2011 Retrospective

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Books in 2011

Best Book I read for the first time this year: Dawn, by Octavia E.Butler

Very different books, but similar in their sense of depth and ability to shake me with their awesomeness.

Favorite Graphic Novel I read for the first time this year: Batgirl Rising (Bryan Q. Miller, et.al.)

Best Book I read this year that was published in 2011: Reamde, by Neal Stephenson (review in queue)

Runner-up: Either Snuff, by Terry Pratchett or Stray, by Andrea K. Host. All three very different books, enjoyable in very different ways.

Most fun bookish moments:
  • Browsed some awesome used bookstores in Seattle this summer.
  • I can put library ebooks on my Kindle now. This is super-exciting!

Comic Books in 2011:

Favorite Issue of a Series: Batgirl #18

Absolutely gorgeous Valentine's Day themed one-issue story about Stephanie's encounter with Klarion the Witch-Boy. I loved this issue to bits.

Runners-up: Batman: The Brave and the Bold #13 (ALL THE ROBINS!), PowerGirl #26 (Power Girl inspires girl-power in her cosplay fans), American Vampire #12 (One-shot story about Skinner Sweet)

Best One-Shot: Jimmy Olsen

I know, this is patently unfair, because the content was written as a back-up in Action Comics, but then they cut the page-count on the series and shuffled this off into its own thick one-shot. Which was fantastic.

Runner up:
Superman Beyond 

(because awwwwww...)

Best Miniseries: American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest

The core American Vampire book had ups and downs this year, but this miniseries set in the same world was pretty solid. I mean, Nazi vampires plus flamethrower equals fun, right?

Best Ongoing that got canceled this year: BATGIRL, by Bryan Q. Miller

Man, this is why I can't stay excited about current DC. Because there is nothing now that I like as much as I liked this.

Runner-up: Darkwing Duck

This started to falter in the last arc or two... (did the writers run out of time and try to crunch stuff in?) but it was incredible early in the year. And then it got canceled.

Favorite New On-going Series that I started collecting this year:

A lot of books that I followed were canceled this year. Almost all my favorite titles were stopped, and the ones that weren't had some rough patches. I had high hopes and kind words at the start of the DC New 52, but no book has had three straight issues that I really enjoyed, and for me, those books are all dragging each other down with their sameness.

So, the best new on-going series I'm collecting is: Wolverine and the X-Men.
Because it's got great style and humor, and is not boring. So far.

Runner-up: Maybe Demon Knights? It's more up and down than the other DC books, but the high parts are higher than most of the others.

Comics Briefly: American Vampire #22, Princeless #3

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Favorite Issue this Week: American Vampire #22

Issues were new in stores on 12/28/11

American Vampire #22 (Death Race Part One)
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Rafael Albuquerque, Colors: Dave McCaig

YES! This is what I was waiting for. This issue was a fantastic return to form for this book. It starts a new story about new characters in a new time, but the dialogue sparks, the art is outstanding, and the story just races along. I loved this.

Princeless #3
Story: Jeremy Whitley, Art/Colors: M. Goodwin

Princeless continues to be pretty adorable, although this issue wasn't as good as the first two. I like the new character of the smith, but there are way too many tired references and obvious old jokes in this issue for my taste. The art is still fantastic, though, and some of the dialogue still inspired.

Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there

Monday, December 26, 2011

Paranormality: Why we see what isn't there
Richard Wiseman, 2011

Premise: In this delightful volume, professor and skeptic Wiseman walks us through the science behind many seemingly paranormal experiences, and even explains how you can fake the paranormal yourself!

I don't buy many books for my Kindle for more than three dollars, but I happily made an exception for this one. The big US publishers passed on Wiseman's enjoyable work, reportedly “some suggesting that I re-write it to suggest that ghosts were real and psychic powers actually existed!” So Wiseman, in conjunction with his UK publisher, released it himself.

This is a fantastic book, which I devoured in pretty much one sitting. It's fun to read, it's funny, and it's educational. What more could you ask?

Wiseman examines seven main subjects: Fortune-telling, Out-of-body experiences, Mind over Matter (Telekinesis), Communication with the dead, Ghosts, Mind Control (hypnosis/brainwashing), and Prophesy (Dreams/Premonitions). For each, he gives an easy to follow history of the study of the phenomenon, followed by any current scientific findings.

A lot of the book delves into the specific ways that our brain tricks us into thinking or feeling certain things. It touches on everything from studies showing how likely people are to misremember details or only remember correct information (useful for card-readers to exploit, or for people to claim they dreamed about an event beforehand) to recent developments in easily provoking a disassociation between mind and body in the lab, and how that explains out-of-body experiences. I'd heard of many of these experiments before, but still loved reading this.

The book is also full of simple experiments you can try on yourself or your friends, whether it's how to give a cold reading like a professional “psychic”, how to appear to bend spoons, or how to protect yourself from brainwashing. Also: how to hypnotize a chicken. No, really.

This is a great book for a beginning skeptic: it's accessible and fun, and it showcases some fabulous history about people trying to get to the truth, whatever it might be. Bravo!

5 Stars – An Awesome Book

Buy Paranormality on Amazon.com

More information at http://www.paranormalitybook.com/

Holiday Comics! JLA #60, DCU Infinite Holiday Special, Larfleeze Christmas Special

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cross-posted from Mainlining Christmas

In my quest to experience as much Christmas as possible, I picked up a couple of holiday-looking issues during a sale at my local comic shop. The Larfleeze Special I got when it came out last year. These are all really fun issues. Happy Holidays and Merry Reading!

JLA #60 (Released 2001)
Writer: Mark Waid, Pencils: Cliff Rathburn, Inks: Paul Neary, Colors: David Baron

“Twas the Fight Before Christmas!”
This is an incredibly silly little one-shot story, in which Plastic Man tries to convince a kid that Santa is on the Justice League. His explanation of how this came to be involves Neron, demon elves, evil gingerbread men, and Santa's surprise super-powers. The kid often knows more about the League than Plastic Man, and corrects the hero, like any good comic nerd. It's extremely zany, and I definitely enjoyed it.

DCU Infinite Holiday Special (Released 2006)
Various Writers/Artists

Wow! I definitely got my money's worth with this issue. This is a thick compilation of seven different short holiday pieces, with different characters (and different writer/artist teams) on each one. The only one that didn't really work for me at all was 'Trials of Shazam in “Gift of the Magi”' by Bedard and Marz. I just didn't know the characters or the situation enough to follow. The rest of the issue is fantastic, and that one might be good, I just didn't get it.

The Shadowpact piece by Bill Willingham (of Fables fame) was pretty spectacular, and very funny. Joe Kelly wrote a Supergirl piece that was surprisingly moving in spots. Greg Rucka's Hannukah-themed Batwoman piece was quite well done. I didn't understand all the context necessary for the Flash piece, but I really liked what I did understand.

The last short piece was completely hilarious. Kelly Puckett brings a off-the-walls-surreal Superman/Batman ElseWorlds tale straight out of the Silver Age. It packs an excellent punchline.

Green Lantern: Larfleeze Christmas Special (Released 2010)
Writer: Geoff Johns, Artist: Brett Booth, Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse

I like this issue. It's extremely silly and extremely sweet, all at the same time. Plus it includes activities! A maze! A recipe for Christmas Cookies! Ha! The main premise is simple: Larfleeze (Orange Lantern of Avarice) heard that there's a fat man who gives away presents! Larfleeze is not the brightest star in the sky, but he's determined to get in on what sounds like a good deal. It's an extremely adorable and funny piece.

Comics Briefly: Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes!, Batman #4, Wonder Woman #4, Wolverine and the X-Men #3

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

All DC's New 52 books have to work against the tide with me recently. I'm just burnt out on the whole damn way-too-dark-and-depressing universe.

Favorite Issue this Week: Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes!

All books new in stores 12/21/11

Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes!
Writer: Grant Morrison, Artist: Cameron Stewart (Chapter 1), Chris Burnham (Chapter 2) Color: Nathan Fairbairn

STEPHANIE! I MISS YOU! Seriously, this issue is the last two issues of Batman Inc - well, the last two issues of the first half of Batman Inc. Happily for everyone, it takes place pre-New52-reboot. The first part (Batgirl Steph Brown infiltrates a finishing school for girl-ninja assassins) was supremely fun. I loved it. The second half made no flipping sense, and I don't care. It made a little more sense after I read the sum-up in the back to remind me of all the previous Batman Inc. shenanigans. Even though it was extremely surreal and I didn't always understand what was happening, the feeling of tension and catharsis was undeniable. What a crazy fun book.

Batman #4
Writer: Scott Snyder, Pencils: Greg Capullo, Inks: Jonathan Glapion, Colors: FCO

Decent issue, but nothing too special. Some good stuff in the middle, nice dialogue, good tone, but I'm getting really tired of every issue ending with a cliffhanger.

Wonder Woman #4
Writer: Brian Azzarello, Artist: Cliff Chiang

This... was not as bad as I feared from the solicits/preview. I still don't like this series. It's just not to my taste. I don't need more horror comics in my life, thanks. No feeling of satisfaction for me from reading this, just a sense of 'huh, okay.'

Wolverine and the X-Men #3
Writer: Jason Aaron, Pencils: Chris Bachalo, Duncan Rouleau & Matteo Scalera, Inkers: Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey, Mark Irwin, Victor Olazaba, Duncan Rouleau and Matteo Scalera

Now that's more like it! I laughed, I smiled, I gasped, I said "Oh, that character, now I get it" This was chock full of excellent cameos, and little character moments and fun dialogue for everyone. The art was a bit choppy (look at the size of the team!)  and at points it veered toward melodrama, but overall I loved this issue.

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus
L. Frank Baum, 1902

Cross-posted at Mainlining Christmas

This is a rather unique little... novella, I guess I would call it by the length. Probably one of the earliest attempts to really codify a “logical” life story for Santa Claus. I found it interesting, though, that even given a few animated specials that adapt this story directly, very little of this story has directly migrated into the popular conception of Santa. This could be one of the things that pulled the idea of Santa into the framework of “fairy tale” rather than “religious/mythic figure”, but I couldn't find out much about its original reception or effect.

Eschewing any references to Saint Nicholas, the historical figure, this Santa is a foundling raised by wood nymphs and fairies, called Claus because it means something like “small one”.

Most of the story is pretty cute: the fairies raise Claus, and since all manner of immortal spirits are his friends and protectors he befriends all plants and animals. Eventually he leaves home and discovers humans, loves children, invents toys (really) and discovers he likes making and giving them.

There's a really awkward, forced moral in here somewhere about how children with nice toys never wish to be naughty. Okay, if you say so.

Then there's a conflict. Some evil troll-like creatures appear to stop Claus, but his friends always help and protect him.

Then the story turns oddly bloodthirsty and violent for exactly one chapter. After which, the good immortals have killed all the evil beings. All of them. After mocking them for not being immortal, OR having an afterlife. Yeah, that made me a little uneasy.

Then Claus (who did not take part in the battle, and apparently slept right through it) goes back to discovering and inventing things. Sleighs! Deer! Chimneys! Stockings! Christmas Trees! It's more than a little ridiculous how much of this plays out. For example, eventually he can only go out once a year because the head animal spirit-herder-guy says he can only borrow deer on Christmas Eve, and only from sun-down to sun-up.

There are things that are really sweet about this story, but most of them are early on. Eventually it just started to feel really forced to me, as though Baum felt the need to explain in depth every single aspect of Christmas that he could think of, whether or not it makes sense to discuss it. The sequence in which the council of Immortals votes to make Claus immortal (not a spoiler, you knew this was coming) was pretty good, though.

And then there's the ending, when Baum tries to explain how even if parents put the toys in the stocking and bought them at the store, it's Santa who made them, really. Uh-huh. I don't think there was any time in my life I would have bought that one.

So in the end I guess I'm actually not surprised that more of this story hasn't filtered into the common story. It has ups and downs, but it's interesting, and I'm glad I read it.

3 Stars – A Good Book

PS: If you'd like to read a darker look at Santa's origin, with more moral qualms and more fantastic adventures, check out For Love of Children. This fantasy novel also delves into the secret origins of the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy. E-editions on sale all December 2011 for just 99 cents!

A Clockwork Christmas

Friday, December 16, 2011

A Clockwork Christmas
Carina Press, 2011
Contributors: Stacy Gail, P.G. Forte, Jenny Schwartz, J.K. Coi

New Release! Copy for review provided by NetGalley.

Premise: A collection of 4 novellas each set at the holidays, each set in a steampunk world. I didn't actually realize when I requested this that they were all also romance, but maybe I should have assumed.

Okay, I know steampunk is big right now, but maybe it should stay in visual mediums.

I hated the first story: Crime Wave in a Corset, by Stacy Gail. I mean, I hated it a lot. I hated the characters, I hated the plot, I hated the fact that the steampunk bits were completely irrelevant. Something about the uber-melodramatic romance completely rubbed me the wrong way. With a different set-up, a different couple, maybe I could get into this, but I didn't buy this pair. The narration says the woman is brilliant, but we never get to see her be brilliant. The guy is presented as an absolute nightmare at first, and the story comes around to sympathizing with him much faster than I was prepared to. The girl accepts her lust for him so quickly, after he breaks into her home, makes her look like an idiot and threatens her life, that I lost any respect for her.

To me it seemed as though the author wrote all this mutual lust between two people who should loathe each other and then wedged in some redeeming qualities for each so it could pretend to have a happy ending. Not buying it.

Not to mention it's full of really terribly purple prose. The language used makes me queasy rather than titillated. If I have to read about anything that's turgid, throbbing, or firmly rounded ever again, it'll be too soon.

Happily, the second novella was a bit better, and the third and fourth novellas were even less annoying.

The second (This Winter Heart by PG Forte) and the fourth (Far From Broken by JK Coi) had a lot in common: both were about women who were partially or entirely cybernetic, and them dealing with their relationships with their husbands. Both stories had strengths and weaknesses, and Far From Broken was a bit more enjoyable to read, if a bit more obvious in the direction the plot was going. The characters in This Winter Heart were kind of morons.

My favorite one, by a leap and and a bound, was Wanted: One Scoundrel by Jenny Schwartz. This also had the distinction of being the one in which the steampunk and/or holiday setting was least important to the plot, and the one with the most realistic and pleasant to read romance. As in, two people meet, flirt, learn about each other, but do not go straight to X-rated sex. The characters in that one (a suffragette and an adventurer/inventor) were more sympathetic and more plausible, as well.

Part of my problem with some of the steampunk stuff that I've read is that I like the Victorian/Edwardian period so much as it is that I get frustrated when all modern authors seem to add is a few setting flourishes and modern character motivations. When I want characters with modern mores, I'll read novels set in the modern era. It just seems absurdly forced to me when characters at the turn of the century think like people now, with no explanation beyond "she/he's extraordinary/a rebel/raised in *insert exotic locale*"

Okay, that was kind of a lot of ranting more than a review, but I think you got my feelings on the work.

Crime Wave in a Corset - 1 Star
This Winter Heart - 2 Stars
Wanted: One Scoundrel - 3 Stars
Far From Broken - 2 Stars

Averaged Rating for A Clockwork Christmas: 2 Stars - An Okay Book

Comics Briefly: American Vampire #21, Batgirl #4, Batwoman #4, Demon Knights #4, Star Trek/Legion of Superheroes #3

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

State of the Collector: I might start buying fewer comics soon. I won't stop reading graphic novels and such, but I'm just not loving much that's coming out right now. I didn't have anything to say about last week's books except "Yup, these are okay but not great, in short: meh." If my husband didn't want to finish out the story arcs, I'd already be cutting some DC titles from my pull list.

Favorite Issue This Week: Demon Knights #4

American Vampire #21
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Jordi Bernet, Colors: Dave McCaig

Decent ending to a mediocre side trip in this world. I'm beginning to get discouraged by even this, one of my favorite titles. I hope the next storyline is better.

Batgirl #4
Writer: Gail Simone, Penciller: Adrian Syaf, Inker: Vicente Cifuentes, Colors: Ulises Arreola

Better in some ways than this title has been, but it was a long time coming. Babs gets to shine a bit more, there's some decent dialogue. I think the art wavers between quite pretty and sorta weird, and the cliffhanger leaves me completely cold, though.

Batwoman #4
Writers: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman, Artist: J.H. Williams III, Colors: Dave Stewart

I guess this is well done and skillfully put together, I just don't like reading it. I don't like most of the characters, as people. If they actually kill Flamebird I am dropping this book like a bad habit.

Demon Knights #4
Writer: Paul Cornell, Pencillers: Michael Choi & Diogenes Neves, Inkers: Michael Choi & Oclair Albert, Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo

Fairly intriguing issue, giving the back story for Shining Knight. I liked it quite a bit, although it didn't move the plot forward. Some really gorgeous panels in this one.

Star Trek/Legion of Superheroes #3
Writer: Chris Roberson, Pencils: Jeffery Moy, Inker: Phillip Moy,  Colors: Romulo Fajardo

Pretty decent amount of fun here. The two teams finally team up to take down some jerks, and it's amusing, if a bit by the numbers. The parallelism is well done, if, again, fairly rote. It made me smile and giggle anyhow.


Monday, December 12, 2011

Terry Pratchett, 1996

Crossposted at Mainlining Christmas.

Premise: It's winter on the Discworld, so it's time for the Hogfather to bring presents to all the children. Except the Hogfather is missing. It's up to Susan, Death's granddaughter to save the day. She would really like to know why Death is climbing down chimneys, why new gods and fairies seem to be appearing, and what all this has to do with an Assassin with an unique view of reality.

I love many of the Discworld books, but this is one of my very favorites. It scratches all my holiday itches: the power of belief, ancient pagan roots, mocking "picturesque" holiday stories, and saving the world.

I love it from the very start. Here's page one:
Everything starts somewhere, although many physicists disagree. 
But people have always been dimly aware of the problem with the start of things. They wonder aloud how the snowplow driver gets to work, or how the makers of dictionaries look up the spelling of the words. Yet there is the constant desire to find some point in the twisting, knotting, raveling nets of space-time on which a metaphorical finger can be put to indicate that here, here, is the point where it all began... 
Something began when the Guild of Assassins enrolled Mister Teatime, who saw things differently from other people, and one of the ways that he saw things differently from other people was in seeing other people as things (later, Lord Downey of the Guild said, "We took pity on him because he'd lost both parents at an early age. I think that, on reflection, we should have wondered a bit more about that"). 
But it was much earlier even than that when most people forgot that the very oldest stories are, sooner or later, about blood. 
I would just sit here and read you the whole book if I could.

I love Susan, stubbornly trying to make her own way without using too many of her innate powers (lest she use them too much and forget what doorknobs are for), and how she makes quick work of any nonsense standing between her and her goal.

I love Death struggling with the more illogical parts of Hogswatch, while grasping the deeper aspects better than any mortal. The villains are creepy and the side plots entertaining. This book has some of my favorite scenes with progressive young wizard Ponder Stibbons and his thinking machine, Hex.

Of course through all the action and excitement runs the satire that Discworld is known for, in this case largely turned against holiday stories and traditions that don't really make much sense. I was particularly satisfied by Death logically demolishing that blot on humanity, the execrable Little Match Girl story.

There's a great sequence about childhood terrors coming true, and I found the reveal of the villains' plan very well done. The book is full of quotable lines and ends with a series of climaxes that leave me feeling quite pleased and full of a darker, truer sort of holiday cheer.

Highly Recommended.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

Also see my review of the TV Miniseries adaptation.

Top Ten Tuesday - Childhood Favorites

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and The Bookish

I haven't been on many blog hops and memes recently, because A) I've been very busy with work and B) I've been expending all of my blogging energy on Mainlining Christmas! Click over for rants and raves about holiday movies, books, music, and articles about the horror of the season.

But I thought I'd come back for today's, at least.

This week's prompt: Top Ten Childhood Favorites

I am going to order these roughly by age.

1: I'm told that I was obsessed with The Cat in the Hat as a very young child, but the first Dr. Seuss book I remember being obsessed with was Bartholomew and the Oobleck. Because I had to be different, even then.

2: Another favorite from early childhood: The Monster at the End of This Book. Because Sesame Street and Grover are the best.

3: Does anyone else remember the book Serendipity, and the series of related books? These were thin, brightly colored little volumes, generally with a moral at the end. Serendipity herself was a pink dragorn of, if I recall correctly, delicate sensibilities. I had a lot of these that I carried around in a little tote bag, and I adored them.

4: Enjoyment of The Black Cauldron, and the rest of the Prydain Chronicles, grew quickly to a general obsession with everything Lloyd Alexander had written at that point.

5: I have to give a shout out to the silly in hindsight but amazing at the time Riders of the Unicorn Queen Series. I read these books every six months or so for a while.
I actually re-read the first two this year, because I was curious how much I remembered.

6: I also read and loved all of the Miss Bianca/Rescuers books.

7: I had a full set of Little House on the Prairie books, although the early ones were my favorites. I re-read them often during my obsessed-with-pioneers phase.

8: The Last of the Really Great Whangdoodles was a solid favorite for years. I'm still always a little bit on the lookout for a clear umbrella with yellow butterflies like the one the Professor had.

9: I read A Wrinkle in Time a hair later than I could have, but I devoured it in one sitting, and soon sped through the rest of the series.

10: Right around the time I was transitioning firmly into the adult section of the bookstore with the discovery of Dragonlance, Valdemar and Xanth, I loved a book called A Rumor of Otters. It was about a teenager in New Zealand who hiked into the wilderness alone in search of the titular wildlife, and lived on her own for a while. It made a huge impression on me, and I'm always a little sad that it isn't better known.

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

Monday, December 5, 2011

Crossposted for Mainlining Christmas

The Nutcracker and the Mouse King
E. T. A. Hoffman, 1816
Translation by Joachim Neugroschel

So, after watching several different versions of the Nutcracker Ballet for Mainlining Christmas, I wanted to go back and read the original story. That proved to be harder than it sounds, but I finally got access to a Penguin classics edition at the library.

(This volume also included the slightly sanitized retelling of the tale by Dumas that the ballet is technically based on, but I'm only looking at the original.)

As a work this story seems to consciously evade categorization. The story is a somewhat tongue-in-cheek fairy tale, a surrealist fantasy, with a story within a story that sees to want to mock the conventions of fairy tales but is still a fairly classic example. I found it intriguing throughout, but a bit exhausting to read.

The basics of the story are the basics of the ballet: Marie becomes obsessed with the Nutcracker that Godfather Drosselmeyer brings for Christmas, her brother damages it, mice attack her late at night and she is defended by the Nutcracker leading an army of dolls and toy soldiers. Then it gets a little more complicated. Drosselmeyer tells her a story of how a princess was turned into a hideous beast because of her foolish parents' feud with the Mouse Queen.  She is eventually rescued, but the curse rebounds on the young man doing the rescuing, and he is turned into the first nutcracker. Or something. Of course, Marie loves the Nutcracker despite how ugly he looks, and her love and fidelity helps him defeat the Mouse King (son of the Queen from before) and be restored. Maybe.

The story isn't actually that complicated, but there is a narrator with a sense of humor, and reality and fantasy are so interwoven that I had a hard time being sure whether certain words or names were errors in translation, typos in the book, or intentionally confusing or vague. Part of the confusion comes from that fact that often the children's playtime is described in terms that they might have used. For example, at one point Fritz (the brother) puts his new toy soldiers away,but what the text says is that the Hussars set up camp and went to bed.

This leads into the confusion of whether Marie's toys actually came alive and defended her from the mice, or not. The conclusion of the story seems to fall on the side that it doesn't matter, so long as Marie keeps faith with her interpretation of events.

The interlude in candyland is from the story, but it's a brief dream sequence that makes basically no sense.

I enjoyed reading the story, but ironically I'm not sure that one would have any reason to read it nowadays if not for the ballet. I am intrigued by allusions in the introduction to Hoffman as a very early writer of surreal fantasy stories, though. Maybe I will track down some of his other work.

Fairly impossible to rate. For archiving purposes, though, I'll call this a 3 Star Story. Good, not great.

The Last Ringbearer

Saturday, December 3, 2011

The Last Ringbearer
Kirill Eskov, 1999, English Translation by Yisroel Markov, 2010

This review will have to be a bit different, since this isn't technically a book. Well, it's a book in Russia, but it can't be legally published here. The Last Ringbearer is an elaborate fan work based on Lord of the Rings.

You might have heard about this last winter, it was in the news for a while. For example, here's Laura Miller's article on Salon. The premise is actually pretty brilliant. First, it takes LOTR as a historical narrative, but not necessarily true. Second, considering how history on Earth is written by the victors, what might the actual events have looked like which inspired the story.

To sum up: there was a war, and like most wars, it was mostly about resources and power, while superficially being about ideology.

There are some flaws in either the writing or the translation. These include some awkward early expository infodumps, some poorly executed breaking of the fourth wall, and some allusions that I think are too heavy-handed.

That said, I really enjoyed reading this. It's exciting, intriguing, and inventive. The main plot follows a Mordorian medic who is given a secret mission after the end of the war, to try to claim a sort of victory despite the decimation of his people.

This is a cross between a scholarly exercise akin to trying to guess who King Arthur might have really been and a straight retelling of Lord of the Rings from an author who does not share Tolkien's romantic view of pastoral life. Parts of it made me think about the scenes in Isengard in the movie, and wonder what else would have been different if instead of a hellscape, it had looked like the workshop of a Da Vinci.

(I tried to find a youtube clip of the very beginning of Hudson Hawk to show you what I mean, but have not been able to.)

I loved the subtle parallels between parts of this story and LOTR, in theme or plotline. On the other hand, occasional winking-at-the-audience asides about how the conquering forces will "spin" this or that event were actually pretty annoying.

I really liked the book once the plot picks up after the lengthy exposition near the start. I started to love the book in the middle, when the story moves to a southern city for a while. If nothing else, this is really good fantasy espionage. There are lots of great original characters, while the versions of the 'normal' characters are a mixed bag, and your opinion will vary based on how much you like them in LOTR.

It doesn't replace LOTR, it isn't trying to. But it is a fascinating piece, and I highly recommend giving it a chance.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

The English translation of The Last Ringbearer is available for free online.

Comics Briefly: Legion Secret Origin #2, Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #3, Princeless #2

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Favorite book this week: Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #3
All Issues new in stores on 11/30/11

Legion Secret Origin #2
Writer: Paul Levitz, Penciller: Chris Batista, Inks: Marc Deering, Colorist: Wes Hartman

Not a lot happened in this issue, but the fun scenes between Phantom Girl and Braniac 5 were worth the price of admission for me. Some decent action, not much plot beyond some vague dialogue from the shadowy adults who are semi-narrating this.

Mouse Guard: The Black Axe #3
Writer and Artist: David Petersen

This issue was actually completely worth the wait. (How long ago was this supposed to come out? #2 came out last May.) The confrontation between Celanwe and the king of the ferrets was amazing: gorgeous and stirring, everything this series can be at its best. I just hope the next issue gets here soon!

Princeless #2
Writer: Jeremy Whitley, Art and Colors: M. Goodwin

Speaking of schedule oddities, either this is here early or the last issue was late to my local store. Either way, Issue 2 is well done, if not as wall-to-wall fantastic as Issue 1. There was one sequence of a few panels in which I had a hard time following the dialogue. Other than that, the story of Adrienne the princess-rescuing princess proceeds apace.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cross-Posted for Mainlining Christmas!

Hercule Poirot's Christmas
Agatha Christie, 1939

I find Agatha Christie to be an acquired taste that I've never quite acquired. I enjoy her work, usually, but it takes me a long time to get into each book.

This was no exception. Once the story got going I quite liked it, but there were a lot of character introductions to get through first.

Once the extended family was all together at the manor house, they got right down to the business of Christmas: acrimonious backstabbing, awkward flirting, and murder. Poirot is brought along to assist the local police when patriarch Simeon Lee is found dead in a locked room. He'd assembled his clan of children together for the holidays to emotionally torment them, then threatened to make a new will.

So everyone has a motive, but only Poirot can peel through the misdirections and lies to figure out what happened. I especially enjoyed Poirot's amusement at the very British nature of the Lee family.

An enjoyable read, but the quiet tone isn't my favorite.

3 Stars - A Good Book

LOTR Read-Along! Return of the King Part Three

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Hobbit and LOTR Read-Along is hosted by Little Red Reviewer and Geeky Daddy
Previous Posts:
FOTR: Part One Part Two Part Three
Bonus One: Photos of Books
TT: Part One Part Two Part Three
Bonus Two: TOYS!
ROTK: Part One Part Two

Welcome to Part Three of Return of the King!
It's the end of the Read-Along! I'm sad to see it end, but it's just in time, as the holiday blog that I run with my husband is going to be taking up a lot of my blogging energy for the next month. Come visit us there: Mainlining Christmas!

Due to time and what I actually have to say, I might skip some of the prompts this week, because mostly I want to talk about the fact that we finally got to my favorite chapter. Yay!

What did you think of the two weddings? Do you think Eowyn will eventually find happiness with Faramir?
I talked about this a bit last week: I think Eowyn and Faramir are well matched in background and temperament and will balance each other nicely.

Holy Cow I was not expecting the scouring of the shire. If this is your first time reading, were you surprised? And if this isn't your first time reading, does the shock get a little easier to swallow on re-read?
I love love love The Scouring of the Shire, and I don't recall ever being shocked by it, just delighted. It is one of my favorite parts of the whole trilogy, and I see it as the culmination of many of the themes and plots of the work. I love that no one recognizes the hobbits at first, I love how easily they take charge and become a strong force for good. 

I love that we get to really see how each hobbit's experience in war and in other lands has shaped him into a different person than when he left. I love Merry rousing the countryside with the tactics of Rohan, I love Pippin asserting himself as a Guardsman of the King, I love Sam rescuing the hearts of the people and the land itself, and Frodo as the strangely wise voice of compassion. It just honestly makes me happy to see them each come fully into their own.

As far as the end of Saurman goes, I find it appropriate.

Also there are a lot of touches in this section and the part immediately afterward to remind me of the conceit that the book that we are reading is descended in direct line from the Red Book in which the hobbits recorded these events as history. And frankly I still get a wonderful shivery feeling when Frodo reveals the final title. 

What did you think of the very end, of the departure of the Havens?
I forgot that the Three Rings are so directly described as their bearers prepare to take ship. The whole thing is a beautiful sequence. There are a few "very end"s, though. The end of the main story, the main themes, are wrapped up with Sam's return home on the last page. However, I believe that chronologically the final event to be chronicled in LOTR is the death of Arwen in Appendix A, and that's some beautiful writing as well.

I'd like to thank everyone who's been involved with the read-along, I've had a great time!

Come back next weekend for one more Bonus: my review (it's actually been sitting in queue for a while) of the fan work which retells LOTR from another perspective: The Last Ringbearer.

Comics Briefly: Princeless #1, Wolverine and the X-Men #2

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Favorite Book This Week: Princeless #1
All books were new in stores 11/23/11

Princeless #1
Story: Jeremy Whitley, Art by M. Goodwin and D.E. Belton, Colors by M. Goodwin and Jung-Ha Kim

I had heard a review of this book on the 3 chicks podcast a few weeks back, so I thought I knew what to expect: a humourous flipped fairy-tale. I got so much more than that. I got characters with heart and warmth, a world with fascinating corners we've barely glimpsed, and an utterly charming story about a princess off to save the day. The art is adorable and effective, the writing mostly very snappy. It's super small press, so you might have trouble tracking it down (I snagged the last copy at my comic shop) but whether you have a young comic lover (or young fantasy lover, especially female) in your life or you're just sweet on awesome All Ages books like I am, this is highly recommended.

Wolverine and the X-Men #2
Writer: Jason Aaron, Pencils and Colors: Christ Bachalo, Inkers: Tim Townsend and Jaime Mendoza

Pretty fun second issue. Maybe a hair less brilliant than the first, but it was full of action, humor, and great character moments. Iceman gets to be awesome, and I'm intrigued by a friendship between Idie and the Brood student. Also, it was super cute that Kitty Pryde was answering the letters column.

Read but did not buy:
Skimmed Red Hood and The Outlaws #3, and it looks mostly as stupid as what I've seen from the previous issues, but the last three pages or so are a ridiculously adorable flashback about Jason Todd. Yeah, I don't get it either, but it was really cute.


Terry Pratchett, 2011

Premise: Commander Sam Vimes is taking a vacation to his wife's estate in the country. But just because you drag the copper out of the city doesn't mean he won't drag his sense of justice with him, and when mysterious and nefarious things are being done to the local goblins, Sam decides maybe the country isn't so boring after all.

Another reviewer put it well when she said that it's a Monsters Are People Too plot, this time around focusing on goblins. Pratchett himself basically lays out the main theme on page 93:
The City Watch appeared to contain at least one member of every known bipedal sapient species plus one Nobby Nobbs. It had become a tradition: if you could make it as a copper, you could make it as a species. But nobody had ever once suggested that Vimes should employ a goblin, the simple reason being that they were universally known to be stinking, cannabalistic, vicious untrustworthy bastards.
Of course, everybody knew that dwarfs were a chiselling bunch who would swindle you if they could, and that trolls were little more than thugs, and the city's one resident medusa would never look you in the face, and the vampires couldn't be trusted, however much they smiled, and werewolves were only vampires who couldn't fly, when you got right down to it, and the man next door was a real bastard who threw his rubbish over your wall...

Knowing the basic idea early doesn't mean it isn't delightful to follow through to the end, though. There's plenty of provincial politics, unexpected allies, adventure and good humor to be had, and the ending still managed to throw a few surprises my way.

The goblins themselves are pretty interesting, once you get down to it: a complicated blend of tribal culture, superstition, and natural magic. The subplot about Young Sam learning about animals is adorable, and the chapters about what the rest of the Watch is up to dovetail neatly with the main plot without feeling forced. There are some particularly poignant moments with Angua that reflect back on the entire series with both triumph and melancholy.

I should add, the plot of this book builds upon Thud, and it might be difficult to follow, and certainly less satisfying, on its own. Also it managed to take the main aspect of Thud that I didn't think worked, and makes it work here wonderfully well.

Another winner in the Discworld, solidly enjoyable.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book!


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Terry Pratchett, 2005

Premise: It's Koom Valley Day, or soon will be, and the city is restless. The anniversary of a much-argued historic battle between Trolls and Dwarves, firebrands are using it to stoke racial tensions until Ankh-Morpork's melting pot is threatening to crack. As usual, The City Watch is on the front lines.

On this re-read, I didn't like this book quite as much as I remembered, but that doesn't mean there isn't a lot to like. Much of the immediate plot hinges on solving the murder of a dwarven leader, and Vimes and the usual crew spend a lot of the book scattered over the city, picking up pieces of the puzzle.

I love the subplot about Vimes reading to his son, and Angua dealing with her own racial issues in adapting to a vampire in the watch. Mr. Shine is a worthy addition to the background cast of characters, and there's both humor and poignancy in how Vimes deals with a paper-pushing investigator sent by Vetinari.

My only real problem with the book is the blend between the main plot and characters and a few mystical elements. I did like most of the final resolution, but something about it felt slightly off to me.

Anyway, it's still tons of fun to read, and now I'm freshly re-read in time for Snuff!

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Check out Thud! at Amazon.com, or as I did, at your local library.

Night Watch

Monday, November 21, 2011

Night Watch
Terry Pratchett, 2002

This was a re-read for me of one of my favorite Discworld books. Some spoilers in the premise for earlier books, and a few light spoilers in the review, because otherwise I couldn't talk about my favorite parts.

Premise: Samuel Vimes has come a long way from a kid who joined the Watch. Under his leadership, the City Watch actually became a force for law and order. He eventually married and is now expecting the birth of their first child. This is all suddenly torn away when Vimes is thrown through a rip in time into his own past, along with the murderous psychopath he was chasing.

I sometimes wonder if you could construct an interesting personality test from the Discworld series, based on which characters and which plotlines you most enjoy. For example, I know plenty of people like the Witches of Lancre books best, but they might be my least favorite. I really enjoy the books about Death, but my very favorites, the ones I go back and re-read again and again, are the books about the Watch. The struggles of the fantasy cops, both standard and extraordinary, have some of the best heart, not to mention adventure, in the series. Either Night Watch or Thud might be my very favorite Discworld novel.

By this volume, Vimes' personality, philosophy of policing, and plotline is fully developed, and throwing him back to 'the bad old days' allows for a fascinating exploration of his character, and adds an unusual level of introspection. It also expands the world by giving Ankh-Morpork, and many of the city's prominent citizens, a real history.

It's Discworld, so there's humor and satire, in this case largely of governments and revolutions; the commentary often has a dark bite.
"Vimes had spent his life on the streets and had met decent men, and fools, and people who'd steal a penny from a blind beggar, and people who performed silent miracles or desperate crimes every day behind the grubby windows of little houses, but he'd never met The People.  
People on the side of The People always ended up disappointed, in any case. They found that The People tended not to be grateful or appreciative or forward-thinking or obedient. The People tended to be small-minded and conservative and not very clever and were even distrustful of cleverness." - pg 250

The plot itself, in which Vimes has to play a new part in a dark time of political unrest that he's lived through once already, is both tragic and inspirational. He's always aware of his own inner tension between wanting to do right by the living, real people of this time and a desire to 'fix' history so he'll be able to return to his future. This is complicated by the necessity of playing role model to his own younger self.

I absolutely love this book, although it might be a bit less affecting to those who haven't read a few of the earlier books featuring the Watch.

5 Stars - An Awesome Book

LOTR Read-Along! Return of the King Part Two

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Hobbit and LOTR Read-Along is hosted by Little Red Reviewer and Geeky Daddy

Previous Posts:
FOTR: Part One Part Two Part Three
Bonus One: Photos of Books
TT: Part One Part Two Part Three
Bonus Two: TOYS!
ROTK: Part One

(PS: For more fantasy, come back this Mon-Wed for a short string of Discworld reviews, culminating in a review of Snuff, the newest one, on Wednesday. But back to Tolkein for now...)

Welcome to Part Two of Return of the King!
This section took us through the main plot climax, and into the actual returning of said king. I love the whole sequence on Mount Doom, always have, although I'm still looking forward to the rest of the book!

1. After witnessing the events of Denethor's demise, what are your thoughts on him as a father and as a ruler, especially when compared to what happened with Boromir and the Ring.

Denethor is a pretty sad character. I mean, he's arrogant and foolish, but as the leader of a city under siege (and I don't just mean now. They take that whole 'line of defense for all the free peoples' thing seriously) he's under a lot of pressure. Boromir was young and headstrong, but he learned from his father the pride of their city and the pressure of their position. I don't think Denethor necessarily started out a bad father or a bad ruler, but his direction and moral compass was twisted by his contact with his palantir. Not to mention Denethor had a lifetime of hopes bound up in his son that were doubly broken by the time we really met him: both by Boromir's death and by the impending coming of the King. His relationship with Faramir is broken on many levels, but the simplest is that parents often have trouble relating to children who are different then they are, and that small, normal stress was blown up into disaster by the pressures of the war.

2. Instead of riding into the city with pomp and circumstance, Tolkien pens the king's return as a clandestine act in which he demonstrates his rightful place through the act of healing the wounded. Your thoughts?

Well, Gondor has lived with the Stewards for so long that it's probably better to change things a little gradually. It would be very unlike the Aragorn we've seen up until this point to brashly claim his birthright until he was sure that it was the best thing for the city and everyone involved.

3. For one chapter Sam got to be rescuer and ring-bearer. What are your thoughts about Sam's brief time as a ring-bearer in comparison to the others who have born the ring, or wished to?

I talked a little about this in the last third of Two Towers. I love Sam as a Ringbearer. I love how much his grounded goodness protects him from the Ring, and how his ability to stay in touch with his instincts keeps him from pushing his luck.

4. In a twist unexpected in many hero tales, Tolkien ends the journey into Mount Doom with Frodo ultimately failing at his task. How did you feel about this and ultimately how does it make you feel about both Frodo and Gollum?

I think this sequence reveals the full power of the Ring, and really brings home how extraordinary is was that Frodo made it this far to begin with. The Ring doesn't want to die, and Frodo and Sam were very strong to be able to bring it close enough that a little luck could win the day. Gollum's mad struggle for the Ring is a part of this too, it helps you feel the malignant power of the thing.

5. Given that The Lord of the Rings is largely about an all male cast, what are your thoughts about Tolkien's portrayal of Eowyn now that we've seen the course of her journey through these culminating chapters of her story?

I adore Eowyn, even though I have conflicting feelings about her. As a character, unique in her own right, she is fantastic. She rises from her wound and eventually finds some personal peace after her pain. As almost the only representative of women in the whole book, my feelings are more mixed. The part where Gandalf essentially tells Eomer: your sister is just like you, but she hasn't had the freedom you've had, so how do you think she feels! That part was wonderful and surprisingly progressive. The part where she finds salvation through the love of the right man? Slightly more problematic. Let me be super clear here: I think it's a good place for her character to go, but a simplistic thing to happen to the only warrior woman mentioned in all of Middle Earth. Because I do think the bookish Faramir, kind and wise, and the warrior Eowyn, brave and honorable, are a really perfect couple.

6. Much of this section of our reading has been filled with desperate acts with little hope of success. How do you feel about the mood Tolkien created in the build up both to the battle and the final push into Mount Doom and what are your thoughts on how these sections ended?

It's so hard to put the book down through this entire sequence. I remember watching the movies thinking about how without the Book plot-split, they couldn't actually convey the tension from the end of Book Five, when Aragorn and Gandalf think Frodo might have been captured or killed. Watching the movies, you know what happened, but reading the book, last you saw Frodo, he had been captured. Really, from then through Mount Doom is one long push toward the end. Even though a lot of this is Sam and Frodo walking across Mordor, I still felt the constant tension.

The moments with Sam and Frodo coming down the mountain after the Ring is destroyed are some of my favorite scenes in literature; I find them incredibly moving, perfectly sad and hopeful and peaceful all at once.

7. The "assigned" sections for part 3 only take us to the end of the actual story. Will you be reading the appendices?

Of course! Well, some of them. I do recommend everyone find and read the section that details (and finishes) Aragorn and Arwen's story.

Blue Beetle: Shellshocked, Road Trip and Reach for the Stars

Friday, November 18, 2011

Blue Beetle: Shellshocked, Road Trip and Reach for the Stars
John Rogers, Keith Giffen, Cully Hammer and Rafael Albuquerque, 2006, 2007, 2008

Okay, I get it now. Jaime Reyes is awesome.

Premise: These are the first three collected trades of the recent Blue Beetle series. (Not the brand new one, the one that started in 2006.) Jaime Reyes is a teenager in El Paso, who finds a scarab that seems to be made of stone. It's actually alien technology that bonds to his spine, giving him semi-sentient armor and the superhero identity of the new Blue Beetle. (There were two previous Blue Beetles, neither had the scarab react to them in this way, and both are dead at this point. It's not necessary to know anything about the previous Blue Beetles to enjoy these books.) Immediately after he discovers his new powers, he's drafted by the Justice League on a seriously far away mission. When he returns home, he finds that he lost a year somewhere. His family thought he was dead, his friends are freaking out that he's back, and he doesn't know how to be a superhero, but he thinks he has to try. That's where the story starts.

I understand why so many people raved about this series. It has a fantastic blend of action and humor, of epic battles and personal moments. The core of the series isn't Jaime fighting villains, it's him trying to figure out what the scarab is, and how to be a hero, while not freaking out or worrying his family, while protecting his hometown and his friends.

I love that there is very little secret identity bullshit. No sitcom-style manufactured problems about double lives. Everyone who is important to Jaime knows that he's the Blue Beetle, and they all adjust to it pretty well. The supporting cast is really strong here, and that helps a book like this stand out.

Of course, there's also great villains, awesome cameos from other heroes, and plenty of mystery. The art styles are really strong, flamboyant and expressive. I love it.

Jaime is a great hero, a unique personality with a sense of humor, an strong sense of right and wrong and a realistic perspective on the world from his upbringing. His family is extremely important to him. Both his parents work hard to keep their family above water, so he has, let's just say, a different worldview from some other heroes who are living off their trust funds.

All three collections were really good, but I especially loved Reach for the Stars. That one features awesome guest spots with Guy Gardener (Green Lantern) and Superman, the introduction of Traci 13 (the awesome sorceress girlfriend) and an amazing crossover with Teen Titans.

Shellshocked and Road Trip get 4 Stars, Reach for the Stars gets 5

Awesome series.

Check out Blue Beetle: Shellshocked, Road Trip, and Reach for the Stars on Amazon.com

Comics Briefly: Batman #3, Supergirl #3, Wonder Woman #3

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Favorite Issue this week: Batman #3

All books were new in stores on 111/16/11

Batman #3
Writer: Scott Snyder, Pencils: Greg Capullo, Inks: Jonathan Glapion

Decent issue, if mostly exposition heavy. My favorite thing was the use of odd panel angles; they really enhanced the off-kilter feeling Bruce is getting about the owl people. This book has pretty art. And a cliffhanger.

Supergirl #3
Writers: Michael Green and Mike Johnson, Artists: Mahmud Asrar & Bill Reinhold, Colorist: Paul Mounts

Decent amount of action and exposition here, but if Kara doesn't punch that obnoxious guy's face in soon, I'm going to be very put out. I know she's learning, but she needs a solid win. Soon.

Wonder Woman #3
Writer: Brian Azzarello, Artist: Cliff Chiang

I thought this issue was narratively disjointed, plus the whole world heard about the Zeus-reveal two months ago. I don't really understand what's going on here, why these characters are saying and doing the things they're saying and doing, other than to be dicks to each other. Side Note: they're grieving for the Amazons who died last issue, but Amazons are irreplaceable, and no one seems upset or surprised enough for me. Everyone else seems to love this book, but I just can't seem to get on board.

The Silent Tower

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Silent Tower
Barbara Hambly, 1988
New E-Edition 2011

New Ebook Edition. Copy provided by NetGalley.

Premise: In the world of Ferryth, mages are forbidden to interfere with people's lives, but factions in the government and the Church are still looking for a reason to move against them. They might get it when a minor mage is murdered by someone manipulating the dangerous Void, releasing abominations into the land. Caris, bodyguard and nephew to the Archmage, is traveling with him to try and solve the mystery. The first stop is the imprisoned mage Antryg Windrose, mad apprentice to the late Dark Mage who knew the most about the Void. The other piece of the puzzle, however, is held by a computer programmer named Joanna who is being hunted from across the Void by their unknown foe.

How did I miss this one until now? Admittedly, I was a little skeptical of the world-jumping premise, but it's well handled throughout. The fantasy world is grounded enough, and Joanna's reactions to it are reasonable, as are Caris' thoughts during his brief sojourn in California.

Most of the story concerns the mystery: who is working this dark magic, what is his/her plan, what does he/she need a programmer for so badly that they traveled across dimensions to kidnap one? Joanna soon solidifies as the main character, with Caris along as local guide and second opinion.

There's a romantic plot that works without overwhelming, and my attention was fully held by the emotional lives of the characters.

One of the weaker aspects here is that the “modern” technology, while vague enough, is quite dated. Joanna was a programmer in 1988, after all.

Also the version I read had a handful of severe and confusing copyediting problems, including whole phrases misplaced in the next or previous sentence. I really hope those aren't in the paid edition, but I don't know.

I found the penultimate section a bit shaky, but the story finishes very strong. Fair Warning: you're going to want to read the next book right away, to find out what happens next.

Thanks to Open Road Publishing for re-releasing all of Hambly's work as ebooks.

4 Stars – A Very Good Book

Get The Silent Tower on Amazon.com

LOTR Read-Along! Return of the King Part One

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Hobbit and LOTR Read-Along is hosted by Little Red Reviewer and Geeky Daddy
Previous Posts:
FOTR: Part One Part Two Part Three
Bonus One: Photos of Books
TT: Part One Part Two Part Three

Welcome to Part One of Return of the King!
If you missed my Bonus Post last weekend, here's a link: LOTR Bonus: TOYS!

Man, I am having a harder and harder time only reading the assigned chapters as the plot speeds up in this final volume. This week focuses on Return of the King Chapter 1-6, which brings us mostly through the Battle of Pelennor Fields, but not entirely. Some aspects of my answers may reflect the next few chapters, too, but I've tried to keep that down.

Rather than answer the prompts directly (they're kind of vague this week), I'll just use each as a bit of a jumping off point.

On the Paths of the Dead:

I'm ashamed to admit that this is a section of the book I had forgotten about when I saw the movies, and I had to ask how much of it was from the book. It's more haunting than the series has been for some time, this idea of the men cursed as oathbreakers, waiting through the decades for a chance to be freed. It's a rather nice side effect of his plan to defeat the corsairs coming up from the south that Aragorn can lay them to rest.

On the hobbits' roles in the battle in defense of Minas Tirith:

This is the one of my very favorite subplots in the series: the roles that Merry and Pippin play in the armies of Rohan and Gondor respectively. I find it thematically satisfying that neither one is take very seriously at first, but both manage to accomplish great deeds. They've grown quite a bit from the young hobbits who tricked Frodo into letting them come with him out of the Shire, now showing their bravery and wisdom.

On the build-up to the Battle of Pelennor Fields:

Wow, I love this book. The lead-ins and preparations for the Battle never seemed slow or unnecessary to me, just a rising tide of tension rushing toward the conflict.

On Eowyn's part in the Battle:

As I said above, I started reading ahead because I couldn't put it down at the scheduled section break, so I have more to say about Eowyn than is covered in this third of the book, but I'll try to keep it simple for now. She's sort of a broken person at this point. No one understands her, she's all twisted up between her assigned role, her dreamed role, her crush on Aragorn, her fear and her determination. I think it's her rage and despair that drives her to disobey Theoden and come to war. Now, it was important that she do so, fate and destiny and all that, but it was still originally a selfish decision on her part. (Merry's determination to go is more selfless, of course providing he didn't slow down the other Riders. He wasn't left in charge of a kingdom.) I find myself hoping that this experience teaches her that glory comes with death and pain, and that she finds a way to blend her strength as a warrior with wisdom.

On Denethor and Faramir:

The original prompt was about Denethor's decision to send Faramir into the hopeless battle to hold Osgiliath, but I really don't have anything to say about them without the events of the next chapter after the section we were asked to read. Curse you, chapter break!

Comics Briefly: Batgirl #3, Batman: The Brave and the Bold #13, Batwoman #3, Demon Knights #3, Huntress #2, Star Trek/Legion of Superheroes #2

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Favorite Book This Week: Batman: The Brave and the Bold #13!

All issues were new in stores on 11/9/11

Batgirl #3
Writer: Gail Simone Penciller: Ardian Syaf, Inker: Vicente Cifuentes, Colors: Ulises Arreola

This issue gets much more interesting once Nightwing's involved, but I'm just not that emotionally connected to NewYoung!Babs. I don't feel like I get her, I find her villain boring and her motivation murky. A few really gorgeous panels bring this up to good overall, but I'm really tired of this plot.

Batman: The Brave and the Bold #13
Writer: Scholly Fish, Pencils: Rick Burchett, Inks: Dan Davis, Colorist: Guy Major

YAY! Awwww, this was freaking adorable! A parody of a classic Batman comic, starring ALL THE ROBINS. Yes, ALL OF THEM. Everyone gets a little moment, and Nightwing (in full 70's awesome-costume) organizes the troops. The plot is fun, the resolution fantastic. Carrie mocks Damian! Tim and Stephanie hang out! Jason tries to be all cool, but he loves Batman too! YAY!

Batwoman #3
Writers: J.H. Williams III & W. Haden Blackman, Artist: J.H. Williams III, Colors: Dave Stewart

I finally in this issue got a glimpse of why everyone is so nuts for this character. There were a couple of character moments that I found really compelling. It's really too bad I still don't like the character. I'm really warming to Bette, though. The biggest flaw with this issue was the length. It just feels paced wrong to me, like it cuts off before it can get going.

Demon Knights #3
Writer: Paul Cornell, Penciller: Diogenes Neves, Inker: Oclair Albert, Colorist: Marcelo Maiolo

Nuts, not as much fun as last month. This one's suffering a bit from "middle of the story" syndrome: not much happens except bits of exposition and some really annoyingly pointless plot twists.

Huntress #2
Writer: Paul Levitz, Penciller: Marcus To, Inker: John Dell, Colorist: Andrew Dalhouse

This continues to be decent, but I'm not sure it reaches great. Solid action, nice character moments, solid art. Nothing that impressed me, though.

Star Trek/Legion of Superheroes #2 
Writer: Chris Roberson, Pencils: Jeffery Moy, Inker: Phillip Moy,  Colors: Romulo Fajardo

This book is a lot of fun. Ridiculous amounts of fun. I really love the writing, the touch on the Trek dialogue is especially nice, although I do wish the pace would pick up a little. The little cross-world allusions are funny, and I have some very amused ideas about what could happen next.