The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

Monday, February 28, 2011

The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Carl Sagan, 1995

The Demon-Haunted World is a fine compilation of skepticism for beginners. Structured as a series of related essays, the book explores the need for skeptical and critical thinking, offers some tips, and systematically takes down a few pseudo-sciences. Sagan reaches out to the reader, and in the nicest way imaginable, says: 'You're not a bad person, but here's why you really need to stop just blindly believing in things.'

I personally found the book a little long, and with a bit too much time spent on UFOs. It was an important work when it came out, but only 15 years later it feels quaint to me to consider people who report UFOs as a large population, one needing to be engaged with. He also addresses faith healing, channeling, and other instances of magical thinking, but a sizable chunk of the book is spent debunking UFO sightings and alien abduction stories.

There is a perspective here that I appreciate. A very good case is made for how learning why people report alien abduction, for example, is important and interesting. It says a lot about us as humans: our gullibility, suggestibility, desire for validation, capability for imagination. Furthermore, all the of the counter-evidence is conveyed while maintaining the humanity of the alleged abductees.

It is an incredibly gentle book, up to a point. All the conclusions are presented in a fashion to ask the reader to really consider them, they are hardly ever spelled out directly. Evidence and theories are laid out, and the reader is implicitly asked: 'How do you approach this? Are you used to thinking skeptically? Remember that you can't just dismiss ridiculous claims, you have to actually examine them.'

However, even as the question is posed rhetorically, and the reader is exhorted to be understanding of those who maintain belief in UFOs (or whatever), one thing that is never suggested is that it might be kinder to let them go on believing things that aren't true. On the contrary, a few chapters consist of a historical survey of the importance of skeptical thinking, and a strong case for the importance of teaching science-based methods of critical thinking to everyone.

One chapter is devoted to walking the reader through a set of basic guidelines for considering a question, and very clear explanations of common logical fallacies.

It is a good book, but not for me. There wasn't much in the book that was new to me, I started to get tired of the length, and some chapters needlessly repeat information already given. That's not surprising, since versions of some chapters appeared as independent essays, in magazines, etc., before being collected here. It's a little bit dated already, but I might still recommend it to skeptical newcomers, on a case by case basis.

3 Stars – A Good Book

Buy The Demon-Haunted World at

(FYI, for younger folks who are interested in thinking about skeptical thinking, I recommend Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.  Warning, it's highly addictive.)

Follow Friday Feb 25

Thursday, February 24, 2011

This is Follow Friday, hosted by Parajunkee's View

This week's question:
Share your current fav television show! Tell us a bit about it...

Okay, I'll split this into a few sections.

Favorite live-action show that's currently airing: Castle
Okay, so it's the only major network show currently airing that I'm watching regularly. But, how can I resist Nathon Fillion and super-adorable banter! It consistently amuses me.
Favorite animated show that's currently airing: Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes 
(It's close, though. I'm anxiously awaiting a chance to see the Birds of Prey-ish episode of Batman: The Brave and the Bold)
Avengers is an awesome, surprisingly complicated series, with great writing and great action. Plus they keep introducing obscure characters that I want to know more about. The theme song's pretty terrible, though.
Favorite just aired thing: Downton Abbey, a fantastic BBC costume drama that aired on PBS. 
Most looking forward to the return of: Sherlock, Doctor Who
A fabulous re-imagining of Holmes and intelligent, heartfelt sci-fi. What more could a girl ask for?

Mystery, Superheroes, Historical, Sci-fi. Sounds like a decent sum-up of my interests. Are there any good Fantasy tv shows out there?

Rogue Oracle

Rogue Oracle
Alayna Williams, 2010

New Release! Copy provided by the publisher for review.

Premise: Tara is an oracle, with the talent to see the future in the cards. She uses her talent to help her work as a forensic psychologist. She'd worked for a government agency until the time she helped profile a serial killer who ended up attacking her. Since then she's been trying to stay out of Special Projects, but now her sometime lover has a new case that needs her special gifts.

I hadn't read the previous book in this series (Dark Oracle), but I didn't feel lost at all. Kudos for books that can stand alone or work together.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. It was a quick read, and a page-turner. It says urban fantasy on the spine, but I might call it a paranormal crime thriller. It reminded me strongly of the Diana Tregarde books by Mercedes Lackey. There's horror and action, and romance as well, but romance is not the core of the book by a long shot.

I really liked getting inside Tara's head: the use of description to show her perception was really well done. It felt right that she should have that kind of instant analysis, between her talent and her training.
Aquila nodded. He laced his hands before him on his blotter. Tara noticed that the blotter was full of notes – an indicator that he didn't fully trust the sleek computer sitting on his desk. One of his square hands was adorned with a wedding ring, and his red tie was the only bright spot of color in the room. There were no photographs of his wife and family to watch him. Tara could understand his desire to shield his family from his work. – pages 37-38
She thinks a little like a supernaturally inclined Holmes, and I enjoyed that.

The only problem I had with the book was the few chapters that didn't follow Tara or the villain. The other characters were fine, but I didn't need as much from their perspective. Especially the love interest Harry. He was fine, but not interesting to me.

Overall it was a fun read with an enjoyably creepy tone.

4 Stars – A Very Good Book

Buy Rogue Oracle on

Comics Briefly: American Vampire #12, X-Men Legacy #245, New Mutants #22

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Favorite Book This Week: American Vampire #12

All books were new in stores on 2/23/11

American Vampire #12 (Strange Frontier)
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Danijel Zezelj

This was a fun, dark one-off story, almost a break between the last few story-lines and the ones ahead. It's a flashback of sorts, filling in a bit more of Skinner Sweet's background. I loved it. I loved the set-up, I loved the plot, I loved the dialogue. About the only thing I didn't love was the cover, which I found somewhat bland. As for the art inside, I'm not in love with Zezelj's style, but it worked for this issue. Rafael Albuquerque seems set to return as main artist next issue for a WWII arc. I'm excited.

(American Vampire, first graphic novel by Scott Snyder, Stephen King and Rafael Albuquerque, at Amazon)

X-Men Legacy #245 (Age of X Chapter 1)
Written by Mike Carey
Pencils: Clay Mann, Inks: Jay Leisten, Colored by Brian Reber

I'm amused by this alternate/parallel/whatever take on the X-Men. I don't like the sheer number of characters in this issue, although I'm sure I'd love it if I could place more of them. I just don't know enough of the second-string X-Men and villains to be able to peg them all. It's still an enjoyable issue, despite that. I do like many of the concepts: takes on the characters that are just 'off' enough to be new, while still being on another level the same characters.

New Mutants #22 (Age of X Chapter 2)
Written by Mike Carey
Pencils: Steve Kurth, Inks: Allen Martinez, Colored by Brian Reber

I liked this chapter better (it's the direct sequel to the above), mainly because it focused on fewer characters, and there was more of a plot developing. I'm definitely intrigued by where they're going with this. Also, most of it's a Rogue story, and I love Rogue. She's used really well here, too.

Top Ten Tuesday - Movie Adaptations

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hi all

Yes, it's another meme, but I quite like lists, so... here we are.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's prompt is: Top Ten Book to Movie adaptations

I'm trying to only choose works in which I've read the book AND seen the movie, and the adaptation is good, and both the book and movie are decent.

(This eliminates things like The Great Mouse Detective, which is a great movie based on a boring book, or many of my favorite Bond movies, in which the book is great, the film is great, but the two have nothing to do with each other.)

In No Particular Order, my picks are:

1: Lord of the Rings (2001, 2002, 2003)
Is this one, or three? Whichever. While plenty was cut, and plenty was changed, this still stands as a fantastic adaptation.

2: Sherlock Holmes (Granada TV Series)
Gorgeous, spectacular adaptations of Doyle's stories. No other version of Holmes on film makes me as happy, and most of why I love it is the fidelity to the original text.

3: True Grit (2010)
See my full post on the subject

4: Casino Royale (2006)
Manages to keep almost the entire book, while updating telegrams to text messages, etc. One of my very favorite Bond books and movies, and I've read and seen them all.

5: The Last Unicorn (1982)
Okay, I know this is a dated animated movie with really interesting music choices, but it is a really good adaptation of the book.

6: Watchmen (2009)
In the end I'm not sure how much I like this movie, but it is as good an adaptation of the graphic novel as I can imagine.

7: Much Ado About Nothing (1993)
I love Branagh's Much Ado. Oh, how I love it :) It's just so much fun.

8: Hogfather (2007 Miniseries)
Nice adaptation of the Prachett novel. I haven't gotten a chance to see The Color of Magic yet, but I'm looking forward to it. (This is on Netflix Streaming, people. Take advantage.)

9: Coraline (2008)
Different here and there from the book, but I enjoyed both thoroughly.

10: Hmmm.... Maybe the Harry Potter movies
Because I know that in some circles this makes me a bad person, but I like the movies more than the books, because of where they cut stuff out.

I know it's slightly mean, but here's a couple of WORST adaptations of decent books:

Stardust (2007)
Yuck. What a terrible, annoying movie. It completely butchered the book, which I really like. I hated this film.

Dragons of Autumn Twilight (DVD, 2008)
Apparently many problems are due to behind-the-scenes drama, but the end result is that you SHOULD NOT see this movie.

Chronicles of The Black Company

Monday, February 21, 2011

Chronicles of the Black Company
Glen Cook, 2007 
(Originally published in three volumes, Copyright 1984, 84, 85)

Premise: Fantasy warfare from a ground-level perspective. The story of the morally questionable mercenaries who make up The Black Company is told by the company physician and historian, known as Croaker.

This volume compiles the first trilogy of Black Company books: The Black Company, Shadows Linger, and The White Rose. It's a fantastic read. Thank you to all my Seattle friends who recommended this book to me.

It did take me a little bit to get used to the style at the start of the first one. The narrative opens with almost no explanation, just snippets of what's happening as the city The Company is working in begins to collapse around them into rioting factions. They make more than a few hard decisions in order to escape the situation, and take service with a new employer.

And then the story really begins.

This is an outstanding work, especially for its thoroughly compelling villains. I might call it a noir military fantasy, because the world is such that there can be no heroes, no forces for good. “Evil” is relative. Slight Spoiler: It helps that The Black Company is being paid by the Empire to fight the Rebels.
In all the years I have known the Captain I have learned almost nothing about him. Just a hint here and there, fleshed out by speculation. …
We all have our pasts. I suspect we keep them nebulous not because we are hiding from our yesterdays but because we think we will cut more romantic figures if we roll our eyes and dispense delicate hints about beautiful women forever beyond our reaches. Those men whose stories I have uprooted are running from the law, not a tragic love affair.

The more I think about it, the more I like it. I even like the way the book snuck up on me, how I was somewhat ambivalent about the beginning and then liked it more and more as the pages turned. The growth of my enjoyment flowed with the growth of the story completely naturally. I liked all three volumes, but I liked the second better than the first, and the third most of all.

5 Stars – An Amazing Book

Buy Chronicles of The Black Company on

Fantasy Flashback: The Phantom Tollbooth

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Phantom Tollbooth
Norton Juster, 1961

I loved The Phantom Tollbooth growing up. It was on my shelf of favorite books for a very long time. I loved the wordplay, I loved the characters, and as a reader and an intellectual child, I loved the message and the whole idea.

Now, however, I read it, and it's good, but it feels just a little... thin.

I get some of the jokes that passed over my head as a child, and they're corny or on the edge of pedantic.

It's still a great book on a lot of levels. It's whimsical and charming. Honestly, I'd probably enjoy more of it if I hadn't read and re-read it to the point of memorization when I was young.

Comparisons with Alice in Wonderland are very apt, both in tone and subject, as well as a sense that a person needs to be in a certain mood to really enjoy it. The world through which Milo travels is made up of metaphor, and is very surreal.
“As you can see, that leaves almost no time for brooding, lagging, plodding, or procrastinating, and if we stopped to think or laugh, we'd never get nothing done.” 
“You mean you'd never get anything done,” corrected Milo. 
“We don't want to get anything done,” snapped another angrily; “we want to get nothing done, and we can do that without your help.”
It's cute, sweet, and smart, but I didn't enjoy re-reading it as much as I thought I would. I did enjoy it, just not as much as I wanted to.

All the ratings this week come with a caveat: every book discussed this week was a five star book to 11 year-old me. So please keep that in mind, this is not a universal judgement, but a personal one.  

29 year-old me gives The Phantom Tollbooth: 4 Stars - A Very Good Book

This is the end of Fantasy Flashback week. Normal reviews return tomorrow.

What's your favorite book you haven't read in years?

Mystery Flashback: The Westing Game

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Westing Game
Ellen Raskin, 1978

Fantasy Flashback is a week long event in which I'm re-reading books that were important to me as a young person. And, yes, this one isn't Fantasy, but it's my project, and I'll read what I like.

I hadn't read The Westing Game for many years, although I did remember the central mystery and its solution. I loved the book as a child because it was a puzzle that asked for solving, and it didn't withhold any of the clues unfairly from the reader.

From an adult perspective, it's a clever story, largely about a group of seemingly unrelated people finding common ground. The sixteen heirs of Samuel Westing are challenged in his will to solve his murder. They are assigned into pairs, each are given clues, and each take a unique tactic in trying (or not) to solve the mystery.

The different parts of the mystery aren't hard for me to figure out now (there are big obvious hints on page one), but it's still fun to watch the clues fall into place, the characters' stories are complex and subtle, and there are still a few red herrings to watch out for.

The wide assortment of characters and perspectives runs the risk of feeling fragmented, but it all comes together for a touching ending.

The Westing Game is a classic for good reason: with few exceptions, the language has aged well, and I'm sure it's still a fun read for dedicated young sleuths, to try to solve the puzzle before the characters do. It's also a fairly well-disguised coming-of-age story. In that sense it can be read as a commentary about how growing up is as much about the people around you as it is about yourself.

All the ratings this week come with a caveat: every book discussed this week was a five star book to 11 year-old me. So please keep that in mind, this is not a universal judgement, but a personal one.  

29 year-old me gives The Westing Game: 4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Tomorrow: The Phantom Tollbooth

Fantasy Flashback: Sun Blind: The Secret of the Unicorn Queen Book 2

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sun Blind: The Secret of the Unicorn Queen, Book 2
Gwen Hansen, 1988

Fantasy Flashback is a week long event in which I'm re-reading books that were important to me as a young person. You MUST read the article for Swept Away first if you'd like to follow this one.

So I finally got a hard copy of the compilation volume of these first two books of the series. Sun Blind is more an additional adventure than anything too special on its own, but I enjoyed it.

Sheila continues to improve in swordplay, and the fighting is generally more violent in this volume. I do want to note a few inconsistencies possibly caused by the multiple authors these books had. In this book, Illyria is often (somewhat awkwardly) referred to in the narration as “The Unicorn Queen”, which didn't happen in book one. Also, while it was very clear in Swept Away that what happened to Sheila was dimensional travel, in this volume it's often spoken of as time travel, even though that makes no sense.

(Spoilers ahead, if you care) Something I liked about these books as a young person was that it wasn't wrapped up quickly. In Sun Blind, Sheila has been in this world for over a month, although less than a day has passed on Earth, so Dr. Reit hasn't made that much progress in getting her home. Near the climax of Sun Blind, Sheila chooses to help her friends and loses a chance to go home (via a mechanism which is awkward and never explained well). This plays into the obvious fantasy, but I don't mind that on principle. At that age, would you really want to go home?

The bit of these books that I most remember isn't actually in either of these volumes. A bit of internet searching tells me that Sheila returns home at the end of Book 3, but the scene I'm thinking of is from the start of Book 4. She's trying to reassure her friend that nothing is weird about the fact that in one day her hair grew inches, she got a heavy tan, and became a much better athlete. She of course returns to the other dimension for another three books of adventures, but something about that scene stayed with me.

I suppose it's partially relating to the sense of disconnect with “normal” life that is common to geeks and frequent readers, but it's also part of what I liked through this series: the descriptions of how her training was hard, but possible.

Overall the books are light sword and sorcery, but I enjoy them as fluffy fare. Short, fun, and easy, if inconsistent. I suppose I'll always have fondness for them, though they'll never be great literature.

All the ratings this week come with a caveat: every book discussed this week was a five star book to 11 year-old me. So please keep that in mind, this is not a universal judgement, but a personal one.  

29 year-old me gives Sun Blind: 2 Stars - An Okay Book

Tomorrow: The Westing Game

Follow Friday

This is Follow Friday, hosted by Parajunkee's View

This week's question:

If you are a fan of Science Fiction what is your favorite book? If you haven't read Science Fiction before...any inkling to? Anything catch your eye?

That's a stumper. I love Science Fiction, and I read a LOT of it, although I have to admit, more of my recent favorite books are fantasy than sci-fi. Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series is an obvious choice for sci-fi that I absolutely love. I've enjoyed a lot of Andre Norton, and a lot of Asimov over the years. I, Robot is pretty brilliant, and The Cyberiad (by Stanislaw Lem) is fantastic. I really liked Starship Troopers by Heinlein, and Spin by Robert Charles Wilson.

Plus, I know it's not a book, but I'm really into Star Trek right now. I watched all of the Original Series last summer, and I've been working my way through the movies. I have a lot of Star Trek stuff, too.

Also, this weekend only, in honor of Watson's win on Jeopardy, the Science Fiction novel which I edited is on SALE at Smashwords!  Enter code RR76H here.


This Week is Fantasy Flashback Week here at The Blue Fairy's Bookshelf!

All week I've been posting about Middle Grade novels (all but one of them Fantasy) that I'm re-reading now, having not opened them in years.

Mon Feb 14: The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander
Tues Feb 15: The Farthest-Away Mountain, by Lynne Reid Banks
Wed Feb 16: Swept Away, by Josepha Sherman
Thurs Feb 17: Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede
Fri Feb 18: Sun Blind, by Gwen Hansen
Sat Feb 19: (Non Fantasy) The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin
Sun Feb 20: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

Fantasy Flashback: Dealing With Dragons

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Dealing With Dragons (The Enchanted Forest Chronicles, Book One)
Patricia C. Wrede, 1990

--In Which Lindsay Explains With Erudition Why You Should Read Dealing With Dragons--

Fantasy Flashback is a week long event in which I'm re-reading books that were important to me as a young person.

Without a doubt, this is the best book I've read for this week so far.

This assertion might be slightly unfair, because it's also the most recent book, and I think the Enchanted Forest books are aimed at slightly older kids than some of the others, but my opinion remains the same.

Eilonwy is charming, Dakin kind, and Shiela resourceful, but Cimorene! Cimorene is a fun, fantastic character, and a good role model for parents concerned by the princessification of little girls.
The King and Queen did the best they could. They hired the most superior tutors and governesses to teach Cimorene all the things a princess ought to know– dancing, embroidery, drawing, and etiquette. There was a great deal of etiquette, from the proper way to curtsy before a visiting prince to how loudly it was permissible to scream while being carried off by a giant.... 
Cimorene found it all very dull, but she pressed her lips together and learned it anyway. When she couldn't stand it any longer, she would go down to the castle armory and bully the armsmaster into giving her a fencing lesson. As she got older, she found her regular lessons more and more boring. Consequently, the fencing lessons became more and more frequent. 
When she was twelve, her father found out.
Cimorene is stubborn, opinionated, and supremely practical, as well as smart, brave and kind. At sixteen, she runs off to be a dragon's princess rather than marry, and that's where her adventures really begin. All of the characters are fabulous: the somewhat lackluster Prince Therendil, the kind Kazul and all of the other dragons, unfussy Morwen the witch, the scheming wizards, the other dragons' princesses... it's a colorful and fun world.

The whole book is a love letter to fairy tales which gently pokes fun at the conventions while telling a great story. Between my extreme enjoyment of the characters and the deadpan humor in the narration, this book still has me laughing aloud.
“No proper princess would come out looking for dragons,” Woraug objected. 
“Well, I'm not a proper princess, then” Cimorene snapped. “I make cherries jubilee, and I volunteer for dragons, and I conjugate Latin verbs – or at least I would if anyone would let me. So there!”
I'm quite glad I re-read this one, it deserves to be even more of a classic than it is. Although, you run the risk reading it now of reacting against the tropes. In other words, it's now so much the norm that the heroine be rebellious and clever and a tomboy, that the tomboy archetype has become, itself, a cliché. However, I find that Dealing With Dragons is written with such care and humor that you're unlikely to be troubled by Cimorene, but just to enjoy riding along with her adventure.

(Plus there's NO ROMANCE in all of book one. Huzzah!)

All the ratings this week come with a caveat: every book discussed this week was a five star book to 11 year-old me. So please keep that in mind, this is not a universal judgement, but a personal one.  

29 year-old me gives Dealing With Dragons: 5 Stars - An Amazing Book

Tomorrow: Sun Blind

Comics Briefly: Avengers Academy #9, Darkwing Duck #9, Supergirl #61

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Favorite Book this week: Avengers Academy #9

All books new in stores 2/16/11

Avengers Academy #9
Writer: Christos Gage, Penciler: Mike McKone

This is a really solid issue of a really solid book. The art is still hit and miss, but there weren't any terrible panels this month. I especially enjoyed the scenes between Finesse and Taskmaster, and Finesse and Quicksilver. Nice dialogue, nice structure, well done overall.

Darkwing Duck #9
Writer: Ian Brill, Artist: James Silvani

Start of a new storyline this issue, and the return of a classic villain. This is one of the most reliable books I collect. I don't know that it's often mindblowing, but I always enjoy it. Plus, Steelbeak claims F.O.W.L. is trying to do something which very much amuses me...I'll look forward to seeing what happens.

Supergirl #61
Writer: James Peaty, Artist: Bernard Chang

More of the same from last month, plus some good guest stars. I should mention here that I absolutely love Kara sitting in the air. The new villain gives some hints to his identity, and we're left with a cliffhanger that would be stronger if it didn't tangentially remind me about what's happening in other books I don't collect. That's probably not this writer's fault, though.

Also Considered:

Wolverine and Jubilee #2
Read this in the store and it's quite good, but I passed on the first one, so I might just pick this up later if it gets collected.

Fantasy Flashback: Swept Away! The Secret of the Unicorn Queen, Book 1

Swept Away! The Secret of the Unicorn Queen, Book 1
Josepha Sherman, 1988

Fantasy Flashback is a week long event in which I'm re-reading books that were important to me as a young person. Important to me, not to the world of literature.

Okay, this one isn't a classic, not by a long shot.  This is an obscure little book which has been out of print long enough for it to be re-released and for that printing to be out of print. For a brief time I was beginning to doubt that these books existed, even though I remember taking the whole set out of the local library when I was a kid. This took some doing, because it consisted of 6 books by 4 different authors. Why so many authors, I don't know; perhaps because they were all released in the space of 2 years? I don't really know anything about the story of how these books came to be.

Later there was the internet, and I discovered a small but devoted fanbase built up around this series. It's not exceptionally well-written or anything, so why are a few people determined not to let these books fall completely into obscurity?

A band of warrior women riding unicorns. When I was 11, that was just about the best thing ever.

Also, this book has my favorite version of the “modern kid falls into fantasy world” plot.

The very opening of the book is fairly dated and painful, but pretty quickly the experiment at Sheila's scientist friend's house (don't think too hard about it, it made perfect sense to me at the time) goes wrong, and she's falling into another world.

Lets compare, shall we?

Day One:

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy basically meets the Munchkins, meets Glinda, and gets her quest immediately.

In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, the kids walk through the snow for a bit, then meet the Beavers, have a nice dinner, and learn about Aslan.

In Swept Away, Sheila spends much of the first day walking across an endless grassland toward a bit of smoke. When she gets close, she needs to convince a bunch of twitchy warrior women that she's not an evil sorceress, so they won't kill her.

Day Two-Three:

Dorothy (I don't remember, do any days pass in that book?) and the Narnia kids are just about done with the hard part of saving their worlds, meanwhile Sheila's trying hard not to collapse from exhaustion, learning to ride, learning to fight.

It's not actually that realistic, but it's almost gritty-for-kids. There's enough struggle involved that it felt real to me at that age. I loved that Sheila has to try so hard to learn to survive there.
The lesson came pretty close to being a disaster. Sheila, who had thought her arm was strong enough, found out that holding a fully drawn bow was very different from throwing a softball to first base. As hard as she tried to keep her arm steady, something always went wrong each time she loosed an arrow. The first one dropped right off the bow. The second shot straight up into the air. The third missed the target altogether and landed in a tree. Kara was very plainly holding in her temper, keeping her voice just a little too calm and quiet. But when the fourth arrow shot off at a wild angle, making the other women dive for cover, the archer shook her head.

I also like that Sheila, while the central protagonist, isn't the star of the fantasy epic aspect of the story. While she helps out, that story centers around Illyria, accomplished swordswoman and leader of the small band. Okay, so their mission is to free a bunch of unicorns from the evil empire, but the action is fun and decently executed.

There's a wisp of attraction between Sheila and Darian, Illyria's younger brother, and a bit of rivalry with Dian, the other young woman in the group. But honestly, the thing I loved about this book is that it's mostly a fantasy adventure starring women, working together. Same reason in later years I would love Oathbound, and others. Sometimes you just need a little girl power, and at 11, I needed a lot.

All the ratings this week come with a caveat: every book discussed this week was a five star book to 11 year-old me. So please keep that in mind, this is not a universal judgement, but a personal one.  

29 year-old me gives Swept Away!: 3 Stars - A Good Book

Tomorrow: Dealing With Dragons

Fantasy Flashback: The Farthest-Away Mountain

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Farthest-Away Mountain
Lynne Reid Banks, 1976

Fantasy Flashback is a week long event in which I'm re-reading books that were important to me as a young person. I probably read most of these for the first time between the ages of 8 and 12.

I am very glad that this book held up to my memory of it.

Admittedly, my memories of this book by the time I opened it had worn down to “I used to love this, and there's something about the mountain, and magic colored snow, and red flannel petticoats...” Such are the details that stay with me.

If you missed this one, it's a sweet little book with a fairy tale tone, although with more down-to-earth characters than most actual fairy tales. Although she lives on a farm, the heroine Dakin almost fits into the archetype of a fairy tale princess, from before “princess” meant spoiled and simpering. Dakin is beautiful, brave, honest and compassionate, and she's also very pragmatic.
She had a turned-up nose and eyes the color of the blue mountain flowers that grew in spring, and small brown hands and feet. She was fourteen. 
In those days a girl was quite old enough to get married by that age. Dakin was quite the prettiest girl in the village; she could sing like a thrush and dance like a leaf in the wind, and besides, she was a marvelous cook. So that, until you know certain other things about her, it's difficult to understand why her parents were so very anxious about her chances of getting married.
Dakin wants to travel to the farthest-away mountain, and meet a gargoyle, and marry a prince. Of course, the farthest-away mountain is so named because it's cursed: no matter how much you travel towards it, it never seems to get any closer.. She's not an extemely complicated character, but she's kind and determined, and that's enough for a book of this type.

The best part of this book is the imagery. The descriptions of the places Dakin travels through and the creatures she meets there are so evocative that as I got to each part of the story, suddenly I remembered what it looked like, or rather what I thought it looked like when I read this years ago.
But no meadow stretches on forever and, quite abruptly, the grass stopped and she found herself walking on rocks, not the smooth, well-worn kind in the green river at home, but spiky, sticking-up rocks, like sharp teeth or knives. Her feet slipped between them and she had to wrench them free. Sometimes a piece of rock she hadn't noticed would trip her up. She knew if she fell she'd hurt herself badly, and it really did seem, after a while, as if the rocks were alive and doing their utmost to make her stumble and fall in amongst them.
It's not overly deep, but it is a charming, imaginative story. There's some scary creatures and some friendly ones, some destiny and some luck, helped along by quick thinking. It reminds me a little of the movie "Labyrinth" in tone, although the heroine is younger and the bad guys more evil, and so there's very little romantic anything until the very end.

So much of what I like about it is the style: the prose has a simplicity that can be lyrical. It's pretty short, and I think it would be a good book to read aloud.

All the ratings this week come with a caveat: every book discussed this week was a five star book to 11 year-old me. So please keep that in mind, this is not a universal judgement, but a personal one.  

29 year-old me gives The Farthest-Away Mountain: 4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Tomorrow: Swept Away!

Jeopardy Special

Monday, February 14, 2011

I'm excited about Jeopardy tonight! If you haven't heard, IBM has built a computer, nicknamed Watson, that can play Jeopardy against two human opponents. The episodes are airing tonight through Wednesday.

More info:

In honor of this event, we are offering a special deal on ebook editions of the Sci-fi novel Facsimile (which I edited).

Facsimile is set in the near-future, at the crossroads of artificial intelligence and social networking. It seems like every day I read something in the news bringing it closer to reality.

Enter coupon code RR76H at Smashwords, to get Facsimile for just $0.99!

Coupon only good this week!

Fantasy Flashback: The Book of Three

Welcome to Fantasy Flashback Week!
The Book of Three
Lloyd Alexander, 1964

Fantasy Flashback is a week long event in which I'm re-reading books that were important to me as a young person. Most of these are classics with publication dates in the 60's and 70's, so I feel little need to warn for spoilers, FYI.

You know how some people have a story about the first time they read a book that had a huge impression on them, that they remember where they were or how it felt or something?

I don't have a story like that.

I've been reading fantasy novels for literally as long as I can remember. Sure, I remember the first time I read Lord of the Rings, and certain other books I recall getting as presents or seeking out through libraries, but by that point I was already a confirmed life-long genre fan.

I think, though, that The Book of Three was one of my early finds.

I was a Lloyd Alexander fan for a good long time, and at one point I had read, and owned, everything he had written. As I got older and learned more about history and myth, I began to dislike the way he sometimes twisted these for his own purposes. As I recall, my breaking point was The Arkadians, which was published in 1995. I actually hated that book when I read it, because I'm very picky about my Greek myth. Even though I'm passably familiar with actual Welsh myth now, though, The Prydain Chronicles don't bother me on that level, so long as I consider them to be their own independent world.

All of that is a round-about way to say that I very much enjoyed re-reading this book. I forgot how much simple fun it is.

Taran is adorably eager, though somewhat inane through the beginning. It's interesting that now reading it what I sympathize with isn't Taran's frustration, but Gwydion's near-saintly patience with the boy.

I do admit to really enjoying Eilonwy's prattle. She just makes me smile.
Eilonwy held the glowing sphere close to the stone floor. “Go first,” she said. “Then I'll come down after, so I can put the stone back in place. Then, when Achren sends to have you killed, there won't be any trace at all. She'll think you disappeared into thin air – and that will make it all the more vexing. I know it isn't nice to vex people on purpose – it's like handing them a toad – but this is much too good to miss and I may never have another chance at it.”

Alexander pushes it occasionally with the dialogue, both Eilonwy's and Taran's, but usually keeps the too-ironic or too-poetic tones in check by balancing them against each other. However, I wouldn't recommend reading this for the first time as an adult. The plot wanders a bit from meeting to meeting, and adding characters takes up most of the book.

I would still recommend it as a solid fantasy adventure for youngsters. The books get more complicated and better written later in the series, much like another coming-of-age fantasy I could name. Although thankfully, these books are much shorter.

All the ratings this week come with a caveat: every book discussed this week was a five star book to 11 year-old me. So please keep that in mind, this is not a universal judgement, but a personal one.  

29 year-old me gives The Book of Three: 3 Stars - A Good Book

Tomorrow: The Farthest-Away Mountain

Book Blogger Hop and Follow Friday

Friday, February 11, 2011

Book Blogger Hop
This is the Book Blogger Hop, hosted at Crazy For Books.

This week's question is:

"Tell us about one of your posts from this week and give us a link so we can read it (review or otherwise)!"

Well, last Monday I posted a review of True Grit, comparing the book to the new movie. I love reading, but I'd like to also post about the occasional movie or other media, etc. What do you all think of that idea? Do you only read book blogs for the book recommendations?

This is Follow Friday, hosted by Parajunkee's View

This week's question is from Ruby's Reads:

What is your favorite romance hero-type? Stereotype wise. Do you like the strong silent type or the brute macho man?

This seems like an odd question to me, but I read very little romance. Do you mean favorite romance hero to read about, or favorite type to be attracted to?

When I do read romance, I care much more about whether he's the heroine's type. It's her relationship after all, and if she's a cipher, then I'm not interested in the story. In general, though, I'll always take option three: smart as a whip. 


Next Week is Fantasy Flashback Week here at The Blue Fairy's Bookshelf!

All week I'll be posting about Middle Grade novels (all but one of them Fantasy) that I'm re-reading now, having not opened them in years.

Mon Feb 14: The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander
Tues Feb 15: The Farthest-Away Mountain, by Lynne Reid Banks
Wed Feb 16: Swept Away, by Josepha Sherman
Thurs Feb 17: Dealing With Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede
Fri Feb 18: Sun Blind, by Gwen Hansen
Sat Feb 19: (Non Fantasy) The Westing Game, by Ellen Raskin
Sun Feb 20: The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster

If any of these titles ring a bell, I hope you'll come by next week and share your memories.

The Fat Man

Santa's pissed about this book, and so am I

The Fat Man: A Tale of North Pole Noir
Ken Harmon, 2010

What a shame. Harmon took a great premise and absolutely ruined it with shitty, shitty execution.

Premise: Gumdrop Coal is a sorry excuse for a noir hero, in a poorly constructed holiday world. Someone is framing him, or muscling him out, or trying to destroy Santa, or trying to ruin Christmas, or something. It isn't exactly coherent.

I loved this idea. Christmas elf noir? That could be great! The dark side of the holiday, maybe the dirty secrets of the elven sweatshops or some artifact is stolen and you don't know who to trust. A murder investigation, at least, right? Nothing that cool is in this book.

The story is boring. The characters are shallow, hollow, despicable things. The author doesn't come up with almost anything interesting; he's too busy stuffing the book with more horribly grating references to holiday crap.

What horrified me the most was the tone. It alternates wildly between fake-noir and sickly sweet. There's no tension. No drama. It's a thin excuse for a book that should be on, not in hardcover.

There are maybe two scenes that show some originality and intriguing ideas. Of course, they're layered under so much derivative crap that it just doesn't feel worth it. Plus the main character is a cipher. He tries to be a noir hero, but the author's too scared to jettison all the cheerful Christmas crap, so he can't allow any real darkness into the story or the character. The whole reason noir heroes work is that they ride that line between staying afloat in a dark world and going too far in pursuit of their goals. When you don't allow that character actual moral ambiguity (he comes close, but only briefly), he becomes a useless whining mess.

Watching all those Christmas specials this past season helped me get more of the references. This did not help the book, since the references are either of terrible things, or do idiotic spins on okay things. If you pulled out all the references and direct quotations of other work (I HATE when authors do that! You can feel the slimy marketing mind-space it comes from. It's trying to make you feel like you're in on the joke: “Hey, I know that line! Hur, hur hur.” Ugh.) you wouldn't have enough left to fill a grade-school essay.

See, the world of this book isn't interesting. It's all the Christmas movies and songs this guy could think of, all forced into awkwardly close quarters, and desperately pretending they make sense together.

I don't want to save that world.

I want to nuke it from orbit. It's the only way to be sure.

Also, for a book about Santa, Jesus was talked about a lot. Plus it was in a way that made him sound like some sort of sparkly fairy princess. “The special Child.” It was faux-stealthly religious bullshit. That whole part (and the fucking end) was so stupid that I have no words for it.

One Star, or possibly No Stars. A Despicable Atrocity.

Comics Briefly: Batgirl #18, Birds of Prey #9, Sherlock Holmes Year One #1

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Favorite Book This Week: Batgirl #18

All Issues New in Stores 2/9/11

Side Note: I've actually seen The Last Unicorn Hardcover graphic novel in person now. It's absolutely gorgeous. (And currently a pretty great deal on Amazon. Seriously, it's a beautiful book.)

Batgirl #18
Writer: Bryan Q. Miller, Penciller: Dustin Nguyen, Inker: Derek Fridolfs

I adored this issue start to finish. It's a one-issue story about Stephanie's run-in with Klarion the Witch-boy. Klarion is a character I'm only familiar with through B:TAS, but I loved him here. (According to Wikipedia this may or may not be a version different enough to be a different character or just a different spin. Either way, I like this character.) I loved the way they played off of each other. I love that it was a Valentine's Day Issue. There was comedy, action, magic, and snarky wit, plus the art was fantastic. I throughly approve.

Birds of Prey #9
Writer: Gail Simone, Artist: Inaki Miranda

Another decent issue for the Birds here. I like how much play Dawn and Zinda are getting, even though the perspective is still centered on the main three. I was a little underwhelmed by the aftermath of last month's cliffhanger (Black Canary being tormented by the powers of new villain Mortis). I mean, what happens is fine, but between following the other ladies, and Oracle dealing with Hawk, Black Canary's section felt rushed, and I didn't really have time to connect with her struggle. Okay issue, not amazing.

Sherlock Holmes Year One #1
Writer: Scott Beatty, Artist: Daniel Indro

I was intrigued, so I picked this up, and it was... interesting. I don't really have a judgement on it yet, except that it felt awfully slim to cost 3.99. However, I love that the cover lists the price as 399 cents. That was well played. The story of the issue was good, although I had to pay close attention to follow some of the turns. The premise of the series is simple enough: following Holmes and Watson in the very earliest days of their careers. It's close enough to versions of the characters I'll accept, so the tweaks (e.g. Watson meeting Holmes because Watson's working with the police) don't bother me overmuch. Some of the dialogue was great, some stilted with a few forced references. While I liked the issue for the most part, I won't pick up the next one without flipping through it first.

Also Considered:

Red Robin #20
Writer: Fabian Nicieza, Penciller: Marcus To, Inker: Ray McCarthy

I keep coming close to picking up this series, because I love Tim Drake, but I'm not sure my budget can sustain another ongoing. However, if it came out any week other than the week that already has Batgirl and BoP, I'd probably have picked it up, honestly. Another Bat-book this week just felt like overkill. Although I did read the issue: the Titans were in it, and it was adorable.

Star Trek: Infestation #1
Written by Scott & David Tipton, Art by Gary Erskine and Casey Maloney

I flipped through this in the store out of morbid curiosity. IDW is running a multi-book thing, despite the fact that most of their books take place in separate universes, unlike Marvel and DC. So Star Trek, and Transformers, and GI Joe, etc.... all have zombies. The issue looked okay, but I just didn't feel the need for a Star Trek zombie story.

Book vs. Movie: True Grit

Monday, February 7, 2011

True Grit
Charles Portis, 1968

True Grit
IMDB Cast and Crew List, 2010

I saw "True Grit" in the theater back in December, and I liked the movie so much that I sought out the novel.  As it turns out, I almost didn't need to bother.

Premise: 14-year-old Mattie Ross is determined to see Tom Chaney die for the murder of her father. She hires the meanest Federal Marshal in Fort Smith to hunt her quarry, and intends to go with him to see it done.

The novel and the movie are each a delight, although this is one of those cases in which the adaptation is so close that to experience both almost feels like overkill. The movie takes much of its dialogue straight from the page.

There are a couple scenes that play out slightly differently, but I think the movie might have the edge in these because it always takes the more dramatic option. 

The language is simply fantastic.  Mattie is a great character, one you're drawn to admire, but she's prickly and cares nothing for your regard.  She narrates both the book and the film in her decisive tone, though in the book she has a few more asides about behavior unbecoming of Presbyterian folk.

On receiving a letter regarding her father's funeral:
If you want anything done right you will have to see to it yourself every time. I do not know to this day why they let a wool-hatted crank like Owen Hardy preach the service. Knowing the Gospel and preaching it are two different things. A Baptist or even a Campbellite would have been better than him. If I had been home I would never have permitted it, but I could not be in two places at once.
The book is full of this ironic humor, occasionally at Mattie's expense when she misunderstands something, but mostly just brought out organically from her strong unvarnished opinions. The other main characters: Marshal Cogburn and LaBoeuf the Texas Ranger, are both great personalities, but it's Mattie's unerring voice that makes this story shine.

A few more choice bits:

Cogburn after shooting a rat:
“You can't serve papers on a rat, baby sister.”
“I never said you could.”
“These shitepoke lawyers think you can but you can't. All you can do with a rat is kill him or let him be. They don't care nothing about papers. What is your thinking on it?”
“Are you going to drink all that?”

Mattie dealing with a shopkeeper:
He said, “I just received word that a young girl fell head first into a fifty-foot well on the Towson Road. I thought perhaps it was you.”
“No, it was not I.”
“She was drowned, they say.”
“I am not surprised.”
“Drowned like the fair Ophelia. Of course with her it was doubly tragic. She was distracted from a broken heart and would do nothing to save herself. I am amazed that people can bear up and carry on under these repeated blows. There is no end to them.”
“She must have been silly.”

The afterword to the edition I read makes another good point about the book: it expertly straddles that time when the after-echoes of the Confederacy were fading into the stories of the West, and then the Wild West was in turn fading into legend. 

See or read this. You'll be glad you did.

Book: 4 Stars – A Really Good Book

Movie: Just as good if not better.

Buy True Grit the novel at

Blog Hop and Friday Follow Feb 4

Friday, February 4, 2011

Book Blogger Hop
The Book Blogger Hop is hosted at

This week's question for discussion:

"What are you reading now and why are you reading it?"

I'm currently reading The Fall by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan, because I loved the first book, The Strain (review here).

I'm also working through a bunch of Middle Grade re-reading for a week long project starting Feb 14: Fantasy Flashback Week. More about that plan in this post.

And Follow Friday is hosted at Parajunkee's View!

The question for discussion there is:

What is the book you are currently 'pushing'? (Pushing meaning trying to get people to read it)

Well, I'll always push Lois McMaster Bujold on anyone who'll listen, and I'm not above encouraging folks who I think will enjoy it to read my husband's book...

But the biggest thing I'm pushing on people right now is comic books. Don't dismiss them! Much awesome sequential art goes unknown by people who would love it, if they only knew where to start. You should be reading Scott Snyder's dark and provocative American Vampire, Bryan Q. Miller's super-fun current run on Batgirl, and also go back and check out everything Gail Simone has written. You can start with Birds of Prey (graphic novels reviewed here.)

Comics Briefly, Budget Cuts Edition: Batman Beyond #2, Chip N' Dale Rescue Rangers #3

Thursday, February 3, 2011

This week's visit to the comic store was delayed due to weather, and the fact that the only books that came out this week were ones I had considered dropping. (Yes, I know Secret Six was this week, but I'm waiting for the trade.)

And I don't have a job for this month yet, so I read these books in the store. Yup, both of these books have officially fallen off the bottom of my pull list. No Best Issue this Week.

Issues were new in stores 2/2/11

Batman Beyond #2
Writer: Adam Beechen, Pencils: Ryan Benjamin
Inker: John Stanisci

Wow. An issue in which almost nothing happens except Terry and the League beat on each other for a bit for no good reason. The big thing that bothers me with this book is the dialogue. The writer needs to be more careful, because some lines that you could have gotten away with in the show, with the actors to give it color and tone, fall flat or worse on the page. More specifically, I don't like basically any of his dialogue between Terry and Bruce. When that doesn't work, there's nothing to this book.

Chip N' Dale Rescue Rangers #3
Writer: Ian Brill
Artist: Leonel Castellani

Really this isn't terrible, but it's just too sappy, even for me. It crosses the line from All Ages over into Kid Friendly.  It would probably be fun for young kids, but I can't justify the cover price any more.

I know, short and depressing post this week, huh? Well, next week I'll make up for it. There's a LOT of books I'm interested in that are scheduled to come out next week.