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And Again. . .

Oct. 1st, 2008 | 03:26 pm

You know the drill by now. This one's so big I'm putting it behind a cut.

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Catching Up Again

Jul. 14th, 2008 | 02:24 pm

Those of you who are paying attention might notice that there have been some jumps in numbering for the last few entries I've posted. . . that's because I number the books in the order that I read them, not in the order I get around to writing entries on them.

And since I've gotten behind again, here's another magic list:

Here's the format: [Title] - [Author] ([Genre], [Page Count]): [Quick comment]

67. Once Upon a Blind Date - Wendy Markham (Comtemporary Romance, 346): Present tense threw me off a bit, but a cute story.
68. Making Over Mr. Right - Judi McCoy (Paranormal Romance, 375): Cute premise, great hero, very enjoyable.
69. Code Name: Baby - Christina Skye (Romantic Suspense, 378): Average.
70. The Penalty Box - Deirdre Martin (Romance, 342): One of Martin's more enjoyable titles. I'll keep it on my re-read shelf.
71. Bride Needs Groom - Wendy Markham (Romance, 347): I liked Dom enough to read his story, but I doubt I'll read more - the present tense action is distracting to me.

72. My Spy - Christina Skye (Romantic Suspense, 360): Better than Code Name: Baby.
73. Ink Exchange - Melissa Marr (YA Fantasy, 325): Detailed thoughts here.
74. The Princess Diaries - Meg Cabot (Young Adult, 238): Very cute.
75. Ysabel - Guy Gavriel Kay (Fantasy, 432): Detailed thoughts here.
76. Not Another Bad Date - Rachel Gibson (Romance, 377): Great, as I expect from Rachel Gibson.

77. Fortune's Fool - Mercedes Lackey (Fantasy, 395): Not impressive enough to keep, sadly enough.
78. Urban Shaman - C.E. Murphy (Urban Fatnasy, 344): Detailed thoughts here.
79. The Lies of Locke Lamora - Scott Lynch (Epic Fantasy, 718): Detailed thoughts here.
80. Hot Stuff - Carly Phillips (Romance, 377): Cute, but I already forget who it was about. Mild head-hopping.
81. Hot Number - Carly Phillips (Romance, 378): Quick, cute, but not groundbreaking.

82. Squeeze Play - Kate Angell (Romance, 308): Found a great new author to read.
83. Sizzling - Susan Mallery (Romance, 368): Average, though the scene where the hero runs away from the twins who show up in his bed is pretty darn funny.
84. Hot Item - Carly Phillips (Romance, 378): Worth it to read about the third sister.
85. Strike Zone - Kate Angell (Romance, 3260): Short, easy, enjoyable read.

86. Magic or Madness - Justine Larbalestier (YA Fantasy, 271): Detailed thoughts here.
87. An Unexpected Pleasure - Candace Camp (Historical Romance, 411): An enjoyable surprise.
88. The Mating Game - Melanie George (Romance, 348): Great, fast read, charming.
89. Tangled Up In You - Rachel Gibson (Romance, 364): Great, as usual.

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Justine Larbalestier: Magic or Madness

Jul. 14th, 2008 | 01:21 pm

Magic or Madness
Author: Justine Larbalestier
Genre: YA Fantasy
Pages: 271
Final Thoughts: Mildly disappointing.

I think I first heard about Justine Larbalestier and Magic or Madness from--surprise, surprise--calico_reaction. I thought it sounded great, especially the magic system that required either using your magic, which reduces your life span each time, or going mad. Mmm consequences!

But I felt like the heroine, Reason, didn't get up and do things herself. She spent a lot of the novel being confused and letting Jay-Tee herd her around. Most of the book, really. She made friends, sure, but she ended up pretty much where she started, still distrusting her grandmother (though perhaps not quite so violently) and still pretty much clueless about magic.

I want the two other books in the trilogy to be better, but I think I'll get them from the library.

Book #86

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Scott Lynch: The Lies of Locke Lamora

Jul. 14th, 2008 | 01:04 pm

The Lies of Locke Lamora
Author: Scott Lynch
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Pages: 718
Final Thoughts: Monumental work, really clever - I laughed out loud more often though this than any other epic fantasy I can remember.

This title was actually chosen as the required reading this term for Seton Hill, and as such I think it was a pretty good example of the fantasy genre.

Scott Lynch has laid the foundation for a seven-book sequence, and done it rather well. I found myself, over and over, laughing out loud at Locke's schemes. His sheer audacity and convoluted paths were brilliant, and well-told. Some of my fellow students were frustrated by the fact that even at the end of the book they didn't have a real feel for who Locke is, but I think that's part of the brilliance here. Even Jean doesn't really know who Locke is, and they are best friends. The book is, after all, the LIES of Locka Lamora. That alone tipped me off that everything Locke says and does is suspect. It's all covered in a deeper mystery that Locke is obviously unwilling to share, even with the people he's closest to.

I thought things started slow - even for a fantasy, the prologue was long and felt rambling to me, and then it took another 250-300 pages for the plot to really catch its true momentum. But then, when I started out I didn't know how many books were planned. On that scale, it's an appropriate amount of exposition. And I have to say, I wish the death toll amongst the Gentleman Bastards hadn't been quite so high.

I'm sure I'll read the rest of these, but I might wait until there are two more available at a time, so that my poor memory doesn't have to keep up with everything all the time.

I'm also sure that I've missed so many things I could have and perhaps should have mentioned, but such is the unfairness of life. Leave me a comment with a question if you want my specific thoughts on something I didn't cover.

Book #79

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C.E. Murphy: Urban Shaman

Jul. 14th, 2008 | 11:28 am

Urban Shaman
Author: C. E. Murphy
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Pages: 344
Final Thoughts: Fast read, great urban fantasy.

Another of calico_reaction's challenge titles.

Great, fast read, easy to follow and understand. Wonderful combination of Celtic and American Indian folklore, and it makes perfect sense that Joanne Walker is caught between them, what with her mixed Irish and Cheyenne blood (that tribe might be wrong - its been a while since I read and I can't find a quick answer online as I write this). And we all know I like folklore-ish stuff, so that made me happy right off the bat.

I really have to be better at keeping up with these reviews, because yet again I don't know specifically why, but I don't feel compelled to continue reading the series. Jo didn't grab me like, for instance, Cat and Bones (Jeaniene Frost) or Kitty (Carrie Vaughn) and with so many books out there to read, I can't spend time with characters who aren't entirely gripping to me. That's not to say she won't appeal more to someone else. The writing is good, the premise was great, I just don't need to hang out with Jo any longer. *shrug*

This would have been a great example of urban fantasy for the Seton Hill program, but I feel like urban fantasy has almost become its own genre rather than being a sub-genre of fantasy any more. It has its own tropes and expectations and those don't really line up with "traditional fantasy".

Book #78

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Guy Gavriel Kay: Ysabel

Jul. 14th, 2008 | 11:10 am

Author: Guy Gavriel Kay
Genre: Urban? Fantasy
Pages: 432
Final Thoughts: Thought-provoking, beautifully written.

This was one of the books I read for calico_reaction's fantasy book challenge, to read all the books presented as options for required reading at Seton Hill this past June. I have no idea if that sentence made sense. At any rate, she issued the challenge in part to see whether one of the books on the list would have been more appropriate as an example of fantasy than the one that was actually chosen, Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora.

The fact that Kay tells the story without revealing everything, without answering all the questions, is satisfying in some ways and not in others - just like in life, when you want to know how this "works".

The premise, that these three people are connected and return to one another throughout time to re-enact their love triangle/feud, was an interesting one. The implication that the bloody history of France's region of Provence was essentially the result of this centuries-long connection was great, and the incorporation of various pieces of history and folklore from the area was superbly done. Kay's prose is beautiful, as well.

At this point, it's been nearly two months since I read this, so I forget most of my specific praises and complaints, but in reference to the fantasy challenge and whether this would have been a good representative for the fantasy genre as a whole, I don't think it would have been the best choice. There's too much here that doesn't exemplify the "standards" of fantasy as a whole for it to be entirely effective. The real trouble, of course, is that fantasy is such a diverse genre that it's impossible to hold up any one book as a true representative of "what the genre does" and "what all its readers expect".

As I mentioned, this is a beautifully written book, and one that got my mind's wheels turning in a number of "what if" directions, but I probably won't pick it up again. Maybe it was a little bit too beautiful?

I might not be coherent today.

Book #75

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Melissa Marr: Ink Exchange

Jul. 14th, 2008 | 10:53 am

Ink Exchange
Author: Melissa Marr
Genre: YA/Urban Fantasy
Pages: 325
Final Thoughts: Still fascinating, but not as self-contained as Wicked Lovely.

I read Marr's debut, Wicked Lovely, last year (thoughts here) and I was eager to read the second book set in that universe. This isn't precisely a sequel. . . in fact, it technically starts out on the same evening that Aislinn's story does, but follows the story of one of Aislinn's friends, Leslie. It's helpful to read Wicked Lovely first, but not absolutely necessary, and Ink Exchange really fleshes out a different part of the faerie world, a much darker angle than we saw in the first book.

I feel more distant from this story than I did from Wicked Lovely, and I think it's because it's not as self-contained. I don't feel like I know the full story of these characters, like they've found the same kind of resting place in their story that Seth, Aislinn, Keenan, and Donia reached at the end of their story. Leslie, Irial, and Niall have all just started a new phase, and I hope I get to read more about what happens to them.

Beautiful writing, fascinating world, real problems for all the characters, but I feel like this is the introduction to the "real" story. WELL worth the time to read and enjoy, but don't expect a bow to wrap things up in the end.

Book #73

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Behind. . . Again. . .

Jul. 6th, 2008 | 11:04 pm

I am now officially 20 entries behind.

I don't suppose it makes a difference that I've been meaning to catch up for something like a month now, but things keep getting in the way. Crying shame, really, because looking at my ever-lengthening list, I've read some good stuff in the last few months and I'd like to talk about some of them.

Somehow I think that if I promise "soon", it won't happen. But at least you know I'm alive and I haven't entirely abandoned the book journal. I've just been rather busy lately, that's all.

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May. 12th, 2008 | 09:03 pm

"A Better Country": The Worlds of Religious Fantasy and Science Fiction
Author: Martha C. Sammons
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 151
Final Thoughts: Not what I expected, but not without worth.

My required critical theory text for this term. I chose it because I'm going to be writing a paper in the fall about where my thesis fits into the stream of literature, past and present, and so it seemed reasonable to look more closely at religious fantasy and its history, since one of the central struggles in my novel is that of whether to believe in God's existence or rely on one's own resources. In the end, I have mixed feelings about it. Here's the Amazon description:
This book is a study of religious science fiction and fantasy in the tradition of Lewis and Tolkien. Sammons explores why writers use fantasy to convey theology. In addition, the book provides a theoretical understanding of fantasy as a form of literature by examining the techniques of current writers in light of the goals and theories of the "founders" of the genre. Sammons discusses techniques such as supposition, transposition, imagery, and reader participation, along with the themes and ideas they convey. The author traces the chronological development of the genre and the characteristics and effects of religious fantasy with a wealth of examples.

In retrospect, this is an accurate description, but I had expected more discussion and defense of original material and less flat-out summarization of various books. There is extensive discussion of all the various theories and techniques in light of ideas from Lewis, Tolkien, and Chesterton, along with other various somewhat lesser-known luminaries of early religious fantasy. While the initial section of each topic drew various ideas together into discussion with each other, the latter segments of every chapter degenerated into litanies of plot synopses from various works, but no attempt was ever made to connect events in the summarized books to ideas discussed just a page before, and I found that incredibly frustrating.

The overall feeling, for me, was that either each chapter should have been treated in much more depth - perhaps even a book for each of the six chapters - or that the entire exercise should have been condensed into a quarter of the page count. Also, I already covered many of the ideas put forth here in my reading of From Homer to Harry Potter, so I'm sure that also affected my approach to this book.

On the other hand, one might make the argument that I knew going in that this text was 20 years old. It was very interesting to see books that I think of as rather old-school tauted as the cutting edge in religious fiction, and to read this analysis of the purposes and techniques of religious fantasy in light of the intervening 20 years' worth of publishing. It's also very good to know a bit more about how thinking on the subject has progressed.

I'm not sure I would want my work to be labelled as 'religious fantasy'. I think that's forcing the point, and it's unnecessary. I'm glad to find that most of the texts examined in the text, though acknowledged as valuable in the Christian community, are most often shelved along with the rest of the speculative fiction in bookstores and libraries. I think that generating a separation between fantasy written by Christians and that written by non-Christians is nonsensical.

Also, the more I become familiar with C. S. Lewis's and J. R. R. Tolkien's writings, which are still on my To Read list in their original forms, the more I find myself identifying with Tolkien's approach to fantasy and fairy stories. Lewis was a formidable theologian, but I identify much more closely with Tolkien's approach storytelling.

So that's that - it was perhaps less than I expected, but not without value. I do have to say that I much prefer reading the stories themselves than books about them. And that's why I doubt I'll ever be a True Academic.

Book #66

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Carol Berg: Breath and Bone

May. 12th, 2008 | 08:08 pm

Breath and Bone
Author: Carol Berg
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 449
Final Thoughts: Another stunning story from Carol.

This is the sequel to Flesh and Spirit, which really ought to be read first.

I chose this as one of my required books this term for one entirely selfish reason. Carol is one of my very favorite authors and I knew this book was coming out at the beginning of the term and I wanted to be sure I had time to read it. What better way to do that than to incorporate it into my curriculum?!

But in all honesty, there are several elements of Carol's writing that I can only hope to achieve in my own work. The first is a powerful first-person voice; the second is the knack for developing full and entirely believable worlds without inundating the reader with unnecessary information; the third is an unparalleled ability to totally fleece me (and other readers, from conversations with fellow fans) and turn things upside down just when I think I know what's going on. All of this both contributes to and is held together by the intricate weaving of so many threads one begins to lose count. To call this writing a masterwork tapestry of words would not be an exaggeration.

This is the second of two books; it was originally meant to be a single stand-alone story, but it grew and had to be split before publication. And because I am both moderately lazy and don't feel that I'm all that good at on-the-spot synopsis writing, I'll send you to Carol's website and its basic info on the Lighthouse Duo books to get the stage: Look! Non-spoilery set-up!

I already mentioned that Carol has a knack for throwing me for loops, and in true form, she handed out the first axis-tilting shock within the first 50 pages of Breath and Bone. I had to suppress the urge to drop this book and go back to the first one just to re-read it with this new knowledge, and it still just flattens me when I stop to think about it.

It's hard to order all my thoughts, because they bounce around too much to grab anything and type it out.

The Danae are a fascinating culture and people, half-faerie and half-mythological nymphs, dyads, and other nature protectors. Each is connected to a natural location, whether a spring, meadow, mountain, seashore, or something else entirely, and their magical connection with it in their own realm also fosters its health in the mortal realm, which overlays the Danae realm. The idea of gards - in Carol's words, "a cohesive design of magical light on a Danae's body" - and their progressive appearance after the four formal stages of development was a particularly deft twist on the manifestation and use of magical power.

Valen's struggle with his dual heritage, both Danae and human, provides plenty of personal conflict for him, even as he must decide whether to trust his liege lord, Prince Osriel, who Valen has seen perform unspeakably evil magics. That's when he's not fighting his old drug addiction, chasing the traitor who kidnapped a young boy, or escaping the clutches of the crazed Sila Diaglou, who is determined to obliterate all civilization to appease an ancient god.

It's worth mentioning that Carol also always does a wonderful job of making her "fantasy coincidences", which we all expect (Oh! This secondary character just happens to have crucial information at exactly the right time!), seem not just unobtrusive but inevitable. Everything is so solidly connected that it couldn't have been anyone else who supplied that piece of information. It gives her work an extra feeling of tightness and cohesion that many epic fantasies lack.

And I love the ending - the perfect balance, fulfillment for Valen, work still to do and boundless hope for the future. Everything a fantasy is meant to be.

I'm sure that if I gave myself a day to write about everything, I could put many more thoughts into words, but I don't think that's necessary. I'm planning to go through F&S and B&B sometime this summer with a more thorough analysis of the pacing and tracing all the threads through the entire story.

Suffice to say that I highly recommend both Flesh and Spirit and Breath and Bone to anyone who wants a compelling epic fantasy worth every minute of reading.

Book #4

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