Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Leaning Pile of Books

So much for getting caught up on all my reviews this vacation weekend... I was planning to but I've been on the computer far less than normal. (Apparently, planning isn't working well this month since I only read about half the books on my reading list for the month.) When I do start writing them, I've got three reviews to do now: Black Ships by Jo Graham (great book), An Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures by David West and Anita Ganeri (good for the right age group), and Busted Flush edited by George R. R. Martin (pretty good). I just started reading The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay, which has started out fast-paced and entertaining.

This week I got one book that I ordered a little while ago.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

This is one I have really wanted ever since reading Thea's review at The Book Smugglers. Part Jane Austen, part Charlotte Bronte and a fantasy book? Sounds like a book I must read! I had been waiting for the cheaper trade paperback release (which was earlier this month so it is out now), but recently Amazon had the hardcover as one of it's bargain books so it was actually cheaper than even the $10 trade paperback price. Of course, that was a deal I simply could not resist.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Review of By the Mountain Bound

By the Mountain Bound
by Elizabeth Bear
320pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 2/5

By the Mountain Bound is the second book in The Edda of Burdens series by Elizabeth Bear even though it is actually a prequel to the first book, All the Wind-wracked Stars (review). The series is based on Norse mythology and the first novel began with the end of the world. By the Mountain Bound fills in the backstory leading up to this cataclysmic event. The third book, The Sea thy Mistress, is scheduled for release in October 2010.

For over 500 years, the Children of the Light (other than the outcast Mingan, the Wolf) have lived together in Valdygard where they follow their leader Strifbjorn. In spite of his status with the other Children, Strifbjorn is rather fond of Mingan, who does visit Valdygard for major events including the wedding that the historian Muire recalls as the beginning of the end. For after the wedding, Strifbjorn found what appeared to be a nearly dead mortal woman washed up on the shore. However, it soon becomes apparent that she is no mortal as the woman defeats warriors with an uncanny strength. She claims to be the Lady they have been waiting for, and the Children of the Light are then divided, leading to the events the previous novel began with.

The narrative in By the Mountain Bound is divided among three perspectives: that of the Wolf, Mingan; the Historian, Muire; and the Warrior, Strifbjorn. Mingan and Muire's parts are both told in the first person, but Strifbjorn's sections are told in the third person. This seems fitting as Mingan and Muire both seem to be more central characters, particularly Mingan who was the most prominent one of the three and my favorite to read about (although Muire was a close second).

Bear is not easy on her characters and all three have it pretty rough, especially Mingan. Mingan is feared by all the einherjar and valkyrie with the exception of Strifbjorn. When he shows up at the wedding, Muire ends up having to serve him because nobody else will go near him, and even she runs away once she has given him his drink. It's hard not to feel sorry for Mingan when reading the parts told from his perspective. Although she is not an outcast, Muire does not seem to quite fit in with the other valkyries since she is more of a scholar than a warrior. Like most of the valkyries, Muire is in love with Strifbjorn, who is not particularly keen on choosing a wife even though he is expected to. Of course, those who have read All the Wind-wracked Stars know that it will only get worse for Muire at the end. Strifbjorn may seem to have it pretty good as a leader loved by his people, but even he is haunted by expectations and past mistakes.

The pacing is somewhat slow since there is a lot of time spent on the world and characters. It's one of those books in which one is thrust right into the story and may feel a little lost at first. There's a rare subtlety, and personally I love the fact that Bear treats her readers like they are intelligent people who do not need everything spelled out for them (and as you read more, it becomes much clearer). After reading this novel, I suspect that I'd get more from a reread of All the Wind-wracked Stars, which is another reason I love not being told all the details about everything right up front. All the layers make it far more interesting and a better candidate for reading multiple times.

The language and writing are lovely - it's not dense but it is still descriptive and packed with emotion. Bear did post some excerpts from the beginning on her blog so I'd suggest anyone who is interested check those out:
By the Mountain Bound is one of those books that appeals to me since it has so many of my favorite story elements - the basis in mythology, the broken characters, the beautiful writing, and the subtlety and layers. It was even more enjoyable than All the Wind-wracked Stars or even any of the other novels I've read by Elizabeth Bear, and learning about the events leading up to the previous volume added new depth to it.


Where I got my reading copy: I received a copy from the publisher.

Other Reviews:

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Leaning Pile of Books

It's been a couple of weeks since I've had any TBR additions, but this week I do have one review copy I received.

The Better Part of Darkness by Kelly Gay

This debut urban fantasy is coming out on Tuesday (November 24). For a while, I was urban fantasied out (especially if it had vampires with the exception of the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs) but I read the first four pages and think I'll be reading this one after I finish the book I'm reading right now. It seemed fast-paced and easy to get drawn into. This is also urban fantasy of the non-vampire variety, so that's a plus as well.

Tia from Debuts & Reviews will be reviewing it soon and mentioned on Twitter that she is enjoying it so far, and Donna from Fantasy Dreamer's Ramblings also had good things to say about it.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Another Goodreads Giveaway: Lips Touch

As I was browsing the giveaways on Goodreads tonight, I noticed they are giving away 10 copies of Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor (it is only available to US residents, though, unfortunately). This was the last book I reviewed and I absolutely loved it - it is even one of my top reads of the year so far.

It has been a little slow here lately, but I'm planning to get back on track this weekend. For a while I was busy and didn't have as much time for reading and writing, but I have been working on a review of By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear this week (which I liked even more than All the Wind-wracked Stars). So I am hoping to get a review of that up in the next couple of days. I also just finished reading a short book to review, An Illustrated Guide to Mythical Creatures. And with a four day weekend coming up, there will be more time for reading and writing reviews soon.

The November reading plan has failed since I was being a very moody reader and ended up deciding none of the books I tried next were working with that mood. Black Ships by Jo Graham did, however, so I've been reading that and really like it so far.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Review of Lips Touch: Three Times

Lips Touch: Three Times
by Laini Taylor
272pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.23/5

Lips Touch: Three Times is the newest book by Laini Taylor, author of Blackbringer and Silksinger from her Dreamdark series. Like her other two novels, Lips Touch: Three Times is a YA book, although it is darker and seems to be aimed at an older audience than the Dreamdark books (not that the Dreamdark series is not perfectly enjoyable to read as an adult but more parents would feel comfortable giving younger children the Dreamdark books than they would Lips Touch: Three Times). Lips Touch: Three Times was recently nominated for the National Book Awards in the Young People's Literature category.

This book is actually a collection of three novellas, each involving a story of dangerous love. It contains beautiful illustrations by Taylor's husband, Jim di Bartolo, who also does all of her gorgeous book covers. I felt the artwork added a lot to each tale. There were several pictures at the beginning of each novella, and after reading it, I'd always flip back to the art at the beginning and see how each set of art seemed to tell a piece of the story.

Each novella was better than the one preceding it, which is especially good because I was rather disappointed in the first one. However, the next two were both exactly to my taste (they were also darker than the first).

Goblin Fruit

The first novella was the one I thought was the weakest, but it was also by far the shortest since it took up about 1/5 of the entire book. "Goblin Fruit" stems from the author's love for Christina Rosetti's poem "Goblin Market." All of her life, sixteen-year-old Kizzy has been warned about the goblins by her grandmother since her aunt was taken to their land in which she ate of their fruit. Kizzy has always wished to be someone else, which makes her the perfect target for goblins. For the goblins do not seek to ensnare the popular, beautiful girls but prefer the ones who yearn to be so much more than what they are.

The main reason this story did not appeal to me as much as the others is that there was quite a bit of teenage drama - a group of girls hanging out discussing the boys and the other girls. Personally, I'm not at all a fan of reading about what seems like rather shallow, high school conversations about who's hot or popular. It also contains one of those relationships where the new boy at school likes the plain, unpopular girl (Kizzy) and that storyline doesn't tend to do much for me, either.

While I did not like most of the story, there were two parts of it that I appreciated. The first of these was the details about Kizzy's weird family who believed in ghosts and, obviously, goblins. The second and better of the two was the writing, which was beautiful as always and also really managed to capture that feeling of wanting so badly to be more than what you are - dreaming of being able to do anything and everything. This was one of my favorite descriptions of Kizzy's longing:
Kizzy wanted to be a woman who could dive off the prow of a sailboat into the sea, who would fall back in a tangle of sheets, laughing, and who could dance a tango, lazily stroke a leopard with her bare foot, freeze an enemy's blood with her eyes, make promises she couldn't possibly keep, and then shift the world to keep them. She wanted to write memoirs and autograph them at a tiny bookshop in Rome, with a line of admirers snaking down a pink-lit alley. She wanted to make love on a balcony, ruin someone, trade in esoteric knowledge, watch strangers as coolly as a cat. She wanted to be inscrutable, have a drink named after her, a love song written for her, and a handsome adventurer's small airplane, champagne-christened Kizzy, which would vanish one day in a windstorm in Arabia so that she would have to mount a rescue operation involving camels, and wear an indigo veil against the stinging sand, just like the nomads.

Kizzy wanted. (pp. 41)
On merit of the actual story, I'd give "Goblin Fruit" a 4/10 but due to the fabulous writing and descriptions, it gets an extra point.


Spicy Little Curses Such As These

"Spicy Little Curses Such as These" begins in Hell with the meeting between a demon and an ambassador to Hell, a woman known as "the old bitch." The demon despises children, and it is Ambassador Estella's job to save as many of the children that the demon kills as she can. In return for their lives, the ambassador must sacrifice people, murderers or other criminals. On this particular day, the demon offers her all ten of the children he just had killed in an earthquake for free. As usual, "free" is too good to be true and comes with a price: the young ones will be saved if the ambassador will curse a baby girl with the most beautiful voice ever heard. The catch? Anyone who hears her utter a sound will drop dead. Estella is horrified but feels she has no choice but to allow the baby to be cursed since it will save ten innocent lives. So she places the curse on the newborn as required but adds an addendum of her own - that the child will not make a sound until she is old enough to understand what she does.

This tale of the curse and the young woman in India who must live with it is exactly my type of story and I loved every moment of it. Like the previous story, it is beautifully written but it is also excellent storytelling in addition to the prose. It was dark with some supernatural intervention and tough decisions, plus it had some wonderful arguments about superstition as the cursed girl wrestled with whether or not her belief was based on fabrication. If I had one complaint, it would be that the ending was wrapped up too neatly, although it is also not quite as happy as it could have been.



"Hatchling" was the longest, darkest, most fleshed out story and my favorite of the three. Only a few days before Esme's fourteenth birthday, she awakens to discover her eyes are no longer both brown but one is blue. In addition to this strange occurrence, Esme finds she also remembers events that did not happen to her and comes to the very creepy realization that:
These weren't her memories. This wasn't her eye. (pp. 146)
The first thought Esme has is to show her mother, who becomes completely freaked out and flees her home with her daughter. It's obvious that this is somehow connected to her mysterious past, although she does not know what is happening.

As you read more, Esme's mother's tale is revealed and eventually the rest of what is going on is made clear. This is one of those instances that in spite of how much I want to talk about it, I don't want to give away what happens. So I will just say that what happened to Esme's mother as a child is rather disturbing and the reason I loved "Hatchling" so much was this darkness, the way information slowly became available the more I read, and the fact that it had the most developed world mythology.


Lips Touch: Three Times is difficult to rate overall since it contained one story that I was not crazy about as well as two that were some of the very best of everything I have read this year. Since the two novellas I loved so much were about 80% of the book and I did enjoy them so thoroughly, I'm going to weigh them far more than the shorter, weaker novella.


Where I got my reading copy: I bought it (because I very much enjoyed the two books by Laini Taylor that I received as review copies).

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Review of The Bone Key

The Bone Key by Sarah Monette is a collection of ten necromantic mysteries featuring one central main character, a museum archivist who becomes involved with the supernatural. In the introduction, Monette states that these stories are a tribute to two authors she very much admires, H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James. In spite of her love for their work, she did find them lacking in character development and feminism so she wrote some stories in the same vein but remedying these shortcomings. Since I have read neither Lovecraft nor James, I cannot say if she achieved that goal. However, the stories are well-written and atmospheric with a rather unusual main protagonist.

All the short stories in this book follow the adventures of one man - the shy, awkward, bookish Kyle Murchison Booth. In the opening story "Bringing Helena Back," Booth (who usually goes by his last name instead of his first name) becomes involved in an old friend's quest to resurrect his wife and becomes a magnet for strange events involving everything from ghosts to incubi afterward. Instead of going through each story individually, I will just discuss a couple of my favorites.

One of the most haunting stories was "Wait for Me" which made me fear mirrors more than the creepy museum (if this book convinced me of anything, it's that I never, ever want to be alone in a museum at night). In this tale, Booth comes into possession of a poet's diaries that were donated to the museum upon her death. Booth and a coworker went to collect them from the remaining members of the Stapleton family, and then Booth forgot all about them until he cannot sleep one night (as happens to him often). During this particular bout of insomnia, Booth goes to his office to sort through some papers and comes across a pamphlet entitled "Of Spirits and mirrours":
Instantly, and with a force like being hit by a bolt of lightning, I remembered Miss Stapleton, lying on the floor of that bedroom saying, The girl in the mirror. The girl with no eyes.
The pamphlet discusses how eyeless spirits appear in mirrors to do the work of the devil, which makes Booth question some of the strange occurrences in the Stapleton house, including the incident in which they found Miss Stapleton pinned under a vanity mirror. Booth promptly scours the diaries of Mildred Truelove Stapleton and discovers the dark story of a dead girl whose cries of "Wait for me!" can still be heard.

My other favorite story is the titular "The Bone Key" in which Booth receives a letter from a lawyer claiming he knew his mother, who died along with Booth's father when he was a young boy. When Booth meets the lawyer, it turns out he actually almost married Booth's mother and knows many details of his family's past that Booth was never told - including the curse that killed his father.

The main reason I read this book was that I love Sarah Monette's The Doctrine of Labyrinth series. Although I enjoyed The Bone Key, I did not think it was nearly as wonderful as her other books, but that is most likely due to my personal preference for novels over short stories and fantasy over horror (even if it's more psychological horror like this book than gory and icky horror). It was very well-written and it did have some similarities to The Doctrine of Labyrinth in that it was somewhat slow-paced and atmospheric. There was emphasis on character development and I really liked Booth, but he was not as vivid as either Felix or Mildmay in The Doctrine of Labyrinth though he was very sympathetic. Of course, this was a much shorter work than even a single book in the aforementioned four book series so there was much less room for getting to know the main protagonist, but the fact is that Booth does not have a particularly vivid personality.

Each story is told from the perspective of Booth, a very withdrawn man who avoids contact with others as much as possible. When he does converse with other people, he tends to be very quiet and unsure of what to say to them. There are a few recurring characters he interacts with, particularly the people he works with at the museum, but there are none that he is particularly close to so it doesn't have the same tension and drama as the Felix/Mildmay relationship. (This isn't necessarily a bad thing and I do think he is a rather well-written character - I personally just preferred reading about Felix and Mildmay and the city of Melusine.)

The Bone Key was enjoyable for its writing style and subtle creepiness. It was a good Halloween read and a book that I'm glad I read, but it was not as attuned to my personal taste as the other books I have read by Sarah Monette.


Where I got my reading copy: After it languished on my wish list for a while, a friend (and fellow fan of Monette's The Doctrine of Labyrinth series) sent it to me for my birthday.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

November Reading: The Plan

In an attempt to try to clear a few books off the pile that have been sitting there for too long, I've come up with a November reading plan. Right now I am reading By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear, which I absolutely love for its mythology, subtlety and troubled characters. For reviews, I am working on The Bone Key, a collection of ghost stories by Sarah Monette.

I just read a book I need to read for work last night so I'm going to reward myself next with a book I absolutely cannot wait to read - Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor.

After that the plan is to read the following:

The Sad Tale of the Brothers Grossbart by Jesse Bullington (This one sounds dark and I really like the sound of it)

Busted Flush edited by George R. R. Martin (one of the Wild Cards books in preparation for Suicide Kings, the next book in the new trilogy, coming out next month)

Then depending on how much time is left after I finish those, I'd like to read as many of these in November as possible:

Twilight of Avalon by Anna Elliott
The Dragons of Hazlett by Michelle Scott
The Wolverine Files by Mike W. Barr

If I get through two of the above, I may swap one out for Graceling, though, since I'm also really looking forward to that one and would like to read it sometime in the near future.

What's everyone reading this November?

Monday, November 2, 2009

Asimov Estate Authorizing New I, Robot Books...

...and they're already getting slammed:
They should not be followed up and continued. Isaac Asimoc(sic) died forty years after they were first written. If he had wanted to follow them up, he would have. The author’s intentions need to be respected here.
Ok, I'll agree there's logic to that. I'm sure if Asimov had wanted to toss another robot book in there, he would have. It's not like he had any shortage of opportunity to publish new books, there's only a few hundred titles out there with his name on them.

However, can't we at least wait for the books to come out before we declare them a desecration? We've been down this path before, with both well-known (Bear, Benford, and Brin with the Second Foundation Trilogy) and lesser-known authors (Robot City). The Second Foundation Trilogy, while not Asimov books, were excellent in their own right, and Robot City was at least an acceptable read. (We won't discuss the movie; in fact, it's best to just pretend it never happened since it was never really intended to be related anyway.) Even though they're never "the same" as what came before, when a series is extended by a different author it can still result in excellent work–let's hold off on the pitchfork-and-torch brigade until we at least have something to look at.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Leaning Pile of Books

This week I have five new books I added to the TBR pile. They're all books I bought myself this time and they're all ones I really can't wait to read, although I probably won't get to more than one of them this month (I'm still trying to figure out my November reading list other than By the Mountain Bound by Elizabeth Bear, which I'm reading now).

Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

I received review copies of the two books in her Dreamdark series and ended up really enjoying both of them (Blackbringer and Silksinger). So when I heard about this newest book by Laini Taylor, I was intrigued. Then I heard it was nominated for the National Book Award, and I also heard it was very dark, moving it up to must-order-right-now status. After flipping through it some, seeing the gorgeous pictures, and reading parts of it (especially the intro to the second story, "Spicy Little Curses Such as These"), I'm pretty sure this is a book I will be making sure to read in November.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore

Like the Laini Taylor book, this is one I bought because I received a review copy of another book by the author and ended up loving it. In this case, that was an ARC of Fire, which is one of my very favorite books I've read this year. Graceling was Cashore's debut novel and Fire is a prequel to it, so this was another must-have. I'd like to read this one this month as well, although I'm not sure if I'll have time to.

The Living Blood by Tananarive Due

This is the sequel to My Soul to Keep, which I recently read and really enjoyed. It was nearly impossible to put down and I really liked how dark it was, the characters, and the amazing ending. This one was another must-have for those reasons.

The Praxis by Walter Jon Williams

This is the first book in the Dread Empire's Fall trilogy. I'm always looking for new space opera (unfortunately, a genre I've not read that much of this year even though it's one of my favorites) and after hearing some pretty good things about this one, I decided to get it. This is another potential candidate for SciFi Month when I do one.

Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn

This one is not science fiction or fantasy but a mystery. It's the first of the Lady Julia Grey mysteries and ever since Angie of Angieville recommended it to me (her review), I've really wanted to read it. After she mentioned it, I looked it up on Amazon to see what it was about and was very curious about reading more after seeing the opening lines:
To say that I met Nicholas Brisbane over my husband's dead body is not entirely accurate. Edward, it should be noted, was still twitching upon the floor.