Sunday Status Update: July 26, 2015

This week, Ron Weasley (circa 1995 or thereabouts).

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Ron: Y’know, something’s just occurred to me. Aurors finally showed up at the school this year. I suppose it makes sense with what’s been going on (dark wizard catchers for dark wizards), but it does make you wonder where they’ve been all this time, doesn’t it? What about the second year, when students were being attacked by a mysterious monster in the corridors, and my sister got dragged into the Chamber of Secrets? Would’ve been nice to’ve had an auror or two right about then. Or that time we thought a convicted murderer was trying to slit Harry’s throat. Sounds like a job for an auror to me. I’m just saying. What, were they on strike or something? Guess I’ll ask dad…

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Jana: My reading pace has slowed to a crawl this week, but! I’m getting much better organized as far as my reading/reviewing schedule over the next few weeks, so I’m counting this as a win. I finished Tom Holt‘s The Good, the Bad, and the Smug (review forthcoming), and found it to be generally quite enjoyable. His prose is light, fun, and very much indicative of the style I think of as “British Satire.” (See also: Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Christopher Moore. Moore is American, but his style is very similar to and influenced by theirs.) I’m very likely to seek out more of Holt’s work in the future, particularly because TGTBATS is loosely connected to some of his previous novels, and I want to see how they’re interrelated. On deck for next week: Nalo Hopkinson‘s Falling in Love with Hominids.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews João: I have been a bit out of the loop thanks to a cruel exam season (cruel being redundant of course), and from having been away near the border with Spain in a place with no Internet access and phone coverage. The upside was that with no distractions available, there was only one thing to do: read my brains out.

So, from my last update to this one I have read the grand total of… *drum roll*… 9 books! Without further ado, my brief thoughts on them:

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld by Patricia McKillip – Can Patricia McKillip ever write a bad book? I don’t know that she could to even if she wanted to.

Disciple of the Dog by R. Scott Bakker – Mildly interesting thriller with a protagonist without the ability to forget. Too much rambling for my tastes, but it was still a solid, intriguing, story.

Traitor’s Blade by Sebastien de Castell – How surprising it is to read a story with actual heroes for a change. Seems somewhat anachronistic in this age of nihilistic grimdark fantasy, but de Castell has something great in Falcio and the Greatcoats.

Smiler’s Fair by Rebecca Levene- This one got a decent buzz last year from the UK scene (it hasn’t yet been released in the US) but it failed to grab me and I just wanted to be done with it to move on to other works. The blurb saying this is what you would get if you combined George Martin and The Night Circus is way off, the fair itself is fairly bland and completely lacks the dreamy mystique of Morgenstern’s circus.

THE MONARCHIES OF GOD by Paul Kearney – This 5 book series left me completely dazed and enthralled. It has everything that I like in a fantasy series: a vast cast of intelligent and compelling characters, sharp writing that particularly shows through in some of the best descriptions of warfare I have ever read, and an incredibly complex story that left me glued to the pages salivating to know what happens next. The last book was way too short for the complexity of that last part of the conflict, and seemed in an immense rush to rush to the last page. Still, a fantastic fantasy series, and Bill, if you’re reading this, I think series is one after your own heart. Steven Erikson did say it was “the best fantasy series I’ve read in years and years.”

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Kat: I’m nearly finished with John Flanagan’s RANGER’S APPRENTICE series for middle grade / young adult readers. This week I read books 8,9,10: The Kings of Clonmel, Halt’s Peril, and The Emperor of Nihon-Ja. Unfortunately, as so often happens with long series, these were not as good as the first few books. Also disappointing was Mercedes Lackey’s Unnatural Issue, one of her ELEMENTAL MASTERS books. I was excited to find that Blackstone Audio is finally producing Jack Vance’s PLANET OF ADVENTURE series on audio. I’ve been waiting years for this! I enjoyed the first book this week, City of the Chasch. The best book I read this week was Jim Butcher’s Working for Bigfoot, a collection of three short DRESDEN FILES stories featuring Bigfoot. This has just been released in both print and audio.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Marion: I finished The Unnoticeables by Robert Brockway. It was good fun. There are a lot of familiar elements, but Brockway stirs them together in an unusual way. I had some trouble with his characterization, but overall I really enjoyed it, and eagerly await the next one. I finished Jill Lepore’s The Secret Life of Wonder Woman, in which I learned a lot of really strange things about her creator. Wonder Woman’s origins are way stranger than Paradise Island. And I just started The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Ryan: I didn’t read very much SFF this week, but I did listen to Michael Palin’s Diaries: The Python Years, narrated by author himself. It was quite interesting to not only read the diaries about Monty Python but also to hear Palin reading his own words. I’m now looking for other published diaries to read — I haven’t read many, to be honest. I’ve also nearly finished Long Way Round, by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, which I continue to enjoy.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Stuart: After Cixin Liu‘s The Three-Body Problem, I wanted to read something lighter, so I queued up Ernest Cline‘s Armada narrated by Wil Wheaton, and that was another 80s gamer nostalgia trip, though heavily weighted towards fans of Star Wars, Last Starfighter, and Ender’s Game. For another change of pace, I listened to Kurt Vonnegut‘s Galapagos narrated by Jonathan Davis, a later work that reinforced his perennial cynicism and pathos about the human condition. I’ve also been slowly chipping away at Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse, but despite the fecund imagination the characters and story are fairly wooden (puns intended, for those who know). Finally, I decided to jump down the rabbit whole with Jeff Vandermeer‘s 2014 Nebula Award winner Annihilation, first book in the SOUTHERN REACH trilogy.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tadiana: I’ve been on vacation at a family reunion, so I’ve had a little less reading time than usual. I finished Megan Whalen Turner‘s The Queen of Attolia and will be reading the next book in the series,  The King of Attolia, this coming week. I also read a lovely historical fiction book,  Elizabeth Goudge’s The Dean’s Watch. And I just started a time travel story that a Goodreads friend highly recommended to me, Jack Finney’s 1970 novel, Time and Again.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Terry: I grievously neglected urgent matters requiring my attention in order to finish The Embers in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir. (In other news, my Kindle is extraordinarily organized, my stove is much cleaner than it is ordinarily, and my kitchen countertops are freshly scrubbed. This always happens when I have a big assignment.  Not that the book wasn’t good; it was. But not quite that good.) I also tore through Mira Grant‘s Please Do Not Taunt the Octopus, a novella set in the Newsflesh world. I’m now reading A Slight Trick of the Mind by Mitch Cullin because I want to see Ian McKellen in “Mr. Holmes,” which is based on the book.

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviews Tim: I’ve been driving through the Western United States for the last couple weeks, but I reread Terry Pratchett‘s Reaper Man (maybe my favorite Pratchett work of what I’ve read). I also (finally) got around to The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman, which was quite good. I have to admit that I’m not that interested in the series’ themes (I was an English Major — I’ve already read a good bit about privileged, urbane New Yorkers getting over their entitlement issues), but I’ve found the books fairly compelling reading all the same. I suppose that’s a backhanded compliment, but I do mean it as praise: even as someone who wasn’t fussed about the ideas in play, I still admired the craft.

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TIM SCHEIDLER, who's been with us since June 2011, holds a Master's Degree in Popular Literature from Trinity College Dublin. Tim enjoys many authors, but particularly loves J.R.R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke. When he’s not reading, Tim enjoys traveling, playing music, writing in any shape or form, and pretending he's an athlete.

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  1. Tadiana, I loved Megan Whalen Turner’s series, but I do think there are some acts a relationship just can’t come back from, and the Queen of Attolia committed one of them. I also found the change of tone (and seriousness) between The Thief and the second book startling, although she definitely carries it off.

    • Marion, I can’t disagree. I’m not completely convinced by their relationship, at least in this book. It works better for me in the next book, The King of Attolia. But the first time I read The Queen of Attolia, it was a showstopper for me. Maybe I’ve just gotten used to the idea over time.

  2. Tim, the “privileged, urbane New Yorkers getting over their entitlement issues” is exactly what’s keeping me from even starting on the Magicians trilogy. I’ve just read so many of that type of story! Is it still worth getting into if I keep my expectations low?

  3. Jana and Tim — Tim put his finger on exactly what I disliked about the first book in that series. Jana, go in with low expectations and you may be pleasantly surprised. I thought Grossman hit his stride in Book Two, where there are serious questions about the ethics and uses of magic; it’s not just Manhattanites lounging around swilling Martinis and analyzing their ennui.

  4. This week, I’ve been trying to write reviews of everything I read and actually trying to keep track of what I read. I’ve read recently (the past few weeks) the following graphic novels for which I’ve written reviews (mostly): Finder (volume 1), The Cute Girl Network, Super Mutant Magic Academy, Grip, Marble Season, The Adventures of Venus, Sam Zabel and the Magic Pen, Endless Sky, Clover Honey, Deep State and The Antler Boy and Other Stories, as well as Starlight and MPH, for which I posted reviews yesterday.

    That’s 13 graphic novels with 11 reviews written so far (I still need to write reviews for The Antler Boy–five stars–and Super Mutant Magic Academy–at least 4.5 stars). It’s nice to be back after an unintended six month break . . .

  5. Joao, just ordered the first omnibus (because I certainly won’t have enough books waiting for me at home after being gone for 40+ days). Also, with you on Traitor’s Blade and Forgotten Beasts, and my wife quit on Smiler,s Fair, which I’d recommended due to some good press. Should have waited for one of us to read it . . .

    Tim and Jana, as usual, I second what Marion says. Book one was by easily the least enjoyable for those reasons, but I think it was also probably necessarily so for what follows. I loved the other two, but especially the second. I want to sit down and read them through seamlessly as one story to see if it changes my view at all on book one.

    Terry, Slight Trick sits on my Bookshelf of Fame (the one with my favorites). Hope you like it.if you haven’t read it, you should also try Chabon’s The Final Solution (also on the BoF)

    Brad–great to have you back despite your deleterious effect on my back account

  6. Oh, and this week I read Have Space Suit Will travel by Henlein with my son. And we listened to two audible books of Twiilight Zone adaptations as we traveled through Texas (its own Twilight Zone for us upstate New Yorkers). And I just finished Brian Aldiss’Finches of Mars, which sad to say I won’t be recommending

  7. Tadiana, I’ve had Finney’s Time and Again on the radar for decades, and should finally get to it in the next year or so. I heard it had a movie version as well. There’s a few time-travel stories I want to read, including Ken Grimwood’s Replay, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson, The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog and Doomsday Book, and Up the Line by Robert Silverberg.

    Brad, glad to have you back with a slew of new graphic novel reviews. I wish I could explore that world as well, but I’d need a doppelganger to do that.

    Bill, never heard of Finches of Mars, but I was disappointed with the plot and characters of Brian Aldiss’ Hothouse (aka The Long Afternoon of Earth), though his imagination ran riot. I’ve always felt there’s something holding him back from being considered a top-tier SF writer, and maybe that’s it.

    • Stuart, I’m almost done with Time and Again. It’s an interesting take on the time travel subgenre, but it’s a little less sophisticated in its approach to time travel than most books. It reminds me distinctly of the movie “Somewhere in Time” (time travel through imagining yourself in a different era REALLY, REALLY HARD). I’m not at all sure that’s a good thing. But it’s a pretty good book.

      I’ve read all of the other books you mentioned except for Silverberg’s. My favorites of those are The Time Traveler’s Wife and To Say Nothing of the Dog, but they’re all worthwhile books with very different approaches to time travel. There are a lot of other good time travel stories we could add to the list, like Willis’s Doomsday Book and Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August (somewhat similar to Life After Life, but less literary and more fun).

  8. Stuart, I hope you and everyone here will take my advice on one author and her work, even if you don’t read a single other comic i recommend. I’d like her to be our unofficial celebrated comic book author/artist in the in the way that Jack Vance sort of is on this site, if that makes any sense. I think that everyone here would be truly amazed by her work, and her books, I hope, would find their way even onto Bill’s sacred shelf of honor. Her wiki link is below, and her one great work is FINDER. It’s been collected in two omnibus editions plus two more recent graphic novels. However, you can drop into her world in any place and read a story or two.

    I’ve been writing a review of volume one this week. All my more recent reviews are about one page long, but my review of Finder is into its third page. I’ve been reading and rereading Finder for about a year now, and I didnt want to write about it until I could do it justice. I’ll try to finish and post the review in the coming week or so.

    She calls her intelligent comics “aboriginal science fiction” and it’s gonna have an appeal to those interested in sociology and anthropology. Or if you just happen to like SFF. I think that’s us.

    She’s probably the best comic book SFF writer in the industry who also happens to be fairly unknown outside of it because she’s an indie female writer. But she’s been an Eisner winner. Multiple times I think. I love SAGA. But this is better than SAGA. It’s on another level really.

    I’m writing at 2am on my phone and hope there aren’t too many typos above.

  9. Here we go:

    McNeil and Finder have been nominated for seven Eisner Awards and won in 2009 for best web comic, and one Russ Manning award. Finder has won one Kim Yale award and two Ignatz awards. Finder: Voice won the 2011 Los Angeles Times Book Prize (Graphic Novel).

    From this wiki article on FINDER:

  10. Kat: You’ve got me hooked on audible and Vance, so I look forward to these new selections.

    Murakami fans: Murakami is finally allowing his first novels to be published in the United States. They are fun fast reads and will be issued as a single volume. They’ve been available in English as educational editions for Japanese students who want to learn English. So my editions have all these little notes in Japanese that I can’t read. It’ll be nice to have the official translations though. Th he audible edition should be available the same day the book is released.

  11. Brad, thanks for the recommendation! I will add FINDER to my graphic novel TBR list (gotta support independent authors), next to Neil Gaiman’s SANDMAN series. I’m also a big fan of Alan Moore’s Watchmen and to a lesser degree Frank Miller’s Sin City, but that’s as far as I’ve delved in so far.

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