DC's New 52: Final pre-launch opinions

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Yes, a little more comic commentary. I'll talk about prose next week, guys, I promise.

It's been long enough that we fans have been hashing over the “New 52”, now impending from DC comics, that I've moved from flabbergasted, to torn between intrigued and angry, through interested, right on to tired of the whole idea. However, I still wanted to add my commentary for the upcoming issues, from most to least anticipated. Think of this as my Pull/Don't Pull List, and/or my Please Don't Cancel/Please Cancel Wish Lists.

Books that I will definitely buy the first few issues:

  • Batgirl #1 by Gail Simone, Ardian Syaf and Vicente Cifuentes – Despite my sadness to lose Stephanie, I'll definitely check out this series. 
  • Demon Knights #1 by Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves and Oclair Albert – Medival superhero team? By the writer of some of my favorite episodes of Doctor Who? Yes, please!

Books that I will probably try the first issue unless I hear something really negative beforehand:

  • Justice League #1 by Geoff Johns and Jim Lee – Actually I'm pretty ambivalent on this title, but I know my husband wants to pick up the first one.
  • Wonder Woman #1 by Brian Azzarello and Cliff Chiang – I want this to be good, but I have no idea whether it will be.
  • Justice League Dark #1 by Peter Milligan and Mikel Janin – I have no idea whether I will actually like this, but a team of magic/Vertigo characters sounds interesting to me.
  • Swamp Thing #1 by Scott Snyder and Yanick Paquette – I like Scott Snyder's horror touch over on AmVamp enough to check this out. His tone isn't much to my taste for superhero titles, but Swamp Thing might be a great fit.

Books that I am interested in flipping through in the store, and might buy if they look interesting enough:

  • Justice League International #1 by Dan Jurgens and Aaron Lopresti – Cautiously intrigued by this one, it has a nice assortment of characters, including Booster Gold and Vixen.
  • The Fury Of Firestorm #1 by Gail Simone, Ethan Van Sciver and Yildiray Cinar – I believe Gail Simone can make just about anything interesting, but Firestorm? Really?
  • The Savage Hawkman #1 by Tony Daniel and Philip Tan – I can't imagine I would actually buy this, but I want to flip through it in a rather masochistic way, because somehow I don't think this is the husband and wife space adventure story that I would rather have.
  • Mr Terrific #1 by Eric Wallace and Roger Robinson – I heard that “Karen Starr” is in this title, but she may not be Power Girl? WTF? I'll look, just in case.
  • Action Comics #1 by Grant Morrison and Rags Morales – I have heard some crazy things about this title. If Grant Morrison is really moving into 40's inspired “labor agitator” Superman, that could be intriguing.
  • Supergirl #1 by Michael Green and Mike Johnson – Maybe? I dislike most of the promotional stuff so far, but they could surprise me.
  • Batwoman #1 by J.H. Williams III, Haden Blackman and Amy Reeder – I am personally not won over by this character/series yet, but there's such anticipation that I'll probably check it out.
  • Batwing #1 by Judd Winick and Ben Oliver – Intriguing, if kind of token-ish feeling.
  • Green Lantern Corps #1 by Peter J. Tomasi, Fernando Pasarin and Scott Hanna – What interests me about Green Lantern is the diversity of the corps, so this book could win me over. 
  • Green Lanterns: New Guardians #1 by Tony Bedard, Tyler Kirkham and Batt – I like the idea of high-level interactions between the rainbow corps.
  • Blackhawks #1 by Mike Costa and Ken Lashley – Now, a 40's Blackhawks would be on the top of this list. I'm highly skeptical, but I'll flip through.
  • All-Star Western #1 by Jimmy Palmiotti, Justin Grey and Moritat – Maybe? I don't know.
  • Blue Beetle #1 by Tony Bedard and Ig Guara – I hope that this can come close to the awesomeness of John Rogers' run on the character, but I'm not convinced yet.
  • Legion Lost #1 by Fabian Nicieza and Pete Woods – I always wanted to get into Legion, maybe one of these books will work for me?
  • Legion of Superheroes by Paul Levitz and Francis Portela – Ditto.

Books that I am more or less uninterested in, and probably won't even look at unless I hear really good things about them:

  • Aquaman #1 by Geoff Johns and Ivan Reis
  • Flash #1 by Brian Buccellato and Francis Manapul
  • Captain Atom #1 by JT Krul and Freddie Williams II
  • Green Arrow #1 by JT Krul and Dan Jurgens
  • DC Universe Presents #1 by Paul Jenkins and Bernard Chang
  • Superman #1 by George Pérez and Jesus Merino
  • Superboy #1 by Scott Lobdell and R.B. Silva and Rob Lean
  • Batman #1 by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo – Yes I like Scott Snyder, but nothing about this book is attractive to me yet.
  • Detective Comics #1 by Tony Daniel
  • Batman: The Dark Knight #1 by David Finch – How many freaking Batman books does one company need? Really?
  • Batman And Robin #1 by Peter Tomasi and Patrick Gleason
  • Nightwing #1 by Kyle Higgins and Eddy Barrows
  • Green Lantern #1 by Geoff Johns, Doug Mahnke and Christian Alamy
  • Red Lanterns #1 by Peter Milligan, Ed Benes and Rob Hunter.
  • Animal Man #1 by Jeff Lemire, Travel Foreman and Dan Green
  • Frankenstein: Agent Of SHADE #1 by Jeff Lemire and Alberto Ponticelli
  • I, Vampire #1 by Josh Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino
  • Resurrection Man #1 by Dan Abnett, Andy Lanning and Fernando Dagnino
  • Stormwatch #1 by Paul Cornell and Miguel Sepulveda – To be fair, Wildstorm was never my thing, but I have to ask...why?
  • Voodoo #1 by Ron Marz and Sami Basri.
  • Grifter #1 by Nathan Edmondson and CAFU
  • Deathstroke #1 by Kyle Higgins, Joe Bennett and Art Thibert
  • OMAC #1 by Dan DiDio and Keith Giffen
  • Sgt Rock And The Men Of War #1 by Ivan Brandon and Tom Derenick
  • Static Shock #1 by John Rozum, Scott McDaniel
  • Hawk And Dove #1 by Sterling Gates and Rob Liefeld

Books that I actively dislike what I've seen so far, and will only pick up if I hear that they are miraculously the best thing ever, but I really doubt it: 

  • Catwoman #1 by Judd Winick and Guillem March – So far, nothing to recommend this. 
  • Birds Of Prey #1 by Duane Swierczynski and Jesus Saiz – Over and above Canary's hideous new costume and my personal misgivings about the writer, I'm boycotting this book on principle because of how badly the closing of the current run was handled by DC. 
  • Red Hood And The Outlaws #1 by Scott Lobdell and Kenneth Rocafort – Ugh.
  • Suicide Squad #1 by Adam Glass and Marco Rudy - Double Ugh.
  • Teen Titans #1 by  Scott Lobdell, Brett Booth and Norm Rapmund – The art and pitch for this book has revenge of the 90's written all over it.

Top Ten Tuesday - Fall TBR List

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and The Bookish

This week's Prompt is: Top Ten Books on your Fall TBR List.

Well, I'm sure I'll run across a few galleys to tackle, but there's only one new book coming out that I'm looking forward to:

1: Pirate King by Laurie R. King. Mary Russell, Sherlock Holmes, silent films and Pirates of Penzance? Yes, please!

I do have a list of not-new books I'm planning on reading or re-reading this fall:

2, 3, 4: LOTR, for the Read-Along hosted over at Little Red Reviewer

5: I bought The Black Company: The Books of the South at a dying Borders, and hopefully I'll get to that soon.

6: The Lies of Locke Lamora, and the other books I bought on vacation.

7: I'm planning on going to the local research library to read some The Demolished Man and some of the other early Hugo winners when I get both time and motivation.

8 through 200: The Giant Box-O-Back Issues that I bought on sale at my favorite comic shop. Woo!

Batgirl: Batgirl Rising and The Flood

Monday, August 29, 2011

This Wednesday marks the beginning of the New DCU, so I wanted to take the opportunity to talk about my absolute favorite series that DC ended for the sake of their promotion. This version of Batgirl will not be continuing into the new continuity, but it's a really great run, all 24 issues, and I highly recommend it.

Batgirl: Batgirl Rising and Batgirl: The Flood
Bryan Q. Miller, Lee Garbett, Pere Perez, et al.,  2010, 2011

I have been collecting Bryan Q. Miller's Batgirl since last summer with Issue #13, and I finally got my hands on the trades that collect the first 12 issues.

Premise: Stephanie Brown has been a junior vigilante for a while. Like many a young female hero, her father was a supervillain. I swear it's so common it's become a cliché. First she was a solo agent as the Spoiler, then started working with the Bat-family. She even briefly went by Robin, before she ended up rather dead. But this is comic books, so she faked her death... or something. It was all rather complicated and I didn't follow it. Now she's rebuilding her life, both as Stephanie, college student, and as the newest Batgirl.

I love this series. I love the mix of action and humor. I love that I completely accept Steph both as a trained badass and as a young woman. I LOVE her mentor relationship with Barbara (Oracle/previously Batgirl).

Batgirl Rising runs through how Steph starts fighting crime as Batgirl (as opposed to her previous Spoiler persona), starts working with Oracle again, navigates around Dick (Batman) and Damian (Robin), who are less than thrilled that she's active in the superheroics, and is finding her way in life in Gotham.

The Flood is the next section, primarily revolving around Steph, Wendy Harris and Barbara going up against the Calculator (Wendy's supervillain father. I told you it was a trend.) during a major rainstorm.

I really enjoyed both volumes. I like Steph's attitude, I like her tactics, I even like her crush on Detective Gage. I like the sense of Batgirl as a legacy character (including the lovely Cass) almost completely independent of Batman. I love how this series balances between being tied to the larger DCU and being its own little corner.

The art is fantastic. Evocative, clear and dramatic, gorgeous, and never exploitative.

Also, The Flood includes the fantastically fun issue in which Batgirl and Supergirl team up to fight Dracula. It rocks.

Team Batgirl FTW.

 4 Stars – Very Good Books

Purchase Batgirl Rising or Batgirl: The Flood on Amazon.com

The Hobbit Read-Along Part 3

Saturday, August 27, 2011

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

See Parts One and Two Here.

The following discussion questions pertain to the last third of the book, so if for some horrid reason you haven't read The Hobbit, you are hereby warned: Spoilers Ahead.

I'm battening down the hatches here for the imminent arrival of Hurricane Irene, but I think I have time to get this down.

What were your thoughts of how Smaug was killed? If you did not like it what
do you think Tolkien could have done differently?

I absolutely love it. I love it on the story level and the thematic level. I love that it's a bit of a subversion of a fairy-tale or epic plot. There is a Hero, but he's not the main character of the story that you're following. Yet the heroic plot couldn't have happened without Bilbo behind the scenes.

Were you satisfied with the ending of The Hobbit?

Yup. It's a bit of a left turn for the plot, but I like that. I like that the death of the dragon isn't the magic end to all the problems that the dwarves think it should be. The book draws you in with the fantasy adventure, and then turns around and says "and that's why war is awful. Get it now?"

What or who was your favorite part of the book?

Possibly Bilbo arguing with Smaug. I had forgotten how great that scene was. Of course, I'm also a huge sucker for this song:

What were your thoughts when Bilbo gave Bard the Arkenstone of Thrain?

It was a good idea, it came from the right motivation, but there wasn't much chance it was actually going to prevent bloodshed.

After reading the book will you be going to see The Hobbit in theaters?

Hell, yes. But, you probably knew that by now. :)

Coming Soon: LOTR! Maybe I'll get a head start on my re-reading during the storm...

Comics Briefly: American Vampire #18, Batman: Gates of Gotham #5, Superman Beyond #0, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Favorite Issue This Week: Superman Beyond #0
All Books were new in stores on 8/24/11

American Vampire #18
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Rafael Albuquerque, Colors: Dave McCaig

A strong conclusion to the Ghost War storyline. Flirts with an edge of cliche in one aspect, but I liked it anyway. Good twists, good action, and good moments for Pearl always make me a happy reader. Next issue starts an awesome-sounding flashback, I'm really looking forward to the next arc!

Batman: Gates of Gotham #5
Story: Scott Snyder and Kyle Higgins, Writers: Kyle Higgins and Ryan Parrott, Art: Trevor McCarthy, Colors: Guy Major

This is the conclusion to this miniseries, and it's a decent one. There is some good action, some nice lines here and there, and I like the portrayals of all the BatKids. I especially like Dick's fight with the villain, it really worked for me. I wasn't in love with the obvious lead-in to next month's whole Dick-isn't-Batman-anymore thing, but whatever. The end of the plot I thought got a little muddled; I got the gist of it, but I think I would have to dig out and re-read the earlier issues for it to completely make sense.

Superman Beyond #0
Writing and Pencils: Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, Finished Art: Sal Buscema

I stopped collecting the recent Batman Beyond comics after three strikes: I didn't like the writing, I didn't like the art, and I didn't like the tone. This one-shot in the same world doesn't have any of those problems. There's that nice majestic lilt that I like Superman stories to have, a brief appearance by a sardonic Terry, and strong writing on the rest of the Future Leaguers. The villain of the story has a nice little plot as well, and while I feel like I've seen it before, it still works beautifully. Also, I would happily pay four dollars every month for one great page of Bruce and Clark being snarky old friends. Hear me, DC?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1
Story: Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz, Script: Tom Waltz, Layouts: Kevin Eastman, Art: Dan Duncan, Colors: Ronda Pattison

Now, I'm a TMNT fangirl from way back, but never really got into any actual comics, the oldest stuff didn't appeal to me much aesthetically, and the new stuff...I just never found the on-ramp. So was I going to pass up a re-boot scripted by Eastman? Hell, no. The style is a neat mix of old and new that I really liked. The final art is simply luscious, and the writing on the first few pages especially is amazing. This is a new story, starting from the beginning again, but wisely drops us in medias res, with flashbacks to hint at the new origin story. Overall I enjoyed this issue, and I'm intrigued by a new spin on these old friends.

Top Ten Tuesday - Books You Never Reviewed

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and The Bookish

This Week's Prompt is: Top Ten Books You Loved But Never Wrote A Review For

Considering the vast scope of my reading life before I started this blog a few years back (hell, I could probably fill this list ten times over with books I read before blogging was a word) I think I'll touch on entire series which I love that haven't gotten their due here on the Bookshelf.

1. Miles Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold - Well, obviously. I've probably even re-read the whole series twice in the past year and the only one of them I've reviewed on the blog is Cryoburn.

2. Aubrey/Maturin Series by Patrick O'Brian - I really enjoyed all 20 and a half books, but the idea of reviewing them seems difficult; I mentally blend together what happened in each slim volume.

3. Discworld by Terry Pratchett - I loved a good half of these books, and have even re-read a few since I started the blog, but haven't reviewed a one.

4. The Dark Tower by Stephen King - I love Dark Tower, but haven't written a word about it. I hope to rectify this one soon, though.

5. Dragonlance - One of my very favorite worlds as a teenager, but I've only touched on a crappy recent one here.

6. Raymond Chandler's Marlowe books - Shortly before starting this blog, I went on a kick where I read a ton of classic noir. Chandler's were my favorite.

7. The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle - I've talked a lot around my love of Holmes, and addressed pastiches, but never really written about the stories themselves.

8. Rudyard Kipling is another author I was reading a ton of shortly before starting to write about books, but haven't written about yet. (Favorites include Kim, Puck of Pook's Hill, The Jungle Book...)

9. James Bond Series by Ian Fleming - These books have ups and downs, and are seriously dated, but I love some of them (Moonraker, Diamonds are Forever, For Your Eyes Only, The Spy Who Loved Me...) and have never reviewed any.

10. Lord of the Rings - Is coming! I'm doing a read-along with a few other blogs this fall, but I've been meaning to re-read those books for over a year.

Ember and Ash

Monday, August 22, 2011

Ember and Ash
Pamela Freeman, 2011

Recent Release, copy for review provided by Netgalley.

Premise: Ember thinks she has her life planned out. She is going to marry another warlord's son, uniting his land with her father's. Unfortunately, the godlike Powers that allied with her mother's people in the old days have other ideas, and soon Ember and her cousin Ash are plunged into a dangerous journey to save their people from the will of the capricious Powers.

I feel slightly odd about this review. It was a competently written book, and each part was well done. I'm just not sure that it managed to become more than a list of interesting scenes.

I wanted to read this book because I had read the first few sample chapters and really liked them. It seemed as if the theme of the story would be these brave people fighting for the right to not be playthings of these elemental Powers. I liked that a lot. There was some of that, but it felt lost in the somewhat silly plot  complications.

I also felt that all the changes Ember went through over the book caused her to grow into a character I didn't like nearly as much as I liked her at the start of the book.

I thought the climax didn't follow from how the characters had been previously acting and found it unsatisfying. In the end, I have to call this a decent book that rubbed me the wrong way and never fully came together.

2 Stars - An Okay Book

See Ember and Ash (and comments from people who liked it much more than I did) on Amazon.com

Unnatural Issue

Sunday, August 21, 2011

This post is part of a week-long series of reviews of Mercedes Lackey novels. See intro post for more information.

Unnatural Issue
Mercedes Lackey, 2011

Premise: When Susanne was born, her mother died, and her father went insane with grief, refusing to acknowledge her and secluding himself from the world. This would be a sad story in any case, however her father was a skilled Master of Earth magic. As Susanne grew, she became an Earth Master as well, but her father starts dabbling in darker spells, and begins to think that he could bring his beloved back from the grave, if only he finds the right vessel. A girl of twenty-one who looks very like her mother fits the profile perfectly.

The Elemental Masters series consists of semi-linked volumes that can also stand alone. I've read a few in the past, but not the most recent, and still I could jump into this one easily. What links the books, besides the occasional recurring character, are two things. First the world: early 1900's Europe plus elemental magic. This one is set at the cusp of World War One. Second, each Elemental Masters novel is gently based on, or maybe I should say “inspired by” a fairy tale. Unnatural Issue is based loosely on The King Who Wished to Marry his Daughter or possibly a similar tale.

For most of the book, this is a romantic fantasy adventure, fairly light in tone. I found the necromancy practiced by Richard only inspired the necessary horror about half the time. Susanne is resourceful, if naïve and silly about certain things, and she's not a bad character to follow, although I didn't fall in love with her. Also, she's friends with Puck, which gives her a powerful ally outside of the human mages who try to teach and protect her.

I got a little tired of the romantic plot, honestly, as it was clear fairly early on exactly what was going to happen.

Fairly late, however, the book takes a harder tone, stops telling the reader all the villain's plans, and becomes much more compelling. There was one particular scene (which had nothing to do with the personal plot and everything to do with the war) that I found quite moving.

The climax fell a smidge flat for me. It wasn't bad at all, just a bit predictable. I did enjoy reading this, it was fun, but nothing about it (except possibly that one scene) really made me say “Wow!”

3 Stars – A Good Book

Check out Unnatural Issue on Amazon.com

The Hobbit Read-Along Parts One and Two!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

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

I'm playing a bit of catch-up here. When I signed up to be part of this read-along, I really thought I had a copy of The Hobbit in the apartment. Turns out, LOTR, Check, Sillmarillion, Check, but no Hobbit! It must be in storage someplace. No problem, I thought, I'll just pick up a copy at the library. However, when I got there, there were no copies to be had. It must be a summer reading book around here. Okay, I think, I have a copy of the BBC Radio Drama version that my husband won in a contest. I'll listen to that.

And then we went out of town for a week.

And I discovered that long radio drama isn't really my thing. (Short I can handle.)

Went back to the library, and this time I found a copy. Instead of answering all the discussion questions from both weeks, I'll just touch on a selection for now:

On Chapters 1-7:

What were your expectations starting The Hobbit ? (If you never read it before)
(For those who have read the Hobbit) Did you learn something during reading that you missed from the last time you read it?

My first experiences with the Hobbit were either with the book itself or the Rankin-Bass animated version. I honestly can't remember which I saw first, but the songs from the movie are the music that I associate with the book. Then I read the book again when it was taught in a High School English Class, so I am having a few flashbacks to those discussions. Today, I'm enjoying the style a lot more than I remembered, perhaps because I've now read enough of the contemporaries or authors that inspired Tolkien to put it in proper context. It's light, but not too light, amusing without dipping into self-parody. It's in that transitional phase between fairy tale style and what we think of as a modern fantasy novel. Although, I'm fairly over some of the quirks of the narration, i.e. the repetition of the joke about how 'it wouldn't be the last time Bilbo wished for home', etc.

What has been your favorite part of Bilbo's journey so far?
I remember liking the visit with Beorn a lot when I first read the book, but Riddles in The Dark is so masterful that it has to be my favorite. (Up until the spider battle. Yes! KILL THE SPIDERS!)

On Chapters 7-12:
There's some thought that Gandalf purposely didn't prepare the dwarves and Bilbo very well, that much of their trials is him testing them. What do you think of that theory, and what do you think he's testing/preparing them for?

That's just silly. Gandalf just doesn't really care whether or not they succeed. He's a wizard, not a guardian angel. He does them a few favors, and he doesn't want them to die, but in the scope of the shit that he is dealing with, whether Thorin gets to be King under the Mountain is kind of small potatoes.

What did you think of Bilbo's escape plan from the Wood-Elves?
I can't remember not knowing this part of the book, so it's always just been 'the way it happens' and I enjoy it. (Side Note: For those of you who are familiar with the Lord of the Rings Movies but are only now reading The Hobbit, you remember the King of the Wood-Elves they're escaping from? FYI: He's Legolas' dad.)

What did you think of Smaug? how does he compare to other fantasy novel dragons you've come across?

Smaug is the grandaddy, the big, badass, cocky, vain classic. There's a lot of that fairy tale influence in his portrayal, which sometimes is left out of other literary dragons.

How in the world is a hobbit and a bunch of unorganized dwarves who have hardly any weapons going to defeat an angry and greedy dragon??
Spoilers. ;)

Arrows of the Queen

This post is part of a week-long series of reviews of Mercedes Lackey novels. See intro post for more information.
Arrows of the Queen
Mercedes Lackey, 1987

For today's article, the first novel ever published by Ms. Lackey.

Premise: Talia's only pleasure in the hard life on her border community was the bits of reading time she stole while doing mindless chores. But it's her thirteenth birthday, and her family says that it's time for her to be married. She flees the prospect of the dead-end life she's seen her sisters fall to, only to run into an extraordinary animal called a Companion, who chooses her above all others to return to the capital with him and be trained as a Herald, one of the psychically gifted lawgivers of the Kingdom of Valdemar. She needs to learn quickly who to trust, because there is a conspiracy afoot, and she'll need to survive long enough to complete her training if she hopes to help her Queen.

A young person who is emotionally abused and taken advantage of by her close-minded family, until she is chosen to be whisked away to a new life, where she will learn to use her special gift, make friends and allies, and find purpose. I want to go back and time and put this delightful book at the top of all of those “Liked Harry Potter? Read this!” lists, especially for girls.

It has some weaknesses in the prose here and there; it is definitely a first book that was written in the 80's. The edition that I have wasn't typeset carefully, and the typos mark this as a true “mass market paperback”.

Nevertheless, this charmed me today just as much as it did when I first read it as a young teen.

I think I like Talia more than I did when I was young, because her blend of quiet bravery and empathic skills used to be less interesting to me than more flashy magic. Now that I'm a little older and perhaps wiser, I can appreciate her simple strength.

Also, I think Valdemar is a good example of building a fantasy kingdom to lend itself to strong female characters. Social attitudes are fairly modern among the protagonists, but not universal in the world, and every country or race has both its shining stars and its bad apples. That feels plausible to me: it doesn't present the world as gender-neutral sunshine and rainbows, nor does it exaggerate harsh gender roles such that any interesting woman needs to be a “rebellious warrior” type.

There are some wrinkles in the magic system and the history of the world that get ironed out or refined in later novels, but this is a strong start. Mercedes Lackey is still writing in this world, and the series has grown to over 30-odd books and collections.

Super Bonus Points: A First Novel, published in 1987. Target audience: Young women. Establishes in an off-hand way that gay people exist and are even historic figures, on page 2. PAGE 2. Not to mention the significant lesbian supporting characters who are teachers at the Collegium. I have said before, and I continue to say that I credit the Valdemar novels with teaching a generation of pre-teen girls from the suburbs that it is not okay to discriminate against those who are homosexual.

4 Stars – A Really Good Book

Check out Arrows of the Queen (used copies are dirt cheap) on Amazon.com

NPR List of Top 100 SF/F Books and Series

Friday, August 19, 2011

No blog hop for me this week, but because I like lists, I was interested to see that last week NPR posted the results of their reader (listener?) poll of 100 Top Science Fiction and Fantasy works. (For some reason, some books are listed singly, others as series.) Reader surveys are notoriously flaky in their choices, and I missed the initial spate of posts about this list since I was out of town with limited internet access. Now, of course, I want in on this discussion/meme. Thanks to The Hopeful Librarian and Dreaming About Other Worlds for calling my attention to this.

Here's NPR's Article

And here's my commentary on the list: Bold titles are those I've read, and I'm going to go ahead and give myself credit even if I haven't read an entire series.

1. The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy, by J.R.R. Tolkien - Duh.

2. The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, by Douglas Adams - Again, Duh. I actually have a really fun oversized edition of this book that is illustrated with photos of people in costumes.

3. Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card - Yup. Read the sequels, too. Am I the only one who liked Speaker for the Dead the best?

4. The Dune Chronicles, by Frank Herbert - I think I only read Dune itself, but it was pretty good. Although suddenly getting the reference in this song may be the most amazing thing I got from reading it.

5. A Song Of Ice And Fire Series, by George R. R. Martin - I read the first three in this series, and then decided that reading giant doorstoppers that only made me depressed was not the best use of my time on Earth when there are enjoyable books out there. Maybe if it ever finishes I'll go back. Or maybe I'll just read the synopses on Wikipedia.

6. 1984, by George Orwell - Read back in high school, maybe worth another look one day.

7. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury - Check.

8. The Foundation Trilogy, by Isaac Asimov - I really liked these, but at some point the library I was living near didn't have the next one, and now I can't remember where I stopped reading them.

9. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley - Read this for Psychology class in High School

10. American Gods, by Neil Gaiman - Bit overrated, I seem to remember I preferred Good Omens, which I read around the same time.

11. The Princess Bride, by William Goldman - I love the movie, but have never gotten around to actually reading the book, although I know it's rather different. Also notable as one of the small number of books that my husband has read and I haven't

12. The Wheel Of Time Series, by Robert Jordan - Oh man, the story of me and Wheel of Time. Friends in High School were really into this series, so I tried it, and couldn't get through the first one. Years later I decided to give it another shot, read the first one and kinda liked it, but only got halfway through the second one before deciding I hated all the characters and the plot, and giving up in frustration. But I read one.

13. Animal Farm, by George Orwell - I like to think that I would have gotten to some of these classics without having read them in High School English, but I honestly don't know.

14. Neuromancer, by William Gibson

15. Watchmen, by Alan Moore - Very good, but I'm kinda over it lately. Please note: This book should not be anyone's first graphic novel. It's largely about subverting what was happening in comics in the 80's. Without that context, it's just a lot of violence and posturing.

16. I, Robot, by Isaac Asimov - Awesome.

17. Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein - Important, good, but maybe not awesome.

18. The Kingkiller Chronicles, by Patrick Rothfuss

19. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut - I think I missed the Vonnegut reading window.

20. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley - This was surprisingly dull.

21. Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, by Philip K. Dick - Yes, I'm a bad person and should get to this.

22. The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood - Read just this year, brilliant.

23. The Dark Tower Series, by Stephen King - Read, own illustrated copy of each book, plan to re-read...

24. 2001: A Space Odyssey, by Arthur C. Clarke

25. The Stand, by Stephen King - I love Dark Tower, but it's got flaws. This might be the best single Stephen King I've read.

26. Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson - Still fun, a smidge dated now.

27. The Martian Chronicles, by Ray Bradbury - Really, really good.

28. Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut - Fine. Not that taken by it.

29. The Sandman Series, by Neil Gaiman - This, on the other hand, CAN be someone's first graphic novel/comic book experience. Good transitional work for those of us already into fantasy/mythology with a dash of horror.

30. A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess - I think I read this outside of school, but my memory is fuzzy.

31. Starship Troopers, by Robert Heinlein - Can't be a military sci-fi fan without sampling the classics.

32. Watership Down, by Richard Adams - I love this book.

33. Dragonflight, by Anne McCaffrey - Read back in the day, bought a cheap copy to re-read it, but haven't gotten to it yet.

34. The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein

35. A Canticle For Leibowitz, by Walter M. Miller

36. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells - I had this summer where I was being paid for an intership in room and board, and I read a lot of public domain books on my laptop in those months.

37. 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea, by Jules Verne - And this is one of my favorites that I read around that time.

38. Flowers For Algernon, by Daniel Keys

39. The War Of The Worlds, by H.G. Wells - A completely fascinating book.

40. The Chronicles Of Amber, by Roger Zelazny - On my radar, but haven't read it.

41. The Belgariad, by David Eddings - I think I tried to read the first one but didn't finish it.

42. The Mists Of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer Bradley - Ah, high school. I actually threw this book across the room at one point. And I liked it at the time.

43. The Mistborn Series, by Brandon Sanderson - Okay, this might be the first one I haven't even heard of. The name seems familiar, is this the guy who picked up the Wheel of Time books?

44. Ringworld, by Larry Niven - Did I read the first one of these, or did I take it out of the library but never get to it? If I can't remember, no credit.

45. The Left Hand Of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin - Although I read this so long ago that I basically remember nothing about it.

46. The Silmarillion, by J.R.R. Tolkien - Someone should go through and re-format the interesting bits from this into a shorter book. I'm glad I can say I read it, but I literally fell asleep at work while attempting to do so.

47. The Once And Future King, by T.H. White

48. Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman - Now, I think I should get credit for this one, because I saw the mini-series that was written before the book, but I haven't read the book.

49. Childhood's End, by Arthur C. Clarke

50. Contact, by Carl Sagan

51. The Hyperion Cantos, by Dan Simmons - I read Hyperion. Is it really worth reading further? I heard the later ones aren't as interesting because they abandon the "Canterbury Tales in Space" structure.

52. Stardust, by Neil Gaiman - Man, there's a lot of Gaiman on this list, maybe because he tends to write stand-alone books, but this is one of the best. You BETTER read the illustrated version, though, is all I'm saying.

53. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson

54. World War Z, by Max Brooks

55. The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle - One of the best books ever, in my opinion.

56. The Forever War, by Joe Haldeman - Quite good.

57. Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett - This is weird. Wheel of Time and Sandman are on here as series, but not Discworld? Huh. Small Gods is not my favorite Discworld book, but it can be read alone.

58. The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant, The Unbeliever, by Stephen R. Donaldson - Read the first one, hated it.

59. The Vorkosigan Saga, by Lois McMaster Bujold - Yes, yes, a thousand times, YES!

60. Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett - Again, really? This is one of the worst Discworld books. Did people just pick it because it was recent? Not Sourcery, Night Watch, Hogfather?

61. The Mote In God's Eye, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

62. The Sword Of Truth, by Terry Goodkind

63. The Road, by Cormac McCarthy

64. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke - I remember really liking this, but have only a sketchy memory of the plot.

65. I Am Legend, by Richard Matheson - Really, really good book.

66. The Riftwar Saga, by Raymond E. Feist - I read some of these back in high school, but I don't actually remember how many. I know I read the first couple.

67. The Shannara Trilogy, by Terry Brooks - Yup, went through a Terry Brooks phase, but not a huge fan these days.

68. The Conan The Barbarian Series, by R.E. Howard - Read the first compilation, would like to track down more.

69. The Farseer Trilogy, by Robin Hobb - I actually read a different series by Ms. Hobb, and while it was very compelling and well written, it did put her on the list of "good authors who I don't read often because their books are too depressing".

70. The Time Traveler's Wife, by Audrey Niffenegger - This book is overrated crap, and demeans the good name of genre fiction.

71. The Way Of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson

72. A Journey To The Center Of The Earth, by Jules Verne - I think I missed this one, so far anyway.

73. The Legend Of Drizzt Series, by R.A. Salvatore - Ha, ha, ha! Sometimes you're just in the mood for some sword-and-sorcery melodrama, and this delivers. I'm disappointed that this would make the list over Dragonlance, though, cause it ain't better.

74. Old Man's War, by John Scalzi

75. The Diamond Age, by Neil Stephenson - I know people who really liked this book, but I found it dull.

76. Rendezvous With Rama, by Arthur C. Clarke

77. The Kushiel's Legacy Series, by Jacqueline Carey - On my list...

78. The Dispossessed, by Ursula K. LeGuin

79. Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury - I really liked this.

80. Wicked, by Gregory Maguire - And I really hated this book. Great idea, stupid, pretentious execution. The musical succeeds by focusing on character relationships and ignoring all the bullshit political stuff that never went anywhere.

81. The Malazan Book Of The Fallen Series, by Steven Erikson

82. The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde

83. The Culture Series, by Iain M. Banks

84. The Crystal Cave, by Mary Stewart

85. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson - Honestly? I think this had a fascinating world that was built for 3/4 of the book, but then was thrown aside in favor of a plot that felt tacked on.

86. The Codex Alera Series, by Jim Butcher - Read the first one, but it was boring and poorly structured, so I stopped there.

87. The Book Of The New Sun, by Gene Wolfe

88. The Thrawn Trilogy, by Timothy Zahn - Read these back in High School, and remember them fondly. Although why isn't this entry called Star Wars: Heir to the Empire Trilogy? Were the fine folks at NPR embarrassed that movies inspired good books? Drizzt up above lost his Forgotten Realms tag, too.

89. The Outlander Series, by Diana Gabaldan - Read the first one, and while it wasn't my cup of tea, it wasn't terrible. However, there is no way in HELL these books belong on this list. They are Romance novels, with a smidgen of Time Travel.

90. The Elric Saga, by Michael Moorcock - Read a compilation of the early stories and loved them.

91. The Illustrated Man, by Ray Bradbury - I find it odd that both this and Something Wicked This Way Comes are on this list. I think I should get partial credit for this, because I've read some of the stories, but not this particular collection, I don't think.

92. Sunshine, by Robin McKinley

93. A Fire Upon The Deep, by Vernor Vinge

94. The Caves Of Steel, by Isaac Asimov - On the mental list.

95. The Mars Trilogy, by Kim Stanley Robinson - This too.

96. Lucifer's Hammer, by Larry Niven & Jerry Pournelle

97. Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis

98. Perdido Street Station, by China Mieville - Read this, thought it was fascinating world building, compelling story, and then I hated the ending with the fire of a thousand suns. I wish I could scrub it from my brain. I haven't quite been able to convince myself to pick up another Mieville since.

99. The Xanth Series, by Piers Anthony - Read plenty of these back in the day, Anthony was one of my favorites when I was 16.

100. The Space Trilogy, by C.S. Lewis

So if I'm counting right, that's 60 entries read out of 100. Not too shabby. What do you think is the one I haven't read that I'm most missing out on?

Knight of Ghosts and Shadows

This post is part of a week-long series of reviews of Mercedes Lackey novels. See intro post for more information.

Knight of Ghosts and Shadows
Mercedes Lackey and Ellen Guon, 1990

I am such a sucker for this kind of book!

Premise: Eric Banyon has trouble with his life. He likes being a busker and working the Faire, even though he could be a world class flautist. He then wonders why he can't keep a girlfriend. One day he plays in the woods like he's never played before, and then this guy with pointed ears shows up, calling him Bard and asking for his help...

I was concerned that this book wouldn't live up to my vague yet positive memories. Luckily, it surpassed my expectations.

It was just so sweet! This was exactly the kind of fluffy read I adored as a teenager, and still enjoy now and again. Flawed but well meaning good guys, some sympathetic bad guys, magic, elves, love and action.

Plus one of the best, most adorable 'each half of insecure couple doesn't realize the other likes them' sequences I know. And Mercedes Lackey is the queen of that trope, as far as I'm concerned.

These are the books that made me think it would be super fun to work at a Renaissance Faire. For a flavor of the life of a musician, for some early Urban Fantasy where magic clashes with modern society, have a vacation in the Bedlam's Bard series.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Knight of Ghosts and Shadows is available on Amazon.com (used copies are REALLY cheap)

Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Bardic Voices 4)

Thursday, August 18, 2011

This post is part of a week-long series of reviews of Mercedes Lackey novels. See intro post for more information.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds (Bardic Voices 4)
Mercedes Lackey, 1996

Premise: Tal Rufen is a constable who cares about his job. Maybe he cares a little too much. When he becomes convinced magic connects a series of grisly murder-suicides, he refuses to give up the case, even when his supervisors disagree.

This is a more coherent novel than the first bardic Voices book. It's gently connected to the other books, but you wouldn't need to have read them to follow this. It's also a bit CSI Fantasy Kingdom, which I really enjoy.

Tal is a good character, maybe a smidge more honorable than one might expect, but kind, smart, and good at his job. When the action moves to the city of Kingsford, he is joined by Justiciar Mage Ardis, who was a minor character in some of the other books.

The story of the two of them, along with bird-man Visyr, working to catch a serial killer mage, is a solid and enjoyable one. However, my favorite thing about this book is the believable character development of each person.

Best of all is the resolution of the character plot, which makes perfect sense and is perfectly satisfying
without being obvious.

4 Stars- A Very Good Book

Four and Twenty Blackbirds is available used on Amazon.com

Comics Briefly DOUBLE FEATURE: American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #3, Avengers Academy #18, Batgirl #24, Cloak and Dagger #1, Darkwing Duck #15, Power Girl #27

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

I missed last week's post due to travel, so this is two weeks' worth of comics!

Favorite Issue Last Week: Batgirl #25
Favorite Issue This Week: Avengers Academy #18

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest, Batgirl and Cloak and Dagger were new in stores on 8/10/11
Avengers Academy, Darkwing Duck and Power Girl were new in stores on 8/17/11

American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #3
Writer: Scott Snyder, Artist: Sean Murphy, Colorist: Dave Stewart

This is more like it, after last month's slight let down. More action, more tense moments, more hints about Felicia's abilities, good character stuff between Felicia and Cashel, more mysteries! Bring on the vampires!

Avengers Academy #18
Writer: Christos Gage, Artist: Andrea Di Vito, Colorist: Jeromy Cox

Wow! Doing the Fear Itself tie-in issues have really forced the academy kids to step up to the plate in a big way, and the stories are better for it. I basically liked all the characters here, I liked the way they used their powers, I liked how different characters stepped up under pressure. I felt they were making what they could of a bad situation, even as missteps are causing serious injuries for some of the class.

Batgirl #24
Writer: Brian Q. Miller, Artist: Pere Perez, Colorist: Guy Major

Yes, there are hiccups in this story, and shaky bits in the resolution. But this is the very last issue of Stephanie Brown's run as Batgirl, and Brian Q. Miller pulls out all the stops in his attempt to both wrap up his run in the few pages remaining and give us fans an epic send-off for Steph. There are seven amazing full-page splash panels highlighting the potential and joy of the character. It is so beautiful and hopeful, it actually made me tear up a bit. One of my favorite issues of anything, all year.

Cloak and Dagger #1
Writer: Nick Spencer, Artist: Emma Rios, Colorist: Javier Rodriguez

Especially for characters I basically know nothing about, this issue impressed me. Ostensibly part of the Spider Island event, it's really just a reintroduction to Cloak and Dagger, their relationship to each other, the world, and other heroes. It's really cool. (Apparently Cloak and Dagger were young runaways who were given some sort of experimental illegal treatment that gave them superpowers. Cloak has shadow powers and can teleport, Dagger's powers are based in light.) I like the dual monologue style, it quickly gives you a specific voice and perspective for each of them. Also, I love Emma Rios' art. It's both painterly and precise, and it's absolutely gorgeous. The writing is crisp and clever, which is what I was hoping for from Nick Spencer. I'm really looking forward to the next issue.

Darkwing Duck #15
Writer: Ian Brill, Artist: James Silvani, Colorist: Lisa Moore

A better issue than this has had in a few months, but still a bit shaky in the storytelling. Also I've heard some distressing news about Boom! losing the licensing to these characters, so this is the beginning of the end for the run. I hope they get a chance to wrap it up nicely, and I'm concerned that Disney/Marvel won't take advantage of these properties, or the great writing and art teams that have (until the last couple issues) been doing such solid work.

Power Girl #27
Writer: Matthew Sturges, Artist: Hendry Prasetya, Colorist: Jessica Kholinne

Another really fun issue by Sturges. Power Girl is confronted with a twist on the classic villainous "you can save this person or that person" challenge, and handles it with her particular flair and style. I love the little moments the most, as she displays her powers and her smarts to great effect. I have really got to track down the first year of this run. Side Note: the cover is sort of hideous, but the internal art is really nice. I've been really charmed by PG lately, and she could easily become a favorite character. Damn you, DC, for canceling all the books I collect!

Oathbound, Oathbreakers (Vows and Honor 1 and 2)

This post is part of a week-long series of reviews of Mercedes Lackey novels. See intro post for more information.

Oathbound, Oathbreakers (Vows and Honor 1 and 2)
Mercedes Lackey, 1988, 1989

Premise: Tarma is a Shin'a'in swordswoman whose entire clan was murdered. She became a Goddess-sworn warrior to take vengeance for her people. She joins forces with Kethy, a White Winds mage who also has violence in her past. Kethry is now bonded to a sword which holds a geas to help women in trouble. They soon become sworn sisters, fast friends, and swift death to their enemies.

The first book, Oathbound, is somewhat disjointed, but it's for obvious reasons. It was put together around a handful of short stories that had been previously published. FYI: the story of Tarma and Kethry's first meeting is not reprinted in either of these volumes.

While I enjoyed reading these, I didn't quite love them the way I remember loving them as a teenager. The characters are strong, the plots tangled and interesting, good dialogue, good description, humor and friendship and action, but they're just not quite as compelling as I remembered.

I love the friendship between Tarma and Kethry. There aren't enough battle-comrade friendship stories about women. They are both strong at their respective disciplines, loyal to each other and their principles, and good at balancing each other's weaknesses.

Oathbreakers has a great story, starting off setting up the duo's place in an extraordinary mercenary company, and then expanding into the main plot. As it's the second book, their working relationship is stronger and more set in that one.

What threw me off a little was the amount of sexual violence, spoken about and perpetrated against various characters. It's not gratuitous, or explicitly described, but it surprised me how strong my visceral reaction against it was. Of course, the villains get what is coming to them, sometimes in a rather vindictive way.

(Spoiler: Most notably, halfway through Oathbound, when the protagonists directly implied that they were setting a (male) villain up to be raped and killed. Terrible villain, rapist and muderer, yes, but I was surprised at the “eye for an eye” style viciousness.)

At the same time, I appreciate the righteous fury of Tarma and Kethry as they set out to take vengeance for wrongs against themselves and other women. And those scenes were leavened with other scenes of humor and happiness.

These are strong stories set in an interesting world, with many awesome female characters. I am just more aware of the moral relativism of their world-view than I was at 16. They're still really fun reads.

3 Stars – Good Books

Check out Oathbound and Oathbreakers at Amazon.com

Top Ten Freebie - Books Bought on Vacation

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Currently going on here at the Bookshelf: Mercedes Lackey Week! Click for more info.

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and The Bookish

This Week's Prompt is: Top Ten Tuesday Freebie -- Use this week to write a top ten list about ANYTHING in literature. 

When I first saw this prompt I had all these different ideas for what I could write about!

But I've been incredibly busy, and now I just got back from vacation, and I'm exhausted and my brain feels sludgy.

So instead, here are the Top Ten Books (and book-like things) I bought while on vacation in the land of a thousand awesome used bookstores, aka Seattle.

1: That red book on the bottom is a role-playing game book called Prime Directive. It seems to be a game semi-unofficially based on Star Trek: The Original Series, where the players are Star Fleet commandos. It amuses me greatly, plus it was just $3 at Gary's Games

2 and 3: JLA graphic novels (specifially JLA: One Million and JLA: Strength in Numbers) from when Grant Morrison was writing the team. Bought for 7-10 bucks each at Half Price Books.

4: The Dreamstone, by CJ Cherryh. A 1983 edition of an entertaining-looking fantasy about war between humans and fairies by the inventive Cherryh? Yes, please! $3 at Third Place Books.

5: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch is a fantasy which comes highly recommended by The Little Red Reviewer, among others. Half-off cover price at Half Price Books.

6: The Making of Star Trek by Stephen Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry. A history of the production of Star Trek, including a great amount of first-hand material and reprints of parts of the early show bible, etc. Bought for 1.89 at St. Vincent's Thrift Shop.

7: Jirel of Joiry, by C. L. Moore. This is a collection of all the stories about Jirel, the first female sword-and-sorcery pulp heroine, certainly the first written by a woman. I have read the first story, when I reviewed the collection The Best of C.L. Moore. Half-off at Half Price Books.

8: The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley. Author and series was recommended to me by friends, and it was half-off (under $3!) at, you guessed it, Half Price Books!

9: Comic Books! Picked up Batgirl #24 and American Vampire: Survival of the Fittest #3 at Seattle comic shops, actually found one issue at The Dreaming and one at Zanadu. Both great issues, but only Batgirl caused me to get a bit emotional and teary. 

10: Star Trek Comics on CD! Found for $8 at Half Price Books, this claims to hold copies of ALL Star Trek Comics from 1967-2002. I haven't tried it out yet, but assuming they're easy to read and good quality files, this is a great find!

You guys have no idea how many more books I almost bought on top of all this. I have a real thing for little yellowed pulp fantasy paperback editions, and there were SO MANY, but I couldn't have fit much more in our luggage. All that shopping, and I also spent lots of time with friends, but now I need a nap.

Trio of Sorcery

Trio of Sorcery
Mercedes Lackey, 2010

This post is part of a week-long series of reviews of Mercedes Lackey novels. See intro post for more information.

Premise: Three urban fantasy novellas about magically talented women solving mysteries. Arcanum 101 is a Diana Tregarde prequel, featuring the witch and Guardian trying to find the connection between a fake psychic and a kidnapped girl, while simultaneously starting college. Drums is a sequel to the novel Sacred Ground, in which medicine woman Jennie Talldeer needs to stop an angry ghost from killing a young dancer. Finally, Ghost in the Machine follows techno-shaman Ellen McBride, who is called in to consult with a MMO corporation who find that their perfectly programmed monster may be more powerful than they planned.

This was a fun read. I especially liked that the stories worked well together, despite not having much overt in common. The first is set in the early 70's, and the protagonist is a college freshman. The second is set in 1995, and Jennie is established, but young, say, late 20's/early 30's? The third is set in 2010, while Ellen seems semi-ageless, and is definitely at the top of her game.

I liked all three stories, although I don't think I ever read Sacred Ground, so I felt a little less sure of Drums than of the other two. Now I want to go re-read some Diana Tregard. Mmmm...Horror/Fantasy. There's some amusing bits in this story about hippies encouraging dangerous metaphysical incursions. I think Ms. Lackey is still a bit pissed about the people who took the Diana Tregarde books way too seriously, and I don't blame her one bit.

Ghost in the Machine was a delight, and I adored Ell. She has a familiar spirit in an AIBO (remember those cute robot dogs?) She programmed it to talk like K9. She's a professional with a wicked sense of humor. I love her.

These stories had fun characters, tense plots, good action scenes, interesting mystery plots, and emotion with very little angst. I thoroughly approve.

4 Stars – A Really Good Book

Check out Trio of Sorcery on Amazon.com

The Lark and the Wren (Bardic Voices, Book One)

Monday, August 15, 2011

This post is part of a week-long series of reviews of Mercedes Lackey novels. See intro post for more information.

The Lark and the Wren (Bardic Voices, Book One)
Mercedes Lackey, 1992

I'd been considering re-reading a few books I hadn't looked at in years, and then I saw that I could read this one for free.

Premise: More than anything, Rune wants to make music. But for a girl born a bastard, with no money and no connections, with nothing but talent, the path is bound to be long and hard.

I remember enjoying this whole series when I was in high school, and on re-reading I'd say it's fluffy and light, with some major bright spots and some major flaws.

One of the flaws is that the plot reads like a series of short stories all jammed together, not like a novel. The first half of the book or so is comprised of two major stories, which work well together. The first part tells how Rune is dissatisfied with her life, and how she ends up making a deal with a ghost to play her fiddle all night for its entertainment, but if she fails or falters, she's dead. That's a pretty good story. The second story is of how Rune makes her way through the small villages to the city, how she learns to be a street busker, takes lessons in music, and makes new friends. That's a great story as well. This section culminates in her journey to the Bardic Trials. In order to join the Guild Bards (the highest paid and most high-class musicians), she has to get through a grueling audition, while disguised as a boy.

Up to this point, the book is a pretty good, if unexceptional, fantasy adventure. Rune is a fun character, and the people she meets, while not being especially deep characters, are entertaining.

But suddenly the book takes a sharp left into romance, as Rune falls in with the Gypsies, and the older Bard Talaysen. I don't mind the romantic plot, I mind that after strictly following Rune Third Person Limited for half the book, the point of view starts to latch onto new characters and wander around. The plots that stuff the second half of the book are a series of short adventures that just don't grab me, and the good fortune enjoyed by everyone is far too pat.

I found it a fun read, but the constant plot meandering in the second half means it'll never be great.

3 Stars – A Good Book

The Lark and The Wren is FREE on Baen.com

New Theme Week: The Work of Mercedes Lackey

Sunday, August 14, 2011

It's time again for a new theme week!

This time I'm reading the work of just one author: the incredibly prolific Mercedes Lackey. Ms. Lackey was one of my favorite authors in high school and I still pick up the occasional new book when I'm in the mood for some girl-positive fantasy. I was in need of a mix of nostalgia and the fantastic, so I'm reading a grand array of her work, some I've read before and some I haven't, in selections from many different series.

Here's the schedule (links will also appear here as reviews are posted)

Mon Aug 15: The Lark and the Wren
Tues Aug 16: Trio of Sorcery
Wed Aug 17: Oathbound and Oathbreakers
Thurs Aug 18: Four and Twenty Blackbirds
Fri Aug 19: Knight of Ghosts and Shadows
Sat Aug 20: Arrows of the Queen
Sun Aug 21: Unnatural Issue

What's your favorite book by Mercedes Lackey? I remember being really fond of the Mage Storms Trilogy, but those will have to wait for another session of re-reading.

Previous Theme Weeks:
Fantasy Flashback
Star Trek

Other Previous Themed Explorations:
Historical “Girls” Novels
Anthropomorphic Animal Societies
Holmes Pastiche
Vampire Literature
Pre-Tolkien Fantasy

Top Ten Tuesday - Underrated Books

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and The Bookish

This Week's Prompt: Top Ten Underrated Books (books you can't believe aren't more popular, books that are more obscure, etc.)

I could really just repost my top ten list from a few months back on underrated authors, but let's see if I can come up with a few more specific works.

1: I found The Worm Ourobouros completely fascinating. See my full review here. It's weird and a little clunky through the beginning, but it might arguably be the first fantasy novel (in the way we currently think of High/Epic Fantasy) EVER. And it's GOOD. It's okay by me that it's rough around the edges.

2: From a similar time frame, Time and the Gods by Lord Dunsany is a wildly imaginative, yet somewhat unknown, set of short stories

3: Switching from classic works to just-released, I've felt lucky to have found the wonderfully original works by Andrea K. Höst, see my recent review of The Silence of Medair.

4: Bridge of Birds by Barry Hughart is a charming historical fantasy based loosely on Chinese myth. I had never heard of it before a friend recommended it to me, and since then I've met few people who've read it.

5: The most amusing almost completely unknown book that I own is called The Fleet: Book Two: Counterattack. It's a collection of short sci-fi stories by different authors about an interstellar war. I got it in a mixed lot of paperbacks, and liked some of the stories enough that I wanted to look up the rest of the series, but at the time I had to really hassle the internet to get it to admit that it even existed. Now it's available, but doesn't seem to be too popular. (Maybe I should re-read it before I recommend it highly.)

6: Romance and Legend of Chivalry by A. R. Hope Moncrieff. I found this interesting volume of collected stories and literary critique in the local library. I'll quote from my goodreads review: "Picture an academic of 1913 looking back at the age of chivalry through the lens of his own time.... The second half is a collection of period "romances", yes, a bit prettied up, mostly just made readable, (at least that's the author's claim). Very enjoyable read."

7: I would venture that many people don't know that in the latter half of the Bond series by Ian Fleming there is a unique novel starring a smart adventurous young woman, and only guest starring Bond. The Spy Who Loved Me is dated, but really intriguing.

8: I'm happy for excuses to plug The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem, a unique and fun book of short sci-fi stories. Originally written in Polish, but it is excellently translated.

9: After I wrote a favorable review of an assortment of Star Trek Comics from the 90's, I received a graphic novel collection of the Early Voyages comic series. Practically unknown, but it was really quite good, stay tuned for a review soon!

10: I want to give a closing shout-out to Tending the Fire, by Erin L. Snyder. This brand new collection of fabulous original fantasies and fairy tales was edited and formatted by yours truly, and is available for the e-reader of your choice for only 99 cents!  (Kindle, Nook, Smashwords)

Have you read any of my obscure picks?

Downbelow Station

Monday, August 8, 2011

Downbelow Station
C. J. Cherryh, 1981

Premise: When humanity spread to the stars, they were contained to ships and stations, and tethered to Earth by commerce. That was until Pell, the first new living world, was found. From there, humans spread to the stars, and grew apart. Now the struggle over who will rule out there is coming to a head, between the Earth-Based Company, the space-based Fleet which ostensibly works for the Company, and the cloning-friendly spacers who make up the Union which has claimed the Beyond. The citizens of Pell Station don't want war to come to them, but the obvious line of battle is drawn at Pell and its world, also called simply DownBelow.

It took me a few chapters to get into this book, similar to some other Cherryh I've read, but it was definitely worth it. It's both a sweeping story of the movement of peoples and governments, about the ways ideologies and morals shift when humans are separated by great distances, and a series of very personal stories of the people on Pell Station.

C. J. Cherryh is good at stealth characters, in a way that I like. I mean, I start spending time with a character, like the early spotlight on Signy Mallory, commander of the warship Norway. Mallory is a no-nonsense fighter, a strong leader who cares about her people, stuck fighting a losing war, and when we first meet her, she's in the unenviable position of forcing Pell Station to take on a good number of refugees, many desperate, many unknown, who are fleeing a station taken by the Union. And just when I was getting to like her, I realize that she has been alone in command too long, has seen too much, and has some very immoral (though slightly vague) ways of releasing tension. Most of the characters are layered like that.

The main focus of the story revolves around the Konstantin Family who run the station, their friends and loved ones, and their relationship with the station, the citizens, the refugees, and Downbelow. On the world below is another race, the hisa, also called Downers, who are not technologically advanced, though they are not unintelligent. Many Downers work with humans on the surface, to mine and farm to support the station, and some travel up to the station itself, to work as simple mechanics and laborers.

As usual, Cherryh creates a fascinating species. She has a talent for making aliens definitely not-human, while keeping them both comprehensible and interesting in themselves. The hisa are more relatable than some other species I've read by Cherryh; they have emotions closer to human children, although they are definitely alien.

There are a lot of different viewpoint characters in this book, especially in the first half, and it took me a bit to get a handle on the plot. Recently, I've disliked books that give me so many characters to follow, but here I felt that it gave me a better grasp of the larger politics of the region, which gave me a better context for the emotional stories that emerged as the book went on.

Overall, a really great read.

5 Stars – An Amazing Book

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