Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008 Review

Inspired by Geoff, I decided to keep a list of the books that I read this year. Below is the complete list, in (more or less) order of book completion. I didn't really have a goal in mind when I started, but I made it to 51 books, which seems a good number for a year. Maybe next year I can make it 60!

  1. The Phoenix Guards (re-read) by Steven Brust
  2. Fire in the Sun by George Alec Effinger
  3. Black Powder War by Naomi Novik
  4. Privilege of the Sword (re-read) by Ellen Kushner
  5. Dead Beat by Jim Butcher
  6. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
  7. Proven Guilty by Jim Butcher
  8. The Somnambulist by Jonathan Barnes
  9. Lord Foul's Bane (didn't finish) by Stephen R. Donaldson
  10. Territory by Emma Bull
  11. The Gunslinger by Stephen King
  12. Renegade's Magic by Robin Hobb
  13. Briar Rose by Jane Yolen
  14. My Own Kind of Freedom (not published) by Steven Brust
  15. Fire Study by Maria Snyder
  16. Otherland - River of Blue Fire by Tad Williams
  17. Sabriel by Garth Nix
  18. Black Ships by Jo Graham
  19. Sir Apropos of Nothing
  20. Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
  21. Empire of Ivory by Naomi Novik
  22. Before They Are Hanged by Jow Abercrombie
  23. Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay
  24. The Stolen Child by Keith Donohue
  25. Dies the Fire by George Alec Effinger
  26. The Automatic Detective by A. Lee Martinez
  27. Kushiel's Mercy by Jacqueline Carey
  28. The Dark Volume by Gordon Dahlquist
  29. Blood Noir by Laurel K. Hamilton
  30. Jhegaala by Steve Brust
  31. The Immortal Prince by Jennifer Fallon
  32. The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
  33. Dragon Champion by E. E. Knight
  34. Tigerheart by Peter David
  35. White Night by Jim Butcher
  36. Holder of Lightning by S. L. Farrell
  37. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen M. Beckett
  38. Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin
  39. The Sordid Tale of Jackie D (not yet published) by C. L. Witten
  40. Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie
  41. The Good Fairies of New York (didn't finish) Martin Millar
  42. Last Dragon by J. M. McDermott
  43. The Stand by Stephen King
  44. Little Brother by Corey Doctorow
  45. Man with the Golden Torc by Simon R. Green
  46. Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
  47. Hood by Stephen Lawhead
  48. Too Many Curses by A. Lee Martinez
  49. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
  50. Scarlet by Stephen Lawhead
  51. Halting State by Charles Stross

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Lisa’s Take: Too Many Curses (A. Lee. Martinez)

It’s pretty much impossible for me to say anything bad about Martinez’ work – I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every shred of story I’ve read by him. I can’t even put into words how thrilled I am that he’s so prolific and so filled with delicious ideas. Too Many Curses is no exception to the precedent that Martinez has set – it’s a very fun read, it has interesting characters, it’s full of witty dialog and creative silliness, but it also still has a nice emotional balance.

The premise of Too Many Curses is that Nessy, a Kobold, is the house keeper of a castle for an evil wizard with a penchant for cursing his enemies in creative ways, then trapping them within his evil abode. You get people turned into owls who can only alliterate, ghosts trapped in mirrors, vampires that jingle, disembodied voices, and heroes trapped in bat form. When Nessy’s evil master suffers an untimely death, it’s up to Nessy to figure out how to reverse all the curses of her charges – as well as deal with the sudden turmoil that the castle is thrown into.

The story is fun and really give’s Martinez a chance to show off his creative side – he fires off one amusing curse after another, creating a colorful, endearing, and entertaining cast of characters. Sadly, loathe though I am to say it, it felt like his extensive cast was developed at the cost of two things: further character development after their initial conception, and a compelling plot.

The former of the two criticisms is the easiest to pin down – it’s as though Martinez had these awesome character concepts, but didn’t bother to develop them past their base idea. Yes – we understand that Nessy is staid, solid, and organized, while simultaneously being clever, good hearted, and possessing impressive intuition. I can assure you that we don’t need to be explicitly told this over and over and over. It felt like for all of the events happening around her, Nessy never changed – which could be a point unto itself, I suppose, but in the end it made me feel less like I was taking a journey with her, and more like I was watching an entertaining but un-dynamic movie.

My second complaint ties in with the first to some extent, though it’s also stands alone. As with the characters, I didn’t feel like the story had much of a sense of movement or pacing. The first two thirds of the book fell victim to the “and then this happened. And then this happened. And then this happened” syndrome. Granted, all the things that were happening were clever and entertaining, so it wasn’t too bad, but it was disappointing to see Martinez take a step back in his story telling technique from the excellence he had achieved in The Automatic Detective. That said, the story did culminate into a big, action-packed ending, which somewhat mitigated my complaints.

Well – I started off saying that it was impossible for me to speak ill of anything written by A. Lee Martinez, but I apparently had quite a few gripes about this one. All of that said, Too Many Curses was still an extremely fun read; it just broke the constant upward improvement momentum I had come to expect from his other books (which I have always read in order of release). I suppose it’s to be expected that it would be hard to surpass the absolute excellence of The Automatic Detective… he shouldn’t have set my standards so high! Regardless, don’t give this book a skip just because I had a few bad things to say – it’s still a really fun read! Just maybe read it before, say, Gil’s and The Automatic Detective.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Spreading the Love

In an effort to help Grasping for the Wind get a well-fleshed-out list of fantasy review blogs compiled and exposed, I'm re-sharing the list below. Yay bloggery!

7 Foot Shelves
The Accidental Bard
A Dribble Of Ink
Adventures in Reading
The Agony Column
The Antick Musings of G.B.H. Hornswoggler, Gent.
Barbara Martin
Bibliophile Stalker
Bitten by Books
Blog, Jvstin Style
Blood of the Muse
The Book Smugglers
The Book Swede
Breeni Books
Cheaper Ironies [pro columnist]
Cheryl's Musings
Critical Mass
Dark Wolf Fantasy Reviews
Darque Reviews
Dave Brendon's Fantasy and Sci-Fi Weblog
The Deckled Edge
Dragons, Heroes and Wizards
The Discriminating Fangirl
Dusk Before the Dawn
Enter the Octopus
Eve's Alexandria
Fantastic Reviews
Fantastic Reviews Blog
Fantasy Book Critic
Fantasy Cafe
Fantasy Debut
Fantasy Book Reviews and News
Fantasy and Sci-fi Lovin' Blog
Feminist SF - The Blog!
The Fix
The Foghorn Review
Frances Writes
From a Sci-Fi Standpoint
Fruitless Recursion
The Galaxy Express
The Gamer Rat
Genre Reviews
Graeme's Fantasy Book Review
Grasping for the Wind
The Green Man Review
Highlander's Book Reviews
Jumpdrives and Cantrips
Lair of the Undead Rat
Literary Escapism
Michele Lee's Book Love
The Mistress of Ancient Revelry
Monster Librarian
Mostly Harmless Books
My Favourite Books
Neth Space
OF Blog of the Fallen
The Old Bat's Belfry
Outside of a Dog
Pat's Fantasy Hotlist
Piaw's Blog
Post-Weird Thoughts
Publisher's Weekly
Reading the Leaves
Realms of Speculative Fiction
Rob's Blog o' Stuff
Robots and Vamps
Sandstorm Reviews
SF Diplomat
Sci-Fi Fan Letter
Sci-Fi Songs [Musical Reviews]
The Sequential Rat
Severian's Fantastic Worlds
SF Gospel
SF Revu
SF Signal
SF Site
SFF World's Book Reviews
Silver Reviews
Speculative Fiction
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Speculative Horizons
Spiral Galaxy Reviews
Spontaneous Derivation
Sporadic Book Reviews
Stella Matutina
The Sword Review
Tangent Online
Temple Library Reviews [also a publisher]
The Road Not Taken
Urban Fantasy Land
Vast and Cool and Unsympathetic
Variety SF
Walker of Worlds
Wands and Worlds
The Wertzone
With Intent to Commit Horror
WJ Fantasy Reviews
The World in a Satin Bag
Young Adult Science Fiction

Foreign Language (other than English)

Cititor SF [Romanian, but with English Translation] [French]

Foundation of Krantas [Chinese (traditional)]

The SF Commonwealth Office in Taiwan [Chinese (traditional) with some English essays]

Yenchin's Lair [Chinese (traditional)]

Fernando Trevisan [Brazilian, Portuguese]

Human 2.0 [Brazilian, Portuguese]

Life and Times of a Talkative Bookworm [Brazilian, Porteguese]

pós-estranho [Brazilian, Portuguese]

Fantasy Seiten [German, Deustche]

Fantasy Buch [German, Deustche]

Literaturschock [German, Deustche]

Welt der fantasy [German, Deustche]

Bibliotheka Phantastika [German, Deustche]

SF Basar [German, Deustche]

Phantastick News [German, Deustche]

X-zine [German, Deustche]

Buchwum [German, Deustche]

Phantastick Couch [German, Deustche]

Wetterspitze [German, Deustche]

Fantasy News [German, Deustche]

Fantasy Faszination [German, Deustche]

Fantasy Guide [German, Deustche]

Zwergen Reich [German, Deustche]

Fiction Fantasy [German, Deustche]

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Lisa’s Take – Last Argument of Kings: First Law Book 3 (Joe Abercrombie)

This is a really hard review to write. When I reviewed book one I was delightedly picking it apart, finding all sorts of things to harp on – justified or not. After the second book I had a solid basis for comparison… I could revisit each of the knit-picks and talk about how they had been taken care of or improved in the second book. But now that a review for Last Argument of Kings has come around, I find myself lacking a good starting point. I can’t put together a plot summary, as that would be far to spoilery this late in the trilogy, and I don’t have any convenient lists to base things on. Hell, I don’t even have a good anecdote to start off with.

I suppose I’ll just keep it simple. I really enjoyed Last Argument of Kings a lot, and I’ll definitely be buying Best Served Cold, Joe Abercrombie’s next book. Big reversal from The Blade Itself, I know, so let it never be said that I won’t revise my opinions with good reason. That said, I didn’t like it quite as much as Before They Are Hanged. I wanted the improvement from book 2 to book 3 to be as great as the improvement from book 1 to book 2, and that just didn’t quite happen. My biggest gripe was the character POVs, yet again, as there were a couple of times where the POV would jump mid-chapter and leave me baffled. Sometimes these jumps in perspective were totally unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the story, which just frustrated me more.

Ack, let me stop before I rant, because that was really the one and only problem I had with the book. Other than that it was great – the plot was gray and gritty and had a whole lot going on. A lot of loose ends were tied up, and there were events from the first book that got tied back into the overall plot quite nicely. I called a few plot points, but didn’t call just as many. A couple of the “gotcha!”s were a little thin, but mostly they had solid foundation and made me go “No WAY!” Always a good sign. There were also some big plot points that didn’t get totally resolved – which felt right… in the end there was all this Crazy Stuff that happened, but the world didn’t really change. Cool in a real-world kind of way.

I was pretty attached to the characters by the end – not so much as in the second book, but still quite a bit. I catch myself using one of Logen’s catch-phrases sometimes, which says a lot for the writing style. There was one character that I struggled a lot with… once I thought about it I remembered that he had been mentioned briefly in book 2, but he really could have used a more solid foundation. Again, though, small gripe. I got a little teary when my favorite sub-character was killed off, and the author made me keenly aware of just how much people had changed, as well as just how much they’d stayed the same. I’d almost call it deep.

Well, I guess I did have a decent amount to say once I got going. I wish I’d written this review right after JD and I talked it over when he finished the book, because we really got going with a lot of food-for-thought. Maybe he’ll grace me with a complementary review and catch anything I missed.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Lisa’s Take – The Good Fairies of New York (Martin Millar)

I picked up this book pretty much entirely because it had a quote on the front and an introduction by Neil Gaiman. After all, if one of my favorite authors likes it, it can’t be bad, right? ...Right?

Funny, that’s what I thought when I saw Scott Lynch’s quote on the front of The Blade Itself, which turned out to inspire one of the nastiest reviews I’ve ever written. Granted, the later books in the trilogy turned my opinion around, but the fact remains that I shouldn’t trust author quotes, as it seems to always go badly. I didn’t even give this book the chance that I gave to TBI (which I slogged through to the end, gleefully finding things to pick on). I put down The Good Fairies after about a third of the book, and have had nary a regret. I didn’t really even mean to stop reading it – I had been forcing it down in spite of my lack of enthusiasm – but I left it on a table in the library and just sort of forgot it for a few weeks. When I found it again, I couldn’t muster any enthusiasm, so I gave up. I think it may still be laying open on the table.

The premise is that a group of fairies from Scotland accidentally end up in Manhattan due to political intrigue. Angry kings hunting them and the suchlike. They like whiskey, they aren’t world wise, and only some people can see them. They attach themselves to several different main characters, including a pretty artsy girl with a wasting disease and a fat, dickish, dead-beat violinist who can’t make his rent. Hijinks ensue. I suspect I gave up right around the time it would have gotten more interesting, but frankly it shouldn’t have taken so long to get to the point.

Aside from the book not really going anywhere for the first 110 pages… I really have nothing to say. The premise wasn’t all that original, and I hated most of the characters. The fairies were all obnoxious, and the main human characters were hollow. It’s like the author just piled more and more quirks (oh, she’s ill! Oh, she’s an artist! Oh, she’s collecting flowers, how interesting!) in an attempt to make them deep enough to give a damn about. It didn’t work. Part of the problem was probably the completely flat prose – there was nothing engaging or compelling about the words the author picked. Each sentence was just flat and bare… perhaps it was a stylistic choice, but it didn’t do anything for me.

Obviously, I’d say skip The Good Fairies of New York. I can’t make a definitive call, since I only read part of the book, but the first third was uninspired and lacked any sort of hook. If you want urban fantasy, read War for the Oaks. If you want fantastical beings out of their element, read American Gods. Or, if you want an opportunity to prove to me that I made a terrible mistake in not finishing, read The Good Fairies and then write a counter-review.