22 January, 2013

Review - A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan

A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady TrentIt turns out, and I wouldn't have discovered this without reading A Natural History of Dragons [US] [UK] by Marie Brennan, that I really like dragons slaying, riding, attacking, hoarding, speaking, snoozing, probably even over-easy ... but to witness them studied for science bored me to death.

I feel really bad about this, because there are some great things about this book, I just couldn't wait for it to be over.

A Natural History of Dragons is a memoir of the life of the famous Lady Trent, who tells about her first interest in dragons and some of her early experiences with them.
The Good
Brennan does a great job sticking to character. The Lady Trent, or just Isabella Camherst as she's known throughout the book, is a woman of science and Brennan very convincingly characterizes her as such. She's so brimming with eagerness to study and learn and discover and it's apparent in both the beginning of her life and her characterization later in life that we only get through the actual telling.

This Victorian era-type place is brought to life with all its sensibilities, especially those that go against a budding young naturalist who is a woman and her constant battle with all those inherent sensibilities. Then she adds dragons to this era! Very cool. Especially since they're all over, from the tiny sparklings that are considered to be insects by many to much larger ones.

And then there's the beautiful artwork by Todd Lockwood. Not only do we get this gorgeous cover, but there are dragons (among other things) depicted throughout the book that are just as captivating.

(I realize the book cover's in the upper left, but this bears repeating!)

The Bad
The problem is that with the over-intrusion of the narrator, Lady Trent, and possibly with the addition of the aristocracy's confidence in their own imperviousness, there really isn't a lot of suspense. Possibly at the very end at one single moment, but that's it. We already know she's fine, she's telling the story and interjecting points about how young and naive she used to be. Now, you can say this about most first-person narratives, but this was even more obvious.

The characters are just not relatable to me. I mentioned above that Brennan nailed the era, but these are high class people that can't even go anywhere without a servant of some sort. I just couldn't love them and I'll take responsibility for this - I know plenty of people love it, but it did not work for me.

It took me a while to figure this out, but it sounds like we're going to get through her whole life in this one book, when really it's only the first couple experiences. Therefore, it seemed to drag on (dragon, get it) this one event. The Lady Trent alludes to many experiences, especially early on, and it sounds like those are all going to happen in this book, but it took me till about 50% in to figure out that it was mainly focused on this one event and that was it. This also could have just been my lack of awareness about sequels because I thought this was a stand-alone book.

In the end, I really do think the problems were my own. A Natural History of Dragons is a well-executed story that I found was just not for me.

2 out of 5 Stars (Just Okay)
A Natural History of Dragons will be available for purchase February 5, 2013.
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

17 January, 2013

(audiobook) Review - Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, Read by Wil Wheaton

Here's my review.
As I announced before, all my audio reviews are heading over to SFFaudio.com, probably of their own accord even. Today, my review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline went up. I don't know how better to explain my love of this book than with this awkward phrase we sometimes use - it tickled my fancy. It really did. This book won me over immediately and made me want to live there possibly forever. I don't even love the '80's all that much.

16 January, 2013

Review - The Hammer and the Blade by Paul S. Kemp

I've been hearing about Paul S. Kemp for a while now, mostly from his Forgotten Realms work with Erevis Cale Trilogy, but (like usual) had never gotten around to reading his work. There's just so much time and so few books, am I right?

This last year, 2012 to be exact, Kemp comes out with a new book from Angry Robot who's more than generous with its review copies, so I figured why not?

The Hammer and the Blade [US] [UK] is fast-paced buddy sword and sorcery that is part homage to the classics in this sub-genre such as Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser. While I can't attest to the latter, I'll explain the former.

In The Hammer and the Blade, the world isn't about to end, it doesn't hinge on the efforts of our winsome protagonist(s), it deals with a couple of guys trying to save their own necks. While not necessarily indicative of all sword and sorcery, it also helps to explain what this sub-genre is about (and which is mostly explained by its own title) - lots of action, magic, and adventure.

Of the world, it exists and it's surely a secondary one, but there is little detail. No descriptions of women's dresses or where they might cross their arms. There isn't even much about distant lands and exotic places, it's mostly focused on the here and now - what concerns our protagonists. 

The Hammer and the Blade follows Egil and Nix (the buddies I mentioned above), both famous, or infamous, tomb-robbers and sometimes swords for hire. One, Egil, is a warrior priest with a large eye tattooed on his forehead and two huge hammers as weapons. The other, Nix, is a (semi) adept magician who was kicked out of magical school, emphasis on the fact that he was kicked out, which he emphasizes whenever the subject is addressed.

At first, this duo reminded me of Hadrian and Royce from the Riyria Revelations, but I was quickly put off this theory. Hadrian and Royce are much more mysterious and a bit darker in a way while Egil and Nix are more straight forward. One of the things I thought was a great way to clue readers in on some information was Nix trying to brag about his exploits to curry favor with a woman. 

Egil and Nix are tons of fun, lots of jokes and adventures, and we're pulled right into the action immediately as the two are traipsing through a tomb, bobbing through booby-traps, and finding the treasure. What a great opening.

And it doesn't let down from there. The Hammer and the Blade accomplishes everything it sets out to be. Simple fun and lots of action. 

At the same time, it's lack of complexity is the thing that's holding it back from any more stars from me. It's really just a personal preference thing and probably highlights the drawbacks of ratings systems more than anything.

Before I end this review, I have to point out something that really stood out to me, but which spoils one part of the book. You've been warned (for this paragraph and the next only). (Spoiler) Early in the book, our daring duo gets into a scrape with a local sell-sword who fails to treat a lady with the proper respect. He's a huge jerk and gets what's coming to him. To make a long story short, later in the book this same guy actually becomes good friends with Egil and Nix.

This is something you just don't see every day. In fact, I don't think I've ever seen this in a book. Someone who starts out as a jerk is later shown to have redeeming qualities. I think we could use more of this. This is real, this is people. In our internet generation, it's easy for people to show their true colors on the internet and for everyone else to write them off. Sometimes it's warranted, sometimes it's not. I don't really know where I'm going here, but I liked this. People deserve redemption sometimes. We're just people, we do dumb things...actually quite often. (/End Spoiler)

The Hammer and the Blade made for a great ride. Lots of jokes, bumbling magic, and two huge hammers! Kemp is obviously a master at the light-hearted adventure story and I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.

3.5 out of 5 Stars (Recommended)

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher

15 January, 2013

Free on Audible! The Human Division, Episode 1: The B-Team by John Scalzi

I just got this news in my inbox and thought I'd better share, especially since the first thing I did was go to Audible and download this. Sorry, you guys came second, but that shows how much I'm looking forward to this.

To download The Human Division, Episode 1: The B-Team by John Scalzi:
"The Human Division," John Scalzi's eagerly awaited return to the "Old Man's War" universe, is available at Audible beginning today, January 15. Even more exciting, the first installment of this innovative "episodic narrative" will be available free via Audible's Facebook page. Episodes 2-13 are available for pre-order and will be released weekly, for $.99 each, through April; fans who choose to pre-order all 12 remaining episodes will automatically receive a new installment of "The Human Division" in their Audible library each Tuesday through April 9. For more information see here: http://bit.ly/HumanDivisionFREE. 
Here is a sample of the audiobook:

As a quick update, I'm back into bar studying mode, which means posting will be sporadic at best. I mentioned this in passing a couple weeks ago, but I didn't pass the first time and that means I get to study for 10 hours a day for a couple months and take a test that only lasts 3 days...again! The California bar has a 55% pass rate, but this time I'll get it. :) I have a few reviews almost ready to go up, one of those completed and sent to sffaudio.com, which I'll link to here.

09 January, 2013

My New Gig at SFFaudio.com

Audiobooks seem to be on the rise lately with companies like Audible and a plethora of other sites allowing people to keep up with their busy schedule while reading the books they love.

If you're anything like me, I always have a book going in multiple formats so that no matter what, a spare moment can be used exactly how I want to use it - reading of course. I usually have a book going in paper on my nightstand, one on my Kindle for those moments when the phone app is more accessible, and of course an audiobook for my diving and walking.

I'm not joking, literally every moment is spent doing what I love. It's also the only way I can read as many books as I do.

I read a number of audiobooks every year and up until this time it has been almost the only way I can read all the books I've been meaning to read for ages, but haven't gotten around to. Well, now that will be changing a bit as I'll be posting all my audiobook reviews at SFFaudio.com.

As my last post pointed out, I read about 11 or 12 audiobooks a year, so it's nothing that will change too much about this blog, but yet I'm very excited about this tiny change. It also means that I will be getting audiobook review copies, so who knows when I'll read all the books I've been meaning to get to . I know, woe is me, the terrible life of getting the thing you love just slightly less than you kids for free.

With that riveting intro, I also wanted to let you know my first review is up today:

Island of the Sequined Love Nun was actually my first foray into his work, but what got me more than anything else, even more than Moore’s popularity and humor, was the title itself. It says it all. And after having read it, it’s an extremely fitting title. (Review - Island of the Sequined Love Nun)

08 January, 2013

A Memory of Light, Book 14 in the Wheel of Time Released Today!

I couldn't let this momentous occasion pass me by. Today is the release of the final book in the Wheel of Time, A Memory of Light. Over 20 years in the making, this is quite the exciting day. I'm just glad none of my predictions came true.

(Warning: Sanderson gets into some of the final books, not to a great degree, but it's there if you're worried about spoiling anything at all)

Here are some of the reviews that have come out so far (none of which I've actually read!):

Tor (spoiler review)

Neth Space (review) (spoiler reactions) (interview with Brandon Sanderson)

Wertzone (review)

Fantasy Literature (review)

Grasping for the Wind (review)

07 January, 2013

2012 In Review - Stats and Top 5 Non-2012 Releases

When I was little, I obsessed over my collection of Marvel trading cards. Outside of trading and collecting, I'd read the backs of everyone and knew by heart the statistics (stamina, agility, energy projection!, etc.) of every character, hero or villain. One of the things that got me into the science fiction and fantasy community, besides figuring out when George's next book would come out, was looking at top 10 and top 100 lists and trying to read through them or at least collect books to read. I still can't get enough of lists and stats, whether my own or from other sources, I just hope they're somewhat interesting to you.

With that, here are some of my 2012 stats and following those are my Top 5 Books read in 2012 that were released prior to that time:

Books read in total: 52
Fantasy: 22
Science Fiction: 6
Urban Fantasy: 13
Audiobook: 11
eBook: 18
Paper: 23
Female authors: 9
ARC's and Review Copies read: 19
Series' started in 2012: 7
Series' completed in 2012: 2 (Shadow Saga and Macht Trilogy)

The main thing that surprised me was how many books that can be considered Urban Fantasy fell in that list. I think Bastard would be proud. :) I counted books like The Hollow City, The Thirteen Hallows, and Legion alongside books like Unclean Spirits and the Demon Squad books, which are more obviously UF.

The last list I put together was of my favorite 2012 releases, but outside of 2012 releases I read an incredible amount of really good books. I warned you in that post I'd have another list and here it is:

Top 5 of 2012 (Non-2012 Releases)

5. Lord of Chaos (Wheel of Time #6) by Robert Jordan [review]

I really did enjoy this installment in The Wheel of Time. Not my favorite in the series, but I really enjoyed all the intricacies and additions to the incredible world Jordan created.
4. Acacia (Acacia #1) [review] and The Other Lands (Acacia #2) [review] by David Anthony Durham

If you're dying for something to read while we wait for George, Acacia just may be the perfect interlude. I can't believe how close I was to passing on this series, what a huge mistake that would have been. Acacia is exactly the kind of epic fantasy I love.
3. The Curse of the Mistwraith (Wars of Light and Shadow #1) by Janny Wurts [review]

If you want a challenge along the lines of Steven Erikson's Malazan Book of the Fallen, in the sense that you need to be ready to apply yourself fully, that will having you living and breathing in another world altogether, you're in for a treat. While not everyone will connect with The Curse of the Mistwraith, those who do will really have a truly powerful experience.
2. Wizard and Glass (Dark Tower #4) by Stephen King [review]

If you haven't read The Dark Tower series, you're in for a treat. What? I'm the last person to do so? Well, I love it. I don't reread books much, but I will definitely do so once I'm done. This series is epic and tragic in every sense of each word. You will not regret it.
1. Blade of Tyshalle (Acts of Caine #2) by Matthew Woodring Stover [review]

As bloody and brilliant as you would expect from the awesomeness that was Heroes Die and yet Blade of Tyshalle takes everything up a notch. Action-packed mayhem and ideas that make you think? Yes, you can have it all. Bloody brilliant.

03 January, 2013

Review - The Crippled God (Malazan Book of the Fallen #10) by Steven Erikson

I started reading The Malazan Book of the Fallen just over four years ago, so finishing the final book of this ten volume epic is kind of a big deal for me. It's been a big part of my life in fact and it's odd to be at the end even though I know there are plenty more to go.

So you can imagine this series has had quite the impact on my life. When I go through my books to see which ones to sell or give away I call it "culling the nobility." It's pervasive. :) (wait, are emoticons allowed in Malazan reviews?)

Gardens of the Moon was actually the first present my wife gave me for my birthday. We didn't have tons of money then (and still don't), but I couldn't have been happier receiving hours of entertainment and who'd've thunk how many hours it would end up being. Best. Wife. Ever.

I was immediately drawn in and stunned by the vast imagination that is contained within those pages of even the first book and to come to the end it's even more amazing to see how far the story develops. At the moment, I'm even doing a reread of Gardens, which is like reading a completely new (and easily understandable) book. To see these characters early on and how far they come has been pretty fun already.

The Crippled God [US] [UK] actually has a lot of parallels with the first book and to warn you right now, we're headed into spoiler territory, but I assume if you've read this far, you've probably already read the whole series as it is anyway. 

In Gardens of the Moon, I loved the idea of that the whole plan was to release something of great power that would force your enemy to do battle and then your enemy would be weakened enough for you take on and beat. Yes, that is exactly how Erikson puts it, he's THAT good of a writer. :)

Gardens uses this to weaken Anomander Rake, at least that's the goal and The Crippled God a similar tactic is used by the Gods Errastas, Sechul Lath, and Kilmandaros, but on a grander scale - releasing the Otatarial dragon to weaken Draconus among others.

Both Gardens and TCG focus on the adjunct, although different adjuncts, and TCG mentions lots of events that happen in Gardens - talking about Lorn, the scene in the prologue to Gardens where Whiskeyjack talks to Ganoes, and Moon Spawn among others. We've come back around and I really appreciated these nods to the earlier work.

My one major criticism of this series is that it tends to be a downer for much of the book. Words like "gritty" and "realistic" follow this series and while for the most part it's true, I have a hard time saying something is realistic when it ignores the good in people and society completely and focuses and has a cynical outlook on just about everything. That's not to say this series does, there are moments of awe-inspiring goodness, but they are few and far between. I prefer to think of it as this world and its gods are unredeemable, which is to say it's not that realistic. I don't think Erikson has claimed as such either, it's been the reviewers and fans.

While I have had my difficulties with some of the previous volumes, they fail to take away from the fact that this series is incredible. Everything about it blows my mind and even some of the difficulties I've had I have been able to resolve. 

One of those being the fact that everyone, rich or poor, old or young, seems to have the need to philosophize. It was in a recent interview or podcast (I just can't quite remember which) that Erikson mentioned essentially that those who have been through the most are the wisest among us. This is something I had actually already known, but needed reacquainting with the idea. Not that I am wise, I've lived quite the privileged life even without any money, but I've talked with people who've been through a whole lot more than me, like an African refugee who left his country because his government was trying to kill him, and he and his family could tell you what life's all about. For some reason I didn't realize until then how much it applies to these characters in this book who are really suffering.

There's really not much more to say than what I've said in my article, Why You Should Read The Malazan Book of the Fallenwhere I've attempted to convince people to read the series. In addition, I just don't have time to really get into a good review (yes, I'm studying for the bar...again), especially one that this series deserves, so below are a number of quotes with some commentary here and there throughout.


The humor is still there, at times even Tehol makes "appearances" though not actually in person, which is always a good thing since he's arguably my favorite character in the entire series. Here's one instance I found terribly funny especially in my stage of life (baby twins and two year old):

"'Then I'm going with you. My wife can go somewhere else. She keeps talking about babies but I don't want babies - they get in the way of having fun, and people who end up having them spend all day talking about how great it is, but they look miserable even when they're smiling. Or worse, there're those ones who think their baby is the God of Genius reborn and even its poo smells like flowers, and all they do is talk about them for ever and ever and it's so boring I want to run away...' 
'A rather uncharitable view, Ublala.' 
'I don't give nothing for free, that's for sure. Whole people disappear when a baby arrives. Poof! Where'd they go? Oh, I know, they're crawling around making baby noises. It makes me sick." He ducked the rock Ralata threw at him..." p. 522
But of course, Erikson delves deeper as well, leaving you to ponder your existence, to see the futilities, the baseness, but also very often he leads you to hope:

"I could run until I wear out. Every joint, every bone and every muscle. I could run until my heart groans older than its years, and finally bursts. 
I could damn the poets and make the metaphor real. We are all self-destructive. It is integral to our nature. And we will run even when there's nowhere to run to, and nothing terrible to run from. Why? Because to walk is just as meaningless. It just takes longer." p. 389
This took me a few times, but it's dead on:

"'"When wisdom drips blood fools stand triumphant."'" p. 628 (Brother Diligence quoting Gothos' Folly)
I recently moved from a smaller town to a big city and this one really got me thinking:

"He wondered at all those lives, the way few would meet the gazes of their fellows, as if crowds demanded wilful anonymity, when the truth was they were all in it together - all these people, facing much the same struggles, the same fears. And yet, it seemed, each one was determined to survive them alone, or with but a few kin and friends offering paltry allegiance. Perhaps they each believed themselves unique, like a knot-stone in the centre of the world's mill wheel, but the truth was there were very few who could truly make claim to such a pivotal existence." p. 749
It's sad we tend to look away or even attempt to work things out on our own when it's unnecessary. Why can't we just help each other along through this existence instead of ignoring, judging, and leaving people behind. My wife says that this is why things like the shootings in Sandy Hook happened - people just don't get enough love in their lives. I can't say I disagree.

I fitting summary of the series title and it's meaning:

"In that Malazan Book of the Fallen, the historians will write of our suffering, and they will speak of it as the suffering of those who served the Crippled God. As something ... fitting. And for our seeming fanaticism they will dismiss all that we were, and think only of what we achieved. Or failed to achieve." p. 330 
Here's one I found particularly humbling, I didn't know Erikson even read my blog:

"Gesler took her face in his hands and kissed her hard on the lips. 'Teach these lizards, Kalyth, only the best in us humans. Only the best.'" p. 771
Another very interesting quote that I heartily agree with:

"'It is not enough to wish for a better world for the children. It is not enough to shield them with ease and comfort, to make the future's world a better one, then we curse our own children. We leave them a misery they do not deserve; we leave them a host of lessons unearned.'" p. 783

The Crippled God is a fitting ending to quite possibly my favorite series of all time. It's more epic than I could have ever imagined and the action does not disappoint especially in the end of each book. Neither does Erikson's ability to drag emotions from you whether you want it or not. The Malazan Book of the Fallen will be the high water mark for epic fantasy for years to come, it's brutal, it's genius, it's an experience unlike anything else.

5 out of 5 Stars (A Masterpiece of Epic Proportions!)

Malazan Book of the Fallen by Stephen Erikson (read in red)
1) Gardens of the Moon 
2) Deadhouse Gates 
3) Memories of Ice 
4) House of Chains 
5) Midnight Tides 
6) The Bonehunters (review)
7) Reaper's Gale
8) Toll the Hounds (review) 
9) Dust of Dreams (review) 
10)The Crippled God

Malazan Novellas
1) Blood Follows
2) The Healthy Dead
3) The Lees of Laughter's End
4) Crack'd Pot Trail
5) The Worms of Blearmouth

Malazan Empire by Ian C. Esslemont
1) Night of Knives 
2) The Return of the Crimson Guard (review) 
3) Stonewielder
4) Orb, Sceptre, Throne
5) Blood and Bone
6) (forthcoming)

The Kharkanas Trilogy
1) Forge of Darkness
2) (forthcoming)
3) (forthcoming)

Explanatory Note: If you're wondering where the other reviews are, they don't exist. I started blogging midway through my Malazan reading, but if my reread goes well, there may be at least a couple additions.