2011


A Tale of Two Castles: Charming but not completely satisfying

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

12-year-old Elodie is leaving her rural home and traveling to the city of Two Castles where her family expects her to be apprenticed to a weaver for ten years. But there are two things Elodie’s family doesn’t know. One is that Elodie has no intention of being apprenticed to a weaver. Instead, she wants to be a mansioner, which is basically an actor. (Her parents wouldn’t approve of this career.) The second thing that Elodie and her parents don’t know is that there are no more ten-year apprenticeships offered in the city of Two Castles. Instead, apprentices must pay to be trained. So, Elodie, who has no way to contact her parents, has landed in the big city with no job, no place to stay, and no prospects.

At first, Two Castles is overwhelming with all its fascinating new sights. As soon as she steps off the boat, Elodie meets a dragon, an ogre, and a cat that steals her m... Read More

B.P.R.D.: Being Human: Early cases

B.P.R.D.: Being Human by Mike Mignola (writer) & various other writers and artists

B.P.R.D.: Being Human is a collection of short stories about the early years of B.P.R.D.:

The first story, "The Dead Remembered," takes place in 1976, and the Professor decides to do some rare fieldwork to investigate a haunting. He asks Hellboy to accompany him, but Hellboy, not partial to ghosts, declines, and the professor ends up taking a young Liz Sherman, who has pyrokinetic abilities. This is the first time she goes into the field for any type of investigation. While the story does deal with the haunting, it is really about Liz and her wrestling with her powers. We get flashbacks to her as a child and the critical moment of her childhood that is often referenced in other Hellboy stories: The day Liz lost control of her newly-revealed powers and killed her entire family. In the present of 1976, Liz reluctantly tak... Read More

Deathless: Demands careful reading and close attention

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

Deathless by Catherynne M. Valente

CLASSIFICATION: Weaving together fairy tales and history, Deathless is kind of like Pan's Labyrinth, if it was told by Hayao Miyazaki and Neil Gaiman. Highly recommended for fans of adult fairy tales, Russian folklore, and Catherynne M. Valente.

FORMAT/INFO: Deathless is 352 pages long divided over a Prologue, 6 Parts, and 30 numbered/titled chapters. Narration is in the third-person, mostly via the protagonist, Marya Morevna. Deathless is self-contained. March 29, 2011 marks the North American Hardcover publication of Deathless via Read More

A Flight of Angels: A beautiful anthology

Reposting to include Rebecca's new review.

A Flight of Angels by Rebecca Guay (illustrator)

Stories by Holly Black, Bill Willingham, Alisa Kwitney, Louise Hawes and Todd Mitchell

An angel has fallen. Led by their insatiable curiosity, the hosts of fae have followed the descent of the white-winged creature and now gather around his still-breathing body to decide what to do with him. They decide to hold a trial, and present evidence in the form of stories about the deeds of angels to decide whether or not to let him live.

I am fairly new to reading graphic novels, so I do not know how original the conceit is of having multiple aut... Read More

Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Lost Adventures

Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Lost Adventures by Aaron Ehasz (Author), Josh Hamilton (Author), Tim Hedrick (Author), Dave Roman (Author), J. Torres (Author), Joaquim Dos Santos (Illustrator)

As far as ideas for comic book tie-ins go, a series of "lost adventures" that take place over the course of any given series isn't a bad one.

Collected here are the somewhat inconsequential escapades that happened to the protagonists of Avatar: The Last Airbender across all three seasons, from Aang attracting a swam of scorpion-bees, to Sokka impersonating the Avatar to impress a girl, to Azula and Zuko challenging each other to an arcade game — even a two-page spread on Momo stealing some fruit.

Although plenty of the stories in Avatar: The Last Airbender — The Lost Adventures (2011) are lightweight offerings that cover things like training or travelling or other bits of minutia (like... Read More

The Song of Achilles: An epic love story

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

The story of Achilles has been passed down through the ages and adapted countless times, most recently in Pat Barker's The Silence of the Girls, but also in less successful interpretations of the tale (Brad Pitt in Troy, I'm looking at you). The Song of Achilles (2011) by Madeline Miller offers an entirely new perspective altogether. It is something of an origins story, but most unusually is that it is told through the eyes of Achilles' lover, Patroclus.

We first meet Patroclus as a young boy. His mother, he tells us, is simple and he lives under the constant disapproving gaze of his fat... Read More

The Coincidence Makers: Weaving an elaborate web

The Coincidence Makers by Yoav Blum

Behind the scenes of our lives, pulling the strings for the benefit of humanity, are the people assigned as “coincidence makers,” arranging the events that need to happen in people's lives, both on a personal and larger scale. It may be making a particular love connection by arranging that two people meet at the right time, or taking steps to help an accountant find his true work in being a poet, or ensuring that an assassin is pointed in the right path to later do society a larger good. Coincidence makers work for a hidden organization that supervises and directs their generally benevolent efforts, along with those of imaginary friends, dream weavers, luck distributors and other useful employees, endowing them with supernatural powers, while insisting on compliance with a plethora of bureaucratic rules and restrictions.

Guy, Emily, and Eric are all recent trainees at the job of coincidence ... Read More

Tokyo Ghoul: Hauntingly beautiful

In this column, I feature comic book reviews written by my students at Oxford College of Emory University. Oxford College is a small liberal arts school just outside of Atlanta, Georgia. I challenge students to read and interpret comics because I believe sequential art and visual literacy are essential parts of education at any level (see my Manifesto!). I post the best of my students’ reviews in this column. Today, I am proud to present a review by Ed Lin:

Ed Lin is a junior at Emory University and is currently pursuing a degree in finance. When he's not too busy writing essays for his professors, Ed enjoys weightlifting, reading manga, and napping. Ed is from New York and plans on working there in the future.

Tokyo Ghoul by Sui Ishida

Sui Ishida’s best sel... Read More

A Monster Calls: The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do.

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

At seven minutes past midnight, Conor O'Malley is visited by a monster. But it's not the monster he's expecting. This monster is wild and ancient. This monster comes in the form of a yew tree that usually stands atop the hill Conor can see from his bedroom window, in the middle of the graveyard. Except that now it is here, outside his bedroom window, and it wants something from Conor.

Conor O'Malley started getting nightmares after his mother got sick. In them he has terrible visions, visions which not even the monstrous yew can compare too, and it is perhaps for this reason that Conor is able to have a relatively nonplussed conversation with the tree outside his window. The mass of leaves and branches takes the shape of a man, and it seems to think Conor summoned him. The tree tells Conor he will tell him three true stories, after which Conor will have to tell the tree a truth in turn. When Conor r... Read More

The Urban Fantasy Anthology: Not what I expected it to be

The Urban Fantasy Anthology edited by Peter S. Beagle & Joe R. Lansdale

It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of most urban fantasy. I tend to find problems with almost every urban fantasy book I’ve tried to read. When I got this book in the mail, I kind of rolled my eyes and shot it to the top of my “to be read” pile so I could get it over with fast. I didn’t expect to actually enjoy this book. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d open this anthology and think, “hot damn, this is good stuff…” but I did. I cracked open this book, started reading, and shocked myself by enjoying it.

As with every anthology, not every story will be a hit. Where The Urban Fantasy Anthology seems to differ from many other anthologies was the fact that the stories all appealed to me differently due to their plots, not due to their quality, which is the case with many other anthologies. This book is fil... Read More

Swamplandia!: Wonderfully surreal

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

It's not often a book manages to maintain the balancing act between reality and fantasy, but Karen Russell’s Swamplandia! (2011) treads the line perfectly. The story opens with Hilola Bigtree, matriarch of the Bigtree family who own Swamplandia!, an alligator-wrestling theme park in the Ten Thousand Islands of the coast of Florida. She performs her nightly stunt of jumping into a lake full of alligators, but it is not this which kills her; she falls victim to the more mundane and arguably tragic battle with cancer. This leaves the Bigtree family — Hilola's three children and husband — to come to terms with their loss and the uncertain fate of Swamplandia!.

Narrating the family's story is our thirteen-year-old protagonist, Ava Bigtree, youngest of the Bigtree clan. At thirteen, Ava should have enough problems to contend with as it is, but with her world ... Read More

Osama: Ambitious pulp, indeed.

Osama by Lavie Tidhar

From pulp-minded cynics there is the impression that the literati like nothing more than a book which presents fractals of reality impressed upon social and cultural situations — the more politically and historically significant, the better. If you can somehow throw in the values of literature (meta or otherwise), well, that’s just ink for the Nobel. Post-modern the name of the game, numerous are the works of serious literature (no quotes needed) attempting to portray existence as ever deconstructing relativity for critical acclaim. Speculative fiction is not well known for its forays into this realm of literature, but there have been successful attempts. Jorge Luis BorgesJ.G. BallardM. John Harrison Read More

Troika: Russian cosmonauts explore a BDO

Troika by Alastair Reynolds

Troika is a stand-alone hard science fiction novella that was first published in the 2010 anthology Godlike Machines edited by Jonathan Strahan. In 2011 it was published on its own by Subterranean Press. The story is Alastair Reynolds’ take on the Big Dumb Object trope.

In Reynolds’ future, Russia is the world’s only major superpower and has sent three cosmonauts to examine an alien object, which they call the Matryoshka, which has arrived in Earth’s solar system through a wormhole. The story takes place years after the cosmonauts return and one has escaped the mental institution he’s been imprisoned in to visit the female astronomer who was part of their crew and now lives in poverty. Thr... Read More

The Junkie Quatrain: Four connected zombie stories

 

The Junkie Quatrain by Peter Clines

I don’t read much zombie fiction, but I enjoyed Peter Clines14, and his The Junkie Quatrain has been sitting in my Audible library for two years, so I decided to give it a try. It contains four inter-connected zombie stories that are actually the same story told from four different perspectives. Each story starts with the sentence “Six months ago, the world ended” and proceeds to tell of events that have happened since a virus outbreak in China six months previously. Those who’ve been infected quickly lose their humanity and become mindless killer “Junkies” who prey on other humans. They don’t live long. The world’s population has been decimated, most government and civil str... Read More

When the Great Days Come: Great stories by Gardner Dozois

When the Great Days Come by Gardner Dozois

Gardner Dozois is probably best known for his work as editor, for which he has won an unprecedented number of Hugo Awards. He was in the editor of Asimov's for twenty years between 1984 and 2004 and has edited an enormous number of anthologies of all kinds, including The Year's Best Science Fiction series, which is up to its 33rd annual edition. There have also been a series of cross-genre anthologies edited with George R.R. Martin that were generally well received. Dozois' own fiction is less well known. He is not a very prolific writer, somewhere around 60 short stories have been published, the first of which appeared in 1966. He has also published three novels, including Read More

The Hollow City: Complex, but still accessible

The Hollow City by Dan Wells

Love it or hate it, The Hollow City is a fast, whirlwind read that will completely devour your time.

Having not read any other of Wells’ books, I can’t say if having an untraditional lead character is normal for him, but following a protagonist who has been diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic is not normal for me. This divergence from the norm was incredibly welcome. Michael’s diagnosis brings another level of depth and confusion to the plot and helps push The Hollow City from interesting to fascinating as Wells seamlessly blends fantasy (Michael’s hallucinations) with reality. For much of the book, readers are left to puzzle out what is happening due to Michael’s illness, and what is happening because it’s actually happening.

Usually, when authors write a book where the line between real and imagined is blurry, it’s fair... Read More

All the Lives He Led: Good, but not up to Pohl’s usual standard

All the Lives He Led by Frederik Pohl

Frederik Pohl sold his first work in 1937; seventy-four years later, a new novel hit the selves. I don't think many authors can boast such a long career. I've read several of Pohl's novels as well as Platinum Pohl, a best of collection of short fiction, and I very much like the often slightly satiric nature of his work. The second half of the 1970s are usually considered the best period in his writing career, but Pohl has been producing a steady stream of new books, sometimes in collaboration with others, in the last two decades. The only book from this late period in his career I have read was The Last Theorem, ... Read More

Snow in Summer: An Appalachian Snow White

Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen

Snow in Summer is Jane Yolen’s middle grade/young adult retelling of Snow White, set in the Appalachian hills of West Virginia in the 1940s. The main character is Snow in Summer, a girl named by her mother after the white Cerastium flowers that carpet their front yard. Her mother dies in childbirth when Summer is seven years old, and her father completely withdraws in his grief, neglecting Summer, who gets along with the help of her mother’s best friend Nancy. When Summer is eleven, her father is entranced by a sophisticated, cruel woman who married him to get her hands on the land he owns. Her father’s health begins to fail (helped along by Stepmama), but he barely hangs on, as does Summer. Her stepmother, who calls her “Snow,” treats her harshly and isolates her from Nancy and everyone else in ... Read More

Finder: Volume One by Carla Speed McNeil

Finder: Volume One by Carla Speed McNeil

Even though your to-read stack of books is overflowing, even though your Amazon wish list is daunting, and even though you are starting to worry about running across another review of a book you’ve just got to read, I’m afraid you’ve found one more not merely to add to the list, but to put on the top of the stack of books—if you can resist the urge to buy the book immediately on Comixology, which isn’t a bad idea since it’s great to read with the guided view technology. The book is Finder by Carla Speed McNeil, and fans of intelligent independent comics have known about Finder and McNeil for years. They told me, as I wi... Read More

Ready Player One: The best 80s gamer geek trivia romp yet written

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Were you a hard-core nerd or geek in junior high and high school in the 80s? You know, the ones who clustered at the library or at benches far from the jocks and cheerleaders, who thrilled at quoting lines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, War Games, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Short Circuit, Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Blade Runner, Legend, Dark Crystal, Krull, Star Trek, Conan the Barbarian, etc. The nerdy, awkward, pimply guys with the Members Only jackets and calculator watches whose closest contact with girls was ogling female goddesses in the Deities and Demigods Handbook. Or worse, an uber-nerd who was so uncool that even the other D&D guys wouldn’t accept you – not ME, of course, but A FRIEND, you know. Or perhaps you were a girl equally into the same pop references. I’m sure y... Read More

The Nexus: A very fine novel by a new sci-fi talent

The Nexus by Richard Fazio

On those occasions when I have read sci-fi, I've tended to stick to the familiar brand-name authors; tried-and-true old favorites such as Asimov, Bester, Bradbury, Clarke, Dick, Heinlein, Norton, Silverberg, Williamson and the like. But a recent perusal of new author R... Read More

Mile 81: One frightening novella

Mile 81 by Stephen King

One of the best things about e-books is that many more novella-length works get stand-alone publication. You don’t have to search them out in magazines, or wait for the author to write several of them and combine them in a collection, or spend a large chunk of change for a special printing from a small press. As I’ve always thought that the novella was the form best suited for short science fiction, I’m pleased with this advance; it almost makes up for not being able to hold a real book in my hands, turning real pages.

One of the worst things about e-books, though, is that they disappear on one’s Kindle (or Nook, or tablet; whatever). You can’t really search through them the way you can scan a bookshelf. When you’re an inveterate collector of books, those e-book deals fill up your reader until you’ve forgotten you bought that cool novella by one of your favorite writers that you couldn’t wai... Read More

A Place Called Armageddon: Deftly written historical fiction

A Place Called Armageddon by C.C. Humphreys

“I am Constantine Palaiologos, emperor, son of Caesars. I am a baker, a ropewright, a fisherman, a monk, a merchant. I am a soldier. I am Roman. I am Greek. I am two thousand years old. I was born in freedom only yesterday. This is my city, Turk. Take it if you can.”

In C.C. Humphreys’ novel A Place Called Armageddon, it’s 1453, and the Byzantine Empire is an empire only in name. Its last bastion is Constantinople and the brilliant, arrogant young sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Mehmet II, has his sights set on it, set on completing his father Murad’s work in eliminating his Greco-Christian foes once and for all. Murad was everything his son was not — statesman, soldier, commander — and Mehmet’s accession to the throne saw him immediately shadowed by his father’s ... Read More

Harbinger: Omega Rising by Joshua Dysart

Harbinger (Vol. 1): Omega Rising by Joshua Dysart (writer) and Lewis LarRosa (artist) and Khari Evans (artist) and other various artists

Until recently, I’d read only a few various issues from Valiant, a publisher that is still relatively unknown to me; however, based on a recommendation of a friend with good taste in comics and an excellent weekend sale at Comixology, I decided to give the Valiant Universe a try. I started with the first issue of Harbinger, and before I knew it, I’d read the first two collected volumes of Harbinger, as well as the first collected volume of Valiant’s Read More

Blackdog: Stand-alone epic fantasy

Blackdog by K.V. Johansen

While religion is often found in epic fantasy, rarely is it the main focus of a novel, as it is in Blackdog. It’s even more rare to find an epic fantasy that is a stand-alone rather than part of a long series or trilogy. While the fact that Blackdog is a stand-alone might turn some epic fantasy fans off, it is rather refreshing to read a fantasy on an epic scale that is contained within one book and has a definite beginning, middle and ending.

K.V. Johansen’s world building reminds me a bit of Steven Erikson’s MALAZAN series. The world is large, intricate and sprawls into lands that are just hinted at. It has a rich history which will keep the reader interested and yearning to learn more. Furthermore, the gods are steeped in that rich history and add an intere... Read More