Monday, March 31, 2008

[Lisa's Take] Fire Study - A follow-up

I accidentally got stuck with nothing to read shortly after I set Fire Study aside, and as a result I picked it back up. One sitting had me read far enough that my favorite character in the series was introduced, so I actually ended up finishing the book, figuring that it didn't really cost me anything just to git 'er dun.

I don't really have anything positive to add - the plot didn't pick up, the story didn't become more compelling, and I continued to not give a damn about what was going on - but I did finally manage to place my finger on why the book was so bland and empty compared to Poison Study.

Maria V. Snyder doesn't re-introduce her characters, nor does she really do much to support them or change them once they have been introduced.

Take Valek, one of the major protagonists. I know what he's like from the first book, and I know why he's awesome. But when he showed up in this book, the author did NOTHING to describe him. You got no physical description. You got next to no backstory. You might be able to imply “boy he sure is sneaky!” from the way he showed up, but that was about it. Looking back, I started to realize that was the case for ALL of the characters. If they’ve shown up in a previous book, they get absolutely no loving attention to their personalities as far as memory-refresh or further development. Additionally, they don’t change AT ALL. The one guy’s a dick. The other guy’s a joker. The other one is mysterious. I don’t think she even bothers to use different adjectives to describe them. It’s really bad.

So, there’s my observation. I feel vindicated for finally being able to point concretely at what was pissing me off. Woo.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Lisa's Take - Black Ships (Jo Graham)

Man, I need to take that “be careful what you wish for” thing to heart. I was ruminating recently that I hadn’t read a single book that really got me riiiiight there since Lies of Locke Lamora. In general I was a little grumpy about the lack of emotional impact in the majority of the books I’d been reading – there were a number of books that were good at it, but not great.

Black Ships got me right there. I can only imagine how I looked sitting in the cafeteria snuffling and wiping away tears over the remnants of a Clementine.

This book is a re-telling of Virgil’s The Aeneid from the perspective of an oracle who traveled with Aeneas. Usually I shy away from historical fantasy, but I figured this one was set far enough back and had enough of a gods-and-magic twist that I’d give it a try. I’m supremely glad I picked it up, because it was an extremely enjoyable read. The characters were fantastic, the pacing and story telling just right, and the prose was lovely and evocative.

This was Jo Graham’s first novel, but it really didn’t feel like it at all. As she mentioned in her acknowledgements, she’s been working on it since she was a teenager, which I imagine gives you lots of time to perfect. I wouldn’t have guessed this was a first novel just from reading it, though, which is always an accomplishment.

So, if you want some good character-driven fantasy, pick this book up. Even if you don’t read many books based upon actual historical settings, I promise this one is excellent – you can just squint your eyes a little and pretend there are no real places involved. Black Ships is definitely well written, and I’ll absolutely be watching for Jo Graham to publish more books. I’m just going to go back to my melancholyish bittersweetfull malaise now, don't mind me.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Lisa's Take - Sabriel (Garth Nix)

So every time I finish a book, I open up a template for a review of it. I usually keep them in my Drafts folder on gmail, as a way to remind myself to get it done in a timely fashion. This particular review has been sitting in draft-form for well over a month now, and I haven't come up with any interesting or witty ways to approach it. I feel kind of bad, because it was an enjoyable book - I just don't know that I have a lot to say about it. Part of the problem is that this book is YA, which I'm proving to be pretty awful at reviewing. Maybe I should have done a mini-review. Feh.

Ok, enough stalling, let’s get going on the review. This is a great little book, and it's got some very interesting ideas. The main character, Sabriel, is the daughter of a necromancer, and has learned his trade - being able to walk the rivers of death, and using bells to control the souls there. This particular variety of necromancer is good, rather than bad, as they keep demons and restless spirits from making trouble in the real world.

The short of the story is: father goes missing, Sabriel goes to find him and inherits the role of her family namesake - Abhorsen, the leader in the fight against the underworld. She's helped out by all sorts of interesting magical contraptions, accompanied by a demon-cat, and falls in love with a random dude she finds trapped in statue-form, who was instrumental in some historical event that lead to the current trouble with wild magic. There’s drama, adventure, and a couple of climaxes. Yay.

The book is short and a quick read – I took it out in an afternoon or two. There are some really cool settings and vivid images painted. In general the characters are good and believable, and the story is absorbing. I liked it. My one gripe is that the whole love-interest thing was waaaay predictable and almost… out of place? I think I would have had more respect for the author if he had pulled a Scot Lynch (re: Sabetha). Still, that’s a pretty small gripe.

Overall, I’d put Sabriel at the top of the list of YA I’ve read lately, and I’ll definitely be picking up the sequels at some point. Tasty stuff.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Lisa's Take: Fire Study (Maria V. Snyder)

I should have known. I should have known when I couldn’t find this book on release day and I had to ask the nice shop attendant to show me where it was and he led me to the freaking Romance section. That should have been a dead give-away, but did I listen? Nooo, I had to be optimistic and shove all my other reading aside so I could consume the third book in this series as soon as it came out.

I made it almost half way through - a good 170 pages or so - before I threw this book aside in disgust. The first book in this series was so very good! It took me completely by surprise – I wasn’t expecting anything deep when I picked it up, but I got some really gritty themes, interesting characters, novel and surprising situations, and even a number of plot twists that I didn’t see coming until I was caught up in them. Did I mention the extremely compelling love interest? The second book had a marked downward slant in terms of quality and impact, but it was still a fairly worthwhile read. The characters had stagnated a bit, and the new introductions just weren’t that interesting. It felt very middle-school.

Fire Study can’t even claim that much. This is like… a 14-year-old’s first stab at a novel. If I went back and re-read the 150-odd pages of the book I tried to write as a teenager, I bet it would read juuuust like this. “It’s so exciting! And then THIS happened, but she was really awesome so it was ok! And then THIS happened, but she’s got these amazing powers, so she beat it. And then THIS happened but she’s a natural leader, so it was ok, too. Oh, she might have used her powers for evil, but it's for the greater good, so she's totally over accidentally killing those guys. And oh, boo hoo, isn’t she a tragic figure, so very outcast and exiled?” Christ. I’m not even exaggerating here, I swear. I recently read a rant by Ms. Snyder about how she doesn’t understand that people sometimes call her main character a “Mary Sue. At the time I agreed with the MS-ness a bit, but not too much. Fire Study, however, had proven just how very much her main character epitomizes what it means to be a Mary Sue. It’s kind of pathetic.

I’m struggling to find anything at all good to say about this book. Um. I guess I’d rather see it in the YA section than in the Romance section. I mentioned in my review of the second book that it read like Mercedes Lackey, but better… the third book is definitely more of “it reads like Mercedes Lackey, but worse,” yet I still think it would be marginally entertaining for younger readers. Well, except for Snyder’s propensity for rape and killing – maybe not so much with that for 13-year-olds. Though, I guess I did start my little sister on Martin when she was 15ish, so I could just be overly prudish.

Right, I need to stop wallowing in the mudpit of self-pity formed from seeing a great series turn to crap. Don’t waste your money on this book, it’s boring, flat, and useless.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Lisa's Take: Otherland Book 2 - River of Blue Fire (Tad Williams)

River of Blue Fire. Let me ‘splain.... no, there is too much. Let me sum up.

…Oh wait, there’s too much for that, too. This book is so huge, it’s ridiculous. Just to name a few of the worlds/genres that are touched upon in this particular installment of Otherland: there’s Oz, War of the Worlds era London, Xanadu, Venice during the Renaissance, near-future sci-fi, hard fantasy, ancient Egypt, and a cartoon kitchen-land populated with characters from various brands of food and cleaning supplies.

You see why I can’t sum up. Instead, let me gush a little. Good gods does Tad Williams ever have an imagination in him. This series of books defines “multi-genre” in a way I can’t even express. It’s really damn impressive, and consistently entertaining. Perhaps even more impressively: he has these really incredible worlds that (incidentally) also have really engaging characters in them. I know! Imagine! He probably has a core cast of 12-15 major characters, and they’re all distinct, colorful, well-defined, solid, and any other adjective you can use to describe excellent characterization.

At first I wasn’t sure I would enjoy this second book in the series – I waited a year before starting it, because I was feeling wishy-washy – but it was definitely worth it. I would recommend spacing the books out a bit, so you don’t burn yourself out. Luckily the author provides a very good 10-page summary at the start of each book, highlighting the big important events (and some events you didn’t necessarily realize were important) so you can take some time off but still be drawn back in.

My single, solitary gripe is that none of the big reveals in River of Blue Fire really caught me by surprise. There was one plot point in particular where Mr. Williams was leading the reader reeeeal hard down one pathway of thinking, and that in itself clued me in that I should be suspicious.

Still, the Otherland books are definitely worth reading. I look forward to the 3rd book – after a nice healthy break for some candy and/or strict fantasy.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Week of Mini Review - In Closing

Well! That about finishes off the week of mini reviews. Between the two of us we knocked out miniature-ramblings on 18 books! I'm very glad to have my queue clear so I can stop feeling bad about missing so many.

From now on: a full review for every book! ...At least until I get lazy and fall behind once again.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - Wild Sheep Chase (Haruki Murakami)

(What's up with this review?)

This book was a great break from my usual fantasy-only regimen, and I’m quite glad it was forced upon me. The plot was surreal and intriguing, with enough fantasy elements to keep me hooked, but still plenty of deep implications and a literature-bint. Ironically, Murakami is known for trying to sound American when he writes (in his native Japanese), but the translation sounds very japanese to me in it’s phrasing. Maybe I’m crazy.

I’d definitely like to hit up some more Murakami in the future, especially when I’m looking for something a little more deep.

The Bottom Line: Thumbs Up

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - The Gentleman Bastard Series (Scott Lynch)

(What's up with this review?)

Lies of Locke Lamora

JD has already reviewed this, so I’ll keep it short: This was the BEST book I read in 2006. Easily. Hands down. I cannot be more thrilled that Scott Lynch has a lot more planned.

Red Seas Under Red Skies

A solid continuation from Lies. I had a few more gripes this time (mostly because I was able to get over my awe and look at the book critically). For instance – The Bastards go galavanting off in the middle of one heist to take care of another (they’re compelled, to be fair) and then when they come back to the first heist, the end-game is very rushed. I’m pretty sure Lynch just hit his page-limit and had to cut back *shrug* Still, it’s freaking phenomenal. Consume it like the amazing, gritty candy it is.

The bottom line: it don't get more thumbs-up than this.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - Un Lun Dun (China Mieville)

(What's up with this review?)

Hmm. I’ve restarted this review about 4 times. Nothing I say about it comes out quite right. Un Lun Dun was a good enough book I guess, but it was still YA fiction, which almost always lacks a punch for me. I was trying to review it without the YA slant… but it just wasn’t working.

Anyway, like all of Mieville’s work, this has some really neat ideas. Very creative. But… it’s still YA. I didn’t really care about the characters, and there was very little emotional tie-in. Who knows, maybe if I were 13 I would have thought differently *shrug*

The bottom line: skip it and read The Scar instead.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters (Gordon Dahlquist)

(What's up with this review?)

This book was a very pleasant surprise, and yet another novel that deserves a full review. Ah well, maybe if that slacker JD ever reads it he can give it the review it deserves.

Glass Books is kind of a Victorian, steam-punk, fantasy hybrid. You know – canes with swords inside, masquerades, dirigibles, huge machines with lots of gears, monocles, &c. It’s also POV driven – you get chapters each from the perspective of one of the 3 main characters.

The book is really quite entertaining and excellent. I wasn’t expecting to like it – I nearly stopped after the first chapter – but in the second chapter things really pick up. I’d suggest if you get off on the wrong foot to make sure you read each of the first 3 chapters so you can be introduced to each of the main characters. It’s highly worth the read!

The bottom line: Thumbs up! Read it!

Monday, March 10, 2008

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take – Briar Rose (Jane Yolen)

(What's up with this review?)

A bunch of sci-fi fantasy writers got together a few years ago and released a series of novellas that were classic fairy tales crossed with some sort of other story. I had no idea that’s what was going on when I picked up Briar Rose – I honestly just grabbed it because it was short and because I loved Jane Yolen when I was a tween. Turns out Steve Brust also did one of these, as did a number of other authors I’ve read. I kind of wish they’d release them in compiled volumes – I’d definitely pick them all up.

Anyway, I’m divided about Briar Rose overall. I noticed this problem when I reviewed The Kite Runner. I get kind of stand-offish about books that deal with real-life content that the reader is required to feel emotional about. Briar Rose is about a Holocaust victim – of course it’s going to be painful and touching. You can’t do anything about it, and if you review it callously, you’re going to get your stuffing ripped out.

So I’ll divide it up.

  • The parts of the book that dealt with the Holocaust were very well handled and very touching. I would have had a favorable impression of the book if the section that was a character re-telling his Holocaust experience was the entire story.
  • The parts of the book that dealt with the telling of the fairy tale are… interesting. At least somewhat engaging.
  • The parts of the book that dealt with the main character searching for the history were entirely useless. I didn’t give a damn about her, and I didn’t really care if she succeeded. Her love interest was bland and predictable, and all the secondary characters were either flat or obnoxious.

The Bottom Line: ….I really don’t know. The book got a lot of critical acclaim, so maybe it’s just me. Still, I’d say skip it unless you’re looking to depress yourself, or just want to debate with me about it.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take – Neuromancer (William Gibson)

(What's up with this review?)

So when I said that George Alec Effinger had ruined me on Cyberpunk, I was pretty much referring to Neuromancer. I know, I know, Gibson did it first and he deserves kudos for defining the genre. But… after reading Effinger and his fantastic characterizations that meshed so well with his incredible world… I just couldn’t get into Neuromancer. This was before I imposed my 100-page rule on books (give it 100 pages before you give up on it) so I put down Neuromancer after a few chapters and have had zero initiative to pick it back up. Really, if my 100-page-rule had been in place, I would have already been through half the book, so I could have finished it easily and reviewed it. Alas! ...or not.

The Bottom Line: If you want good Cyberpunk, read George Alec Effinger. If you want to reconnect with the roots of cyberpunk or you’re brand new to the genre, read Neuromancer. Otherwise, skip it. Thumbs down.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take – When Gravity Fails/Fire in the Sun (George Alec Effinger)

(What's up with this review?)

George Alec Effinger has ruined me on cyberpunk. Holy hell, he’s SO DAMN GOOD. Seriously. I just want to cram all of his words into my brain all at once… it’s a trial to space them out.

So. These books are CyberPunk, near-future, with an Arabic twist. They have extremely interesting and plausible technology (people chip-in “moddies” to give themselves extra information, or whole new personalities). It’s pretty cool. But perhaps the most impressive part is that while the technology is definitely highlighted, the characters are still the major focus. Effinger creates some really impressive, emotionally involving characters… all very realistic and sympathetic and flawed. I kind of get a twinge in my chest thinking about them. Everything about these books is just smooth and incredible and engaging.

My one caution with these books is that they can be extremely brutal, much like some of China Mieville’s work. Particularly in the second book there’s a scene where Our Hero takes a fairly vicious beating, and I actually had to put the book down for a while and calm down. It wasn’t just gore or vivid descriptions – the books are just that evocative; you really get that involved in the characters. For better or for worse.

The Bottom Line: It sucks UNIMAGINABLY that Effinger died, because I have never read better cyberpunk. You absolutely must read these books.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - The Wolfblade Chronicles: Wolfblade, Warrior, Warlord (Jennifer Fallon)

(What's up with this review?)

Much like 100 Years of Solitude, these books deserved their own individual, full-on reviews… but I am a big slacker and put it off too long to do them justice. I suppose it’s not quite as big of a slight as it was for 100 Years… after all, these books are just fantasy, not literature. But enough justification: the reviewing!

Jennifer Fallon is the new Robin Hobb. Those of you who have read some Robin Hobb will know that means Ms. Fallon is a Mistress of Angst. Oh gods does she ever know how to set up the impossible situations and pluck the heart strings. Couple that with a very interesting story, a solid world, great characters and enough wit to make you chuckle from time to time… and you’ve got an excellent trilogy. Several excellent trilogies, if you want to count her older work. Did I mention that I love her take on The Gods?

My only complaint: you know when I complained in my review of The Gunslinger about authors wishing they could go back and revise previous works? I specifically had Jennifer Fallon in mind. This trilogy falls chronologically before her Hythrun Chronicles, even though the latter was written first. The Wolfblade Chronicles also deal with a lot of the secondary characters from HC. And to be frank… some of them feel very different than the initial impressions I got in the HC – a danger of prequels, I fear. It’s not a big deal, but since I brought it up recently, I thought it worth a mention.

The Bottom Line: If you haven’t read any Jennifer Fallon, pick up The Second Sons trilogy (Lion of Senet, Eye of the Labyrinth, Lord of the Shadows) first, because it’s a bit better than this trilogy. Still, The Wolfblade Chronicles are definitely interesting and worth the read.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take – Nightwatch/Daywatch/Twilightwatch (Sergei Lukyanenko)

(What's up with this review?)

I picked these books up because I loved the movies so much, and it turns out they’re really much more worthwhile than the films. Don't get me wrong - the movies are fantastic and entertaining and interesting, but like most movies-based-on-books, they just fall a little short.

The books have a lot of interesting themes, and in general are much more thought-provoking and philosophical than the Nightwatch and Daywatch movies. The plot is fairly similar for the first book, then diverges quite a lot for the next 3 books. I’m definitely looking forward to Final Watch coming out this summer.

Bottom Line: Read ‘em and weep. (That's a good thing, right?)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

[Mini Review] JD’s Take - Devices and Desires (K.J. Parker)

I bought this book because it was a fantasy novel featuring an engineer as the protagonist. I mean... how could I *not* buy that? And while I think that idea has a lot of potential, this novel (or rather, the first half of this novel, I got bored and wandered away at about that point, and haven't picked it up to finish it) reads like a novel about an engineer who the author idolized, but who broke her heart. The flaws of a stereotypical engineer are magnified (emotionless, socially disconnected, arrogant, perfectionist, anal-retentive, etc, etc) to an extent that makes it impossible to sympathize with the character. This is balanced out by the stereotypical abilities of an engineer (jury-rigging, perfectionism, planning, scientific understanding, determination, patience, etc, etc) being magnified to the level of super-powers. Also, nothing happens. Ever. No plot advances, no plans take shape, no clever devices are built.

This is the first in the three book series that I have no interest in finishing. It takes itself far too seriously for a book in which the main character bests two guards who have captured him and are going to execute him... while his hands are tied... with no physical training or combat experience... using only his knowledge of mechanics. Seriously. If physics classes taught us how to kill, I imagine engineers would get a lot more respect.

Bottom Line: Pass.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - A Nameless Witch (A. Lee Martinez)

(What's up with this review?)

I believe that in my journal I originally said I wouldn’t review this book, because the review would be just like every other review of an A. Lee Martinez book, which is to say:

SQUEEEEE! I <3 this book, so damn good and entertaining and fun and high-larious and CANDYCANDYCANDY!

Luckily, this is a mini-review, so I can get away with Just That.

The Bottom Line: Up! Up! Up!

[Mini Review] JD’s Take - Elminster: The Making of a Mage(Ed Greenwood)

This was another attempt at picking up classic D&D fiction, and it went much better this time. Although this book feels like a rushed, hacked-together, novel-length advertisement for the Forgotten Realms, that's only because that's EXACTLY what it is. I read this in The Annotated Elminster, which is interesting mostly for the lengthy, arrogant, rambling of Ed Greenwood after each book. In this case it said: "I was told to make a story about a Elminster, I had 2 weekends to write it, and he had to be all four classes so that nobody would feel left out". Ouch.

That said, the book was entertaining, if predictable, and explored D&D lore that is interesting. It rarely surprises, but it show a lot of potential from the author, and I'll continue the other books in this volume to see if he lives up to that potential. Moreover, it was basically exactly what I wanted: modern pulp fantasy. Easy, accessible, throwaway junk fantasy set in an existing world... but not so bad I cringe when I read it.

Bottom line: If you're in the right mood, or you're a fiend for D&D, this book can satisfy. It isn't going to challenge you, it will ask absolutely nothing from you, but it'll fill some time and entertain while it does it. There's something to be said for that.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - 100 Years of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Márquez)

(What's up with this review?)

100 Years of Solitude deserves better than this. It really, really deserves a full-on review with a detailed, insightful, in-depth analysis of its deep themes and implications. It deserves to be treated like a mistress – grand ball gowns, fine champagne – but I’m treating it like a parking-lot hooker (sucky suck, 5 dollar?).

It’s my fault entirely – I waited too long to write this review because I had so much bouncing around in my head, and because it was such a challenging read. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy review to write (see my rant about not being able to review non-fantasy over in my Wicked review), and I had a hard time approaching it, so I just put it off, and now it’s been relegated to a Mini Review. Sigh.

Reasons you won’t want to finish this book:

  • It starts off strong and interesting, then drags reeeeal bad through the middle. I have as hard of a time with military-themes as I do westerns.
  • Everyone has the same name. It’s a Spanish thing. It starts to get confusing around the half-way point, even though you have a convenient geneology.
  • If you speak Spanish, the translation might frustrate you, because you can just… feel how amazing the prose must be in Spanish, but the English doesn’t quite capture it the same way

Reasons you really ought to finish this book:

  • The end is as good as the beginning, even though the middle is tough
  • The images that Marquez puts in your head are truly astounding
  • The conclusion will leave you staring into space for a good half hour, trying to reconcile how you feel.
  • Did I mention the part where the images he creates are haunting and lasting?

It took me SO LONG to finish this book – I broke it up with 3 other easier books and I still had to claw my way through the middle kicking and screaming. But it was so very worth it… I’m reminded that I ought to read a lot more literature. I also ought to re-read this book in the original Spanish.

The Bottom Line: Thumbs Up, but consider yourself warned. You will have to be tenacious to reap the rewards of this book.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - King Rat (China Mieville)

(What's up with this review?)

I realized that so far all of my reviews have been positive, so I figured I better shake things up a bit.

Why oh why can China Mieville be So Very Good sometimes, but So Damn Bad other times? Perdido Street Station and The Scar make the cut for “top 20 books on my shelf that you Must Read.” But then there are books like Iron Council and King Rat that are just really crappy. At least King Rat has an excuse – it was his first novel(la?) so he was still getting his feet under him. He really really wanted to pull off the dark, gritty, gruesome feel that he captured so well in PSS, but he hadn’t figured out yet how to do it subtly instead of bashing you in the face with it.

The story was mediocre, the imagery was mediocre, the violence and grit were more worthy of a cheap horror movie than the subtle-yet-pressing chills that Mieville usually manages to inspire. I didn’t really care about the characters, either, which didn’t help. It took me weeks to finish this (very short) book, because I just didn't feel like reading it.

The one thing that he did well was his descriptions of music – he really did manage to capture the essence of breaks and jungle in words much more effectively than I think I’ve ever heard. I need to pull that text from the book and keep it somewhere; it’s quite impressive.

The Bottom Line: Meh. Thumbs Down. Skip it and read PSS or The Scar instead.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom (Corey Doctorow)

(What's up with this review?)

I love Corey Doctorow so damn much. So So Damn Much. Sorry, had to try that phrase again with the appropriate capitalization. This book of his is yet another sci-fi-almost-cyber-punk-not-so-far-in-the-future imagining – it’s his favorite genre to write, you can’t blame him.

Down & Out certainly isn’t my favorite book of his (that award easily goes to Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town), but it’s still a damn fine read. It has some really interesting themes (every geek needs to know about Wuffie), and it will instill in you an appreciation for Disney World that’s… kind of unnatural.

My one gripe is that Corey really does have a formula of betrayal that he likes to follow – if you know how the betrayal happens in Eastern Standard Tribe, you can pretty much figure out how Down & Out is going to go. Still, that’s easily set aside by having the privilege of reading such entertaining candy. This one is easy to consume all at once in an afternoon.

The Bottom Line: Up! Read it!

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - War for the Oaks (Emma Bull)

(What's up with this review?)

My review for War for the Oaks will look a lot like my review for Territory, minus the philosophical wanking about westerns and mental blocks. Both books have the same strengths and weaknesses. WftO is still pretty darn good in spite of all the knit picks I could enumerate, and it’s well worth reading. Good characters, good story, fun world... and boy do I ever approve of single-shot books that go down easy and aren't contrived for a sequel.

The Bottom Line: Yay, delicious! Thumbs Up.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - Dzur (Steve Brust)

(What's up with this review?)

Somehow Steve managed to get this books onto the shelves with me having NO idea that it was coming out. The Book Squeal that was emitted when I saw it sitting at the book store cannot be captured in mere words – I was entirely ecstatic. Brust did not let me hopes down either; Dzur was really great. The descriptions of meal courses at Valabar’s just about killed me – it’s not fair to be eating a tuna fish sandwich when he describes those incredible dishes with such realism. The story was fantastic; like all Vlad novels, it was short, but it was also a return to some of Vlad’s swashbuckling ways, so it felt like putting an old, well worn glove back on.

My one problem with the book is that it had been… oh… maybe 3 years since I finished the other Vlad books, so I had a hard time remembering some of the finer plot points. Ah well – to me that just sounds like an excuse to re-read them all. It’s not like it would take long!

The Bottom Line: An exuberant thumbs up! But then, you probably knew that if you have any passing familiarity with this blog and my Brustian Fandom.

[Mini Review] Lisa’s Take - The Long Price Quartet (Daniel Abraham)

(What’s up with this review?)

This series is one I picked up on a whim – goodness knows I have a hard time resisting interesting-looking new releases. When I started the first book and realized it was the first in a quartet, rather than a stand-alone, I cursed a whole lot; after all, I was trying very hard at the time to prune my stack back down into double digits. Hah.

A Shadow in Summer
I don’t know quite what I was expecting from this book, but it surpassed those nebulous expectations. It was filled with well-thought-out characters who were very human and fallable and easy to relate to. The plot was concise and solid, but not at all predictable. The world was a complete surprise: with heavy Japanese influences, totally original magical ideas... I was duly impressed. Most of all, I didn’t expect the author to be quite so… brutal with his characters, so the ending really got me. Wow.

A Betrayal in Winter
I thought book 1 had gotten Abraham’s levels of ballsy-ness out on the table, but I was wrong. In this book he took even more bold steps – and the associated leaps forward in time. I was expecting a direct sequel, but this one took place further down the road, which gave the series a whole new light. The Long Price Quartet definitely took a more epic slant with this book… I was very impressed. Abraham introduced a whole new deck of interesting characters, and dealt with some very mature themes. He also developed and solidified my handle on the magic-system, which continued to be intriguing.

The Bottom Line: This is very good, interesting, solid stuff. I’ll definitely be finishing off the quartet.

A Week of Mini Reviews

So I have a depressing backlog of books that I'd like to review, but for whatever reason can't put together a full-on review of. Sometimes it's just been too long since I read it for me to get a solid plot summary, sometimes I just can't wrap my head around words that express what I'm trying to say, and sometimes I'm just lazy.

As a result, I've decided that this week will be a week of Mini Reviews - reviews that are just a paragraph or so long, followed by a bottom line: thumbs up or thumbs down. Hopefully my fellow reviewers will get in on this action as well, in order to clear out their review queues.

If this works out well, maybe I'll make it a once-or-twice a year thing. Let me know what you all think about it!