Wednesday, December 28, 2011

[JD's Take] Unfinished books 2011

Well as the year comes to an end, I thought I'd do some very small reviews of the books that I didn't manage to finish this year. Hopefully there aren't so many that this goes long.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
I got about a third of the way into this before giving up on it. Lisabit liked it a lot, but I just couldn't get into it. While the idea for the world was original and well executed (it's a world where dragons are the primary and dominant species, and the details and implications of that are interestingly explored and well though out) the actual plot and characters just didn't draw me in. It's very much "Pride and Prejudice and Dragons" and the whole drama of manners things just didn't do it for me.

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson
I tried. I really, really tried. I read 393 pages of this and I can see why it's such a classic, but... ugh. This shares many of the flaws of Heinlein-esque hard science fiction that drive me so crazy. The engineering, physics, terraforming, and other science are extremely well though out, well presented, and fascinating. I loved those parts! However, so much of this book is taken up with the worst kind of interpersonal melodrama that I just couldn't bring myself to read another page. It's the worst kind of overwrought, badly charecterized, soap-opera style nonsense. There are also pretty serious pacing issues, if I recall, but the "science writer trying to be dramatic" is what killed it for me.

Well, that wasn't so many failures this year! Of course, that's likely because I didn't read so very much this year. I suppose my year-in-review post will tell.

Monday, November 28, 2011

[Lisa’s Take] The Alloy of Law (Brandon Sanderson)

Candy candy candy! 100% self-indulgent, unabashed, delicious candy. This is the only way to describe The Alloy of Law; written during one of Sanderson’t “brain break” periods, it is clearly that – a vacation from the Deep an Serious, and an exploration of entertaining elements of the Mistborn world. I mean, c’mon, it’s a freaking steampunk-western with allomancy. How much more mindlessly amusing can you get?

There’s not a lot to say about Alloy of Law – I downed it in an afternoon and a half and I adored every minute of it. I enjoyed it so much that I turned around and re-read Mistborn in the following three days; amusingly enough, that re-read left me with more to mull than reading the new Allow of Law. I was highly entertained to pick up on all the little hints strewn throughout Mistborn that I missed on the first reading. I was also struck by just how much more immature Sanderson’s writing was then; he’s come a very long way in the last few years. I had to resist the urge to count the number of times he used the word “maladroitly” throughout the text.

Anyway, this isn’t much of a review, I know, but I feel the need to make a quick post highly recommending Allow of Law. It’s the perfect reading for the holiday season, when you can curl up in front of a fire for a long afternoon and consume it in one go.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

[Lisa’s Take] Acacia – David Anthony Durham

I do so love being proven wrong about a book. I recently posted in a comment over at The Tattered Scroll:

I’m about 200 pages into Acacia right now, and I’m finding it… ok. I’m not super caught up by the plot or massively engaged with the characters, and the writing style is only so-so. The world is interesting enough that I’ll keep reading, but I do hope it perks my interest a bit as it goes on,
As promised, I stuck with Acacia… and I was richly rewarded. Eventually.

This first volume in the trilogy is broken up into 3 books, each in the 200-250ish page range. Book 1 was almost entirely setup and background, and didn’t grab me at all. The main POV characters seemed dull and one dimensional, with the exception of the relationship between Leodan and Thaddeus. It felt like the author was doing a lot of telling and not a lot of showing; I discovered a new pet peeve in the form of:

“Let’s talk, Person A,” said person B.
“How do you feel about X,” Person A asked.
Person B began to speak about {insert long exposition here}
This is an odd thing to get caught up on, but given how much I enjoy witty dialog it was extremely jarring any time a conversation progressed for 2 or 4 statements, then branched off into a long exposition that was supposed to be dialog, but not presented as dialog.

Then book 2 started and Acacia got GOOD. Suddenly the characters were no longer flat and uninteresting. The four main(ish) POV characters grew up, which helped a great deal (so often children in literature are one dimensional). Suddenly Acacia seemed less “remote historical drama” and more character-driven drama, with personal struggles and gains. From this point on I positively chewed through the book, delighting in each turn.

And then book 3 hit and we discover that David Anthony Durham has a little Joss Whedon in him – or perhaps George R. R. Martin, given that this is the book-realm, rather than the TV-realm. Durham becomes absolutely vicious and isn’t afraid to send heads flying. I don’t think I’ve felt so stabbed by in-book betrayals since reading The Lion of Senet 6 years ago. Book 3 ends in a tumult of action that surprises and horrifies, cuts, thrills, and induces shivers. The best part of all of that? The part where it Actually Ends. I get so sick of “trilogies” that are truly just a single book broken into 3 pieces with no distinct narrative arc in each book. Acacia defies that trend and leaves you with a entire story to mull (while still managing to leave you craving more).

So there you have it – I went from totally tepid to pretty pleased with Acacia. I'm going to write off the rocky start to "new trilogy growing pains." I’ll be bouncing my way over to the bookstore tonight to pick up the second and third books right away (though I may break them up with a couple of other recent releases I’m anticipating, such as The Broken Kingdom).

Monday, October 10, 2011

[JD's Take] Thunderball (Ian Fleming)

This is the first of what I hope will be a series of "movie vs. book" comparisons of the James Bond books. I've been reading through the series in no particular order, and my intent is to compare the film treatments and the novels, because it amuses me.
These reviews will contain spoilers!

First though, I feel like I can and maybe should give a general review of Ian Fleming's legendary series of spy thrillers in general. The James Bond stories were written between 1953 and 1966, and it shows. The conflicts are classic postwar and cold war struggles of nations, mixed with some rogue actors who tend to operate at the same scale. They are also sexist and racist in the casual way of novels from this era. To a modern reader this can be very off-putting, although half the time it just comes across as vaguely hilarious. If you're familiar with the movies, Bond himself might come as a bit of a surprise. He's a dangerous spy with a love for fast cars and fast women. That much came across pretty well. What you don't see often in the books is his cruelty and obsessive focus when he's on a job. And where in the movies he's a smooth-talking charmer in the books he's... not. Oh, and the gadgets are far more realistic in the books. :)

So without further ado.... Thunderball!

The Book
Because I'm a rebel, I boldly started with the 9th book in the series. Take that, established conventions! So, we start out with a James Bond being lectured by his boss. M thinks that he smokes too much (around 60 cigarettes a day, of the unfiltered variety he imports from eastern Europe somewhere), drink too much (a bottle of bourbon a day to take the edge off) and is generally in poor health. So, M sends bond to a health spa to be treated the finest in 60s-era health treatments! Bond is... not amused. So, he goes through a whole infomercial of steam baths, near-starvation, toxin purging, massage, traction, and hot nurses. There he casual starts some shit with another of the patients when he discovers that he might be associated with some drug smugglers. The smuggler tries to kill with with a traction machine, so Bond returns the favor by locking him in a steam box. Hilarious trips to the hospital for the smuggler, recovery sexing from the hot nurse for Bond... overall, that's a win.

Next, we are introduced to Blofeld, the most famous Bond villain of all time. He's a master schemer, manipulator, and secret keeper who has gathered a team of the best criminal minds in the world to form a co-op of evil (SPECTRE) that arranges extortion, thefts, murders for hire, kidnappings, drug smuggling and probably littering around the world for shared profit. They have a new scheme now, intended to be their last hurrah before breaking up so they never get caught. They're gonna steal some nukes, hide em, and blackmail the US and the UK with the threat of nuking a major city if they don't pay up. Pretty solid plan, really.

Anyway, one thing leads to another and James Bond is sent to catch them in Jamaica. He does, and it's actually pretty cool. There's an underwater fight scene, some actual sleuthing, a bad guy with freakishly large hands, and a gadget! The gadget, in this case, is a Geiger counter disguised as a camera. He woos the bad-guy's chick and manipulates her into helping him track down the nukes. This gets her tortured. Um. Did I mention he's kind of a dick?

The Movie
Sean Connery does all that same stuff! The movie version is actually pretty close to the book in terms of plot. They combined some characters (and gave Felix Leiter an extra hand), naturally, but that's no tremendous sin. They added a totally boring section where the Jamaicans have a big... voodoo... party of some sort. I'm not going to lie, I actually nodded off a bit through that section (I've seen this movie dozens of times though, to be fair). They made the bad-guy's boat into a boat/submarine just for laughs, and gave Bond some extra gadgets while they were at it. Oh, and no torture.

Still, on the whole the movie followed the book very closely, and I enjoyed both of them.

Friday, October 07, 2011

[Lisa's Take] The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)

When I was 13 or so and just starting to get pretty hard-core into fantasy, I remember my mom borrowing The Mists of Avalon from the library to read. It seemed like it was always in a place of honor at the library - I was constantly noticing it and wondering about it. When my mom brought it home I grilled her with great curiosity, but received tepid feedback; something to the tune of "oh, it's not really worth the time" or "you probably wouldn't like it." Given my reverence for my mom's opinions, I shrugged and never thought twice about it.

Years later, Mists of Avalon comes onto my radar as part of NPRs top 100 fantasy and sci-fi novels. I decide that regardless of teenage experiences, it is probably pillar of fantasy I should have read - and frankly after reading Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave, I'm looking for some Arthurian Legend that's a little better (I was only middlingly impressed by Crystal Cave). So I pick up Avalon, and discover that my mother is quite clever - what better way to keep a 13-year-old from getting over her head in sex and mature themes than by feigning indifference? Well played!

Anyway, I digress. Mists of Avalon is a re-telling of Arthurian legend over 70-years that are best well known - that is to say, from about the time Uther hooks up with Igraine until the end of Arthur's reign. For an added twist, the story is told entirely from the perspective of the women of the legend - primarily Morgaine (Morgana le Fay) but also Igraine, Guinevere, and others. After finishing the book I delighted in reviewing Arthurian legend (something I've never before taken much interest in) on wikipedia and comparing how Bradley interpreted the core events of the tales.

Mists of Avalon is not a page turner - it is sedate and composed; it never rushes or hurries, but likewise it never lags. It has pulses and crescendos, but never races towards one event or another. It reads very much like life, with passions and tragedies, but also with the every day. The characters are all incredibly real, an effortless mix of good and well-meaning tempered with jealousy and flaws. There aren't really any villains in the book; you can understand why each character takes the actions they do, and it's always perfectly reasonable (be it inspired by envy or misunderstanding or a hope that they are Doing the Right Thing).

I would not have appreciated this book at 13, and 15 years later I feel like I can only appreciate it in part. I think this is one I might need to revisit in 30 years when I have more life experiences under my belt. On this reading it was engaging and moving, but I can see where it would move me more when I've had more applicable experience (motherhood (or not), growing old, etc). I'm also... not entirely sure how this book would be received by a male audience. I feel like any comment I make is going to raise hackles, so maybe I'll just push it on JD and see what he thinks (though given his reaction to the delicious Victorian drama Tooth and Claw, I have some idea of how that will go).

My goodness - I had a lot to say about Avalon! I still have a lot in my head, honestly; it was a very thought-provoking read, and I have the great and overwhelming desire to go read Once and Future King now. Arthurian Legend Obsession - Go!

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

[JD's Take] The Black Prism (Brent Weeks)

I enjoyed Brent Weeks' first series (as he calls it: "That Ninja Book") enough that I read it back-to-back-to-back. I certainly didn't think that it was the most sophisticated or deep, but it was a really fun story and it pulled me along thanks to tight pacing and exciting action. It was, in a word, popcorn. So, I picked up The Black Prism expecting, more or less, more of the same.

Boy was I surprised.

The Black Prism introduces a world that is dominated by two things: the immensely powerful magic users (known as Drafters) that craft different colors of light into a magical substance (Luxin) with various properties and the brutal war fought 16 years before the story starts that tore the kingdoms apart as they battled to decide which of two brothers was the rightful head of the magical college that all drafters attend. To add fuel to this fire, the magical college is also the church, and its leader (called the Prism) is the pope-equivalent (and the only person capable of drafting all 7 colors).

The story primarily follows four characters. Gavin Guile, who is the Prism. A member of his elite guard who was once betrothed to him name Karris Whiteoak. Kip, boy growing up in a tiny village devastated by the war and personally devastated by his mother's drug addiction. And Liv, a student at the magical college who is from the same village as Kip.

Shockingly, I just remembered all of that off the top of my head... which says a LOT about just how into this book I got. And that's really the beauty of this novel, the world is fascinating, the magic system is well designed and deep, and the characters just draw you in, both into their troubles and their struggles and their triumphs but also into the world itself. This ends up being one of those books that you stay up too late reading, only to find yourself dreaming about the world all night.

One of my favorite things about the book was the way the war served as a backdrop, a subtext, to everything that happens. A lesser storyteller would have told me about the war, the causes of it, the battles that were fought, who won and why and how. Instead, Weeks tells the story of these characters who have all, one way or another, been totally ruined by the war. Each of them struggles to deal with the mess that the war made of their lives. The characters are interesting not because they spend the whole time angsting about it, but because they are realistically damaged goods trying to overcome that damage. This style of slow, contextual reveals of the details about everybody's past and place in the world also lets Weeks show you how these people are in the present... only to mess with your whole view of them later when their past is revealed. Everything turns grayer, more morally ambiguous, less obviously the story you think you are being told as the book goes on.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention that in many ways, this book feels like a Bradon Sanderson novel. The magic system has that scientific styling and attention to detail that I associate with Sanderson. The scope and style and characterizations are similar enough that if you didn't tell me who wrote it, I'd have guessed that the Sanderson-Tron 3000 had managed to spit out yet another book without me realizing it.
This should, in no way, be taken as criticism.

Here's the part where I list bad things, but I'm not in the mood. I loved this book, and I highly recommend it.

Finally, here are some of my favorite/least favorite things that are BIG SPOILERS:

-At page 100 I guessed that Gavin was actually his brother. I was very pleased that this wasn't the Major Reveal at the end of the book as I was afraid it would be.
-I loved how my opinion of Gavin kept shifting. He kept wavering between Noble and Monster. Towards the end of the book, I think I hated/loved him on a 20 page cycle.
-The green prison. Holy shit, THAT surprised the hell out of me.
-Liv switching sides was completely in character, but surprising to me from a meta-story kinda level.
-Is it just me or are there 4 prisms alive in the world right now? Man, this religion has some holes in it.
-I hope he wraps up this "Kip keeps the dagger a secret and ruins everything" plot line in the first 50 pages of the second book. It's not going to be terribly interesting.
-In the acknowledgements he says the whole idea came from a friend saying "wouldn't it be neat if instead of [fantasy trope], [the opposite of fantasy trope]?". My current theory is "The main character is the good twin/evil twin".

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

[Lisa's Take] Mechanique - Genevieve Valentine

The world is at war. It has been at war for as long as anyone can remember - maybe a couple of generations, maybe a few hundred years; it's hard to say. One woman, a singer, survives the bombing of her opera house and discovers that she suddenly has the ability to meld gears and metal and human bodies; suddenly she could restore and control life. So she started a circus.

Mechanique is not a lighthearted tale. It is not a story of clowns and laughing children. It is a story of a bleak world filled with vivid, gritty, real characters with fantastic bodies and amazing abilities. It is a story written by an author who has thought through all of the implications of her premise, and who doles out the details little by little - a literary flower slowly blooming.

Rarely have I seen an author use perspective so skillfully. When I first started reading I was skeptical of the changes between first, second, and third person. Once I got into the rhythm of the novel, however, this device served as a subtle and smooth way to transition you between characters and viewpoints. What I initially thought as a contrivance instead melted seamlessly into the background and added unexpected depth to the narrative flow.

Surely Mechanique had flaws - it is, after all, a first book - but they've melted away in my memory. I keep returning to the vivid images evoked throughout the novel, and these mental pictures chase away anything but a wash of grey, stormy emotion. Genevieve Valentine might be the next China Mieville - don't take your eyes off her.

[Lisa's Take] The Night Angel Trilogy - Brent Weeks

Ok, Lisa, it’s time to admit that you’re finally over Wise Man’s Fear. You’ve moved on. It took a long time, but you’re back to enjoying fantasy again. This also means you need to stop neglecting your book blog and start writing reviews again. So here it comes – the motherload of catch-up posts.

After a whole litany of failures, the book that finally snapped me out of my fantasy-malaise was The Way of Shadows by Brent Weeks. I picked it up on a whim going into a week of vacation, and then proceeded to devour all 3 (quite hefty) novels in about a week. This included leaving a tropical island in order to find a bookstore so I could immediately read books 2 and 3. Talk about an excellent week: nothing but mai tais, poi spinning, and reading 14 hours a day.

The Night Angel Trilogy (Way of Shadows, Shadow’s Edge, Beyond the Shadows) is everything I like in a fantasy novel. Big, interesting world; intriguing magic system; a wide range of flawed characters; a wry sense of humor; love, hate, revenge… you get the idea. Imagine Brandon Sanderson meets Peter V. Brett, mashed up with Joe Abercrombie’s unwillingness to pull punches, and you’ll have a pretty clear picture. The pacing of the novels is non-stop, and it is disgustingly easy to sit down with the book, then look up and realize 3 hours have passed.

The trilogy is not without its flaws; some of the romance aspects were a bit overwrought (think early Robin Hobb, or Elizabeth Haydon’s Rhapsody as a comparison). Sometimes the main character grates on your nerves a little, and sometimes the author stretches believability for just how clueless people can be. One plot element in the 3rd book (moon dragon? What??) wasn’t explained well enough.

But those are all minor gripes, and can be 100% ignored. This review isn’t going to be long or rambly: get these books, read them, and then start slavering for more Brent Weeks. He’s a keeper.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

[Not a Review]How Pat Rothfuss has Ruined my Life

Dearest Readers,

Remember me? I used to write reviews here all the time! I used to read 50 books a year! I used to have all sorts of passionate things to say about fantasy literature, both good and bad!

But then a mean, mean man named Pat Rothfuss came along. After a long and painful 3 year wait, he released the second book in a trilogy of his; a trilogy called the Kingkiller Chronicle. Knowing that this excellent novel would soon be in my hands, I re-read the first novel in the series. This was no mean feat, as it clocks in near 1000 pages. Then I worked my way greedily through the newest installment, The Wise Man's Fear, also quite lengthy. I laughed, I cried, I yelled, and I did nothing but read for over a week. When I finished it, I turned it over and started reading it again.

"But Lisa," you may ask, "How could such a wonderful experience possible ruin you in any way?"

Here's how, gentle readers: nothing else is good enough anymore. I've tried all of my tricks for getting out of a "reading rut" and nothing seems to work.

I've tried a little low quality smut (Two! Freaking TWO Laurell K. Hamilton books). Usually if I read something throw-away it will clear out my system and make me excited to get back to "the good stuff". But no. This time it just made me angry that such utter crap could exist and be making money when shining paragons of perfection like Wise Man's Fear exist.

I've tried reading fantasy at the opposite end of the spectrum. Surely some nice gritty, bloody, cursing-filled Joe Abercrombie would reset my fantastical moral compass? I made it to the last 80 pages of The Heroes and then I completely ran out of steam. I couldn't force myself to continue reading anything that engaged me emotionally so little. The characters were real, but they weren't lovable... and once you have loved Bast and Kvothe, how can you care about anyone less worthy?

I've tried some non-modern fantasy, in a sub-genre I've never touched before: The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart is a 40-year-old novel in the lore of King Arthur and Merlin. Vastly different from almost any fantasy I've read - and still it neither moved me nor engaged me.

I've tried young adult novels, knowing they will be middle of the road, but maybe guide me back towards a good mindset (Lirael by Garth Nix). I've tried short novellas by my favorite authors set in my favorite universes (Bayan's Gold by Peter V. Brett). I've tried new, exciting looking titles (The Scar-crow Men, Never Knew Another) - nothing seems to work.

I was roused from my malaise for approximately 4 hours while I read Steve Brust's latest Vald novel, Tiassa. It is utterly unthinkable that I'd not respond to the literary voice of my favorite historian (One Paarfi). I cackled through Tiassa with utter delight; enraptured, thrilled, engaged, and happier than I had been in months. But then, 4 hours later, Tiassa was over. I started to re-read it, as well, but eventually set it aside as a futile effort: I am doomed to be forever ruined on fantasy novels.

2 months later, I'm still mournfully gazing at my stack, wondering what possibly could shake me out of this literary depression into which I've sunk. I'm looking at Daniel Abraham's newest novel, The Dragon Path... perhaps he will succeed where a solid 10 other books have failed.

Woefully yours,
Lisa the Reviewer, Forever Ruined by Rothfuss

Thursday, February 10, 2011

MIni Review: [JD's Take] The Child Thief (Brom)

After 50 pages, I described this book to a friend as "the darkest possible interpretation of Peter Pan". Another couple hundred pages and I was willing to concede that I may have been wrong... there could be slightly darker interpretations. Once I set it down, I'd decided I was pretty much right from the beginning.

That's not to say it isn't good! It's really quite an enjoyable read, particularly if you're in the mood for some old-school fairy tales retold in the style of a modern fantasy novel. If you read fantasy or play RPGs, you're almost certainly familiar with Brom's work as an artist. He brings the same richness and detail to his writing and the fantastic is vividly realized through his words (and accompanying drawings). It reads quickly and kept me turning the pages long after I should have been asleep.

Still, there's just no getting around it: dark.

JD's 2010 Book List

Well, it wasn't a great year for quantity! I'm way down from last year's 48 book count with a mere 36 (and a total of 15,403 pages average 42.3 pages a day). And two of those aren't even fiction. Ouch. Still, there were a great deal of wonderful books this year. Some of them, like Heart of Darkness and Kraken were the sort that simply enchanted me with words. Some of them, like The Lions of Al-Rassan and The Way of Kings engrossed me completely in their worlds and people. Two authors managed to perform the rare "back-to-back", getting me to pick up a sequel as soon as I set down the book (I'm looking at you Daniel Abraham and Pierre Pevel). There are some gems in there I'd forgotten about too. Agent to the Stars and The Exile Kiss in particular made me smile as I glanced through the list.

It wasn't all tea and roses though. I wrote a rare terrible review (down from two last year though, so either I'm learning or getting more forgiving!), and there were plenty of books too mediocre to care enough about to write a review. There were, of course, amazing books that I never got around to reviewing too. The top of my damn-I-should-have-reviewed-that list are: The Magicians (super fast: I didn't like it nearly as much as everybody else), The Name of the Rose (being bored has never been so engrossing), and The Warded Man (!).

1. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) - 102 pgs - Finished 1/7/2010

2. Boneshaker (Cherie Priest) - 416 pgs - Finished 1/8/2010
3. Odd and the Frost Giants (Neil Gaiman) - 128 pgs - Finished 1/9/2010
4. The Magicians (Lev Grossman) - 416 pgs - Finished 1/22/2010
5. Riddle of Steel (Roleplaying) - Finished 1/23/2010
6. The Makers (Cory Doctorow) - 416 pgs - Gave up at page 350 on (2/15/2010)
7. The Steel Remain (Richard Morgan) - 432 pages - Finished 2/24/2010
8. The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco) - 600 pages - Finished 3/7/2010
9. Agent to the Stars (John Scalzi) - 365 pages - Finished 3/11/2010
10. The Exile Kiss (George Alec Effinger) - 315 pages - Finished 3/17/2010
11. The Windup Girl (Paolo Bacigalupi) - 300 Pages - Finished 4/7/2010
12. Divine Misfortune (A. Lee Martinez) - 320 Pages - Finished 4/15/2010
13. A Betrayal In Winter (Daniel Abraham) - 384 Pages - Finished 4/30/2010
14. An Autumn War (Daniel Abraham) - 366 Pages - Finished 5/5/2010
15. The Price of Spring (Daniel Abraham) - 352 Pages - Finished 5/22/2010

16. The God Engines (John Scalzi) - 136 Pages - Finished 5/22/2010
17. Houses of the Blooded (John Wick) - 428 Pages - Finished 5/21/2010
18. Anathem (Neal Stephenson) - 960 Pages - Finished 7/1/2010
19. Territory (Emma Bull) - 432 Pages - Finished 7/15/2010
20. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (Stieg Larson) - 608 Pages - Finished 7/26/2010
21. The Lions of Al-Rassan (Guy Gavriel Kay) - 528 Pages - Book ruined. Finally Finished 11/17/2010
22. The Affinity Bridge (George Mann) - 356 Pages - Finished 8/3/2010
23. Kraken (China Mieville) - 528 Pages - Finished 8/18/2010
24. Dies the Fire (S.M. Sterling) - 592 Pages - Finished 9/7/2010
25. The Evolutionary Void (Peter F. Hamilton) - 704 Pgs - Finished 9/16/2010
26. Use of Weapons (Iain M. Banks) - 512 Pgs - Finished 9/21/2010
27. Getting Naked (Patrick Lencioni) - 240 Pages - Finished 9/30/2010
28. Way of Kings (Brandon Sanderson) - 1008 Pages - Finished 10/7/2010
29. Raving Fans (Ken Blanchard) - 160 Pages - Finished 10/12/2010
30. Deathstalker (Simon R. Green) - 528 Pages - Finished 10/22/2010
31. The Cardinals Blades (Pierre Pevel) - 309 Pages - Finished 11/2/2010
32. The Alchemist in the Shadows (Pierre Pevel) - 336 Pages - Finished 11/3/2010
33. Elantris (Brandon Sanderson) - 496 Pages - Finished 11/17/2010

34. Green (Jay Lake) - 368 Pages - Finished 11/29/2010
35. Iron Angel (Alan Campbell) - 512 pgs - Finished 12/15/2010
36. The Warded Man (Peter V. Brett) - 480 Pgs - Finished 12/27/2010

And because Lisa demands it, here are my top 5 for 2010:
(In no particular order, and again excluding sequels to make my life easier)
1. The Warded Man
2. Lion's of Al-Rassan
3. The Windup Girl
4. Kraken
5. Way of Kings

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Month of Sequels – a series of Mini-Reviews

Without really meaning to, I have spend a solid month at the end of the year reading the 2nd or 3rd book of a lot of different series. I always find writing reviews for the second book in a series challenging for a few reasons: I don’t like to re-hash the details of the world and events of book 1, it’s hard to recap or give a summary while avoiding spoilers, and I often feel like I’m repeating myself in my praise and critiques.

So, instead of writing full reviews for each of these books, I present a pile of mini-reviews!

The House on Durrow Street (Galen Beckett – Sequel to The Magicians & Mrs. Quent)

….wow. How is it even possible that I had forgotten so much from the first book? The Magicians & Mrs. Quent was one of my favorite books of 2009, so you would think I would have retained "minor" details like the fact that Ivy married Mr. Quent, not Mr. Rafferdy (and that the two of them were distinct people). Or maybe the fact that Eldyn existed as a character at all –or illusionists for that matter. Just, you know, trifling details.

In spite of the huge gaps in my memory, I entirely adored The House on Durrow street. Though it didn’t feel like a lot Happened (with a capital H) in the first 2/3 of the book, I was still very engaged and eager to keep reading. I feel confident in writing off this sedate pace with a nod to the Victorian influences in the whole series. Though the book was long, I munched through it very quickly, savoring each page. The characters are still lovable and flawed, and Beckett did a good job both jogging my memory and “re-developing” his characters, rather than relying solely on the character development from the first book to sustain them (*cough* Tchaikovsky *cough*). Durrow Street was an excellent read, and I can’t wait for Beckett to continue exploring his world and characters.

Salute the Dark (Adrien Tchaikovsky – Shadows of the Apt book 4)

Better than books 2 and 3, not as good as book 1. I’m glad Tchaikovsky wrapped up the major plot arcs, but frankly kind of pissed at the seeds he planed that make me want to keep reading. Since the second book this series has consistently been good enough to keep me begrudgingly reading, but with many protests. I don’t have too much to say, save that the book made me cry (well done!) but didn’t resolve many of the issues I had with the previous books. It will be a toss-up whether I continue with the next story arc.

The Alchemist in the Shadows (Pierre Pevel – Sequel to The Cardinals Blades)

The mere fact that I paid out the ass to buy the UK edition of this book and have it shipped overseas should speak loudly for my opinion of the series as a whole. I will be entirely distraught if the remaining books are not translated. Pevel’s work is candy, pure and simple, but candy with extremely lovable characters who are both wonderful and conflicted. The fast paced plot and entertaining sword-play doesn’t hurt, either. My one complaint: I can’t believe that ass ended book 2 on such a cliff hanger. Bastard.

Antiphon (Ken Scholes – Book 3 of the Song of Isaak)

Once again I had forgotten quite a bit about what happened in book 2 of this series, though much of it came back to over the course of Antiphon. Honestly… I’m not quite sure what Scholes going for in this book, as far as which emotions he was trying to evoke from his reader. For me, I spent most of the book growing more and more frustrated because of all of the dark secrets and unknowns. Once the revelations started, they came waterfalling down, but for 6/7ths of the book I was gnashing my teeth due to all the deliberate opaqueness and mystery. I was also a little discomfited by the sudden change in the world, which went from hard fantasy with steampunk overtones to kinda-sorta-sci-fi pretty quickly. By the end of the book, even though a lot of things were revealed, I just felt confused and frustrated. I’ll pick up book 4 because I want to know what happens, but I’d kindly thank Scholes quit leaning on the suspense device and actually tell a story.

Judas Unchained (Peter F. Hamilton – Sequel to Pandora’s Star)

Once again, I had forgotten a lot of what happened in Pandora’s Star since I read it a full year ago, but Judas Unchained reminded me of the past events without being invasive about it. The story and characters were excellent, and the plot kept me riveted. I have virtually none of the complaints about the second book that I had about the first book, and I’ll certainly be looking into some of Hamilton’s other series when I need a scifi fix. My one caveat is that Judas Unchained was really, really long and a little dense – I offset this by reading Antiphon in the middle of it and giving my brain some breathing room.

Dreadnought (Cherie Priest – indirect sequel to Boneshaker)

If Boneshaker was “take it or leave it – edging towards take it” then Dreadnought was “take it or leave it – edging towards “leave it.” Where Boneshaker kept me engaged with interesting steampunk themes and dark interpersonal relationships, Dreadnought lost me with a zombie invasion and a lone, distant heroine. The writing was good, the main character sympathetic (if not isolated), and the story moved at a good clip (though lacking the ebb and flow of a dynamic novel – it was full tilt ahead all the time, much like the train that the protagonist was stuck on). I think most people who enjoyed Boneshaker would enjoy Dreadnought…. Unless you’re like me, and SO OVER the whole zombie thing.

The Desert Spear (Peter V. Brett – sequel to The Warded Man)

The Desert Spear took a ballsy step, spending the first 120-odd pages focusing on perhaps the most hated character from the first book. At first I was irked, but Brett did such a good job with the story that my annoyance quickly melted away. I reveled in the new aspects of the world and culture he got into, and became surprisingly attached to the new character, in spite of his vicious nature. Rarely do authors pull off such a delicate balance of personal conflict. I was once again irate at the end of the book – but the good kind of outraged, where you find yourself going “Aaaaaugh, I can’t believe he DID THAT!” Desert Spear absolutely lived up to the promise of The Warded Man, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the next installment. Peter V. Brett has vaulted onto my list of favorite authors this year.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Lisa’s 2010 Review

I just barely made it through my baseline number of books this year, passing the 50 book mark the last week of December. This is significantly worse than last year, when I read 71. I read 20336 pages this year, averaging 55 pages a day (down from 27590 pages last year, 75 pages a day). The only statistic I went up on was average book length: last year was 388 pages, this year was 398.

I started to rant that picking a top 5 would be a pain this year since overall it seemed like I read a lot of mediocre fantasy, but as I went back through my list it became obvious that several stood out above the others. For once it wasn’t an onerous task to pare down my list of favorites to 5, however. I’m a little dithery on the last item on the list – I could have happily interchanged The Cardinals Blades with The Child Thief… but I wasn’t feeling dark enough to include the latter in the list today. So, in no particular order, my top 5 favorites of 2010:

1) The Warded Man
2) The Lions of Al Rassan
3) The Price of Spring
4) The Way of Kings
5) The Cardinals Blades

And the full list of books that I read this year:

• The Ninth Circle by Alex Bell
• Pandora's Star by Peter F. Hamilton
• Iorich by Steve Brust
• Bone Dance by Emma Bull
• The God Engines by John Scalzi
• Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susana Clarke
• An Autumn War by Daniel Abraham
• Dragon Keeper by Robin Hobb
• The Price of Spring by Daniel Abraham
• Mean Streets - The Warrior by Jim Butcher
• The Stepsister Scheme by Jim C. Hines (Didn’t Finish)
• Servant of a Dark God by John Brown
• The Steel Remains by Richard K. Morgan
• Beggars in Spain by Nancy Kress
• Good Omens by Terry Pratchett & Neil Gaimain
• Tuck by Stephen Lawhead
• Changes by Jim Butcher
• The Lions of Al Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay
• Brave Story by Miyuki Miyabe (Didn’t Finish)
• The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley
• The Child Thief by Brom
• Empire in Black and Gold by Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Dragonfly Falling by Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Dragon Haven by Robin Hobb
• Microserfs by Douglas Coupland
• Kraken by China Mieville
• The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson
• Sisters Red by Jackson Pierce
• How to make friends with demons by Graham Joyce
• Budayeen Nights by George Alec Effinger
• A Magic of Dawn by S. L. Farrell (Didn’t Finish)
• Blood of the Mantis by Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Memoirs of a Bookbat by Kathryn Lasky
• Nights of Villjamur by Mark Charan Newton
• Salute the Dark by Adrian Tchaikovsky
• Judas Unchained by Peter F. Hamilton
• The Cardinals Blades by Pierre Pevel
• The House on Durrow Street by Galen Beckett
• Dreadnought by Cherie Priest
• The Alchemist in the Shadows by Pierre Pevel
• Antiphon by Ken Scholes
• The Misenchanted Sword by Lawrence Watt-Evans
• The Warded Man by Peter V. Brett
• Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
• Triumff: Her Majesty's Hero by Dan Abnett
• Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
• King's Peace by Jo Walton
• Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
• The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett
• Dawnthief by James Barclay (Didn’t Finish)

Here’s to hoping for a more booky (and higher quality) 2011!