Book Review: Thunder Road by Chadwick Ginther

I put down Mockingjay to read this one.

I don’t normally read urban fantasy at all, but it’s a first novel written by a local author and acquaintance. You know that fear, when you go to read a book by someone you know, that it might not be very good, and you sometimes just hope you’ll be able to find a few nice things to say so you don’t make them feel bad? Well I can’t say I’m surprised, but I certainly didn’t have to search for nice things to say about this one. It didn’t read like a first novel. I’ve read a number of debut novels by authors I really liked, and there’s often a precocious, unpolished quality to it. Not so here.

The novel follows Ted, who’s inadvertently got dragged into the plots of mythical figures from Norse tradition. I probably don’t know enough about Norse mythology to truly appreciate the amount of research the author’s done – the worldbuilding is rich with it. But at the same time, it’s modernized. The characters of myth have adapted to the modern world.

I think Chad knew that every urban fantasy with a male protagonist that came after the Dresden Files is going to be compared to the Dresden Files, so the main character, Ted, is definitely not a Dresden clone. He’s rougher around the edges, and not the gentleman that Dresden is. He’s a jock, and believably so. It’s not an archetype I’m very familiar with – it tends not to be one you see often in genre fiction. I figure it’s because it doesn’t tend to be one that readers often identify with – the people who would identify with it, don’t really read genre fiction. But I think it was made real enough to make up for it.

Loki was a great character. I think the author has done his job in making a character who’s entertaining comic relief, sympathetic at times, but you’re never really sure if he’s a “good guy” or not. Which is exactly what a trickster god should be, I think.

I think the ravens were underrated as well, though. They’re a voice that fills in gaps of information for the main character, and they might have been annoying as deliverers of exposition, but their sardonic tone made them entertaining enough to overlook that, and I enjoyed them.

Right, there was a romance, wasn’t there. Yeah, I’m not a romance person, so it was good that the romance wasn’t the entire point of the story, but it was also nice to see a character with a battered heart get some romance. Ted’s not such a young guy, and he’s got an ex that he still has feelings for, which is totally understandable. Tilda, the new girl, has her own hangups. She’s wound up in her  fate, and feels trapped by it. Fate is a major theme of the story, and I get the sense that the series is going to be exploring whether fate is written in stone or sand. Tilda certainly seems to think it’s written in stone, but Ted doesn’t. I’m hoping this doesn’t end up being too Damsel-in-distressy in later books. I’d like to see Ted supporting her while she breaks free of her fate, rather than rescuing her from it.

The only other female characters so far are her mother and grandmother, and her mother is a pale background character. The grandmother was an old battle-axe character type, though – she was cool, but it would have been nice to see more of the middle aged mother character come out – it’s one you don’t see much of in genre fiction. Maybe there will be more in book two, I’m looking forward to it.

Book Review: Catching Fire

I finished this one a while ago, just haven’t got around to the review. There’s lots of reviews on this book out there, so I won’t go too in depth – this will just be a weigh in.

Most people have said that the second book wasn’t as good as the first one. And you know what? I do agree with them. The Games themselves, the arena, the spectacle, the first time around, it was all new. This second time around, it’s not new anymore.

The first half of the book I enjoyed more – the victory tour and the emotional turmoil involved in that. The political maneuvering, and the whispers of revolution promised me something. Only it promised me something that never got going in this book. I was waiting for it to build into a revolution, and instead, it’s back to the arena.

But the thing that bothered me the most about this installment is that in this one, very little that Katniss does has any effect on the story. It’s not as if her desperation and helplessness isn’t believable – it is. But it’s her helplessness that’s frustrating as a reader, because I like to read a story where the main character takes action, an in this book, Katniss is an oblivious pawn in a game played by those around her.

That said, it’s not a total wash by any means. It’s just not *as* good as the first book. I’m heading into book 3 now, and I’ve heard two schools of thought on the third – one is that the books get less good as the series goes on, and that the third one isn’t even as good as the second, and the other, that the second book is less good, and the third is better. From what I hear, the revolution I was promised is going to be coming into fruition, so I expect I might be leaning towards the second opinion.

I’m curious to see how things turn out on the Gale vs Peeta front, not because I’m really into the love triangle, but because I’m curious to see why some people were upset by the ending. I’m not really a “Team Gale” or “Team Peeta” sort of person. If anyone asked me, I’d probably say I was “Team Katniss” because that girl has more important things to worry about than which guy she’s going to have kids with, especially since she’s made it quite clear so far that she does not want kids.

If I were writing it, I dunno, I think I’d probably kill both of them. Actually, no. I’d kill Katniss. And she would die a heroic, fiery death as a martyr doing something that will seal the rebel victory, or at least make sure they have a shot. Or I’d kill all of them. Yeah, I think I’d kill all of them.

Review up on The Punkettes Blog: The Warlord Of The Air

My poor blog has been neglected, and I’m behind on the reviews on the books I’ve read lately for pleasure, but I’ve finished up the review for Michael Moorcock’s The Warlord Of The Air over on The Punkettes Blog, among others.

As for my flying below the radar blog wise of late, I’ve been very busy making arrangements to start flight school. Crazy tons of stress, trying to organize a student line of credit, figuring out which course I’m going to take, doing taxes (yeah, I’m a bit behind on that), etc. But don’t think I’ve been quiet because I have bad news on that front. I just keep thinking, ok, I’ll write a post once I have something official to post about it, but I keep running into road blocks and stalls. But I have official stuff now – conditional approval on the student line of credit, and an official start date with a letter of proof of enrollment, so I’ll whip up an update in the next day or so. I’m so excited, and I can’t wait to start.

Punkettes Blog Launch Today!

Come one, come all! The Punkettes blog officially launches today, so come tune in, follow the blog if you’re so inclined, to win prizes, and check out what we’ll be posting and reviewing. There’s already 50 people following the blog, and tons more on the Facebook page, so this is great so far.

The Early Bird prize has been drawn, but there’s tons more, books, art and accessories.

I don’t know if there’s anyplace before this to go to find reviews on just Steampunk books – maybe there is, and I just haven’t seen it. But I think the balance of the three of us is going to make it a very eclectic combination. I love my social upheaval, intrigue and adventure, but romance is always a hard sell for me, but we’ll have the other two for that. Plus it’s not just Steampunk – we have the Clockpunk and Dieselpunk going on too, so quite a bit of variety, considering we’re trying to focus on a small set of niche sub-genres.

So, for authors looking to have your book reviewed, we should be able to find one of the three of us who would enjoy your book, be it romance, adventure, or what have you. (As long as it’s either Steampunk, Clockpunk, or Dieselpunk, of course.) Just contact any one of us with a review copy, and we’ll figure out who to review it.

 

Graphic Novel Review: The Last Unicorn

I got this for my birthday. I knew it existed, but it was one of those things that would be too expensive to buy for myself.

The art is beautiful. They couldn’t have picked a better artist for this.

It was interesting to read, having seen the movie, and read the book, and now seeing yet another re-imagining. The artwork is not the same as the movie, and yet, it’s clearly inspired by it – based on it, even. The costumes of the characters – they’re the same, but with more detail. The faces are less cartoony than the movie, and more realistic, but you can do that in a graphic novel, where you only have to draw the face once per shot. But  Schmendrick’s hat has the same two toned fabric, and stitches holding it together, like the movie – all, or most of the details like that, are still there from the movie. But there is license taken – Mommy Fortuna looks quite different, and if you thought she was creepy in the movie, she looks awesome in the graphic novel.

In contrast, the story doesn’t follow the movie exactly. If you’ve read the book and seen the movie, you know the movie skipped both the town the characters were visiting when Jack Jingly found Schmendrick, and Jack giving the password, and Hagsgate town, where Lir’s biological father explains the curse on the town and Haggard’s castle.

Those are brought back into the story in the graphic novel. They didn’t skip anything important, like they did in the movie. They fixed it.

At the end, there’s also a feature of a bunch of art from other artists. It’s quite neat to see renditions of the characters in so many different styles of art. After that is an editor’s note, on the struggles of producing the graphic novel, and how he wanted very much to be as true to the original work as possible. And then there’s a story of Olfert Dapper, the dutch physician to whom the original work was dedicated.

They didn’t screw anything up. Any die hard fan of Peter S. Beagle would love this.

Review: Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear

I’m getting behind on reviewing the books I’ve been reading. Back on my reading female authors thing, the next one up was Range of Ghosts, by Elizabeth Bear.

I wanted to read one of her novels after reading her short story on Tor.com, “The Horrid Glory of it’s Wings” which is a beautiful story. I decided to pick up with this, her newest one, and I have not been disappointed.

The most interesting part was the worldbuilding, from the astrological quirks of the world, to the societal. They sky of this world reflects whoever is ruling the land. Under the psuedo Mongol horde, the sky has countless moons, one for each of the Great Khagan’s heirs, but in Samarkar’s land, there is only one moon. And when the characters come to a land where the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, they go “Oh crap….”

Also interesting and refreshing is the dominance of what North Americans would consider non-normative marriage customs. Among Temur’s tribes, women are very sexually free, even when married, though men may have many wives. And in Samarkar’s land, when a woman marries, she marries all of a man’s brothers.

The world is immersive, and it’s nice to see epic fantasy that’s not set in the done to death western european medieval fantasy world. Have I said that before, that I’m sick and tired of medieval western Europe? I have? Oh, well, there it is again. I really, really am. I’ll put up with it for George R. R. Martin, but I can only handle one of his books a year, and my quota for medieval western european fantasy is shot right there.

But that’s getting me side tracked. I think it’s because I was so impressed that someone somehow made the exiled-prince-destined-to-overthrow-his-evil-usurper-uncle fresh. Because that really is a huge part of the plot. I kept looking at it and thinking “am I really reading this and not rolling my eyes at it?” Funny how a change of setting and some really great worldbuilding to take you away from the familiar can do so much for such a cliche. The societal dynamics put an interesting light on things, especially when characters are not expected to restrict themselves to a single lover, and taking another is not a betrayal of the first. I’m curious to find out if jealousy plays into things later, and how much.

The characters are likable, and I always like strong, active female characters. Samarkar is definitely that, and pushes the story along by the force of her will. Temur, too, treats Samarkar as an equal, and it makes me like him more.

Anyway, it’s a book that was nice to settle down into. It doesn’t move at a breakneck pace, but it’s a comfortable an enjoyable read for those who love epic fantasy, and Bear has an expertise with the English language that drew me into the story all on it’s own.

Review: Incarnate, by Jodi Meadows

I picked this book because the premise intrigued me. A world where everyone is reincarnated perpetually, and suddenly a new soul, Ana, is born, replacing an old one, and Ana sets out to find out why. I thought it was a neat idea and wanted to know how the author was going to play with it.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed with it. The writing itself was decent, and there was nothing really wrong with the story for what it is, but I went into the book wanting to know the explanation for why everyone is reincarnated – expecting the story to be about that, only to find that it was about eighty percent romance, and the premise that drew me into the story was reserved mostly for worldbuilding and the climax.

The worldbuilding was cool, I only wish there was more of it. I liked how there was some of the traditional fantasy props, like the dragons and centaurs and sylph, alongside a technologically advanced civilization. It made sense that they would be technologically advanced, since they do get reincarnated indefinitely, and have all the time in the world to pursue a project. The culture and practices of the people definitely reflected the fact that the people have infinite time to accomplish things, but also were very much set in their ways, without being a culture full of elf-like imperious wisdom where everyone is as rational as a vulcan. Longevity in this world doesn’t preclude mischievousness or passion.

On the other hand, while being a believable cast, they are, by and large, black and white. You can tell the black hats from the white hats from the first time you see them, and no one surprised me later. But not only that, it also seemed like most of the characters were run through the filter of whether or not Ana thinks they’re a threat to her relationship with Sam, and I felt through the whole thing that there was more importance put on that than on whether or not they were going to stop her from trying to find out the truth about her origins. Which, of course, was what was most important to me.

The romance itself – I’m no connoisseur of romance, but I thought it was ok for what it was. It’s a guy-rescues-helpless-girl romance, and that’s a hard sell for me, but I understand it appeals to others more, so I’m quite possibly just not the target audience for this book.

I was also a little frustrated by the lack of progress in the main premise – the search for Ana’s origins. There was some, but I had expected far more by the end of the book. We don’t get to understand what happened any more than at the beginning, only learn who was behind it.

And then there’s Soul Night. It was mentioned several times, characters wondering aloud what would happen on Soul night, but when Ana asks what it is, she’s brushed off, and it was terribly obvious that the author has something regarding Soul Night planned for the next book and was slipping in a hook. If Ana knew what it was, and just didn’t bother explaining in the narrative, that would be fine, I could accept that it was being saved for later book when it became relevant, but in dialogue, the brush off seemed so artificial.

But the book is really not as bad as I’m making it sound – I think young women who love a good romance would definitely enjoy the book, and it’s a good debut novel, overall.

Tor/Forge going DRM free

I don’t normally post more than once in a day, but there’s been some pretty huge news in publishing today. I heard talk about it being a possibility – Amazon is all about trying to eliminate the middle man, and I keep thinking, wait, isn’t Amazon the middle man?

Cory Doctorow, an activist for copyright law has some thoughts:
http://boingboing.net/2012/04/24/tor-books-goes-completely-drm.html

And so does John Scalzi, who’s published by Tor and directly affected by it:
http://whatever.scalzi.com/2012/04/24/torforge-to-go-drm-free-by-july-immediate-\
thoughts/

As a customer, and an e-reader owner, I think this is great. From the beginning, my biggest reservation in buying an e-reader has been that I didn’t want to be pigeon holed into a single reader, and not be able to share a book with my husband. I mean, if I buy a paperback, I read it, then my husband reads it – that’s legal – but if my husband buys a Nook and I have a Sony e-reader, I can’t put that book on his e-reader. We’d have to buy another copy, and if they’re charging just as much for an e-book as a paperback, that’s just unreasonable, imho.

As an author, I think it’s cool too – my own future potential customers will get more bang for their buck – there’s no reason to pay the same for a different format if you don’t get the same rights over it. I understand charging the same for an e-book as a paperback – there are fixed costs of editing and formatting that go into both a paper book and an e-book, and my understanding is that the cost of producing the two isn’t that significantly different. But if the customer doesn’t get the same value from the end product, that’s not right.

As far as piracy – DRM is a joke. DRM has never stopped piracy, it’s too easy to strip. If people are going to pirate, they will pirate, and a bit of software isn’t going to stop them. That, and not having DRM on your work doesn’t invalidate your copyright. There are those who’s defense of DRM consists of “I want to make sure people really know that they shouldn’t be stealing my work.”

They know. That defense is assuming that people downloading illegal content don’t know that they’re doing something illegal, or they do, but the message hasn’t been made clear enough. I think it’s dangerous to start implying that an author who’s work is not protected by DRM has less of a claim on the copyright than one who’s work is DRM’d. Because it absolutely is. It’s equally illegal to share copyrighted material whether it’s DRM protected or not, and Tor has made it clear that they will be going after violators just the same as they always have.

Because DRM isn’t about piracy. It’s about locking customers into a reader made by a particular middle man provider, so that they can’t go buy books from someone else. Tor/Forge doesn’t make e-readers, so they have no vested interest in forcing customers to buy products locked into a particular device. They just want to sell books.

So I’m hoping to see this become a trend.

Book Review: Mechanique: a Tale of the Circus Tresaulti, by Genevieve Valentine

I glanced over the nebula award nominees for this year to see if anything piqued my interest, and saw this one. Steampunk, set in a post apocalyptic setting – I was sold. It’s a circus of undead performers, enhanced with hollow bones for the acrobats to make them light as birds, a human trapeze, a strong man with a steel spine, and his brother saved from fever with mechanical lungs. Once there was a man with wings, like a bird, until he fell.

I went into it not knowing what to expect, so I’m not sure what I expected. It’s very experimental, style wise (literary, some might say). The Steampunk is more a veneer over the top, an aesthetic choice, which I love. Genre wise, I would call it magic realism, because there is magic, but the way magic works is never explained, but used in more of a free-form way.

The story made me think of Peter S. Beagle or Neil Gaiman. I don’t think I’ve read anything so subtly creepy since The Innkeeper’s Song. It’s about beauty and love and death, and the writing itself is beautiful too.

I normally find things this experimental to be annoying, but I think that’s often because “literary” authors sometimes think that the writing is everything, and they don’t have to have a story to tell. Miss Valentine has a story to tell. She doesn’t tell it in chronological order, and the point of view is all over the place, running from first to third person and not skipping second person, and yet, the confusion at first didn’t bother me. It was obvious fairly quickly that it was told out of order.

Also, I liked the scene openings she had sometimes, the ones that start with “This is what happens when (insert framing phrase to tell me where she’s jumping into the story.)” It was as unsubtle as a slap in the face, maybe, butso much less annoying than the author using dates to tell you when something’s taking place. I can’t stand that, I can’t keep track of the numbers in the dates, so they might as well not be there. This? This was effective and efficient.

Overall, I loved it, it was beautiful.

Book Review: The Hunger Games

Ok, so people kept saying, here and there and everywhere, omg, you should read The Hunger Games. So many places, I heard the same recommendation. I had my new e-reader and found the entire trilogy for $17. So I read it.

And holy crap, they were right.

I read it in about three days, which, for me, is about my record. I think my record is two days, and that was for a much shorter novel. Granted, two of those days were stressed out, what can I do to distract myself because there’s nothing I can do days, but still, it was very much what I needed to distract myself in those days.

I won’t make this too long, because I think there are a crap-ton of reviews of this particular novel already out there, but there’s one main point I’ll address. The main criticism – possibly the only criticism I’ve seen for this book, has been that the ending was too predictable. And you know what? That’s valid. I looked at the end of part two, and thought, you know, I can only think of one way that this could end and the end be satisfying. And I was pretty well right. There were details, I didn’t know exactly the circumstances the ending was going to come into, but the main plot twist at the end, that was no surprise to me.

On the other had, it *was* the only way that I could see this story ending that would be satisfying. And I always think, if you build up towards something you either have to satisfy the reader, or come up with something better. In this case, it was satisfy the reader. But the storytelling, the crafting of the story, was what kept me reading. What’s going to happen next? Who’s going to die next? How is the Katniss going to survive all of this?

There are those who say “there are no original stories, only original story telling.” I have to agree with this. Avatar, the movie, hell that’s not original in the least, but it’s still a really awesome movie. The Hunger Games, maybe it’s a tad predictable, for an experienced reader, but it’s well spun. Plot is not everything in a story, but sometimes the journey is. Sometimes it’s what the author does to make it all real that makes all the difference.