that was adapted by Daniel Abraham, so even then, I was reading GRRM's words filtered through someone else.

I saw a copy of Fevre Dream for sale cheap and decided the time has come to read it.

Well, it's kinda Anne Rice meets Mark Twain, but definitely recognizable as GRRM's work. If only for all the descriptions of all the meals and food :)

I jest because it's also recognizable as his because we've got some strong characterization (I really liked gruff, loyal, smarter than he seems, riverboat Captain Abner Marsh), an interesting  twist on vampire mythology and because it's a dark, dark piece of work with lots of violence. It's not a very long read, so the pace is pretty good, and he manages not to get too carried away with the riverboating descriptions. Just enough to give you the flavour of antebellum Mississippi, not enough to bog you down there. 

Definitely an enjoyable vampire yarn.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Dagger and the Coin Pt. 2

Book # 26: The King's Blood by Daniel Abraham.

This is the second book in Abraham's "The Dagger and the Coin" series (the first being The Dragon's Path) and I must say I enjoyed this one more than it's predecessor. This may be because the world feels more lived in, the characters are fleshed out beyond their introductions, and the court intrigue is starting to pay off and Abraham's got a better handle on it than he did in the first book. 

We're still following a handful of POV characters; Cithrin, Marcus, Geder, Dawson and Clara. Things change significantly for the POV characters in this book, and in fact, we lose one of them along the way. While I sometimes found it difficult to get into the first book, there was none of that problem here as the Abraham keeps the plot and the action moving at  a pretty fierce clip that feels both natural and really scary. Things are going downhill quickly in some ways, and the quest to stop this is only just getting under way, and I actually found myself urging those characters on. Which i took to be a pretty good sign of enjoyment.

While I'd only been luke-warm in looking forward to this book, after having read it, I'm really looking forward to the next installment. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Arthur meets Shakespeare

Book #25: The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips.

When I first heard of this book, my immediate reaction was (excuse the swearing) FUCK YEAH! It combines two of my very favourite things; Shakespeare and Arthurian Legends. More specifically, a supposed lost play about King Arthur, written by Shakespeare. Fuck yeah again!

The bulk of this book is Arthur Phillips' 'Introduction' to the previously unknown play The Tragedy of Arthur, discovered and given to him by his dying father. Now, this would be remarkable on it's own... a completely unknown play? This isn't even like Cardinio or Love's Labours Found, plays we know existed, but don't have the texts for, no, there is no record whatsoever of this play. Which makes Phillips wary. Why? Because his father is a con man, more specifically, a forger.

So Phillips lays out his extremely complicated relationship with his father, and with his twin sister Dana, and even with Shakespeare. Phillips has no love for the Bard, and he makes this abundantly clear. So of course, he is the one his father enlists (and not Shakespeare loving Dana) to shepherd this play into publication. Which is very interesting, because it means Phillips is fairly skeptical from the beginning of the play's authenticity. 

So after the introduction, we get to the play itself. That's right, the actual play is included in it's entirety. It's no Hamlet, but it's enough like Shakespeare's early plays to pass for one. The language is quite perfect, but it really doesn't have that extra bit of magic, of playfullness, that Shakespeare is so capable of. But still, the play is done well enough and there were some lovely scenes in it. 

I'll probably end up reading the play a few times, just for fun :) 

(and yes, I am aware that there was an actual incident of  forged Shakespearean plays, 'found' in the 1790s, called Vortigern and Rowena (the other was Henry II). Vortigern,  was the British warlord/king that  Arthur Pendragon's family defeated for the throne of Britain)

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Dark Tower V

Book number 24 - The Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

Good lordy this one took me forever to finish. It wasn't that I was disliking it or anything... I just kept finding other things to do besides reading it.

In fact, I kinda liked the whole Seven Samurai, Magnificent Seven vibe throughout most of it. And bringing back a character from a much earlier novel of King's? Very interesting. 

Yes I wasn't minding this book until the end....

The Wolves are Doombots armed with light sabres and explosive golden snitches????


Just... no.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Dark Tower IV

Book #23 - Wizards and Glass by Stephen King.

This has definitely been my favourite of the series so far, I really enjoyed Roland's backstory as a freshly minted gunslinger, out in the wide world, and his meeting of his love Susan. Obviously I knew it was going to end badly, but I thoroughly enjoyed the story as it unfolded. To me all the characters in Mejis felt more fully actualized than either Eddie or Susannah, and I resented it whenever we made a brief interlude to go back to that bunch. It was very important to meet Susan, Cuthbert and Alain (again for the latter too) as this story does so much to humanize Roland. The western touches, the post-apocalyptic touches, the fantasy touches... they were all blended together quite masterfully...

Which made me really go WTF when we returned to the 'modern' ka-tet and they ended up in a parody of a well-known tale... it felt really heavy handed. I think if it had been a little more subtely presented (ie not all the characters going instantly 'oh we're in such and such), I might have enjoyed it more. Now, I'm not saying King's the most subtle of writers, he's not, but this felt clumsy even for him.

However, the awkward ending didn't diminish what I really did like about this novel, and I'm all for more Roland flashbacks in the future. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dark Tower III

50 Book Challenge, Book #22 - The Waste Lands by Stephen King

For me, this book did not start cooking until Jake made his appearance again. And if he hadn't, I probably would've quit this series by now. Eddie and Susannah do nothing for me as characters. I like Roland, but if it had been just the three of them for ever and ever in this series... bah.

Once Jake enters again, the story just comes alive and I found myself invested again. Maybe its because I've always found that King has a talent for writing children, and Jake was interesting enough in his brief Gunslinger appearance that it's great to have him back. His escape back into Roland's world was such an incredible scene.

I really liked the stuff in the city too, even the introduction of Blaine (although I see how that is going to annoy me if it goes on too long. A pain indeed)

Just a few things that caught my attention:

- Another reference to the works of Richard Adams. Both Shardik and Watership Down this time. (King made heavy reference to Watership Down in The Stand as well. I find this interesting since that book about bunnies is a very favourite of mine)

- So we have a John Chambers (called Jake though) and an Andrew Quick. My nerd brain is turning this over a lot. lol

- I want an Oy.

Something about Wizards next I believe?

Friday, June 15, 2012

Dark Tower II

50 Book Challenge, Book #21 - The Drawing of Three by Stephen King
I usually remember at least something about a book I've previously read but in this case... wow. Nada. It's pretty much like I've never read it before. Which is fine.

But I wonder if this lack of any recall is linked to why I've been... searching for what to say about it since I read it last night.

It's not that I didn't like it. I liked it well enough. But I'm still not... sold I guess. I think it's interesting that King took the oh so well worn fantasy (and western) trope of travelling and made it, weird. Not weird in a bad way mind you.

So Roland has some pretty serious problems right off the bat, and it really is only the forays into our world through the doors he discovers, that saves his life. Fine. He needs to assemble his group. All fantasy characters need a pre-destined group and even lone gunslingers need a posse now and then. Eddie's a fine character although man, his so obviously written in the 80s dialog did grate on my nerves once in awhile, but I can't hold that against the book since it was written in the 80s. I'll get over it. I'm wondering if I'm going to find the whole Odetta/Detta/Susanna thing problematic or not. Guess I'll see.

But what did I enjoy? I like Roland's bad-assedness despite everything he was going through. Detta's right, he is a mean honky mahfuh. Also... so glad the diminishing ammunition thing was addressed. Cause I've been wondering about that since the beginning of the gunslinger. It's the little things that really should be huge things that count, and I was pleased King knew this.
So... onward again.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

The Dark Tower begins

50 Book Challenge: Book #20 - The Gunslinger by Stephen King

First off, this is a re-read. I know I don't usually count these on this blog, but I originally read this book way back when I was 14 or 15. I still have my copy of it, so that's the one I have read (I have read a few summaries of the revisions that King made to the story later, but I'll probably have to recheck those). I read this and the next book of the Dark Tower series... and then never went on. But at this point, I remember only a little of the Gunslinger and absolutely nothing of the Drawing of Three... so it might as well be a new read.

I'm not sure why I didn't continue. I realize that in university I burnt out on Stephen King and after a few books I didn't really like that much, I read the expanded version of The Stand and then no more Stephen King till... well now. And I would not have picked this book up had it not been for Evan, Dave, Ian and a few other friends pressuring me to do so :) 

So... the Gunslinger. It starts off with an amazing opening line, and is one of the few things I remembered from way back. "The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed." Perfect. Just perfect. For an author who can sometimes run off at the mouth, that's a beautifully succinct opening line.

King does some great world building here. I remember wondering if this is post-apocalyptic  or alternate earth or what? Everything's just close enough but that different to make you wonder.

He does some nice high fantasy touches into this epic fantasy western. The training of the gunslingers and how they seem to live separately, the rituals of the gunslingers, and of course the demons and magic and whatnot. It actually all fits in nicely because once again, the setting is just that different from ours. 

At this point, the character of Roland is a little too stock, tough guy, knight errant type thing, but Jake is an interesting addition. I'd forgotten how affecting the story of his life and death was.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Revenge is...

Book # 19 - Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie

Set in the same world as Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy, there are some overlaps, but for the most part, we are following new characters in a new part of the world.

Overall, I didn't like this one as much as the First Law Trilogy. The main character here, Monza Murcatto, a betrayed mercenary captain, and seeker of the revenge alluded to in the title of the book is a very complex, flawed and interesting character, but unlike the characters in the First Law Trilogy, she never becomes likeable. 

In this book we don't have a sublime character like Logen Ninefingers who should be so incredibly unlikeable, but you end up liking him all the same. I started out feeling that way about Shivers ( a familiar face from the Trilogy), but poor Shivers is changed so much and instead of feeling sympathy for him, I just end up not liking him.

In fact, I think he did the best here in rehabilitating Nicomo Cosca, Murcatto's former boss and another familiar face. It was actually really nice to see Cosca, who was such fun in the Trilogy, restored to something of his former glory. And really, he was the only injection of humour in this book.

Which makes me wonder if I didn't like this book as much because it's missing the dark humour so prevalent in the other books. 

By the time Murcatto got to the end of her revenge, I was about as ready for her to be done as she was.

All that being said though, I do really like this world that Abercrombie has created and will gladly go back for more.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Death and the Beta-Male

50 Book Challenge, Book #18: A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore

I enjoy Christopher Moore's darkly irreverant humour a lot, yet somehow I'd never gotten around to this one. So finally I did :)

Charlie Asher is a 'beta-male'. He's owns his own businesss (a second hand store in San Francisco), he's married to a woman who loves him, they're expecting their first child, he has a good life overall. And then everything changes when his beloved wife dies shorty after giving birth and Charlie is enlisted into the ranks of the Death Merchants.

Like a lot of Moore's books, this one is bitter sweet. I mean, how can it not be, the main subject is death. But of course he injects his own, strange humour into it to soften the hardship of Charlie raising his daughter Sophie and trying to just go on after his wife's death. Oh, and learn the ways of being a Death Merchant as well.

I loved the Morrigan, the Hellhounds, the two older ladies who help Charlie look after Sophie (I think I must start appending half of what I say with 'like bear', cause yeah, that's funny). And Charlie himself who is a hero despite his beta-maleness :)

Also it's always good to see the Emperor and his two faithful dogs again. Didn't like? Having recently finished Moore's vampire trilogy, Lily felt very derivative to me (and had I read this before those books, then Abby would've felt derivative). I get that the two characters are friends, but they also share the same basic personality it seems.

And... well, I admit it's not the ending I wanted. It honestly felt a little rushed. But overall though, still a good read and as usual for his books, had me laughing out loud quite a few times.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Book # 17 - Friend of My Youth by Alice Munro

I find it difficult to review Munro's stories. I love them, I love the sense of disquiet they leave me with (because that's always the feeling I get from them), but as they're all short stories and while marvelous, I am too lazy to get into the intricacies of them all... heh.

Munro's stories are deeply female-centric, usually take place in small-town Ontario (or small-town elsewhere in Canada) and are coming of age tales. Whether the coming of age happens to be a young girl, a teenager, a 40-something wife and mother having a midlife crisis, it doesn't really matter, they all discover something about themselves or their situation. And a lot of it is rarely... good. There's a strong undercurrent of melancholy in her stories, a near... fatalism about the inevitable passage of time. And yet, despite this, I wouldn't call her stories depressing by any stretch of the imagination. If anything, I think I love her stories because they feel real.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Book # 15 - The Guns of Avalon (Chronicles of Amber #2) by Roger Zelazny.

So... Corwin escapes from the clutches of his brother Eric and runs off into the Shadows, trying to get to Avalon, where he spent some time it seems.

Ok, I admit, when it said Avalon, and he ran into Lance, I got pretty excited. To say that I love me some Arthurian Legends is an understatement. So I thought cool, lets see what Zelazny does with it... not much. I'm hoping that's not all. Lance kinda just... drops out of the picture, not much is done with the Avalon aspect. It just seemed like some namedropping in here and I was pretty disappointed.

There's some interesting set up though, and Corwin's travelling companion, Ganelon, is pretty interesting. This Black Road business is cool, and I like how we got to meet some more of the family. But this book really didn't pick up till practically the last few pages when Corwin actually reached Amber and a new, very unexpected threat, made itself known. I had been considering about not continuing through this huge tome, but now I think I will.

 Book #16: Black Powder War by Naomi Novik

This one is the third book in the Temeraire series and really all I can say here is... yeah, I`m done. The novelty of dragons flying around during the Napoleonic Wars has worn off for me and I`m not really interested in Will Laurence as a character or the continued efforts of Temeraire to emancipate the dragons of Europe. It was fun for a couple of books, but not enough to continue.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Sex and violence and art history

50 Book Challenge, Book #14: Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore.

If Tyrion Lannister were a French, Post-Impressionist painter, he would be Henri Toulouse-Lautrec as written by Christopher Moore. Urbane, intelligent, witty, of short stature, a big drinker and having a great appreciation of working girls of all kind, it was a little hard for me not to draw the parallel. It doesn't take anything away from Moore's new book, in fact it is Moore's characterization of the various famous Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters that I liked the most. Especially his Renoir.

In crafting his tale of art and Bleu, the near immortal muse who inspires it, he gives us a wonderful walk through art and inspiration and the terrible price that inspiration takes from those she inspires. I wasn't fond of Bleu herself, she made not a bad femme fatale, but not a great one. Her accomplice, the Colourman, is a sinister little creation though. There's the usual Moore bawdy humour, mad-cap hilarity and great one-liners.

For me this isn't quite up there with Lamb or Fool, but better than his vampire trilogy and Fluke.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

50 Book Challenge, Book #13 - Dragongirl by Todd McCaffrey

Don't really have much to add about this one that I didn't already talk about in the previous entry, Dragonheart. We're still with Fiona, who through a rather huge tragedy (and one that I actually thought was kinda interesting), is now Weyrwoman at Telgar Weyr. So we go through life at Telgar, fighting thread with all of Pern understrength, lots of injuries, more thread fighting, an ending that was kinda ehn... and I dunno, just not a lot of action really even though there was supposedly a lot of action going on.

This book does delve rather heavily into Fiona's unorthodox, polyamorous relationship between herself, her Weyrleader T'mar (the rider who's bronze dragon flew Fiona's queen), Kindan (a harper who McCaffrey uses as a main character in other books) and Kindan's partner, Lorana. This is all fine and dandy as it's always been established that relationships in Weyrs tended to be more flexible as riders would take different mates based on who their dragons were flown by. But this 4 way relationship felt awfully forced. I actually had no problem seeing the bond between Fiona, T'mar and Lorana, but with Kindan it was like, oh ok so Fiona's had a crush on his as a child, and he was in love with her older sister who died during the Plague, but now that Fiona's older and is a Weyrwoman and kinda awesome... OF COURSE Kindan should just love her too... Ah yeah... could I have some causality here please? It just really didn't work for me.

So yeah, I'm done with the Todd McCaffrey version of Pern. It just lacks for a lot unfortunately.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

50 Book Challenge #12: Dragonheart by Todd McCaffrey

It was early highschool when I was introduced to the first 3 of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern books. I loved them. Pern quickly became my other favourite imaginary land, beside Narnia and Middle Earth. I kept with the series despite what I felt was diminishing returns, and when McCaffrey passed away earlier this year, I honestly mourned.

Her son, Todd, has picked up his mother's creation and is attempting to carry on. This, Dragonheart, is I believe the first of his solo books, the others written in conjunction with his mother.

Dragonheart is... not very good. I appreciate that Todd is carving out a time of his own in Pernese history; the Third Pass of Threads, thus avoiding the origins of Pern, Moreta (6th Pass) and of course F'lar and Lessa and their co-horts of the 9th Pass. He's trying to build his own stable of characters and difficulties, but unfortunately, there's not a lot of originality in a lot of his ideas.

We have a holder Plague in the series of books he wrote with his mother (an idea we already saw in Moreta), and now in his solo books, he unleashes what looks like a superflu against the dragons this time. This book deals specifically with a group of riders going back in time to an abandoned weyr to mature a couple of clutches, and to give injured dragonriders time to heal. Kinda been there done that too when F'nor is sent back with a wing and an immature queen dragon to breed some more beasts for severley undermanned Benden Weyr.

The characters are ok... but nothing special. McCaffrey doesn't have to worry about a lot of world building since his mother's already done that, so his overly detailed description of the running of a Weyr is a little... dull. His mother did great action scenes; world changing duels, Thread fighting, the exhilerating dragon flights... Todd just doesn't have his mother's craft, no matter how hard he tries.

All that being said, I will probably read the continuation of this story... and then, sad as it seems, I doubt I'll be continuing on with new adventures in Pern, I'll just periodically revisit the old ones.
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Thursday, March 29, 2012

In Which Our Intrepid Commander takes a Vacation

Book # 11 - Snuff by Terry Pratchett

Of all Pratchett's Discworld novels, the ones about the Ankh-Morpork Watch have become my favourites, mainly on the strength of Commander Sam Vimes.

In Snuff, Sam has been forced by his aristocratic wife, Lady Sybil, to go on vacation. But in the tradition of all great police officers, private detectives and superheroes, of course Vimes stumbles across a body and a mystery in the quiet countryside.

For all their... popcornness (and I mean this in the sense that they can be consumed quickly and are a hell of a lot of fun), Pratchett's books also tackle some pretty good, hefty topics. In this one he turns to race relations again (as he has in past books such as Feet of Clay and Thud!), this time shedding light on goblins, a Discworld-wide maligned species who live in holes, steal, smell bad and whose 'religion' centers around the collection and storing of bodily fluids. But of course, in typical Pratchett tradition, there is much, much more to goblins than anyone thought.

And that's also part of the beauty of Pratchett's books; his creations are beautifully intricate and deep and different from one another, and yet share commonality in that they all are beautifully intricate and deep. I admire Pratchett's world building a hell of a lot.

But of course, it's all the little touches too, and the familiar characters; Willikins the faithful manservant, Young Sam's typical 6-year old boy preoccupation with all things poo, Captain Carrot and the rest of the gang, it's all good.

And of course there are footnotes. Nobody footnotes like Pratchett.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Book #10 The Silver Crown by Joel Rosenberg

The third book of the Guardians of the Flame series, we pick up with Karl Cullinane and his friends from our world back in their D&D world. Some time has passed again (Karl and Andrea's kid is now 6) and their sanctuary valley is thriving. As is all the weapon producing and whatnot. The look into the political structure of Home as they call it, was interesting and I think I actually wanted to stay there longer. Once we got back on the road and fighting slavers again... I kinda lost some interest.

It might just be that I never really developed much affection for Karl as a main character. We were in his head too much and yet, I still didn't really feel like he was really saying all that much. I can't fully explain it. It's horrible but I even found myself hoping that Karl would die at the end; that would've been interesting :)

There's some grand ideas in these books, but I still feel like they're just not fleshed out enough.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Book #9 - Nine Princes of Amber by Roger Zelazny

This is one of those 'classics' of fantastic literature that I somehow never managed to read. It's not that I didn't know about it... it's just that I kinda kept forgetting about it, or forgetting to attempt to go find or something. It wasn't until a timely happenstance of a friend mentioning them and then my finding a huge tome of books 1-10 for a ridiculously cheap price that I decided to read this.

This is the story of the royal family of the city of Amber, as told by one of it's exiled princes, Corwin. The first person narrative is used very well here, since we first meet Corwin on waking from an accident and he remembers of nothing of who he is. So it's nice that Corwin gets caught up and tells the reader what the hell is going on as well.

I liked a lot of things about this book, I've always been fond of the 'this is the first world/city/whathave you reflected imperfectly in other worlds' idea. And the method of travelling to Amber is quite brilliant. (the whole drive Corwin takes with his brother Random was superb).

But there were times where I would get disgruntled with Zelazny's lack of description in some parts (mainly the battle to get to Amber) I appreciated why he did it (else most of this book would've been battle scenes), but it robbed the book of a lot of it's gravitas, especially as I never get the idea Corwin is truly in grave danger. In some ways I felt like I was reading Ernest Hemingway write a fantasy story (albeit with 70s jargon thrown in; I find it disconcerting to have my fantasy characters ask if I 'dig').

This one ends with Corwin escaping his long imprisonment from his brother with the help of someone even longer imprisoned. It asks some interesting questions and sets up things well. I'll continue on.

Friday, March 02, 2012

Book 7 - Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie and Book 8 - The Sword and the Chain by Joel Rosenberg

Last Argument of Kings

I've reached the end of Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy and I must say I'm a little sad it's over. Not only because it ends on a literal cliffhanger (just as it started with one), but because I immensely enjoyed these books. And the characters. Abercrombie did a very find job of changing your perceptions about his main characters and then, in some cases, changing them again. And yet, I didn't feel I was being manipulated at all, these changes are a natural progression.

So this book starts with our adventures back in the capital city of Adua, which is going to be very, very invaded very, very soon. There's still a lot of travelling to be done by everyone, and death and destruction and one of the greatest holding out against an overwhelming siege scenarios since The Two Towers. Well, at least I thought so.

Things don't end well for a lot of the characters, or are left up in the air or whatever. I don't know if this points towards sequels in the future, but I wouldn't mind because I really liked Abercrombie's cynical, darkly humourous style of writing.

The Sword and the Chain

Book two in the Guardians of the Flame series. There is definitely more world building going on here but I'm still left with the idea of wanting... more. There's still not the depth I'd like and I'm still having a hard time connecting to characters, the world, motivations etc. What they're trying to do is all very well and good, but... it's not working for me.

Some things are assigned more weight than they should be, while other things... no. When a minor character gets killed, the main character Karl gives him such an overblown eulogy that I was completely reminded of Walter's final word's for Donny in the Big Lebowski. And I doubt that's what I should've been left with.

And Karl's reunion with Andy at the end also bugged the hell out of me. Ellegon had it right 'you humans are always making things more complicated...' When the author has one of his own characters pointing out the flaw in what he's writing... I don't think that's good.

The inclusion of some sort of Arthurian connection didn't really do much for me either I'm afraid.

I'll continue onto the next book that I was given, but then I'm definitely out.

(An aside: Talking about this book with Evan led to the beginning of an interesting conversation where we thought about books that we read and loved when we were younger that just don't stand up now. Same with authors. My teenaged self adored Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern stuff, and I still enjoy the first 3, but I also see a whole lot of problems with them that I didn't see as a teenager. In non-fantasy work though, I first discovered one of my all time favourite authors, Alice Munro, when I was 17 and I still read and love her work.)

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book # 6 - The Sleeping Dragon by Joel Rosenberg

This was sort of a trade off with Evan, you read my favourite 'universtiy students go into another world fantasy books and I'll read yours'. So he obliged me by reading the Fionavar Tapestry, and I'm now starting The Keepers of the Flame series with The Sleeping Dragon.

It should be noted that while I used to be an avid table top RPGer, I never really played D&D much. My group's genre of choice was mainly superheroes, and when we did move into fantasy, we used GURPS as our game system. But, even though I never played D&D much, I still have an understanding of the system and it's tropes.

Which is ultimately what drove me a little nuts about this book.

The central conceit of this series is that a group of college kids who get together for a weekly D&D game are somehow transported into their D&D world and inhabit their characters. While I have no problem with this idea (heck, it's fun), it was the... D&Dness of the world that I didn't like. Oh, you're coming into this city? What are your job descriptions? Your'e a warrior, you're a wizard and your'e a cleric? Great. And the replenishing of the spells and trying to get gold to go buy stuff... yeah, I know it's a staple, but I felt there was too much D&Dness and not enough world building. (although Evan assures me that's coming with the next book)

I also felt the characters were too insular. They didn't really interact with the world, it was still just a setting for them to move through. Which, considering they only wanted to get home, did make sense, but it made for a hollow world. I wanted something more epic I suppose.

Don't get me wrong, it's not that I hated it or anything, but right now it felt a little shallow and I'm more than willing to move on if there is depth coming.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book # 5 - Bite Me by Christopher Moore.

I love Christopher Moore. He is irreverent, smart, funny and completely twisted sometimes. Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal is also one of the most beautiful books I have ever read.

Bite Me is the third of Moore's vampire novels centering around Jody (vampire newbie), Tommy (Jody's boyfriend and even newer vampire newbie), Abby Normal (goth girl extrordinaire) and the crazy cast of the San Francisco they inhabit. There's a nice progression of character in the books (particularly Jody as she definitely embraces being a vampire), and a nice lack of progression (Abby is entrenched in being Abby). This time, they're up against vampire cats, which is just bizarre. I loved all the dog inner dialogue we get, and the Emperor remains one of my favourite characters.

I always find Moore's books a quick read, but not because they're fluffy, but mainly 'cause they're just so funny it's easy to plow right through them.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Book #4, Throne of Jade by Naomi Novik

This is the second book in the Termeraire series. It's a fine sequel; nothing spectacular, nothing horrible. Basically it boils down to Laurence, Temeraire and crew go to China as a delegate from the Chinese Emperor have returned to take Termeraire back to China since he's a valuable Celestial and those are usually only given to members of the Imperial family.

So there's a freaking long sea voyage (with assassination attempts, storms, feasts, and of course, a battle with a sea serpent). They get to China (where there's assassination attempts, court intreguie, feasts and lots and lots of dragons).

Novik's world building is interesting as she portrays China as a place where dragons are treated as citizens. They have freedom to do with as they please, they are taught to read and write, they have jobs and are paid for doing these jobs. Temeraire of course notices this freedom and wonders why dragons back in England do not enjoy the same.

So I'm assuming next book we're going to have some dragon emancipation or something.

Oh, and people give GRRM a hard time about the over description of what his characters are eating? Novik certainly goes for that time honoured fantasy tradition as well in this book too.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Book # 3: How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Stephen Marche.

I'm a Shakespeare groupie. Not only do I like (or love) reading his plays, but I've always been very interested in reading about them and about him. So I grabbed this book during my last trip to Stratford (Ontario) last summer as it looked fun.

It's... ok. Marche's ideas are sound; yes, Shakespeare introduced more words into the English language than any other writer before or since, yes he challenged social attitudes of the time with controversial characters such as Othello and Shylock, yes his plays were the basis for a lot of Freud's work... but the problem with this book is there's just not enough depth to any of these. You could (and there have been) entire books on their own written on these topics. And the problem is, I've already read quite a few books written on these various topics.

I admire Marche's passion for the subject, that comes through very obviously, but I can't get past how shallow this book is, especially as I know there's so much more depth. And some of the chapters, like the one on Tolstoy, while amusing, didn't really fit into the overall theme of this book.

Not to sound like a snob here, but this is a nice book for someone who'd like a nice introduction on the length and breadth of Shakespeare's influence and his life and his writings... but that's about it.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Oh dear. I didn't even do an end of year post this time round. I have been SO caught up in re-reading the Song of Ice and Fire extravaganza again that I really didn't read many new books last year.

So for first post of this year, I have two new books done:

Book #1 is His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik

This is one of those books I kept hearing about, that it was pretty good and I should check it out, but I just never got around to doing so. However, finding the first three novels bundled together for my e-reader made finally reading it simple.

So, the story of Will Laurence and his dragon, Temeraire (question for anyone else, how would you say that? Silent e at the end, or pronounce it so it's more like Temer-airy? Just curious), British captain and dragon during the Napoleonic Wars.

Yes, this is Sharpe meets the Dragonriders of Pern, and as I like both those things, I liked this book too. The plots not overly complicated or anything, but Novik has created a nice, parallel world where dragons are common place and used for war, complete with combat crews aboard them. It's fun. She writes a nice battle sequence, and has managed to not make Temeraire too precious, which is definitely a good thing.

I'm glad I have a couple more of these to go through, they're pretty popcorny.

Book #2 is Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie.

This is the second book of Abercrombie's First Law Trilogy, so we're back with our main characters from The Blade Itself, but the nice thing here is that there's less introduction and the characters are knee deep in action this time round as the threat of the wars introduced in the first book explode here.

We follow Inquisitor Glokta (quite possibly an even more cynical character than Tyrion Lannister) to a doomed city as he tries to uncover a treasonous plot. Major, no sorry, Colonel West is far in the North trying to keep the ridiculous Union army from imploding on itself before they can meet the enemy in battle; and the strange group of Logen, Bayaz, Ferro, Jezal et all continue on their quest for a weapon of supposedly great power. So we have all the lovely trappings of a regular fantasy novel, but what Abercrombie does best is making these seemingly unlikeable characters quite likeable; as they grow on each other, they also grow on you. His dialogue is sharp and cynical itself, and in a lot of places, incredibly, darkly funny. This is some good stuff.