I first caught sight of this book on some facebook ad, and it immediately grabbed my attention. I ordered it and was not disappointed. The book details a small encyclopedia of folklore-ish monsters, all with beautiful illustrations many of them full page, and in beautiful color. Smaller drawings also accompany each entry as well.
The book is filled with fascinating descriptions of monsters and spirits of a variety, many of which you've probably heard of, such as as gnomes and dragons, and others like vatter and the askefroa which you are likely less familiar with. Thirty-one in all.
Each entry is filled out by a fascinating description of the creature, ranging from a few paragraphs to a couple pages, occasionally more.
The only problem I have with this book is that it feels a little short. I went cover to cover on it in about four hours, but since the focus is obviously on the illustrations it feels like a fair trade.
Easily worth the trouble it took to get it. Its a bit hard to find, only really being available from a single website. If anyone wants to know where to find it please send me a message.
Synopsis: At the age of six, Tenar was taken from her home and made High Priestess of the Nameless Ones, dark powers of the Tombs of Atuan. But when the wizard, Ged, comes to steal the tombs' greatest treasure he also comes to bring Tenar out of darkness.
Review: Ursula Le Guin is known as one of the greatest names in fantasy literature, partly for her Earthsea Cycle, and its not hard to see why from this book. Its pretty short, only 180 pages or so, but the deeper plot involving the rescue of Tenar fills out the volume of the book really well. If it had been longer, I think it would have become tedious. There isn't much more to say except that the plotline of pulling a lost soul out of the mire resonates with me strongly.
Next up is the second book of Alastair Reynolds' Inhibitor Trilogy, Redemption Ark. This is a long one at 700 pages, and a re-read from way back, but its good to remember why I love reading this guy.
Synopsis: When a lone, lost, and dangerously naive fairy named What-the-Dickens,
is born out in the world, he must survive and find a home and become the tooth
fairy he was born to be.
Review: What-the-Dickens is actually two stories. One story is of some kids and
their older cousin alone in an empty house in the middle of a dangerous
thunderstorm, who tells them the other story of a rogue tooth fairy lost in the
world. Its a lighthearted story, although I wouldn't call it funny necessarily.
What-the-Dickens is an endearing character who spends most of the first half of
the book trying to make friends with everyone he meets. A large, hungry cat, a
larger bengal tiger, and a motherly bird. Eventually he meets Pepper, another
fairy who reluctantly introduces him to Northwest Sector, Division B, less
formerly known as Undertree Commons.
I liked the character development in this book. Everyone has a lot of
personality (the mama grisset who thinks What-the-Dickens is her child was particularly
endearing), and there are a host of others as well. Including a mouse riding
fairy aristocrat, his butt kissing assistant, and a flighty fairy celebrity.
My gripe with it is, though, it didn't really know where to go with the plot. Or
maybe it did, it just didn't go very far. I'd love to see a sequel where What-
the-Dickens and friends take on some bigger challenges and expand the plot, but
sadly it doesn't look like a sequel is forthcoming anytime soon. Its a shame
because I really liked many of the characters. The other story with the kids is barely even worth mentioning; it's dull, to say the least.
Next up is Ursala le Guin's 'The Tombs of Atuan' a fantasy classic from her
Earthsea Cycle (the 2nd of 4). Its short and I'm trying to get through some of
those before the year's end.
Synopsis: Scur is a conscripted soldier at the end of a long war involving many
worlds when she is captured and tortured by a war criminal. As she is left for
dead she is rescued and for unknown reasons and put aboard a prison ship in stasis.
But things don't go as planned and Scur wakes up aboard a dying ship, with other prisoners and crew waking up at the same time, all of them confused.
Review: I was disappointed with this book. I really wanted it to be more than it
was. I liked the title; I even had a whole theory about what the plot of the
book would be before I had read it, based on that title alone. Sadly I was
Whats wrong with the book? Its only 190 pages, in paperback, and that is not
long. It would have greatly benefited from a greater exposition of details,
characters, and plot. I would have liked to see the characters rebuild their
society, or forge something great, but all the story really gives is the vaguest
gloss over this. It feels like Reynolds wrote it in a couple of weeks, just to
get something to a publisher. It is supremely mediocre, but it could have been so
much better with a bit more time and attention.
The story is entirely told from a first person narrative, and is quite linear in
its approach. The end was a little to idealistic for my taste as well. The one
thing I really liked was the concept of the Slow Bullets, a repository of personal data and memory. I wish that the book had taken the time to give a more thorough explanation of the concept.
2 and a half stars. Next up is What the Dickens by Gregory Maguire. This one has been waiting on my shelf for a long time, and I'm trying to get to some of those books.
Synopsis: Malcolm is a schoolboy who accidentally intercepts a message intended for a spy. When that spy finds him he is drawn into a covert world of intrigue. Malcolm is also a devoted fan and protector of Lyra, a baby being raised by some nuns at a nearby convent.
Review: The Book of Dust is a new trilogy by Philip Pullman set in the His Dark Materials (HDM) universe. The first volume is La Belle Sauvage, though I find myself saying Book of Dust rather than that. Pullman maybe should have called the trilogy something else.
La Belle Sauvage is divided (well it feels like it at least) into two parts. In the first half of the book Malcolm becomes involved with a government agency that is fighting a shadow war against another agency that wants to establish
an authoritarian religious rule over it's people. Somehow Lyra, a small baby being raised in a convent, is important to these plans, and it becomes Malcolm's task to protect her.
The second half of the book is mostly concerned with Malcolm protecting Lyra and another character we are introduced to, Alice. What I really noticed about this part of the book is how the plot pinballed around. Malcolm and company bounce from one danger or challenge to the next, on a chapter by chapter basis, usually leaving one chapters dangers behind at the end of it. It feels odd because most of these dangers don't seem to really have a longterm impact on the plot.
The character building is good, with alot of focus on the building relationship between Malcolm and Alice. Malcolm is a likeable good natured kid, while Alice starts off a bit of a bitch. As the story goes on, this melts away and she grows closer to Malcolm which was a nice touch. We also gets seperate shots of Lord Asriel and the icy Miss Coulter (including a delicious little rebuttal for her).
Pullman is one of the few authors, (possibly the only one, I'm not sure) who is capable of tearing me up. That said I think I expected a little more from the book. While the character development was good, it seemed to lack emotion in a way I remembered from HDM. Still definitely worth a read; can't wait for the next two books to come out.
Next is is another Alastair Reynolds book, Slow Bullets. This one is fairly short, so I expect to have another review soon.
Synopsis: aSoIaF (ugh, what an awful acronym) starts out revolving around the stories of the Stark family, eventually branching out to encompass other storylines as well. I really can't go into the details of the plot to much, because the spoilers start early on, but Lord Eddard Stark is chosen to become the king's Hand (basically an advisor + guy who manages everything) of the kingdom of Westeros. From there the plot explodes into a plethora of monsters, magic, spies, Machiavellian scheming, wars, betrayals, conspiracies, and other juicy stuff.
Review: This is a tough one to review. Everyone has likely either read these books already (perhaps multiple times) or watched the tv show, or at least heard everything from their friends. So it is a little tough to write a review with anything that hasn't been said before. That said I'll give it a shot.
George R.R. Martin (G.R.R.M. for brevity's sake) is a unique writer in the way he does things. I started Game of Thrones (GoT) loving it, got all the way through A Clash of Kings (aCoK) and A Storm of Swords (aSoS) still loving it, loved it a little less by A Feast For Crows (aFfC), and finally ready to read something else by A Dance With Dragons (aDwD), because 2000 pages of Westeros has proved to be a bit much for me. Not that I'm not still on board with this series, I just need a break for awhile.
The books are seemingly written to defy cliques wherever it can spot them. What you expect to happen doesn't happen, and characters you like or dislike will die; often abruptly when they do. Each book is only set on a very, very vague kind of arc, although they don't really seem to have their own flavors. GoT for example, is all about political scheming, and aCoK and aSoS are about the wars that follow this scheming, while aFfC and aDwD deal with the aftermath and cleanup of said wars. The plotline wanders up to and through all these arcs. It is extremely difficult to pin down where, if anywhere, it is going. The idea behind the plotlines seems to be that the journey is way more interesting than whatever the destination is. The one constant theme is that Westeros is brutal, unforgiving and treacherous.
The characters are a huge bright spot in this series. There are a wide variety of them, and your going to love some of them (and cry if and when they die), and hate others (and cheer when they go). There's a magnanimous lord with a difficult job to do, a good natured king who just wants to drink and party, a villainous noble scheming from the shadows, a brash knight with an ugly secret, a dwarf who compensates for his physical inabilities with intelligence and charisma (I drink and I know things), and a mentally challenged stableboy who can only say his name (HODOR). This is really only scratching the surface as G.R.R.M. has really tried to stuff the cast with memorable characters.
The most important takeaway from this review, however, is that aSoIaF is brutal. G.R.R.M. doesn't believe in censorship; there are sex scenes and graphic violence. He doesn't write to make things more palatable for his readers, instead he tries to model attitudes that might be common in a more primitive or medieval society. I'm the sort of person who enjoys this sort of open honesty, regardless of how I feel about the things described, but I understand how other people may not be onboard with it.
Summary: I loved these books, but I can see if they don't go well with other people. Most likely however, these books are on a track to be considered classics on par with Tolkien's Middle-earth.
I usually mostly read a chapter or two when I go to donate plasma, twice a week so it can take me awhile to get through books. This one has been going faster, however, and I'm very happy about that.
I'm not at all liking this one. If your familiar with Song of Ice and Fire (better known as Game of Thrones), you're aware that there are quite a few plot lines being developed and played out side by side in each book. In A Feast For Crows this becomes annoying as many of them have been deliberately left out of the book. Most of my favorites in fact. We briefly get a Sam chapter on the wall near the beginning, which is eventually followed by another Sam chapter (not on the wall). Arya gets similar treatment along with Sansa. Tyrion, Daenerys, and Davos appear to be completely absent so far, with the bulk of the chapters going to Cersei, Jaime and Brienne. The Ironborn plotline also significantly expands adding new characters, but little interest so far. An even more boring plotline focusing on events in Dorne is also introduced.
I think this one is going fast, because I just want to get through it and get back to the stuff I like in the next book.
Synopsis: On the eve of an interstellar apocalypse, 7 pilgrims journey to the planet Hyperion, to meet the Shrike; a creature that moves backward in time and kills the pilgrims who seek it. On their journey each one tells their story of what brought them to that point.
I have mixed feelings about this book. Its slow going, and most of the stories take awhile to get going. There's very little action of any sort, and the deeper concepts may fly over some heads. It has some good twists, however, and the characters are filled out well. My main gripe with it has been that it ends without resolving the major plot points. I'm assuming this will be fixed in the sequel (The Fall of Hyperion), but I still found it rather annoying.
Rating *** 1/2
Synopsis: Ged is a young wizard of great potential, but reckless and careless for power. When he unleashes a shadow into the world of Earthsea it seeks to consume and possess him. To defeat it he must learn its name, and face it.
I first read this book as a teenager, probably twenty years ago. Back then I didn't understand its messages and I found it quite boring (I didn't like to DNF back then either, and I ended reading all four books in the series that were published at the time).
Reading it today, I find it a bit easier. I can still see why I thought it was boring, but its message of caution against recklessness and facing your enemies rings a lot more easily with me today.
I liked the imagery. Earthsea is a watery world made up of islands and sea and more than a little bit of mystery, and Ursula Le Guin really paints a picture of a dark and shadowed world. I kept wondering about many of the places she kept referencing, but much of it was shrouded away from view.
I've got the next book Tombs of Atuan on my shelf already and its short so I may just knock it out real quick. The Lord of the Rings is also on my agenda, however, and thats likely to suck up quite a bit of my reading time for awhile (this edition gave me the entire trilogy in one glorious bind; the forward says that its not actually a trilogy at all, just that its often sold as one).
Anyway, A Wizard of Earthsea:
General rating: *** 1/2
Epic rating: ****
Synopsis: Bilbo Baggins, a comfort loving creature of the land of Middle-Earth, is recruited by the wizard Gandalf to help a group of dwarves defeat a dragon and recover their homeland/a bunch of treasure.
Look if you haven't read this book, seen the movies, or have some idea whats going on you've found a mighty big rock to live under. The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings, are probably some of the most amazingly epic adventure stories ever written. I am most certainly not kidding.
I have a long history with this book. At about 6 or so I remember mom getting the animated movie from the library. Totally hooked, but I had no idea what it was. A few years later I spent a night at a friend's house and spent all night reading his Hobbit graphic novel, but I never thought to look at the title. It wasn't for a few more years that I finally figured out what I was reading.
I read the book again in highschool, and at least a couple times since then. Love it. Its a classic beyond compare, probably my favorite book of all time.
Tolkien writes with an imagery that I rarely see elsewhere. His style is faintly British though it never goes to far. His words evoke a vision of a world that is both wild and beautiful.
One of my favorite things about The Hobbit is Bilbo's personal journey. It is made explicitly clear that hobbits are creatures of comfort. Bilbo likes a warm cozy home, good food, and a friend or two over for tea on occasion. He doesn't like adventure. Adventures are nasty things that make one late for dinner. But then he's roped into one by a mysterious wizard and a group of homeless dwarves.
As the quest to reach the Lonely Mountain and Smaug progresses, Bilbo changes from a comfort loving homebody to a capable burglar that the party consistently relies on. He also acquires a useful piece of jewelry which will be the centerpiece of the next series of books in the land of Middle-Earth...
For a book this special, I felt my collection need something a little...extra. A paperback is simply not good enough. A little extra got me a leather bound copy, gold trimmed pages, and complete with some very nice illustrations done by Tolkien for the original. It was money well spent.
General rating: *****
Edit: For some reason it keeps turning all the photos I took sideways.
I've been out for some time, been very slow reading (I should have finished both of these books a month ago), but I've been taking a break. I am now returned, to read and review, again.
The Hobbit will be finished shortly (probably tomorrow night, because although there isn't much left, its late and I have to work at 6 am). I still have no idea how to review a book like this. Everyone has read it, or seen the movies. I'm obviously not shining any real light on a new perspective of this book, but I will attempt a review anyway.
I'm about halfway into my other book (which should take me much less time to finish). If anybody has been wondering where I've gone to, my apologies.
I have learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet strange, I am ungrateful to these teachers. -Kahlil Gibran
Synopsis: Three novellas stories of how minor gods interact with humanity.
Age of Anansi: The African trickster god, Anansi, recruits a vessel to ride along on for a convention of trickster gods, all of whom are competing for trickster bragging rights.
Age of Satan: While attending a boarding school, Guy Lucas is bullied and abused. A fellow classmate persuades him to perform a Black Mass, after which he is hounded for years by the powers of darkness.
Age of Gaia: Barnaby Pollard is a super rich energy mogul...and then he meets the woman of his dreams. And nightmares.
I was seriously not impressed with most of this. Age of Anansi felt exactly like Lovegrove read American Gods (Neil Gaiman) and thought "I think I can do this better." No. No you didn't. The ending was a serious disappointment as well. It wasn't tricky or smart, it was just sad.
Age of Satan: It starts out promising, there's a point about a third of the way in that is just hella dark, but it never builds on it. In fact it completely drops off after that. By the end of the book it reads like an ad for atheistic Satanism, which I'm just not down with. I'm a softcore atheist and I've never seen the need to mix satanic bs or philosophy in with it. So bad ending, as well.
Age of Gaia: This was the only one of the three that I came close to liking. It wasn't particularly engaging, the protagonist is kind of arrogant, abit of an asshole, but the book also tries to paint a victim perspective on him, which I found novel. I liked the ending which turned the tables around in an interesting way.
I wasn't terribly impressed with The Age of Zeus, the first book of Lovegrove's that I read, I probably shouldn't have tried Age of Godpunk. I do like the premise though, I guess thats what keeps drawing me back, even if the execution is crap.
Synopsis: A really smart guy, who never forgets anything, is hired to evaluate a research project in the desert for safety.
I really liked this book. I had a good guess going in where the story was going to go and it more or less went in that direction. Its hard to say what I really liked about this. Its good at being a page tuner, and the concepts are fairly creative (though it has a lot of parallels with Stargate; something even the story itself notes). The protagonist, Mike, seems a bit generic, though I did think a number of the support characters were well developed.
I'd happily read a sequel to this, and the end is clearly set up for it, so its likely we'll see one sooner or later.
...that I don't really have much in the way of female authors on my bookshelf. Margeret Weiss is up there with the Dragonlance stuf but she's paired up with Tracy Hickman anyway, and there's really no one else. So my first thought was a name I swear I'd heard on a podcast, but who turned out to be a researcher for something post-Holocaust non-fiction. Nope.
So I made a trip to the bookstore and finding something suitable proved in fact much more difficult than I anticipated. Most everything I saw from female authors was either a) romance, or heavily leaning that way, or the sort of throwaway novels I try to stay away from. My immediate thought was Ann McCaffrey, or possibly Mercedes Lackey. McCaffrey's old Pern novels would probably fit the bill fine amd Mercedes Lackey is a good standby as well. But after some thought I realized who fits the bill better than anyone else: the matriarchal, reigning queen of fantasy Ursala Leguin.
So that said I picked up A Wizard of Earthsea. I considered The Left Hand of Darkness, but it was tradepaper and I don't want to spend the extra bit of money. Also, I have the third book in the Earthsea series already and I'm looking to eventually read the rest.