bunrab: (me)

First off, a couple of books I didn't like, but they were part of my "quest" - I made it a goal of my own to try and read some things that aren't the kind of stuff I always read. So we have a couple of books that are by authors I've never heard of before.
1. A Kindle book, cheap. Witch for Hire (A Witch's Path Book 1) by N. E. Conneely The premise sounded amusing - a witch who works for several police departments in Georgia, as a consultant, when supernatural things cause problems. In execution, however, the book was weak - it read more like a YA than anything else, even though our protagonist isn't a teenager. There's absolutely no sense of how a real work day goes, or what real jobs are like. The family secret is revealed, with reasons for keeping it that sound incoherent, and the resolution of it goes far too smoothly and quickly for what it is. New magical beings spring out of nowhere, as needed, just to give our heroine something to do. The dinner table conversation at the boarding house she lives in is there just so that there are other characters for Michelle to bounce off of - and it's difficult to tell one kind of supernatural humanoid character from another. And the love interest is barely even there at all - and really, Elron? An elf named Elron? Reeeeally? No convincing reasons why said elf should be attracted to Michelle, and even fewer to explain why she should be interested in a middle-aged elf; their repeated interactions seem to be a series of non-sequiters. The ending is ambiguous enough to pretty much guarantee that the author intends a sequel; I don't intend to read it.
2. From the library, allegedly first in a new series: Pile of Bones (A Novel of the Parallel Parks) by Bailey Cunningham  - I'm providing a link to Amazon, because that's easier that linking to a library site most of you won't be signed in on. " In one world, they’re ordinary university students. In another world, they are a company of heroes in a place of magic and myth called Anfractus" RPGers playing a game in a park in Regina, Saskatchewan. The university students are allegedly grad students, and honestly, the grad students I know don't have time for this much game playing. And /everybody/ needs more sleep than any of these characters get - even medical interns on call get more time to sleep between shifts than these guys seem to get between playing their game all night and TA-ing all day. Anyway, the magical world inside the park.seems to be vaguely based on ancient Rome, with lots of Latin words and place names and professions. Why a magical interface from a park made over a Cree area full of buffalo bones should be European rather than Native American/First People/Indian, I haven't figured out. And after chapter 3 or so, I stopped trying, and started skimming, because it became obvious that this book is written for gamers, and is just a novelization of a game, albeit a game the author invented. And I think you'd have to be a serious live-action RPG-er to care what these characters are doing, or to follow their reasoning, even when they're in the real world. You'd also have to be more familiar with Regina than I am, and I don't care to have to familiarize myself with the streets and neighborhoods of an unfamiliar small Canadian city just in order to be able to follow a fantasy novel. In short - not at all interesting to someone who isn't fascinated by novelizations of someone's D&D games from college.

Now on to one I did like:
3. Dragon Bones (The Hurog Duology, Book 1) by Patricia Briggs - I've read her entire Mercy Thompson series, but had never gotten around to any others of hers, so I grabbed this one from the library. And I like it. I like Briggs' writing style. It isn't exactly humorous - well, the Mercy Thompson books have plenty of humor, but that's not their main raison - but it is wry. Most of the characters have a good sense of the fact that so much of what they have to do is ridiculous, and that life is an awful lot of trouble, and that other people are usually inexplicable. Our hero, accompanied by the family ghost, gives up his fortress/leadership of the clan because he can clearly see that no physical castle is worth as much as saving the lives of his people. There are plenty of plot twists that I'm not going to give away. I'll just say, I found the premise - the last set of bones of an extinct race of dragons is buried under the keep of the Hurog - to be carried out well, and I really liked the characters. Ward does what he has to, to make sure his father doesn't kill him, and then has to figure out a way to get out of the hole he's dug for himself after his father dies. He has siblings, and cousins, and faithful followers, and not-so-faithful members of his band of misfits, and he has the aforementioned family ghost. Keep an eye on the ghost. Some particular things I liked about this book, as specifically pertains to fantasy: first, there's not /that/ much magic in it - there's a lot going on that's people interacting, not magical things happening. And the magic seems to follow a reasonable set of rules; there aren't new magical things popping up every few pages just to solve problems or just to give our hero something to kill, as happens in far too many fantasies. There are the dragons, and there are mages, some with more magical abilities than others, and that's about it. The rest of it's real people, doing what real people in feudal societies do, and frankly, when magic comes messing with their lives, they aren't all that enthused about it - it's usually more trouble to people than it is a help. And yes, that has some parallels to Game of Thrones, such as the line that the series is named after. In fact, if you liked Game of Thrones but would prefer to read something with far fewer gory deaths and far fewer pages, you could do far worse than this. It's got the hardworking people of the north, and the king in the south who maybe shouldn't be king, and some other similarities, but all in a normal-sized volume and with not one single toilet disemboweling. I plan on reading the sequel, and on finding more of Patricia Briggs, because I like her voice.

I think that completes
for this year; I probably won't have time for another quest, as there is real stuff I should be doing. Maybe next year.
bunrab: (me)

So when we last met, I had mentioned that I was going to attempt to read one of the volumes in Daniel Abraham's current series; two chapters of that disabused me of the notion. It's definitely complicated enough that one would have to start at the beginning. And given the size of each volume - fatter than the volumes of Game of Thrones, for comparison - it would be far more than I want to take on at this time. So back it went to the library, unfinished.

lengthy book stuff )

Now under way: another Patricia Briggs, but this time a series I haven't read before, or even noticed existed before, which appears to include dragons, maybe - at the moment, at the beginning of the book, the dragons appear to be extinct. So that will be the next one I report on.

Also read a graphic novel that sort of counts as fantasy: Beasts of Burden Volume: Animal Rites - cute, not terribly deep, but the dog characters and the cat are sort of cool.

Other things: took the euphonium to a Browningsville rehearsal and played it for about half the time, and there were moments when I didn't make a fool of myself. And saw "A Million Ways to Die in the West" with Larry, speaking of the West, and Seth MacFarlane's West is probably almost as fantastical as the books above, and from the first couple of measures of the score during the opening credits I was laughing, and I think I enjoyed it so much because so much of the humor was audio in one way or another, which is what I was paying attention to rather than the gross and tasteless poop jokes. From the snippets of Copland in the score, to "Mila Kunis" by way of "People die at the fair" and not forgetting the uncredited cameo by Bill Maher, I laughed a lot. I'll probably buy the soundtrack album.
bunrab: (me)


As I described in the previous post, trying to read 5 fantasy books by June 21. Well, I don't really have to try hard; I read enough that I'll have far more than 5 by then. The part that's a challenge for me is remembering to blog about them, and then writing a post that actually says something more than "I read this."

So today's book is Brazen by Kelley Armstrong. It's the newest entry in a werewolf-and-vampire series, a minor entry in several senses of the word, and a disappointing one. Its purpose is apparently to convince us that there's more to a particular minor character than there appears to be, and I didn't find it convincing.

First off, it's barely novelette length - there's not much story here, not even for the short length of the book. What brings the price of the book up to that of others in the series is supposed to be the illustrations - a whopping three of them, on glossy page inserts, none of them necessary and none of them at all useful in furthering the story nor in clarifying anything from the text. So, if you were to pay the list price of the hardcover (I got it from the library; I don't buy hardcovers any more), you'd be paying for a longish short story in which nothing gets resolved, with three glossy black-white-and-red illustrations with no action in them.

Spoiler alert )

If you're following Armstrong's series, there's no real need to read this, I don't guess, and if it doesn't make it to your library, you can nonetheless read the next one without having lost any major threads in the series arc.
Other recent reading )

Now tackling a much more substantial volume: Daniel Abrahams. It's apparently the third in a series - new on the library shelves; I often start series in the middle and then decide whether it's worth going back and reading from the beginning. I liked Abrahams' Long Price Quartet, mostly, so this has promise. Stay tuned.
bunrab: (me)

I just found out about this from [livejournal.com profile] avanta7, and though it started March 21, I believe I can read 5 fantasy books and blog about them by June 21. Um, I'm sure I can read them. It's the remembering to blog that's a challenge. So,


And here's the first book, which I happen to have just finished:
Moon Called (Mercy Thompson #1)
by Patricia Briggs
The start of a werewolf-and-vampire series I hadn't read before, by an author I hadn't read before. I read 2 of the series by accident last week, out of order, and decided they were good enough to go start the series from the beginning. Although I refer to it as a werewolf-and-vampire series, one of the things that makes it different is that our protagonist is a shapeshifter coyote, as far as she knows the only remaining one of her kind, which means that for supernatural company she's reduced to hanging out with werewolves. The story is told in first person singular, normally not my favorite voice, but Mercy's (short for Mercedes) voice is quite good, natural sounding, and has lots of humor, so that it works.
In reading this one, I see the first roots being laid down for the plot in the later ones I read out of order, and when I reread them in order, they'll have more depth because I will have the background.

I know, I know, werewolves, what a cliche by now, right? Does it help any if I remind everybody that I've been reading vampire fantasy since long before the current fad? That I started reading Chelsea Quinn Yarbro's St. Germain series when she first started writing it, in the 70's? That I read Tanya Huff's Henry Fitzroy books long before anybody made them into a wretched TV series? (And speaking of TV series, I've never seen True Blood, so I have no idea of how much worse than the Sookie Stackhouse books it might be.)

Nonetheless, cliche or not, and the fact that I've been reading vampire stuff for 4 decades now or not, there was enough in this series that isn't common to all the books in the genre, that I am finding it well worth my time.

Stay tuned for book 2!
bunrab: (Default)
First, some tea reviews:
Ginger Bread Cookie from Teavana http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5282 Thanks, Chas! Yummy tea!
Smoky Earl Grey from Fortnum & Mason http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5276 Thanks, [livejournal.com profile] parelle! This is one intense tea! (Other one to be reviewed soon!)

And some of my other recent tea reviews:
http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5375 Pomegranate Oolong from Harney & Sons
http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5332 Ginger Peach Black Tea from Let’s Do Tea
http://www.teareviewblog.com/?p=5327 Starry Night from Liber-Teas

And some book reviews on Amazon.com:
The Enthusiast by Charlie Haas - read the review here: The Enthusiast
Monster by A. Lee Martinez - read the review here: Monster
As usual, you might have to scroll down through several reviews to find mine. And as usual, if you like the reviews, please click the little Yes button! Thank you.

Other recent reading:
A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage: there's a cute visual pun on the cover - in place of the word "the" in the title, there's an elaborate tea tin, looking like it's from an era when the French went in for Chinoiserie - and the French word for tea is thé. The book is a bit superficial, but fun, and let's hear it for beer, bringer of civilization!

Dead and Gone by Charlaine Harris - latest in the Sookie Stackhouse series, a bit too much blood, gore and torture - catering too much to the Anita Hamilton fans? Lots of action, but some of it totally unnecessary to the plot. If you are a reader of diverse and sundry fantasy and SF and have read Miller & Lee's Liad series, you can compare Sookie's accidental marriage to Eric with Miri accidentally marrying Val Con - both have knives. I didn't bother to do an Amazon review of this one because (a) there were already 493 reviews of it on there, and (b) my review would have been more negative than not, given the aforementioned blood and gore and torture, and the loyal fans don't want to see any negatives.

Coyote Horizon by Allen Steele - 4 connected novellas in his Coyote series, ties up some loose ends but creates others with its semi-cliffhanger ending.Won't make much sense if you haven't read the earlier books - but I do recommend them; it's good, straight-forward SF. Many people have compared Steele to earlier Heinlen (before the porn) - but Steele's politics are more nuanced and complex than Heinlein's rabid take-no-prisoners libertarianism.

Now the request: I can read Latin, more or less, as long as I don't have to get the tenses right, but I can't generate grammatically correct Latin. And there's two things I really want to make needlework samplers out of.
(1) Rust never sleeps.
(2) I know it's in here *somewhere*. (As in, someone asks whether we own such-and-such a book or object; our reply is that we do own it, but haven't the foggiest idea of where in the house or garage, packed or unpacked, it might be. This is pretty much our family motto, and has been, since the day we got married. So, I want Latin for something equivalent to "I know it's in here somewhere" although to sound euphonious, you might have to be a little elastic with the exact wording - I know that these objects are located within somewhere? Anyway. Something like that.)
bunrab: (bunearsword)
Reading: Liquid Jade (about tea); Beyond Red and Blue (about politics); Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell (interminably long fantasy, which I am about 1/3 of the way through after 2 weeks of hacking away at the underbrush.)

Music: Went to BSO concert last Friday, going to another one this Friday - that would be today! - last one of this season. Baltimore Symphonic Band played at Charlestown Retirement, here in Catonsville, on Tuesday. Bel Air Community Band will be playing at Shamrock Park in Bel Air on Sunday evening at 7. Next Montgomery Village concert is June 28.

Knitting:


Started June 1, finished June 12! No pattern, just two rectangles, with a V-neck worked into one of them. It's knitted, not crocheted. Has baby cables in it. Craft cotton in the big cheap skeins, one skein.

And before that, there was this one, in May, same deal except I hadn't figured out as much about the shaping yet:



That, and cleaning bunny litter boxes, and cleaning up the old house, packing a bit more at a time each day - almost completely empty now, and it's already being shown!
bunrab: (alien reading)
Firstly, Gray Apocalypse by James Murdoch - see my Amazon.com review of Gray Apocalypse. I didn't actually like the book, but it was surprisingly well written for a self-published first novel, and I can tell that people who like thrillers would like it better than I did (I was expecting science fiction). Disclosure: the author sent me a free review copy. If you read my review, please leave a comment with it, about whether I adequately expressed my ambivalence. Thanks!

Books I didn't even finish:
Zombies: A Field Guide to the Walking Dead by Dr. Bob Curran. I was hoping for a sort of humorous species guide and some references to literature and genre novels. Instead, it's a dead-serious (pun intended) discussion of practically all of the historical beliefs in various sorts of risen-from-the-grave beings in cultures from thousands of years ago to now. And the illustrations are pretty but don't match the tone of the text at all. It's difficult to make zombies boring, but this academic treatise does it. I mean, a serious discussion of whether the Witch of Endor's calling up Samuel (from the bible) counts as a zombie? Ew.

One Bite With A Stranger by Christine Warren - one of the recent crop of vampire romances, this one has an emphasis on the romance aspect of it, for values of romance that equal sexual activity and not much else. Completely chick-lit stuff, with too much discussion of getting drunk on good wine and going shopping. Not my cup of tea, or of blood either. I don't know why I keep trying these things - oh, wait, I keep trying them because vampire romance genre fiction was how I first discovered Chelsea Quinn Yarbro some thirty-odd years ago, and I keep hoping that I'll run into something surprising like that again. But this book wasn't it.
bunrab: (alien reading)
I have this whole bunch of graphic/comic stuff I'm returning to the library, and I thought I'd tweet each of them, while we were in the car on the way. But it turns out I have more than 140 characters to say about each. So here I am, sitting at one of the library's computers, before returning the books.

Let"s see. The first two, Locke & Key and Johnny Bunko, have some tweets that"ll show up, so I don't need to say too much more about those. L&K is a good fantasy, lots of content, nice spooky premise. I actually look forward to the next volume of this one. JB is confused about who its audience might be - it claims to be a book of serious career advice, that happens to be done manga style, but it seems as though people reading manga want story, not advice. Luckily, the story is pretty funny - magic take-out chopsticks!

Para by Stuart Moore - I wanted to like this one, because it's got lots of text - some pages are illustrated text, rather than cartoons with words. And the starting premise is good - an alternate history where the Supercollider in TX turns into a big radioactive pit... and it's some 20 years later and researchers want to find out exactly what happened. The FBI is hampering their efforts. Unfortunately, for my tastes, it turns into paranormal bullshit, woo-woo pseudo-science. Despite that, though, I have to say I actually liked the UFO guy as a character - he has a nice sense of humor about his own endeavors. And the nasty FBI agent turns out to have her good spots. Drawing style: realistic tending toward dark, lots of grey-blue; aliens are stupid-looking. And the frogs never do get explained.

WE3 by Grant Morrison - reminded me a lot of Dean Koontz's Watchers. Three weaponized animals - a dog, cat, and rabbit - escape the termination of their project. I love how they have bits of speech; I was sad that the bunny was the one that died; I liked the ending. Style: colorful (the shell armor looks like a cross between pastel easter eggs and water lotuses, crossed with pillbugs).

The Book of Lost Souls by Straczynski and Doran. Fantasy, dark; not always sure who the good guys are. The episode with the battered woman- interesting. And the hired killer, who finally gets his - good. Still, though, sorta woo-woo in here about tortured savior and how people are "saved." But I like the Road.

Also read: Aya of Yop - couldn't get into it; teenage angst is teenage angst even if it's in Cote d'Ivoire - just as pointless as Ghost World, to me. Not enough story. And Megillat Esther, which I had seen reviews of - sort of a must-do, if one is of Jewish background. It does a nice job of pointing out some of the ridiculousness and some of the repetition-but-with-contradictions that occurs in many bible stories.

OK, now to take these over to the return desk.
bunrab: (alien reading)
All right, folks, here's my review of Gaslight Grimoire on Amazon.com - there are three others, so you'll have to scroll down to read mine. Any helpful Yes clicks always appreciated. The anthology includes some very funny Sherlock Holmes pastiches, as well as a story where Moriarty is the hero.

Graphic novel: The Five Fists of Science. Mark Twain and Nikola Tesla battle black magic and a yeti. Need I say more? Well, it is rather nice to read a graphic novel that involves neither teenage angst nor caped superheroes, and is an original story rather than a graphic version of an established classic. And anything with Mark Twain in it is going to have funny moments, yes.

Yesterday we went to the Eastern Trombone Workshop down at Fort Myer. The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire Trombone Ensemble was excellent - about 20 undergrad music majors, and the performance included a couple of original arrangements by some of them. The trombones of the Atlanta Symphony, with a guest tubist. Some good hints from them about playing as an ensemble and matching tones - things that even community band players, and even people who play other instruments, could try and benefit from. The big evening concert was the Army Orchestra, doing four pieces, each with a different soloist. Charlie Vernon, bass trombonist for the Chicago Symphony, looks exactly like what you imagine someone who's been playing low brass for a major symphony for forty years or more would look like. Saturday morning he's giving a solo recital, which we may or may not get there in time for.

Tonight we have tickets for the Baltimore Symphony - they're doing Dvorak 7 - and tomorrow we are going to Ft Myer again for more trombone concerts, but returning to Baltimore in the evening because we have tickets to see the *Canadian Brass* (yes, you may all let out little jealous-sounding "oooh" noises). Then Sunday we will be driving up to the Philadelphia suburbs to see my niece Hanna in another school play - as a freshthing, she is already getting parts they normally reserve for juniors and seniors. I am working on finishing a quilt for Gregory - Hanna is my sister Steph's oldest; Gregory is Steph's youngest, all of 4 weeks old at this point; I believe I've mentioned he's my 38th niece-or-nephew. I will take a picture of the quilt as soon as it's done - it's all basted, so if I can do hand-tying/embroidery-floss quilting in the car tomorrow day, then I can finish the binding after we get home tomorrow night, and bring it with us Sunday.
bunrab: (Default)
Stalking the Vampire by Mike Resnick - second in his series about PI John Justin Mallory; I liked it better than the first (Stalking the Unicorn) - it made more sense as a mystery, if one can say that about farcical fantasy. Anyway, John Justin, aided by ex-military Winifred Carruthers and 90-pound cat-girl Felina, have to determine why Winifred's nephew seems to be turning into a vampire. This winds up involving several funeral homes with odd names not to mention the Vampire State Building. This is definitely the other Manhattan.

The Anteater of Death by Betty Webb. Who could resist a title like that? Not I, certainly. I hadn't enjoyed what little I'd read of Webb's "Desert" series, but this is a new series, taking place in a small zoo in California. It's still not a great book, or a great murder mystery, but it's OK, and the details about the animals and their care are interesting enough and funny enough to make up for the stereotypical nasty rich people who populate the surrounding town. Among other things, we get a giraffe giving birth, as well as the banana-obsessed anteater giving birth. Spoiler: neither the anteater nor the butler did it.

The Handicap Principle by Amotz and Avishag Zahavi. Probably the most boring pop-science book I've read in a while, partly because very little has been done to turn it from academese to pop. Excessively long to convey a fairly simple idea, the authors insist on dragging EVERY possible feature of an animal into play as a handicap for mating competitions, including, for pete's sake, why men have beards and women don't. The authors claim, you see, that it's because men fight a lot, and having a beard makes it easier for other men to grab them, so by displaying one, a man is claiming that he can win any fistfight, even with the handicap, thereby making him a more attractive mate. Women don't have beards because they don't get into fistfights. Honest, the authors say this!! Also, besides dragging their premise to absurd lengths, the book has crappy illustrations that do nothing for it. Would be much improved by editing out the more outrageous half of their claims, and filling the space with photos of the animals and some side-by-side comparison illustrations. Also including more rodents, perhaps overlooked here because so many of them aren't flashy and aren't terribly dimorphic in size and therefore would be difficult to stretch into the authors' thesis.

Animals Make Us Human by Temple Grandin. Known for her work with livestock animals, Grandin here adds pet animals to the mix, discussing how improving our pets' lives by considering their evolutionary environment can also improve our own lives. Some of it is redundant stuff from her other books. The chapter on cats is interesting - a good explanation of why, although cats and dogs are both "domesticated" animals, a cat is a lot less domesticated than a dog.

The Van Rijn Method by Poul Anderson, edited by Hank Davis - a collection of some of the Van Rijn and Falkayn stories, nothing one hasn't read before, but with introductions to each explaining a little more of the big picture of Anderson's future history. Also, at the end, a very good timeline showing how the Polesotechnic League develops and dissolves and the eventual development of the Empire period of Ensign Flandry.

The Fourth Time is Murder by Steven Havill - grabbed at random off library shelves, looking for more to read, this turns out to be a recent volume in a long-established series. It takes place in the Southwest - New Mexico, near the Mexican border - but is NOT, thank goodness, another attempt to be a Hillerman clone. (I get tired of those - all the Hillerman wannabes who toss in a Navajo and a mention of Navajo religion, and then expect that we'll all enjoy their books just because of that, regardless of how superficial or unrealistic it otherwise is.) Main protagonist is a woman under-sheriff. Plot is based around a financial scam we only slowly find out about; side plots include illegal immigrants, perhaps unavoidable given the location.

The Golden Age of Novelty Songs by Steve Otfinoski. Although it hits most of the high points, I can't entirely agree with a book that devotes almost an entire chapter to Alvin and the Chipmunks and only a couple of sentences to "Camp Grenada." And in the chapter about Christmas novelty songs, he doesn't even MENTION "I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas" - hmph! Includes photos, and does include things you might not instantly think of in the novelty song genre - Cheech and Chong, and William Fries (better known as C.W. McColl), along with the ones you would instantly think of - Napoleon XIV, Homer & Jethro, The Chad Mitchell Trio (my favorites! for their song "Lizzie Borden.")

There, now I'm only a couple weeks behind on the news.
bunrab: (alien reading)
First, some "real books" -
Living With the Dead by Kelley Armstrong. Her Women of the Otherworld series features various types of supernaturals living hidden in plain sight among humans. In this volume, several of the threads that have each been the subject of a separate book previously - the tabloid reporter, the rogue werewolf, the wizards' corporations, all get pulled together around a commune of clairvoyants and a completely ordinary human personal-assistant-to-a-celebrity whose celebrity gets murdered. If you like the series, you will like this one; if you haven't read any of the others, this is definitely NOT the place to start, since much depends on the reader already knowing about half-demons' powers, werewolf pack structure, etc.

Sojourn by Jana Oliver. Subtitled "Time Rovers, Book 1." Time travel agents of a private corporation have to sometimes drag the paying customers back from the eras they've gone to. Cynda has to retrieve someone from Victorian London during Jack the Ripper's spree - while also battling the fact that the company she works for is going bankrupt and trying to strand her away from her own time, to save money. And then there's the factor even Cynda didn't know about: the mysterious Transitives, who can change their appearance at will, though they have no other special powers. This serves as an OK murder mystery (one of the Time Rovers; although we're given some insight into the Ripper murders, the novel doesn't take on the issue of who did them or what his real motivations were) and a bit of Victorian romance. I started the sequel, Virtual Evil, but haven't finished it yet - it seems less interesting (for one thing, we're still in 1888 - no new time period, new characters not as interesting.)

And then there's a bunch of
Graphic novels/comics
Those of you who think you're not interested in graphic novels can skip this bunch of books - though you should think again; some of the best new science fiction and fantasy is coming out as graphic novels rather than plain-text novels. And other stuff.

Cryptozoo Crew, Vol. 1 by Allan Gross and Jerry Carr. Very funny - Tork and Tara Darwyn search for everything from cave monkeys to the abominable snowman, in a collection of several episodes of this comic book. No particular continuity from episode to episode - this is not a graphic novel - though once found, the cave monkeys do show up again as background characters in subsequent episodes. A lot of puns. An awful lot of very bad puns. The last episode features space aliens, with a funny epilog.

Serenity: Those Left Behind by Joss Whedon et al. A complete waste of the time it took to read it. Only worth looking at if you are a fanatic who must have every single Firefly item ever marketed. As a graphic book, it's a complete failure; the characters go unexplained, the plot is patchy to nonexistent, no background is provided, so we have no idea of what the pretty people in the drawings are about. The brief text introduction provides no useful information in that regard. Impossible to follow what might be the plot unless you've seen the movie, and difficult even then.

Bram Stoker's Dracula works quite well as a graphic novel. Stoker's original words are used; this isn't simplified. The drawing style is rather manga, with big heads and huge round eyes, but surprisingly, I didn't find that offputting. Catching Renfield, burying Lucy, and the death of Quincy Morris are all quite nicely done. In short, this is an arrangement of the original that carried most of the proper characterization and plot elements, and could indeed serve to draw younger readers in to the idea of reading the book. (Unlike, say, a recent graphic version of Merchant of Venice that I read, where the language was simplified, often right into totally inappropriate 21st century idiom, and where the contrast between the modern dress of the characters and the ships that were at risk rendered the plot less comprehensible, rather than more.) Heh - a first-rate estate agent is always prepared.

American Born Chinese - Gene Yuen Lang. Very nicely done semi-autobiographical graphic novel, mixing portions of everyday Chinese-American schoolchild with the WASP schoolchild he wishes he had and episodes of fantasy drawn from traditional Chinese myths and legends, to illustrate the problems of coming to terms with being a minority. All of which makes it sound terribly serious and sententious, and it isn't. It's a nice story, plot moves right along, neat characters, and I love the Monkey King stories. Not only is this a good story, it's one I don't think would work as a plain-text novel; it really does show the advantages of the graphic novel form to certain kinds of stories.

Ice Haven by Daniel Clowes. Subtitled "a comic-strip novel" rather than a graphic novel, each chapter of this book is a separate little two or four page episode, some of which don't seem to be connected at first. The different stories eventually twine together. As in a real mystery, a few threads are left unresolved. The characters include the comic book critic, the pompous would-be poet, the schoolchildren, the visiting niece, Leopold & Loeb - yes, Leopold & Loeb. You'll recognize the little kid David - if you've ever seen any of Clowes' work at all, even just illustrations in weekly free papers, you've seen the fuzzy-sweatered kid with no expression.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Finally! A genuine post instead of a bunch of tweets!

First, the best book I've read in the past month is The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett - it's a really original fantasy. My Amazon.com review is here and as ever, I'd appreciate it if you read the review, voted Yes for it, and commented on it if you have the time and willingness to do so.*

Then, books that I tweeted, but haven't mentioned in more detail:
Salvation in Death - JD Robb, latest in her Eve Dallas series, not bad, has to do with a televangelist who suddenly goes honest.
Bones and Obsession - Jonathan Kellerman, latest in his Alex Delaware series; Alex and Milo sound more alike than ever, both of them frequently leaving any personal pronouns off the beginnings of sentences; the new sidekick that Milo acquires in Obsession shows some promise as a character.
The Best of Michael Swanwick - anthology of short stories, some of which I had already read when they appeared in SF magazines; perhaps the most famous is "The Feast of St. Janis."
A graphic novel of Thor based on the comic books of the same name; the book uses up quite a bit of space on the set-up of why Thor is coming back, and a lot of it is pretentious panels that show almost nothing. Thor establishes a new Asgard - hovering over a farm in Oklahoma. There are some good bits in here, such as when someone from the town wants to deliver an invitation to the residents of Asgard to attend a town hall meeting, and has to first install a mailbox under Asgard, so he has something to deliver it to. Also the scene where the gods come to the town meeting - that's where the quote "What unfortunate day's events are not made gladder by cake?" comes from.
Manga Shakespeare Julius Caesar - worst in the series so far; the artwork is so ugly it makes it nearly impossible to tell the characters apart. And having the characters wearing togae in one scene, and then put on zoomy helmets and hop on motorcycles, is so wrong. I can't see where anyone would ever be drawn to a deeper understanding of Shakespeare or toward reading more of his plays, from this presentation; if anything, it'll drive new readers away.
Cretaceous Dawn by L. and M. Graziano - sorta like Jurassic Park, except it involves the scientists actually being dumped back in time. A couple of characters seem real; others are cardboard, but overall it's readable. Manages to involve a turf war between OSHA and ONR (Office of Naval Research) and a couple of crooked physicists, to give more interest to the modern end of things. The entomologist gets the girl.
A Very Private Enterprise by Elizabeth Ironsides - from the cover illustration, and even the back cover blurb, I thought this was going to be a historical mystery, but it turned out to be modern, far too British for me to understand what was going on, and it had a totally implausible ending where after everything is over and one person is left packing up, the real killer just wanders in and confesses.

And a few I hadn't mentioned at all yet:
Stat-Spotting by Joel Best - lightweight, but good summaries. Perhaps his best chapter is the idea of knowing benchmarks - there are about 300m americans, 4m babies born each year in US, 2.4m die each year and a few other general ones - so that you can recognize totally bogus stats (like one claim I heard, from a relative, that there are 150 million abortions a year in the US - oh yes, 50% of every man, woman, and child in the country had an abortion last year? Really?)

Free-Range Knitter by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee - a lot about her daughters. No sense anyone who doesn't knit or haunt yarn shops reading it. It's humorous, but only for yarn addicts.

Ageless Memory - Harry Lorayne - a reminder of the old trick of putting absurd images to things you need to remember. I used to do that and then didn't and now Lorayne has reminded me that it works.

A Just Determination - John Hemry (not Henry) - well-written and fascinating, and at the same time way too much detail of every sentence needed to launch a ship or start a court-martial. He's best known for a particular mil-fic series, which I haven't read and which this isn't in. This one has a touch of Young Adult coming-of-age stuff in it, but it isn't juvenile. I liked it. Our boy is a newly minted lawyer (well, that's not what they call it, but that's what it is) on a battleship on a supposedly peaceful mission. Which of course goes awry. Warning: unless you're already deeply into Navy stuff, you'll spend a while getting straight about the difference between Captains and Commanders and whatnot, and the exact chain of command, and who isn't on the usual chain, and more of that nature.

Gaaah, and there's still a short stack of books here - I'll include the 4 remaining in a second post, before this one gets big enough to invade a small nation.
bunrab: (alien reading)
some of which must return to library Thursday. So I'd better mention 'em now.

American Nerd by Benjamin Nugent - amusic, sometimes superficial. He makes an interesting case, in his chapter about the SCA, for the way the SCA manages to create nerd jocks, unlike most nerdy groups.

Recovery Man by Kristine Kathryn Rusch - latest in her Retrieval Artist (Miles Flint) series; all the books in this series are seriously good crime fic/mystery fic as well as quite acceptable science fiction - a far more serious blend of SF elements than, say, J.D. Robb. I like the way she does really alien aliens. And I like the dry sense of humor that sneaks in occasionally. This volume has far more to do with Miles' past history/personal life than any of the previous ones. One of the things I like best is how realistic the characters are - even the nasty-guy Recovery Man has some sophisticated thoughts and thinks about what he's doing, not an all-evil-all-the-time-just-because villain.

Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck. Well, of course, RVs/motor homes/campers are a lot more common now than they were in 1960, and the interstate highway system is a lot more complete (even in some of its deteriorating-infrastructure state), so some of the book is a bit dated. But it's still interesting, especially the postscript about the Kennedy inauguration - coming up as we are on the Obama inauguration, which, you will recall, is more or less a local event where I am; yes, traffic and security and whatnot for DC does stretch all the way to our area.

I had briefly mentioned Odysseus on the Rhine but didn't say anything about it, and I should. It's a sequel to The Odyssey and before you go "ewwww" please listen when I say it's quite nicely done. I've added a review to Amazon.com, which should be posted within a few hours. (And if you read it and like it, besides the Yes button, could you possibly add a comment? I'm a glutton for comments, and they keep Amazon from thinking that it's the same few fans all the time. Thanks!)
bunrab: (alien reading)
Read a whole bunch of xmas-themed short story and novella anthologies, not worth mentioning (although Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, werewolf Christmas stories, is a pretty funny concept, erractically implemented) and I'll mention one xmas novel, Donna Andrews' Six Geese a-Slaying - it's the latest in her Meg Lanslow series, and it's back to being funny, which the previous volume wasn't, which is why I mention it even though it's a series book.

And Jim Butcher's Welcome to the Jungle, a Harry Dresden graphic novel, which I felt was eh. I mean, OK, but thinnish on plot and I really like having more detail in these; in this case, the pictures were NOT worth a thousand words to me, and I much would have preferred a good ol'-fashioned text novel. Oh, and when it has a cape/mantle, people, it's not a duster any more, it's a freakin' greatcoat, OK??

And a graphic novel I didn't finish, Preacher, Vo. 1: Welcome to Texas - not my cup o' tea, too weird, with a plot line that has too little coherence and too much violence and profanity just for the sake of violence and profanity. Though I do sorta like the Irish vampire character. But I'm not gonna bother finishing this or looking for the rest of the series.
bunrab: (Default)
Okay, some Amazon.com reviews - read 'em, click the little Yes button, you know the drill:
This Might Not Be Pretty (a Stone Soup comic strip collection) by Jan Eliot
Grease Monkey by Tim Eldred - already mentioned this one; it's on my "favorite books this year" list.

Briefly in tweets I quoted from A Short History of Rudeness by Mark Caldwell. It was written about 10 years ago, so the chapter on the internet is overwrought and out of date. And the chapter on Martha Stewart is just plain weird, has nothing to do with the rest of the book. But nonetheless there's some interesting reading in some of the chapters, particularly about how the rise in mobility (more and more individual transportation) contributed to the world being ruder.

From Doon With Death by Ruth Rendell - a re-release of the first Inspector Wexford novel. From 1964. I've never gotten around to reading any Rendell before. Eh. I could see the plot twist coming a mile away. And I find the whole thing too British for me. In order to read the story smoothly, one has to be familiar with the British school system, and with the whole "this neighborhood in London automatically conveys such-and-such a social and economic class" thing, which is not information I've ever cared to internalize. I know a lot of people don't mind it; it's a personal thing to prefer novels set in places where I know the milieu.

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8. Lee (yes, that's an 8.) Adventures in the World of Chinese Food. Very, very funny book. Especially the chapter on why Chinese food is "the chosen food of the Chosen People, or, The Great Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989." The history of General Tso's Chicken, the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world, and a comparison of the McDonalds model as Windows and the Chinese restaurant model as Linux. I bet almost everyone on my flist would find something to enjoy in this one.

Michael Chabon's The Final Solution - a short book that, although it never mentions the name, is clearly meant to be a sort of alternate-history "Sherlock Holmes lives to a ripe old age in rural England." A quick read, nice enough, and the parrot is a nice character.

Welcome to Tranquility by Gail Simone and Neil Googe - another graphic novel, this one a very loving send-up of old-fashioned comic books, the kind from the 1940's through 1960's, with a touch of how counterculture and Goths and Postmodernism took over from those. The plot is set in the town of Tranquility, where all the retired maxi-heroes (someone must have a copyright on "super-heroes") live. And the young African-American female sheriff who gets to try to keep the whole town calm. Probably MORE fun reading for someone my age, who read all those '60's comics books at the time, than for younger people who don't have that whole context.

Oh, and of course The Eight by Katherine Neville, already mentioned that it was in progress. Finished it. A bit silly and complicated in many spots - requires a willing suspension of disbelief for the fantasy element that sneaks in, as with any magical/religious object that exerts mysterious powers over people, even though otherwise set in the "real world." And quite a bit of the whole Freemasons/Rosicrucians/gigantic historical conspiracy wingnut stuff as part of it. Good fun, though, and I liked many of the side digressions, such as the tale the 18th-century chess player tells of meeting J.S. Bach. On the whole, a bit non-sequitur-ish, as the mystical power of the chess set at the end has nothing to do with how it was introduced at the beginning, but nonetheless a good adventure thriller, sort of "what if Indiana Jones were a woman working for a big-8 accounting firm in the 1970's?" with a whole bunch of French Revolution and other international travel thrown in.

Okay. Gotta go change clothes for yet another band Christmas concert tonight. Whee. "Sleigh Ride" till our lips fall off.
bunrab: (Default)
Last week we played three concerts - Sunday the 19th, Thursday the 23rd, Sunday the 26th. This week we both have colds.

Recent reading:
Lost on Planet China - J. Maarten Troost. Shallow, superficial, but funny. Troost's main insight into China: geez, the air is polluted! As in, makes Los Angeles or even Mexico City look crystal clear pure. And the water is filthy. And little kids squat and go to the bathroom in the street as a matter of routine, big city or countryside. And did he mention, the air is so bad you SHOULD be wearing those masks for the air, not the bird flu or SARS? What really struck me about this book is the ease with which Troost travelled through China, hopping on trains, buses, local airlines, with no problems, no police or political minders, no-one trying to steer him away from stuff the ruling party would rather not have foreigners see.
Geekspeak: How Life + Mathematics = Happiness by Dr. Graham Tattersall. Not what the title sounds like - this is actually about how to estimate ridiculous things such as how much your house weighs, whether you love someone more or less than average, and other things that most people hadn't thought to quantify. Of possible interest to Biker Skum, who frequently seem to be trying to measure things that other people don't usually think of.
Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants by Robert Sullivan. The cover illustration is of a map of Manhatten island with an image of a rat, in blocks and streets and parks, overlaid. Usually this kind of eccentric focus on one animal belongs to either eccentric Brits - remember Trilobites!? - or women obsessed with primates. This, however, is an American guy who might almost seem normal until he invites you to spend an evening watching rats in an alley with him. The book is very funny, and has digressions to a pest control convention, and the history of the Black Plague, and other rat-related items. The scary part is how much we humans actually encourage rats without even realizing it; without our help, rats would be as scarce in the city as bunny rabbits.

Very little fascinating in fiction, just the usual next books in series, fantasy that turned out to be not worth finishing, re-reads, etc. One new entry: Sharon Lee & Steve Miller, best known for their space opera set in the Liaden universe, have written an entirely unrelated fantasy, which is obviously the first in a series. Starts out Regency-romance-ish with a vague hint of being another planet where humans have colonized and then regressed to Regency/Victorian era, but then rapidly goes to full fantasy with elves both nice and very nasty. A few unusual types of characters, mainly the Wood Wise - I like them.

Now back to snuffling and coughing and crocheting place mats and dish cloths.
bunrab: (alien reading)
Kitty and the Silver Bullet - Carrie Vaughn - latest in her werewolf series, includes vampires and a vampire war over the next king of the city.

The Circular Staircase - Mary Roberts Rinehart. This murder mystery was written a century ago, 1908, and what's surprising is how modern it is. I think that Agatha Christie probably couldn't have written her stuff had there not been Rinehart's stuff to ease us out of the all-male Victorian stuff. In Conan Doyle and other mystery writers of the turn of the 20th century, mostly women are just objects that things happen to. Rinehart, however, made her protagonist a grumpy old maiden aunt, and both the mystery and the characters seem far more modern than I expected. For example, the aunt inherits guardianship of her niece and nephew. When the nephew graduates college, the first thing he does is go out and buy a car. In 1908! And a period touch: "... and I learned how to tie over my bonnet a gray baize veil, and, after a time, never to stop to look at the dogs one has run down. People are apt to be so unpleasant about their dogs." The copy I read, incidentally, was the original 1908 edition, with its carefully inset illustrations. The crime is certainly modern enough - it involves a bank officer faking his own death to avoid being punished for his embezzlement, when his bank fails. (Ken Lay, anyone? Many people suspect that his death was all too convenient...) Anyway, I liked this, found it easier to read than much turn-o-century stuff, and certainly more modern characters and plot than some of the other stuff I've read from that era. For example, in the back of the book are pages advertising other recent releases from the publisher; I've read a couple of Grace Livingston Hill's books, and they were so awful I never read more, and I've read every word Kathleen Norris ever wrote - I went through a phase - and while those were more readable, they still have a certain saccharine quality to them, and a certain dependence on unrealistic coincidences and people walking into other people's houses uninvited and then eavesdropping to their detriment; Rinehart has much better characters than that!

I noticed that I've already blogged about more than 100 books this year, so for the rest of the year I'm probably going to only mention books where I really have something to say about the book; not gonna blog about any more routine murder mysteries or routine vampire stories. I may change my mind about that, but right now, I figure I've already done my share for promoting literacy. And only a quarter of the ones I've mentioned are murder mysteries, and nearly half of them were nonfiction! So I've met at least one New Year's Goal.
bunrab: (alien reading)
A Mankind Witch - Dave Freer - alt history and fantasy, part of a shared universe but doesn't have to be read in order. Going to look for earlier volumes.

Snoop - Sam Gosling. How to be a sociological researcher by looking at other people's bedrooms and offices. Turns out traits of openness and extraversion can be accurately judged by people's rooms, but room contents are not really any help at all in judging agreeableness or neuroticism.

Swine Not? - Jimmy Buffet. A lightweight, amusing anthropomorphized animal story. If you like those, you'll like this; if not, not. Pet potbellied pig in Central Park.

This Land is Their Land - Barbara Ehrenreich, one of my favorite ranting liberals, the
anti-Coulter.

Recently reviewed on Amazon.com, a couple of crafts books:
Beyond-the-Square Crochet Motifs
Knit on Down
bunrab: (alien reading)
I have been sick for the last few days, with something vaguely flu-like and an overlay of ragweed pollen allergy (hay fever) to add to the fun. So I haven't done much, and I am once again behind on reading my flist. Sorry! And, the pile of books on the desk has just been stacking up, without me doing much about it. So here's some bookblogging to try and catch up:

Does this Clutter Make My Butt Look Fat? by Peter Walsh - his premise is that being a packrat and being overweight are psychologically related, and some of his already published books about getting rid of clutter can also be used to help you lose weight. Interesting premise, some food for thought (pardon the pun), but of course, no one's going to de-clutter OR lose weight just by reading a book.
Saturn's Children by Charles Stross - a fast-moving space opera, read my amazon.com review here.
Life Sucks by Jessica Abel , Gabe Soria, and Warren Pleece - a graphic novel about vampires, read my amazon.com review here.
Dark Watcher by Lilith Saintcrow - fantasy involving witches, not a whole heck of a lot of plot and the characters are somewhat cardboard; it's there mostly for the romance, which itself is pretty lightweight. An easy read, but not something I'd drive out of my way to find.
1001 Books for Every Mood by Hallie Ephron - an interesting annotated list, read my amazon.com review here.

Thanks for checking out those Amazon.com reviews, friends! Keep the Yes buttons clicking!
bunrab: (alien reading)
Hey, while you're waiting for Small Favor* to finally make it down under, you might wish to re-read The Two Towers - there are a lot of references to it in the book. (Like we all need an excuse to re-read LOTR, right?)

Things to look forward to: the Gruffs. (As in Billy Goats, yes.) Especially the conversation with the Eldest Gruff about doughnuts.
An actual Valkyrie arriving in a helicopter that's blasting Wagner over the landscape.
Harry's sudden channeling of Rincewind.
Murphy's unexpected job offer.

*The latest volume in Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden series, for those of you who were wondering.

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